Tis the season to be jolly, dear readers. To wind down, to relax, to attend parties and drink and eat and be merry. To look back on 2016 with a sense of accomplishment, or perhaps relief, that you have successfully made it through a particularly trying year. Let’s face it, 2016 has been a year that will not easily be forgotten. Brexit, Syria, Clinton, Trump, Bowie, Rickman to name but a few disasters. And, naturally, you will have your own personal triumphs and disappointments. Lost loves, found loves, new jobs, money problems, car troubles, your cat being sick on your bedroom floor again. So, I completely understand the undercurrent of excitement that a new year brings. What will happen? Will you get that promotion, finally go on that dream holiday, get married? Who knows?!
Whilst I do appreciate this shiver of anticipation that I hope you are all feeling (it’s a good feeling – embrace it!), it seems that, this time, I don’t feel it. Gutting, I know. Although not altogether surprising, as I have hit somewhat of a wall this year. Unfortunately, this is the not the first time the wall has been hit by my face and stopped me dead in my tracks. This is actually the fourth time. Not quite following? Yes, I am being a little obscure. Sorry. Let me explain.
I’ve been diagnosed with a lot of variations of the same name, but it’s essentially that old chestnut, depression and anxiety. I can, sadly, imagine that many of you have suffered from one or both of these in your time. If you can relate, my heart goes out to you. If you can’t, I am so pleased. My symptoms have never been particularly pleasant, and have, on three previous occasions, forced me to leave my employment, give up my flat, and return to my parent’s house with my head severely low and my heart painfully anguished. However, I could always manage to attribute my suffering to something in my life. Usually dissatisfaction in my work that I never seemed to notice, until the greyness had ambushed me and there was nothing I could do but go. Then, along come the standard remedies: pills and therapy. And the rebuilding of my life. Find a new job, find a new flat, make new friends, try new things. Start again. And start again I did; three times. Each time got a little easier, as I remembered previous mistakes and learned from them. And, you’ll be delighted to know, the last time was the time I cracked it. Smashed it! Made it! Got it right!
Finally, after eight years of living with the greyness that always threatened to envelop me, and at times did, I had found what was missing. The Job For Me. No more jobs just to pay the rent, no more living to work! I found what I could actually do, and what I really loved! Hurrah! An EFL teacher! Lets go learn them kids some English! And that should have been that, shouldn’t it? But, ah, our old friend, the greyness, doesn’t give up so easily. Knowing that I wouldn’t be so easily defeated now that I had found The Job For Me, it waited patiently for a weak moment, and then struck in an entirely different manner.
Happily teaching for a year in Poland, I returned to England in June to work at a summer camp. Stress levels were through the roof, work was manic, and although I was still doing The Job For Me, the greyness went for the throat. Quite literally. One day, sitting in a meeting, something clicked in my brain. This was followed by a panic attack and, two days later after returning to work, an anxiety attack. And then my voice stopped working. Having never had one in my entire life, I was suddenly the disturbed owner of a stammer. A stammer?! Are you fucking SERIOUS? It didn’t go away, or get better. I had to leave the summer camp. The first pang of fear gripped me: had the greyness come back in a different form? How could I teach if I couldn’t even speak?
I stammered for eight days until, whilst talking with a friend, my voice came back. OH MY GOD THE RELIEF. I love my friend for that conversation; I can’t even remember what it was about, but one minute I was stammering and the next, boom! Amazing! I was free! Happy and furiously ignoring the insistent ache of fear, I enjoyed the rest of the summer and prepared to go back to Poland for more teaching, learning and revelling in The Job For Me. Sure, I stumbled into the greyness occasionally; stammering for a day here and there, but it didn’t hold. ‘Screw you, greyness!’ I thought smugly, ‘You can’t touch me!’ It didn’t touch me, it punched me squarely in the face.
A mere two weeks into the term and my stammer returned, more vicious and debilitating than before. As if that wasn’t bad enough, along with it came another symptom which I can only describe as ‘the shakes’. Not only could I hardly speak, but I could hardly pick up a cup of tea without spilling it, could barely walk without the support of a shoulder. And I sure as hell couldn’t teach. My fear realised.
No matter how hard my bosses and colleagues rallied round to help me, how many doctors I saw, how much rest I had, how many ‘good’ days I had with a stronger voice and a surer hand, the greyness had done its work. I left Poland, left The Job For Me, and continued to stammer and shake. And here I sit now, reflecting on the year that is 2016. My stammer now comes and goes, the shakes come and go, and the greyness hangs around, marvelling at its cleverness.
Perhaps I will be able to teach again (I cross all my fingers and toes), and perhaps after this, once I find a job, and find a flat, and find a new life, I won’t have to start again anymore. But after the fourth time of starting again, I’m starting to wonder if I will ever feel the excitement of a new year, or if I will always be waiting for the greyness to weave its dark magic.
Despite the low tone of this piece of writing (I promise my next one will be injected with all manner of hilarity!), I am absolutely going to enjoy this Christmas and New Year, and if I can’t feel excited for 2017, I can at least feel determined.
Have a bloody merry Christmas, and the happiest of New Years, and grab 2017 by the balls!