Thursday, 8 October 2015

Walking To Krasnoyarsk (2)

The story isn’t about walking to Krasnoyarsk, a town I picked simply on the sound of its name and its remote location. If I had chosen Aberdeen or Cape Town, there may be people who would regard the thought of walking there as quite pleasant, and the point of the story would have been lost.

There are things that happen in our lives that have long-running consequences and change the way we deal with the world. Bereavement, sustained unemployment, debilitating illness, malicious accusations, nasty divorces, personal bankruptcy, addiction, prison sentences, long-running legal cases – to name just a few. These threaten, or actually ruin, our finances, career, reputation, skills, assets, wealth, health, and even our bodily integrity.

Sometimes, surviving one of these events changes us. We have to focus on one goal to the exclusion of almost everything else. Ordinary life, whatever we thought that was, fades into the background. At some point we stop feeling anything about our situation. We can’t afford it. We won’t get get through this if we carry on feeling self-pity, or loneliness, or abandonment, or sorrow, or fear, or uncertainty. And to feel anything else would be insanity. So we feel nothing about ourselves. We have feelings within and from ourselves: we are hungry, tired, weary, footsore, cold, wet or thirsty. But these are feelings as information, not feelings as emotions. And we silence the thoughts and feelings about other people and what they do. We ran out of the energy for that in the first week. They can help us or not. If they do, we thank them and don’t ask why. If not, we shrug and don’t think about it.

Thinking about how we might be living, and how everyone else we know is living, if this thing hadn’t happened, becomes almost painful. We want it to stop hurting when we remember what we used to do, and the only way to do that is to stop remembering that it was enjoyable. We cut the link between what we did and the pleasure it brought, and so save ourselves the pain of missing that pleasure, and the fear of never feeling it again. What we don’t know is that the link can’t be re-made: the psychic surgery is permanent.

When we get back, we try to re-establish our old lives. After all, isn’t that what we were going back for? It is then we find that the psychological changes we made can’t be undone. We can go to the leaving drinks, or a dinner party, or a weekend away with the crew, or a match, but it isn’t the same. We can’t connect the event and the people with the pleasure anymore. On the surface we are as cheerful as we ever were, perhaps oddly, more so, and that is real, as are our polite manners, engagement with the economy and interest in culture and sports. These things can be done with the head. Ask us how we are, what we’ve been doing at the weekend or on holiday, and you’ll get the sense that we don’t really seem remember what we do. Our day passes and is forgotten. What we did was just a way of passing the time that was better than watching some dumb TV show, but it wasn’t our life. We can go through the motions but we can’t feel the feelings. If belonging is about enjoying being there, we don’t belong anymore. Anywhere.

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