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The Real, the Unreal and the Space in-between by Bill B


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The real, the unreal and the space in-between.

By William Bentley

Chapter One.

Nothing is written, it’s all chance.

January 15th 2005 4.15 p.m. Leengate, Lenton, just outside the rear entrance of the Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham.

Leengate, where I had spent so many years working at Bell-Fruit in the old tannery during the heyday of Glam – Rock and Disco, from 1973 to 1977. Working as a screen printer, churning out glass frontages for fruit machines.

I saw the Queens Medical Centre rise from its foundations to become the immense machine of human success and failure, and everything in-between, that it still is. Millions of happy, or sad, outcomes and thousands of careers corralled within the now, crumbling concrete. Corners were cut when they built it, but, for all the Machiavellian, Blue- Circle deals, it remains, a magnificent example of the 1970’s Utopian dream of healthcare for all.

All those years later I was delivering metalwork to Bell-Fruit on behalf of my then, current employer “Screen-Print Plus.” The van driver was off sick, so I had volunteered to make the delivery, two hours after my shift had finished. My normal work was “Head of Print Finishing” but I had been drafted in to the metalwork division to assist with the immense workload. Had I not been involved in this overtime delivery, I would have been at home, alone and six miles from the hospital. No one would have found me until it was too late.

The shelves came down with a blinding flash. A ball of light, that I thought was the sun, came through the windscreen, then through me.

Pain, like no other.

A five-second migraine, that announced itself as a twinge and then, like feedback from a P.A. system in the hands of useless amateurs, a squeal, and smack, so hard, I must have passed out on the spot.

I was standing beside the van I was driving. I could see it was my van, but I wasn’t in it. It was wrecked.

Who am I? I know, but cannot say.

Who am I? I know, but it just becomes a philosophical question. Meandering away from reality and all the people who were gathering around me, to stop me wandering off.

I know! and that is all I know.

So many questions from so many strangers. Some seemed familiar, some from nearby offices, some policemen and then some ambulance men,

They seemed to know.

Back of an ambulance.

“You’ll be OK” said they.

“What happened to the van?” said I.

Who am I? I know, but cannot say.

“Check my phone, it says all you need to know, I can’t remember”.

They checked, and found my name.

“Bill! That’s it, Bill”. “ Tell my wife, tell my kids, tell my boss I’ll be late tonight”.

P****d myself, but it seemed ok, just warm. It was as if no one would notice. A warm, liquid, waist high, portent of future morphine.

But the office- girl noticed.

“He’s p****d himself” and “that’s not right” and “ something’s wrong with him.”

The lorry driver wanted to hit me, because my van had smashed into his.

“P****d up” he observed.

The office – girl stopped him, placing herself in-between, and pointed out my wet patch.

“I don’t think he’s p****d” she correctly diagnosed.

Just one of many correct decisions she took that day, including phoning for the ambulance, my wife and sitting me down in her office reception.

I hope she wins the lottery one-day, if things were fair, she would.

I just had to sit down. A little sleep and I’ll be fine.

“You need to stay awake,” said the office girl.

I did, for some of the time. A little sleep in the reception of the office -girl and then in the ambulance, but nothing in-between.

Curtains and nurses and plain clothes doctors and uniformed policemen with breathalyser, notebook and pen and questions and more questions, until a man, with important doctor tools, said;

“ You have to leave now, you can’t bag him, we suspect a Sub-Arachnoid brain Haemorrhage”.

He led the policemen away and further explained, just loud enough for me to hear from the corner of my ear,

“He’s had some kind of bleed, and if it’s a SAH his chances aren’t good, less than fifty percent. If you breathalyse him, he will literally blow his brains out”.

With a sniff of my breath, the policeman said “good luck mate” and that was an end of it.

Years later I wondered if those policemen ever thought of the incident again. How many stories must they be part of, in any one given shift?

How many do they ever see resolved? They must be at the beginning of so many human traumas and at the end so few. I think that would cause me sleepless nights.

