At times I knew I was falling too far into the pits of depravity and insanity. My drinking became heavier and my behaviour more outrageous. I wanted to come back to some sort of peace and tranquillity. I always thought it was there, like a bridge I could cross whenever I got tired, but one day I considered that maybe that bridge had collapsed and I wouldn’t be able to easily return to that steady state I was once in. I was stuck in the lands of madness, where the crooked tree branches surrounded me, where wild-eyed vultures picked at carcasses, and dark spaces held hidden terrors. There was no clear way of going back so onward I kept walking into the dense foliage toward whatever fate awaited me.
On that path I thought of all the others who had gone crazy and lost themselves completely on similar journeys. I didn’t want to be like them and I knew I still had the light inside of me – the light that could lead me to the lands of peace once more. But at that moment a great doubt settled in my head and I couldn’t help but wonder whether destruction and disaster was my inevitable destination. My drinking continued to become heavier as I felt more and more distant from the people who stood in front of me. I was losing touch with reality at times, drifting away in a room of crowded people, fading out from my surroundings, losing my mind while wandering in the darkness.
I wouldn’t be the first in my family to have wandered down such a path. I thought of my uncle who died alone in a room of sadness and alcoholism. They found him amid the empty bottles, unresponsive and not even fifty years old. He had been living in that apartment for some years, separated from his ex, rarely seeing his son and drinking heavily. I remember my father first telling me about his problem. “You have to understand that he can’t stop himself when drinking. Most people can have a few and then stop themselves, but he can’t. When he drinks just one, he carries on drinking until he passes out. That’s why he can’t drink any alcohol at all.”
At his funeral I looked around at the forlorn faces of my relatives. Funerals were always sad occasions, but when they were for someone who had passed before their time, then there was an extra bleakness in the air. My other uncle got up and told stories of his life before breaking down in tears. Listening to his words, I reflected on the last times I had seen him, usually in passing in the city centre while he was on his way to his job serving meat on a deli counter in the market. As a teenager, I had failed to spot the pain in his eyes, but now I was older and the sadness of the world had made itself home in my heart too, I looked back at those occasions and understood things a bit more clearly. I think about the situation he was in, barely surviving off a cash-in-hand job at the local market, living alone in a small flat, failed relationships and rarely seeing his only child. Like many hurting people, he turned to the bottle to numb the pain of his reality. And now I see his face in my memory; the bloated face, the red cheeks, the lost look in those eyes. The reality was always there in front of me if only I had the awareness to see it.
As a child, I didn’t understand how someone couldn’t stop themselves from drinking. But now I have reached a time in my life where I start to see the darkness in which my uncle lost himself within. The demons lure you in, and it becomes so easy to spiral off into a storm of self-destruction. There had been too many times that I had gone on reckless benders, drinking myself into oblivion, sedating and medicating through the bottle. When your world feels a bit empty, it’s a quick fix to migrate to a different land – a hazy land that may feel like heaven in moments, but is really hell. You make a trade to distort and suppress your senses, but life loses its shine until the darkness is all you know. Slowly you become comfortable in it as it surrounds and engulfs you. You don’t even struggle against it; you like the feeling of seeing yourself slip away in the distortion. That blur of new faces, the hedonistic excess, the reckless and wild behaviour – the brutal hangovers only cured by picking up the bottle again. It’s madness. Pure madness. And you get sucked into the vortex ever more rapidly until that chaos is all you know and understand.
Despite currently drinking heavily and being out of control, a part of me believed that I was able to put the bottle down if I absolutely had to. I had a period every year where I stopped drinking for two or three months in the autumn. I also knew the happiest I’ve ever been were those stages at the age of 26 and 28 when I went sober for a few months. I exercised often, ate reasonably okay, slept well, meditated and didn’t go near the bottle. Even just staring at a drink made me feel nothing at that point. There was zero attraction. I knew it was poison to the state of consciousness I’d acheived – that all the gains of happiness I’d made would be dragged back and taken away from me. But despite those periods, I still find myself here I am a few years on drinking more heavily than ever before. There are reasons for this I suppose. The loss of time and frustration that came from the covid lockdowns; the fact I’ve just turned 30 and want to make the most of this very last bit of my youth. I’d had fun in some ways, I suppose, but these latest benders fill me with almost a fear that perhaps I really have lost my mind; that I have lost control; that I will never return from these woods of madness and find my way back to the lands of peaceful light. It fills me with a fear that I will not be able to stop and they’ll find me one day in that room of isolation, unresponsive on some beer-stained sofa, amid the bottles and beer caps – another soul taken by the need to try and find some shelter and escape from life’s unrelenting storm.
