I bought some shoes yesterday, black leather boots, sort of like Dr Martins, a bit too expensive for shoes, but hand made in England, solid, like maybe they’ll last a big chunk of a lifetime, so bugger the expense. They’ve got leather soles that once I’d recognise as having some worth, in that in a fight they’d make good weapons, good shin kickers, perhaps even the threat enough to stave of some attack after closing time. The reason I bought these boots was I like the sound they make, solid and hard, like the Iron Man taking a weighty stroll. When I wear them I feel like I’m attached to the ground, not softly rolling along it with un-tacky grip like I did in my old spongy shoes, but well rooted - well and truly. When I walk in these shoes I really walk, and when I walk I make a sound that makes people stop and look, or turn to see, what purpose that sounds carries.
I bought these shoes because I felt I needed to acknowledge a change, a little evolution of my story, and what better than what lies between me and the world.
For nearly two years, well maybe much longer than that, yes - much longer, lets say forty years, I’ve been looking for an answer. I like answers almost as much as questions, and most of what I write, my books etc are just extend questions. This answer is part of a bigger one that’s beyond me, my life - who I am - as close to knowing it as anyone will get - but this answer - this little understanding - a lesson - was the most important question of all. And yet it seemed so long, for two years, like I was just tapping out some crazy code to the cosmos, the only return the static of the void. But then, yesterday, laid in bed, I got an answer.
In my current tour I talk at the end about going ‘mad’, having a ‘mental breakdown’, ending up ‘crazy’, little overused words for something that only the living of it does it justice, to be that man about to be taken to the hospital, late at night, for his own good. I wonder if people are shocked when I say that, after all it’s not normal, to acknowledge that not so long ago, in the pre history of a life so perfect now, I was a human being utterly vulnerable in a storm of uncontrollable thoughts.
First off I’m not ashamed of it, after all my trade is one of honesty, that why I’m funny and sometimes shocking - a bit edgy, which is exhilarating for some, voyeuristic for others - because our lives are bound by lies, those we tell and those we chose to believe. People who say what they think are called either children or fools. For example if I was to say that the hashtag #racist is a lazy word used by liberals as ignorant as those they attack, and that not to acknowledge the fear in many is an invitation to a Tory government, fascism, the break up of the EU, am I crazy? Why would a climber say such a thing? I know - I’m a racist but I’m too ignorant to know it.
Anyways - I speak my mind - that’s my strength and my weakness - but I don’t dare to think I know what that mind really is. This blog, when I speak, most of my thoughts, are simply about that - a self indulgent, self obsessed, narcissistic pursuit of self understanding. After all, how can anyone be expected to know anything if they don’t first now that.
But back to madness - oh what a treat, the storm of a long deep depression breaking. What a window, what an opportunity, to be there, at the big bang of yourself, that bolt of understanding and empathy fired directly into your heart, like the finger of God, all madness and madmen understood. In that madness I found wisdom, but perhaps it’s only the wisdom of madness. But really, It’s like that first fuck, that first heart break, that first baby, that first death, an amazing gift of understanding that those who have yet to receive have no clue. A lung busting breath of terrible life into what was only an abstract understanding until then.
In the middle of this human crisis I was lucky enough to be lifted just enough by people who loved me not to sink to the bottom, but I knew I was really on my own - like drowning far out at sea - only there was love and light enough to counter those who pressed me down without thinking, which often people do when confronted by who I became; the hands of two children impossible to let go, no matter how much I wanted too, holding me at the borderline beyond which no one ever rises living.
I think now that much of my problem, the tumour that rotted and festered for years, was that I wanted to grasp just what it was that was killing me, just what was wrong, rather than just except that slow half life that people do, answers too hard to discover or except, like sticking fingers into ears and eyes and mouth to poke at some hard alien object in your brain - that stone in the shoe of a life. What is depression, some stupid idea of chemical imbalance (am I crystal meth?), or the very human symptoms of something that was simply wrong, a job that robs you of life, a heart or life twisted and mangled by some past misdeed or misstep. It’s the terrible search for this answer, instead of just a pill to ‘see you through’ or put you to sleep, that leads some into the forest of madness, were it’s easy to stray.
Like a lot of people who chose not to except this status quo with some terrible truth, to just keep swallowing the black poison each time it rises, I wanted an answer, a cure, to just understand - because then I’d have a reason for being mad, even though that madness was a result of that very search.
