When Life Moves The Goalposts.
I have had this essay/blog written for a few days and have internally debated whether or not to publish. I asked whether private agony was really worth airing in public. The worst thing that someone can think is that I did it for attention or for sympathy. I absolutely do not wish for neither. At best I hope that by speaking in detail of how I have turned pain into desire can be used by others to do something similar. A rule I live by is this;
‘If something you do can help but one person, then do it, always.’
So here goes.
When Life Moves The Goalposts
By Sean McBain
Time to Reflect
'The nights are fair drawing in.’
I heard myself saying this the other day. It was a kind of, small talk bugle call that heralds the end of one season and the beginning of a new one.
I don’t know about anyone else but it feels like my new year starts at the end of summer rather than the calendrical mid winter end of year. The last days of summer are when the kids go back to school, the routine returns, the new football season starts and new plans begin to get under way.
I think that maybe the ‘new year’ is more of a feeling than a date in that it is a ‘new start’ after a period of downtime. It’s the summer holidays, or the Christmas break when we are at our least routine and that break in routine allows us time to take stock of what has most recently past, what is now and what has to come. It’s a time for reflecting on events and feelings that the busyness of day to day life has managed to gloss over and hide.
My summer was great. The weather was glorious, most of the time. As a family, we got out on the kayak, had a lot of good days out and had a wonderful two week holiday in Antalya Turkey. Throughout the three months of summer, I have been fully focused on recharging myself and taking stock. I put down the guitars, locked up the studio and most crucially, I vacated all social media platforms.
Without all distractions I was able to focus solely on the now and to look inside my own head. The inevitable questions of what now? or what next? dominated my thinking and I found it hard to find a straight forward objective that I could commit to and ready myself for. What I found was a kind of mental crossroads in what was a previously blinkered and straightforward pathway. The original quest I first set out on was a long and hard road to somehow collect the holy grail of becoming a professional songwriter and producer. I was obsessed with it and believed wholeheartedly that one day my opportunity would come. The years of commitment I had put in to this quest, my diligence and my sacrifices had to pay off one day, but it seemed to me that the music world had ignored my efforts and disillusionment had began to set in.
The completion of the Songwriting Marathon was, in my opinion, an enormously underrated achievement and it was deeply satisfying to see something as difficult as that through to it’s end. But the high was such that the subsequent release of Oranges & Angels was something of a disappointment. I loved every minute of the Songwriting Marathon and I feel certain that this had little to do with gratification and instead it had everything to do with the feeling that I was making a difference, either directly, through the charity, or indirectly, through the people watching and becoming inspired. The internal conflict only arose when I made an album for my own gain, hoping to capitalise on the success of the marathon. Although the sales were modest at best, in terms of satisfaction it left me feeling empty. It was incredibly unfulfilling and almost felt like a waste of time, a pointless vainglorious folly.
The feeling of making a difference through charity was extremely fulfilling, and what I concluded is that it is the act of doing something for the self or the ego that I find uncomfortable. It is the narcissism and self absorption that goes with ‘being and artist’ that unsettles me. I observe this hyper self importance in artists in the public eye and I bitterly resented it when I seen it in myself.
That obsession with music I once had, had been transformed into disillusionment and for reasons I had yet to work out, my passive interest in Psychology felt like it was transforming into something of an urgent infatuation. Though I could see what the change in direction was, I still could not explain ‘Why’ there was a change in direction. In trying to figure this out I had to further take apart my current mindset. I questioned wether or not I was just giving up and getting real. I questioned wether I was just burnt out after a gruelling year of music making. I thought that I’d maybe just grew bored. I looked at every possible reason why the obsession with music was now being overtaken by an obsession with the mind. I pondered, I dissected, I deliberated and then in a moment of quiet, I discovered the truth behind the unrest I felt. I found the source of change in me.
Wayne Cran was my best friend (pictured). From the age of around six we were friends. We were friends throughout childhood and adolescence. He was my funniest, kindest and most loyal friend throughout my life. He was always there. He was the first one up to hospital when I was ill at 20. He was with me every day as I recovered. He helped me pick my wife’s engagement ring and he was best man at my wedding. We did a lot of mad things together and we loved each other like brothers.
