Spiritual Emergency and Depression

I have been reading Spiritual Emergency from a number of authors edited by Stan Grof MD, and I’ve been thinking about the crisis I went through. I have also investigated personality types via the enneagram and found the symptoms I went through as normal for my type under stress. It makes me wonder whether depression is sometimes just the normal reaction of some people to stress – especially when it continues for years, like in my case. It is questionable, whether there is an organic cause. Bodily problems are more likely physical symptoms – the body screaming at my mind, so as to say.
I associate this with the spiritual crisis that accompanied my depression and find a myriad of questions going through my mind at that time. Since then I have started a tentative approach to Christianity in order to find the ground where I can stand spiritually. I had made the mistake of following the reasoning of laypeople who are more fundamentalist in their outlook. Since then I have been looking at what more informed people have to say and there are more people qualified nowadays, and they are available on YouTube too. This is where I found authors like Stan Grof, James K.A. Smith, Richard Rohr, and Andreas Ebert.
I have also been reading my way through Jörg Zink’s mystical books (Dornen können Rosen tragen, Unten dem großen Bogen), which are more Anthologies of mystical thought. I think it has been a grave mistake to underestimate our need for spirituality, and how the lack can lead to depression. I was also in the wrong job, as it turns out. I did my best, but throughout the years I have been struggling, frequently calling on abilities that I had learned, but which were not my inherent abilities. I had seen my job as a vocation, a calling, and perhaps it was the right thing to do up until a point. I had been advised by experts to take a therapeutic vocation, which was my intention, but it didn’t happen. Richard Rohr even said in his book, that many people with my enneagram type are monks, which should have rung a bell.
What I now have considered is, perhaps my depression wasn’t just my body screaming at my mind, but my soul yearning for spiritual guidance. Stress may have been just a catalyst for something more meaningful.

So this is Christmas

The day after Christmas, when everything becomes relatively normal again, reminds me of this title from John Lennon. In the past, I have been in the place of work, a home for the elderly and sick, over the Christmas period. I held meetings, we sang the old songs, and read the texts connected to Christmas. This time it was different and we stayed at home. I needed time to get over the things that contributed to my condition and start anew. It is sometimes very difficult for people to understand, which I can understand.

From a distance, Christmas isn’t that impressive. That explains why people in other cultures don’t feel that they are missing much. In fact, it became very clear to me that unless you are immersed in some tradition, it doesn’t occur to you that you’re missing out on something. However, outside of Christmas, I found that I was drifting without much connection to anything. I didn’t feel that I belonged anywhere, which is a strange feeling. We all need to belong somewhere, even to something that we have a critical attitude towards. In fact, the critical attitude means that you belong all the more because you wouldn’t be critical if it wasn’t somehow important.

I think that there are many people who think they are outside of something that they can’t help criticising, but they’re not. If you are really outside, you don’t care and therefore don’t criticise. Thinking about this, it appears to me that there are people who think they are outside of a tradition who are really inside, and people who think they are inside but are really outside. If you spend time and thought, then you are not outside. That may come as a surprise to some.

18.11.2019

I’ve not written for a while because I’ve been reading rather a lot lately. Jordan Peterson’s “Maps of Meaning”, Lewis Hyde’s “The Gift”, and an Anthology of Classical Science Fiction. There has been a lot to learn in these books, far more than I could fully present in a coherent report, but I thought I would start off by mentioning what I have learnt from Jordan Peterson’s huge contribution to people looking for meaning.

The first thing that occurred to me after just 20 (of 403) pages was the depth to which he goes to explain how people think and find meaning in anything. He portrays the transition from “What is” to “What should be” in such detail, providing diagrams to help, that it becomes apparent that there have been numerous professional people who have thought about this, and exponentially more, who haven’t. I, of course, belonged to the latter until now. The fact that we are all wearing a mask, which sometimes becomes our fixed identity, seems straightforward. But it is when people come to the end of their working lives and try to become themselves that they suddenly realise, how much they have become one with their mask. Something which I can personally bear witness to.

The purpose of mythology in society has been ignored in my lifetime, much of it thrown out “with the bathwater,” leaving us trying to find other sources of inspiration for our dull lives. Religion has either become redundant or become radical. The difference between the field of science and the field of mythology and religion being that the first provides a description of things, whereas the latter provides the value of things, why they matter. These two aspects of life automatically happen in our minds, without conscious effort. The question needs to be asked, what do we find valuable?

