Julie Andrews sung the lyrics, “Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start…” but, for the purposes of this abridged autobiography, it isn’t a good place to start. I’ll start 34 years into my life, then I’ll jump to now and then I’ll go back to 1966.
7 February 2001:
As will become clear, I was very ill. I somehow got out of bed and stumbled to The High Street (Gosforth, the suburb of Newcastle where we lived). I went to the bank (I have no idea why nor how I managed). I have a faint memory of going to the bank that day but no memory of what happened when I left the bank. Apparently, I collapsed on the road and a policeman, who, luckily, was perceptive enough to notice that I was ill, not drunk, he reacted quickly, called an ambulance and carried me off the road. I was taken to the old (now closed) Newcastle General Hospital. The doctor told my wife, Yaf (short for Yafit) that I was ok but that they’d keep me in for observation. Apparently, there was blood coming from my ear – I must have banged it when I fell.
Cut to midnight. I went into cardiac arrest. The hospital medical team called Yaf and told her to get to the hospital quickly. When she arrived, they told her what had happened, that they didn’t know if I’d pull through and that, if I did, they couldn’t be sure that I would regain all of my faculties.
Thankfully, I did pull through and before anyone says they are sorry that I didn’t regain all of my faculties, I did but the confusion lies in the fact that I probably didn’t have the full set of faculties BEFORE the cardiac arrest (I make the jokes around here!!). I was in Intensive Care for a week and was then moved to the Freeman Hospital’s coronary care ward for checks on my heart. At this juncture, I’ll publicly voice my immense gratitude to the NHS for, literally, saving my life. The care, both from the nurses and the doctors, was exemplary. There were times when I could have been completely without dignity during those two weeks but that didn’t happen (more about that in the autobiography which might follow….)
The doctors said that I had not had a heart attack, ‘just’ a cardiac arrest but that they could not be sure as to why it happened. So I’ll tell you what happened. Under the constant onslaught of the wrong medication and ‘thanks’ to the toll of my illness, my body just gave up. I do believe that one of the pills I was taking was one of the main contributors to the cardiac arrest. I was prescribed medication which, I later discovered, can, in rare circumstances (and I’m sure in my case) cause heart problems…heart problems???!!! That’s an understatement!
So, a rough time for my family and for me (a lot worse for them!)
Let’s now jump from 2001 to 2012
ALIYAH – AUGUST 2012.
A BLANK CANVAS:
I’ll keep for ‘the book’ the reasons as to why we made Aliyah (emigrated to Israel) but I think it’s fair to say that I arrived with a positive energy. That positivity dissipated between, I’d say, months 6 and 12 before picking up again. A couple of my demons, self-doubt and a lack of self-confidence, held me back a bit but from about September 2013, and continuing today, on the whole, I have been riding a wave. I feel a sense of opportunity. I am grateful for the fact that I have a wife and children who are very strong in character, that they have what it takes to make a go of things. I am grateful and never take for granted their love and support. I see my Aliyah as a great opportunity. I see myself as having a blank canvas and whilst I am still fighting, and will always have to fight, my demons, that self-doubt and lack of self-confidence, I now know that I am controlling them, that they are not controlling me – that knowledge is very empowering!
I am, for the first time in my life, being true to myself. I am no longer pushing the round peg that I am into life’s square hole. I am reinventing myself. I am turning myself inside out. Inside me, there has always been a performer, a communicator. I am a writer. I have been blogging now, on various stages, for about 18 months and ‘Carry On Koby’ (I’m still blogging for the Jerusalem Post, nom de plume, Koby Gould), is my new stage.
I should explain why I have chosen the blog title ‘Carry On Koby’: Brits will understand this, non-Brits perhaps not so well but I’ll try…back in 1958, the late Peter Rogers brought us a film, Carry On Sergeant, the first in what was to become a British Comedy Institution (so great that capital letters are warranted). Between 1958 and the 2009 (Carry On London) – some would say that 1992’s Carry On Colobus was the last true Carry On film (other might even say that the last true one was Carry On Emmannuelle in 1978) – we were treated to, I think, 32 Carry On films. The comedy was ‘good old British’ humour, featuring lots of what are known as ‘doubles entendres’ (French pronunciation). A ‘double entendre’ is a word or a phrase which is used by someone, or responded to by someone, in such a way as to make understanding or interpretation of the word or phrase ambiguous, one of the meanings perfectly innocent, the other usually somewhat risqué – example: I might say (hypothetically!!!) to a lady working in a fruit shop, “nice pair” – I could be referring to a fruit or….not. I am rather well known to use doubles entendres in my daily parlance so I thought ‘Carry On Koby’ would be an apt title. Furthermore, in my ongoing fight with my demons, I am committed to not giving in to self doubt….I am determined to ‘carry on’….
