How Do You Know You’re Returning Home?

The first sign that you’re starting to turn back towards home (and not away from it as you’ve done so long) is not that things magically start to go right. The first sign that you’re returning to the track you fell off is that things could be getting considerably worse. Only, this time, as you stumble, there is a faint whiff of remembrance of something vaguely familiar. A beautiful and ancient melody returns to haunt you in half-remembered snatches. Split-second snatches of scenes, sounds, smells and feelings of something faintly reassuring waft through your senses as you grapple with yet another unpaid bill, broken relationship or health scare.

The first sign that you’re turning the corner to meet up with your rejected, bolden self is that, despite the latest calamity, there’s a feeling a guiding hand might be behind all this. This guiding hand does not pay the bill, fix the relationship or cure your malady. However, this guiding hand is definitely there, wafting through your mind, annoyingly unreachable. It flashes in and out, never staying more than a moment.

This sense of home, of peace, of support, does nothing useful for you but it continues to hover around, distant and ephemeral. And yet it’s there, somehow When you still yourself, a silence drifts in. When you drop that smiling, frightened face of innocence and look in the ghastly eyes of fear, something softens. Something drops away. There’s a momentary parting of those grey clouds of despair. The clouds soon close up again and you return to your sordid mess of a life. However, that sense of something shifting, something opening for you won’t leave you. Fleeting and ephemeral though it is, it hangs with you for days. It may annoy you for days, for months, and you wonder if it’s really happening. You wonder if you’re going mad or if you’re imagining things. You wonder if, in your desperation, you you’re making up illusory help to get you out of your mess. Though you doubt the reality, the sanity, of a sense of support or recognition, it won’t leave you alone.

The second sign that you’re returning home is that you start to fixate on that fly-by-night ghost of peace that won’t let you be. As you flounder through your day, disaster after disaster, it looms sweeter and larger than any disaster that befalls you. As you trip and spill yet another plate of beans over yet another customer, you feel; that familiar dread cloud of shame and incompetence. And yet, as you apologise and wipe up the mess, there’s a sneaky wee smile inside you somewhere – or maybe outside you somewhere – giving you its warm feeling of okayness. You know you should be feeling wretched but you can’t – this tiny, warm feeling holds you out of it, just above wretched and in alrightness. Beans are supposed to be served on a plate and not on peoples’ laps and yet, amid your shame, is a tiny spark of peace. It haunts you mischievously.

“How can I be feeling alright when it’s clearly not?” you ask yourself.

Your lover tells you the relationship is over and, as that black fist slams into your gut, there’s a quiet wee voice that asks for your stillness. It asks you to open to peace, to okayness. And yet it’s clearly not okay. It’s bloody unokay. It’s as bad as it gets but still your inner friend brings a weak smile and a tiny calmness to your panicking heart. Your lover continues to yell at you, to pack their bags and to close the joint account. The disaster doesn’t stop happening but the grief and fear are softened with gentleness, with a sense that, this time, it’s different. You can’t explain why it’s different. It just is. Maybe, this time, you don’t feel like arguing or pleading or or defending. Maybe you feel like giving up … no, not really giving up in the sense of depression … more like giving in, in the sense of not trying to fix anything out there. Being in there seems more important, somehow.

As your boss gives you your termination notice, your heart sinks through the floor and that familiar stab of rejection and failure rips at your throat. The termination notice does not go away but you must and the feelings of dread and disempowerment are no less than before. Your familiar, tangible world is still rejecting you in its usually brutal way and nothing physical has changed. And yet … and yet it’s different. Something’s different. Something’s softened. There’s a faint whiff of a half-remembered scent, of a spongy, deep-forest litter rising from below your feet. A sense of warmth and harmony you had when walking a well-trod path through sun-flecked trees and nurturing shadows of remembrance. That old song from long ago tingles in your ears, softening – even stilling – the voice of condemnation from your boss.