Sub-cultures have become overly important, sometimes the complete content of peoples lives. The elderly are left trying to fathom what is important in the apparently shallow lives of younger people. Other people are completely under stress because they aren’t aware of what is causing it and therefore can’t find a way out of it, despite countless self-help applications available. Looking for meaning has become terribly difficult after the ideologies of the twentieth century have failed. Many people are left without their lives having meaning, and the numbers of mental-health patients have risen rapidly. Depression and even traumatic disruptions of everyday lives are not uncommon.

The Gift, by Lewis Hyde, is an older book, but interestingly, it does try to help people find meaning in their lives. The Gift describes the way that gifts have been part of communal life for thousands of years, how societies were inspired by them to be strong collectives. The Potlatch is a ritual of this kind, designed to keep the members of the community in touch with each other. It also promotes generosity. Strangely, Hyde tells of opponents to the type of commerce based society that we have today, who were against making things into commodities that were previously gifts, which are now subject to buying and selling. These “anarchists”, as they were called, wanted to preserve the Gift community and knew that modernity was forcing another, inferior community upon them.

Order and Chaos

I found Maps of Meaning difficult to listen to on Audible, probably a book in hand would have made it easier. The videos on the same subject have the problem that Jordan Peterson needs a while to get to the point that suffering is real and being a “good person” has to do with how you alleviate suffering. The opposite, he points out, was demonstrated by the Nazi extermination camps, and was how malevolent people can be. This leads to the question of what matters. What should I be aiming for?
It seems to be the difference between what is and what should be. The latter should be in some way better than the first, but just how do we decide, or better, how do we agree on what should be? I think it is becoming increasingly difficult to ascertain, what with all the aspirations to separate and differ around. The worst things that man has done happened when this was the case. The best things man has produced has come from working and pulling together for a common goal. This should make us sit up and think.
I think that in many areas where people at odds today are unexplored territory. JBP showed that this is traditionally chaos. It is where we are most destructive but in the same way the place where new things can come from. It is generally where things aren’t working out the way we’d hoped. In fact, the West seems to be undermining what has brought us so far and welcoming chaos. Radical movements on the fringe do their best to create chaos and thereby hope to install their particular take on what is good. Of course, there are umpteen groups and movements at any one time.
Young people seem to find order oppressive although it is explored territory and familiar. We know that all forms of culture can be tyrannical as much as they’re beneficial. But we underestimate the benefit of being where things work out the way they were planned. Living in a reliable society that is balanced and even seems to be the worst thing imaginable for investors and entrepreneurs, who also value a chaos that they can offer their special order to solve. In this way we could see chaos as a valuable balance in the yin and yang of society, as indeed JBP points out. The question remains, what is enough order and enough chaos, but not so much as to push the world over the edge?
Traversing good and evil, order and chaos is the task of us all. All called to follow the mythological hero, and be the hero in our own way. I think that the more we live this way individually, the less danger there would be collectively. As JBP points out, ancient traditions have shown for thousands of years that the line between good and evil passes through the heart of each of us. The more balanced we are, the more balanced society will be.

Truncated Communication

In a world in which “Toxic Masculinity” has become something that supposedly needs attention, it is easy to forget all the love songs in which men mourn a relationship. These songs reflect issues which are seldom subject to open discussion because men aren’t like that. Very often they mourn in silence. In that way, women are often let off the hook. They become free to begin a new relationship. Many women can pick and choose up until a certain age, then age turns on many of them. Men are rejected at youth and middle age and may find a connection later. Some obviously don’t.
We need to look into this, because the lack of reliability is spreading. It is hard to depend on people if they are not reliable. It is hard to trust if people are not trustworthy. If people don’t want responsibility, who can ensure that a relationship will hold more than ten years? The problem goes deeper into the fabric of society than just in romantic relationships. When I grow used to being the independent person with no liabilities, it becomes a lifestyle. The more people with this kind of lifestyle, the less reliability in society there is.
It was said that Jordan Peterson’s comments on women’s tendency to pick and choose was an example of “toxic masculinity” because he addressed the problems that arise if men don’t find sexual partners. The agreeableness of women is met with the lack of agreeableness in men. Men become aggressive and disorderly when frustrated. They have no other way to react, other than depression and, in more cases of a ruined relationship than women, suicide. Women are more likely to experience guilty feelings and attempt suicide, although they actually kill themselves less often than men. In women, depression is more likely to be associated with stressful life events and be more sensitive to seasonal changes.
It seems to me that the greatest problem in relationships, in general, is that people are communicating less, except via social media and mobile apps. It may be easier to avoid seeing the emotional distress one causes when communicating in this way, but in general, relationships of any kind deteriorate when less one-on-one communication takes place. The (love) letter has also lost its attraction, so that communication is truncated. Feelings are not felt and at best presented in Emojis. This is a situation we have to address before we all become lonely behind our computer and mobile screens.

