Backpacking and Bipolar II. Taking Manic Depression on tour.
Before I left the U.K I had attempted to rebuild and modify an XS650 motorcycle. I had no idea how to go about it, or the tools to do the job – but I felt optimistic and excited at the prospect of having a good looking, unique bike of my own, built with my own hands. A friend and I had become inspired by the idea at the Hotrod Hayride, a custom car and bike rally in the U.K.
I bought the donor bike and began taking everything off of it in preparation for cutting the frame down and welding on a hard-tail extension that I had bought through ebay. As with any project when you’re high – I leapt into it with all the force I could muster. Eventually progress slowed down, as inevitably it must, and I became bogged down in fears of doing things incorrectly. Suddenly I became aware that I didn’t know what I was doing and that I was probably just going to ruin the job. My confidence abandoned me and thanks to the criticism and open mockery from my now former friend and his father I began to feel terribly negative about the whole project. I left it alone and just thinking about it left me feeling bereft of confidence, ashamed of my lack of ability and embarrassed by the number of times that various people had told me that I would never finish it. The fact that they were right made me hate myself and tapped into EVERY other feeling of helplessness and worthlessness that I had ever had. Before long – just the thought of the project made me feel worthless.
Another friend, who I dare say is probably my closest friend, saw that I was struggling and came to my aid. He had built bikes before from scratch and offered his expertise and assistance without a moment of reservation. He tried to encourage and cajole me to further work on the project and, under his careful and kindly support, forward progress was made for a short while. My friend could only row me so far upriver before his efforts were exhausted and the process became so unbearable for me that we had to speak about it. He could see that I was having trouble, but couldn’t understand the degree or nuance of the difficulty.
In retrospect – one mistake I made was allowing third parties to criticise and deride me to a point where I took the reigns from them and continued to do so privately in my mind. I would KNOW that deep down they were right and I was useless. I would see their grinning faces and hear their jibes over and over, whilst adding my own self-deprecatory dialogue in for good measure.
Eventually, I sold the project on to another friend, who completed it very quickly and very well. By this point I had stopped speaking to my former friend and his father who had berated me previously, but I still felt the sting of shame that they had been right to ridicule me. The shame didn’t overshadow completely the relief I felt at having gotten out of the miserable stalemate that the project had become.
Shortly after I arrived my friend gave me a car that had been slightly damaged in an accident to repair and register as my own. I was elated, excited by the project and extremely grateful for the gift. Suffice to say that a similar situation as with the bike developed. I gradually felt more and more out of my depth, some of those old emotions crept back in unchallenged and I became secure in the knowledge that once again, my lack of practicality and know-how would inevitably cause the failure of the project. I messed up one or two things, which Steve pointed out and showed me the error of. He never once derided or humiliated me for what was OBVIOUSLY a lack of practical thought processes on my part. He was supportive and offered the benefit of his experience every step of the way. Yet my self-assassination continued growing like a pernicious weed in my mind.
I went through a bout of depression brought on by my short Sertraline career and towards the end I was given a deadline of a fortnight to have the car fixed up and off the lot. I missed this deadline, and I believe due to my illness at the time, I was given a reprieve. By now, whenever I looked at the car or it was brought up in conversation I felt nauseous, embarrassed and anxious. So things went. Progress on the vehicle went at a snail’s pace. I was even asked by my friend if I wanted to continue with the car because he could see it was upsetting me. I told him that I had to finish the car because otherwise I would add further strength to the negative emotions I was feeling and it would be even harder to combat later.
I failed once again. It came to light that I had left the registration of the car too late to get done before I leave Steve and Eileen to move up into my girlfriend’s place. I couldn’t ask for the car to stay here for yet more time while I went up into the cape and sorted the registration out. I arranged for a scrap metal company to come take the car away. To say this is why I failed at finishing the project would be untrue. For months I have felt certain that for one reason or another I would either be unable to finish the project or that in finishing it I would fail to break even or that the car would break down quickly anyway. The miserable stalemate again.
In short – my old fears and emotions came full circle again and, crippled by fear of the unknown and of my own ineptitude I failed to finish a job. I feel disappointed, ashamed and embarrassed. Once again I had told people about the project in an effort to shame myself into finishing the job. I can only imagine the disappointment that my friend who tried to encourage me with the XS650 will feel when he hears that I failed again. I remember him saying “Don’t get with that car like you did with the bike.”. “I won’t” I replied.
I cannot say that I don’t feel relief, however. As well as feeling bad for all the aforementioned reasons – I also feel relieved that the job isn’t hanging over me.
At some point I will start another project or job and the toxic ball of emotional damage that I’ve created is likely to resurface. If it does it will be stronger and I will have fewer ways to try to argue logically with the belief that I’m guaranteed to fail. I have created Kryptonite by allowing negative feelings to metastasise into an experience that no longer needs a logical reason to exist. It is a wealth of guilt, shame and especially fear – waiting for its time to darken my door again – and it can be lent to any context or situation.
Knowing may be half the battle but when it comes to things like this the other half is far more difficult than the knowing. I’m not lazy and the feelings around these projects have never been anything to do with the amount of effort involved. Rather it can be said that when I allow feelings of self-consciousness and of the fear of failure grow from a monkey into a silverback gorilla on my back – I am creating a recipe for failure. A self-fulfilling prophecy.
Failing as I have is bad but I’ve learned that what is worse is to take the implications of a failure like this and apply them to my entire life, past and future. I need to learn to let go of these failures as bad experiences, instead of holding onto them as a whip to punish myself with later; as a wire to trip myself with in the future. I have to learn to be able to say “I have failed” without meaning “I am a failure.”
Does any of this resonate with anyone out there? Do you have an Achilles heel combination of emotions? Have you learnt to accept a failure without feeling like a failure and if so – how? I want to hear from you.
All the best,