“needful pretence then bravery, honesty & words is what we do here & did then.”

I’ve been unable to write here for some time.

Infact, I’ve been feeling utterly uninclined to write, full stop, for almost four months. Words seemed to turn to dust in my brain and settle sludgy up in the wet matter. Which is a massive shift since I’ve been a wordy thing since I was little.

The slow erosion of my wordiness started in October when I was teaching up in Scotland and feeling a bit under the weather. That fluey feeling persisted and melded with an increasing amount of anxiety and uncertainty about what I was feeling or what was going on in my body. Where before I would write and journal or talk and things would settle, it was like someone had flipped a switch in my brain. I lost my bearings. I would calculate that I should eat by the time on the clock but not by the feeling in my belly. I would sleep but very fitfully, waking up with no sense of having slept at all. I would feel things under a sheet of leaded mental glass. Getting things done became very wearisome. Other people became unbearably demanding. I became very antisocial.

If one of my clients had come to me with these symptoms I might have assumed that they were depressed. But I have had experience of depression and I KNEW that I wasn’t depressed and I felt instinctively that something physical – possibly brainy – was out of kilter.

However, I lost my certainty. I wasn’t at all sure if I wasn’t just imagining things. The shift seemed gradual. So gradual that I couldn’t never quite see if things had gotten worse or better. It took a friend staying and reflecting back my very erratic behaviour to make me visit my GP. After blood tests, I was diagnosed as hypothyroidal. Unusual in a man and in someone my age.

What is astonishing in the change I feel since I started taking thyroxin (which acts like the body’s starter motor) is that an organic change – a shift in chemistry – can have such a profound effect in how we experience the world.

My confidence (in teaching, in therapy) that there is consensual reality that we can all talk about has been left wobbling like jelly. Most of my meditative ‘wisdoms’ felt like so much irritating dust and needless needling when I was unwell. They were meaningless when I was in that desert place. If I had been teaching myself back then I would be irritating the hell out of myself. I wonder now how can I ever know from which chemical / organic platform my clients or students or friends are listening to me?

I wrote in a poem 23 years ago about that imponderable gap in terms of language:

i push out a word.
it floats in the air
between us.

to me it looks blue.

but my blue is your red
& so i say:
“it’s blue.”

you nod.

But actually there is a bigger divide than just words. What I experienced in those four weeks of thyroid-desert was a different self experience. I was a different Alistair. The world felt different, my brain felt different, time flowed differently. So how can we ever know what other people are experiencing when we say something, when we reach up and touch them in some way? If I can be so different within the same body, how can we ever really know what’s going in someone else’s skin?

The one great benefit – I’m tapping around for positives as the neuronal lights come back on – is that I have HUGE empathy now when people say “I’m not sleeping well” or “I’m not feeling myself” or “I’m on meds” . I am much less likely to ASSUME what is going on across the room, which is a terrible temptation as a therapist or a teacher. I hate to turn everything into a little life lesson – but there’s also no point in tipping 120 days experience into a bin bag marked “TOXIC”.

That poem continues:

i write “flower”
but you read it “flower”
meaning something
very different.

i fall apart.

wish me joy in trying
because poems do nothing
but push a pencil
into a creepingly spastic


  1. alina

    January 26, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    Ah Alistair, I am so sorry to hear that you’ve been ill.
    But it all comes down to chemicals in the end, doesn’t it?
    Our soul is produced by the organic matter. I’ve been trying to show this to the ‘desert’ friends of mine recently, but all I hear in return is ‘inshallah’ and somehow life loses its full dimensions and smells and colours. So I hope your life will be full of colour and that I will see you and learn from you soon, dear Alistair 😉

  2. Brian

    January 27, 2013 at 12:39 am

    Hi Alistair,
    One of the great mysteries is how our personal hormones and chemicals (and genetic codes) can create such complex persons. There is a great novel (written by a man!) about a cloistered nun who had great visions, and out of her visions was able to write great poetry that brought her order great acclaim, but in the end she had a brain tumor. When the tumor was removed, the visions stopped and her religious ecstasy was no more. The book is called “Lying Awake” by Mark Salzman. I have not given away the true power of the book, and it is beyond the basic premise and story. The big dilemma you describe is exactly what is addressed in the book. I’m glad you are feeling better (and are writing again).

  3. Martha Mc

    January 27, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    Hello Alistair,

    I am so sorry to hear about what you have been going through the last few months.The anxiety and uncertainty that you have been feeling…and the way you have with words to describe what was going on in your thoughts,take me back 30 years.I am so glad that ..if nothing else.. that you had a diagnosis,that could help you get the necessary treatment.
    Alistair..it is such a shock when suddenly your body is not able to do what you expect of it.The anxiety is extreme…and that alone is debilitating.Your brain is in a fog ..and as you say..its as though someone has flipped a switch.