Toxic Relationships

In a world in which “Toxic Masculinity” has become something that supposedly needs attention, it is easy to forget all the love songs in which men mourn a relationship. These songs reflect issues which are seldom subject to open discussion because men aren’t like that. Very often they mourn in silence. In that way, women are often let off the hook. They become free to begin a new relationship. Many women can pick and choose up until a certain age, then age turns on many of them. Men are rejected at youth and middle age and may find a connection later. Some obviously don’t.

We need to look into this, because the lack of reliability is spreading. It is hard to depend on people if they are not reliable. It is hard to trust if people are not trustworthy. If people don’t want responsibility, who can ensure that a relationship will hold more than ten years? The problem goes deeper into the fabric of society than just in romantic relationships. When I grow used to being the independent person with no liabilities, it becomes a lifestyle. The more people with this kind of lifestyle, the less reliability in society there is.

It was said that Jordan Peterson’s comments on women’s tendency to pick and choose was an example of “toxic masculinity” because he addressed the problems that arise if men don’t find sexual partners. The agreeableness of women is met with the lack of agreeableness in men. Men become aggressive and disorderly when frustrated. They have no other way to react, other than depression and, in more cases of a ruined relationship than women, suicide. Women are more likely to experience guilty feelings and attempt suicide, although they actually kill themselves less often than men. In women, depression is more likely to be associated with stressful life events and be more sensitive to seasonal changes.

It seems to me that the greatest problem in relationships in general is that people are communicating less, except via social media and mobile apps. It may be easier to avoid seeing the emotional distress one causes when communicating in this way, but in general, relationships of any kind deteriorate when less one-on-one communication takes place. The (love) letter has also lost its attraction so that communication is truncated. Feelings are not felt and at best presented in Emojis. This is a situation we have to address before we all become lonely behind our computer and mobile screens.

Colliding with Reality

It’s significant that today’s movies are geared to the fact that there’s a perfect technology, a superhero, or a monotonously overpowering enemy in order to be interesting. It has little to do with the life that most of us have. That’s what’s wanted, of course. Nothing is more boring than everyday life, and it’s regularly portrayed that way. The stories that are interesting today are excursions into a fantasy world. The times in which a story about special, but quite human, people who have come to a special situation are rare.

Even if there is such a situation that might be interesting, people are often as the media wants them to be. It has to be politically correct. The heroes are now homosexual or transsexual, which was not „PC“ ten years ago. But that way we can see how the media goes one step further and imposes its portrayal of reality on us. It’s a power, and that power expects us to swallow the pill.

Whoever does not want this version of the truth is immediately suspicious. In student circles, one can even be excluded if one does not take part. The gender discussion is also here and there not to be questioned. Such things that are present in Anglo-American societies precede German society – as always. It is imported, no matter what. If the Europeans were as careful with (sub)cultures as with food, we wouldn’t have some problems.

I recently saw a video of a transsexual Person who had herself surgically transformed into a man. She wouldn’t do it today – and regret it or not, it can’t be changed. Like so many things in life. Must it get that far before you collide with reality?

Lost Connections

A personal commentary to “Lost Connections”

by the British journalist, writer, columnist and podcaster, Johann Hari.

Separated from people

I’ve been separated from my family in England for a long time. I have never been more aware of that than I am now. I would like to have conversations, look them in the eye and put my arms around them instead of just writing. The short time I had whenever I was in England did not go beyond scratching the surface. The conversations could be described as warming up, but no more. This means that conversations now are strained by the knowledge that I have depression.