Life took me on a road to stability, warmth and family at the same time it took him down a road much colder and much darker. Throughout his troubled life he confided in me regularly and I always listened and always tried to give my best advice and counsel. At times I felt it worked and at times he thrived, but he always crashed. Each time the crash was worse than the previous time, with worse consequences and more collateral damage. A few times I made the 387mile roundtrip from my home in Neilston to Peterhead jail when he was at one of his darkest times. Each time I returned feeling that the monsters inside his head were becoming too powerful for him, and too powerful for me.
The cycle of high mood, low mood continued after he left jail and his mental state deteriorated to an all time low as the beast of addiction sunk it’s teeth into his soul. The good days were now fleeting and the bad days became the norm. He began to call me less and in one random cheerier call he told me he didn’t want to keep calling me on his bad days as he felt he was a burden on me. I tried telling him that I didn’t mind but secretly I was relieved. Not because I didn’t want to help him, it was because I felt that I couldn’t. I felt completely powerless as the problem was bigger than my knowledge and understanding could grasp. The root was far more evil and the fruit was becoming far more destructive than I could even begin to deal with. No kind words or good influence could quell his many demons and I was afraid of them all.
On the morning of December 18th 2017, I was on my way to work at 6am. About three miles from my house. I had a call from my wife, Julie. I wondered what it could be. I answered on speaker.
‘Sean.’ She said in a panic filled voice.
‘Aye, what is it?’ I asked concerned.
‘Are you driving?’ she croaked.
'Aye, how, what is it?’
‘Pull over a second.’ she said.
I did so immediately, worried by the panic in her voice as a million potential scenarios filled my head.
‘Right go.? What is it?’ I asked frantically.
‘Cranner has died.’ She broke.
It felt like my stomach had been shot into my throat like a cannon and wedged there. It sucked all the air from my lungs and took the colour from my face with it.
I will never ever forget that moment. It changed me. It changed me forever. He was 34 years old.
While everyone I knew went into a kind of panic. I looked for responsibility to keep me going. I threw myself into giving my best friend the send off he deserved and wrote and delivered a eulogy that I hope did him and his memory proud. Immediately afterwards I hid myself in music, finishing work on my album and diligently grinding out the promotion. I started a new job and became obsessed with a new healthy diet and lots of running. All of this served to keep me from facing my feelings on the matter. Enter the summer of downtime. I stopped. I took stock and all I could think about was him and how much he meant to me.
His death was attributed to an overdose of sleeping tablets but everyone who was closest to him would agree that it could, and perhaps should, be attributed to acute mental illness. Addiction was just the fruit of a root that stemmed back to his tragic childhood. This childhood produced one of the most tortured adults I knew. What more could I have done for the man I considered closer than a brother? The painful truth, was nothing. I never knew how this could have been prevented and I still don’t. I accept, that from now on, the question that will constantly torment me is; What if? What if I’d said this? What If I’d done that? What if I knew then what I know now? What if?
When life does not go according to plan and tragedy befalls, it changes us. We are never the same after a tragic event and if the tragedy is personal, we never should be the same. This type of change could be because of the emotional duress that one suffers in a tragedy, but I also believe it is the perspective that comes in the wake of the tragedy that changes us. This is one of the many cruel ways life has of putting our own pride and selfishness into perspective.
‘Tragedy Perspective’ as I call it, shines a light on our weakness’s and our strengths and each individual handles the tragedy, and the tragedy perspective, differently. Some individuals rise in the face of a tragedy while others fall. Some get by on the emotion of the event, being an anchor for those of a weaker disposition and emotionally supporting others with their own emotional strength. Some fall down and stay there, hamstrung by grief, looking for help, for attention or for answers. But answers rarely come when the question is; How do I move on from the loss of a loved one?
When the tragedy is the unexpected death of someone close, without exception, everyone directly affected is changed, forever. A healthy change could be as simple as an acceptance that life is indeed finite and one should be more grateful for the life we have. An unhealthy change could be that we now begin to question our own mortality. We now see that no one is getting out of here alive, that death is a certainty and we do not like this truth.
The change in me was the former. A deep realisation of what is important in life. The self indulgent ideal I had of my future was smashed to pieces and what I swallowed, was that a happy, healthy life is a gift that I often took for granted. I felt that as man of stable mental wellbeing and blessed with solid family foundations, I have a responsibility to help others who are not so fortunate.
