BF - 1.
Tomorrow sees me back in the Factory a pretty astounding 208 days since the Condition knocked me into a far longer sick leave than ever I'd anticipated. 208 days!
That really sinks in now: the reckoning.
And whatever people might tell me, I feel as if it's all taken so much longer than getting on for seven months, a whole summer and autumn, and yet flashed by so very fast, the score and more of medical probes and tests, getting to know the inside of almost a dozen hospitals and clinics, let alone my own insides.
Four specialists and one first-rate GP. A marvellous national health system for which my admiration has grown with the weeks.
Physically, these past few days, I've been back more or less where I started, the weekend marred by so many visits to toilets that I've lost count (which made yesterday's film a bit tricky).
Still, the major changes in medication are working, slowly; and I know what I've got.
It may seem astonishing that it took no fewer than three of those specialists, many diet experiments, plus some sensible guidance from the "generalist" doctor, bloghero Yang, week after long week, examination after shifting examination, to come up with all the puzzle pieces of the diagnosis that makes the return to AFP -- if never a total recovery -- possible.
And yet when one of those eminent doctors, the "gut expert" Vincent de P., had all the results in and moved on to the holistic assessment of the Condition, he told me that it could have taken a good year or more to determine its complex causes and their interaction.
So I'm nowhere even remotely near the same places in mind and in body as I was back in May, and I've learned infinitely more about "hands-on" psychology, the workings of people's digestive systems, the immensely delicate chemical balances in our brains, and some realities of psychosomatic medicine than ever I could have imagined six months ago.
There are so many things I'll never take for granted again in this unfinished process.
The intelligent, perceptive feedback I've had during these months -- sometimes sympathetic, sometimes far from it -- from many friends, AFP colleagues, one or two family members, and some of the Loyal 4 ¾ who've followed my adventures in this experiment of a 'blog has been immensely important to me.
My true love, the Wildcat, is among the particularly special people who have turned out to be quite remarkably acute in their insights and help.
Really I should name them all, from Rainer way over there to the southwest in Brazil, to Jo the English desk chief at the Factory, my father in York, my wise old friend Tony in Odessa Street, Natalie in London, Jean-Paul and three or four others who have become close friends in the local community with the Canteen for its centre, Béa now in Nairobi ... people from all kinds of places, living quite different lives; but it would take me all night just to do this and to say an individual "thank you" to each and every one.
Of myself, I've learned so very much that I realise it's not nearly enough, that I'll go to my grave one day, as we all do, not so very much wiser than when I was born.
Enough. I'm not sure that I'm making the slightest sense in this monumentally self-indulgent entry to anybody but myself.
All the different bits of me, the several lives that have made up these past 48 years, are coming together now, nevertheless, in a way I can sort of understand and ... accept.
Some people have told me that getting back to work at AFP will reintegrate me socially, as a functioning and contributing member of the society they call the "real world", but not one of the mind and body physicians or a majority of the very few friends who really seem to understand me has ever said anything so utterly absurd, idiotic and misconceived.
The Real World, indeed! As if there's only one, our shared, sick illusion.
The physicians have helped me to see that these past months have been the most extraordinary period in my life, a time where I've been phenomenally fortunate, reintegrating the bits and pieces of myself, recovering parts I should never have sacrificed on the altar of my "career", re-focussing all my deepest interests, priorities and abilities in ways my regular readers must have noticed in the strange pilgrim's progress of this weblog.
When I declare that during these "months off", I've learned to be more socially integrated as an animal than ever before, that makes sense to such people as these, they say.
I was a very angry -- and fragmented -- person when the Condition took me off the job. Not that I realised it then; that took several months.
As did an understanding that my gut functions had fallen apart partly for purely physical, chemical reasons (their strange constitution shown by the tests), but -- far more importantly perhaps -- because some unconscious genius in the workings of my mind had made the most vulnerable part of my body the battleground for a fight that would otherwise have plunged me deep into mental anguish, strife and depression.
The realisation that this was not unusual, that I wasn't crazy, that this was simply my way of dealing with things that are conflicts in every one of us, a part of our shared human condition, pushed over the decades to the point of unmanageable self-contradiction, came even later.
My friend François was most wise in saying, quite a while back, that I was simply working through, as best I could, the profoundly insane, unbalanced, deeply inhuman follies of the high-speed, information-overloaded, stressed-out, artificial urban clockwork existence we've given ourselves.
The inner conflict was exacerbated in my case by a genetic, inherited predisposition to certain ways of reacting, combined with an avoidance of most of the common safety valves, such as alcohol and some social activities others enjoy but I don't.
Anyway, that's really enough.
I'm as ready as I can be to return to the Factory, my whole centre of gravity changed, probably for good, prepared to be more patient in some things -- but far less so about several others I had tolerated for years against every crying decent gut instinct in my being, so much bullshit nobody will ever make me swallow again! Oh yes, because anger, resentment, a hatred of injustice and hypocrisy are still there, but to be channelled, made positive in new ways.
I still get the morning panic attacks, knowing them now for what they are -- and even the start of how to deal with them, dispose of them for the shadows they are. And somehow, I'm going to have to go on learning how to stay as profoundly empathetic with other people as the "shrinks" have shown me I am, without allowing this sensitivity, which many rightly see as a gift and a blessing I have, to tear at my system through over-identification with the hardships of others, the taking of appalling news stories into myself.
This I can learn to do, with the humility now to know when to ask for help.
Make of this entry what you will.
Perhaps best ignored!! Even ridiculed.
But tonight is a turning point, the end of a strange time, a new start.
All of the rest of my life begins here.
While my Africanist career remains important, the music, literature, other arts and scientific interests where I started my quarter-century in journalism are back now at the very centre of this life and shall never be discarded again.
I like to think that the path I've travelled since this journal began has sometimes been, and still is, of assistance and of use to others, wherever my readers may be. For maybe what happened to me, and the luck I've had in being allowed to make the time to confront it, may find a resonance of comprehension in others.
As well as fulfilling my other goals for the "experiment", to serve as a meeting point for people and ideas, share as many interests as possible, maintain my communications skills, and above all, I hope, to entertain. Even occasionally enlighten.
As so many others in the blogosphere and elsewhere on the Internet have done for me, their worlds really no more "virtual" or less "real" than the ones we all fabricate for ourselves.
I guess I'll be writing less here once I'm back in the Factory.
But this experiment is most certainly not going to stop.
9:32:23 PM link