‘One morning I awoke in a strange room with a foul taste in my mouth. My date from the previous night was still fast asleep and I figured it was easier for both of us if I just left before she stirred. I had no battery on my phone and wasn’t sure exactly where I was. I walked out of the house which was on the top of a hill. From the doorstep, I saw the city centre in the distance and realised I was on the opposite side of the city. I then started making my long way home through unknown streets and neighbourhoods. I could have gotten a bus, but I had always resented paying for public transport, so I kept on walking – tired, hungover and even more of a daze than usual. I looked at the people walking past me, wondering which of them was also doing a walk of shame. My stumbling continued until I had made it back into the city centre when I caught my reflection in a shop window. For a minute I stood there staring at it. It seemed that on every street a window reflection was there to show you to yourself and suddenly make you question what the hell it was you were doing on that street, in that city, in that life. Did your path have purpose? Were you a good person anymore? Were you even a sane person anymore? Looking into my tired eyes, I could see I was just another messed-up young man, entertaining myself and keeping life interesting in whatever way I could. I was no different than the drunks and druggies; than the addicts and adrenaline junkies. I found my solace in the thrill of casual sex; my shelter in the tangled limbs of a stranger. It was a depressing reality and my reflection continued to stare back at me almost in disgust. There was only so much of it I could take before I had to look away and carry on along the avenue. This is what life could do to a man. He enters it with wide eyes ready to discover and explore, and then thirty years later he stands staring at his reflection in confusion and consternation. The only thing to do was carry on walking and try to avoid that reflection for a little while longer.’
I entered the airport at dawn in a zombie-like state. It had been another sleepless night and it was time to return home after what was perhaps my most reckless trip yet. Leaving Portugal, I found myself depleted in more ways than one. My belongings now amounted to just three kilograms in my carry-on backpack. I was light, lighter in everything – bodyweight, money, clothes, sanity. I was travelling on an emergency passport after having lost my normal one along with other things. Those other things included my electric razor – my lack of razor made evident by the big, bushy beard now covering my face. What had happened to everything I wasn’t entirely sure about. The trip had been a total blur, fueled by heavy amounts of alcohol and a lack of sleep which was now commonplace whenever I travelled. That insomnia had left my brain in a beaten and battered state. My body too was a similar way – skinny and sunburnt and in need of some serious rest after a chaotic few weeks in the Portuguese sunshine.
In such a weary state, I naturally got reflective about things. I realised that at that point I’d been living on the run for almost ten years. A whole decade ago I went out on the road of discovery and adventure, seeing what awaited me out there in this wilderness that has maddened my mind and scarred my skin. I went out into the world with wide eyes seeking something that seemed not available in my immediate surroundings. I stuffed those backpacks with my few belongings; I stuffed my eyes with beautiful sights; I stuffed myself with soul-stirring experiences. I was living for myself and soaking in as much life as I could during my youth. But after all of that, I’m finally at the point where I start to wonder how sustainable this lifestyle is. On this trip I had once again experienced enriching moments and connections with others, but more than any other trip, I had also experienced some very dark moments, including a couple of days that I would reckon as the worst of my entire life. That time began with me being kicked out of a hostel for passing out on the floor of a room that wasn’t my own. The memory of the night before was non-existent and in my ashamed state, I decided to carry on drinking at a nearby bar in the morning on my own. The last thing I remembered was smoking a joint with a retired guy from California before waking the next day with a large number of belongings missing including my passport. I had a bus booked up north to start a five-day hike along the coast that I really didn’t want to take. Confused, stressed and with the worst comedown of my life, I stumbled onto that bus feeling like some sort of gremlin – my lack of identification now confirming I was out of place officially as well as mentally.
That feeling of defeat was also there in that airport that morning as I continued drifting around in a zombie-like state, wondering just how much longer I could keep living life on the edge like this. Just two days I was partying ’til 6am on the streets of Lisbon before going to the British embassy to pick up my emergency passport. A stern-looking guard with a machine gun searched me and escorted me through the building while my comedown and lack of sleep filled me with nerve-shredding anxiety. That moment was just another point of chaos and madness in what was now a strong back-catalogue. My mind thought back to getting arrested in Australia for trespassing and having to hitch-hike to my court case. It thought back to almost being hit in the head by a falling rock on a precarious mountain path; to narrowly missing an avalanche by thirty minutes in a Himalayan valley. It was true that there was only so much chaos one man could endure before he was pushed to the brink of total madness (or worse, death), and now – at thirty years old – I feel the voice of sanity call out to me through this mist, telling me to calm down and stop this freefall into the abyss of anarchy. “Come in and relax,” it says. “You’ve experienced enough of this hedonistic life. Take a breath. Step back. Take some time to enjoy a quiet life.”
Meanwhile, I think of a man I know in his eighties. He is a beat poet who seems to have been also living on the run all of his adult life and continues to do so in whatever way he can. I read his stories about drifting around Europe while busking and living on pennies. I also think of my friend Bryan, three years older than me who had been living even more on the edge than myself during the last few years in Australia. He’s just about to commence a one-month hike through the Alps with his girlfriend. Maybe there is a way to live like this without going totally insane. But am I like those other guys? I wasn’t sure. They certainly didn’t seem to end up in the situations I got myself into. They knew how to look after themselves and not spiral off into complete oblivion like I too often did. My self-destructive side was seemingly getting worse with each trip I went on and maybe I just had to accept that I wasn’t cut out for this high-flying lifestyle anymore. Maybe I really was crazier than the rest.
With my mind in a pensive and delirious state, I made my way through security. I wandered through the duty-free shops before finding a little cafe to sit down. I then ate some breakfast while watching others walk around the departure lounge, all of them looking so much fresher than myself.
