After a month and a half of taking a number of things into our own hands (roof garden irrigation installation, concrete floor finishes, more land clearing etc.), I have discovered with alarm that I’m verging on the edge of not caring anymore. I don’t really want to know that the windows supplier didn’t come when they said they would or that the front end loader hasn’t levelled the earth where the geothermal system collectors need to be laid. Truly I just want to open my eyes and it’s all done. I wish I could summon the bright-eyed enthusiasm of almost two years ago when the simple process of excavation seemed implausibly awesome. It’s a temporary state – of that I’m very sure – and it made me think of the five phases of grief * (wonder why). Maybe knowledge is power, so here, in an effort to aid other unsuspecting victims of the building process, are the phases of building as I see it:
Phase 1: Wonderment & boundless energy
Considering what I know now, I declare this the most delusional phase. You’re going to think it’s all good and fantastic and the excavated hole in the ground alone will fill your head with visions of enjoying a glass of wine with your handsome, sophisticated friends on the perfectly finished outdoor dining area. You’re also going to think your budgeting is fine and that you’re in control. Yeah, ha! Enjoy it, it won’t last.
Phase 2: Hey, what about…?
Once building is well under way (or so you think anyway), you can’t help but think of 1001 options. We’re talking details, plans, research and a ludicrous number of impractical ideas. Invariably sentences in your household start with something like: What about this? I was thinking this would be cool… and How about if we…? At this point you may think you’re terribly clever with all your funky ideas, but you’ll soon discover that not everyone shares your enthusiasm. In short, you’re driving them crazy.
Phase 3: Insanity reversed
Just as you drove the architects and builders and suppliers crazy in phase 2, they’re generously rewarding you now with a healthy dose of insanity-inducing behaviours of their own. This is the phase when you start waking up in the middle of the night and ask yourself: seriously, what were we thinking? This is probably also the point where the European country you’ve chosen as your new home, experiences recession wave number three and number four is on the way. Remember that time when you woke up in a cold sweat after dreaming your wedding dress had transformed itself into a hot pink mess? It’s like that, only it happens night after night after night…
Phase 4: Denial with a hint Anger
You soldier on, but now your sentences start with “I can’t believe…” or “That’s incredible” and quickly regress to “That’s just irritating, inconvenient, ridiculous, poor, cheeky…” You’ve run out of goodwill and you reckon positive thinking is for fools. You’re forced to repeat details again and again and you wonder if you’re the only one who has a medium-term memory or if perhaps the nightmare that started in phase 3 has still not come to an end. You’ve always had the propensity to employ a curse word or two when appropriate, but things change drastically in that department too. It’s a good thing your more decorous family and friends aren’t around to see you in this state. It’ll pass, but it’s ugly.
Phase 5: Fatigue
It doesn’t feel possible to explain to just how tired and empty you feel. Your move-in date has been moved twice already and the real one is as elusive as balanced budget in Europe. You don’t care, because that would require energy. You forget things you’ve always known. It’s the same feeling you had when you first realised that that one thing you’ve always yearned for, is really and truly not happening. Ever. Somewhere you read the word “despair” and you start crying. Or laughing. This is also the phase when you should expect the occurrence of a few domestic or family crises. Things, and by things I mean &%$# things, just wouldn’t be complete without them.
Who knows what follows phase 5. If indeed anything follows it. We’re not there yet. Maybe it’s back to delusion and we’ll repeat the whole, evil cycle again, or maybe it’s exactly like the last phase of mourning: acceptance. But doesn’t that sound a hell of a lot like defeat?
Whatever the real state of affairs on your building site, the only thing I know is this: you’ll find that from somewhere in the depths of your depression a bubble of irrepressible hope will rise. It’s probably wise to suppress it, because while there are many (clichéd, extremely irritating but possibly true) sentiments about how hope sustains us and costs us nothing, it’s far safer to keep in mind that hope, just like the average builder, also prolongs the torment of man.
*five phases of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance