If you follow me on Twitter you may’ve noticed a few oblique angsty tweets over the last six weeks or so in anticipation of something a bit difficult. This week is that something…
I’ve always had a great long-term memory. It baffles people sometimes, especially given how ropey my short-term one can be. My recall of names, birthdays, phone numbers, pin numbers, anecdotes and dates of meetings from ridiculously long ago would probably make me a decent candidate for MI5 if I wasn’t an over-open-hearted writer with an East German parent.
An impeccable long-term memory can make an untimely death feel especially raw, unfair and all the horrible, difficult things that it is. I’ve already lived with one set of bereavement anniversaries for the last four years. This year, there’s a particularly difficult double anniversary. Now, not only have I known two friends separately take their own lives, but I also saw them both in person within a week of one another, in April the same year.
I remember the time distinctly, vividly and very happily. 2011: year of the Royal wedding, and the Spring heatwave, and My Brilliant Career. The warm weather we’ve been having recently, and Royal Baby Watch (yes, the unborn baby someone has found “20 facts” about), have been making this month a bit of a Groundhog Day experience, with added grief and weirdness (and minus the brilliant career bit. I’d very much like a rerun of that, please, thanks…).
People react to difficult anniversaries in different ways. Some try to ignore them as much as possible and push on with life; others need rituals and a sense of occasion to find their peace. Trying to ignore the significance of this week would be like trying to ignore my own head exploding. At the same time, I wanted to do something I could justify to myself as somehow useful, bearing in mind I can’t really afford a day off and am in the midst of a confidence crisis with writing. The only work I’m getting at the moment is speaking gigs, and the only enjoyment I’m getting at the moment is training for the London 10K at the end of May (and swapping cheesy running playlist suggestions with Friends Who Run on Twitter…).
It’s strange to be floundering at something so profoundly natural to me and conquering things which so profoundly aren’t. The reason I signed up for the run in the first place, other than as a fundraiser and a double memorial gesture, was because pretty much my entire self-worth for my entire life has come from writing and I wanted to show people I could do something else. Now no-one’s paying me to write and all anyone wants to talk to me about is my running. Be careful what you wish for…
But, since I’m so utterly consumed with running and little else at the moment I’ve decided to mark the anniversary by spending tomorrow in London, walking and cycling along the 10K route to familiarise myself with it, work out where I’m supposed to be going, and mentally prepare for next month. Somewhere along the way, I’ll be dropping into a very shiny bar, having a drink of something so strong and overpriced it could apply for its own postcode, and raising my glass to absent friends. And to K., the brilliant counsellor I’ve been working with over the last few months, who I truly cannot thank enough.
I’ve been planning all of this for weeks, and somehow I’ve still ended up faffing around on the laptop at midnight the night before asking myself ridiculous questions like a chick-lit heroine cramming for an exam (“How do you actually use a Santander cycle? “Can I drink in St James’s wearing Converse shoes or shall I wear my diamante flats again? Is it acceptable to still own a pair of flat shoes from 2011? Hell, is it acceptable to own virtually no shoes that aren’t flats?”). It was much the same this time four years ago, when I was up late pondering the following day’s meetings. Some things never change. Much as I want this to be a serene occasion, it wouldn’t feel right without just a bit of faff. What my friends taught me – what all good friends teach – was to accept it and rise above it. The best people you meet are those who make you forget what time it is.
Finally, I’ve also made a short video to remind me, and you, of my story, of everything that I’ve alluded to here, and of why I’m fundraising for Mind. Thank you in advance for reading/watching. And if I haven’t caught up with you recently or made plans to do so, it would be fab to.
Meanwhile, I’m off to bed. By the time you read this I’ll be awake and ambling my way to London; hopefully having slept some…
[10pm: EDITED TO ADD]: I had that big drink. Hell did I. And I have now raised an absolutely SMASHING £570 for Mind. THANK YOU ALL SO VERY MUCH.