I guess it was strange as someone who was a travel addict, but sometimes airports could make me feel alone more than any other place. I think it was the sight of the families, the loved-up couples, the rowdy groups of friends. It seemed that were very few others like myself in those crowds – solo travellers making their way to or back from another tiring adventure. As usual, when looking at regular people, thoughts of sanity and stability entered my brain. I thought of finally getting my own place and settling down in one place. I thought of women – of the French girl I had recently met in Mexico. She was on a two-week holiday there and was now back in her stable life with a good-paying job and about to buy an apartment. Maybe I’d learn French and move over there to live a nice quiet life with her. Maybe I’d finally learn to drive, get a pension and stop this calamitous journey through the wilderness. But almost as quickly as these thoughts entered my mind, they were pushed aside by the other ones – the thoughts of wandering ecstasy, of partying with new friends in foreign lands, of standing on sunset shorelines and hiking through mountainous valleys. I thought of the love of anarchy and adventure, my soul sailing further out into that intoxicating sea of the unknown – that same sea which had currently left me in a disheveled state with no passport and few belongings, with insomnia and sunburnt skin, but also with a spirit that was set on fire and a mind that was blown wide open.
Oh, what is a man to do once he has tasted such a life? This thrilling run out beyond the fences, this glorious dance in the lands of chaos – how does he return from that to a life of sensibility and suburban sanity? How does he trade the mystery and magic for the predictable and comfortable? For the safe and steady? I still had things I wanted to do, after all. I still wanted to fulfill my dream of cycling from the UK to Asia. Of hiking the great Himalayan route. Of finally travelling around Colombia. My list was still incomplete, but continuing in such a way of being didn’t bode well on the current basis of things – at least when I thought of similar others to myself. I thought Jack Kerouac – the great beat writer – drinking himself to death in his forties. I thought of Hemingway and Hunter S Thompson – their brains blown to the wall with self-inflicted shotgun wounds. I thought of that guy from Into The Wild starving to death alone in Alaska. It was true that living at full speed on the edge for so long usually made you more likely to end up in a graveyard or institution. Still, a part of me yearned to keep on living this way, putting the pedal down to the metal, soaring down that open road of life as the wind raises the hairs on my head. On the other hand, I also know it’s time to recognise that I’m slowly falling apart too. The wheels are buckling, the engine is failing, and the screws are coming loose.
The smart and sensible thing to do is to accept I’ve experienced more adventure than most people ever will, and finally begin to take my foot off the gas. But the thought of leaving this life behind fills me with tremendous sadness. It causes me to distract myself by reading through the messages on my phone. One Argentinian girl asks me when I’ll be coming back to Mexico. A dutch girl asks if we are ever doing that hike in Italy. Once again, my mind wanders and starts to dream of the next adventure, the next horizon, the next great run through this bewitching wilderness that has claimed each and every part of me.
This strange feeling of conflict is there as I sit there with my sleep-deprived mind, with my skinny body, with my half-empty backpack, with my emergency passport, with the cuts on my arm of which I’m not sure of the origin. The people around me seem to notice I’m not entirely with it as my hand shakes while drinking my coffee. A couple of coins fall out of my pocket and I reach down to pick them up off the floor. I then look at my jeans and notice that they are starting to tear apart at the seams. It almost seems symbolic and I think about getting them stitched up once again by my mother or landlady. I also think back to that nice Puerto Rican girl in Mexico mending my frayed backpack in Mexico earlier in the year. It was funny: all these women stitching me back together, mending me, repairing me. But maybe this time I’m realising that some things just can’t be stitched back together. There is no thread strong enough anymore to stop me from ripping open as I dream of the next adventure with my tired and maddened mind. And even if there was, I’m not sure I would even want that at this point.
Like others before me, there came a time in my life where I knew I needed to find something. Whatever that something was, it seemed to be not available in my immediate surroundings. Unsatisfied with my external world, I realised my journey was to become an internal one. One day my quest began. Digging into the depths of myself, I struck that spade into the solid ground. With force and might I pulled away the dirt with a driven and determined energy. I knew in my bones that something in those depths, buried away in the darkness, waiting to be uncovered. I didn’t know what it was exactly, but I could feel its presence within, and soon everything else in my life centered around finding it. Naturally I knew there were those out there who would dismiss such an undertaking as foolish or crazy, but I knew that that something within me was something that would make me richer in most ways that people had experienced. So I kept digging away, breaking apart that earth, with blistered hands searching deeper and deeper within my own soul. And in that act of soul-searching, I felt assured that one day the time would come where I would stand with that great diamond in my hands; a man who broke through his walls, who stripped away his surface, who unearthed his treasure and let it finally glint in the morning light. A man no longer blind to what he possesses.
(the following is the opening for a fictional diary-style novel I am experimenting with)
“People are the greatest show on earth and you don’t even pay the ticket.”
Charles Bukowski said that. A man who lingered on the edges of society for most of his life, working odd jobs, moving around, trying to be a writer while alienated from society. He stood on the outside of the herd, looked back in, observed their behaviour and wrote about it. Some people hated his writing, others loved it. For me, I guess I am one of the latter, and I couldn’t help but agree completely with the above quote. I mean, have you ever stopped and watched people? Like really watched them? Their behaviour, their movements, their stresses and anxieties? Have you listened to the lies that come out of their mouths and tried to understand the chaos in their brains? For me, I was drawn to that stuff from an early age and I soon found myself studying the behaviour of everyone around me. From peers to parents to teachers: I wanted to know what made them tick, what their dirty little secrets were, and what it was that would push them over the edge into the abyss of total madness. The average human brain was a dense jungle of issues and for whatever reason I wanted to go and explore it (no doubt I needed therapy to ascertain why exactly that was myself).
