Sick In The Head – A Recollection

A friend of mine – let’s call him Eric – has made quite a journey over a few short years. Not sure exactly how he came to see the world differently, as he seems to now, what people or experiences he encountered to soften his attitude and admit more diversity into his life and allow for it to exist in life as a whole, but something has changed. Or, perhaps many things have changed, subtly and gradually.

I’m thinking of a time over a decade ago when a mutual friend was leaving the country to go on some sort of exchange for a year and there was to be a farewell. It suddenly emerged that this thing was to be a precisely organised engagement, carefully plotted by the young man’s mum, and not a get together at the pub in York Street (which sadly no longer exists) that we used to attend, or some other such late-teenaged chap’s idea of mid-level matey sophistication. “A restaurant, and catered?” I thought with some alarm. I had no idea how to get to the venue, or even quite where it was located in Sydney’s vast North Shore. This was a hell of a lot different from a quick train to Wynyard and drop in to the York Street Bar, as I think it was called (although I could be wrong about that … and my memory of it was that it was off, not on, York Street, but none of that matters now). Dropping in could mean easily melting away too, going back home, which is what I wanted to do. In fact, skipping the dropping in sounded an even better plan to me, just remaining at home, in my room, alone, possibly getting an early night, under cosy covers, knowing that beyond my bedroom door the pot belly stove in the dining room would softly fut when a small square log shifted inside its bright orange gut and fire fairies were dancing in the lounge room grate. That was what I wanted then – what I still mostly want – to be left alone. But in this case it was almost a sickness: the thought of journeying all over Sydney, committing to hours of effort, an occasion which might be awkward in some ways, and no easy way to bale out if it, all became overwhelming. I couldn’t face it. It was too much. Thinking about it made me feel uneasy.

None of this ought to suggest that I was in any way unmoved by the impending departure of a good friend. For I was, and knew that I would take his absence hard. He and I were close in some ways and my dad knew his mum quite well, and naturally I was well-versed in the responsibilities of being an Australian mate. (Some men from this country will make out that, far from being like Anzac mates who were deposited into a slaughter zone and so had no choice but be surrounded by waste and death, it is a mate’s duty to recklessly wade in to a dicey situation, even if it means escalating it into a dangerous situation, and then everyone gets badly hurt but that’s OK, as you’re mates and that’s what mates do, and it proves you are, indeed, mates.) Mates are just friends, in my view, very good friends whose interests rival those of blood relatives. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find that I was down on myself for being negative about attending this function. Hated myself for it, in fact, but could see no practical way that I could appear, and perhaps this is just as important – could see no realistic way that if this effort was made I could recover from it soon afterwards. When you are in one of these emotional troughs you are keenly aware of how much vitality you have at your disposal, and it was obvious to me that in this case the racing car could be nursed over the finishing line, but in the coming several days there would need to be a full overhaul, which would basically involve rebuilding the chassis from the ground up, slowly. And I wasn’t prepared for that. There were things that needed – really needed – to be done, responsibilities at uni, essays and assignments, not things I wanted to do, things I had to do, and commitments that were although not jampacked with fun just that, non-negotiable commitments.

And I said I wouldn’t be coming and apologised to the friend who was going away via an email, which was a group email that included Eric (remember, not his real name). Well, Eric exploded in a rant of righteous indignation after the night. They had farewelled a mate, he said, implying I didn’t know the meaning of the word or had somehow violated its sacred precepts on purpose for some perverse reason. He wrote about how one of our circle had travelled farther than I would have had to travel from his even more remote home than mine (perhaps referring to the district where this young man lived as “shit town west” undermined Eric’s mates’ solidarity argument somewhat) and I was firmly put in my place. Not even sure if I replied. I think I read it and just went back to bed.

But now Eric has changed. There was to be a gathering the other night, friends meeting up to watch a rather important footy game on the TV, and I said I wouldn’t be coming and Eric knew I had been having a pretty bad time of it recently. It was so similar to 15 years before in some ways. But his stance had become altered, it was more sympathetic, he actually listened. He tried to encourage me to be there, but later said if you pick up a bit we’d like to see you. Now, this attitude is still from the “snap out of it” school, as if suddenly the fog can lift, if you really want it to, but it is significant progress for a perpetually positive, outgoing individual who loves the social aspects of life to at least understand that to succumb to emotional illness isn’t some sort of excuse. Some of us are truly unable to confidently face the world sometimes. It’s real. But like a cold, we get over it.

Published in: on June 23, 2010 at 7:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

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