Not writing. Not cycling. Nor a sorrowful face full of tears. Nor a shuddering heart. Nor any shaking shoulders.
In fact, nothing much at all.
What is this vacancy? Whose are these slumbering eyes that guide me? Whose billowing arms far out at sea? Whose laggard legs calling me across this pebble shore?
This not what I signed up for. This was not in the small print. I did not agree to this. I did not give my consent. I did not say what you say I said.
Or did I?
I was born against my will, I breathe against my will. My heart beats and my blood moves against my will. I sleep against my will. I wake up, gasping for air.
I am at war with myself.
There are so many military metaphors. My grandparents, my parents, my uncles, my aunt – they all survived wars. My grandfathers fought in one on opposing sides. And I, who would fail any medical, who has never so much as handled a gun, or a grenade, I am fighting myself.
In my role as a Peer Worker, supporting others to cope with enduring mental health problems I pride myself in being the stretcher bearer in the picture. Helping to carry the burden. holding the hope for others when there is none they can see.
I cite it often as a key part of what keeps me well (enough) to live. I boast of my ‘spare capacity’ to reach out to others to support them in their personal journey of recovery. I support ex-servicemen who carry with them the horrors of active service that we coyly disguise with the acronym PTSD. I put myself on their battlefields of unfamiliar streets, house searches and shouting at children who do not know how to respond.
My ears are leaking blood from all the places I have never been. The Eastern Front, 1914. Kristallnacht, November 9 – 10 1938, Theresienstadt and Baranowicze 1942.
Is that me on the stretcher or is that me on the bicycle?
Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke once the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?
Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918)