Coping

It’s a dreary kind of morning here in Brisbane and 2015 is almost done, ready to be laid to rest with singing and dancing and libations with friends. Unless you’re me. I shall celebrate the end of the year in the same way I wish to kick of 2016: lying in my bed, notebook on my lap, scribbling words and pondering what will come my way in the future.

For once, I find myself very fond of the passing year. It’s been forever since I looked back over twelve months and felt myself at peace with everything that happened – usually, at this time of year, I am waging desperate war with an internal monologue of frustration and horror about the lack of…well, everything. Playing endless games of if only I had done this better and if only hadn’t fucked that up. 

I spent my life incredibly angry.

I am probably understating this a little. My greatest fantasy, for the last five or six years, was giving up the illusion that I was coping. Being free to lash out at the world and give voice to the enormous, yawning heart of frustration that hollowed me out and ready to just fuck shit up. I could conceive of no response to the world that did not involve screaming or punching. They were my go-to response to any problem, big or small.

Fight Club made a whole lot of sense to me. If you had told me there was a place I could go where someone would beat the crap out of me, I would have bought in. In a fucking heart beat.

But you cannot go through live screaming and punching things in a civilized world, so I taught myself not to. And because I could not express my rage at the outside world, I turned it against myself. If I could just stop pretending everything was okay, I told myself. If I could stop pretending to cope. If I could just lay down and let the world beat one me, everything would be okay.

Anger turned inward is a pretty shitty way to live your life. It’s the kind of response to problems that basically creates new problems. It’s a slippery goddamn slope, is what I’m saying, and I slid.

But I coped. Or pretended to cope. I’m not sure there’s a difference between the two, when you get right down to it. And perhaps I didn’t cope as well as I assumed, based on conversations I’ve had with people in recent months, but I coped well enough for horseshoes. I came off as an angry person, rather than someone who was basically looking for an excuse to flip out and start swinging at everyone in my immediate vicinity like a mad fucker.

I tried things to fix it. Went to doctor’s with symptoms. Went to psychologist. Wrote things, ’cause in my head, writing things is pretty much the solution to everything. Threw myself into the day job and took what self-esteem I could from what I was doing there.

None of it really worked, not for more than a few weeks. It’s hard to offload that level of anger, once it’s become your constant companion, because the anger is all that’s getting you through.

And the fear of not-coping kept me moving and kept a façade of sanity in place. I knew there was no amount of anger that could fix things, regardless of where I directed it, because I couldn’t articulate the problems. So I grit my teeth and coaxed myself into action and – incredibly – managed to convince myself that this is how every single person in the world lived their life. That we were all just pretending to cope because that was what is expected of us, while secretly falling apart inside.

We were all malfunctioning machines that no-one bothered fixing.

And despite the fact that I know better, there is a part of me that just assumed this is what I deserved ’cause I had the temerity to say, well, I want to be a writer. Anger makes you stupid in so many ways, and I was stupid in all of them.

In this respect, 2015 has been an enormous relief, because it turns out I actually am an a malfunctioning machine. Five or six years of sleep apnea symptoms finally added up to a diagnosis and the beginning of treatment, and it’s incredible how that’s affected my outlook in the last six months of the year.

Yes, the apnea is a thing that’s going to be with me for…well, ever, to some extent. Yes, there is still frustration and disappointments and things I wish I had done better. Yes, there is still end of year malaise and weeks where I do nothing and anger, so much goddamn anger, but they aren’t all-consuming. They are parts of my life, not the entirety of it.

In 2015, I stopped coping. There is no better thing that could have happened in my year.

And yet, I am surrounded by people for whom this year has been horrible. Kick in the teeth after kick in the teeth. The kind of year that sounds, by all accounts, exactly like the kind of year I’ve had for the last five or six.

If I had a wish for the coming year, it’s this: may you find people who understand what’s going on with you. May you find people who make the coping easier. May you find the thing that helps you feel a little less broken. May people appreciate you for the brave, bad-ass mother-fucker you are for just keeping on every goddamn day and resisting the urge to harm or be harmed.

May the things that have the potential to pass, pass. May you find tools for dealing with the things that are going to stay with you, regardless of what they are.

May there be music and books and art that soothes your soul, and friends who are there to hold you up when you cannot stand on your own.

May things get better, if they can, and may they get no worse if better is not an option.

Happy new year, you beautiful mother-fuckers. See you all tomorrow.

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