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When I was eleven I read widely in history, new age and paranormal subjects, including a book about Nostradamus. From this I deduced, naively perhaps, that I would die in July 1999, at which point I would be 28 years old. I therefore planned my life accordingly, deciding never to have children as it would be cruel to bring them into the condemned world, and to fit as much experience as I could into the finite time I had left. At the age of fourteen I had become enormously self-destructive and regularly indulged in such antics as tasting chemicals in the school lab, throwing myself at a wall, slicing my fingers and punching mirrors. By that time I'd got myself a label as an 'attention seeker' and I'm not sure even now whether this is an appropriate diagnosis, for me or for anyone else. In a way everyone seeks attention, in that everyone wants to be noticed and loved. My reasons for this risk-taking behaviour were related to my desire to experience life to the full, including enhanced physical experiences, combined with an intense self-hatred and lack of self-respect. I became a very inward-looking person, like many teens I was self-obsessed. The accusation that I required an abnormal level of approval, attention or love from the people around me and/or complete strangers, made me laugh then and still does now. How vain are they? I can see that I had some serious issues, and recognised this at the time, but the broad label of 'attention seeker' (which implies perversely that the sufferer of this affliction should be ignored) was not helpful in the slightest. It's something which makes me now able to understand self-harmers in a way that no-one really understood me back then. When I was fourteen, one of my classmates told me, in quite an offhand way, that I'd die before I was twenty. This was in response to something that happened in the science lab and I'm sure that it was her well-meaning intention to shock me into more sociallyacceptable behaviour patterns. But I took it as a prediction and found that my life expectancy had been reduced by eight years. A panicked response resulted from this and I became even more desperate to fit in everything I wanted to do, while less inclined to 'fit in' with everyone around me. If I had a terminal illness then I might want to be sure I'd put my affairs in order and left nothing that would cause problems for the people who had to clean up after me (incidentally, this has always been the thought that prevented me from committing suicide). But if everyone is going to die, if the world is going to end, then why not live life to the full? Given all that I went through, it's a miracle that this didn't become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps this could be seen as a dire warning never to believe what you read or what your classmates tell you. In any event, my spiralling self-destruction was cut short by various means and I survived through to my twenties. Thank all the gods, I might add. At this point, I began to see the folly of my previous belief that I would die when the 'Great King of Terror' fell from the sky (the Nostradamus prediction). A natural or human-made catastrophe may well be just around the corner, but what is the point in ordering your whole life on the basis that you're going to die tomorrow, or next week, or next year? The only way to deal with the philosophical question of whether the sun is going to rise tomorrow, I concluded, is to act as if you are always going to wake up the next morning. Otherwise I might kill myself off with the stress of finishing everything before going to bed. So in my twenties I sort of drifted. Though there still existed a small part of me that believed we were all going to die in July 1999, I'd got a reprieve by intellectualising my fear, and believed that by staying fit and healthy I could live on to a ripe old age. My paternal Gran lived into her nineties, my maternal Gran is still around, and in her
eighties. Therefore my genes are good. However, if the life you live is tasteless, meaningless and devoid of pleasure, what is the point in living for so long? I was tired of constantly working at failing relationships with partners who seemed to hate me rather than love me. I was tired of staying with someone just for the sake of not being alone. Then with the Millennium Bug panic in the late nineties, my Nostradamus-provoked death wish resurfaced. It didn't help that I was working in the computer industry at the time. I'm not sure how much of an influence the fear of an early death had on my decision to abandon everything, up sticks and run away with my best friend. At the time I identified the catalyst as being the birth of her son. I realised then that there are more important things in life than worrying about what other people think. Here was a child, a very real person not a philosophical construct. Here was a woman I loved with a passion and had never admitted it to myself for fear of losing her friendship. Whether it was a subconscious countdown