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Stories to keep you awake at night

Updated on March 30, 2015


The definition of ENNUI in the dictionary is: Mental weariness from lack of occupation or interest. And: listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from boredom. (Concise Oxford Dictionary).

Or: A feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction: languor or emptiness of spirit: Tedium, boredom. (Webster’s 3rd New International Dictionary).

That is the definition, but that’s not what it means.

It is a slow and silent agony. It is the feeling that drop by drop my life is draining away. Somewhere there is a hole, a tear, a cut. I don’t know where it is and even if I did I still wouldn’t know how to fix it. I know that something has gone horribly wrong with my life. I don’t know why or how, but I do know there is nothing I can do about it. Nothing ever seems to go right, everything is a struggle. Just when I start to think that everything is going well, everything starts to go wrong. My hopes and dreams are constantly being frustrated and thwarted by an invisible force that I can’t feel, see, touch or smell but I know is there because it keeps pushing me into the gutter all the time and because it keeps tripping me up making me stumble and fall. I am losing. Everyone seems to be succeeding while I’m failing. Men half my age and with only half of my intelligence and even less education than me drive around in BMW’s while I still take the bus to work. What’s even worse, I live in poky little flat exactly like the one I lived in when I was a student twenty years ago. They are successful but I am a mere clerk. Boys, boys mind you, are being promoted over me and do the work that I know I can do and do better than them and yet my abilities and experience are ignored. Every man I know has a woman in his life; a wife, a partner, a girlfriend. But I haven’t kissed a girl in years. I like women and some women even like me and yet I do everything in my power to avoid them and in the end they avoid me too. I wish that didn’t happen, but the fact is I let it happen.

I suffer from a constant and persistent lethargy. My mind just doesn’t seem to work. My brain just cannot rouse itself. Nothing is of interest. There was a time when I was passionate about; football, reading, film and theatre and in travelling and expanding my mind by studying foreign languages and learning about music and architecture. But now I don’t do any of these things because I just can’t see the point. There was a time when I enjoyed debated politics, religion, global warming, football and art with my family, my friends, work colleagues and with people I just happened to bump into at the pub. But I don’t do that now because I don‘t care anymore. I haven’t seen my parents in years, I ignore my friends and I have stopped bumping into strangers at the pub because I have stopped going to the pub.

I sit at home on the settee hour after hour in a mental and physical torpor. I’m bored and yet I can’t be bothered to do anything about it. So, I just sit there like a rock unable to stir Even waking up in the morning is too much effort. I open my eyes and I feel weary. Even waking up drains me. I stand up and I feel my body start to sag. I know I should stand up straight and look the world in the eye but I know I can’t do it anymore because inside I am empty. All the optimism and hope I once had has drained away.

I don’t care about anything or anyone. Nothing touches me. I know it’s not healthy and I know it’s wrong. But it doesn’t matter to me. To be a human being you need to feel empathy with your fellow man, even with the fools and idiots. But Humanity just passes me by. I don’t want to meet people. I don’t want to talk to them. I don’t want to listen to them. I don’t need other people. There is no sensation when I’m in the company of other people. All I want to do is get away from them. Being in the company of other people bores me, it exhausts me. I don’t care about them. The things that interest and excite them bore me. Their enthusiasms annoy me. Someone dies and the whole world cries, except me. The whole world laughs, but I don’t. The whole world rises up in righteous indignation at poverty, injustice and moves mountains to try to end it. But I do nothing because I feel nothing. The suffering of others doesn’t touch me. I try to care, I try to force yourself into believing that it does matter to me but it isn’t long before I give up. Inside me there is only a void, a vacuum. The emotion of living has left me. I feel nothing.

They say that growing up is hard but they are wrong; growing old is harder. When you are young you can dream about the great future ahead of you and imagine all the wonderful things you will do with your life. But one day you realise that you are old and that your future is behind you. When you are young you have so much to look forward to but when you are old there is nothing to look forward to anymore. You can already see your tombstone on the horizon. Sometimes on my way to work on the bus I am tempted to just sit there and not get off and let it take me to an unknown destination I will never reach. But I don’t do that either. I’ve given up. I live in a constant state of physical and mental exhaustion. I wonder if I can carry on. I ask myself if I even should carry on. Life has become such a struggle and living has become such an effort and I have so little strength left. I don’t even have enough strength left to end it. So I do nothing and let myself slowly rot and do nothing to stop it. I am tired of life. I have no more fight left. All I really want to do is lay down and shut my eyes and hope and pray for everything to just stop and go away.

And so I continue to suffer and endure in my hopeless struggle desperate for it to end and terrified of how much longer I will have to bear this pain. I have no Will. I have no power to act. I no longer have the ability to resist. I am lost. It is over.

The definition of ENNUI in the dictionary doesn’t tell you the half of it. There is more to it than that.


It is July. It is cold and raining hard. I’m walking along Fieldhouse Terrace on my way home. As I pass the newsagents on the corner of the street my eye is caught by a rather interesting little advertisement on a card in the window. I stop to take a closer look. It reads: “Sex change. Reasonable rates. Ask inside for details.” I’m intrigued so I go inside the newsagents to find out more. The man behind the counter tells me to take the no 61 bus to the cross-roads and get off at the motor cycle shop. Then I was to cross the street and go right into the second-hand book shop and ask for ‘Bob’. I thank him and instead of going home I follow his directions.

Inside the second-hand bookshop it is dark and smelly. I walk along the bookshelves for a minute or two before I spot a man sitting behind a counter in a corner where he is reading a newspaper and warming himself in front of a small electric fire. He looks to be around 35 years old . He has long black hair down to his shoulders which is already starting to go grey. He is unshaven. He is wearing a dirty sweater and a pair of torn jeans. I don’t like the look of him at all.

‘Excuse me, but I’m looking for someone called Bob?’

‘That’s me.’

‘It’s about the Ad. You know? The one in the newsagents window?’

Bob nods and rises to his feet and lets the newspaper slide onto the floor. He reaches under the counter and pulls open a drawer and hands me a bottle full of little blue pills.

‘Take these three times a day for a week and then come back and see me.’

It is still cold and raining when I return to the second-hand bookshop seven days later. As I enter Bob waves me over to where he is standing at the back of the shop. He tells me to go up the stairs and through the doors at the top. I do as I’m told and I make my way up the dark and narrow stairway treading carefully on the worn out carpet and using my hands to feel for the walls and steady myself. I open the door at the top of the stairs and walk into a very small room with nothing in it except a small mattress on the floor. Bob comes in behind me and tells me to take my trousers off and lie down on the mattress while he goes out to fetch his tools. I am ready when he returns holding a chisel and a hammer in his hand. He asks me if everything is ‘okay’ and I nod nervously.

‘Right then, lets get started,’ he says in a businesslike manner and kneeling down beside me he begins to examine my right leg prodding and poking it with his fingers just below the knee.

‘What are you doing?’ I ask.

‘You want to be a girl don’t you?’

‘Well yes. But…’

‘But what?’

‘But what are you going to do exactly?’

‘Make your legs longer of-course. If you want to be a girl you will have to have long legs.’

‘How?’ I ask.


‘Yes. How will you make my legs longer?’

‘I’m going to break your legs that’s how. Just there; below the knee,’ and he points to the exact spot with a forefinger, ‘it wont hurt. It’s just a little tap that’s all.’

Suddenly I panic, ‘no one told me anything about breaking legs!’ I sit up and reach for my trousers, ‘maybe I should think about this a bit more.’

‘What for?’ asks Bob sounding annoyed, ‘it’s a very simple procedure.’

‘Oh I know but it’s a big step,’ I explained eager to justify my decision, ‘and I just want to be sure that I am doing the right thing that’s all.’

I’m so embarrassed because I know I am making a fool of myself and by the expression on his face I can tell that Bob is very disappointed in me. But to my relief he makes no attempt to dissuade me.

‘Okay,’ he says simply as he rises to his feet, ‘if that’s what you want.’

‘I…I just need more time,’ I stammer as I pull my trousers back on, ‘and besides I haven’t finished that little bottle of blue pills that you gave me last time.’

‘Well I’ll tell you what then,’ suggests Bob, ‘why don’t you finish taking those pills and then decide if you want to go ahead or not?’

‘Okay,’ I agree readily.

‘Good,’ said Bob sounding a little happier.

Outside it is still raining. I walk to the bus stop to wait for the bus. I sigh with relief confident that I have made the right decision. But you never know, perhaps I will come back when I have finished taking those little blue pills. I still think it would be quite nice to be a girl for a bit.


