ignis, glacies et pertinacia

Diagnosis

In Meta Gav, UoG Newsletter on May 17, 2010 at 12:19 am

However much closer I may come in the coming years to my goals of developing a facility with words that matches that of many of my heroes, nobody will ever understand how difficult it has been to get to where I now am, that is, to borrow Churchill’s words, the end of the beginning. The Churchill quote is apt, since he has many times been for me a conscious example of how one ought to fight – and in this I mean at least as much his own personal demons as I mean Hitler. The word fight, too, is choice. It has been a fight.

Friday I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with traits of autism. While I might quibble with the diagnosis (I certainly have more than “traits” of autism, fulfilling all of the diagnostic criteria of Asperger’s as a child, with them developing in a manner wholly consistent with highly intelligent aspergic individuals, and indeed, consistent with nothing else), this is further than I have been for years.

In recent weeks I have been thinking a lot about my experiences with ADHD and autism. I would love to say I have been thinking of nothing else, but this has never been true of anything in my life at any period, however short, however long. Nevertheless, I have been working, as fitfully and as shambolically as I ever do, on a series of short pieces on ADHD and high-functioning autism, taking in my own experiences, and the insights thrown up in literature in such books as the late Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Liar whose concepts of number 1 thought and number 2 thought is as incisive a take on the brainstorms and reveries of ADD as anything I imagine I will ever read and demands serious consideration unlikely to be seen in scholarly publications. I began doing so simply to see me through what I knew would be a difficult period, the month from the first appointment with a specialist in Birmingham’s Barberry Clinic for which I was very late and very anxious, to the last one, on Friday, which I hoped, but doubted, would be conclusive. It proved to be that, and I am now waiting once again for medication.

The last year, like any year in my life, has been eventful, and ultimately unfruitful. The collection of short stories, Liquid Loves, I worked on for nine months in which I could not face employment in the minimum wage jobs I have done in the eight years since I gained my first class honours degree, remains uncompleted with many stories unfinished, and others brought to a hasty conclusion, filed away now with the thousands of other uncompleted projects on manuscript paper in a small filing cabinet, and on various computers. Other projects, similarly, have foundered, becoming either series of notes or collections of artefacts in the perpetual clutter around me.

The strangest of all of these projects may be this one, The University of Gav, but since it involves most of the difficulties I have faced in my life, and since, too, I have not explained it elsewhere and perhaps because I have a fondness for it still, despite its having brought nothing but disappointment, it might be worth going into a little here.

On the windowsill in front of me in the “Ever-so-Slightly-Uglier House”, as the UoG name for this place goes, is a ‘bird’s mouth’. A bird’s mouth is both the cut made in a tree to be felled on the side it is intended to fall and the wedge of wood cut out prior to putting in the back cut and felling the tree. It is a souvenir from a place I used to work a year ago, marked up 8/5/2009, my last day. It was the first tree I had felled on my own and, truth to tell, barely a sapling. Still it meant something to me, and, since it is still on view when most of my possessions, even treasured ones, get either buried under a constantly evolving, constantly moving clutter, it must mean something to me still.  The University of Gav was instituted at around the same time.

Not for the first time in my life, I was leaving under a cloud. In the preceding year I had broken up with a long term girfriend following some foolish desperate fling at work, took up with another girl from work with whom, since she had problems, I had problems, and the relationship was, to say the least, problematic, I had a turbulent year of every emotional extreme any man could know before being dumped and suffering all the gossip, malice and judgementalism an incestuous self-styled community within a small town can bestow on a man. Paranoia set in. I withdrew from everyone and decided, more or less consciously, that since I could not cope with relationships of any kind, and since the only enduring emotions I felt I had ever inspired in any but a small and shrinking group of close friends was hatred, suspicion and disdain, I would withdraw into reclusion.

That I did. For the first few months, aside from doggedly working off my month’s notice – something that reminds me, given the circumstances which could barely be described in a hundred thousand words, of the young spartan referred to, I think, in Turgenev’s Diary of A Superfluous Man, who, having stolen a fox and hidden it under his tunic, let it devour his entrails without uttering a single shriek – I locked myself away and turned away the few visitors I had, including my parents.

