I used to think that fear was my biggest arse ache. Then I started taking 10mg of Propranolol, my hear rate soared and I more or less got a grip on my fear and the myriad worries, grizzles and gripes that it brought along with it, like an unwanted clan of relatives on a caravan holiday.
As the fear diminished, slowly my outlook on life shifted. Problem with me is that any transformation is almost glacial in its dawdling and it would be weeks or months before I noticed and acted upon changes.
It’s quite a thing to realise, after years of being paranoid and wondering where the next threat is coming from…that most people don’t even notice you’re in the room. My mate Frank used to get very pissed off when we met for a pint, when my eyes were constantly roving beyond him to scan for what was going on and who was approaching. He said on more than one occasion “that’s fucking rude you know. If I was a bird you were trying to impress, I wouldn’t be very impressed!”
We met last week and I consciously made the effort to not do this annoying thing. An hour or so later the subject came up and I pointed out that I’d been avoiding it on purpose. He replied “you’re not as bad as you were.”
I was basically a very jumpy, very insecure and very paranoid person. People used to tell me regularly, and still tell me sometimes now, that I swing my shoulders when I walk, as if I’m “strutting”** This isn’t hard to figure out, even though I don’t realise I’m doing it. A cornered cat will arch its back, stick its fur up, bare its teeth and hiss like fuck. A bloke who’s grown up expecting to be attacked will unconsciously try to make himself look bigger.
Fear was a pain in the brown eye. It limited my life and then some…or so I thought.
It turned out that fear was actually quite a good thing to have around. While doing police training for “Non Compliant Prisoner in Cell” (i.e. an instructor pretending to go off on one and you have to run in mob handed and subdue him) I failed on 3 occasions to get a wrist lock on the ex-army, 15 mile-run-before-breakfast-every –morning, broken nosed badass who was playing the “suspect”. He eventually called for a halt to the proceedings and screamed at me “LANCE! I AM TALKING TO YOU AS THE INSTRUCTOR NOW, NOT THE ACTOR. GET THAT FUCKING LOCK ON YOU FUCKING IMBECILE!!!”
I was petrified (albeit still trying to make things work and not running away) and my brain had frozen. A mixture of this guy *** yelling at me plus my own fear AND large dollop of pride…meant that I got the wrist lock on and passed the test. I also did a “Stop and Search on a Stubborn Git” 2 days later and the “actor” afterwards said that me and my fellow student had handled it perfectly.
When we finished the Officer Safety Training I found a quote in a book named “More Chicken Soup for the Soul” from an anonymous source that said “Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s doing what it takes despite the fear”. I liked that so much that I wrote it in a Thank You card for the instructors the day I left.
Years later a similar quote turns up in Game of Thrones when Bran Stark says to his father “Can a man be brave when he’s afraid?”
His father replies, “That is the ONLY time a man can be brave.”
But ultimately it wasn’t fear that was holding me back and limiting my life.
It was that old bastard Self Pity.
In the otherwise mundane and quite shite movie G.I Jane, there are only 2 good sequences. The first is where Vigo Mortensen’s Navy SEAL trainer beats up and implies he will rape Demi Moore’s character during a training mission as she is the first ever female recruit. It turns out he’s not a sadistic thug but is simply proving that a female would be used as leverage if taken prisoner by a war time enemy.
The other is at the end when he presents Moore’s character with a book containing a poem by DH Lawrence. It is called Self Pity and simply says:
I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.
The underlying illness, that limits a normal life is not fear but self pity.
When I don’t go to the gym, it’s not fear or even laziness. It’s self pity. I feel that I haven’t had enough “ME” time and that there are loads of fun things I’d like to do and why should I have to spend my precious time hurting my body?
When I get to work and find that my job isn’t prepared for me to do (it’s supposed to be ready to be dealt with when I arrive) I lament the unfairness and complain that I’m not working overtime. I could sometimes but I’m pissed off that life has yet again coughed in my face.
When my girlfriend Mich Altschuler dumped me on Skype (5 days after she had flown back on a flight I paid for…and convinced me that she shouldn’t have to pay any of the money back…and then ceased all contact with me) I didn’t think “what a manipulative, scheming little cunt” and then move on. No, I was grateful to have a job that involved walking around in rain, snow and sub zero temperatures because it meant I could focus my self pity over the inequitable unfairness I’d been handed by doing a daily job that was nothing short of exhausting and sometimes even painful.
The irony was that the ONE area of my life where I didn’t feel self pity, ended up changing and becoming the way I’d always dreamed it would. I never gave up hope that the scars would heal between me and my younger brother Gary.
We hadn’t spoken beyond swearing in about 15 years and although it upset me I never festered on it. I simply kept a flame of faith burning that somehow, somewhen we could resolve our issues. In 2013 we finally did.
No self pity, no fear either. And in the end it worked out.
I spent New Year’s Day 2014 in bed all day with a hangover. I got up to piss and drink water, that was it. I’ve done this before and in a sad way there’s something VERY comforting about lying in bed and lapsing in and out of sleep for 36 or so hours. It’s a void of warmth and nothingness where you can shut yourself away from the world and its pain.
The next day I went to the gym and was determined to push my cardio to new levels. I did.
Day after I went for a 5 mile run in the rain (even though a sports masseur had said “don’t ever run again, go cycling instead” after I tore the anterior crusciate ligament in my left knee) and did 6 or 7 sprints of about thirty seconds throughout.
Something in me clearly died on New Year’s day because I actually enjoyed this sodden sprinting through Leamington Spa and Warwick and came home buzzing.
Today I got 3 tattoos on my left arm (well, technically one as they were done at the same time and are on the same bit of my arm). They are my paternal Grandfather’s date of birth; my Father’s date of birth and my Brother Gary’s date of birth.
My Grandfather fought in and was badly injured in, the Second World War. He had shrapnel embedded in his head from 1943 until he died in 1988. He survived a bomb blast that killed everyone else in the air raid shelter he was using. Him and the chief nurse were the only survivors of of another bomb blast that wiped out the hospital wing he was in.
He never once complained and I never saw him resort to self pity.
My father is a black belt in Judo and worked most of his life in a job he hated. He was and still is very pragmatic, kind, loving and level headed. He is generous and has more friends than I can count. He lives in Crete, Greece where he retired in the late 1990s. He was married to my mother for 27 years and was treated appallingly by her throughout most of that time.
He never complains and again I have never seen him feel self pity.
My brother is a black belt in Judo and a blue belt in Jiu Jitsu. He stands by both me and my father and is loyal to his friends. He teaches English to children and has lived in both Thailand and Vietnam. He has a 2nd class honours degree in Social Psychology. He has a girlfiend he loves very much. I have never seen him express self pity either.
These are my “Look Up To” tattoos for those who, in my own family, have inspired me.
I sold my stallion today. No, that’s a lie. I shot it. It had a broken leg and I fancied a motorbike instead.
*** This guy was forced to resign a year or so later for being "too heavy handed" during training scenarios. I.e. he made them realistic. If you're reading this Duncan, I still have a lot of respect for you.