I am perceived as an extrovert, as a people person, but I’m not sure if what people see is the real me or if it’s an act. I have been this way for as long as I can remember so even if it is an act, it has, I guess, become part of me. I don’t know if it’s just me or if it’s some sort of need for applause, acceptance, love, approval….whatever it is, via social media, particularly Facebook, but also Twitter and my blogs, my life is like the Truman Show! People who haven’t seen me for years, they can bump into me yet not feel that we need a coffee and some time together to catch up – they know EVERYTHING! I’ve had people in England say to me that they feel like they made Aliyah with me in 2012 because I live my life on Facebook. Again, whilst I feel complex as I ‘write’ this, I suspect that a psychologist would see me as ‘textbook’.
What is driving me today? Anything? Yes, the regrets of the past (yet, of course, if I hadn’t made mistakes, I wouldn’t have Yaf and the kids so maybe ‘regrets’ is the wrong word…the roads I took to get to where I am today, they were the only roads which were going to get me here), the mistakes I’ve made, they bother me so much and I know that the only way I can excise those regrets (there’s that word again) is to make a success of the future. I must stop looking back, I must let the past go! I am also driven by a fear of future regrets. I keep seeing myself as an 80 year old (Please G-d!!), looking back over my life with regret and that is nightmarish for me. That is driving me in a big way. I know I can succeed, I know it’s in me. I am constantly being punched by that self-doubt demon but I am getting up these days and beating the count.
My family, Yaf, my children, my parents, they are also a huge driving force. I desperately want – NEED – them to see that I am made of something. When I have gone, I don’t want Yaf and the kids to think of me as someone who could have…..who should have….worse, I don’t want them to wonder IF, in fact, I could have….
My parents inspire me, Yaf inspires me, my kids inspire me – I want to inspire them! I don’t want it all to be one-way traffic. My parents say they are proud of me but I want them to be REALLY proud of me, not just because they are my parents and I’m their son but I want to show them something of which they can be objectively proud. I remember so well the summer of 1994 when I saw my Law Degree First Year exam results (yes, 1994, I was a ‘mature’ student). I passed all the exams first time – NO RE-SITS! I ran round to dad’s office to tell him, he rose from his chair behind his desk and gave me a huge hug. Then, he was proud, happy – ecstatic! I want that again. I want to go to him, and to mum, and to say, with a clenched fist, “YES!!”
So, lots to do and lots of reasons to do it.
I’m still fighting the good fight…
I was born three times, with a different spoon in my mouth each time, first a wooden one when I was born on 16 June 1966, then a silver one when I was born again 6 weeks later and, I guess finally, in 2001, then with another silver spoon.
So, 16 June 1966, I was born in London to a biological mother who I do not, in any way, remember (nor do I remember anything of a biological father). All I know is that the lady is/was (I don’t know if she’s still alive) Jewish (I have a certificate from The London Beth Din stating that I “was born a Jew” which the UK Rabbinut and the Israeli Rabbinut accepted when I got married, first time in England, second time in Israel).
My parents brought me up always knowing that I am adopted. It has never been an issue for me, I have always talked openly about it, I guess because I can only be thankful for the fact of it. I don’t suppose it could happen but if my biological mother or father turned up on my doorstep, I would say “thank you” to her/him for putting me up for adoption (I have no idea of their ‘story’) because it resulted in me having the parents I was gifted.
I have never had any emotional curiosity as to who my biological parents were/are – my only interest is medical/genetic. I have, over the last couple of decades, wondered more and more as to whether I have any genetic predispositions to medical conditions. I suppose my interest in that regard came to the fore when I became a dad. I once asked my doctor if he thought I should risk opening a can of worms and find out about my biological parents in order to learn more about my medical history (remember, I was adopted in 1966 and the medical questionnaires back in those days would have been a lot more basic than they would be today). The doctor simply said that it is good that I do not smoke, good that I only drink in moderation (a few L’Chaims on Shabbos does not preclude me from saying that!!), that it’s important to exercise regularly (and I do – I DO!), that I can be screened for this, that and the other and, more than that, there is nothing else that I can do even if I do have a biological genetic history of anything.
