Walking contradiction

I shoved a guy the other day. It wasn’t a push. It was a good, old-fashioned, solid shove, a violent explosion, inner rage pouring out that I didn’t even know was there. It was like putting an empty coffee mug in a microwave and watching in shock as, somehow, water boils over.

He was just standing there. I was exiting the Tube, heading into London to meet some friends. I was carrying a novel in my left hand, and reaching for my mobile with the right. He was directly in front of me. Then, as he reached the last step on the exit out of the station, he just stopped. I don’t know what he was doing. Maybe he was a tourist, confused about where he was going. Maybe he realised he’d left his iron on. Maybe he just decided to pause and drink in a gorgeous day. But he stopped, right in front of me.

Now, people not from London don’t really understand this sometimes, but here, stopping in the middle of the pavement is like someone braking their car in the middle of the motorway. Here, our feet are our cars, and we apply the same rules of the road to the sidewalk. As frustrated as you get when someone cuts you off in traffic, that’s how we feel when someone pauses suddenly to answer a mobile, or makes a snap decision to head toward the Starbucks on the opposite side of the street, or so on. I guess I’d call it Walk Rage.

And this guy just stopped. And I lost it. I pulled my arm across my body to my right side, put my phone back in my pocket, and just waylaid him with my left arm. I had some force behind me too; he almost went barreling into the newsstand set up just beside the station exit. My motion was punctuated with a fierce, involuntary, “OH, FOR FUCK SAKE… WATCH IT!”

He was a smaller Asian man, I was now noticing, probably about 40, with greying hair and a pair of bright blue shorts.

He plunged forward with an audible “Oomph.” He looked back at the source of this strange velocity. His eyes met mine. He did not see a sensitive, island-boy-turned-Londoner, empathetic guy, someone who just tries to get along and go along, an amiable sort always trying to make everyone feel comfortable, the guy cracking jokes at just the right times, the guy who calls everyone “Ma’am” and “Sir” in a slightly joking but still sincere attempt at mock formality, the one who calls his parents three times a week, the one who just wants everything to be OK, just let it all turn out OK, please please.

He saw a snarl and a twisted mouth, spitting, “Idiot! Move!”

He yelled “Arsehole!” I muttered, now somewhat embarrassed, “Yeah, yeah… Fuck… whatever!” before storming on my way.

Moments later, I was feeling really bad about the whole thing. It just wasn’t me. The poor guy certainly didn’t do anything to me (although the stopping-suddenly thing IS quite annoying!) and this is no excuse at all, but… I’ve had a pretty hectic and stressful summer, trying to juggle several tough work projects. And the last couple of weeks have been particularly difficult.

 Now… I’m typically a pretty easy person to get along with, yes, but mostly, I’m a licensed pro at avoiding conflict. If I can sense it coming, I’ll change the subject to something happy, something we can laugh about, smile about, think fondly of. I’m so good at it, typically, that you can’t even notice I’m doing it. Just as soon as they were brought up, unpleasant topics are paved over and smoothly shifted to the next topic, maybe football, or that one movie we saw, or remember that time, when we were in the park, that was great, wasn’t it?

I once went out with this American girl who I thought I might marry, before we split and she married someone else, and never spoke to me again. Even as she was leaving, I didn’t fight. I didn’t scream, or stomp off, or tell her she was a bad person. I tried to be mature, and compassionate, and understanding, and then next thing I knew, she had no real compelling reason to stay, because I’d steadfastly refused to give her one. That’s how far I’m willing to take it. I’ll suck it up if it means avoiding a yelling, nasty tussle. I can take it.

But sometimes the pressure does get to you.  You end up feeling alone, vulnerable, and wiped out at times. That’s when you snap, and fights happen. We’ve all been through them, and I’m becoming worse at avoiding them as I grow older.

One fight with a colleague (I use that term quite loosely – we work in the same place but we certainly don’t work together) was about nothing, really; they usually are. But she was being unreasonable, as usual, and said something that made me feel unappreciated, isolated, awkward, empty… Once she’d left my office, I reacted by pounding my fist into the wall. Then my head. Then I grabbed some papers off my desk and threw them across the room. Then I went for a walk.

Sunday afternoon, I was supposed to write this column, and then meet a friend of mine for lunch, then get some more job work done, run some errands, and maybe even take a walk along the South Bank, one of my favourite ways to spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon, which this was.