    It happened to me 30 years ago. I was a young wife and mother of 2 babies. I was also a registered nurse.I was at the best time in my life .. and suddenly .. it was as though the the life went out of me.
    NO diagnosis for 12 years !! Blood tests revealed nothing.
    My GP told me for 12 years that I was a “Basket Case”..and eventally believed it.
    After 12 years..I was diagnosed with ME and Fibromyalgia.
    I have for a long time now ,been housebound.

    I went through all you describe…and I know Alistair that you were anxious and probably frightened.
    You word it all so well. I cannot do what you can do ,with words.I think deeply. Someimes dark thoughts.. though often cheerfull. But when it comes to expressing myself verbally , a fog descends and blocks the very things I need to express myself.
    I apologise for talking about my self…I was prompted by your own words “how can we ever really know what’s going in someone else’s skin?”

    I am so glad you posted this entry in your blog Alistair .. and your inner self shines through, as you typically look for the benefits that might come from you illness and experience. Its so unfortunate that this had to happen to you ,But this ,I am convinced you will draw on .. and as the saying goes..”Until you have walked a mile in my shoes….” Well,now Alistair ,you have.

    I selfishly,so hope you will continue to have the time and energy to update your blog,when you feel able. I so So look forward to your entries.

    My very best wishes to you,Alistair,in every way .

  4. ST

    January 27, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    I thought you was going through writer’s block and just could not put your thoughts to words. I am glad the doctor found what the problem was and will get you on the right track again. I have misssed your writing since it always makes me think about myself and things that touch my life. Looking forward to more essays and your photos.

    Hope you have a great 2013 year.

  5. ECH

    January 30, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    As someone who for a year went undiagnosed with an under active thyroid (15 years ago) I can completely understand how you were feeling and I am glad you are now stronger and feeling better. Your words about feeling like a different person resonate with me and especially now as I have been off work for a five weeks with pneumonia(came totally out of the blue)and all those feelings re-surfaced. It is very hard for people to understand that one minute you can be doing your full time job and all the other things that make up your day to day life and suddenly you feel so ill you cannot eat or be bothered with anything, can’t even pick up a book…of beautiful poetry. Wishing you well.

  6. Vanessa

    February 12, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    Hi Alistair
    I have read your blog now & again for some time now & loved your poems & the way you write, & your pictures. I have never been very good with words & expressing myself, so I admire anyone that can.
    What made me want to comment on this blog was that when I was reading it I knew exactly how you was feeling & I felt as if you were describing the way I felt about 3 years ago & I thought you could possibly have hypothyroidism. When I carried on reading it confirmed my thoughts were correct.
    I am a Hairdresser & in my job obviously have to be very sociable to people but inwardly I wanted to shut myself away & not speak to people because everyone seemed to want a part of me & seemed so demanding, it was almost as if I had to wear 2 heads…one for work & the other when I got home feeling so tired & couldn’t be bothered to do things & wanting to be on my own away form people & to tell the world outside to go away.
    I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism & proscribed Thyroxine . The doctor said my Thyroid was so under-active she didn’t know how I had walked to the Doctors Surgery!!. Like you said, it is amazing how suddenly you start to feel back to normal after taking Thyroxine, it took a while to get the correct dosage but now I feel a lot better.
    People never know what other people have to go go through in all walks of life or how they feel unless they have gone through it themselves & I suppose we should learn from this & become stronger ourselves & better people.
    Take care of yourself, keep a check on your Thyroid & you will feel a lot better soon & be back to your former self… & I look forward to reading more of your blogs & seeing you on Escape to the Country.
    Oh & Happy Birthday too!! 🙂

  7. Jill

    February 15, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Stay well Alistair you seem a very warm and empathetic person- and the world needs people like you. Shine on.

  8. Julie

    February 16, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Hi Alistair,
    Just watched an old episode of Escape…. which led me to google you which led me to your website… I feel drawn to reply to your latest blog…
    I can empathise with you, as someone who a couple of years ago, was quite emphatically “told” by my body to stop doing what I was doing and I developed Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, depression, which floored me completely, having been so energetic and active. Two years later having discovered alternative therapies, meditation and energy medicine and energy psychology I have begun to understand what my body was doing and am in the process of weaning myself off medication (with my consultants blessing). I believe there is a subconscious reason why your thyroid stopped working. It is good that you feel stronger and better but (and forgive me for writing this I do not intend to tell you what to do) but there maybe subconscious reasons for your body reacting the way it did and it may help to look at this and what was going on in your life at the time… what stresses, anything you were doing you were not comfortable with… it is just a thought… no a belief of mine. I found during meditation that the power of the subconscious can still block your conscious awareness. I have used Psych K, and Emotional Freedom Technique (Tapping), both great clearing modalities.

    Meantime I love your poetry and it feels good that I have discovered another side to you (not just escape to the country presenter!)… I wish you well

    Julie x

  9. Luis

    February 18, 2013 at 4:47 am

    A big hug to you and will send out positive vibes your way in my yoga practice.

  10. Marta

    February 19, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    I hope you are getting better now and that you will feel all the good energy your readers sent you.
    Do not give up!

    Your photos and poems gave me a lot of good thoughts and I also wished to thank you for this.

    All the best!

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