In May 2014, I went off the rails. I walked to the nearest hire car place in my pyjamas, threw my credit card at the bewildered girl behind the counter and spent a week driving around the UK, staying in bleak Travel Lodges, passing the evenings staring at identikit wallpapers and wondering why they had plants in reception when no-one could be bothered to water them.
Almost exactly two years later, and I’m in a similar situation. Mercifully this time I have my own car, so I’m not condemned to spend my time on the road listening to the one CD I found under the passenger seat on repeat (T’Pau’s ‘China in Your Hand’, hilariously). I’m also wearing actual clothes, and can report that I’ve been nowhere near a Travel Lodge. Meltdown deluxe, if you will.
Except it’s not a meltdown. Not this time. Yes, the catalysts in both scenarios are largely the same – people disappoint you, life goes awry, you get lost – but two years ago I was trying to run away from it all. It was a pretty futile exercise, really; as goes the old saying: ‘Everywhere you go, there you are’. It didn’t matter whether I was sitting in a roadside service station in Derby or by a river in Shropshire, my stupid brain, and all the anxiety and desperation and fear slamming around in it, was along for the ride whether I liked it or not.
And so, to now. “I can’t believe I’m in this place again,” I announced to myself between heaving sighs and moments spent consciously unclenching my jaw. But as I careen aimlessly through the Welsh Valleys and English countryside I realise that to disbelieve this fact is as ludicrous as disbelieving my hand in front of my face. Specific misfortunes are not like the chicken pox, unfortunately. Enduring them once does not make you immune to them again.
But, you do build up a resilience, and so my unscheduled adventure this time is less about outrunning the gremlins licking at the corners of my consciousness and more about talking them down. Not yelling at the barking dog but feeding it, walking it, brushing its coat. It’s time consuming stuff, but it makes the barking stop.