But I couldn’t get off the sofa. I was out of it, and emotionally spent, and had not an ounce of energy to do anything but just lie. There was some sport on. The US Open. Soapdish, on Comedy Central X, with all the swearing edited out. Some movie with Alec Baldwin and that guy from Gosford Park. I had Chinese delivered. I took a nap. Outside, kids were playing, and people were having brunch, and lying in the sun, and working, and writing, and living, and all the shit I came here to do. For the first time in a while, I simply stayed in, all day, and just watched TV and napped, alone.

I was just so tired. So, so tired.

I do not know what is happening to me. I don’t know if my job is making me hard, or angry, or bitter, or just too exhausted to think. But I do know I don’t feel like myself anymore. I don’t know what I am anymore. I’m maddeningly inconsistent. I don’t know what’s caused it. I don’t know when it happened. And I’m not sure what to do about it.

But I think I kind of miss me. The way I used to be, whenever and whatever that was. Now that I think about it, I might not have been that bad.



A drug-fuelled rant

This past week, during which circumstances conspired to deprive me of sleep and turn me into one throbbing stress nerve, I had eight different people — not eight different times; eight different people — offer me some sort of prescription drug for my own relaxation. Let’s see if I can remember them all: Paxil, Xanax, Ativan, Valium, Prozac… and some other one, I think it started with a Z and ended with a C, or maybe a Q. I know it had a little “tm” in a circle on the end.

These people were not doctors. Half of them didn’t even have prescriptions for the drugs they were giving me. They would just see that I was tired and weary and a bit on edge, and thought it only natural — logical — that I would want to pop a pill. Take care of that right quick. When I told them, no, I was fine, I’m good, thanks, appreciate it… they were taken aback. David, don’t you understand? These make you feel better. And doctors say they’re OK. Why wouldn’t you want one?

It is amazing to me how many people in London are on some sort of medication. Hell, I’m sure some of you are on them. How did you start? Was there some sort of injury? Maybe you had a fight with your other half and had a friend who suggested you could calm down with these. Maybe your psychiatrist recommended them. Perhaps it was the July 7 bombings. Whatever it was, they’re everywhere. I sometimes wonder if, when I’m speaking to a member of the Prozac nation, anything I’m saying is having an effect whatsoever. If they’re even paying attention. If they’re just trying to find their happy place.

These drugs are self-indulgent anyway. They’re just like the rest of this self-absorbed city; the focus is making yourself feel better. If there’s something wrong in your world, it’s not because of anything you might have done wrong, or decisions you might have made. It’s society. It’s too tough; I’m too sensitive. Here, take this pill.

Now I’m aware that there are people out there — some are friends I love dearly — who genuinely need these antidepressants, and I don’t mean to disparage them. This is medicine, and some people have imbalances or bad genes, and they need these as remedies. Good for them. I’m glad they have something that makes them feel better. But there aren’t that many. And they don’t make up three-quarters of the population of London!

Rules of thumb here. The following things do not give you chemical imbalances that require medication:

Your parents’ divorce.

Joe breaking up with you for that slut from work.

Your boss is an idiot.

Your back hurts when you get home from work.

You need an alternative to weed.

You’re getting older.

You need to lose weight.

Your roommate won’t stop leaving her towels in the bathroom.

Rachel doesn’t love Joey.

You know how you deal with these things? Not to sound insensitive here, and if I do so, I apologise but… shut the fuck up and deal with it. These problems existed long before GlaxoSmithKline set up in Brentford and started making billions. Life is to be faced head-on and dived into with reckless abandon. Living scared, or dulled, solves nothing.

Doesn’t anyone just want to live anymore? The notion of antidepressants revolves around having no highs too high and no lows too low. Just a smooth plateau, everything’s the same, everything’s easier, nothing gets you too excited. Why in the world would anyone want to live like that? It makes people into boring, bland, even-keel people, and I surely didn’t move to London for those.

And let’s not get into the antidepressants that reduce sex drive. I mean, if the goal is reducing stress, that would seem the definition of counterproductive. (Is there any way women who are on antidepressants that reduce their sex drive could wear some sort of ID bracelet, or maybe a dogtag? It would make dating so much easier.)

I just don’t see how life got so difficult that we needed some outside agent to help us control it. People… life is hard. It’s really awful sometimes. Isn’t that the point? Don’t you want to feel, whether it’s euphoria or deep sadness? You’re going to be on this shit for 30 years and then one day realise, dammit, I missed everything. I don’t mind being depressed every so often. It makes the joyous moments that much more exhilarating.

Why would you want to numb that? Why would you want to escape from life? It’s worth staying alert for, you know.

Read my other article — The Beauty Of Sadness — and you’ll see what I’m on about.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I could really use another drink.