Friday, 31 August 2012

Looking Back, It All Seems So Clear Now (1)

One morning during a short break in Tenerife, I decided to drive up the road on the south side of Mount Tiede. It's one of those narrow, windy, steep roads, the sort with no safety rails, tight corners and steep drops. For a while I was okay, stopping a couple of times to look at the view. I was even enjoying the challenge of all those twists and turns. Then, quite suddenly, I lost my nerve. Two-thirds of the way up. I couldn't go on. I wanted to get out of the car and walk away or have someone else drive. Except of course, I couldn't. I had to go on driving up to the top and go back down again, even though I could feel the fear in my stomach and saw horrible accidents at every corner. My body carried on where my soul and mind had given up, and I have no idea how I made it up the last third of that mountain road. 

That's what it was like when I spent most of 2006 looking for a job, being told that I gave good interview and was going about my search in the right way, not to be worried, something will come along... After a while, my hope ran out, leaving an outward physical reflex of confidence, and habits picked up from years of job-hunting. My body carried on when my soul had long since given up. 

When in February 2007, I joined The Bank, I was in a bigger psychological mess than I knew. I was scared, vulnerable, weak and utterly bereft of self-confidence. I was surviving on habit. Of course, the bully who ran the section I joined saw it and laid right in. He did it to everyone in the team, and they were more robust younger men. We took it for eighteen more months until he moved on. His replacement was another weakling who basically marched to the first guy's orders.

I didn't know it at the time, but my blood sugar was running high, and it was affecting the way I felt and thought, making both confused and messy. My girlfriend had stopped sleeping over because I was snoring, and I went for an operation to treat that. Amongst other things, they scar your upper palate so it toughens: it's not life-threatening, but it is painful for a couple of weeks. It didn't make enough of a difference for the girlfriend.

In the summer of 2007, my calves decided to get very itchy blotches, which needed some strong prescription ointments to treat. That was followed by a string of nasal infections - maybe eight or ten over two years. My GP kept sending me for blood tests and eventually threatened me with a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, as my level after one test was over 9.1. I had no intention of taking drugs ending in "formin" or "statin", as I had seen what they had done to a friend, so in February 2009 I went on a carb-exclusion diet the GP suggested. Within three months I had lost ten kilos and my blood sugar was down around 4.0. I began to feel like a reasonable person again. 

In autumn of 2008 I broke up the only long-term relationship I've ever had: ten years or so. We had reached that point where we were functioning better apart than we were when we were together. We were snapping at each other and not having any fun. The last holiday we had taken, to Sicily, was a mitigated disappointment: September is always glorious in Sicily except when it isn't, and that was when we went. We had simply been through too many bad times together. we weren't fun anymore, and we were dragging each other down.

At the start of 2009 The Bank merged with the Very Broke Bank That Used To Be A Building Society Before The Other Scottish Bank Bought It. The Bank spent more than six months re-organising itself, starting from the top down, and it was no fun spending six months thinking that I was going to get the chop: I took no holidays, to build up the size of the redundancy payment. I didn't get the chop but I did get put into a lower-graded job, with three years to get myself rehabilitated before they cut my salary and conditions back to match the grade. For about eighteen months there was a general state of unhappiness, upset, disillusion, change, settling-in and experimentation as the new management found its way around. Nobody can remember doing anything much significant in that time - except that's when I did something in three months that apparently would have taken the lesser mortals of Accenture £1m and 3,000 man-hours to do. And I kept up with my e-mails while doing it. I was going to Chester every week, and one of those weeks spent a day in hospital with a grossly infected eye and face.

By the autumn of 2010, my weight was back up to 95 kilos and I was feeling the strain of trying to control my eating. Remember, I don't drink and I don't smoke, and the only thing between me and raw emotion is chocolate, milk shakes and custard doughnuts. So I enrolled at The Gym, and over the next few months lost a lot of unsightliness around the waistline. 2011 was the year I got the infection on my skull I thought might be cancer. It was the year I turned into a guru at work, took three holidays and got a half-decent bonus. In the gym, I made it to passing the US Army standards for guys of fifty. By December 2011 I had made it from unemployed to well-regarded at work, better paid than ninety percent of British taxpayers, and with as secure a job as any wage slave is ever going to have. I should have been on top of the world, but instead I could barely breathe: just before Christmas 2011, one evening I started on my two-mile treadmill run, and collapsed breathless after 500 metres.

I don't care how young or how tough you think you are, that much over so few years would lay you to waste. I'm fifty-eight years old. The miracle is that I went back to work at the start of the New Year. I dragged my body through the longest, coldest and dullest winter and spring anyone can remember, and it kicked, screamed, coughed and pretended to recover.

At this point, I'm supposed to have a teaser suggesting some reason that caused my problems, and how I found a cure for it. This isn't that movie. And neither is any life you or I lead.

What I did was get angry enough to take Step One.

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