Daniel remembered how the cars on the main road near his home would sound different from one day, one moment, to the next. This was most noticeable when the traffic was moving slowly, as if the cars were flowing to his internal rhythm, his breathing, looking out for him, protecting, shielding him from something, like bodyguards. He knew enough now to know that to think that way is one of the early, or not so early, signs of a profound psychic shift. He knew to have his medication, the usual tablets, upping the dose a little, enough to take the edge off. And the next day, the music of the internal combustion engines, was random, meaningless, and that was the way it should be.
Simone had suggested that Dan visit Bethan, before the inaugural meeting of the group. London St. Pancras, an old red clock face, beneath a dirty arched roof of smoke-stained glass and steel. It was April, he left the station on a bright London morning to go to Sheffield, his old university town.
Bethan lived in a village in the Peak District called Hope. She’d waited years for a cottage to come up for sale there. Her phrase, ‘you’ve just got to Hope,’ had worn rather thin by the time there was the chance of a sale… After the Midland intercity train, half an hour on another train from Sheffield, a trundling, diesel multiple unit or DMU towards Manchester across the Peak District, into Derbyshire, passing through Hathersage – Hope!
Dan got off the train at Hope station, stood on the platform a while, to let the train move off spouting blue diesel fumes. Then as the horizon cleared, it was the open air of the Peaks which reached from the grassy fields to the cloud-free sky. He walked along Market Place, past the Old Hall Hotel. The cottage she’d bought was set back from the main road, such as it was. Yorkshire stone, white painted wood framed windows, stone lintels, heavy Yorkshire slate tiles. Solid, it had been there ‘for three hundred years, at least’, Beth said.
Bethan was a dose of magic. She saw through weak arguments, identified future opportunities. She loved. She loved life. She brought with her new perspectives, made dreams a reality. She was barely 30, she’d studied history at university and this brought a depth to the present, and refreshing dimensions to her life. She was hot blooded and passionate. Always passionate. And she painted, she was an artist, she’d lived in the Lake District before moving to a studio flat in Teddington, London, three years ago, and now there was Hope.
She’d become excited talking about the millennium…‘I imagine the transition, the pivot, the cusp of the turning of the year 2000 to be an ignition, an eruption, like an atomic explosion, but not war, not fire, instead a sudden blast of hope that lasts the world over,’ she exclaimed.
‘Perhaps we can get some funding, towards marketing costs,’ Beth said. Dan had quickly calculated the cost of mailing 250,000 people, at 20p second class, but he didn’t know where the mailing list or lists would come from. No social media then, only direct mail and that meant a printed leaflet in an envelope, delivered by the postman, by hand.
When the days were normal, it was easy to poke fun at the difficult times. There was the illusion of control, but in fact the unconscious mind plays its own games; dragging up memories, dreams, reflections from the deep. And they cling onto you, Daniel thought, onto your life, your day, making clarity impossible, sugar coating your fears, so that they appear like sheep, but underneath are wolves.
Daniel knew what could happen, what would happen if… if Dan made the same choices Daniel had made. His challenge was to alert Dan, as gently as he could, to the dangers of ignoring the warning signs which may precede psychosis. Something like riding a boat on a river and hearing the sounds of approaching rapids before the waterfall. Even that early background whisper may not be enough, there may be doubt, disbelief that it signals impending doom, and then the river drags you on, moving so swiftly you can’t back paddle enough, and the edge, the precipice comes up too soon. However loud Daniel would raise his voice, it was only ever a whisper to Dan, a still small voice. Daniel’s challenge was to be insistent and persistent enough to be heard, to be listened to and to help change Dan’s mind.
‘You don’t have to do everything all at once and by yourself, Dan, you know? You need to bring others with you. You simply need patience, perseverance, joy. I may be stating the obvious, but, if I remember rightly, you wouldn’t listen…I wouldn’t listen!
How important it is to do stuff. To connect action with meaning with your body, labour, art, or craft. Zen work. For Dan and Daniel, their hobby meant working with wood. And to get out into nature, to absorb greenery, to connect with the earth. To pick plums, when they’ve reached the right colour, to know when they’re just tender enough.
Daniel remembered, the weird experience he’d had when teaching environmental management, as if he was teaching the CIA. And again, more recently, working with senior managers on good health and safety management he imagined that he was the subject, and was being assessed on his state of mental health. He was aware that as he was speaking he was giving away references as to his state of mind, for instance talking about management control when sub consciously he meant the control of his own behaviour, preventing himself from running to hideaway somewhere safe, to distance himself from the perceived threat of the managers, the fear of not knowing how to answer their questions.
How could he change what he had been, that is, change Dan, when even now, he, Daniel, sometimes still felt close to the edge? It was as if he were walking a tightrope, high up, suspended, unaware that a harness is attached.