Naturally it made sense that I had ended up electing to study psychology at university, before spending a large part of my twenties travelling the world. Of course, at school you just learn all the dull text-book crap, scanning miles and miles of print and regurgitating it in an exam, thinking you are ready to walk on a psych ward and nurse some murderous psychopath back to some form of sanity. None of that stuff really prepares you for the real thing, and it was out on my travels where I started to get some first-hand experience of helping people make sense of the human condition. I mean, there’s something about the situation of travelling overseas that causes a person to let their guard down, take off their mask, and start spilling their deepest, darkest secrets to a total stranger. This, I felt, was that travelling was already a sort of therapy for people anyway; an activity where you took yourself away from the stifling reality of ordinary life to put yourself under the existential microscope. The average Joe could learn a lot about himself while hiking through a mountain wilderness, or getting wasted with people from another culture, or staring out at an ocean sunset while wondering what the hell it all meant. And of course, people naturally felt safer sharing their issues with people they were never going to see again (after all, we all knew what judgmental gossips work colleagues and relatives could be).
On my travels I listened to a fifty-year-old man tell me how he had quit his job after feeling suicidal from work-related stress; I listened to a young Danish girl tell me about her eating disorders and childhood abuse; I listened to an ex-heroin addict explain his addiction and fears of relapsing/overdosing. I heard tales of disaster and darkness; of pain and heartache; of death and destruction. My reserved and attentive demeanour drew people in, and I must have spent countless hours listening to people from all around the world spill their hearts out to me. Walking the ancient Christian pilgrimage El Camino de Santiago in Spain was perhaps the greatest experience in this, seeing me spend most days wandering along the trail, meeting people from all walks of life, and talking about the things that lingered in the darkest corners of a person’s mind. The most memorable encounter being with an eccentric, middle-aged man called Pete – a retired army soldier from London who had no home or next of kin. His last remaining family member (his brother) was killed by American friendly fire in Afghanistan. With no family left and no place to be, he now lived the life of a wandering nomad, walking the pilgrimage again and again with no apparent goal other than to just keep going until he dropped dead on the ground. He was a nice guy, although it’s obvious there were some serious demons lingering within, which typically came to the surface every evening after a bottle of red wine – resulting in arguments being started, abuses being hurled, and hostel tables being flipped. Such encounters were compelling to me and only made me crave the gypsy lifestyle more; clearly there was no substitute for real life experience in getting to know just how convoluted and complicated and chaotic the human mind could be. As the godfather of modern psychology had said:
“Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar’s gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart through the world. There in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-halls, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, socialist meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with a real knowledge of the human soul.” Carl Jung
Yeah, old Jung knew the score. The sick were out there in plagues, and by travelling the world with an open heart, you were sure to end up in the midst of human sickness. And the truth, I’ve come to learn, is that almost everybody is sick with something. Even the people who look untroubled on the surface have their monsters lurking somewhere within, and each man or woman has their own facade to hide away the reality of their true tortured self. I even remembered the teachers I had at school – people I looked up to as shining examples of successful human-beings – I later came to find out their drug habits, how some were cheating on their spouses, how one was sexually harassing members of staff, and how another was even found with underage pornography on his computer. Ultimately human-beings are wild and wounded animals ruled by desire, instinct and fear – only society has sought to suppress that side of us and to present us all as civilised beings with polished appearances. But no matter how clean your clothes are, the pain in your heart can’t be washed out; no matter how much makeup you wear, the dirt in your soul can’t be glossed over; no matter how many filters you use on Instagram, the mess in your head can’t be edited out.
Everyone is fucked-up to some degree, and I guess it’s my job to help people make sense of just how fucked-up they are, and also what – if anything – can be done about it. I know, I know: you’re probably thinking how heroic and selfless I am. Well, just know I don’t see myself as some sort of hero: a dark knight that leads people back into the light from the demon-infested shadows. I’m sure there is a view of a therapist out there somewhere (I think that was what I thought when I was an idealistic young man). You see, the truth is I’m just as fucked-up as the majority of people I speak to. Perhaps even more so actually. That’s what makes this whole thing so laughable. I mean, a fucked-up person helping other fucked-up people become less fucked-up? It’s almost poetic in a Nietzsche-esque sort of way. I guess I had spent a lot of time trying to make sense of the mess inside my head so I could, to a degree, put myself into the seats of those opposite me. They were the seats of the broken, the desperate, the lost, the lonely, and the confused. And they were states of being I had gotten to experience myself over the years, so naturally I could resonate with most of the things coming out their mouths. The only difference being that I wouldn’t dare sit in front of a therapist and divulge the contents of my mind for fear of getting dragged to the nearest madhouse. So what better place to sit than in the therapist chair myself, hearing other people’s stories, and feeling some sort of relief that many human-beings were a complete mess inside too.
Often I even thought many of them were fine when compared to myself; nothing a bit of self-reflection, meditation and a few lifestyle changes couldn’t sort out. For me, my madness was an unshakable, elemental part of who I was. It was something I had knew existed within me from a young age. There were many moments of strangeness but I guess the first notable one was when I broke into a house on my way home from a night out when I was sixteen. I went into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of wine before going to drink it in the living room. It was Christmas and I sat there on the sofa looking at the Christmas tree, sipping my wine and feeling like Santa Claus himself. I considered taking one of the presents from under the tree but managed to stop myself. Aside from that, I started relationships with girls then deliberately crashed them just for some drama and passion. I got drunk and stood on the ledges of buildings, wondering what it would feel like for those few seconds of falling before hitting the ground. I went out into the world and sought out pain and drama like some deranged masochist. The reason I liked this shit? There was no way around it: I was self-destructive at my core. An absurdist. Prone to nihilistic thoughts. Human existence was a big joke to me and I wanted to make a mockery of it as much as possible – even getting a self-serving job that satisfied my fetish for delving into the minds of those around me. God, there’s so much to tell you about really, but I’ll spare you the full details of my own tragedy for now. We’ll have to entertain ourselves with other people’s tragedy instead.
