Friday 10 June 2022

Tests and Trials of Life - Paths and Choices

A Basic Philosophy

It seems to me - and it has taken me a long time to realize this - that life is just a series of trials that you have to pass in order to be happy. Everyone is different and some people cope with these trials better than others. I think I'm one of those who struggles with every one of them, but seems to get there in the end.

Life - a series of endless binary choices.

Learning by Trial and Error

As a child, you have limited scope to manage the changes in your life, as most of them are outside your control and the trials and upheavals you face are mostly only faced by going with the flow. I don't know if I had a difficult childhood or not - looking back now, I think I was happy more than I was sad which can't be too bad.

The trials were there though. Losing Dad was something I've never managed to shake off. I never really got to know him, but remember enough to miss him and think about him often - saddened by the fact that I'm now the only member of my family to remember him at all. Even though I was only four, that day is etched in my memory and fundamentally changed the course of my life forever.

Life does go on, though, and Mum meeting someone who I am now proud to call Dad - he has done the job for almost 50 years after all without complaint - lead to us leaving the Island for a time and having a new life in Salford. This came with a whole set of new trials - trying to make new friends and fit in to a place where I was the odd one out with the strange accent and parochial, country kid outlook.

I don't think I made any friends in my time there really. I was isolated, still grieving, shy, nervous and self-absorbed. I was often drifting through my own fantasy worlds and just let the real world pass me by. I was moody, aggressive and a real handful for my teachers, but they showed a level of patience and understanding that I didn't realize was there at the time. I was bullied for my isolation and lashed out at anyone who tried to help. Was there a hint of my sexuality in all of that, even at that age? Well, with hindsight, perhaps a little.

So, I faced the trials of being "Away" and made many errors in how I faced them. Only by taking these wrong turns can you hope to learn the right path. There's no Satellite Navigation for Life!

Coming Home

One of the big reasons for our return to the Isle of Man when I was eleven was for me to be able to go to a better school than was possible in Salford. But, for me, this was just another set of trials to be faced. I'd been away long enough to have been forgotten by the few friends I had made at school here years before and just had to start all over again. Once more I was the unknown new boy - maybe not as bad when the Grammar School has an intake from so many different junior schools, but there still. Now I once more had a different accent - I never lost my Manx one totally, but it has been softened by those five years away from the Island and is now fairly neutral north-west England. My vowels are shorter than I remember they once were for example.

I never really did make friends - well I don't think so anyway - I hung out with mates, but we've never kept in touch and most of them moved away. I certainly didn't have relationships -  I'm not sure I even ever had a crush on anyone at school, although it was sometimes fun to watch the struggles of others.

Still, you cope and you make mistakes, getting some trials wrong and some trials right, learning to understand the system and how to navigate better. And boy, did I make some big mistakes. I may not have been forgiven for them, but I feel I have paid for them and moved on.

The Fear Factor

I've said before that I didn't want to go to University. Sure, I could have tried hard and worked more and done so if I wanted to, but I would never have coped with the first day and deep down I knew it. It can be really difficult to explain just how powerful this anxiety about new things can be, but I'm going to try and do so here.

Just imagine I've had a phone call from a new customer - out of the blue they've been given my number by someone else and told I'm the "Computer Expert" who can solve their problem. No worries!

Well, actually, there are a whole big bowl of worries right there!

  • Where do they live?
  • Will I find the house?
  • Will I be on time?
  • Can I fix the problem?
  • And on and on...?

This list bounces around in my head from the moment the call ends until I arrive at their door, building and growing into a cacophony of fear and dread. This fear is real - not quite on the level of the lion roaring in the darkness just metres away - but gut-wrenching, sweat-inducing, adrenaline-pumping fear. The full-on panic attack is only moments away and I have had them a few times over the years.

Now, this is just another trial, one that has to be faced and overcome like any other. And, I do overcome these trials. It isn't easy, but it does get a little easier as each trial passes. It never goes away though and it clouds my life with a thin veil of permanent anxiety. The fear of change forces us onto the path of isolation and the safety of doing the same thing every day.

The Working World

I left school at 18 into a world of massive unemployment, social unrest (more in the UK than here!) and rampant inflation. I struggled for a couple of years and eventually Mum sent me to see the RSM at the army camp because they needed a boilerman urgently. It took me almost ten minutes to step over the threshold of the office block, but I knew that this was just another trial and I had to pass this one.

