• neil

Day 58 (14 May) Training that black dog

Open heart surgery

Over the last three or four days I have found it increasingly difficult to write something for this blog. It is hard to be chirpy and go for a smile when I’m feeling empty, sad and pointless.

58 days of seeing nobody apart from during the weekly shop; 58 days of resisting the siren song of happy memories of when I was surrounded by loved ones.

Isolation magnifies these memories and brings them crashing down like waves which sweep you off your feet and scrape you helpless over the ocean floor.

Too much time wondering whether I can or should ever take the leap to reach out and dare again. Emotional pain is a known quantity; it has bedded in, I know its contours and I can stagger round it.

All it has taken is a cold leaving me physically tired for the tiredness to feed on the sadness and the sadness to feed on the cold. The black dog eating its own tail. A cold, loneliness and no sense of being in the flow or being needed - it doesn’t take much to hollow a person out.

I wouldn’t normally write in this vein but I wonder if my previous chirpiness has not been grating at times for people who are struggling. I have, sans doute, given the impression that it is all easy-peasy, which might have left some people wondering why they were coping less well.

Nope. You are coping at least as well as I am.

Issues which were troubling before isolation are magnified during this period of solitude. We can no longer camouflage the cracks in our lives by weekends away, trips to the beach, the cinema, the theatre or a restaurant.

In concrete terms, what do I do about the misery which momentarily has me in its grip?

I set the alarm at 07:00 in the morning. The black dog leaps on the bed if I lie-in. I shower, shave and put on perfume. There is nobody to smell it but I feel smart.

I make my bed and leave bedroom and bathroom in perfect order.

I am careful what I eat and how much I eat.

I wash up everything immediately after using it so the kitchen could pass an inspection.

I limit wine and beer to the weekend - and no more than two glasses per day.

I ensure that at the very least I walk for an hour a day and do my yoga.

As soon as this cold is over I will be back to running three times a week.

I keep up with this blog and the language lessons.

I garden.

I have to give myself a mental smack around the chops to stick with this.

It most certainly can be dull, repetitive and rather sterile.

But I’ll take disciplined sadness over depression. Busy loneliness beats ‘woe is me’ loneliness. And busy sometimes equals content.

The whole thing sounds like life by a shopping list doesn't it? It is. It is the list of things I need, just as much as groceries, to get through.

This is the furniture of what is, for the moment, a pretty bare life. But it is what is going to see me through to better days. I have no idea if my recipe ( it went from being furniture to being a recipe) can be of help to anybody else - maybe you could add chocolate?

It is strange. Now that I have told you that, now that I don’t have to pretend everything is always hunky-dory, I feel a tad less miserable. I was going to write ‘a tad happier’ - but I decided not to push the boat out too far.

There's a funny little basin you're supposed to wash your face in

Even when I'm down I do know there will be better days. I am already thinking about my next long walk and anticipating the sense of space and freedom; the sense that anything can happen on the big camino of life.

And on that note, I have just opened an email from my friend Maxine, a lovely woman (you’re blushing Maxine!) whom I met while walking across the north of Spain.

She has sent me an article from The New Yorker: ‘The Enduring Romance of the Night Train’ Its well worth a read to dip vicariously into the romance and anticipation of a nocturnal train journey - think Hercule Poirot - and it serves as a reminder of pleasures ahead.

Night trains to distant destinations to begin very long walks! Quite apart from the thrill of the journey itself there is the added benefit of your own cabin and the built-in smugness of not destroying the environment through plane flight.

The author quotes from a passage in TS Elliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”which recounts the thrills of the night train

'Oh it’s very pleasant when you have found your little den

With your name written up on the door.

And the berth is very neat with a newly folded sheet

And there’s not a speck of dust on the floor.

There is every sort of light—you can make it dark or bright;

There’s a handle that you turn to make a breeze.

There’s a funny little basin you’re supposed to wash your face in

And a crank to shut the window if you sneeze.'

What strikes me is how much simple and childlike things bring comfort.

Somewhere safe, cosy and warm where you can be tucked up and lulled to sleep by the clickety clack of the railroad track. And where you wake up to a bright new world of adventure.

Hug somebody. Its urgent!



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