The start of a new year. The ‘new year, new me’ were out in force and I was usually met with new clients looking to finally address their underlying issues in the hope they can finally achieve happiness, or perhaps just momentarily stop themselves from kicking the bucket. I was guilty too – starting this diary as a sort of new year experiment to see if I could create some added meaning to my life which was currently in the grips of my latest existential crisis. Dreams of being Charles Bukowski were still in my mind, and I was well aware this was another project that would probably dissipate and fade out into nothingness over the course of the year, just like all my previous projects – including a dystopian novel that was going to be the most prophetic book since 1984 (yeah, I was particularly deluded at that time). Still, it was something; another creative endeavour to keep me going and not let myself be crushed by the feeling of pissing your life away doing the same things every day. It was a common feeling most working adults could relate to. Just like Roger Waters of Pink Floyd had sang on the album Dark Side of The Moon:
“Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I’d something more to say…”
Or perhaps a bit of Celine hit the nail on the head:
“The worst part is wondering how you’ll find the strength tomorrow to go on doing what you did today and have been doing for much too long, where you’ll find the strength for all that stupid running around, those projects that come to nothing, those attempts to escape from crushing necessity, which always founder and serve only to convince you one more time that destiny is implacable, that every night will find you down and out, crushed by the dread of more and more sordid and insecure tomorrows.”
Old Louis-Ferdinand Celine: a writer after my own heart. Anyway, enough of all that. Today’s ‘new year, new me’ client is a twenty-two-year-old woman. She is in the final year of university and expressing some of the standard concerns that ravaged the minds of young people across the world. On she went telling me about her crippling anxiety, her doubts in her head that she wasn’t good enough, that she would always be unhappy and die alone in some dark room covered in spiderwebs and sorrow somewhere. Young women are my biggest client demographic. First of all, women are more likely to actually go and get therapy, unlike us men who politely bottle up our pain and end up committing 70% of all suicides. Second of all, the young woman has a range of issues she needs to navigate in the attempt to be a functioning human-being. Everything from image issues, social media addiction, eating disorders. Some are victims of domestic or childhood abuse, some sexual assault, others are riddled with anxiety about the world and themselves. And let’s not forget the state of the economy which had left all young people screwed when it came to finding a stable career and affording their own home. It was a cluster-fuck of issues altogether, being made continually worse by the unrelenting absurdity of the modern world which was never afraid to make you feel like total shit at every opportunity.
“I feel like I’m doing all these things just to do them,” she told me. “I don’t feel a connection to what I’m doing. I’m just drifting through the motions like I’m not really there, and I keep wondering: will I always feel this way? Like when I get married and when I have kids. I’ll just be doing those things too because that’s what everyone does. Surely everyone doesn’t feel like this? I know they can’t. All my coursemates are applying for jobs and planning their lives. They sound excited, enthusiastic, hopeful. Meanwhile, I just can’t relate to them at all. I just have this emptiness inside.” I let her have a moment for self-reflection before interjecting.
“Have you spoken to anyone else close to you about this? Do you have anyone in your life you feel understands you?”
“No, that’s another thing – no one understands me. If I had someone to talk about these things with, I would, but I don’t. Isn’t that why I’m here after all?”
“I understand. I can say that you are certainly not the only one feeling these things, but that doesn’t negate how you are feeling. However, losing interest in things you once enjoyed and feeling no connection to anything is often a sign of depression. Would you say this a feeling that’s manifested recently?
“Well, I started feeling this way after the first year of university. I was waking up in the morning with no energy, and sometimes it took me over an hour to get out of bed, then when I did……”
I sat back and let her go on, seeing if her introspective exploration of her issues could help us identify the area that was causing her these troubles. The best thing to do with a new client is to just let them speak. The thing is that most people just have so much shit inside of them they need to get out, and having a stranger whose job is to listen to anything and everything you want to express can be the godsend they’ve needed. It’s really quite simple in a way. You give them their space to scream, you acknowledge their scream, and you help them make sense of where their scream came from and what can be done about it. Most aren’t even expecting some grand epiphany or something like that; just the sheer relief of getting all that shit out inside of them is enough. All that shit that has been tearing them up through the years; all that shit they hold inside when they say ‘fine thanks, you?’ Finally, their time has come. So sit back, look attentive, and let them vomit out the contents of their constipated mind right in front of you.
We carried on for another thirty minutes trying to get to the root cause of why she felt that way. Soon her time was up and I said goodbye to her, had some lunch, then welcomed back one of my regulars: an unemployed widow with no savings whose social anxiety stopped her from getting a job. After that it was a guy with bipolar disorder who had recently smashed up his parents house and set fire to his car. It was another cheery start to the year.