But there are also friends and acquaintances from my past here in Germany whom I basically just left behind as I went on. I did not keep in touch and was so absorbed in what was in front of me that it is not surprising that people also distanced themselves from me. Every now and then I have email contact to former employees with whom I got along well, but it is only superficial. These people too, given the fact that they know I struggle with depression, would find it difficult to be at ease with me.

The people who are around me every day are very considerate and really concerned about me. The problem is that it is also marked by a separation. I am no longer the one who was entertaining in conversations, but now the one who is shown understanding. It is of course no use to long for past. Rather, I have to look forward. I can try to connect with the contacts I had, but I have to accept that things are not the way they were.

Johann Hari gave an example of how the community spirit, especially when rallied around a worthy cause, can overcome depression and bring about conditions that no-one could foresee. His second example was a nurse on a psychiatric ward who suddenly realised that she couldn’t go on. She disconnected for seven years. Reconnection proved difficult, but the group task of building a garden on a scrubby patch of ground, usually used for dogs, against all odds and despite all difficulties, helped. Reconnection to nature opened her eyes and inspired her. It’s call social-prescribing, therapy through horticulture.

It is up to me to find a way of re-entering the community in which I live and find a role to play. I find that my anxiety is my biggest problem, a worrying anticipation that I could overstretch myself. It will be a struggle, but perhaps worth it.

Separated from childhood trauma

Since I have always described my childhood as ideal, it is strange when I speak of a childhood trauma. However, because I was the introverted child who absorbed everything, especially emotions, I experienced many things as minor traumas that followed me into the night. I had basically grown up safe and sound, and apart from much upheaval caused by my fathers posting, I had no idea of the world before I stepped out into the world. The night brought many horrors, nightmares, fantasies, fears resulting from a multitude of experiences that were probably not perceived in the same way by my environment.

When I had met people, I was interested above all in why they did what they did. I have always been curious about people in this way, as long as I can remember. To begin with it was the teachers who hurt us children, or the destructive bully at school, but it was also the scout leader, who made the children sexual advances, and later at work the young women who give themselves up for pornography or prostitution and many others. I tried to understand – which obviously didn’t work. Above all, I did not understand myself, which was probably the real reason for my attempts to understand others. I was such a mystery to myself that I often despaired, which has been compounded by depression. The break with naivety was perhaps the greatest traumatic event of all.

Johann Hari found it helpful to acknowledge the trauma and work to overcome it. For a long time I tried to just forget the bad side of being an introverted child with an over-active imagination and concentrated on the good side of my childhood. There were dark sides, however, and I must confront them so that they stop occupying my dreams.

Separated from meaningful values

The subject of lost values is one that I can identify with. I noticed that the stress I was feeling ultimately obscured my view of values. I had become a machine that had to be well oiled, a show that had to go on. The values, which I had previously tried to uphold in training courses and lectures were no longer in focus. My old values, especially at work, were a thing of the past, although I stayed identified with them. I needed to believe in what I was doing. It had to be meaningful.

The church unreasonably became a spectre of horror after I had my crisis there. Not only my depressive episode contributed to this mental representation, but the strife that was going on in the parish, and, of course, the reports in the media contributed to make the church a rather dubious part of my life. However, the way I shrugged it off wasn’t appropriate. The people there were not to blame, and if at all, they were also trapped in the structures that I saw as harmful. I also justified my separation that way. I was not angry about the people, but about the structures.

I then oriented myself to values that were supposed to replace the lost values. The new conceptual model at work was one such example. But also the „noble truths“ of Buddhism gave me direction. But really, the values I found were not much different to Christian values. They were acceptable with the general population, so it couldn’t be very different. However, when I noticed that these new values were not taken so seriously by my employers, and a „see to it“ culture developed, I had renewed problems with identifying with what I was doing.

Separated from status and respect

To become depressed, especially when one is striving for efficiency, prestige and respect as a leader, is a falling into insignificance. Of course, I blamed myself the most, calling myself a failure, I struggled with the symptoms, and didn’t want it to be true. I only saw it as a temporary stress reaction that I would overcome in three weeks. But that wasn’t the case. What my head didn’t want to admit, my body forced on me. I had always thought that depression is a mind problem, but now I know that the mind has only a slight influence on the condition.