Perhaps that’s why I am not a policeman.

Such waves of pain,

Pain like no other, until, Chris and Liz were there, (thanks to the office girl, again). They were lost for words, and I had no words, at least none of any meaning.

They were in shock, holding each other, sometimes crying. Standing over me with worried brows, scared of the possible future.

It seemed so quick, but may have been hours, until I was somehow dressed in operation garb, consenting to something or other and being comforted and cried over, whilst knowing that I would be ok, or not, it didn’t seem to matter which.

“There’s a chance you won’t survive the operation,” said a doctor,” do you understand?”

“Yes” I replied, not knowing what he was talking about.

“We are going to repair the ruptured aneurysm by filling the hole with Platinum coils, there is a risk of stroke and we won’t know about permanent brain damage until several days after the operation”.

I think I understood, but can’t remember being afraid.

The only distress was, having to watch Chris and Liz trying to be strong for me.

I lay on the trolley and began to fade into the pre-med.

”Don’t worry, I’ll be fine,” I said, unable to imagine anything but a positive outcome. Not ever waking–up is actually impossible to imagine. Like Pavlov’s dog, we are conditioned to expect a tomorrow, even when we are informed that it may not be so.

It just had to be stopped, that pain that came in waves, and felt like no other.

I signed the form and sank into oblivion, thinking of Leengate, then, and now.

Chapter Two.

A question of balance.

Then it was tomorrow.

Everyone was there, Chris, Tom, Liz, Mum, Dad and Linda, glad that I was.

The pain was in the distance, but so was everyone who was there.

Voices, like distant megaphones, then, very loud and close.

Tubes and needles, nurses and family.

Warm feelings from within, like a Michelin- man removed from touch.

The ward lights were unbearable. Electromagnetic daggers.

If I were being interrogated, I would have confessed immediately, there was no escape from the rays.

Things were said – I don’t know what, but everyone seemed relieved.

One minute, there were visitors, then I was alone.

Didn’t remember saying goodbye.

Even at night, the dim ward lights sought me out, burrowing into my head. Distant pain, small pain, wrapped up in Morphine, pain like no other.

Then it was tomorrow, night.

Very quiet! The guy in the next bed was in a coma.

A police car had run over him, whilst responding to a call to help him, after he had been attacked outside “Blotts” nightclub in West Bridgford. It is very poorly lit down that road and they didn’t see him lying in the road. They ran over his head.

I wonder if it was the same two policemen, who came to me, beginning another unfinished story?

The bed opposite me was empty.

When I looked again, my dead sister, Anne, was asleep in the bed.

Her head was bandaged.

Anne had died in 1979 as the result of a Sub-Arachnoid Haemorrhage. Surgery was quite crude in those days, mine was positively Star- Trek- Tricorder, compared to her’s.

Anne was really unlucky. She was born with a spinal cyst in 1953. The surgery she underwent on her spine damaged her legs and lower body functions, leading to a lifetime of struggle. She never complained, and lived her life in a manner that makes me ashamed whenever I feel sorry for myself.

She was born too soon for the hand she was dealt.

She was always laughing, and I desperately wanted to talk to her.

I slid off my bed and crossed the ward, stretching my catheter as far as it would go, and said, “Anne”.

A nurse said, “ what are you doing out of bed? Come on, get back in.”

I turned towards her, and then back to Anne, but Anne was gone, bubble burst, (both of us).

“Anne,” I said to the nurse.

“ Back to bed “ said the nurse.

I felt annoyed because I needed to ask Anne…. Something?

I returned to my bed and watched the bed opposite all night.

Sometimes she was there, sometimes she wasn’t.

I held her in my gaze as long as I could, and felt close to her, our common fate uniting us in sibling warmth.

She did not respond, but, just for a while, I felt safe in the knowledge that I would never end, or be alone.

I have never been a man of faith, but the blurring of boundaries between life and death and the promise of no afterlife are no longer so certain within me.

I know what I saw, and that is all I know.