to July 1999 or simply a realisation that I'd forever curse myself for missing the opportunity, I declared my feelings at Christmas 1998 and haven't looked back since. The fact that I still love Alys with a passion, she's still my best friend and the most important person in my life, suggests that my actions were valid. I wasn't simply running from one disaster to another as various people predicted. As we're approaching our ten year anniversary (omg!), I suggested last night that we should have a party to celebrate. On 21st December 2008 we'll have been Civil Partners for three years, and lovers for ten. Actually 28th December was the date of our first kiss, but after ten years I'm not going to nit-pick over seven days. Planning now for this party means that we'll have the time to make it special. What I find interesting is that I'm at a stage in my life where I can make a plan for a party in fifteen months' time. I have five-year plans and ten-year plans now, whereas years ago I could barely plan a few weeks in advance. Having a dependent child, seeing him go through school and thinking about how old he'll be in five years' and ten years' time has an influence on this. But it's also a part of growing older I think. When I was a teen, a year seemed like an age, now it's much closer. Every year passes faster than the last as I'm on the rollercoaster downhill slope to my death. I now come to the question of 'what is young'? As a child, anyone who was younger than my parents was young. When I was eleven my mum was 31 and the thought that I might die at the age of 28 was frightening. I'm 37 next week and I still think of myself as young (I'm still younger than my mum, after all). My Dad died recently aged 60 (see previous blog posts) and one of the reactions I get from people who hear this is 'that's young'. Yes, 60 is young to die, certainly of 'natural causes'. The idea that a person can go to bed feeling like he has indigestion and the next morning the world has ended (for him at least) is frightening, however young or old he is. At my father's funeral I spoke to my uncle, my Dad's older brother. He mentioned that their father, my grandfather, had died in very similar circumstances at a very similar age. A few weeks before his sixtieth birthday, he'd gone to bed as normal and my Gran had found him dead the next morning. I hadn't heard this before, as I don't remember him and he was rarely mentioned, certainly his death was never mentioned. Thus my theory of genetic longevity was instantly shattered, and I now find myself with another predicted death date and a feeling of impending doom. At the age of thirty-seven I'm already over half-way through my life. Will I go through another cramming period? It's hard to say. In many ways I've been cramming for a while now, writing with a ferocity which borders on desperation, ignoring many aspects of my life that others consider important such as my appearance and the housework. Equally I have to keep it together to be sure that life is good for my son, and that I don't lean so heavily on Alys that she can't put up with me anymore. The self-
destructive element is no longer an issue, though it will always surface in times of stress. There's a good chance that I will get a lot more done before I die, but there will always be more to do. If I live till I'm 60 like my Dad or till I'm 92 like my Gran then I will still think that it's too young. If I die tomorrow then I might achieve posthumous fame and be forever in the collective subconscious as a genius writer who could have been great. But I'd rather not have fame at that price! Coupled with this fear of an early death is my belief that there exists something further down the line, that death is not an ending but a transition. My father is comfortable now, when all his life he was uncomfortable. I can talk to him now when I couldn't before. This is my belief, yet there still exists a kernel of doubt in me, as with the Nostradamus prediction, that it might not happen like that. What if I'm wrong? What if there is nothing else and the promise of the summerlands, reincarnation or any other concept of an afterlife is a fallacy, designed to control society? I feel as though I can't take that risk, which is ironic given the risks I took in my teens. If this all seems rather depressing, then I apologise. I'm a big thinker generally and in the weeks surrounding my birthday I tend to go through some angst about age, reassessing my life and my achievements. My father's death has increased the strength of this year's bout of introspection. The positive thoughts that I can take from this is that I am glad to be alive. I cling to the physical experience and relish in each day, determined not to waste a single moment. In some ways I'm still eleven, striving to make sense of the world; I'm still fourteen, tasting and testing everything new. I look at each new day with amazement that I'm still here, just as if I was 92, and I'm glad. Currently reading : Manifold: Time By Stephen Baxter Release date: 28 November, 2000 See more at