I went down that familiar path that some do, when talking it through with people who soon became bored with some fools drama, and went to see a therapist, but found - maybe due to my job being one of telling stories - that each session just seemed to be nothing but entertainment. I think that what I was struggling with was too complex for her to find some truth of it all, a crazy life, a difficult past, a strange and unusual concept of relationships. I sat and drank her tea, and talked and talked, wanting the tears of some breakthrough, to come away with a map on which I could trace this scar, far too complex for me to find, but found non. My therapist told me that most problems conformed to familiar patterns and I said I and my problem was far from familiar, a story of love and sex and money. She disagreed until she read my books, and saw not an apple, bruised and bitten, but something else.
After a month or so, I think we both knew that she had no way of putting it together, not just hour a week, thirty five pounds of talking but with no change. There could only be one cartographer. Me.
And so I began. Every hour of every day I ran the numbers, a life fed in, the good and the bad, memories and dreams, old futures and new. Instead of ignoring the truth of me I wrote down my calculations here on this blog, I talked about it on stage, I talked to anyone new who would listen. My head is like a teenage boys bedroom floor, but bit by bit I made some space and laid out the pieces.
Someone once told me that if you shout at a wall people just think you’re a crazy person, but I did shout because the echo - as well as the silence - was all I had, just half of the truth to work with, the other half happy to just stick in a nail and wiggle hard until it was no more.
And so bit by bit, I pinned our the evidence against me, her, us, my mum, my dad, everything. And what did it look like? Well like the mosaic of a crazy person - a big mess. I told myself to stop many times, that it was no use, to just take it on the chin, to ignore the difficult truths, to except cliques of belief, that ‘this is what it is’ would have been so much easier, after all isn’t ‘moving on’ seen as being the ideal, the reason being if you don’t take that train you can end up in the sidings forever. But I couldn’t just pretend to move on (moving on is always an act), and fought for an answer, dogmatically, systemically, every single hour of every day, and often at night as well - any calm water of thought free for a painful thinking. And yes it drove me crazy, just one great Busby Berkeley mash up of looped memories. And I know this search hurt those around me, those that needed me back, and those who needed to forget, who hadn’t the strength to look for an answer, choosing instead the bitter path.
The reason I kept on is that I’m basically a philosopher, my number one subject myself. I needed to unravel this clusterfuck of simple human emotion, of love and hurt, desire and rejection, of wealth and poverty, to grasp the lesson, after all you don’t get better without knowing what was wrong with you, and even if it you get better who knows when it will return?
As for madness, what’s so terrifying is that you have no control, yet in a way are totally aware, feel you can step in at any moment and stop it, but instead your just a forced witness. To experience this is reason enough to want to find the cure. If I had my answer I could lay out the evidence, that X led to Y, that I was not a bad person, I was the opposite, I was burnt by my love for someone.
I knew there was a very human answer, the words of Adam, not the snake.
And yet all the while, my bitter soul whispered, that I had poured my love into a sponge for seven sterile years, that when squeezed could not help but only gave back dark poison. A little lie I could maybe live with, like scribbling the cause of death onto the body bag of a corpes.
But that was no answer, just a placebo, and one day I’d regret falling for a lazy truth.
When I write shit like this, and talk about such things on stage, it really does help, each idea I write, often begun with no real though of the end - or the point - begun at the start, just about a pair of shiny shoes, ending maybe three paragraphs after this. By writing it down you can find some clues to that answer, and I guess that’s what happened this week, there on stage I said something that triggered some small thought that let to the end.
I told Ella the other day, sat talking about politics and feminism, that you should never except other peoples beliefs as your own. I said that when the train of understanding arrived at the first station almost everyone gets off, but if you want to truly understand anything you must stay on the train and see what lies further down the track, even if it’s a long and difficult journey.
As for that answer? Well that came, not in a flash, but more like a slow tide as I lay in bed, revealing a truth, if not the whole truth - but one I could live with - the key to the continuation of a life now so happy. The answer itself is too personal for even me to share, to hard won to simply be tapped out just like that, and is also only half of a whole. But that is all I will ever have, and that’s enough because now I have reason to trust I’ll never find myself back in the woods.
As for my shoes, still new and shiny - to be stamped on if I was still at school - well they’re not really me, not really me at all, but then maybe that’s why I bought them, as maybe I don’t feel I need to be me anymore. I bought these shoes because I feel a change in myself, a new me - less scared of himself - maybe - or perhaps I just aspire to the lie that I’m the type of man who would wear shoes like these.
A Mars Bar bar costs 60p. Were these words worth as much?
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Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram