The blog returns from shore leave today. Sometimes the real world demands my attention and one has to do the things that normal people do. But I’m back now, so let’s carry on…
To be left alone with an overactive imagination can be a scary thing. In your mind there are no physics, there are no rules and there is always the possibility of anything happening. Of course we know it not to be real. We know that the asteroid made of marshmallows hurtling towards the planet isn’t a real threat. We also know that we are not going to be chased by giant pistachio nuts with legs and we certainly know that England are never going to lift a trophy again no matter how much we kid ourselves. They’re all just dreams.
Most of us moved out to the UAE alone. We boarded the plane with bravery, accepting a new life, whether it was to be for 1 year, or for several years. We all packed our bags, said goodbye to our friends and families and set sail for the promise land. Yes the adventure is exciting at first and we have sifted through the surrounding people to decide who our friends are going to be but soon enough routine sets in, the novelty of being abroad begins to fade and life can become dull, or “normal” to put it another way.
I’m not one for stories – he sniggers – but for an array of reasons ranging from unsocial work hours to smelly feet I have found it difficult to meet new friends out here. Yes there are my colleagues and flat mates; I value them like I value my family. Four years ago I only had 3 friends in the entire country.
Routine for me bred boredom. Boredom is intolerable and resulted in me going to the pub a lot, 90% of the time alone, 7 days a week. It was in the hope that I would meet someone, either a prospective partner or a new friend. Invariably it never happened, so instead of people for company I had lots of pint glasses. This dynamic continued for some time. Each night, without fail, I would traverse to the bar; sit alone in silence, watching whatever sport was on TV and thinking. Thinking about how lonely I felt, about how I had become a social leper, dwelling over my past mistakes and so on. Loneliness is a dangerous accomplice and soon enough darker thoughts start to enter your mind, what am I dong here? What is this lump on my leg? What if all of my teeth fall out? What if I never meet anyone and I end up alone?
Over time these thoughts build up, you lose focus at work, you become unhappy and you become afraid, although you don’t really know what you’re afraid of. You develop a chronic case of facebook syndrome whereby you look at all the pictures of your friends back home enjoying themselves, partying, happy, contented. You yearn to be back where you feel you belong. Eventually, like an active volcano, the pressure becomes too much and you burst. It could be a small puff of ash or a full blown lava outburst…eventually it all comes out in some way.
This dangerous way of thinking cannot last forever, and 4 years ago last week it erupted for me as I suffered a nervous breakdown, not a moment of anxiety, not an isolated panic, it was a complete failure of my nervous system. Unless you have gone through it, it is difficult to understand. I had no idea what was happening to me. It took me a month to finally be told what had happened. Some people blamed the alcohol, and that was certainly a factor, but more of a symptom than a cause. Lonely thoughts for a lonely person are a poisonous combination.
At first it felt like I was having a heart attack, and then a stroke. Within hours I was convinced I had skin cancer, and also a brain tumour. Talk about a bad day. I was in and out of the hospital 3 times in 24 hours convinced that the doctors were wrong when they said that there was nothing wrong with me physically. Those around me weren’t too sure what was going on, how could they be when I didn’t know myself? It took a distressing phone call to my sister and dad to establish at first that I was having a panic attack. I collapsed in what would signal the beginning of an agonising recovery that would take over a year.
I’ll talk about nervous breakdown recovery another day. We all experience fear at some point in our lives. We may be faced with a life-changing situation at some point. It is likely to be scary, and to think that you’re thousands of miles from home can amplify that. But it doesn’t matter if you only have 1 friend or 100 friends; they are worth their weight in gold when they’re needed. You may also be surprised at how strong you really are, and I guarantee this, whatever has happened, you will be 10 times stronger afterwards.
You are never truly lonely, never, never, never.