I used to write a lot. Too much, probably. Every single thought I ever had was published somewhere, published on paper and screens. Now, I don’t really write. It was my hobby and livelihood, and now it’s nothing. I have nothing to add.
I don’t miss it, much.
Too many words. All thrown away; wasted.
Two friends have expressed something this year, though, that made me want to write. It’s something I’ve touched upon before, recently I think, the last thing I wrote. And I want to say a little more.
We are the result of the things we did, or had done to us, or made happen, or which happened to us. We are participants and actors; we are eyewitnesses and bystanders. Sometimes we see our own lives as if we’re watching everything happen to someone else. (Sometimes that’s a way of coping. But I am getting ahead of myself.) Sometimes we see others’ lives and feel it is happening to us. When that last thing happens, it’s something that’s hard to get rid of, unless you do something about it – and what I do, better than anything else I do, is write.
Listen. I don’t have a profound insight into anything, but I am beginning to learn. One of the nice things about getting older is that you keep learning, and through it you learn about your younger self. Let me tell you what I’ve learned this year. As part of my job, (which even at this moment slips away from me, like everything slips away in time) I am lucky enough to read about other people’s stories. I hear about their lives. I have become familiar with types of experiences, types of things happening, and what happens.
But I am being too opaque. I want to hide from what I want to say. Alright, let me be clearer, and less general: I work with people who have suffered trauma. I have learned about that word and what it means. It means everything. It means mental health. It means the reason why people do things that are unexpected, unpleasant, unpredictable, out of the blue, whoa-oa. A lot of us are dealing with our reactions to some kind of trauma, small or large, a one-off or a series of events, something we did or something someone else did, something we saw or something we felt.
It doesn’t just happen when you’re young, though that can be the hardest thing to untangle, or re-tangle, if you like. It can happen when you’re so young that you don’t know what happened. You can’t remember what it is, but you find yourself, older, with a series of symptoms and behaviours that seem to be unconnected to anything else, and yet… and yet… when you read about other people who present in the same way, you start to wonder, and you start to realise it’s more than about wondering, it’s about knowing. Even if there’s no proof. Even if there’s just a subdued haze of a memory, or a feeling that you don’t want to stay with for too long, because of how it makes you feel. That was the thing, the trauma, what happened. You doubt yourself, because you aren’t sure. But it was real: because you are how you are.
I don’t need to go through all these behaviours. But you might recognise some. Some people feel a fire inside, a rage, a fury, that comes from nowhere – somewhere? – nowhere except this place that other people don’t seem to have. You spend your whole life keeping it away from sight, and manufacturing this whole human being who doesn’t have that feeling, who doesn’t have that response. What response? The need to lash out. To be scared. Spooked when there’s a sudden thing, a loud noise maybe, someone close behind you that you can’t see. You either know it or you don’t. If you do, I’m sorry. But it’s there whether I remind you about it or not. Isn’t it? And where do you go when that happens? What age do you become?
For me it is about two, maybe three years old. You can speculate on why, but it’s obvious if you think about it. I’m suddenly small. Eyes open wide, looking around. “Hyper vigilant” they call it.
It trickles through your childhood, comes out from time to time. Luckily, when you’re young, these things can be dismissed. But when you’re older, it’s more obvious who’s normal and who isn’t. Into adulthood, it carries on. How is it that you seem to be less of a “people person” than the other people you work with, in your office? How is it that you feel hot in the face, ashamed, afraid, suddenly angry, when you’re in a meeting and you feel – wrongly, it’s almost always wrongly, but you don’t find yourself able to process that at the time, in real speed – that someone else is out to get you, to humiliate you, to make you feel stupid? Do you say something stupid, raise your voice, make an ugly face that you think hides how you feel, but which everyone else can read so easily? Do you say something under your breath? Feel like you’re sabotaging your own work? Making things hard for yourself? Can’t quite get everything done, until the last minute? Make mistakes and then apologise for it afterwards, but realise that means you’re off the hook, because you never did your best anyway?
