As I was going up the stairs,

I met a man who wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today.

I wish that man would go away.

He sets his alarm to get up at seven o’clock, but frequently oversleeps.  So he starts the day fed up and low.  Despite good intentions, he has failed again.  Then he starts on the work.  He checks through all his emails and tries to clear the box.  This takes him three hours.  Next, he scans his utility bills and converts them to electronic files so that they can be stored.  Then he catalogues his photographs, converting the old prints to digital files. ‘My aim’, he tells me, ‘is to clear away the clutter from my life.  I am constantly on e-Bay trying to get rid of stuff I no longer use.’ 

He is now employed just one day a week for the company.  Last year, when he was full time, he worked until 10 or 11 o’clock every night in order to clear the day’s tasks, but it made him ill.  He felt tired all the time and his bowels were upset. He was constantly working against a resistance and faced with his own failure. He just didn’t want to do it. 

A challenge to work more creatively just seems to confirm his sense of inadequacy. ‘‘When I am asked to find a solution for a problem, I avoid it.  It makes me feel uneasy. It  and it is safer to clear my inbox. But I get away with it. Nobody could ever accuse me of not working.  I work very hard.  I will never be made redundant, but I don’t do anything.  I know it’s completely futile, but it makes me feel better.’ 

I told him that it sounded like a defence against depression.  ‘Yes, I was depressed when I was a child.  My mother used to make me help her with the housework to get me out of it.  So nowadays, it’s easier to focus on meaningless tasks like emptying the dustbins than engage with anything. 

‘I think’, he said in a rare moment of inspiration, ‘it’s can be a defence against thinking.’    

Yes, he’s right, I thought (and he is certainly capable of thinking).  To think about something, you have to get your mind round it, you have to engage, you have to commit mental energy.  But he rarely engages.  He is fearful of it.  He recently enrolled in a university course on nutrition but left after six weeks.  He has lived with his girl friend for six years but hasn’t got engaged, hasn’t made a commitment.  He works on his computer most nights instead of sitting with her and they rarely go on holiday.

It’s not that he lacks social skills or intellectual ability.  It’s more that he fears commitment.  He finds it difficult to trust people, to trust himself with people.  It seems that if he allows people close, they will find out how inadequate he feels and the humiliation would be too much to bear.  So he doesn’t think, he doesn’t engage.  He is bored and depressed, but is too frightened to get out of his prison.      

And with me, he has the perfect defence.  He agrees eagerly with my assessment and  endorses it with a sense of triumph, smiling, as if to say.  ‘Yes, but you can’t get to me, I already know. And I will never change.’ 

He’s not daft!