Five minutes later I was working at my first real job. (Thanks Brian, but I know you were desperate!) Within a few years I was in the Civil Service and learning to drive, but even then I hated the monotony of working for someone and am happier now working for myself and keeping my own timetable. I am lazy - I do the minimum to be content - even if I sometimes have to work 14-hour days to be lazy the next. So, I have that part of my life sorted - apart from the anxiety of every call-out and work visit of course!

Meeting People

This may seem obvious, but in my chosen profession, I get to meet lots of people. I get on with people - I talk too much, but I like to think I'm nice and kind and considerate so that balances out. I do like to have friends, but I also know it is hard for them to get to that position. They have to make the effort to be a friend because I just can't take that step. The few people who are my friends know who they are and I'm grateful for them all.

Meeting Someone

I'm going to be a little vague here - not because I have no memory of events, but rather because what started out as a secret relationship is still mostly a secret, even though we haven't been together for years and we are both now safely and happily out of our closets.

What do you do when a cute guy - much younger, more gregarious and confident than you - wants to hang out with you with a work related pretext. Well, I didn't know what you do, but I think I really wanted to find out.

I was told, when I came out, that it was obvious I was gay. Well, some people could see it was obvious, apparently even when I couldn't see it in my self, and some people were totally surprised by it. This guy could, I think, see this too. I knew him from work, setting up the computer for his family, so, sure we could spend a little time together if he wanted to. I'd be happy to help with his work and college stuff if I could.

Anyway, we spent some time together and then a little more time not really working - you know, watching a movie, going for a drive and a walk with me taking my camera - the social stuff I never normally did. That watching TV would be usually at my place, in my room with a massive projection TV at the foot of the bed. It's just where it was, no hidden agenda. I guess that's how it is though. You're getting on well and - with hindsight - things are a little flirty between you - nervous but flirty!

So, I could tell he was gay and clearly he could tell I was gay. Well, in that case, there's no harm in watching a romance on the TV - is there? And yes, one thing does lead to another - not necessarily right away or in a giant leap of passion, but the path is there to be taken. I was clearly attracted to him, but I'm not sure I understood that at the start - after all, I'd never really been attracted to anyone before.

I think I settled into the role of a gay person much easier than he did - although I still wanted no-one to know. I'm a bit bisexual, but much prefer men to women and prefer the label of gay now. He was young enough to not be sure and I was strangely happy to let him find out in his own way at his own pace. In some ways, he tried his best to break my heart, but for almost ten years we kept coming back to spend time with each other in a kind of comfortable never-quite-close-enough-for-me relationship.

I loved him - and I told him so - but he never really felt quite that deeply about me and we eventually just stopped communicating for about four years. I think, perhaps, that he was ready to accept himself and come out of his closet and feared that I wouldn't be able to do the same or that I would be outed by accident because of him. I hold no grudges and few regrets. This is another trial of life that must be passed or failed. I didn't fight for him because deep down I knew that I wouldn't win. Perhaps I failed this test, but I like to think that I just managed to scrape a pass. We are, I think, still friends and that is perhaps the most important indicator that I did pass this particular test.

Keeping It All Together

If there is a reason for this rambling post, it is a fairly simple one. I find the act of writing this stuff down cathartic. It makes me feel better to get it "off my chest" and out of my head. These days I do that by writing, mostly because I enjoy it, but also because I hope that perhaps one person's experiences can help another person to understand a situation better. Once, in the past, this sort of stuff would be written in a private, secret, journal or diary, but I'm too modern for that and my handwriting is bloody awful after writing thousands of vehicle logbooks before they were computerized.

When I had to see a psychiatrist - yes the depression and heartbreak can get that bad - she was perceptive enough to see that I would be best served by being told how to analyse and help myself. Of course, she listened to me and encouraged me to talk about my feelings as well, but you only get so much of their time and the anti-depressant drugs only help take the edge off. She told me to read some stuff, try some NLP (I never did), recognise your mood and take action to stem the negative thoughts.

So, that's what I do - in my own way.

That's why, when I was feeling so bad about being secretly gay, I knew the only way to fix it was to come out and stop worrying about it. I wasn't seeing anyone and I could keep it to myself, but knew I needed to say it out loud. It was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do - and there have been some very hard things in the last 50+ years - but I did feel instantly better for it. Thank you Enid and Michael for being there to hear it first and not judge!

When I have thoughts that won't go away, I drop them onto a keyboard and they fly out of my head and into the world where they can't harm me any more. There isn't a cure for mental illness. There is only management and control, but that can be enough to leave you happy.

Also, if you can't fix it, don't worry about it!