Because you don’t value yourself. You are nothing, and you have nothing. If you keep nothing, you have nothing to lose. If you try to take a risk, and have hope, and have something to gain, or work hard, or do everything you can, or open yourself up, you know what might – will – happen. The same ridicule, the same shame. The same stupid hope crept out, and hurt you again. Like you did, when you were little. Do you wanna build a snowman? Not that bit where you sing, but where you don’t even knock on the door. That’s it, right there. That’s when you know you’ve trained yourself not to hope. That’s when you’ve become what you are.
You take yourself to that place often. Fingernails stick into your flesh. If you hurt yourself, you control the pain. If you hurt yourself more than anyone else could ever hurt you, then you control the level of hurt. You are in charge. You can make yourself the person who decides what happens. But you can never decide when. You never decide when the feelings come out. It can be every day. Every morning of every day. You feel it. Every other day. A week without it. A month. A happy time, a season, a holiday.
You go back straight away.
I worked in a school, a little while ago, for children who have behavioural issues. Some people are scared in there. I was scared, but I wasn’t scared like normal people are scared. I was scared because I knew. I knew the threads that tied those children up were the ones that tie me too.
BANG. There it is. There it comes. Here it is again.
Other things happen. You might hurt yourself. Obviously, deliberately, in ways that cut you or bite you or bruise you. In other ways too, though: a disrespect for your body, making it something that can overwhelm you or kill you, making it bloated or large; making it something that’s like a giant flesh cushion to make you feel protected. Or is it protected? Is it just that the less good you feel, the less harm you feel anyone could do to you? What does that mean? You could think about that, or… you could just leave it alone. Maybe leave it alone. Don’t tug at that loose bit of skin, because you know what happens when you pull on it. You know what happens when you’re curious, when you’re small, when you want to be loved, but that love isn’t there, and something else is in its place. Do you know how that feels?
Everything is a choice. Every way we behave is a choice. Every interaction is a choice. Every moment can be a blank page. Wouldn’t that be lovely? Wouldn’t it be perfect if you could bring yourself, a bag of bones with no memory of anything that had ever taken place before, to every new situation, and treat it like a new day? Isn’t that possible? You think to yourself, of course it’s possible, and when you find it isn’t possible, it’s not because it isn’t possible, it’s because you did it wrong. You failed at it. You could have made it work, but it didn’t work, and it was what you did, and it went wrong again, and there isn’t anyone else to blame; just change. Change and it will be okay. Change and forget. Start again. Start it all again. Be someone else. Don’t be yourself. Be you, but better. Why can’t you do that? Why can’t you just imagine that thing, that thing never happened? Or things. Or whatever it was. Or however it felt. Or the things you carry around with you, inside you, that you can never get out.
Sometimes you can escape. Sometimes you can be someone else looking at you, like you’re driving yourself by remote control. Sometimes you can react as that perfect, true self, the person you dream about being, the person you are in your dreams, who is better than you, who forgets it all and just behaves the way everyone else behaves, who isn’t brittle, who isn’t always waiting for that
Sometimes, you know that the way you feel is risible and ludicrous. You know that the things you do and how you present yourself, this shambolic child that emerges every once in a while, is a mess. You know you’re a mess. It’s the knowing that makes it worse, in a way. Knowing that you want to be better. Knowing that you are better. Knowing that you are better than the things that happened to you, the things that happened, the person you were. Why must you still be the past? Why must it still keep reaching to get you, even now?
That’s all I have. I don’t have any more, for now. I don’t write, because it hurts too much. I started writing in the first place because there were things I wanted to say, to tell someone, anyone, but didn’t know how. Sometimes I hoped, in the swirl of all the words, someone would see and someone would know. We are all trying to confess something. Everyone who writes is writing a confession. We’re all working our way towards saying that thing, that hurtful thing, we just have to keep going until someone listens enough, or doesn’t interrupt, or asks a question, or simply stays with us.
I don’t think pain ever goes. But I want to find out. And I want to try.