“At least you’ve got your health.” That’s what people say, isn’t it? But they’re right I suppose. I mean, it’s true that you don’t appreciate how important good health is until it ends in a sudden jab of pain. Ever since I was a boy I have been sick in bed with one thing or another. Every time I fell down I seemed to break something or other and if I went outside without my coat on I was sure to catch a cold; at the very least. And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been in hospital. Other boys of my age would be outside riding their bikes, fishing or playing football. And me? I’d stuck at home in bed suffering. They went to parties, learned how to drive, did crazy sports, chased girls. Me? I had to say at home in bed and make sure I didn’t exert myself. They got married, made careers and went on exotic holidays. And what would I be doing? I’d be at home while my mother made sure I was “looking after myself.” And I accepted my fate without complaint. As my mother told me and everyone she met, I was “a good boy and so brave.”

But I gradually began to realize just how much I was missing. I was lonely and bored and as I got older and grew up I begun to understand that my eagerness to really live and experience life was going to be denied to me. That made me sad and depressed and in the end it also started to make me angry: very angry. Why? I asked myself, should I accept it? Who had decided that this was going to be my Fate? It wasn’t fair. The lazy, the stupid and the wicked all live full and enjoyable lives rich with pleasure and fun. So why was I being condemned to a life of utter mindless tedium? Had I done something bad? Was I guilty of something? If so, what? And if I was being punished, then by whom? Then one day, I decided I’d had enough. I didn’t deserve this so why should I have to put up with it?

You see my problem has always been that I have a very low pain threshold. If I’m ever tortured I would talk right away, I’d be absolutely useless and I‘d tell them immediately all they wanted to know. The kind of pain I have always feared the most is the pain I can’t see or touch. When I was a child I was constantly having headaches and stomachaches. And what really upset me was that I could see no reason for the pain I was suffering. If I cut my finger or bumped my head I could understand why it hurt and I also knew that if I kissed my cut or rubbed the bump I’d feel better. But I couldn’t do that with a stomachache or a headache.

As I got older the pain and my suffering became worse. I remember once walking in town when I suddenly started to get a pain across the muscles of my stomach. The pain was so bad I couldn’t walk anymore and I was forced to crouch down on the pavement. And the pain lasted for hours and then vanished as suddenly as it had come. I have a lot of back pain as well and the only way to make that bearable is to lie down. Once or twice I’ve had agonizing crushing sensations across my chest that make it hard for me to breath. Sometimes I get a sharp pain in my colon that makes me wince and brings tears to my eyes. Most frightening of all though is that over the last year or so, when I’ve gone to bed and I just couldn’t breathe. It felt as if the moment I lay down in bed the weight of my body was crushing my lungs. It took me hours to find a position that allowed to breathe at all so that I could get some sleep. But I would always wake up a couple of hours later literally suffocating and I would have to get up and stand at the side of the bed fighting to get some air into my lungs. I was so scared because I thought I was dying and it could take thirty or forty minutes for my lungs to start working properly again. If that wasn’t bad enough I also started having problems with my jaw and teeth. For no reason at all I started to get excruciating pain in my lower jaw and along my upper gum that felt as if I was being jabbed by red hot needles.

And no one seems to have an answer as to why I am afflicted with these random bouts of pain. I’ve been to countless doctors, specialists and consultants who all have had theories and prescribed this, that and the other without result. One even told my mother that I’d “grow out of it.“ That was the years ago. And quite frankly I am fed up with waiting. I’d had enough. I couldn’t take it anymore. So, like I said I decided to do something about it. I made up my mind to fight back and show my body who is boss. If I was going to survive I had to make it clear that from now on I was in charge. What is it that the bible says?…”if thine eye offends thee then pluck it out.” Well, my body offends me.