The end of July 1966, I was 6 weeks old, England won the World Cup and mum and dad, and mum’s cousin, Jennifer Science, went from my wonderful ancestral home of Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England to London on the train, they picked me up, took me home and made me a Geordie. I was born again and had a silver spoon in my mouth (and silver shines, nay, sparkles, that bit more in Newcastle!)
SO FAR SO GOOD….BUT…
My personal situation was never again as positive as it was at that time. I say ‘never’ but I’m determined to look at my ‘situation’ now as just as positive as it was at that point…different, of course, because, for a start, I’m now 48 and that is not as ‘positive’ as being a baby with your whole life in front of you, but positive now in the sense that I have woken up from years of ‘sleep’, positive in that I now have the benefit of lots of experience and I’ve learned lots of lessons and positive in that I can now see clearly, something I couldn’t do before I was 34 years old.
Of course, I didn’t know it in 1966 but I couldn’t have been in a more outstanding, privileged situation in terms of love, opportunities to excel, to fly, and materialistically. However, I did have a handicap and I do believe that that’s what it was, and is, a handicap, completely invisible but it seems so obvious now.
I was born with a chronic lack of self-belief, a chronic lack of self-confidence and that has informed most of the conscious and subconscious decisions I has made in my life. In addition, and this has been diagnosed (shame it wasn’t diagnosed when I was a kid), I was suffering from clinical depression and anxiety. Only when this debilitating condition was diagnosed, only when I was prescribed the correct medication (as opposed to the wrong medication which I was initially prescribed) and only when I could ‘see’ clearly did the past make sense.
When I could finally ‘see’ clearly, I was 34 years old. I then realised that I had never been ‘properly’ happy before. Of course, I’d laughed over the years, laughed a lot, I’d enjoyed good times but all of those up’s had been on a long term low – visualise a curve on a graph, a deep, valley-shaped curve, and then picture on it lots of little up and down curves – this was my state of mind, a long – LONG – term low with lots of ups and downs on that low lying curve so even when I was happy, I was still in a deep, long term low (I hope I have explained that clearly).
I’m cutting a very long story short: the descent was slow, it went very deep and in 2001, at that age of 34, my body, literally, gave up…I went into cardiac arrest and the doctors told my family that they didn’t know if I’d pull through and that, if I did, they didn’t know if, well, it would be fully me again.
So, there it was, a chronic lack of self-confidence, clinical depression and anxiety…explains a lot!
THE EARLY YEARS:
When I was at school, certainly up to the age of 16, I didn’t do any, or certainly I didn’t do much, school work. Despite my parents’ and teachers’ pleas – desperate pleas – that I get down to work, despite not so much anger but upset on the part of my parents, I nonchalantly ignored everyone and carried on living in what was, I now realize, a sort of bubble. I had no sense of urgency, no sense of how important it was that I work – no talks, no reprimands, no manifestation of frustration nor upset penetrated my conscience. I just didn’t care.
I wasn’t spoilt but the symbols of comfort and privilege were all around me – not much exposure to the real world. Now, I must stress that my parents did a lot to make sure that my sister and I were not spoilt, we were constantly told the importance of hard work, we both had holiday jobs but I’m sure that what I saw around me blinded me to the reality of the outside world. My parents were obviously aware that there can be a downside/risk when materialistic comforts abound so they wanted me to go to Boarding School at the age of 13 but I wasn’t having any of it. I don’t think I deliberately failed my Common Entrance Exam in 1979, not consciously, but I probably did subconsciously. I did not work and I was ‘down’ for Oundle so I had to perform well in the exam. Of course, I failed and I ended up going to a private day school, Dame Allan’s, (I did go to Boarding School – Clifton College – in 1983) a good school, dad went there and he did well but it meant that I stayed living at home which was not an environment which was ever going to toughen me up.
HINDSIGHT IS A WONDERFUL THING:
Now, before I carry on, remember that, unbeknownst to me, I was suffering from what I have called a handicap, a chronic lack of self-confidence and I was in a long term state of clinical depression and anxiety. I believe, looking back now, that those conditions contributed substantially to my inability, or unwillingness, to apply myself at school (or to anything else, for that matter).