After work, I headed to my local. I had considered the dry January thing but decided it was just another trend and fashion that I didn’t really want to follow. I couldn’t bring myself to face another year sober so I sat down at the bar and ordered a drink. I then looked up at the television. More talk of Brexit negotiations were on the screen, along with the latest football scores, and something about government officials dodging taxes. It was a world of absurdity out there but drinking helped you escape for a brief while. I got my double rum and coke then got speaking to one of the resident alcoholics. You needed people like that to make yourself feel better at times; people worse than you that made you feel okay about yourself in comparison. It was a common mind trick we all played on ourselves and I utilised it too. I downed my drink with him, put the world to rights, and headed home to masturbate and eat some leftover macaroni and cheese. And some digestive biscuits too.
It had been a day of chaotic adventure and now we were back in the hostel, drinking beers and wine around a table in the courtyard. The drinks and good times were flowing along as the air was filled with the sound of Latin music and hearty laughing. We spoke of the day’s exploits; we spoke of travelling and adventure; we spoke of Wim Hof and Zen Buddhism. Suddenly came the question I despised so much. “So what is it that you Do?” one girl asked another across the table. The other girl looked up at her. “You know for work and that back home? What do you do?” I sat back in my chair and swallowed a sip of my beer. Immediately I felt the atmosphere change. The ‘do’ question was out there and I knew it was time to categorise ourselves – to justify ourselves as functioning members of human society.
The girl answered how she was a marketing executive back in Sydney. She explained a little about her role then sat back and smiled. Her box had been ticked off: she was an accepted member of the human race. The girl carried on asking the others on the table. One guy was an accountant, another was a nurse, another a public relations manager. Tick, tick, tick. As the question crept around a table, I breathed an internal sigh of frustration. I knew I was about to be judged. I didn’t have a box to place myself in or label to slap onto myself. I was twenty-four years old and had never held a job for more than a year. I had spent the last few years post education going from job to job; from adventurer to adventure. I was officially unlabeled – a wanderer or vagabond in their civilised eyes.
The question went around the table until finally the spotlight shone down on me. They asked me and I began explaining about my life. I explained how I had worked about twenty different jobs for short periods to fund my adventures – of how I took part in medical research trials to afford those plane tickets. They all stared at me strangely. “But what is it you DO?” the girl said again. “Or what is it you want to DO?…” Their steely eyes fixated on me as they internally dissected me with a calculating look. It was a look I had experienced many times back home, but one I thought I was safe from when out on the road amongst apparent free spirits.
I took a deep breath and tried to explain how I didn’t want a career. I explained that my only aims and ambitions were to see the world, to climb the mountains, to try and create art through my writing. I tried to explain that I wanted to delve down into the depths of the human psyche and explore what it is to exist as conscious creature in the universe. But as I rambled on I realised it was of no use. The looks of dismissal shown my cover was blown; I wasn’t a functioning member of the human race like the rest of them. I didn’t have a box of economic employment to place myself in and for that I was the weird one. My label of seclusion had been slapped on me. I was an outcast, an outsider, an alien.
“Oh well that’s cool” one person said half-heartedly after a few seconds of silence. I sat back and sipped my beer as the question awkwardly skipped onto the next person. The conversation carried on flowing; I tried to join back in but I felt that something had changed in the dynamic of it. As everyone bickered away, I suddenly noticed that I was segregated from the group. I couldn’t get a foothold in the conversation, so I just sat there listening in, dwelling in my own exclusion. Eventually I got tired of it and walked off to go drink my beer alone down by the beach (at least solitude was a reliable old friend who understood me).
I sat there on the shoreline and reflected on what had just happened. The more I continued through life, the more it became clear what was required to be an accepted member of the human race. One had to fulfil some sort of title; to fit themselves into an easy-to-distinguish role. It seemed that the fate of a person was to ‘grow up’ and become an ‘accountant’, a ‘teacher’, a ‘project manager’, a ‘marketing executive’. Integrated into society, it was hard to avoid becoming defined in a box of some sort. Whenever people met each other for the first time, one of the first questions asked was always that merciless ‘what do you DO?’ It was a question that saddened me greatly. The context of it being the go-to question when you first met somebody implied that a human-being’s identity was primarily a job role. What made it worse was that when you answered the other person categorised and judged you on what sort of person you were, how much money you likely had, what sort of car you drove, and even what politics you followed.
Unlike the others, there wasn’t a singular job role out there that interested me. All I ever wanted to do was go on adventures and write here and there. People said: “oh you like writing: why don’t you be a journalist?” I did follow my passion of writing into the profession of journalism, but my introduction to that world only left me disinterested and disenfranchised. I wanted to WRITE, not be sat behind a desk in an office typing up some press release or news story I had no interest in.
As I sat there drinking my beer and staring out into the sunset sky, I decided that I just had to accept that I was an undefined being. I was a man without a label; a citizen without a box. I was a person who belonged to tribe or had no particular trade. As I rode down the highway of life, I was destined to continue being undefined – a wanderer with no role other than to rescue my own truth and bliss from the wilderness. I wasn’t compatible with society, so instead I roamed the earth, I stared up into the skies – I drank beers alone and waited for words of wisdom to pour down onto the page. In all the madness of human existence, I was a solitary gypsy spirit doomed to forever wander with the wind. That – it turns out – is what I did. That is what I do. And that – I guessed as I sat alone scribbling on a piece of paper for the rest of the evening – is what I would always do.”
