…and that’s fine. As long as you don’t act on them.
When I first entered the dizzy realm of adulthood at the age of 18 it was an exciting time. A carefree life awaited. I knew I’d get a job and do the usual ‘life stuff’ people do. At some point there might be a family, a home and even a dog. Or two.
I love dogs.
I love my children more.
But those thoughts weren’t the most pressing on my mind. First I wanted to have fun. A lot of fun.
Now what passes for fun in the mind of someone with impaired emotions is, well, extreme. Once those perceived chains – the bonds of being a child – break, life seems like an endless ocean of bounty.
Before I go on, the constraints I felt in my younger years were figments of my imagination. Sure, there are rules to live by and, in most cases, we should respect our parents, never see them as killjoys. Unless they are in which case feel free to ignore their advice.
The moment at which life changes can seem like a long time coming. In an instant you are an adult and free to make your choices. So I did.
I spent most of my youth ignoring the rules. Punishment was swift, and likely severe when compared to today’s standards. But I still broke the rules.
Come my 18th birthday there was a shift. Measured on the seismic scale it would be tiny. In my head it was huge.
My extremes became, well, more extreme. Not only did I push harder to achieve my aims and goals, I also indulged unhealthy habits in excess. Which we all do to a degree.
The key issue for me was my lack of emotional development, which I’ve talked about on my about page. Here’s a quick resume:
- poor understanding of emotions
- fiery nature
- lashed out. A lot.
- a complete lack of empathy
That was me. Now some of those issues still remain and have only amplified due to the brain tumour and the damage it caused. on a postivie note, I’m learning fast. I don’t have the emotional quotient of a neurotypical person, but I can read emotions in others and act in an appropriate manner.
So the stage was set for the ridiculous. One event still comes to mind on a regular basis.
Rock climbing. Alone. Without a safety rope, or anyone knowing where I was.
At the time I lived on the edge of a small town in Devon, south west England. My best friend was ‘Bob’. I won’t reveal is actual name as I was was staying at his house and his family had no idea what I was up to. He lived a few miles away from me and about 10 mins walk from the nearest village.
During the day we’d been walking and talking. Sharing ideas, arguing over the coolest pop band (I didn’t care about who was right, I wanted to argue hard). Our journey took us along a river that flowed past his house, and out in the woodland. And it was here I spotted was would become a brief obsession…
A cliff. Over 150ft high, it pierced the wooded canopy and jabbed at the sky. And you know where this is going…
I had to climb it. To this day I have no idea why this crazy idea popped into my head. And it was crazy. Smooth, with few places to gain any kind of grip, it was deadly. And that made it desirable.
Some people will describe this at that folly of so many young people: fearlessness. Which is true to a point, but even the most fearless of us have those moments when the near-certainty of death reminds them when to turn back.
The problem was I didn’t care. There was zero sense of self-perservation, as shown in my many other foolish acts. Like hiking across a UK National Park in winter, and at night, wearing only jeans, a t-shirt and running shoes. That was chilly walk.
Fortune has smiled upon me in the intervening years. I have managed to develop a sense of right and wrong, in particular the reasons why it’s good for me to stay alive.
I told ‘Bob’ I was going to climb the cliff face. ‘Bob’ was sensible, his brain wired in to the very real propsect of death and what that meant. He told me I was stupid, that I’d die.
I didn’t believe him.
After about 10 minutes of arguing, which I enjoyed, I announced he was right and there would be no attempts on the cliff.
We headed back to his house, had dinner, then spent some time playing computer games on an old ZX81. Look it up if you’re younger than 50 – this was the zenith of gaming consoles back in the day. Late in the evening I ambled to the guest room and closed the door.
Two hours later, once the house was quiet and filled with the soft snores of his dad, I unlatched the bedroom window and climbed out.
In the dead of night those imposing towers of rock became fearsome monsters. And I wanted to do battle with them. So I started to climb.
Cold moisture clung to the rockface. My trainers would find grip, only to slip moments later. But this didn’t dent my confidence because I’d convinced myself I was indestructible.
So I continued to climb.
A chill has settled into the valley and I soon felt the first tendrils of night air tweaking my fingertips. A breeze snatched at the hot column of my breath and pulled it into the darkness.
Another slip, a loss of purchase, and I slid. My fingers graspsed over and over and, somehow, they found a dense branch jutting out of the rock face. At the time it seemed the gods were not furious with me.
In total I dropped about 15ft. Now I was dangling about 45 in the air, both my hands locked in a grip of death around that thick branch.
At this point most rational people would soon surmise the best route out of danger would be to climb down.
I went up.
The time passed fast. In all, the climb took me 2 hours.
There were slips along the way. At one point a bird, hidden in a granite recess and shocked by my appearance, shrieked and took flight. For a moment I was unbalanced, but my fingers kept a tight grip on any handhold available.
When I finally hauled myself over the lip of the cliff, I lay flat on the ground, panting. Wet grass clung to my face. My lungs burned, my thighs and fingers screamed at me. One of my fingernails was missing, another lifted. Blood trickled.
And I was delirious, but only for a moment.
I stood and looked down into a well of darkness. Somwhere below, about 150 ft from where I was standing, was the start point of this adventure.
Then, within moments, the exhiliration faded to nothing.
It was done.
I’d set myself a task and completed it.
What I will say is, for better or worse, my confidence soared. I’d defeated the monster, proved myself indestructible. Which, later in life, I learned was not true.
That’s a story for another day.
I found a meandering track that led me back to my friend’s house, climbed back through the window. Soon I was in bed, and asleep.
My youth was peppered with crazy dares I set myself. Likewise, my Army service was a cauldron of stupid moves, many of which could of, and should have, resulted in death. But I was lucky.
After several years of services, I volunteered to attend a selection course. It was here I learned my wild ways could be dangerous to collageauges and friends. Wise (harsh) words from a veteran of the unit made me reassess my ‘whims’.
Even though some of my emotions were still in a state of disconnection, I wanted to do ‘the right thing’ by my comrades. So I listened and learned, became more effective at my job and removed the label of ‘loose canon’.
And this is key: like me, you may not have empathy, or emotions, that bind you to other people. You may not ‘feel’ a particular connection to others, but understanding right from wrong will allow you to emerge from the darkness in your head.
Having someone mentor you, even if those lessons are a few harsh words, will go a long way to shifting your perspectives.
The echoes of our past actions will always remain. And in some ways, that’s no bad thing. They can act a reference points to learn from. Some of your past deeds will boost your confidence and self-belief.
But that ‘devil may care’ approach to life needs to go in a locked box at the back of the closet in your mind.