On the whole, my teachers and parents were convinced that I was lazy, that that was it, simple, I was lazy and naughty. I don’t think anyone thought I was ‘thick’. Ironically, if even one teacher had thought that, perhaps he/she would have given me some extra tuition, perhaps I’d have had a mentor, a teacher who would have worked with me one-on-one, inspired me and brought out the best in me. I’m not, for one second, blaming anyone, it wasn’t the teachers’ fault, it wasn’t my parents’ fault, I just had an invisible handicap which, to those looking in, made me appear lazy.
That perception of laziness, and the teachers’ and my parents’ frustration, they were fuelled by my lack of consistency in producing poor exam results – yes, that’s right, my lack of consistency in producing POOR results. I remember how I used to, out of the blue, suddenly decide to ‘turn it on’ and I’d score 80%-plus in Latin or Maths and, just as suddenly, I’d take my foot off the pedal and go back to getting 15%. Imagine how infuriating that was for my teachers and my parents!
I remember some of the teachers at my ‘Prep’ school, Ascham House, giving up on me. I remember feeling invisible. I think a point came when I could have just got up in the middle of a lesson and walked out and the teachers would have been pleased to see the back of me!
My performance in the Dame Allan’s Entrance Exam (1979) was interesting. I remember one of the papers was a French comprehension exercise. There was a French story and some questions on it, in French. I had to answer the questions but write the answers in English. I answered them in French (yes, I know, “Read the question”!!). I guess, technically, I should have got zero on that paper but the school just wanted to assess my competency in French and as I got all, or most, of the answers right, even in French, they deemed me extremely competent and were happy with my performance. I can’t remember but there must have been an English paper, maybe some science papers, and there was a maths paper. Apparently, I didn’t do well in that and the Head Master of the school, Fred Wilkinson, a good man, told me and my parents that whilst they were prepared to offer me a place at the school, they were going to keep me down a year. I don’t remember being bothered in the slightest and my guess is that my parents were just happy that I had been offered a place.
I now know, however, that, deep down, being kept down a year must have really bothered me although I do not remember being concerned about it at the time because, in 1979 (I started at Dame Allan’s in January 1980), I was yet to ‘wake up’ and I was still oblivious to the importance of school and education. However, up to the time of my writing this abridged autobiography, I had not even told Yaf that I was held down a year. As I have said, I was born in the month of June and the rest of my school year had their birthdays from September onwards – that meant that I kept quiet about my age between June and September but from September to June, there was nothing strange about my age.
My being held back a year has more than niggled me since I was probably about 16 years of age. I have, since then, had an intense sense of embarrassment and shame. I even remember talking to my great pal, Tony Harris (more like a brother) about the forthcoming O Levels in 1982 (replaced since by GCSE exams). I talked to him as if I was doing them when I should have been doing them, when he was doing them, in 1982, but, of course, I wasn’t doing them in 1982 (we were at different schools). It only became evident when the results came out in August 1982 that I hadn’t done mine.
My educated guess is that my being held back a year, staying ‘down’ a year (all very negative terminology) did real and substantial damage to my already weak self-confidence. I think the only people who, before I ‘penned’ this, knew about this little secret of mine, were my parents, Tony and my old room mate at Clifton College (where I went for my Sixth Form years), Dayan (as in Moshe Dayan) Nahon.
WAKE UP CALL:
Jump to November 1982 and my ‘mock’ O Levels (rehearsals for the real thing to allow the pupils, and teachers, to know how they are doing in the run up to the important public exams). My results were (no surprise) appalling. One of the results I do remember was the ‘F’ (fail) in German. I got a shock when I saw the results (I don’t know why I was shocked!) and, for some reason, I was shaken into action and I worked very hard for the next 7 months. My O Level results that Summer of 1983 weren’t great but I pulled that F in German up to a C (which was a pass). A ‘C’ grade was nothing to get excited about but, for me, it illustrated that I wasn’t thick and that I had some ability. I have always remembered that improvement over 7 months. The problem was, of course, that having not really done any work before the ‘mocks’ in November 1982, 7 months was not enough time for me to catch up and do well in the exams. I did ok but not great.
CLIFTON COLLEGE (POLACK’S HOUSE):
That brought me to the summer of 1983, FZY Israel tour, ‘time out’, thinking time, talking to people and I decided that I wanted to leave Dame Allan’s and go to Clifton College (Boarding School). I rang up my folks and asked if I could go – they must have been in shock, very pleasantly surprised by such an uncharacteristic ‘about turn’. They said ‘yes’!!!
