The reason

I’m kinda antsy about people coming into my house. Like I have this nice idea of myself some time in the future just welcoming all of these friends new and old into my beautiful, inviting, spacious home and generously sharing my bounty with them all in whichever way is appropriate. But, truth is, right now, if almost any of them turned up at my door today they’d be greeted with a deer-in-highlights expression and a shaky oh, er, do you want to come in?

Why? Because my house is a reflection of myself and that self is barely bridled chaos. And I spend most of my leisure time at my desk in my bedroom, so unless I have a specific reason to go look at it, I don’t even notice how dishevelled my living room is. Don’t get me started on the kitchen that I pathologically refuse to engage with. I live in fear of having to invite someone into it and suddenly being faced with untold pandemonium.

I’d liken it to getting caught with my pants down, but – fun fact – I recently learned I’m nowhere near as embarrassed by that as someone coming into my unprepared home.

So, why can’t I just be comfortable with the fact that I’m a mess and my house is a mess? Well, I’ve figured out at least one pretty compelling reason. The other day my mother visited and when she came into the partially tidied living room she said dramatically “woah, it’s pretty tidy in here, you feeling alright?”, which is completely standard fare – she is guaranteed to either dismay that I haven’t tidied enough or feign concern for my health if I have. It’s very witty. But then it was like, for the first time in her life, she heard what she was saying and said “do I sound like grandma?”, and I said “no, you just sound like you.”

And it was then we both realised she’s the reason I don’t like having people in my house.

I’m exaggerating. But, yeah, kind of.

Blanket inhibition

I attended a writers’ talk this evening and, while I was listening, a few questions bubbled up that I wanted to ask. But the time for questions didn’t come until the end. By which point I’d forgotten all but one, and I was second-guessing whether it was relevant, whether it was a question that would contribute to the discussion, whether it mattered, whether it was selfish…let alone how to word it. So I didn’t ask it.

I had made the decision on my way there that I would ask a question because it was a show of support to the writers giving the talk. But I rationalised not asking the question because I thought no one would be interested in the answer except me, or maybe the writers wouldn’t want to answer it because it was a bit sticky.

The thing is, this sounds like anxiety. And in past similar situations, it’s felt very much like anxiety. But I’m beginning to believe it’s fabricated anxiety. The underlying problem, if I excavate my psyche, was that too much time had passed for me to be connected to the question anymore. At the point in the talk where I got curious, I had to stop myself interjecting or raising my hand to ask it there and then, and I was disappointed and frustrated that I couldn’t, but this is such a common occurrence for me that I didn’t even notice it until I came to write this post. By the time I was able to ask questions, it didn’t feel important anymore. But I knew that I’d decided that it was important, at least enough to ask, so I was rifling through the sock drawers of my mind trying to find a justification compelling enough to sway me. And I found plenty of justifications, but they were all for different things.

For a long time I had assigned my timidity when it came to asking questions to the bracket of social anxiety or shyness. I’m realising more and more how much it seems to be a feature of my unofficial ADHD. For many years I’ve had to repress my natural inclinations in order to conform to society’s expectations. But while I got very good at blanket inhibiting the ‘wrong’ response, I’ve never gotten all that good at the ‘right’ one. I often understand what it is, but I almost just as often still fail to execute it. This created a sad vacuum of inaction in my life that I’ve harboured a great deal of shame for, and while I’ve been working to deconstruct both the vacuum and the shame cage around it for over two years now, I still don’t fully understand its mechanisms.

If only I could have accepted I was different, instead of convincing myself I was worse.

If only we could all.

Sifting sharp pieces

Something I have realised I need to do some serious work on right now is owning my mistakes, missteps and failures more authentically.

I instinctively absorb blame whenever a situation doesn’t go as I’d like. Because of this, and because of the story that blame creates in me, I will ruminate over how to make it better, and how to be better, endlessly, if the wiser part of myself doesn’t intervene. But I am also so cripplingly ashamed of being at fault that I dare not speak it. I want to fix the problem, fix myself, and never make the same mistake again, so I can move on and never have to look at how wrong, and thus unloveable, I was in that moment.

This creates a strange dichotomy whereby my inner world is swirling with blame and shame and deep remorse, usually far outweighing the requirements for the situation, while my outer facade dances around the admission of guilt, and clings to all the reasons why it both wasn’t so bad and wasn’t all my fault. I’m suffering enough, I don’t need you to add to it.

And that’s entirely right; I don’t. But what I’m learning that I do need is a space to openly admit the exact boundaries of my failings; to examine them with considerate and compassionate eyes, and to find validation that they don’t in fact make me the terrible monster my shame would gleefully tarnish me as.

