Here is an excerpt from John Crace’s Digested week in today’s Guardian:
MONDAY It’s been a good few days for 15-year-olds. First we had Alex Mann wowing Glastonbury as he rapped on stage with Dave. Then we had Coco Gauffdefeating Venus Williams, a winner of seven grand slam titles, in the first round of Wimbledon. I’m slightly in awe but can’t help wondering where they developed the talent, the confidence and the determination. When I was their age I hadn’t a clue about anything very much and could barely look other people in they eye when talking to them. Even now as a 62-year old, I still experience my life as some kind of terrifying adventure for which I have been given no instruction manual. I can remember bringing my daughter home from hospital for the first time and thinking: I’m not ready for this as I really don’t have a clue what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s still a mystery to me that she and her brother have somehow grown up into the sort of adults I would like to have been. My career has followed a similar trajectory. Nothing about it has ever been planned, rather it’s been a survival regime to get me to the end of the day more or less intact, predicated on saying yes to every opportunity that has come my way. There are still many days when I struggle to get out of bed with anxiety. I’m writing this on my laptop holed up in my bedroom as nowhere else feels quite as safe today. With all due respect to Alex and Coco, there’s sometimes something to be said for getting your disappointments in early.
If I was any good at writing – and this is not me being incredibly modest: I know my limitations and indeed argue for them – that’s what I would have liked to have written. There are several parts that leap out at me:
My career has followed a similar trajectory. Nothing about it has ever been planned, rather it’s been a survival regime to get me to the end of the day more or less intact. That has been my story since I was about 11 years of age. I know things weren’t exactly made easier by having a dysfunctional home life, or indeed going more than slightly mad before I was even a teenager. Senior school was unquestionably a matter of getting through to the end of the day. None of the subjects made any sense to me. I feared constantly that my ignorance would be exposed, that I would be revealed as a complete idiot incapable of learning anything. I felt I got away with it. Only a small number of teachers berated me for being so hopeless.
At work, it was little different. I was hopeless on anything technical, never a good thing when so much of what I was supposed to be doing was at times highly technical. As mental illness was only invented a few years ago, it was only a matter of time when I’d be found out. Somehow, I made it to the end, at least in the civil service, and I am grateful to everyone who helped me through it all.
And even now, two years on from my mental meltdown at the hands of – have I mentioned this before? – the British Red Cross, I have lost confidence in myself to an alarming degree. I can’t cope with being in large crowds, I have lost all my confidence in golf, which I learned to love, and now I have started to lose faith in my ability to write properly.
Thanks to my Academy Award level acting skills, I have been able to cover up my deficiencies for most of the time. Now, I deal with my demons by going out solely on my terms.
The NHS has nothing left to offer me, unless I completely lose my marbles and get sectioned. I can’t rule out the possibility of it happening but things aren’t that bad at the moment. In the absence of NHS treatment (‘free at the point of delivery’), I’d have to pay for therapy. I have a number of issues with this.
Firstly, I don’t agree with the principle of private medicine. I’d feel as unprincipled and hypocritical as Diane Abbott when she decried the very existence of private education just before sending her son to a private school. Principles can be a real pain, for sure, but what is the point of life without them?
Secondly, private mental health therapy is bloody expensive. The good ones charge something like £50 a session: £50. My most recent NHS therapy went over 12 weeks. That’s £600, which to me is a large fortune. But it’s not just finding the money, which I could if I needed to; it’s my fear that I would sit through each session, fretting about whether I was making the most out of it or whether the therapist was doing it for the right motives. In short, it is not an option. Basically, I’m fucked. The person I was at age 11 is the person I am today, trying to get through today being my only aim in life.
There are still many days when I struggle to get out of bed with anxiety. Oh yes. Pretty well every day, if the truth be known. Someone will confront me with a horrible mistake I have made, something – anything – will go wrong. Before getting out of bed, before I have properly woken up, the stresses, the anxieties and the depression is all over me and I’ll wake up far more tired than before I went to bed. I have had that since I was a young kid, too.
I’m writing this on my laptop holed up in my bedroom as nowhere else feels quite as safe today. Apart from the fact I don’t use a laptop and I write in my Man Cave, this has been me since my British Red Cross experience. Nowhere felt safe today, not our local cricket club, the St Pauls Carnival, not the driving range or the golf club. Just here, on my own, in my Man Cave. I have always had a degree of this going on in my head but since 2017 it’s got and stayed much worse. And try as I might, I can’t get out of this mindfuck. The question is always: how can I set myself free and get out there? The answer is the same: I have no idea.
Even now as a 62-year old, I still experience my life as some kind of terrifying adventure for which I have been given no instruction manual. That’s it, in a nutshell. No one, least of all my parents, prepared me for life. I made it all up as I went along and my mistakes were, and are, mine and mine alone. I wasn’t so much sheltered from real life because I went out and did what I liked. It’s just that no one told me how things worked, how you could shape and change your life. Just saying you can shape and change your life isn’t helpful advice. It’s the how I never knew; still don’t.
I don’t blame anyone in my life for creating the lifelong mess in which I have found myself. My mother was a simple, largely uneducated woman from the Netherlands and, as a stranger in a strange land, struggled to do more than survive. My father cannot be blamed either. Relationships break down – I have been in a few that have broken down – and it’s better to be out of a relationship that doesn’t work than force yourself to stay in it. That he lived halfway across the world during my formative years is just one of those things. I cannot pretend that I suspect my life would have been far better had I seen much more of him. From a distance, he did everything he reasonably could have to help me thrive. If I was a victim of anything, it was of circumstance.
I’m in a mini crisis of confidence, though. I have been here many times before. In fact, I have been in a crisis of confidence more often than I have not been in one.
It is so rare to read the words of someone who has gone through and is going through the same traumas and anguish as you. John Crace has at least reminded me I am not alone, even though it really feels like it sometimes.