So off I went to Clifton College, interview with the Headmaster, Stewart Andrews, another good man, and, given a place, 2 years there to finish my schooling. Clifton is one of England’s Public Schools (remember, ‘Public Schools’ in Britain are the most expensive, prestigious schools whereas, in the US, public schools are State-funded schools, known as Comprehensive schools in the UK). Clifton is a Church of England school but it had, until 2005, a Jewish boarding house with a Shul (Synagogue). The Jewish boys (it was a single-sex school in my day) boarded in the Jewish House (Polack’s House) but the day to day activities were with the rest of the school (unlike Carmel College, which was [it closed in 1997] a completely Jewish school – and a lot more religious/observant than Polack’s). Did it toughen me up and give me a sense of independence? No, not really. You see, I went straight into the Sixth Form which meant that I’d missed the tougher, character-building years, sleeping in dorms, being a ‘fag’ (Americans, Google ‘fag’ – it is NOT what you probably think it is!). I, in the Lower Sixth, only shared a room with one guy, Dayan, and then, in the Upper Sixth, a year later, I had my own room. I could write a lot about those two years but suffice to say, for the purposes of this ‘short’ autobiography, though I have fond memories of the place and think back at my time there nostalgically, my A Level results were far from acceptable, though I did work very, very hard. The problem was that I still didn’t know HOW to work. I worked really hard but I couldn’t have worked more inefficiently…I burned myself out so that by June 1985, when I sat my A Level exams, I was a wreck. (I re-sat the exams at a ‘Crammer’ in Oxford).
ALWAYS LOOKING A GIFT HORSE IN THE MOUTH:
Again, for the purposes of this ‘short’ autobiography, I have to make a long story short so, suffice to say, I didn’t fare much better, a bit, but not much, with the re-sits. However, I was offered a place to read French at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Now, I never wanted to study French, never even considered it, I wanted to study law (what planet was I on? – though I did get a law degree, and qualified as a solicitor, some years later) but I went. Again, no self-confidence as I went through the entrance doors to the grand, impressive building which is Goldsmiths. Instead of looking at what I had in my hand, a wonderful opportunity, I looked at what I didn’t have…I stayed a week, ONE week, and then left! That speaks volumes about me at that time…hopeless!
1986 to 1990: more semi-wasted years, in Newcastle and London, a little flirting with journalism – a journalism course with Thomson Newspaper Group (publisher of, amongst other newspapers, the Newcastle Journal and the Newcastle Evening Chronicle), which runs a nationally respected journalism training centre, stockbroking in Newcastle and in the City of London and estate agency (I could, but I won’t, write reams on those years!). I call 1986 to 1990 ‘semi’-wasted years for me, just ‘semi’-wasted, because we can learn lessons from experiences which, at the time, appear to be mistakes. They were wasted in so far as I didn’t keep going, I didn’t build on what I was doing but maybe I shouldn’t use the adjective ‘wasted’ at all because, in hindsight, I did benefit in an educational sense.
1991 I got married (for the first time) and, surprise, surprise, that ended in divorce (in 1995).
In 1991, after being here, there and everywhere, I was back in Newcastle working for my father in the property business. I say I ‘found myself’ because that was what I was doing…I was ‘finding myself’ places, I wasn’t actively, purposely heading places, everything was passive…I was being blown by the wind….
1993, still married, I decided that I wanted to go ‘back’ to University, this time, to study law. I say that I decided to go back in 1993 but I had been thinking about it for a few years (probably since I was at Goldsmiths…for that one week!)
FINALLY GETTING IT RIGHT? OF COURSE NOT!
I applied to the University of Northumbria as it was close to home and it offered a Part-Time degree programme. I was interviewed and was accepted onto the Part-Time LL.B (Hons) course. I then decided that I would prefer to study full time. Dad, also my boss at work, kindly and generously said “go for it”. I was interviewed again and I was offered a place on the 4-year LL.B (Hons) ‘Exempting’ course. It is called an ‘Exempting’ degree because it is a 4-year course, not the typical 3- year, which incorporates the Legal Practice Course (LPC), the old ‘Law Finals’, subjects so the graduates who want to become solicitors are exempt from having to take the LPC. It was tough at times, a lot of hard work, but it was very fulfilling, I enjoyed it and it was good for me, but I won’t go into detail here…you’ll be glad to know!
So, how did I do at University, you ask? Well, ok, sort of…got my LL.B(Hons) ‘Exempting’. It really boosted my self-confidence!! I didn’t pass all of the exams first time, I had to re-take some of them but re-take them I did. When I failed an exam, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, more revision, re-take and passed. I did ‘man up’ during the course.