Then it was tomorrow, morning.

Mr McArthur (the Consultant) and some young doctors,

“How are you feeling today?”

“Ok” I said.

“You’ve had a Sub-Arachnoid Haemorrhage and are very lucky to be alive”

“ It hurt,” I said, with the medical precision that comes with experience.

“ It would” he said, “it was a burst aneurysm, it’s like being shot in the head”.

“That’s what killed Anne, “ I said.

“Who’s Anne?” He said.

I looked at the bed opposite. She was there.

They looked at the bed opposite, then back at me.

“Anne” I said, motioning towards her with my gaze.

“You will be confused for a while now due to the SAH and the medication”.

“Ok” I said, “thanks”.

You have to be alive to be confused.

A stream of people, whom I used to know, came to see me. Some were real and some imagined, and some of them may have been dreamed. I’m not sure how much of it was real, but after a week or so, the catheter came out and I was allowed up.

The floor was much closer than it seemed. I walked, like a Cyberman, one foot, then the other, arms slightly out for added balance.

I used to play like this, as a child. I was a Spitfire or a Stuka, but now I was much slower, like a heavily laden bomber at take- off, leaning one way then the other, in Kung –Fu slow motion.

I felt very anxious about banging my head, as the ward furniture conspired to trap me into cranial collisions.

“Very good” said the nurse, who turned out to be Clive’s daughter.

“ Keep trying, you’re doing very well,” she said, as she passed, engaged in an important task.

Clive (Myphalator) Smith never came to see me.

Maybe he didn’t know, or maybe he did come, and I don’t remember.

Clive and I recorded loads of stuff in the 1980s as the “Green and Yellow Buddies.” Some of the music would resurface later, and it’s one of Clive and my songs, that, re-worked, describes the D10 ward experience.

I walked to the shower and then along the ward.

“I’m not bothered about the shower” I said, or thought.

“ I can’t smell anything,” (still can’t very much).

“You need to start walking, it will stop you getting pneumonia”, said nurse Smith.

“Ok” said I, “I don’t want that”.

I’m not sure how many days I spent on D10 but it seemed a long time and it became a comfortable routine of sleep,food, Radio 4 and showers.

The food was rubbish, apart from the ham salads, they were great. I think it was the texture of the lettuce, because there was no taste, (still isn’t).

Comfortable institutionalisation.

My old friend, Phil Bolton, came to see me and arranged for me to be given a private room on D10 ward. I had no idea that Phil had become so important within the NHS. He was head of maintenance or something and said I would be safer in this private room where the MRSA couldn’t get me.

Phil was the first person I met when we moved to Nottingham from Chorley in 1963, and though I rarely see him now, I will always regard him as one of my best friends. You can’t have too many friends in high places.

It is my belief that new synapses had formed.

So much that was accepted as reality was suddenly changed.

Life was what I perceived, and not what everyone else perceived. Medically, of course, this is nonsense, and cannot be proved, just as hereditary aneurysms are not proved?

Nevertheless, that’s what I believe. I began to see things for what they were, stripped of moral or cultural associations, removed from threat, shame or embarrassment. It was truly liberating, like an old man in a middle-aged man’s body. Free to say anything I felt, with the knowledge that I would be forgiven in my present state.

For example; I snuck off the ward to bum a fag outside. The first person I asked gave me one, just to make me go away I suppose.

A security guard asked me if I was all right.

“Yes thanks,” I said.

“It’s just that you’re in your pyjamas, with no shoes on, and its freezing.” With touching concern, he added, “Don’t you feel cold?”

“No” I replied “ but not wanting to be a burden, “I’ll finish this fag and go back inside”.

“Which ward are you on?” he asked.

“D10” I replied.

“That explains it “ he smiled, “ come on, back to bed sir”.

What a nice young man, and so knowledgeable about nutcase wards.

I walked back to the main entrance, and noticed that everyone was staring at me. It just didn’t matter, I would never see them again, and what did I care what any of them thought?

