Late autumn, over five years ago. I had tickets to see Sam Baker. I’d bought them weeks and weeks in advance. It would be my second time of seeing him. I didn’t make it. My crash left me far, far too weak. Physically, I’d have struggled. Mentally, I’d have been overwhelmed.
I don’t think I questioned that I couldn’t go; that it was beyond my limits.
Face up to it all. I was determined to face up to it all, even in the early days, once I’d got so far as the hospital’s rehabilitation ward. My first focus was on going home. But for all my instability and fragility I can remember being determined, from the outset, to face up to it all.
I don’t think I had any flesh on what constituted ‘it all’.
Very soon after I was home, it took a doctor, my doctor, my GP, to look at my trembling lips and brimming eyes and tell me it was OK to say ‘no’ sometimes. She explained it was good to understand that I have limits, and it’s OK to work within them.
I don’t remember much more than what I’ve written here about that meeting. Not even why we had it. My partner was there with me, but that’s all I can say. A damaged brain can be very confused. I do know my GP has always been amazingly, wonderfully supportive and perceptive.
Limits. There are two things to know.
One. Are you strong enough to face something. Do you know if you can take being tested.
Two. If you do decide to try to face something, you also have to know how to handle failure. Judge yourself and the action, meeting, event or whatever it is you’re considering facing. You might risk it and fail or you might risk it and succeed. You need to be confident enough about either outcome – that you can handle either outcome. And if you’re not confident then play safe if you can and don’t try. Have faith that things will change as time passes.
It was a step forward to learn I can say no sometimes – to have that clear in my thinking, a clear option. But knowing what to do in relation to a specific event isn’t always obvious. I have to work out what it is I’m actually hoping for when I’m considering facing something.
I think that means I’m trying to work out how I’m going to be, by a mix of projection and imagination. I’m projecting myself in such-and-such context and I’m imagining how I’m going to react.
I’m asking if I’m going to be able to handle the emotions I think I’m going to have; I’m asking whether I can overcome them.
Maybe it’s useful to think of all this as something to do with control. I’m trying to work out the limit I mustn’t overstep to ensure I don’t lose control.
If you stand back and think about it, there’s a huge amount of control in everyone’s day-to-day life – both minor things and major. Control isn’t a bad thing.
So, OK – if I’m trying to judge if I’ll be able to handle my emotions in some future situation I’m projecting myself into it, then it seems to me that I’m trying to imagine a different me. I’m trying to imagine this future me, and how this future version of me might react, either to the context or in the context I think I’m going to be in.
Is this ‘future me’ a distinctly different version of me? Am I expecting the present me to have some empathy for my future self?
If you like, is it the case that there’s the me that’s doing the imagining and the me that I’m imagining?
I’m not sure. I don’t know. I think we run away from thinking about ourselves. It often seems that we are scared of our own minds and are frightened of our mental health. It’s all ‘complicated’ or ‘difficult’ or ‘scary’ or any other off-putting label. So we run away.
But, of course, we can’t.
We can dodge and dive and joke and jest, but we can’t ever run away. Not really.
When I couldn’t make it to see Sam Baker I let the concert organiser know. I knew him a little from other shows he’d put on, and I think I thought he’d be able to give the tickets to someone else. I think that was the case, but I can’t remember for sure.
Out of blue, I had a letter back. Included was a copy of Sam Baker’s most recent album at that time, Say Grace. The CD’s booklet was signed by Sam Baker and his band, with messages of support.
I cried so much. I cried at the kindness – of the concert organiser and of Sam Baker and his band. I cried at the care.
I couldn’t play the CD for years. That was a limit I couldn’t go beyond.
Now? Now I’m crying as I write this, at the memory. But now, sometimes, if I’m feeling strong, I play Sam Baker’s music. That’s progress. I’d be a fool to not value progress.
But as I write I don’t know if I am up to going to see him the next time he plays near me. I can project and imagine and empathise as much as I like. For all my thinking, sometimes I don’t know what my limit is or what it entails: how I’ll react if I’m tested.
Don’t know? Can’t know?
Emotion vs rationality.
I have nothing to be upset about. Caring isn’t sad. Kindness isn’t sad. But … but.
I know my advice to myself is to play safe. If I’m not sure I can handle my emotions and if I’m not sure I can handle failure, it’s wise to not risk it.
I know that’s good advice. But I’m nagged – of course I am. When does being cautious become cowardly? How good am I projecting myself into this future context? How good am I at imagining how I’ll react to being tested?
Certainty is so attractive, so elusive.
The why of it
Browsing CDs on the shelf. I often resort to ‘safe’ music. This time I ventured a little further.
It’s likely that any music of your past that’s too challenging now would have been safe to your ears, to your brain, once.
However difficult you might find it now, it was once music you could handle. The mistake lies in thinking that anything is permanent.