Now, the negative: I only got a 2:2 but more on that in ‘the book’. Still, not bad for me, someone who, up until then, had always crumbled on the run up to exams, had always imploded in the exam room. I don’t want to make excuses but I did get divorced during the course and that didn’t exactly help (stress-wise). However, relative to my past and in the context of my many, many ‘issues’, I guess one can say that I succeeded at University.
What did I do next, LL.B(Hons) ‘Exempting’ degree in the bag and, presumably, you would think, loads of self-confidence teeming through my body? Answer: Training Contract (‘Articles’) in London. Yup, back on track….
…but I managed to screw it up…oh, I finished the Training Contract, got my name on the ‘Roll’ and secured an incredible job as a junior solicitor in a pukka City law firm…..but (you knew there’d be a ‘but’!!) I didn’t have the necessary self-confidence to grasp that nettle and make it work. I barely had the self confidence, even though, by this point, I had my name on the Solicitors’ Roll, to tie my own shoe laces, let alone take on that job so I bottled it before I started!
On my Application Form for the job, I wrote that conveyancing (the legal work attached to the buying and selling of real estate) was one of my abilities. The fact is that I had, during my Training Contract, worked with the Senior Partner on conveyancing files but I hadn’t managed my own files. He wasn’t great at delegating. My Training Contract was with a small commercial firm in London’s West End, not one of the big law firms. It was one of those Training Contracts where you ‘just get on with it’, work on this, jump to that, drop onto something else, help with this and help with that…whatever the Partners needed you to do. That is the typical Training Contract for most trainee solicitors.
On the first day of my job as a junior solicitor with the City law firm, one of the Partners gave me a file and asked me to do the conveyancing. I freaked out! I took the file away. Mentally, I collapsed. I went back into the Partner’s office, told him I couldn’t do it, he said that that didn’t reflect what I had said on my Application Form so that was that – less than a day in the job. I shouldn’t have told him I couldn’t do conveyancing work – I COULD but I just needed help!!
That day was probably, looking back now, the beginning of the real descent, the mental spiral. There was absolutely no need for that day to have ended as it did. Thousands of newly qualified solicitors start their junior solicitor jobs in a very unprepared state (mostly mentally unprepared). All I needed to do was ask another junior for some help. Most juniors could have mugged their way through that day. I was as able as many juniors on their first day. I HAD worked on conveyancing files, just not my own files from start to finish. I had never been given a file and told to ‘get on with it’ so when it happened, I collapsed.
My state of mind, my lack of self-confidence, my self-doubt, the clinical depression (still, at that time, undiagnosed)…it was inevitable that that day would end like that! It is as if I said I was guilty of something I hadn’t done.
Ironically, the first day of my Training Contract started in a similar say…but I survived. I remember I got to work before the Senior Partner, to whom I had to report. He bounded into the office full of energy and said that I was going to have to go to The Royal Courts of Justice that morning to appear in front of a Judge in an Application to have a Mareva Injunction lifted. “A what”?, I asked myself. Incredibly, I kept my cool and rang a pal of mine, asked him what a Mareva Injuction is, he told me and I was able to get on with it. I also remember that appearance in front of the Judge…my heart was beating fast, my legs felt like jelly but I got through that day.
It is excruciating to think that I survived 6 tough years, jumped hurdles, pushed and pushed, toughed it out, kept going and fell down AFTER I crossed the finishing line….6 years!!! But it wasn’t wasted, not at all. I did succeed. I finished the 6 years, I got my name on the Solicitors’ Roll. I have to keep reminding myself of that fact. Moreover, that dreadful day did not wipe out the education and the experience. My mind was much sharper at the end of those 6 years and it stood me in good stead for the future….and another moreover, let’s call it a ‘furthermore’, ‘qualified solicitor’ looks quite good on the resume (that’s an ‘e’ acute!)
The lesson: we can always learn things from our experiences, even from the bad experiences, probably more from the bad experiences than from the good ones. I can look back on that whole experience and just feel sick or it can feed my determination and strengthen my resolve to win in the future. I choose the latter.
Could have…should have…the list is growing…I should by this time, at the end of 1999, be a junior solicitor in a City law firm….but I’m not there.