I knew I would appear in many bar-room anecdotes and would be the proof of Care- in- the-Community’s ignorant wisdom.

That, was the moment of realisation!

The embarrassment had gone, the shame and the fear had gone.

I strolled back to the ward, smirking at passers bye, saying hello to strangers and helping myself to a paper in the shop.

No one said a word as I walked out without paying.

They saw me, but did nothing. You can get away with anything when you’re nuts.

The security guard shadowed me back to the ward.

Maybe, he paid for my paper.

What a nice young man!

I was very dependent on the medication being delivered on time and would become quite distressed if it was late. The thought of the pain returning was my only fear and I would stand by the nurse’s station like a seal at feeding time, shamelessly, first in line.

Even with the medication, the pain came to get me, small pulses, in time with my heartbeat. Then, like a reverse echo, stronger with every repeat, until it was unbearable.

I bit the pillow in agony and screamed for relief.

Usually, they came straight away, but on one occasion, no one came, and I ended up smashing the phone at the abandoned nurse’s station, demanding relief. Security were called, and I got my relief.

It was a different guard, but equally understanding.

Another nice young man!

The hallucinations were, first, bizarre, then, quite humorous.

I stood on the corridor outside D10 and clung like a limpet to the wall, as processions of Welsh rugby players passed bye in jocular banter.

Fast forwards, tiny scrumhalves and all their followers.

Maybe they did, but I doubt it.

There were insects crawling all over the ward, not like an infestation, but working, for the NHS, busily cleaning things and checking things with their antenna. One of them gave me a bed bath, very strange, but I took it like an Englishman and thanked her.

Aggressive youths in the A &E department were causing people to gravitate away. I could see it for what it really was, frightened, monkey behaviour, shrieking and advancing on people, only to pull back with arms waving, daring anyone to advance. Suddenly it was all amusing, and I just had to laugh.

They said something rude to me, but I carried on laughing, and they seemed puzzled by the response. The security men seemed to think I was part of the problem, maybe I was, so I left.

Even yobs don’t fancy an encounter with an irrational man.

If you’re immune to threat, what else are you capable of?

Why I was in the A&E department in the first place, I don’t know, but that’s how it was. Just wandering around, being nuts, I suppose?

It was as if the new connections had presented me with a form of enlightenment that killed the fear and replaced the man I used to be.

I was through the looking glass, and I was Alice.

The Q.M.C. was my playground as I wandered around observing everyone else’s medical adventures. Sitting in the WRVS café drinking some abandoned beverage and talking to anyone who would listen. Informing the staff that my mother had once been the head of their organisation in Nottingham, only to be met with, “are you going to buy something? Only we’re very busy”.

I didn’t have any money and I wasn’t going to buy anything, but I just thought they should know. It seemed important at the time.

I would return to the ward just before visiting time, so no one would know what I had been up too.

Hospitals are full of people in various states of consciousness and, after a while I blended in with the Cuckoo’s nest, Looking glass, Wonderland souls that are everywhere, if you look for them.

Chapter Three.

The shelves, and everything on them.

I say the shelves came down because that’s how Mr McArthur described it.

All the memories and experiences that, together, make up all that we are, line up in a formal, linear, pattern. Everything is dated and catalogued in sync with everyone else’s memories. A series of book shelves, everything in its place, locked, forever in time and space.

In other words, everyone’s shared reality.

On January 15th 2005, the shelves came down.

All that I knew or had experienced or had imagined lay spread across the lining of my brain. Everything was there, it was just all mixed up.

I still knew what I knew. I just didn’t know how to express it in terms of linear memory.

Things that happened thirty years ago were, as if yesterday. It was a removal from immediate reality that was not disturbing, because it all made perfect sense at the time. The only confusion was when people visited me and tried to connect with their own share of my past. Only the application of time, as we know it, caused any distress. I didn’t want to talk to anyone.

I must have seemed insane, and was aware of hiding my true thoughts by just remaining silent or pretending to be asleep.

