I think this entry will function adequately for my contribution to this month’s Blog Carnival of Mental Health, which is on the theme of hope and despair.
As you probably know, I was on holiday recently. For those that care, yes – we did have a lovely time, thank you. We relaxed, ate and drank – but on several days we…you know, did stuff. We were in Fuerteventura, so one day we took the ferry across to Lanzarote (where we’ve been before, although we visited a different town from where we’d previously stayed). Another day, we took a different ferry and went to La Isla de Los Lobos, which is a small nature reserve island located just north of Fuertaventura. It was very hot, and Los Lobos is very exposed to the sun, but we still walked around the entire place, rewarding ourselves with a dip in the idyllic little lagoon at the end of the hike.
On a third day, we hired out a car. Oh yes. WE HIRED A CAR.
What do you mean, such a benign few sentences don’t deserve their own paragraph, their own capitalisation? Yeah, I know everyone hires cars on holiday – but everyone is not me. Hear me out here, folks.
A does not drive, owing to being partially sighted (and, indeed, completely blind in one eye). This hardly bothers me at all (the fact that he can’t drive, that is – obviously, I deeply regret the reasons for that) as I actively enjoy driving – in my darkest days, it was one of the few things that kept me from falling off a precipice into a deep abyss of uttely chaotic, poorly prognosticated madness. I suppose it’s the freedom of it, the thrill of speed, the sensation of motion that’s accompanied by appropriate music – it all adds up to being one pretty cathartic way to spend one’s time.
Today, driving still exhilarates me. Even in these days of pseudo-recovery, anhedonia may still reign supreme over me at times – driving, however, is something in which I still take genuine pleasure. Whilst out on the free and open road, I find the practice completely invigorating.
Anyway. I had never driven on the wrong side of the road before (and yes, before most of the rest of the world says it, it is actually the wrong side of the road despite it being far more common to drive on the right – or, more accurately perhaps, left-hand drive cars should be considered dangerous aberrations. Consider it from a pluralistic or utilitarian point of view. Go on. Think about it.). It may not seem to be a big deal, but when you’re a mentalist freak who has driven the same car without exception for the last three years, it becomes a greater issue.
So, I present to you The Car Story.
We picked the car up in the morning and, after a few minutes of it stuttering at me and generally refusing to be particularly co-operative, I managed to get the thing to run smoothly away from the hireship. A good start? No, as it turns out; here, just seconds from where the car had sat waiting for us, we hit our first snag. An alarm started bleating on and on, and Christ, was it irritating – all the more so because neither of us had the first clue as to what it was trying to tell us. I did some brief checks – we both had our seatbelts on, it wasn’t the air conditioning, blah blah blah. More out of annoyance than sense, we decided to pull over at an appropriate place and investigate more extensively.
I parked down a quiet street and looked for clues as to the source of the alarm. Obviously when the car was switched off, the alarm ceased its incessant call too, but I was gratified when I turned the ignition back on to see (hear) that the alarm had stopped. Had it been an anomaly, perhaps? I decided to drive a bit further on to see if it revisited us, and that if it did, to look out for signs as to what had triggered its screeching.
Before we got the opportunity to put this plan into action, however, we hit our second problem. I was parked such that I needed to reverse out of the space – but I could not find, for all the life of me, how to engage the fucking reverse gear. I looked at the stick in detail, and was satisfied that I was following the paths clearly marked out on it. I looked in the glove box for a manual, but there was none. Eventually, A (as he, unlike me, had more than -£800 in his bank account) turned on roaming 3G on his iPhone to see if Detective Inspector Google was willing to help us solve this frustrating case.
Initially, DI Google’s investigative skills proved to be poor. I got out of the car and walked about a bit, smoking as I went (I can try to pretend that it helps me to think, see). The incident was certainly frustrating as hiring out this car (a VW Beetle Cabriolet) wasn’t particularly cheap, and it felt we were wasting the time for which we had paid. Yet, despite this, I couldn’t help smile at the funny side of it too. Something so bloody daft could only happen to Yours Truly.
Just as A was about to advise that we embarrassingly ring the car hire company to beg for help, DI Google brought us an exhibit. Not a verdict (well, a DI is not a jury, so it would have been a bit odd if (s)he had I suppose), but a piece of guidance. Some website or other referred to pulling your gear-stick up.
“This one already seems to be ‘up’,” I observed.
“Have you tried pushing it down?” A queried.
I hadn’t, so I did. And it worked.
(Incidentally, my mother tells me that most modern cars are built like this. WHY? It’s heart-stoppingly stupid. There are enough slots for all six or seven gears in a standard gearbox, surely?).
So, smug and satisfied, off we headed.
I drove well, overall. In the end the main problem was not steering with my left hand as I had predicted (that’s a clue to the bemused Americans and Europeans who can’t understand why I’m definitively asserting that left-hand drive cars suck, by the way), nor even changing gears with my right, but my confusion over pedals. That’s especially strange because, relative to my feet, the pedals were roughly in the same position as they are in my own car, unlike everything fucking else. In any case, the problems were minor, and sailing through this beautiful, arid, mountainous terrain in an open-top car with the sun shining and the wind flowing through our hair gave that exhilaration I find from driving an even harder edge. It was great.
I noticed the alarm a couple of times on the trip. I never did decipher exactly what it was moaning about, but it was something to do with engaging the hand-brake when the car came to a stop. Once I’d figured out this part-of-the-story, I was able to successfully play an ad hoc game of Shut the Fuck Up, Alarm with the car.