So where am I? I’m back in Newcastle! I’d been in Bristol, Oxford (the ‘crammer’ for the A Level re-sits, not, sadly, the University – my pal, Tony Harrris, he was at Lincoln, College, Oxford, when I was at the crammer…embarrassing, to say the least, when he introduced me to his University pals who were at Lincoln, Balliol, University College and so on… “and which college are you at”, they’d ask me…. “Edward Greene’s, not affiliated as such with the University…”) and I’d been in London but, the yoyo that I was, I was back again in Newcastle.
(I’m not convinced that this is a cathartic exercise…it’s thoroughly depressing me as I’m dredging up all of my disasters!)
YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET:
So, the 21st century, a new start for me? No. Of course, I didn’t realise it at the time but my lack of self-confidence, my clinical depression which was preventing me from feeling good, my anxiety, it was all getting worse. I didn’t realise that I was ill, I just thought that how I felt was my norm, that that was just how I was ‘meant’ to feel. For me, it was normal. I don’t even remember, even at the start of 2000, feeling particularly depressed. The illnesses, however, had all conspired to take me to where I was at the start of 2000 – down and sinking lower.
However, from this point on, I started to become aware that I was not well.
The depression deepened, the anxiety/panic attacks were getting worse and more debilitating, I was leaving the house less and less, I was communicating less, I was becoming more withdrawn and, of course, I was, by now, seeing a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist was prescribing more and more pills, a veritable cocktail of drugs which, it later became evident, was making me worse. The more sick I became, the more pills the quack prescribed. I recently found a medication timetable and it shocked me….8am, 8.30am, 9.30am, 10.30am, 12pm, 2pm, 4.30pm and so on….
Sounds like a train wreck? Well it was….
Fast forward to February 2001, I wasn’t going out of the house any more, I was in bed all day and was only getting up at night when Yaf, my second wife, and my young son, were in bed. Yaf could no longer get through to me. I was unresponsive. I didn’t react to my toddler son. I would see Yaf crying in desperation, all she wanted was for me to put my hand on her but my hand wouldn’t move. It was a case of “the lights are on but no one’s in”.
HITTING ROCK BOTTOM, THE END OF THE LINE:
7 February 2001:
If you read the beginning of this abridged autobiography, you know what happened on this day. It could have been the end but, Thank G-d, it was a new beginning (although it took some time to get the new motor revved up).
A NEW BEGINNING:
Maybe I could have taken legal action against the quack but I just wanted to move on…more’s the point, I don’t think I could have proved anything. He’d have said that in medicine, there are no guarantees. I had to move forward.
I ‘dropped’ the quack like a hot coal and moved to Dr. Mary-Jane Tacchi, a different kettle of fish altogether!! Mary-Jane is a star, a wonderful psychiatrist and a super person. I shall forever be grateful to Mary-Jane for picking up the floored and crumpled me, for mending me, for giving me my ‘sight’ and ability not just to function but to be happy.
Mary-Jane changed my medication and within a very short period of time, the fog lifted and I could see, see in a way which I realised I had never done before. I felt like a blind man who had been given his sight for the first time. I also realised that I had never been happy, properly happy, before. Yes, as I said earlier, I had had good times, fun times, good days, good weeks, but it had all been on and during a very long term low, little, short term up-ticks whilst crawling on the floor of a deep valley.
As happens with lots of people who have a ‘close call’, I had in my hands a pair of, well, not quite rose-tinted spectacles, but certainly I could see life through a prism of context and new-found appreciation of and for life. I truly felt it in my hands, it was palpable, the weight, the importance, the wonder and the gift of life. I kept feeling a shudder, and, believe me, I still do and I always shall, a shudder when it hit me, again and again, that I was almost dead, that that was almost it. I would see Yaf, the kids (I was moved from Intensive Care to the heart ward in the Freeman Hospital on, I think, 15 February 2001 and my daughter was born on 16 February 2002 – some recovery, eh?), I would see them, see my parents, and it would hit me like a thunderbolt how close I came to never seeing them again, to not having my daughter nor our son who was born in 2007! But even ‘little’ things, I felt so grateful to be experiencing them. I’d watch a film and be so grateful that I lived to see it. I, today, can hear a piece of music I haven’t heard before and feel so blessed that I lived to hear it. I can go to a friend’s home for a meal and I will often really express my thanks for a great time because I really feel it. I am probably a lot more expressive and emotional than I was pre-February 2001 because I feel everything so much more today.
I am a changed person today. I was born, so to speak, yet again, in 2001.
I no longer take, and this all goes back to 2001 but I use the present tense because what I became then, I still am now, I no longer take life, I no longer take living, for granted. I feel, absolutely, the fragility of life. I am conscious that this is it, that, as the saying goes, life is not a rehearsal.