More than one visitor turned to leave with a worried, knowing glance at my wife.

With this new perception, came a clarity that was truly exiting.

It was like being a child again, but with the benefit of an adult education. So much to relearn and remember, but it all seemed fresh, and new.

Tinitus, and lack of balance were the physical problems. Constant, bell-like after ring in my left ear and terrible judgement of the speed of moving objects.

Something had changed forever.

I mentioned clarity because that was the overriding feeling. It was almost God-like at times, a feeling of superiority that I knew I had to hide and suppress. All the fear had gone.

If I had survived this – I could survive anything. I saw the insects, going about their business, patronising me, oblivious of my superiority,

like a Midwitch Cuckoo heralding the coming man.

The figures from Mr McArthur swam around my head.

50% die on the spot, 25% die the next day from subsequent bleeds, 12% recover enough to work in stress free jobs and 12% recover completely.

I did the maths and thought, what if I am the missing 1%?

Maybe I can come out of all this, improved.

I would like to hear from other SAH survivors to find out if anyone else experienced the euphoria.

Maybe it was just enough damage, maybe it was because mine, was the rear-connecting artery, maybe it’s because nothing is written and it’s all chance.

What if the metals in the blood short circuited the thinking process and left me able to start my script from new? Like the incoming tide wiping out messy footprints in the sand, leaving a pristine surface, pure and ready for new prints.

When the hallucinations faded, (Anne, Rugby, etc) and the pain echoes receded, I was told I could leave hospital, but only when my bowels were working.

This took another week.

Dry, biscuit- turds, painful and perfectly round. They would not have been out of place in the Tate Modern. Ironic works of art for a man who has battled with alcohol- related diarrhoea for most of his adult life.

On the way home, Chris and I called in to thank the office- girl.

We gave her a bunch of flowers and a box of chocolates, in gratitude for her presence of mind and prompt actions.

We told her she was a great first-aider, and she said she would consider taking the course. She glowed with the feeling that she had done a great thing that really made a difference. How many of us can truly say that we have done the same?

I hope she wins the lottery one day, Karma says she should.

Then I was free!

D.W.P, daytime T.V. and lots of cold friends coming to visit me.

Day after day of tiredness on a grand scale, sleeping, in-between routine tasks and taking all day to dress and eat.

On one whimsical day I went to the dog sanctuary and bought a rescue dog, on the pretext of having a reason to go out for a walk everyday.

Not all my decisions were nuts during this time, as “Todd” is now my hairy, bear-faced, second son.

Chapter Four.

Thin Veneer and re-writing the past.

July 2005, Mark, Adam, Sahala and me began work on the album,“Thin Veneer” and came up with the name of “Aethertrip” for the band.

I had so much time on my hands and was picking up speed on my drinking.

My wardrobe was beginning to bear witness to the bizarre, inner- nature of the world I was inhabiting. Chris was great,forgiving my lack of domestic contribution, whilst allowing me to drift from day to day, on the pretext of recuperation. But something had changed. All the songs and poems that I had scraped away at for years, seemed, suddenly childish and shallow. My new thoughts mocked my previous attempts and like the first day at a new school, every thing was fresh and anything was possible.

I started recording radio signals from my old “Blaupunct Sultan” radio, placing chords beneath the waves and poly- rhythms above. Sahala, who was not yet fifteen, was a friend of my daughter and I was fascinated by her haunting voice. It was so mature for one so young and seemed to suit the stark nature of some of the tracks. Writing- joined- up and converting half- baked ideas into the songs that would eventually make the album “Thin Veneer”, we jammed through session after session in my attic studio. As we came to the end of the recording, in September 2005, the next set of ideas were forming. Too many to keep up with. It was all becoming too much to control and when Adam went back to University, Mark and I took our foot off the collective accelerator and sat back to survey what we had done.

