Ariadne’s Thread by Joseph K

A labyrinth is not like a maze – but both can drive anyone to the depths of despair, exhaustion and even destruction. A labyrinth’s end is its centre and even on finding that point, you still need to find your way back out. A maze requires you to find your way out at a different place from where you began.

It was relatively mild for that time of year, late February 2012, when he hurriedly left what should have been for him a routine visit to the dental hospital and then started to negotiate the traffic, the people, the uniforms, the infirm, and the smokers. They all seemed to represent an obstacle course that was hindering him from seeing the specialist at the clinic whose name had been written down on a flimsy piece of paper. Elevators, stairs, escalators – just get to the right department, was all he was aiming for. There was something unnerving about passing the Chapel as he followed the signs to the clinic. Was he meant to start praying? Was he going to die? When?
They had been expecting him. They were totally on his side and they said the routine tests done at the dentists were a blessing in disguise. This was a bombshell and bombshells are not blessings in disguise when the first bomb drops. Now he knew at least that he had been diagnosed with HIV. Now he knew that his life had changed forever. But was he in despair? Maybe inexplicably he wasn’t. He had a steady job that he enjoyed doing and the consultant and nurses had explained the manageability of his condition as opposed to if this had been happening to him 30 years or so ago. So, he was not in that bad a place after all.

Everything can be managed, he thought. But things change, life changes. The death of a loved one, the mind-games of keeping his status a secret, the muddle and juggle his diary had become with new appointments, doctors to see. All in all, his life had become something of a labyrinth and, whilst manageable, it was fragile. Which is how he got ill, became frail that following winter. It was not the condition, but other debilitating illnesses, colds, influenzas, overall fatigue and malaise that had rendered him incapable of working anymore and steered him towards unchartered territories – welfare, benefits, housing associations, council tax, empty fridges. Now it was all about which way forward? Where to turn? If there was a future? Right, left or straight on?

“You have to call this number!”, “You can’t use these phones!”, “You have to wait!”, “You need these forms!”, and “You must see Messrs. X, Y, and Z!” The barking, the rushing, the shunting and the jostling – and above all the coldness and sheer rudeness. The silence, the wall. He had read Kafka, he knew the story of the Minotaur and he had heard of Chinese water torture. Nothing could be worse than this, he thought. His condition had made him vulnerable perhaps, but it was not the cause of this maze of confusion in his life and in his mind. What was this system and why was it not helping him? What was he steadily being sucked into? How could he get out?

It is often said that time waits for no man. Well, sometimes, it is time that will play the largest of all sum parts in the eventual solution to a problem. If you wait long enough, the word arrives that will solve the puzzle, the maze that is life’s labyrinthine crossword.

Most people need help and a bit of luck in life. Of course, the nurses, doctors, clinicians and health professionals had been remarkable and essential to his physical and mental recovery. But it was the support organisation and its various, experienced staff members who had been equally if not more essential in changing things for him.

So labyrinths and mazes! The system that was not a system would eventually be overcome by time and the Ariadne’s thread that is the support, guidance and experience of organisations like Sahir House.

He is now in a better place by far. But he cannot help but think and be thankful that this had not happened to him 30 years ago or THEN as he calls it. His THEN was just over two years ago. His NOW is much a product of that time and the years in between, something for which the writer of this piece is eternally grateful.

©2014 Joseph K