This poem was written about a day after leaving Afghanistan. I was at an emotionally low point, and it was during ‘Normalisation’. This is the process of taking some time, on route back from the operational theatre, to be calm and introspective. To think. It is irritating to be forced to spend this time rather than race home to families and friends, although it is important and having returned from my previous tour without normalisation I was glad, afterwards, that I had the opportunity this time round.
My job in theatre involved a lot of detailed planning and therefore the effort had been somewhat ceaseless. I had left theatre slightly ahead of those with whom I had been working, in order to set the pace back at the Home Base and to ensure a smooth transition towards future tasks. As a result, I normalised amongst a group of people I did not know. In hindsight this suited me well, as I found that I felt ‘peeled’: emotionally raw, vulnerable and exposed.
The low feeling was not totally unfamiliar. I had experienced it before, albeit not as strongly, after exhausting military exercises away from home. Some call it ‘post-exercise blues’; although the feeling is not unique to military activity – post-holiday blues are familiar enough to most, I expect.
The poem is a precursor to the earlier-posted ‘Returning Home‘, which was a request, of friends and family, to bear with the process of normalising. I could have posted this first: but I was not yet ready to do so, as it cut quite deep even to read it back to myself.
My low feelings haven’t gone completely, but they are now significantly subsiding. They occasionally return in waves, when I am stressed with work or other concerns; they ebb with a little time and introspection. This poem is intended for anyone who has felt the same and may be struggling to come to terms: you are not alone.
Crying in the Dark
Mornings dawn with bright sunlight, but a clouded head,
I struggle with gravity: to lift myself from my bed,
Meals taken are tasteless as I chew and swallow,
That feeling of emptiness pervades my world: so, so hollow.
I smile and nod, sound cheery on the phone to those I care for,
Knowing I’m returning soon to those I want to be there for,
But I’m struggling inside to keep my balance, to stay steady,
It’ll pass, I know, but the dark and the depth: it’s heady.
Why am I like this? Why do I feel so cold? So low?
Why do I find myself battling the world? Putting up a good show?
What is this feeling that stalks me? Lurking in the dark?
As the flood water surrounds me, I’m drowning – where is my Ark?
Holding my breath, an answer springs to my mind –
It is not from the outside, that the world’s being unkind:
This feeling is self-generating, an exhaustion and a guilt,
Though I know it’s no better than crying over spilt milk.
It’s a darkness, a sorrow, self analysis and hindsight –
I try to keep it at bay with all my effort, all my might,
But I don’t feel I’m succeeding and I wonder if I could:
Although I still try in public, because I think I should.
In the dim light of evening, in the quite, when alone –
I can feel a headache coming, a buzz and a drone,
And I know it’s dark thoughts all whizzing round in my head,
As my shoulders sag downward, heavy laden, clad in lead.
So I settle for mindlessness, for distraction: watch the late movie,
But in the cinema’s darkness, I’m feeling far from groovy.
I notice, however, that I am not as alone as I was thinking –
For slowly I realise, there are others here that feel that they’re sinking …
And then my flood comes, with silent shakes, invisible shudders:
With watery eyes, reasonless; in the darkness, and no one utters –
A word, for we each feel it, that we’re sharing in sorrow:
And that this feeling will be, we hope, a little lighter tomorrow.
For we’ve spend the last months driving every sinew, every bone,
And now it is our bodies chance to make our minds atone:
Too much taken, too much drawn, from the innermost reserve:
Time to rebalance, to recover, to release; to reset the curve.
It’s a phase, that’s what it is: Although whilst I say this, it doesn’t soften –
Time is what I need, the future’s where I travel, but I’ll be back here often,
I just need to once again find my drive, my energy, my hope and my heart:
Slowly but surely, I’ll splutter back into motion and restart.
Until then: I’ll be crying in the dark.