When people have compassion with you, it is beneficial for a while. If it lasts, however, it becomes embarrassing. To be treated like a raw egg, especially if you notice it, is not tolerable. You notice how you have become a poor drip that everyone feels sorry for. You fight against it but your body resists your efforts. You say to your body, don’t do that! Get up! Do something! You react, have small moments of success, but efficiency is something else. I had become the kind of person I don’t like. I had no respect for myself, and still fight with it. I answer the question as to how I’m feeling with hollow phrases, because it would take too long, even if I could explain how I feel. If you have no respect for yourself, it changes your reaction to others. Many of the things you set out to do you cannot do. Sometimes you don’t start at all. You get on your own nerves and talk yourself into believing that you get on other people’s nerves as well.

Away from the natural world

If you crash in depression, the world you’ve been in has been in some way toxic. I have found that returning to nature is a tremendous help. We moved flat in the first weeks of my depression and the view from our living room is priceless. The trees were starting to sprout, as was the whole scene and watching the progress of nature in spring was a great resource. Previously we had another house blocking our view, now we could look out into a landscape the reminded one of a park.

Before the depression, nature was just what flows past your car. You don’t smell anything, you don’t hear or feel anything, you are a machine. Although you notice how a short walk can help, there was usually no time for it. It is often dark when you come to work, and often dark when you go home. You move into an artificial world with computers, numbers, data, and paper. Time is scarce. When people are stood at the door, it is a disturbance that you want to get rid of as quickly as possible. You even stay away from children. They could demand feelings, which could cause the whole house of cards to collapse. You move where you have control. You’d rather take 10,000 paces on a treadmill than in nature because you have nothing under control in nature.
But nature is what you need, where you can give up control, where everything is „perfect“ in a different way and time is not a feasible measure.

Separated from the hope of a secure future

I had hoped that all the effort and the uncertainty would pay off in the future. I just had to hold out for so long until I retired, another year or two, then everything would be fine. Of the many factors that contributed to the crash, the bursting of this bubble was perhaps the biggest. Suddenly realizing that the number of years that determine when and with how much money you can retire may depend on Brexit did something to me that I cannot explain adequately. I had paid contributions for seven years in Britain. However, since 2010, you are only entitled if you’ve contributed for ten years. In my thoughts I saw myself forced to work at least four years longer, but I knew I couldn’t keep up the stress I was feeling for another four years.

Without the prospect of having a situation from the age of 65 that would allow me to choose what I did after that, it was like pulling the floor away. Then, facing the stress that was rushing at me every day, a chain reaction was triggered in me that made it impossible for me to go on. Only I didn’t know it then. The crisis had been triggered in the subconscious and caused more stress than I could bear. It also prevented me from recovering as fast as I wished I could. The ongoing insecurity has been something that still causes problems.

Separation from meaningful work

My career choice had more to do with meaningful work than many people suspect. I also felt that choosing a career was a calling but was warned that too much idealism often has problems when it comes to practical, daily work. Nevertheless, many of us thought that nursing care for the elderly should be reformed – by us. We had found bad conditions that we wanted to change. I have had some success, but it has been very exhausting and the preconditions have worsened.

According to everything I heard from my colleagues at the time, many failed to live up to these ideals and many soon stopped working in inpatient or outpatient care. One of them, the best in the class, did a work placement with the social support team in my home when I was already in charge of nursing. He wasn’t able to work in nursing any more. The way I heard it, I lasted the longest. Probably because I, despite crashes, found a way through the chaos, until I finally couldn’t go on any more. That was after 22 years.

At 64 I was drained and avoided contact with large groups, which caused me considerable unrest. The day-time therapy slowed me down and began helping with my anxiety disorder, and it became clear that I should seek an early pension. I still think that I can contribute in the field of geriatric care, but more in one-on-one contact, or at best with small groups. I have noticed how I had gradually worked myself into a corner and couldn’t find the support I needed. The problem was and is, that there is no work for someone who has turned 64 and is depressed.

