Well, this was a novel state of affairs. For the third time in seven years, Grimble was having a big bout of the blues. She was sure, on reflection, that she’d had these blues all her life. And this wasn’t in an Ella Fitzgerald sort of way. This was in a morose, maudlin and tearful way, with no desire to sing at all, not even sad songs.
The first major episode, seven years earlier, had taken her somewhat by surprise, and the effects had been all-consuming and life changing but, ironically, some changes worked out for the best. She shouldn’t have been surprised given the events that lead to her brain freeze . In the fifteen months prior, her dad, brother and mum had all died, not collectively as that would have been handy for funeral arrangements but in the order above and from a diverse range of circumstances. In a moment of Northern budgeting, she’d asked the Wigan undertaker for a three for the price of two offer, so frequent was her business with him. He generously offered to do hers for free if she was to continue the family trend of dying inexplicably. Just as well, Grimble thought as, with the demise of her mum, there wasn’t anyone left to dispose of her body should she have the inclination to die. G had yet to materialise as a force in her life. Grimble was not even Grimble at this stage. She had been married for two decades but then, very inconveniently at the same time as these deaths, her spouse reconnected with his childhood sweetheart on the now defunct Friends Reunited: older readers might recall this early form of social networking. A way to connect with old school friends that most sane people had spent several decades trying to avoid. He’d joined and, in a quirk of fate, his school alumni had his first ever girlfriend listed on it.
Thus, Grimble was one of the earliest documented social media widows. Her husband had engaged in virtual chat that progressed to real chat and more and might a blog on its own. However, some things are best left unwritten and, for now, this remains one of them.
Feeling betrayed, bereft and bewildered, Grimble tried to maintain her normalcy. She had grown up in a culture where mental health situations were not to be discussed. In fact, they were to be avoided at all costs. Her own mum’s OCD aspects, which extended beyond the thrice cleaning of the toilet, to daily full vacuuming and dusting were excused to her job as a nurse where ward hygiene extended to the home. Grimble bottled up a concentrated mass of emotions until like Prosecco that had been shaken far too much, she exploded.
Months and months of inner turmoil combusted. Her earliest memory of this emotional detonation was on a train journey in Germany where she was then living. The Germans were not renowned for their outward display of emotion so what happened on that train must have surprised them, as much as Grimble. She was looking out of the window at the beautiful countryside wizzing by when, without warning, she started to sob uncontrollably. This was not a few tears streaming down her face. This was a torrent of saline waterfalling from her eyes. She had never felt herself so alone, so frightened and so empty. Despite the look of horror on the faces of her fellow passengers, she was unable to stop this public blubbering. She even tried to initiate a sneeze to disguise her sobbing as a cold. Later, after lots of constructive counselling, she walked away from her old life and buggered off to Spain for a couple of years of total reinvention.
On reflection, the anxiety had served a good purpose. In a way, the traumatic events too. Without them happening, she would have plodded on to a predictable and monotonous old age. This major life shake-up caused her to consider what really mattered: her health, wellbeing and psyche. What didn’t matter was working until death, material possessions and saving face. If she hadn’t been ill, she wouldn’t have had the guts, or the madness, to run off to Spain: writing for pleasure inconceivable and she would not have known her own capabilities and she stopped seeing life as having limitations. Without a family, she had to create one and in Spain she me the cussing Emster from New York and geeky Canadian Polish Martita, her surrogate sisters and of course, later back in UK, the indomitable G. Without blood relatives, she was answerable only to herself for her actions which was a novel way to live. That was until she met G, five years after this initial incident and it had been an ongoing struggle to be accountable to someone once again.
There was a second, slightly less impacting anxiety episode after a nose operation and a major conflict with her boss. This time she had not run away to Spain. Instead, she squatted at G’s remote barn home for a couple of months, made friends with a farm cat, won against her boss, and moved jobs.
This anxiety feeling was a funny business. It messed with her tenuous equilibrium. Grimble was usually a happy person but often this masked deep insecurities. She became introvert and extrovert all at once. She grew disenchanted and desirous of change and had an overwhelming desire to run away. The first episode had been weird as she had little awareness of what was happening or why or if it would ever end. The successive events were less weird as she was in full knowledge that they’d end: eventually. But they all had one common denominator: she was employed in teaching mainstream when they hit her.
Grimble pondered on whether her career choice of nearly 30 years might be a part of the problem. It wasn’t the classroom: it was the bullshit. Her job might be an important one but she was coming to the conclusion that some people gave it more weight than it actually merited. Well, gave the mundane and mediocre too much credence. Anyway, all this professional codswallop congealed in her muddled and exhausted mind. This time her anxiety seemed to originate from the incident of the broken ankle which was odd as her broken foot three years earlier didn’t manifest itself like this. She was tired: tired of marking, tired of the perceived threat of inspections, tired of performing.
Grimble was in a state of limbo. She had appointments galore with a whole range of people trained to drag her from the muddy quagmire of this impasse and get her functioning in normal working life once more. It was as if there were two Grimbles at work in her brain: the joyful, funny one, who felt happy in the sunshine or taking brisk walks in the winter chill and the other one: the miserable dark weepy one who reacted with agitation and unease at the mention of school. She now understood Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, despite finding it the most boring book in the history of GCSE set texts ever and there had been quite a few contenders for that accolade. Lurking in the recesses of her mind was a free, slightly unhinged and creative spirit that detested rules, spreadsheets and a PowerPoint. There were people out there who wanted to help her to return to data analysis, whiteboards and endless reports but her brain was telling her to just let go…and the result: anxiety.