Your job is still gone. Your income has stopped. Your bills continue to arrive. And yet … and yet that tiny calm is there. It’s undeniable. You doubt it. You doubt yourself and wonder, for the hundredth time, if you’re hearing voices. You fear you’re becoming delusional and that all the stress and pain – the continual bloody stress and pain – is getting to you.

You wonder if you’re losing it. You should be feeling worse than you ever have but you’re not. This is unfamiliar and part of you wants the familiar pain. But you can’t find it – you can’t summon it up no matter how hard you try. That invisible hand of support, darting through your mind in unexpected moments, just won’t let you get as low as you’ve been before.

You doubt and smile and wonder and cry and chuckle and cringe and drift and scream and dream. Before there was only down – the fear, dread, shame and pain. But now it’s up and down and you just can’t quite as far down for as long as you used to. You really want to drown and down you go but something just won’t let you stay there and, just as you give in to the suffocating water, you’re gently raised to the surface to breathe again.

Dreadful though the familiar depression and anger are, they are familiar. They’re old friends you love to hate. Though they annoy the heck out of you and bring you down, you still visit them every day. They’re familiar. They’re part of your routine, part of the regularity of your life. Their uncomfortableness is comforting.

You enjoyed your depression. It brought you, if nothing else, a sense of constancy and routine and reminded you of who you thought you were – a depressed person.

You had grown to love your anger. Though it lost you companionship and fulfilment, it did, at least, remind you of who you thought were – an angry person.

This angry person, this depressed person or whoever you had identified yourself as, was an old friend, like a worn-out pair of slippers that are now too small and hurt your feet. But toy can’t bring yourself to throw them out for they’re old friends.

But now something’s changed. These old slippers really are hurting your feet and, despite your attachment to them, you’re feeling less inclined to wear them any more. You even think of throwing them out. Perhaps tomorrow. But you probably won’t wear them as much as you did before.

Your familiar and uncomfortable depression and anger aren’t ready to leave – you can’t let them go just yet – but this invisible hand of support won’t allow you to wallow in their company as you once did.

Despite the pain and shame of your guilt and depression, you feel lonely without them. However, there are moments when you want to disown them as friends. You feel disloyal, disjointed and discouraged. They were what gave you meaning, what gave your life meaning. They were somewhere to go when the going got tough. But you’re not sure you want to visit them so often. They’re still around and you still visit them but they’ve begun to smell a bit … well, unpleasant. They’re not so much old and worn and uncomfortable as old and worn and smelly. And very uncomfortable at times.

But who are you to be without them? You’ll be lonely. You’ll be lost without your familiar, trusted friends. They brought you something you could cling to and identify with. But now you’ve begun to wonder. You may not even know what you’re wondering. Sometimes your brain is empty. Even peaceful. Not for long but long enough to wonder. Yes, OK, admit it – you wonder, in fleeting moments what it would be like to not have these trusted friends around. You wonder what it would be like to not have dramas in your life. You wonder who you would be to not to have the insecurity of continual termination notices thrust under your nose by unhappy bosses. You wonder who you would be to have no bodily pain and discomfort. You wonder who you would be to have loyal friendships and an enduring relationship.

And then you return to your familiar friends and familiar ways and your cancer or ME kicks in again. Another rejection, another drama, another battle … another of what it is you’ve always had creeps back in and you’re comforted by your familiar discomfort.

But not for long.

That sneaky old song plays in your ear and parts the clouds of depression for a moment. For that moment out of time there’s mellow sunshine through that musty curtain. There’s whispered music through the discordant din. A part of you desperately holds the curtain back, basking in the warmth and light of the sunbeams. But the other part of you snatches the curtain shut and gone is the sunshine. Gone is the music. But, in the struggle, the decrepit curtain is ripped and it can never hold back the filtered streaks of light back again.

A light, though dim and fragmented, cannot be held back any more. Your rusty armour has finally worn through and can no longer protect you from peace, stillness and the occasional smile.

The grumpy adult no longer dominates your wakefulness. A child, a new and effervescent child, creeps into your dreams and imaginings and makes you smile. Makes you stop and dream. Makes you remember a happy moment – this life or another one – and the familiar pain dissolves in timelessness.