A slip, not a landslide

Jack tried to ignore the feeling of panic within him. He concentrated on breathing, relaxed his body as much as he could, and focused on the task at hand. Joey was so much better, almost herself again, and the children were all doing well. He was back at work, although on far lighter duties than before, with strict instructions from Jem not go go back to trying to do everyone else’s job.

He had been getting along, seeing a future again, starting to feel some peace within himself. Then for no apparent reason, he began to get the shortness of breath, dizziness, and muzzy head again. It was so disheartening, after so much work to get himself functioning again, and he found himself almost spiralling into despair, irrationally so, which shocked him. It made him pause, and gain a new insight into Joey’s difficulties. It was an overreaction, it wasn’t logical or sensible, but his brain had gone into a form of defense, and he wasn’t in control of it. That was the scary thing, for someone who prided themselves on coping, on being strong for others. He couldn’t rely on himself, something so small seemed able to trigger him falling back a few steps, just when he thought he was striding forward. He felt as though the ground around him was shifting, about to throw him down the mountainside, and he couldn’t work out which way to jump. All around looked secure, looked safe, but the wrong move and he would be right back where he started, and he didn’t know if he had the strength to climb back up that mountainside again.

He tried to work out what the problem was, sure that logic would have an answer. Was it Joey? It didn’t seem likely, she was getting on well, was coping herself with almost anything life threw at her, and was keeping level, but a happy level, rather than the half paralysed ‘Safe’ level she had had before. Now she was saying she was able to feel, able to enjoy life again, Jack recognised how much joy in life she had lost over previous years. She put on a persona, was bright and cheery and powerful, but hadn’t been herself inside, hadn’t been able to do more than exist. Now that she was back to herself, Jack could see the difference. She wasn’t afraid of everything any more, wasn’t self policing so much that nothing felt appropriate behaviour. She made mistakes, was tactless, was clumsy on occasion, and played the fool on others – but in control, able to rein back when needed, able to know when the limits were approaching and stop well in time.

So if it wasn’t Joey, what was it? The children were all fine, as far as he could tell. Con was dreamy rather than disconnected from the world, Len was responsible but allowing herself time to be young finally. Margot was happy and dedicated to her new life, and the boys seemed to be each getting on with their studies, and playing as hard as they worked. The younger ones were getting in no more trouble at school than should be expected from high spirited imaginative youngsters. He was glad to see the youngest ones having reconnected with Joey, for she had missed out on a lot of their childhood, physically present but mentally elsewhere. He couldn’t see anything to worry about there.

Was it work? It shouldn’t be, he had so much lighter a load now, he almost felt guilty at having so many breaks compared to normal. He was able to take his time over patients, able to properly listen to them. He was doing well ignoring the niggling feeling that it couldn’t last, that he was unloading onto other people too much. He was determinedly following advice, not getting too involved, reserving his mental strength for when he needed it. So why was he feeling as though he was right back at the beginning? What had happened? Where had he gone wrong?

Jack obsessed and wound himself round in circles, unconsciously diagnosing himself. It was second nature to him now, to see things and analyze their possible cause, to check against a list of differential diagnoses. His diet was good – sensible but not boring, he was exercising, and spending time with loved ones. He was generally sleeping well, although slightly less so over the last few days with his anxiety building during the day. He was getting plenty of sunlight, and drinking plenty of water. He would class himself as fit and heathy for a man of his age – for a younger man even. So what was wrong? Why was he feeling this way ??

He couldn’t solve the problem, which made him tenser. Was he losing his skills as a doctor with this lighter work load? Should he try to push himself more? He’d always thrived under pressure after all. Perhaps that was it, perhaps he wasn’t doing enough. He ought to take more on himself, ought to…

Ought to. Ought to do this, ought not to feel this. Ought to cope, ought to be strong, ought to be perfect. He stopped himself short. Who said that was the case? Who made up these rules he was following? Everyone around him was saying that he was better than he had been for ages, on these lighter duties. Gwyneth had surprised him the other day, saying that it was nice to see a real smile for once, and that it had been a few years since she had seen one from him. He had been surprised, sure that he smiled often, but even as he thought that through, he realised that smiling often and doing it properly were of course quite different things.

Perhaps that was it. Perhaps he needed not to ignore those niggling feelings of guilt, but face them, break them down. Jem had given him some advice that helped, telling him to think about himself as if he was Stephen, or Charles. Would he want them to feel so pressured, so indebted to the world? Would he want them to feel that they must always put their own happiness and security second to work, family, duty? No. He wouldn’t. He wanted them to do well, wanted them to be strong and independent people, but he was happy when he saw them taking a break from study to ski, or to play with the young ones. He wanted his children to feel able to breathe, able to be fragile if they needed to, and now he thought of it that way, he realised just how much he had set himself up to fail. So what if he needed a step back, needed some time with less pressure. He wouldn’t think any less of his children if they needed the same – in fact he’d be determined to see that they got the chance, that they felt supported.

He felt that warmth, peace within him that signalled the drop out of anxiety, the sense that he could relax, take a step, whatever direction felt best. If he slipped a little sometimes, then it would just be a way for him to find another, a better route up. More solid ground was ahead, he was suddenly sure again. He’d come so far, coped with so much, he had to remember that. Also remember that he was actually a pretty good mountaineer, and would find the energy needed, even if it took longer than he was used to, seemed sometimes slow progress. He smiled again to himself, and felt relief and faith again.

Time proved him right, and he came to realise that nothing could knock him all the way back down now. He was getting on more and more solid footing with every check, as was Joey. With calmness came clarity, and he could see properly that it was just a slip, not a landslide. Next time he would halt it even sooner, and learn ways to avoid potentially loose ground all the better for experience and understanding.

He was strong, and was back to being himself, strong, secure, happy Jack Maynard, and nothing going to beat him now.

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