(Taken from my book The Thoughts From The Wild – available worldwide via Amazon)
“The words of mockery came at me and I realised at that point I had broken through to a new realm. People’s thoughts and opinions of me no longer had any power over my emotions. I was my own man, and it struck me how blessed I was to be able to live life without striving for social validation. So many people secretly craved to live life not controlled by worries of what others thought of them. It was no easy thing to do after all. We are all social beings that thrive on others’ acceptance, and it truly takes a bit of insanity to overcome this aspect of human nature. And the bigger the crowd you have to fit into, the more of your own individuality you will have to sacrifice. This is why the true individual thrives on his or her solitude. It’s in that uncorrupted space where the noise of society fades away. It’s in that space where the inner voice is heard, new perspectives realised, and art created. This space becomes more addictive the longer you spend in it, and when you return to the crowd and see the masks being worn and the social game being played, you will inevitably only crave to avoid it as much as you can. Solitude becomes a way of protecting your unique essence. And maybe people will think you’ve gone crazy, but you simply won’t care as you know that you have discovered the great secret – the secret that learning to not be dependent on others’ approval is the key to a life of personal truth, authenticity, integrity, and freedom.”
~ The Crazy Ones ~
“Always the crazy ones were discussed with hidden interest. Some were mocked outright, and others were affectionately referred to with lines like “she’s a bit different” or “he’s a bit out there”. Whatever the case, it seemed most people had a subconscious fascination for the alternative mind. People would stand back and observe them as if they were a rare species – some kind of exotic bird with pink feathers. Mostly they fascinated me because they were the creatures who had jumped the fences of normality; they were the ones who hadn’t subscribed to the current version of sanity which helped us all enjoy small-talk down the pub. To me that was a liberating quality I couldn’t help but envy. Without being shepherded on the farm of conventional thought, you were free to invent yourself and be whatever you wanted to be. And what was more desirable than that? In a world that said the winners were the rich people, or the famous people, or the good-looking people, to me it was the crazy ones – the people living life on their own terms – who were life’s greatest success stories.”
“And one day I just let go of it all. Of the anger, of the resentment, of the pain. I threw it into the trash and felt a relief flow through my soul. I looked at the world again as a child; all that possibility and opportunity, my life was mine to do what I wanted with it. I didn’t need to let my past define me. I didn’t need to stay bitter and cling onto past issues. A new lease of life was upon me as I entered a new phase of being. I walked those streets with my head held high; I brushed off all the little stresses and inconveniences; I looked into mirrors and felt a great strength in my heart. Peace and happiness gently let itself be known to me. Like a butterfly sitting on my shoulder, it looked at me to tell me “see, I was here all along.” And then I looked up at the sky with my eyes wide open. A new adventure was coming; the story of my life still unfolding. It was time to move on. It was time to grow. It was time to move forward into something new and wonderful and magical.”
At first, I didn’t really understand what it was about me that drew them all in. I was a person freefalling through my own insanity, and probably the last person in the world to give advice on life, yet they always found me. The messages arrived in my inbox one by one. Hurt people had read my blog online, and ended up in contact with me. This girl from the U.S, she poured out her pain; over two-thousand words of stream-of-consciousness, introspective confession. I didn’t know what to tell her. Her mind was a storm of noise like mine. Was I supposed to quell it? I wanted to help but I just didn’t know how. The thought hit me that perhaps she just needed someone to listen to and acknowledge her thoughts. I guess that’s what we all need from time to time. No doubt it was the reason I wrote away at the keyboard in the first place.
A few days later I was getting messages from a woman having a breakdown in Italy. She was on a bender and telling me she had just broken up with her boyfriend and that her life was in tatters. Usually she was the one giving me advice on life, but now here I was feeling like I should say something to support her. Her messages continued to trail off into drunken, incoherent statements of despair. I was in the middle of my own episode and tried to offer some condolences, but what else really could be done? Again, the basic acknowledgment of her pain from another seemed to help a little.
A week later came some messages from a fellow writer. He sent me his stuff and asked for some direction and guidance. “I want to write from the heart like you do, but I just can’t seem to find my voice.” There is no great secret to it, I told him. My fingertips strike these keys because they have to. There’s nothing else for me to do out there in this world. I’ve been through all that. I’m not compatible with anything else and so I just pour out my mind to get this shit out of my system. He thanked me for my reply before disappearing to continue on his path.
Again and again they seemed to find me. The hurt, the crazy, the lost, the lonely, the broken and the confused. The tortured souls lingered out there in great numbers, and the more of my own soul I shared with the world, the more they arrived at my doorstep. The reason for this eventually became clear to me. Deep down, we crave to connect with people whose hearts share the same pains, and when someone screams out a little with their own, the people who feel what you have felt will come to you like moths to a flame. Ultimately, it’s a cathartic experience to realise you aren’t alone with how you feel; something which alleviates your loneliness and reminds you that you aren’t totally crazy. They needed it from me, and I guess I needed them too. That’s why I devoted so much of my time to getting down my thought process on paper and sending it out into the world. As a great thinker had once realised: “No matter how isolated you are and how lonely you feel, if you do your work truly and conscientiously, unknown friends will come and seek you.”