We hit snag three when we arrived in a sleepy little town on the west coast of the island. We wanted to leave the car for lunch (and later the beach), but – despite what drivers of roofless cars seem to do as standard – we wanted to put the hood up, to make the vehicle as secure as possible. The bloke in the hire place had shown me how to do this – but would it co-operate? Would it fuck! A and I both fought with it for ages, before once again resorting to our expensive old friend, roaming 3G, and the YouTube video that DI Google uncovered for us. In the end, we’d been doing almost exactly the right thing – we’d just been a little less heavy-handed than we needed to be, a caution borne out of, I think, quite reasonable worry that we’d break the bastard.
After that, we had a lovely day walking around the town, mucking about on its beach with its amazing waves, and driving through the Fuerteventuran dunes in the early evening. Later, we left the car outside our apartments and walked into town as normal.
The next day, I returned the car to to hire place. To cut a long story short, there was apparently a small mark on the back of it that hadn’t been there when I took it away the previous day, and this could have seen me lose my E100 deposit very easily. I calmly told the man involved that I had definitely not breached the terms of the contract and that ergo, I had no idea how the mark had got there. He thought about it for a moment, then handed me back my deposit and told me not to worry about it.
So. Thus endeth The Car Story.
Also whilst on holiday, I actually bothered to use my knowledge of Spanish in order to communicate with locals. I was pleasantly surprised when the majority of them respected this enough to actually respond in Spanish, at least until I got confused by something (this is an odd situation, I have to say – I have been known to, and probably still could, talk at some length about world politics or the intricacies of the works of Gabriel García Márquez in Spanish, but if you want to hold a boring, average conversation with me, generally you’ll be met with a blank stare of oh fuck, I wish I’d listened in third year and not just sixth form). I had been quite pleased with myself that I was able to speak vaguely meaningful Spanish at all to people, but it was a particular boost to have them consider me capable of understanding their responses.
I swam in the sea and did not imagine phantom sting-rays underneath me waiting to pierce me through the heart, as if I were an oversized, female Steve Irwin. I drank a bit but became neither maudlin nor manic. I came back here to my dull life and didn’t want to slit my wrists.
Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s not just a boring story about driving a car, nor about speaking a language I’m actually meant to fucking speak. It all serves as an allegory for the state of my mental health.
Remember how I was in February? I was such a mess, so enthralled with the idea of ending my life, that NewVCB considered putting me in the day bin (though of course she didn’t, knowing that it would only make things worse. I don’t really have a lot of interest in sewing or whatever one does in day bins, and the interaction with other people was only likely to have served to encourage me to purchase my helium in disgust). My point is, I was in no fit state to do anything. Lifting my head off the pillow was a genuine and concerted effort; getting downstairs was a fucking good achievement.
I wouldn’t even have been able to go on holiday in the first place, never mind committing to driving in a strange land, in a fashion diametrically opposed to that to which I am used.
And if I had got to that point, I’d have had a complete, full-blown panic attack at the first sign of trouble with the car. Having the various mishaps we did have would have probably sent me jumping into the nearby quarry. Having been told that I’d marked the vehicle and was liable to pay for it would have seen me collapse in the street, begging the bloke to forgive me for my (non-existent) carelessness.
I wouldn’t have dared speak anything other than the occasional “hola” or “gracías” in Spanish, and even that would have been delivered with a head-bowed meekness.
Instead, I behaved methodically, calmly and generally confidently throughout.
I am home now, and have had the opportunity to consider this and other issues. Things with Paul ended on Monday (I won’t go into much detail on this as I will write a proper post pertaining to the final appointment and my resulting future plans in the coming weeks) and I didn’t end up going completely batshit. I had a pile of crap thrown in my face on Sunday past, which was compounded that evening by the news of the death of a good friend’s father – and rather than throw a mental fit, I merely swept the metaphorical dust off myself and got on with things. I’ve really started reading properly again, to the point where A recently described me as a “vociferous reader”. I’m currently reading – and have managed to properly follow the really excellent TV series – of the very intricate A Game of Thrones. Furthermore, I’m actually doing writing that does not pertain to this blog, even on occasion to this identity, and I am doing bits and pieces of (admittedly at-home-in-front-of-the-computer) voluntary work.
I know that I’m not ready to return to a ‘proper’ job, that yardstick by which I so strongly measure myself, but I am progressing towards it. I am hoping – cross your fingers, please – that by the start of 2012, I may actually have started looking into proper ‘in-office’ voluntary work, and perhaps I can even upgrade myself back to part-time paid employment by the end of that year. These aren’t hard and fast timeframes, fear not; they are hopes, but if I don’t meet them, I’ll not bee too hard on myself.
It could all go tits up. All of this could turn into nothing – or, rather, it could turn into an unmitigated disaster in the form of a serious relapse. But I have hope. Only four months ago, all I could see was death and despair. And now I have hope! It’s curious – an unknown quantity to me, almost – but it’s here, and I welcome it.
So I’ll continue to hope – hope for the best, be prepared for the worst, and take what comes.
I’ve only received one entry and one enquiry (reply on the way after this) about the aforementioned Blog Carnival of Mental Health. I’m sure more of you than that want to contribute? It’s a giant themed TWIM, folks – it’s awesome! Leave your links on the page linked on this paragraph (or here if you must, lazy-bones), or email me if you’d prefer. Thank you and enjoy! <3 xxx