My gorgeous mum has early-onset Alzheimer's. As she sat beside me on the sofa this morning I watched her pick up the landline. My own mobile started ringing and I answered. Lo and behold it was she. Mum began speaking then, quickly bored of my chat, handed the home phone over to me and I had a three-way conversation with myself. What did I do? I laughed, because I have come to the conclusion that if I can't find humour in the darkness then quite frankly I'm buggered.
You may have noticed the world going pretty nuts lately and unsurprisingly it's had quite the impact on our every day lives. Not that Sponge Bob Nazi Pants controlling America or Lil Kim firing missiles like party poppers is directly linked to our own grief over parental deaths and lost loves. But as with six degrees of separation, catastrophically bleak events in our wider environment can play a starring role in making challenging conditions at home feel even darker. Cheers for that Adolf Twitler.
As a child living in a small sleepy village, the daily news and public service announcements were a staple of my hefty TV viewing diet. Despite my parents' best efforts, my dreams were awash with IRA bombings, drink driving disasters and crafty Crimewatch murders. What's that Nick? "Don't have nightmares". Freddy Kruger had calmer nocturnal programing than me in the 1980's. But at 17 I eagerly scampered off to the bright lights of university, replacing news with booze and politics with party tricks, allowing nightmare on Leanne's street to move elsewhere.
Then towards the end of my twenties, perhaps as a wakeup call sent from beyond, my own life took a large paddle up shit creek, drowning me in a huge amount of very crappy grief. Mum's early onset Alzheimer's diagnosis was just one of a number of very large poop parcels with my name on it. Following 18 months of complete denial followed by six months of crying so hard I thought my brains might pop out, I did what any self-respecting closet artist would do and began writing.
Writing gave me an outlet for all the pain that had been FedExed to my front door with a no-returns policy attached. The more I focused upon my own writing, the more I looked to other people's work for inspiration. But as someone very intelligent once said (Voltaire or possibly Spiderman) with great knowledge comes great responsibility. Once you know, you cannot un-know.
I was now marching and signing, reading and voicing, posting and discussing all that was wrong with the world, desperately trying to find solutions to monumental global issues and injustices. I had no time for frivolous pop songs and gratuitous television when there were important key white papers to read and challenging documentaries to catch up on. At times I've secretly longed to return to the days where my most political endeavor was trying to free Coronation Street's Deirdre 'momentarily Rachid' Barlow. But back then, even our own Prime Minister had time to try and release the poor lass. If only he'd continued to focus on these imaginary weapons of soap destruction...
Some say we live in far gloomier times but many statistics argue otherwise. Perhaps we have simply been awakened to negative forces that were already there; through social media, rolling news channels and the press. There is also a lot of love, acceptance, tolerance and kindness these days but rarely do we hear these stories. Living within this stream of pessimism is debilitating. It's like walking around with your shoelaces tied together; you can still move but it's knackering and every so often you fall flat on your face, too cream crackered to get up again.
I realised I needed a counterpoint to all this doom. I began firstly by taking up outdoor swimming (which may well be the best legal high in the UK). Next I cut my exposure to social media and the web (the best legal low). Now, I am making a conscious decision to hold life more lightly. It's very common to feel the world is against you when things seem like a constant battle, to become a victim to all life's hardships. "My Mum's ill, my career's difficult, I have a bit of a shitty past and the apparently Perfectly Ripe Avocado I just bought from Tesco is a goddam fake". And then I take a moment to look at the bigger picture. I have been blessed with the most loving, awesome Mum ever invented, FACT. Yes my career is bloody hard but it's my choice to pursue it and I would be categorically bored otherwise. And who by the age of 34 hasn't had a bit of shitty past quite frankly?! I have also had the good fortune to be born into a free speaking country, enjoy white privilege and have the freedom of choice many in the world can only dream about. I am one of the lucky ones.
So now when I feel stressed and anxious, I am learning to get better at taking a breath and saying to myself, 'let go, hold life lightly and find the funny'. I realise in that moment I am OK. And when I am OK, I'm in a far stronger place to help others feel OK too. Unconsciously, by taking life less seriously I become more positively empowered to help the world around me, and not at the expense of my own sanity.
And the avocado... I'm not quite over that yet.