I get a ‘rush’ from the simple things in life. I can just sit and feel happy. I can stand outside, in the sun, feel the warmth, feel the breeze and feel a real love of and for life, a feeling of deep appreciation that I am here. That is quite a feeling! I am also, and I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, I am also very much aware of my own mortality, I know that it could all be over at any moment and that ‘fear’ is on my mind a lot. It’s a negative in that it’s morbid and can be depressing but it’s also a positive because it prevents me from slipping back into taking life for granted, it keeps me alive, it keeps me in a state of hurriedness. I have so much that I want to do, I know that I don’t have enough time in which to get it all done but I must do as much as possible. Time is of the essence.
The depression, the anxiety, the panic attacks, the chronic lack of self-belief???
Well, I will always be a depressive, a recovering depressive. I take medication to keep the depression and the panic attacks at bay. I take SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors). Basically, serotonin keeps us happy. My body produces serotonin but it is ‘re-uptaken’ (re-absorbed) by my brain and I am, without the SSRI’s, on the floor. The SSRI’s inhibit the re-uptake of the serotonin. I tried some years ago to come off the SSRI’s and it was a disaster. I took them again and was fine. It’s not so much a matter of my having to put something into my system to stay happy (which is how I used to look at it) but rather putting something in to stop something happening – once I understood that, I came to understand and acknowledge that this IS me, that I am not a drug-induced person. Asthmatics take Ventolin, diabetics take Insulin and I take SSRI’s. I can feel ‘on the edge’, I sometimes feel the clouds coming overhead, but I have the strength now, on the whole, to push them away. However, I will always consider myself a depressive.
Anxiety/panic attacks? The SSRI’s help with that (and they help with the OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – did I mention that? That might get its own chapter in ‘the book’!!) and I also take beta blockers to control the anxiety ‘attacks’. They have not disappeared but they are far less frequent. I look upon them, in a way, as my alarm system. Sometimes they alert me to the fact that I have not been getting enough sleep or to the fact that I just need to pull back a bit, breathe, chill and relax. One of my problems is that I find it hard to switch off and I need to be more disciplined on that front.
The lack of self-confidence?
Still my biggest handicap.
Between 200o and 2012, when I made Aliyah with the family, with Yaf and the kids, I worked in the family businesses, real estate and childcare. However, all I did was go through the motions. More being passive, not being active. If I did something well and was complemented, I would recoil from the pat on the back. It was as if I felt that I didn’t deserve it. I made excuses, “it wasn’t me, someone else did it….” or “I can’t take the credit, it wasn’t me, I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time….”
Work-wise, 2001 to 2012, lost years.
Why, you might ask, was it like that after February 2001?
Dr. Tacchi got my medication right, she built my foundations, she got me into the position in which I could build myself but that building, that creating, it required a new mindset and that took some time to arrive.
ALIYAH – AUGUST 2012 to now (February 2015):
Again, if you’ve read this life story précis (if you can call over 7,000 words a précis) from the start, you’ll know how things have been since we made Aliyah.
I think I feel ‘normal’ but, of course, there’s the perennial question: “what is ‘normal’”.
Robin Williams had the following quotation attributed to him:
“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it”.
I love that thought. I’ve definitely got a spark of madness (I’m not convinced that those around me would call it a ‘little’ spark). That spark is what makes me me. I suppose I am normal AND I have my own spark of madness which gives me my personal and unique quirkiness. The trick is controlling the game, being in control of that spark rather than allowing it to control me.
The difference between me now and the old me is that I am now active as opposed to passive, that I try to make things happen rather than just wait for them to happen. Running has changed my life. Over the last few years, I’ve lost 28kg (61 lbs = over 4st.) and have gone from doing no exercise (to all intents and purposes) to running half-marathons. The running, the “Yes, I can!”, “I WILL do it!”, “I MUST do it!”, the achievements, getting out of my comfort zone, it has all given me a strong sense of self-concept and self-belief. Now, I want to start moving up towards full marathons.
In the words of the legend, James Brown, “I feel good”. I’m up for it these days, I’m rolling with the punches, I’m getting up when I fall, I’m dusting myself off and I’m getting on with it.
It has taken a long time to get here but, as my mum has always enjoyed saying, “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish”. Well, unless G-d has something else in store for me, I’m not finished yet.
Onwards and upwards….I’ll keep you posted….