The anonymity of the internet seemed an alternative to the pain of trying to build up personal relationships and managing only, when using all of the intellect and tenacity that was either my due or hard won using whatever of these I was gifted with, only to attain and fail under the weight of the expectations of normal social function most people meet without any kind of effort. I locked myself away one day and essayed Second Life. Walking and flying (!)  some imbecile avatar around parks, university campuses, cities and landscapes which, even as ersatz digital reproductions were ‘not even wrong’ I found only it felt as unnatural and unsatisfying as I thought it would be, and that I still didn’t know how to break into conversations of the people who naturally fell into groups around me any more than I did in those galling breaks people insisted on having between bouts of the meaningful structured activity known as work they found so draining.

Another thing I did – it took up most of my time – was regret my entire life.

It wasn’t too difficult. I had hurt and disappointed everyone close to me. I was 30 and had never known anyone who had known me well and undestood me. One or two had come close, but I had made a hash of that. The one thing I knew I was good at, writing, could have been summed up by Kurt Cobain’s line “I’m worst at what I do best”: the ideas, the stories, the characters, came fully and for years had developed in my mind to a degree that, properly written, they could have, I know, survived on the shelves with the best of them, but, for reasons I could only ever face for a few hours at a time without being overwhelmed by the pain of it, I flitted as soon as the apogee of creativity had passed in my mind, and before I began to set out the story on paper.

I was broken. Depression is a feeble word for any one of the infinitely nuanced varieties of melancholy I have known in my life, let alone the harmonies and counterpoint of it when it starts playing out. Still, if you insist, depressed I was, as anyone would be.

Like Churchill in the “manic reactions” Anthony Storr describes in Churchill’s Black Dog I was never not going to bounce back. I had played rope-a-dope before plenty of times in my life, and used it to my advantage when others could not. My situation is, once again, too complicated to describe with the concision that would be necessary for me to reach the end of this piece, but I had no house, no car (I know this should not be important, but it was to me then), no money, no job, I was on my own and, if things continued, I had no future. But because of, not despite this, I started to think of every possible option, every outside chance.

I forget what they were, most of them. Back against the wall, I think of a lot of things. One, though, was going back to university to study. Czech language and literature was one possibility. Nutrition was another. And then there was good old English literature, what I had started out to study ten years ago when I had found it impossible to read one of a To the Lighthouse or a Hamlet, let alone a whole pile of the bastards.

I ordered prospectuses from the Open University. I looked into Czech courses at Oxford. No doubt I even looked into Charles University in Prague. (Czech always comes back to me, top of the pile, when I’m up against it; it seems to me then that I came alive in Prague and could do so again.) But, quite aside from the problem of money, I knew, deep down, I didn’t have the concentration for it. I knew that I could never, simply never, focus on a single subject for three days, let alone three years. Creative writing courses left me with the quandary that I would need to have a portfolio to get in. I didn’t have it.

And so, with a lot of ideas for symbolic craft-based projects involving home-made books and more or less literal analogues of samizdat publishing floating around in my head, there was the “recrudescence” of an idea I had had in various incarnations – Master Kidderminster, The Journal of Anger Management Studies etc. – a blog in which I could post fiction and which might, with an audience who could help to keep me on track, help me to finish projects, stories, essays, whatever. Ultimately, I was opposed to the idea of expertise, and to the formal education. I had suffered enough from the schematic ignorance of the former and had never, and would never, get on with the latter. And so, I came up with the idea of the University of Gav.

The UoG would function on several levels:

  1. It would comically illustrate and also help me to track the many interests and fascinations that pulled me one way and the other
  2. It might give me an audience
  3. It would give me an outlet
  4. It would let me, within a fictionalised framework of “modules”, set myself deadlines to structure my time
  5. It could help me metabolise the difficulties and events of my life

Soon I had a concept, a couple of characters and a pleasingly absurb situation to set them in. Gav Belcher was the townie autodidact student. Named after a student from the ever-prestigious Wolverhapton University, a chirpie un-smug townie chancer who buzzed in to every recondite question to the frequent RP call of “Wolverhampton, Belcher” and the evident incredulity of Jeremy Paxman, Belcher was a grown up Master Kidderminster, a scruffy under-educated small town ingrate with more interests than eloquence, a seriously ambivalent attitude to authority, and a thoroughgoing apathy as far as deadlines were concerned.

