Wake up call

Mental health

‘You can’t beat death/ but you can beat death in life, sometimes’

How cool is this? Charles Bukowski wrote it in 1993. He died in 1994, at the age of 74. A friend sent his poem The Laughing Heart to me this morning, and it illuminated a sentence, or instruction, that has been reverberating around my head these last few days. It says: ‘I cannot help you with your fear of death, but I can try to help you with your fear of life.’

It came in one of those self-speaking-to-the-self moments. You know, that sacred, special ‘inner voice’ that comes to you sometimes? No, it’s not the naggy horrible one, telling you all sorts of lies about yourself. You can call that one the critic, the monkey – you can call it a dick – call it whatever you like: it’s not you. It’s the you that wants you to stop being you (I’m not going to edit that. I know it’s irritating to read, I’m sorry).

Another friend of mine says that suffocating voice is ‘just old childhood tapes’, playing on a loop. She pressed stop on them ages ago. Actually, she pulled out the reels and burnt them. I really listen to her because she seems like a fully evolved person. She’s one of the happiest people I know. She has also suffered the most of anyone else I know.

There is another narrative pulsing within you. It’s very quiet, calm and steady. It tells you things. Important things. How can we find this voice that can help us beat death, sometimes? You just have to get still inside yourself. Slip behind the curtain. There’s meditation, yes. But it could also sneak up on you when you are doing the dishes or walking the dog. Or when you are drifting off to sleep or waking up, and your consciousness is touching something else. Your soul, maybe.

You will know when you hear it because your heart will light up and then, as Charles Bukowski says in the last line of that poem, the Gods will delight in you.

Doctor, doctor

Mental health

One thing worse than being a hypochondriac is being a hypochondriac who has been diagnosed with a major health problem.

I don’t know that meditation helps with this, so I’m not going to talk about being plugged into the universe or finding peace within yourself. I’m going to talk about how bloody annoying it is. Hypochondria is another of the litany of mental health disorders I have, and sometimes it gets so bad I feel that I am on the verge of death. My brain frequently flashes forward to me being diagnosed with whatever I have too late, and dying.

Today, I’m worried that the fluttering in my heart is a sign that I have a serious heart problem. Last week, I went to see a skin specialist after months of wrestling the fear that the ‘lesion’ on my back was skin cancer. I have ‘sticky blood’ so I worry about getting a clot, even though a specialist has told me that my crazy leg growth, made up of a giant network of tangled blood vessels, will ‘unlikely’ leech a clot into my arterial system, instead continually clotting within itself. I worry, that somewhere inside me, cancer is growing. That I am blanking out a lot because I have early onset Alzheimer’s. That my gallbladder issues are going to shorten my life. That the giant hemangioma on my liver is not innocuous, as a liver consultant assured me, but something far more sinister.

After all of the births of my sons, this health anxiety worsened. There are lists upon lists on my iPhone, things like ‘ask about darkened patches at top of leg’ or ‘ask about stabbing pain in stomach – is it an infection’ or ‘ask about bouts of breathlessness’. There are actual, real health diagnosis and then there is a plethora of thoughts about them, with embellishments. Right now, the thoughts feel more harmful to my health than the diagnosis themselves.

You battle mental illness on all fronts. You need to be like a ninja, constantly brandishing different weapons and strategies just to survive the day – just to survive your life. One mental disorder goes hand in hand with another. You don’t just get the gift of depression, you’ll get a sideshow of anxiety or a good nip of OCD to go with it. You’ll have hypochondria, and its playmate will be panic.

There are solutions to the shitshow inside your head. I am committed to finding them. We are here to master our minds, not the other way around.