10. Civilian life in Germany

Leaving Britain in 1978 I had the feeling that I was doing something that had consequences, but I pushed it aside, just as I pushed aside the bad experiences that I’d had that made my decision easier. I was a romantic fool who had so much to learn, spurned on by romantic tales of life in Europe and those I had the short time I’d been living in Germany. Life seemed to be so easy and free of the continuous banter that I hated so much as a soldier. I am a strange person in that respect, always looking for a straight conversation, getting confused if the conversation was made lighter by such banter, which I regarded as a loss of focus. Monika’s friends had become my friends and I was looking forward to seeing my wife. It seemed strange then, at 22 years old, to talk about “my wife” but I couldn’t wait for the ferry to arrive in Belgium.
However, after my return, I had a difficult start. First of all, living in a very small flat with my wife’s Grandmother, I was getting into all sorts of problems. Behaviour, which is quite normal for a young newlywed couple, became difficult living virtually on top of an eighty-year-old blind lady. Locking the bathroom door was a problem, fooling about was a problem, coming home late was a problem, coming home early was a problem. Therefore the first months in Germany were dictated by this experience. Secondly, the simple confrontation with everyday life using a foreign language made me very self-conscious. I felt I had to get everything absolutely right. As a soldier, I had experienced the occasional German who ridiculed my pronunciation of German words, and there is a particular problem with the construction of a sentence in German. If you get it wrong, Germans often don’t understand what you are saying. So I was intent on getting it right and just shopping in the local supermarket became a challenge. I reluctantly rose to the occasion but succeeded more and more, which in turn gave me confidence.
I found work with a subcontractor of the local Brewery delivering beer, but I was constantly being persuaded to make trips to Britain using the larger vehicles. I wanted to take the opportunity to graduate from school. The long-distance trips were, therefore, a problem, as were the delivery jobs, which often had me working from 6 in the morning until 6 in the evening and gave me the added stress of keeping my co-driver, who was always drunk, in the vehicle. He would leave me to unload and, rather than arguing, I got on with it. Afterwards, I would find him downing a glass of beer, obviously not his first, any time of the day. I needed him to show me around the place, but that became increasingly difficult, the more he drank. One day he told me we could take a short cut and guided me into a cul-de-sac, where the signpost was covered by branches of a tree. It took us two hours to get back out, reversing with a trailer. My means of transport to and from work was a bicycle. After cycling across town to get home after such a day, and there were many, I was in no state to do anything more and had to get up the next day early and bright.
We moved into our own flat during that time, but it wasn’t any closer to my workplace, but closer to Monika’s parents. We used a delivery lorry to travel all over the town at the weekend, collecting used furniture, and man-handling it through the window from the street. It was old and worn, but it was ours. The flat was situated across from the main coal-mine in Dortmund, and we could see mountains of coke across the road from our bedroom. The bedroom was on the main road, and lorries carrying cinders drove back and forth from the early hours in the morning, including Saturdays. On the first day of the weekend, we would often be woken by the vibrations of these trucks. It was the dirty part of Dortmund and the cinders left thick dust on everything if you left the window open. The whole place smelled of coal and coke as well.
I was determined to get back to school and learn a trade, which had been suggested to me by Monika’s stepfather. I started learning German by reading and translating a news magazine, Der Spiegel, which was also quite left-orientated. There were many topics written with a perspective that I wasn’t used to, but which interested me. Fortunately, a mixed group of students moved into the flat above and made it into a shared apartment. These young people found it amusing to speak with a young Englishman who was learning the language and we discussed everything I had been reading. I was able to enjoy the company of Monika’s friends, but I relished the nightly discussions with these young people. They helped me better my German like no-one else had, although Monika remains the main influence over time.
After a year and a serious accident that forced my boss to write off a truck, I changed my job. I then drove a dump truck to construction sites and transported the excavators with a trailer. Not long after starting work, I fell over on to my backside and the back of my trousers were suddenly filled with bloody pus. After consulting the doctor, it turned out to be a fistula at the coccyx, or tail-bone, which had to be operated on. I was lucky that my boss didn’t sack me, but he felt it could have been an accident at work, and so he put up with it. His stepsons complained that he was treating me better than others, but he took me back after six weeks of sick leave. I used the time to read Erich Fromm’s “Haben oder Sein” (To have or to be) and translate this into English. He too was Marxist orientated but he interested me because of his use of biblical and Buddhist examples to illustrate his thesis. I bought myself a Bible and a book on Buddhism.
