This is yet another of those posts that I’ve ‘ummed & ahhed’ over publishing but have ultimately decided to in the hope that it makes its way to a troubled soul who finds solace in its words. Failing that, it’ll be nice to get it out of my head.
A few Friday nights ago, I went to see Sally Seltmann play live at The Vanguard. I’d bought the tickets a long time in advance but by the time the gig rolled around, I wasn’t in much of a mood to be going to yet another gig alone. I was feeling a little fragile but sucked it up reasoning that it’s a far better thing to go alone that to not go at all. Besides, life tends only to happen when you remain open to its possibilities. And so I went.
Anyone who’s ever been to a concert alone – I applaud you. It’s a tough gig, so to speak. It’s fine when the music’s playing but it’s the awkward arrival and taking up of your position (and subsequent losing of position if you want to get a drink or go to the bathroom) and time between bands that are tricky. By comparison, going to a café or restaurant alone is easy – you can take props like a book to read or write in – but at a gig, you really only have your phone and whilst a phone is a world of entertainment, it also closes you off to those possibilities your went to remain open to. Which just leaves standing there, nursing a drink, feeling like a loser when you realise you are the only loner in the room. Everyone else is in couples or with a group of friends. Occasionally you spot another lone-wolf only to see their partner arrive moments later with drinks from the bar (position maintained).
As the venue filled and I emptied, I kept a constant inner-dialogue of encouragement and self-assurance going. Ordinarily, a little pep-talk does the trick but that night took a lot more pandering to my pity. When I eventually spotted another single across the room, a good-looking guy about my age, I told myself to be brave and speak to him. The universe conspired to bring him right over to me and have him ask if he could take up the seat next me. Well, I had to do it now! So again, I sucked it up and I did. I asked if he enjoyed the support act and within minutes it was fairly well established that he was, of course, well and truly gay. Nonetheless, I was grateful for the company and enjoyed our conversation.
Sally Seltmann eventually took the stage and opened with her song On the Borderline. How had I not anticipated or guarded against the flashback caused by this moment??? Like an unleashed repressed memory, I was instantly taken back to the last time I’d seen Sally live. It was perhaps a week after Matthew and I had had our ‘little conversation’ that ended our 18 years together. We hadn’t told anyone else yet and were still going along to all the things we’d booked, like a Sally Seltmann gig. That song was anthemic for me at the time and continued to be as I set off on my own into and around the world. When she performed it that night, Matthew and I held hands tightly and wept. This night, I couldn’t help but weep again but I resisted holding the hand of the beautiful gay man beside me and just held my own.
Even in the days before the end, it always seemed to me that Sally’s musical narratives were more in line with Matthew’s outlook on life than my own and this night was no different. As she played her set, she seemed to weave a story of a shy soul returning to a point in their past where they took a wrong turn and now set on the right path have found a love and life full of joy and liberation hitherto unknown. The reality may have been very different but that’s all I could hear and it was torture knowing I was the proverbial wrong-turn. I was grateful for the darkness of the venue and the minute she left the stage, I thanked my new, temporary friend for his company and got the hell out of there.
I decided to walk home, sticking to the shadows with a downturned head, stopping at a pub half way to have a breakdown in the toilets that wouldn’t wait until I got home. I continued my journey with a certain disregard for my safety, pitying anyone who tried to mess with me in that mood! It had been a loooooong time since I’d felt that way but by the time I got home (safely and without incident), a big, black cloud had well and truly parked itself over my head.
And that brings me to the heart of this post. In the days that followed, I was stricken with a sadness I couldn’t rein in or budge. Nor could I understand it. There were reasons but I felt the reaction was way out of proportion. Those close to me were worried and rightly so. I could barely will myself out of bed in the mornings , I couldn’t stop crying and all I could sense in other people was their suffering. I’m accustomed, as we all are, to living with the ebb and flow of emotions but this was something else and I knew after several days of the same, unabated, that it wasn’t just going to pass. This was going to take some doing and I was the only one who could do it.