So when I got another stomachache a few months ago instead of just suffering I did something about it. What made me so angry wasn’t just the fact that like so many times in the past the pain had started in the middle of the night and had been so severe it had woken me up. I’d had cereal for breakfast, a cheese sandwich for lunch and a pizza for tea. Nothing very unusual there. It’s food I’ve eaten a thousand times before but this time, for some unknown reason, I was in agony. My stomach had decided to behave as if it was full of rocks rubbing against my backbone. This time though I was going to do something about it and I started by giving my stomach several hard punches; as a warning that this will not be tolerated. But my stomach ignored my warning. So I decided to take matters further and getting out of my bed I went downstairs into the kitchen. I switched on the lights and went over to stand by the sink. I opened a drawer and rummaged about looking for a good sharp knife. The bread knife was too blunt and the carving knife was too big. What I needed was a knife just like this one; a knife with a 4” blade tapered into a point. I stripped off to my waist and prodded my stomach to find out exactly where the pain was at its most intense because that was obviously where I would have to make my cut.

I gripped the knife firmly and steadied myself against the sink and taking a deep breath I plunged it into my stomach just to the left of my belly button. I sliced the knife through my flesh until the hole was big enough for me to put my hand in. I then dropped the bloodied knife into the sink and gently manoeuvred my hand through the incision I had just made and wiggled my fingers to see what I would find. It actually felt like putting your hand into a pile of compost; very warm, wet and very mushy. Slowly and carefully I started to pull out handfuls of half digested food and dropped it into the sink. After I had done that several times I started to feel hungry so I knew that my stomach must be nearly empty. I turned on the cold water tap and began to wash the food I had collected from my stomach to see if I could find out what the cause of the pain. But all I found was bits of bread, pizza, vegetables and ham and other ‘odds and ends’ and there was nothing there I could see that would explain the reason for my stomach ache.

That’s what made the pain so intolerable. I remember once stubbing my toe on a table leg and it really hurt, not just a short time, but for hours afterwards. Why? All I’d done was stub my toe! Could such a small incident justify so much pain for such a long time? It made me angry and I thought, “all right if that toe wants to hurt, then I’ll get it a good reason to hurt!” So I hobbled over to the cupboard under the stairs and pulled out the toolbox and found the hacksaw and used it to cut the toe off. Now that did hurt! But I didn’t mind, because I could understand the reason for the pain.

You see, if your body misbehaves then it must be punished and I’ve learned that the only way to treat your body is with discipline. You have to be strong: it is weakness that causes pain. Sometimes my body tries to play tricks on me and when that happens firm measures need to be taken. For example, I recently went to the toilet but despite trying my hardest I couldn’t ‘go’, if you see what I mean. I could feel the sensation of piss there but nothing happened. But my body kept telling me that I needed to take a piss so when I went to the toilet why was I not able to? Why did my body tell me to have a piss and then not let me take one? I did everything I could: I tried to concentrate. I tried to relax. I tried thinking of water. I tried standing. I tried sitting. But it was no good. Nothing worked. After twenty minutes I was forced to give up and I was absolutely furious. So I shuffled out of the toilet with my trousers still around my ankles and went into the bathroom to look for the nail scissors. I gave my body one last chance to behave properly and let me take a piss but it ignored me and so I had no option but to cut my prick off. What a messy job that was! And all that blood. My God, how I screamed. But I had to do it. I didn’t have any other choice. And it was all worth it in the end, because I did manage to have my piss after all. I was determined to teach my body lesson and it had to learn that I was prepared to take any steps necessary to assert my authority over it: even if that meant cutting my own prick off.

It is important that when my body tries to make a fool of me that it understands that I am no longer willing to put up with this nonsense. Take what happened the other day for instance. I was having one of my infamous headaches but instead of taking a pill and laying down in the dark with a cold flannel pressed against my forehead I decided that it was time I took some action. The pain had started over my right eyebrow and had moved to the back of my head and the pain had then moved to the left side of my head, just over the ear. The pain was really intense too, it felt as if there were some pebbles lodged against my skull and rubbing against my brain. But this time things were going to be different. I was not going to give in to the pain and allow it to beat me. I had made my plans in advance waiting for the day when the next headache would strike. I reached under the bed and pulled out the chisel and mallet I had stored there. I then went to the bathroom and standing in front of the mirror used the chisel and mallet to break open my skull and pull it off to get those pebbles out.

I heard the doctors tell my mother that it is a miracle that I am still alive. But they don’t understand that the only reason I am alive is because I had the guts to stand up for myself. They are keeping me is a box which is totally dark and completely silent. I can’t see or hear anything. But that’s not the best part. The best part is that I have won because now I cannot feel anything.


These three stories have been selected from a collection called "Harmless Delusions" available from:


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