And it wasn’t just online that I came into contact with them. Even out there in real life, they crossed my path. In the bars. In the streets. On the park benches. They wandered into my life as if we were all connected by some sort of frequency. This frequency peaked one time when I cycled down to the south coast of the country to collect my thoughts after the failure of a romance. It was there in a random bar that I met a collection of characters who were also being beaten by the fists of life. First was the sad-eyed man in the bar – a young guy whose best friend had recently killed himself. Then was the heartbroken girl who had just split up with the father of her two kids. Then later on we met an ex-soldier with PTSD who was constantly on the verge of fighting someone. Next it was a homeless man, followed by a man with terminally ill cancer who had six months to live. All of us had been strangers before the day began, yet there we all sat together smoking and drinking beer in a rare moment of belonging for us broken ones. The misery of everyone’s lives subsided for a short while as the music filled the air and the good times flowed.
I eventually concluded that there is some sort of universal force that bonds the damaged souls together. I look out on those streets and see the people who stroll through life easily come together. I watch them dine at classy bars and restaurants. I watch them congregate in crowds of sanity and stability. They are the ones who never know what it is to feel lost, isolated and hopeless. Meanwhile, those who do not know such a life must wander in the outside spaces to find the people who understand. Few things are more powerful than the human urge to be understood and to connect with others who know what you’ve felt, and this is why this universal force exists. It is a way to human connection; a way to remind you that no matter what pain you feel in your heart, there are others out there who feel it too, and if you offer yourself to this world, let the light of your truth shine bright, you will attract those who know and understand what you are feeling inside. Maybe their companionship will help you overcome your pain, or maybe it won’t, but god knows, we could all do with some company when we’re alone in the darkness.
“No, I don’t mean it like that. Like right now, where are you? I can see that you’re standing here in front of me, but I feel like the real you is far away in another place. A place that I can’t get to. A place I can’t see or touch or reach.”
An awkward silence followed her words. I looked at her and knew exactly what she meant. I could see a sort of sad confusion in her eyes. I knew she could sense that I was not truly there in that time or place with her. She was perceptive and had a vision for those things. There was no way I could pretend to not know what she was on about. I didn’t know what to tell her and, to be honest, I wasn’t too sure of the answer anyway.
“I’m not sure where I am,” I told her. “I guess I’ve never really been sure.” She looked at me as the silence surrounded us. A few seconds passed until she turned away and we continued on with the day to forget about the moment like it never existed.
It was a poignant moment of interaction and one which stayed on my mind for a few days after. It was true that I really had no specific answer to where my true self was, but I knew that it wasn’t here of this earth. All my years I had been there walking through the requirements of life. I opened doors. I walked into rooms. I stood in front of others and let words come out of my mouth. Physically I was there, but another part of me was off roaming a place that was not of this world or dimension. Often, I got lost in it as I sat staring into space or looking wistfully out of a classroom window. In a strange way, I was merely a bystander to all that was going on around me – a sort of spirit in a surrogate body just here out of a duty imposed on me by an unknown force.
It was a state of being which left me out of sync with my surrounding environment. I found it harder than most to be a part of the world because my heart and soul was not truly in it. The places I went; the lessons I attended; the jobs I worked – it was just something I had to do to be a part of everything, but deep down my soul was relentlessly wandering through some nameless wilderness. In the meanwhile, I looked into the eyes of the others and beheld a look I just simply couldn’t relate to. They all seemed to be really there – as if they were part of the world and fundamentally belonged to it. Sometimes I wondered how obvious it was to them that the same look wasn’t in my eyes, and what they would do exactly if they knew how much of an imposter I was.
Though the vast majority of people looked like they belonged to this world, I knew there were a few others out there who felt what I felt inside. Sometimes I thought I spotted them while out there roaming the streets. They had a specific look in their eyes – a subtle one that was often confused for someone daydreaming. They wore that look because deep within they also felt that they just didn’t belong. In their flesh and bones, they could feel a strange yearning; an inner tugging to some ineffable place far away in space and time. Since the very start of their lives, they had experienced this homesickness for a place they’d never seen or been – a place they couldn’t even describe, but somehow knew existed out there somewhere beyond the ether. Like me, they would have to speak the sentences that kept them functioning and do the things that kept them alive, but they also needed those moments of solitude and silence in which they could try to feel a connection to the home that had eluded them since birth.
There were times when that solitude gave me moments when it felt like I was almost there. They came out of nowhere: a moment’s hiking in nature when the sunlight shone through the trees; standing on a dusk shoreline without another soul in sight; the moments when I had been writing my thoughts down in a silent room late at night. They were moments of completeness with the surrounding environment when some things at least started to connect and make sense – when I was somewhat in the right direction to heading home. But always they were short-lived and I was soon left feeling like a foreigner stranded in alien lands once again.
I read about this theory one day that we are all spirits here in human bodies, but some of us have mistakenly arrived here from another place. I think that maybe it’s true. It’s clear to me some people have crash-landed on the wrong planet, existing in the wrong age or world. Those ‘old souls’ or ‘wayward spirits’ – destined to always wander on and never feel a true attachment to the places they reside in. I dunno, it’s getting hard pretending I belong here. I guess I will keep opening those doors, walking through those rooms, speaking those words and doing those things that keep me a part of this world, but know that a part of me has all but left it a long time ago. If you ever see me staring into space with a look of longing in my eyes, know that I am man lost in the spaces of my own being – a sort of sailor out on the ocean of existence, steering my way through the storm, setting my eyes to the horizon – searching for the sight of a shore that will one day let me know what it’s like to finally walk the lands of home.