Fortunately, I just happened to have an appointment with my psychologist that week. Yep, I just dropped a shrink-bomb! I feel incredibly vulnerable admitting I have a psychologist for fear of the assumptions it may lead to but it’s exactly that fear and those assumptions that have compelled me to write this blog. I am not a crazy person, nor am I mentally ill. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I’m a pretty tough cookie (admittedly with a gooey centre) but like most people at some point in their lives, I went through a life-changing trauma. It knocked me off my metaphoric feet and I needed some help finding them again, getting up, and learning to walk on new terrain.
This is not a cry for help. On the contrary, it is an acknowledgement and expression of gratitude for the help that I have and an encouragement for others who feel they are stumbling to seek some support. We are so lucky in this country (and most other countries with universal healthcare systems) to have access to a plethora of support – use it! For example, in Australia, we can access up to 10 sessions with a psychologist in a calendar year if so prescribed by your GP (at the time of writing anyway, the next Federal Budget may be a game-changer!).
It is not weakness or failure to seek help. If anything, it takes a degree of strength, self-determination and wisdom to want to be bigger and better than the things that knocked you down (as they do everyone). We need to treat our mental health as we do our physical health – sometimes you have a headache, no biggie, it passes. Other times you get a common cold and self-medication will do the trick. Then there are those other times when you get a bug that just isn’t going anywhere without proper treatment. As they say, if pain persists – see a doctor!
I recognised that that was where I was at so off to the doctor I went! She helped me make sense of the storm, allowed me to see that the things I’d been downplaying actually were quite significant and most importantly propped me up on my feet again so I could continue traversing the ever-new terrain of my reforming life.
I wouldn’t say that I emerged from the session feeling on top of the world again but I was empowered to start employing the simple strategies of good mental health – meditation, eating well, exercising and other tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the last few years.
The following Friday rolled around and I had in hand yet another single ticket to yet another gig. This time it was Architecture in Helsinki. I felt very tenuous about going but felt even more determined not to succumb to the now much-lessened-sadness. I suspected I’d feel worse if I didn’t go so I scanned their back catalogue for songs likely to trigger tragic thoughts (none) and recalled the last time I saw them (in beautiful Vancouver at a peak of self-discovery and adventure). Nonetheless, I still felt pretty lonely as I entered the much bigger venue on my own. I got myself a drink (just water this time – no need to add fuel to the fire that ravaged the preceding week while the embers were still smoldering!) and took up my position. I watched both support acts, feeling pretty wobbly in between but giving myself the night off in terms of trying to make connections with people. I kept to myself and watched the strategies of other lonely-joes in the audience (one guy just walked laps of the dancefloor as though to create the impression he was always on his way to meet someone. He never did). I ran my phone battery down by reaching out and seeking comfort through social media so by the time AIH took the stage, I was starting to wonder if it really was better to gig alone than not gig at all.
Then they started playing. They instantly blew my thundercloud clear out of the sky! I’m calling it a miraculous case of electro-pop-therapy! Their music delivered a sudden, energetic jolt to my system and BAM… there I was! I felt like me again and there was nowhere in the world I’d rather have been! I danced like no one was watching because noon was. My loneliness ascended once more into independence and I felt liberated.
Whereas Sally Seltmann spoke to me of Matthew’s journey (I don’t blame Sally, she’s amazing, I’m still a loyal fan), Architecture in Helsinki belted out about my own! Not so much in the specific content of their lyrics but in their creative expression of their inimitable selves. They’re a merry band of kooks who let their freak flag fly and I find great solidarity in that. As the show drew to an end, I looked around the audience and marveled at the transformation that had taken place in me over a few short hours. No longer did I feel isolated and alone. I felt an almost tribal connection to my fellow concert-goers without speaking a word to any of them. I left the gig on a total Contact High.
As good as AIH were, I should clarify that my turn around was not solely the consequence of that night but of the support around me and of doing what it took to take deliberate steps towards my recovery.
That was 2 weeks ago and the life’s ups and downs have returned to a more gentle undulation. I’ve kept AIH’s albums on high rotation though, just in case! Will I be gigging solo again any time soon? I already have my next ticket!
(If anyone would like to talk to me about my experience of seeing a psychologist or get a recommendation, please feel free to contact me privately through the contact page on this website).