It's ironic that I was watching Airplane six years ago, because in an alternative version of my life, I'd be on a plane right now. From Manchester to New York. On a holiday that was booked last Autumn. But in this version of my life, I broke up in December with the person who booked it, so I'm not going.
Anyway, however I feel about that, I'm not having as bad a day as Julius Caesar had on 15th March 44 BC. That was the day he got assassinated. In the Roman calendar of the time, 15th March was known as the Ides of March. And it's where Shakespeare got the expression 'Beware the Ides of March'.
I read a statistic years ago that said that early Spring is a time when suicides increase, the theory being that people hang on through the grimness of the Winter but then the beginning of Spring gives them just enough energy and impetus to end it all. It may seem counter-intuitive, however, I have a theory about that. It's all to do with expectation. My own view is that psychologically speaking, March is a very difficult month in Britain. After September, we strap ourselves in for the Autumn, the cold and dark of October and November, and then love it or hate it, we're preoccupied for all of December with the car crash that Christmas can be, and then we also steel ourselves for January and February, knowing that's when the Winter is supposed to be. But then when we get to March, we think we've almost made it! And we think it will get better. But then especially this year, it's like living in Siberia! I've lost 3 hats this Winter. For some reason I never lose keys or my wallet, but I often lose hats. Last Winter was a One Hat Winter, I only lost one hat. This Winter I've lost three, which indicates its severity. I'm not buying another one, and yet two thirds of the days in March I haven't been able to feel my face.
I believe it's the expectation that kills us. I'm at University at the moment, and I think part of the problem with being here is also expectation. Especially young people are told they'll have the time of their lives, but then when it turns out to be a giant dog's breakfast it's much worse. It would be better if people said to them. 'University will be just like the rest of your life. Sometimes really good, sometimes shit, sometimes both at once'. I find there's a similar problem with expectation and the cinema too. Some of the best films I've seen were the ones I saw because I went with someone who really fancied it, and seeing it was easier than arguing. And some of the worst ones were the ones I chose, and which I really looked forward to, which were a massive let down.
Mothers' Day is in March too. And that can be just as much of a car crash as Christmas. It's great if you've got a mum, or if you are a mum, and your relationships are functional, but it's a lot less fun if your mum's dead or she's alive but you don't get on, or if your kids hate you.
I like April though. Along with May they're the best two months we have in England. And my birthday is in April, so I'm usually in a good mood for most of the month. Although I hate the day itself, because like Christmas I put myself under pressure to have a good time, and I think things like 'I haven't enjoyed myself in the last 10 minutes, this is a disaster'. I need to remember (and so do you) that it's okay to have a terrible birthday, just like it's okay to have a terrible Christmas, and a terrible Mothers' Day. There are plenty of other days, enjoy some of them instead.
So, anyway, although no-one has ever tried to stab me while I was wearing a toga, I generally hate the period around the middle of March. I hate it, because it's never as good as I expected.
Six years ago I had been feeling depressed and hopeless in the middle of March, like I have at times this year. I felt useless and like my life didn't have a point.
But then in the evening I watched Airplane. And it was as silly as ever. And I laughed, especially at the end where Robert Stack asks Robert Hays if he knows what it's like to be face down in the mud getting kicked in the head with an iron boot and then he says, of course you don't, no-one does, because it never happens. And I laughed. And I realised it's not happening to me either.
airplane iron boot,
I have an analogy I like to use about mental health. It's like in life we have two buckets. One bucket is labelled 'Reasons to give up', and the other bucket is labelled 'Reasons to keep going'. In the Reasons to give up bucket we can put all our sadness and all our regrets, all the people we've lost who we miss, and all the things we used to have which we don't have any more, all the mistakes we've made and all the times we've failed.
And then in the other bucket we put the 'Reasons to keep going'. People we still love, things we enjoy doing, things that make us feel alive'. And as long as there is more in the 'Reasons to keep going' bucket we'll be okay. And if there isn't enough in the 'Reasons to keep going' bucket, we need to look harder.
The aeroplane I could have been on to New York has, while I have been writing this, left the gate. Because I threw that chance away, I wasn't on it, I was in the library at Leeds University, where I often am these days. Sometimes I come here just to get warm, and to look for missing hats. But also because I like learning and trying to understand things. And 'The Joy of Finding Things Out' is one of the things that is in 'My Reasons to keep going' bucket. Along with running, and learning Spanish, and seeing good films, and teaching children how to speak English, and going to the football with my brother (even though Leeds United are terrible). All of that doesn't seem very much at the moment, but for now it will have to be enough.