I have always been fascinated by the mind and how it works. How some people are destroyed by the pressures of life while others thrive in it. Throughout my life I have always been a person who can listen well to peoples problems, talk the problem through and help people see a way to navigate that problem. I do not know exactly what I posses that makes me a magnet for people with issues to resolve. In every job I’ve had and in every social circle I have entered, someone, somewhere has felt compelled to share their deepest issues with me. I’d like to think that it is because people feel like they can open up to me without judgement. Perhaps I am just friendly and approachable. Perhaps it is because I listen well, I like to ask questions and show interest in people. Sometimes that is enough to make them feel better about themselves. I’d have made a good Taxi driver or Hairdresser I imagine.
That said, my advice when given and received has a mixed success rate. Most people I speak with and encourage are buoyed for a day or two, inspired and elevated to a point where action is being taken and progress is being made. But their momentum is something I cannot control. Momentum is to be made by the individual in need and not by the offerer of kind words and encouragement. As the saying goes; ‘You can lead a horse to water….’ and so on.
I often found it hard to accept that my best advice and best influence does not stick. When someone falls off the wagon or goes back on themselves in some way, even after a healthy conversation and some positive input, I am often unjustly critical of my self. Each time this happens, I always think; ‘I wish I knew more.’
Out of interest, and perhaps a need to better arm myself for future conversations of this kind, I read psychology articles and books and listen to the worlds top Psychologists in their lectures online and podcasts. I nick bits of wisdom from them, translate them into more easy to digest language and use it when chatting with someone in need of advice. I read and take heed of the wisdom of famous sages, scholars, philosophers and religious leaders and try to understand myself better so that I may understand others and be able to help more. With each new thing learned I feel better equipped to help when the need arises.
In addition to autodidactic learning, I am obsessively dedicated to keeping my own house in order so that my advice has integrity. I am devoted to my wife and kids beyond measure. I do not drink because I am weaker when I do. I exercise and eat well because I am weaker when I don’t. I constantly observe my mood for emotions I don’t like. If things bring me rage or bitterness I remove myself from them and when things make me happy and bring me joy I do them more. I love to test myself, push myself, better myself each day and experience new things and as I established during the songwriting marathon, I love to help others in whichever way I can.
To be effective at this I have to be continually analysing where I am, who I am and why I am and It’s the WHY that interested me most over the summer. I wanted to work out why I felt my internal season was changing. My passion and my desires had changed and I discovered it was because life had altered the game, edited the script, moved the goalposts. A season was over and everything was changing.
The question of ‘what if?’ will always be with me but I have decided that it will never break me. Instead it will be my fuel. Instead of ‘What if I’d DONE more?’ I will now ask ‘What if I DO more?’
What if I realise that Wayne was not the only one who needed help and needed someone to talk to? Truth is we all need someone to talk to but sadly, not enough of us have the grace to listen. Our lives are too busy, our own issues are more pressing and our time is precious. In addition to this, our NHS is not well enough staffed to deal with the ever increasing backlog of individuals suffering from poor metal health in this country. Waiting times to see professionals is as much as two to three months, enough time for a mental illness to spiral to a point of fatal risk. When the unfortunate, ill person does see someone, often it is an invite to ‘Group Therapy’ in order to get through the numbers quicker. Social Media fuelled anxiety and depression is a issue of the modern age. The unrealistic expectations on life give rise to unachievable financial expectations, pressure to succeed in the modern materialistic world, job uncertaintity, relationship insecurity and all of this is new. The world is changing fast and many people don’t feel like they can keep up. The modern world requires modern psychologists, Psychologists who speak the language of the people in need of their service, Psychologists from backgrounds which reflect the backgrounds of those they serve.
My heart is to help, to identify with people like the people I have grown up with and to help them. To give sound advice, practical and down-to-earth advice all backed up by academic study. That is why I am doing the degree in Psychology. Will a degree in Psychology make me stop missing Wayne? I think not, but if I were to dedicate myself to ensuring other people do not become a statistic like my best friend, then every individual I can help in the future will be helped in his memory.
Music brings enormous joy to my life, but that is as far as it’s importance stretches. It is a great hobby and a pastime and that is what it shall remain. I’ve spent enough time trying to get everyone to listen to me and my music, now it’s time for me to listen. People are more important, YOU are more important and what you have to offer this world is important. If we believe in that, if we somehow agree upon that, then maybe we could all be our own Psychologists and maybe we could all help each other.