Most of the “Thin Veneer” tracks were laid down live, with overdubs added later, mistakes and all, so it really captured that summer of clarity, drinking and recuperation. (www.myspace.com/aethertrip)

As 2006 approached, the lack of money and abundance of time was beginning to hang heavy. For some reason- maybe the seeking of the oblivion I had been denied by survival- I began to really drink.

Never before nine, it used to be, but slowly and inevitably it became eight then seven then tea-time. One bottle every two days plus a few pints at the pub. Then it was one bottle a day with, always, one bottle in reserve. My G.P. warned me that there were many types of alcoholic and I was becoming one. He ordered me to stop drinking all together.

I was never very good with orders.

My Dad was deteriorating with Alzheimer’s disease and I was the family member with all the time on my hands, so I had to take him out most days.

You see, my Dad was a high achiever in his youth, surviving Atlantic convoys in the war and forming the companies that would become “Argos” and” Experian”. He made his first fortune by buying the rum- ration from tee-total fellow matelots and selling the watered down product to New York bars and anyone else who would pay. By the time he was twenty, he had nearly four hundred pounds saved (Enough for a house in Chorley in 1944) but all this was swallowed up by paying for his Dad to have a Harley Street operation for throat cancer.

The operation was not successful and his Dad died. (My Granddad). He left the Navy with very little in 1945 and became the strong, driven man that I remember.

He didn’t know there was anything wrong with him, apart from forgetting the odd thing. He just wanted to go to the pub every day, as he had done all his life.

If I couldn’t take him he would become argumentative with my Mum, and insist on taking a taxi. He couldn’t see what the problem was, even though he had no idea of how long he was out or how much he was drinking.

People would take advantage of him, thinking it was funny to engage him in betting scenarios, whilst knowing he would not remember the bet.

I n his heyday, he was the consummate gambler and it was heartbreaking to see him still trying to gamble, but without the memory and statistical homework that made him so successful as a younger man.

The bookies got their own back in the final eighteen months of his life.

The amounts of money being lost left my Mum at the edge of a nervous breakdown. My mum was the world’s first re-cycle guru, never throwing a plastic bag away or wasting on ounce of food. Lack of money in her youth had given her a focus on waste that remains to this day, and gambling was waste.

I took him whenever I could, just for the sake of domestic harmony.

I t was like Groundhog- day, same pub, same people, same conversation- everyday the same, for eighteen months, and when I arrived home, every- night, the same bottle for me.

We kept on recording, sporadically, through all this, and Adam’s enthusiasm drove us on until Adam left university, lost contact with his musician –friends and lost momentum. Without his drive Mark (who was as fragile as I was, for different reasons) and I came to a grinding halt.

2007 was the real low point.

Dad had just died, the bottle –a –day regime was firmly entrenched, the money was short, the creativity was deep and dark, but nothing was being recorded. Something had to change.

The high point of my week was the pub- quiz with the MWFC (Mick Walker Fan Club) pub quiz team. Ged, Tex, Keith and Dickie were a ready- made audience for my drunken buffoonery. Dressed in increasingly bizarre clothing, I would turn up to the quiz, sometimes drunk before I got there, and contribute ***-all but they tolerated me and were an anchor of normality when I needed it most

Time was everywhere. I had never had so much to spare. Things would be put off and ignored because there was always tomorrow and lunchtime became my morning. It was only when my G.P. suggested that I went on a course of antidepressants that I realised I was depressed. I was not taking care of my health or my appearance and I resolved to try and put some structure back into my life.

I was aware that if I succumbed to antidepressants I would have to disclose this to any future employer, so I decided to think my way out of depression.

I thought I was smart enough to council myself and strong enough to ride out this temporary trough in my mood.

This was the big mistake.

My long, dark tunnel of depression was lubricated by alcohol and denial and given the choice again, I would accept the help and damn the employers prejudice.

The net result of my self imposed care plan is a social- life- destroying fear of social drinking that makes me appear, to all who know me, like a miserable killjoy, afraid of casual, normal, after-work drinks, in case it becomes a “session” that I cannot control. Only the pub quiz offers me the safe, constricted time frame, for sensible drinking.