Professor Gavin Belcher, was a gauche, absent-minded, tweedy professorial type who spoke in spoonerisms, malapropisms and confused digressions. He would develop to become a similarly self-educated man derided by more august institutions and mocked by his callow students for his verbal errors and his tendency to set the tassels on his mortar board on fire trying to light his pipe. With their mockery, he would become flustered, which they would, in their turn, see as a hilarious victory. Recently, he has taken to riding, and distractedly repairing, a vintage BSA M20.

While Gav Belcher is predominantly ADD, Professor Gavin Belcher is a little more on the aspergic side of things. Together, they are me.

Later still, missy g b joined the UoG as a feminist denied access to the UoG because of house rules there is no quorum to change, and so, turned journalist, she chronicles some of the developments of the UoG as well as its many failures and depredations and, living above Professor Gavin Belcher’s room in the squirrel-infested attic of the Ever-so-slightly-uglier House,¹ is able to eavesdrop on conversations between the two of them.

As ever, the concept of the UoG developed in my mind rather than on the page. Once I had written the About, drawing on fictional characters and literary personas such as Sterne’s Yorrick, Jara Cimrman, Billy Fisher and Walter Mitty, I drew back from the UoG, knowing that it would only pull me away from my writing. The UoG website became a hodgepodge of spurious out of context posts written when I was least able to concentrate on anything more meaningful, and, most often, when I was feeling seriously out of sorts. When the welsh rats (weltschmerz) descended, Gav Belcher and Professor Gavin Belcher, however, occasionally became the perfect tool to express a mordant disillusionment with the world. They could be found having impenetrable conversations on the comments pages of such websites as the Dark Mountain Project Blog. Years ago I discovered in myself the tendency to make sardonic private jokes of the sort that had others invariably reject me, think me self-evidently mad or stupid or worse while I laughed at their incomprehension. It was, of course, a defense mechanism, a reaction to what seemed the unavoidable fate of being misunderstood, condescended to and hated. At least this way I provoked it myself; I was in control. Here it was again, a sneer and a finger up at the world, and especially at the fuckers I might conceivably want to be considered a part of.

Gav Belcher and Professor Gavin Belcher, like the personas in Tony Harrison’s V, in this way began to fight amongst themselves and at other times, touching to me, come close to an understanding.

As I am cleaning toilets and serving breakfasts Professor Gavin Belcher develops new research areas and Gav Belcher is set new essay questions, projects and the like. Nothing gets written up, and what does doesn’t relate to anything much at all. There’s not much work gets done at the University of Gav. Still, like other projects before it which have gone nowhere, it has served a purpose at a difficult time. It has been with me in my mind, as have Gav Belcher and Prof Gavin “his Belchness” Belcher, and who can say they didn’t do me good.

If I had been diagnosed sooner, as I should have been, I might never have needed them. Certainly, I could have avoided the last, if not the last several, serious upheavals in my life. But there again, I wouldn’t have a bird’s mouth on a window sill in front of me, and who knows where I would be then. And so, long live Gav and Professor Gavin Belcher, long live missy g b, and long live the University of Gav!

Clatterbach

¹ That the Ever-so-slightly-uglier House is squirrel infested is not, in this instance, entirely the result of my own overactive imagination. The real life Uglier House is indeed the home of Squatter Nutkins and family. I am not sure to what extant I could not bring myself to trap and do away with the buggers having borrowed the squirrel trap of my father’s which I had always objected to, or whather it was the usual procrastination that let them get on with raising a family I certainly won’t now inconvenience, but ensconsed they are, probably the most spoiled wild rodents in North Wales.

  1. Diagnosis « The University of Gav…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    • Cheers. Seem to remember going off track. Don’t know if it’s the whisky or the ADHD to blame for that. Didn’t much talk about the process of diagnosis and how I found it though. I may try and write a follow up.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gavin Belcher. Gavin Belcher said: A whisky-fuelled attempt at a discussion of the meaning of belated #ADHD #autism #diagnosis & the #UniveristyOfGav http://bit.ly/9S2cI4 […]

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