There aren’t many people in the world, I don’t believe, who can hold space for that kind of deconstruction of events, particularly in the throes of conflict, so it’s not that I should try to do this the in the raw, unfolding moment. But I’d probably be better served removing myself before I start to hear the defensive claims of victimhood or rationalisation gush from my lips. Take a breath, take a step back, save it for later. Save it for a space where I can tip all the failings onto the floor, and sift through for the pieces that are mine.

And then fucking loudly announce to the world which pieces are mine, and revel in the freedom of the proclamation.

A mild quarrel

I had plenty of sleep last night, and woke up feeling lively. My son and I danced, and made stamp pictures, and talked about Pokemon, and were out earlier than usual to get some things to supplement our breakfast from the local shop, which we then enjoyed as a sort of mini morning picnic on our picnic step close to where I alarmed some passers-by the other day. I was having a lovely time.

And then it all changed. And not because something terrible happened. But because I was involved in what was, probably, from the outside, a mild quarrel, but what my brain perceived as me being accused of being such a terrible mother and all round person that it was barely believable.

I won’t be so uncouth as to go into further detail, but it’s fair to say that, while my brain had plenty of fodder saved up to fuel that interpretation for me, it probably wasn’t what was actually happening, and even if it was, my body did not need to take it so personally.

I always feel ashamed when my trigger gets pulled. For being so weak as to allow it. Giving someone that kind of power over me is a deeply troubling occurrence. But I also get inarticulate and kind of stupid; I lose all the faculties that my most primitive sense of self-worth is attributed to.

The shame is compounded when my son is a witness. Yuck, I never want him to see me like that. Disempowered. Reactive. Defensive. Small. I want to be able to lead him by example through difficult conversations with equanimity, compassion, curiosity, and integrity. In those moments, I fall woefully short of the standards I strive towards. I worry that all the good work I have done will be somehow undone in a moment of weakness.

I am fairly confident this shame spiral is an over-reaction. I am fairly confident that – based on everything I know about trauma, shame, people – if I was an outsider looking in, I would deem it a gross over-reaction. But I’m not an outsider looking in.

I have spent the day trying to recover from this fucking mild quarrel where nothing particularly bad happened. Luckily (or maybe unluckily), it happened on a Sunday, when my only expectations of myself were to run and to write. There was plenty of time to dig in.

I can always tell when I’ve been thrown out of myself because I roam the house looking for anything and nothing. I also do this when I’m excited, but when I’m excited the roaming is an attempt to regulate the surge of energy coursing through me. When the gun’s been fired I’m looking for something to fill the void where the bullet once was. I caught myself doing this within minutes of being left to my own devices, at about half eleven this morning. It took me until half nine tonight to get myself back.

And I am back. I’m good. If that’s what it took then that’s what it took. It used to take longer. Be nice if it didn’t take anything.

The Next Source

My friends organised a virtual murder mystery party the other night, and I was assigned a flamboyant celebrity character to embody for the night. And, not long into the night, I thought, yes, I’ve missed this.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about certain aspects of myself that I have disowned over the years. One of which being my attention-seeking, overtly unconventional, indulgently outrageous aspect. It used to be that I couldn’t help being that way, but being that way brought me so much pain, in the form of shame and self-hatred, that I eventually quashed it. I made myself less. I made myself smaller. I made myself easier to tolerate. It’s such a common fucking story that it’s hardly worth telling.

I thought the attention-seeking and the outlandishness were the wrong part. I thought the shame and self-hatred were caused by them. So I toned down the former and, indeed, the latter subsided.

In the subsequent years, I began to understand it was the shame and self-hatred that were, in fact, the problem, and over time I worked on them and, one way and another, disentangled myself from their grasp.

But, even though I still considered the playful rebel an intrinsic part of my identity, I couldn’t even admit to myself the extent to which I had diminished it. If I have ever fully embraced that side of myself, it could only have been in early childhood, because as far back as I remember, the reckless abandon, exaltation and satisfaction of its expression were always followed by excruciating self-consciousness and remorse, that prematurely cut them dead.

I believed, very potently, that it made me a bad person to indulge my desires so openly. And I also thought that maybe it shouldn’t. And I also didn’t want other people to think that I believed that it made me a bad person. I wanted them to believe that I didn’t care. I wanted to believe that I didn’t care. But I cared with such exquisite clarity that it gradually immobilised me.

I have been trying to unfuck myself for such a long time. My entire life’s endeavour has been trying to unfuck myself. And it’s funny, really, how the source of the fuck has been so very elusive all these years. I’ve tiptoed down so many shady back-alleys and climbed down so many winding ravines, tirelessly searching for the source of the fuck. There is always another source of the fuck. Like a desert mirage, the source of the fuck is always just out of reach.

To locate the next source of the fuck, I must first embrace my brashest, bluntest, boldest tendencies. I have been actively avoiding this my entire adult life. It’s been a limit I’ve been unwilling to cross, even though I’ve known I needed to. Because I don’t fucking want to. And I really fucking want to. And it’s all just very confusing.