I’m on the wagon, but I just wish it would stay still, so I don’t fall off so many times.

It’s the price I pay for smart-**** self-medication.

Chapter Five.

Every Cloud. (This and That)

In September 2007 I started volunteering at New College Nottingham just to get me out of the house and give me a reason to wash.

My surviving sister Linda, who was in charge of the Pre – Entry programme, suggested that I could use my recording skills with learners with learning difficulties. I was allowed to teach non- exam related creativity to young adults with various syndromes. It was the perfect platform for my music and poetry skills and played an enormous part in rebuilding my self-esteem and confidence. By Christmas 2007 I was part of the teaching team and had enrolled on the Preparing To Teach in the Lifelong learning Sector (PTTLS) course. I had done all this without many people knowing what had happened to me. It was on the course that I met Steve and Carey.

Government legislation had decreed that all people teaching in further education had to have a teaching qualification, so Steve and Carey had signed up for the PTTLS course as well. Our shared interests of music, amplifiers, instruments and poetry, lead, very quickly, to us becoming friends,(known as the Three Musketeers). We must have seemed quite powerful to the others on the course, as we supported each other and backed each other up in all the classes and assignments. We sailed through the first year and comfortably entered 2008.

Teaching hours had increased and benefits had stopped. I was halfway back to the income I had before the haemorrhage. All of a sudden I was a wage slave again. At one point I had the opportunity to remain on benefits forever, but only if I gave up my teaching hours. I decided to teach.

I think I should have done it years ago, but it had never occurred to me.

In many ways teaching is like performing stand-up comedy or being in a band, it’s the same thing, and equally draining.

The second year of teacher training, DTLLS, (Delivering Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector) was much more rigorous.

Writing at level five, which came naturally to me, but was quite a step up for Steve and Carey.

Throughout the year the three of us soldiered on, dragging each other through every assignment and helping each other through lesson observations in such a conspiratorial way, it defies belief. When one of us was down and lost in despair, the other two would rally round and drag the spent corpse to the finish line. Luckily, two of us were always up, when one was down, and between us we got to the end by doing what we, as a species, are supreme at, Co-operating.

The final part of 2008 presented us with increasingly difficult assignments, which we dispatched as much with tenacity as with ability and research.

By the summer of 2009 we were facing the final hurdle of teacher training. We camped in the CPD (Continual Professional Development) centre for days on end, until we had met all the criteria and eventually, after many referrals, we were informed that we had passed.

I think they were glad to see the back of us in the end.

There was an audible sigh of relief when we announced “we’re finished” and “that’s it, we’re all done”.

There was a definite feeling of “well done, now clear off” although no one actually said that.

So much had changed since the shelves came down. A new life, new friends, new career and finally graduation and a new profession.

Who knows what is written for anyone?

Who knows what cards will be dealt?

I know that nothing is impossible, and however close to the brink you may find yourself, whether it be through drink, drugs or medical mishap, there is always a way out.

You may need to change your life completely.

You may decide to spend your life on inadequate benefits, but this will only lead to deeper depression. The effect on yourself and your family is inevitably negative, no matter how understanding they are.

Lack of self-esteem and purpose will spiral into paranoia and fear. Dependency will grow into a self –fulfilling lifestyle that undermines the soul and, eventually, irritates everyone connected to you.

I know that not everyone has the good fortune to be surrounded by a tolerant, supportive family or to have a G.P. who is brutally honest with you, kicking down your excuses and trampling your self pity. My GP told me to see it for what it really was, a life changing event that offered new possibilities and that every cloud has a silver lining. (He had survived two SAH events). All these circumstances had aligned by chance and constituted the hand that I had been dealt.

My reality, for what it’s worth, leads me to understand the following.

However you may find yourself, whatever the circumstance, one thing is universally true;

When you’re in deep, dark water, you have to learn how to swim.

Simple as that, you sink, or you swim.

There is always choice.

This I know, and that is all I know.

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