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Online Dating Blog 72: I've found real happiness at last

When I started this blog in 2012 I was sick, I was fretful and my hair was a respectable colour. A thousand things have changed since then.

I'm writing this from my desk, where the room is warm and there is no anxiety whirring in my chest. You could say I feel safe and I haven't felt that odd sensation since I was a child at my Gran's, with Russ Abbot on TV, letting my hair dry in front of the fire. I was safe and happy, despite the flames, the dusty coal and the corny Saturday night telly.

So it's strange to let my mind wander back to 2012 and remember I had to walk to work as I was so sick with panic attacks that I couldn't board a train.

I'd get up in the chalky dawn to traipse past the sordid tenements of Glasgow's Govanhill, along wet streets of jumbled warehouses and shuttered pubs, by derelict buildings barred with metal doors then along the chilly river to spend a day in a call centre.

I'd sneak off to the locker room to swallow pills and record the frequency of my heart tremors then, at five, the same long walk home, this time in a different darkness.

And stranger still to remember how I was a slave to The Clown, that cold and cruel man. I would pin all my hope on him because it was easier to do that than work towards recovery myself. It was too hard to make myself a writer when I was gutted by mental illness.

There was forever the feeling that a party was in progress to which I wasn't invited; the party was noisy and bright with what I imagined as the glorious world to which clowns and their artistic ilk belonged.

I had no right to be in a world of creative people, but neither did I belong in the putrid rat race of the call centre. So I had nowhere to go and became racked with panic attacks and retreated behind the locked door and closed curtain.

It was then that I slowly started writing this blog to try to understand what was happening. The blog was about dating, but really it was about him, The Clown, and me, The Fragmenting, Frightened Psyche.

Even long after he had vanished, dating was still about clowns. Every man after him - Shug, KC and a few others - were all compared to him and found to be milksops, weaklings and bores.

The Clown ordered red wine, but this man drinks white, I'd notice. The Clown made that joke once, I'd think. The Clown went to university there, I'd remember. I even chose where to sit based on The Clown!

Our first date in Oran Mor had been to the right hand side of the bar, so I'd guide other dates there to the left. One whole side of the pub was shaded and tainted and claimed by The Clown. Everything was about him.

The colour of the damn sky was about him! All the men I dated and all the words I wrote were about that frozen, heartless man until - suddenly - I no longer needed him.

I began writing - and getting out of bed in the morning - purely for its own sake. I was like a child on a bike: your hand is on his back, keeping him steady then, with a wobble, he's zooming off on his own.

My nemesis, The Clown. Only the sick light of illness could have made such a man desirable and I had one hell of an illness, which cast a hot, poisonous light, making him shine. No-one else will ever crave him with that kind of untiring adoration. Everything he has in future will be limp and bloodless by comparison and that may be what he deserves.

So, have I been at the mercy of men, all this time? The Clown knocks me down and David picks me up? Maybe, but that's irrelevant now. What matters is that I am well again and free from the call centre. It doesn't matter how I got here, just that I am here. I just have to hope now that David is that rare thing: a good and honest man, and that I'm something rarer still: someone who won't squander an opportunity.

So, now my days aren't measured in how many dates or texts or Asda cut-price bouquets I receive. Happiness now is taken by words typed and articles published and books written. It's a madly insecure path and, for the moment, it's dependent on David's salary and in me developing robust qualities like determination and toughness.

It can feel like I'm living in a rickety house, where branches are rattling the windows and the roof is sagging in. All I can do is try to publish enough articles and books to prop the roof up and make it sturdy. But that's a far surer route to happiness than hoping some plate-spinner will like me.

I eventually had that meeting with the publishers and my blog was expanded and published as a book. David knew this called for a mighty celebration, trembling with magnificence, so he said the only thing he knew would fit the bill: let's go to Blackpool.

'Oh, but I can't,' I said, and stamped my foot. 'I'll never get time off work!'

David sighed and looked at the ceiling: 'Woman, you don't work there anymore.'

Oh yeah! So we get into the Noddy car and, with a jumbo bag of Maltesers on my knee, head for the blue motorway sign saying The South.

Breakfast is brought to our room the next morning and I chew on cold toast, lazily flicking through all the TV channels. For the first time in my life I'm free, I think.

I can read every book and watch every TV programme. Sky Cops! Benefit Cheats Uncut! Sky Cop Benefit Cheats Down Under - Live!

I marvel at the mad glut of chaos and variety on TV. I don't need to get up for work in the morning any more. I could spend all my time watching TV…

But Blackpool calls. The sun is shining and the bingo callers are warming up. The trams clank, the donkeys jingle and the hot doughnuts are sweltering in their paper bags, eight for £1....

THE END

PS Julie's online dating blog may be over, but she's about to begin a new role on HeraldScotland: watch this space...

PPS You can visit Julie's own website and keep up with her other writing here

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