If I could go back… knowing what I now know… making sense of it all… I think I would go back to those days when friends did so much for me, to explain to them why I was the way I was. I had some real gems of friends in those early days along the road — they remain friends to this day, although they soar high above me, having left me far behind spiritually and materially.
One of them travelled 420 miles north from Finsbury Park while I was studying in Scotland to support me during a time of difficulty. We went walking in the hills above Menstrie together, the winding River Forth shining in the afternoon sun far off in the distance. There was no nonsense in his advice for me that afternoon; he was direct and straight to the point.
Many a friend would have been justifiably frustrated by me in those days. Indeed, they would have been beginning to see me as my family had seen me before that. My emotional immaturity would have been troubling. My disinclination to do anything at all would have been exacerbating.
One friend, now an international lawyer, told me off in the final weeks of my studies in London when I admitted I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. He had had very definite plans from early on, and was determined to serve his nation. When we met him, he had already graduated with an outstanding degree in Classics from Cambridge. After we parted company, he went to Geneva for his postdoc. How our paths converged for a time: one of those miracles.
Another friend, then training to be a teacher at the Institute around the corner, tried to encourage me to get a job with him at Homebase. I declined, shrugging him off, scared of having to wear the green t-shirts of the uniform which would expose my matchstick arms to more ridicule.
A convert of Jewish descent, who had embraced the faith at around the same time as me, tried to take up the role of personal trainer, convinced that he could put muscles on my arms. Early morning, we would head up to Primrose Hill to make use of the outdoor fitness facilities, far less intimating than a gym. He’d prescribe press-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and running up and down the hill. But he would just witness my acute weakness instead.
To help me gain strength, he’d point me towards high energy protein powders, to be mixed into milkshakes after exercise. At dawn, we’d run along the South Bank together, past the Oxo Building, Globe Theatre and Southwark Cathedral, across London Bridge, and back the other way through the City, completing a two-mile loop around the Thames. But, of course, none of that could help me at all, and eventually I would be considered a lost cause.
What would I say to all of those companions who tried their very best to help me back then? Before I met them, long before my testimony of faith, my previous companions had merely prescribed alcohol to overcome my predicament: to numb and drown out all that I was. Perhaps that would have been fine had my closest friend, a decade older than me, not been a violent alcoholic with problems of his own. I guess we got on because he was as gaunt as me.
Everyone who came into contact with me would have been justified in thinking there was something wrong with me. I should have been the first to know, but I had lived with it for the whole of my life by then, so had just got used to it. Misfit. Loser. Freak. Too shy for my own good. And I had fully imbibed the notion that I was just lazy so that was how I saw myself. It was all in my power to change: I just didn’t want to. And thus did I loathe myself completely.
But of course I would eventually learn that my body had been starved of testosterone my entire life. Testosterone is required for brain development and function, long before adolescence. It affects muscle mass, bone density and cardiovascular health. It has a significant impact on behavioural traits: mood, motivation, confidence, competitiveness, positivity, attention, memory. Indeed, it is responsible for nearly everything I lacked and struggled with. It turned out the intense blues and lack of motivation were not a choice, after all.
Probably, if I could go back, I would still apologise. For them having to put up with me. For being such a burden on our friendships, beyond what was normal or expected. They really were quite extraordinary, in embracing me, where others had rejected me completely. I suppose that is the effect of faith brought to life, as in that prophetic saying, “None of you truly believes until he wants for his brother what he wants for himself.” Of course, I would say thank you. Jazakallah khair. Thanks, so much, for trying.