After I recovered, I took the opportunity to go to evening school and take the so-called 2nd educational path. Evening school in Unna was an awakening experience. The participants were mostly mid-twenties like me and had, for whatever reason, not passed the necessary exams or achieved the necessary marks. We didn’t need any time to get to know each other and often met in cafes between classes on Saturdays. Very often I experienced being interesting just because I was an Englishman, it was no different here. I noticed how characteristics associated with my country were applied to me, which I didn’t consider typical. In fact, I had left the UK because I wasn’t really the “typical” Englishman if there is one outside of the imagination. At evening school I was surprisingly successful. German and history were of particular interest to me, but also my math teacher, Mrs Hofmann, showed me that I was not incapable, although I had been unable to grasp math in England. This new chance at education at 25 was completely different from my experience of school as a child. I was very much engaged in the classes, and my German teacher, Herr Wemhöner, seemed intent on getting me through to higher education.
After passing my exams with flying colours, much better than expected, I wanted to become a geriatric nurse, but my wife had become pregnant and we decided that I had to put these plans on ice. There was no other way as I would not have earned enough money to care for my wife and child whilst training so I looked for another job. My wife and I decided that she should go back to work after the birth, to begin with, and I would stay at home for a while since she earned more than I, and her job was stable. That meant I would have to talk to my employer about how I was to become unemployed. As it happens, he was already talking about reducing the number of drivers and so I suggested he sack me, instead of another young man who had just married. He wasn’t happy, nor were his son’s, who hadn’t been happy about my sick leave so early on, but he consented.
When our son announced his birth, Monika’s amniotic sac burst and we rushed to the hospital. We were shown into the delivery ward and Monika was prepared for the birth procedure. Unfortunately, our son wasn’t prepared to arrive and so we were left waiting for some time. Monika asked me to read something to her, but the only book I had picked up on the way out was a German edition of “The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells. After her initial disappointment, I started to read the story, but as our son still wasn’t ready, it began to bore her and we soon found the situation laughable. We managed to pass the time until the medical staff decided to “persuade” the child to arrive. The drama of the birth was then prolonged when the doctor asked me to leave, as he had to use forceps to pull the child out. My wife and I protested about me having to leave, also the nurses, but I found myself outside the birth room, frustrated because I wanted to be there when our son was born. Suddenly the door opened and I was ushered in “Hurry, hurry!” Our son’s cranium was just visible and he slithered out as I arrived. The standard slap opened his lungs and we thought everything was okay. The doctor thought otherwise.
The hushed conversation, probably intended to prevent us from getting worried, only amplified the seriousness of the situation. Then all was fine, the doctor came to us with a smile and we were told not to worry. Monika had a spotty face from the capillaries that had burst when she was pressing, and she was tired. We arranged to meet up later that day after we had some sleep and I had registered the birth. I shuffled off, quite exhausted by the experience, disappointed still that I hadn’t been there all the time, especially as I had felt Monika’s need for me to be there. I arrived home and fell asleep almost immediately.
Later that day, I arrived at the registry office and was told in all seriousness, that the name Marc-Ian, which we had chosen for our son, was considered to be “unusual” and I should consider the fact that he would carry this name all his life. I replied, “It’s not as though I want to call him Pumuckl or something like that!” The very conservative looking lady gave me an uncertain look and finally stamped everything and gave me the papers.
When I arrived at the hospital, I met my wife in a terrible state on the stairs to the ward. Between the tears, she told me that our son had hydrocephalus, apparently about one to two per 1,000 newborns have this condition, which is an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid, and associated with several serious illnesses. I didn’t really know what to say. During the pregnancy, I had been reading all sorts of literature about being parents, including a book on what to do if your child is disabled in any way. This book had obviously caused a discussion with Monika, who was concerned about me reading on such a subject. Now it came all rushing to my mind and I felt guilty somehow.
We had several fraught days at the incubator, and Monika was allowed to go home but they still kept our little treasure in the hospital. On one occasion the nurse made a point of saying that our son was a fighter, he had already disconnected himself a couple of times. Finally, the swelling subsided and we were allowed to take him home. However, we were told that we would have to be very careful because the neck wasn’t strong enough to carry the head, and we would probably have to go to physiotherapy with him. Another problem was that he didn’t drink so well, and was very thin. This continued to cause us problems at home.