Tuesday, January 22, 2008

After the aftershock

I found this essay today, by a German writer. It is called The Radical Loser, and it helped me tie up some loose ends I have been thinking about over the last two and a half years.

Sample paragraph

For what we are dealing with here is not annoyance, but murderous rage. What the loser is obsessed with is a comparison that never works in his favour. Since the desire for recognition knows no limits, the pain threshold inevitably sinks and the affronts become more and more unbearable. The irritability of the loser increases with every improvement that he notices in the lot of others. The yardstick is never those who are worse off than himself. In his eyes, it is not they who are constantly being insulted, humbled and humiliated, but only ever him, the radical loser.

The question as to why this should be so only adds to his torment. Because it certainly cannot be his own fault. That is inconceivable. Which is why he must find the guilty ones who are responsible for his plight.

Mental health and mental illness has been something that I have been thinking about a great deal recently. Because I have written about PTSD, on this blog, and then later in my book, I often get emails from people who want to share their own experiences. I try to help, but I am painfully aware of my own inadequacies. My own experiences of depression, PTSD, survivor guilt and later, grief following bereavement, and my friendships with fellow-travellers along the way have all sparked my interest in mental health to a more acute degree. (Though I was always interested in psychology and spent a year doing an MA foundation course in Psychotherapy a few years back. But back then it was academic. Now it's more personal.)

I am coming to realise that a lot of what I have been doing in the last few years after nearly being killed twice was pushed by guilt, by fear, and a desperate need to understand - and that those reactions, strange as they may seem to outsiders, are not unusual in survivors.They are part of the struggle to stay alive and remain a part of life after finding the fabric of reality can tear and unravel. They are human reactions.

Weirdly, I have had various people attack me on the internet for writing about how I have struggled with guilt, and fear, and anger in the aftermath of various bombs going off in my life. I can only assume that there is something about writing about appalling things that powerfully disturbs these people, or in some cases, draws them to you to try to feed off your confusion and vulnerability.

If I had known when I first started blogging, how exposed I would end up feeling, and later, how bad it would get with unwelcome attention from the 'dementors' of the internet, perhaps I would not have been so honest. I tried to protect myself by staying anonymous, but that anonymity was later torn away. But I tell myself, I would never have come into contact with so many life-affirmingly good people, experienced so many wonderful things, if I had hidden myself and my shocked feelings away, and tried to silence the words that poured out of me. It happened. There is no point wondering what would have happened if my life had taken a different turn.

I know now when people attack you, they are really telling you about themselves, what they hate, what they fear in their own imaginings, in their own nightmares. But it is still hard, and it is still painful. It has taken me this long to get anywhere close to understanding it, and it is an understanding that I wish I did not need to have learned.

I read this article, 'Aftershock' by Alexander Linklater back in 2006 when it was published ( in an edited version) in the Guardian magazine. Three of the people mentioned in it are my friends. Re-reading the full article again now, I realised for the first time how strange and shocking that first year was for them, for me, for so many people, and how we just muddled through it, unaware for the most part of what was happening to us, stumbling in the dark on a strange journey. I suppose what I am feeling now, belatedly is the aftershock of the aftershock.

It has taken me this long to even start to comprehend what happened to us, what happened to me. The last six years have been punch after wallop after slam-dunk, each one compounding the effects of the last. I thought at first that having been hit hard once, and stayed standing, I was somehow extra-well-placed to cope with being walloped again. Now I am starting to realise that, actually, often the opposite was true. I have been so busy firefighting that I have not really had time to stop and reflect and check for the cracks, and repair the damage.

Buildings left standing after earthquakes can be the most dangerous places to shelter when the aftershock happens again.

Looking back, I can see how my reactions, how I was in the aftermath could have seemed strange to people. All those words I wrote, all that anger, all that guilt, all those attempts to understand. People have these ideas about how 'victims' should behave. I myself had an idea about how I should behave. It can be confusing and scary when you find things are different to how you always imagined they would be.

When I discovered that I was not after all, invincible, I felt angry and even ashamed. I wanted to hide, felt I had let myself and other people down. But now I am realising that I am human and that is no bad thing, and nothing to be ashamed or disappointed about, and that I have not let anyone down, by reeling on occasion, or even falling over and not wanting to get up again.

Anyway, the fact that I am able to look back and put down my weapons and my shield for this moment of reflection is a good thing. *This is not self-pity, for what I feel now is sheer simple gratitude at having coming through the storm. If I have gained any wisdom at all after the heat of battle has calmed, then that is a bonus.

And a renewed appreciation of the writing on Alexander Linklater's site is another bonus. I found his articles fascinating, and if you are interested in how people think and feel - which most people who love reading and writing assuredly are - then I hope you find the site where his pieces are collected as interesting as I do.

Update: *Okay, I was, and am feeling blue when I wrote this. It was written the day before what should have been Mum's birthday, a day I was dreading. First Christmas, first birthday, first anniversary, they say these are the worst times. Dammit, I hope so.


Blogger Hayley said...

Without writing an essay here, firstly I'm a little surprised to see that there are no comments.

From my perspective of completing research on this topic, the use of the internet as a place to write is perfectly normal, furthermore, following an unimaginable ordeal, such as that of the London Bombings, allows others out there to see they are not alone. Writing is used as a healing process, the internet, with its fantastic ability to reach people the world over, can be seen as an 'arena' for writing....those that criticise are missing, dare I say neglecting, the importance of writing. Something I have been wondering lately is whether the internet, namely blogs, social network sites etc are 'new' in the sense that for some people, they don't see their many uses. Not entirely sure if that makes sense...I certainly don't think that anyone should feel ashamed for writing, let alone be made to feel this way.

Sorry that was a small (ish) essay...

January 23, 2008 10:47 pm  
Blogger Holly Finch said...

i think that that post was the most positive, in terms of recovery, that i have ever read from you misses....i hope the worst times soften soon...always thinking of you xxx

January 25, 2008 5:27 pm  

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