Writing for me has always been a source of therapy. The good gets recorded, the bad and the moments of “oh dear Lord what have I done now.” All of it is a fodder for the worlds I create and the characters who dwell in them. Last year I started real therapy, and was surprised the Hollywood image of the therapist’s couch didn’t exist. The room was small, square, with a comfy lemon leather chair. I felt a bit ripped off really.
Part of the reason I finally bit the bullet and went off to talk to someone for $200 an hour was to process a lot of negative feelings I had regarding work, life and love. I was at that stage, experiencing panic attacks. I’d never had one before. The first time I did have one, I was on a packed train, in the early hours of a September morning.
I got on the train at my station. It was 8 carriages, and by the time it had reached me, it was standing room only. There was no space. It was crammed and hot, and filled with people sitting, standing in the aisle, the vestibule. Every spare inch of the train was packed with construction workers heading into the city to begin their day.
I couldn’t breath. I thought I was going to be sick. I ended up sitting in a small corner of the corridor near the toilet. The only place I could find where I could feel the air conditioning pumping into the carriage. Nerves battled it out with nausea which seemed to be battling it’s game with the sweating that turned my suit into a wet rag. I closed my eyes, gulped my way to Hornsby. Watched the sun rising through a glimpse in the window and talked to myself in my head. Trying to soothe myself by repeating “you’re safe, you’re almost there, one more stop, it won’t be long, stay calm, breath there is plenty of air.”
When I got to Hornsby Station I felt rung out like a rag. I was drained, drenched and almost delirious. I stumbled over the stairs and into a waiting train as my body screamed at me to get off the train. To sit in the sun. To not be here. I never thought it was going to end. I’d never experienced anything like it before. It became an almost daily occurrence for a while.
Any time I was on a train that wasn’t my normal train the sweating would start. I began sucking Vapour drops so that my nose would stay clear. I began carrying a bottle of water with me on the train home. If either one of those things didn’t happen, I’d be in for hell. If I was on the wrong train, it would be considered a miracle if I didn’t get off the train at least once to find a bathroom.
So I began to see someone. A nice guy in Sydney who provided me with tools and techniques to get through the day. As the sense of panic overwhelmed me, things I’d usually shrug off became situations that demanded I shout my way out of them. Part of the reason I went to the therapist was to find a way to not self destruct, to not lose my job.
I talked about school, about being bullied for years. About the quiet mouse who jumped at his own shadow who turned into a warrior who saw slights and bullying in almost all interactions. The man who fought; to be heard, to be respected. To not be perceived as weak. I talked about work, and home and the sense of failure I carried on a daily basis.
I talked about being lonely, and about having no new friends, of a lack of trust in people. I talked politely, surface level stuff. I don’t do emotions. I haven’t in years. I’m too busy on the look out for who is going to betray me next, which knife will find a place in my back and where it’ll come from.
It’s fucking exhausting.
But I didn’t talk about the main cause of it. The betrayal I experienced almost a decade ago that haunts every interaction I have with “new” people to this day. I didn’t talk about the long term effects on my life. I didn’t sit in that comfy lemon leather cube chair and point a finger at the people who had actually caused me pain. I pointed that self-aware finger firmly at myself and blamed myself for everything.
I didn’t acknowledge that I still carry that scar, that every interaction is fed by it. I realised the other day I have made barely any new friends in nearly the past decade. I don’t trust people. Worse, I didn’t admit that I don’t trust myself. I don’t trust my judgement. I don’t trust my ability to tell loser from someone worthwhile. I didn’t admit I no longer trust my ability to get it right.
Not just with people, but with writing, work, polite social interaction. I felt possessed by an inner anger that had nowhere to go. I felt as though I was never going to “be” anything. Never going to “amount” to anything. I felt as though I had failed in the most basic of tasks, protecting myself.
As a writer you open yourself up to criticism. No writer is going to be universally adored. No writer will produce a tome that everyone is going to love. I reached the point where I didn’t write anymore. Not because it wasn’t any good, nor because I had nothing to say, but because I knew I would explode in indignation if some random on the internet gave it a 1 star review on a blog or website.
I stopped writing because I didn’t trust my voice, anymore than I trusted my judgement in people.
Yesterday I spent the 1st day of 2015 doing nothing at all. I barely moved from my bed. Watching Will & Grace re-runs on television. Last night I watched a mini-series with my mother. It was made in 1992 and I remember it from when it was first aired. It was called Jewels and was one of those lavish, late 80’s early 90’s mini-series based off a popular romance book.
The story of Jewels is one that is important to me. When I was 18, and recovering from brain surgery, I couldn’t do anything but lie about and read. One day I had run out of books to read and I was being a pain in the neck. My mother handed me a huge, emerald green covered book by Danielle Steel and she told me to bugger off and read it. So I did. Not without much whinging about being a “boy” and not liking “crap” though. I was precious.
I started to read it, and was instantly transported to a world of war, recovery and empire building. It was one of those books that stayed with me for years. When I bought mum’s Christmas present I was surprised and happy to see the mini series was included. It almost felt like someone, somewhere was taking me back to a time before I lost my faith in myself. Before I saw only what I expected to see in others.
Curled up on the lounge last night, watching the story unfold, I remembered my determination as an 18 year old with half a head of hair, and a newly minted massive scar on my head. I remembered thinking “escapism is wonderful. Not all books have to have a moral. Sometimes, escaping into a world of love, loss and redemption can be just fun.”
I don’t know that this post has a point. I guess if I reached for it, it’s that sometimes you create for yourself such a dark place that the only way out of it isn’t too look forwards and search for the light, but to return in your mind to a time when the light was already there. Grab hold of those feelings and bring them back with you to the present.
We all carry scars, battle wounds from life. It’s what you choose to do with them that counts. Do you let them control you or do you acknowledge that living a life designed to protect you from pain eventually leads to a greater pain, the source of which is yourself?
All I know for sure is that I write. It’s all I’m good at really. My novel is bubbling away. My words come, and the characters live their lives of life and death struggles. I also know that writing and working can’t be all do, not anymore. I need to put myself out there, run the risk of being human.
After all, life will continue whether I do it actively or not. Ultimately the life I end up with my be flavoured by hurts and insecurities, but it can’t be all that flavours it. If it does, then I really will waste the opportunities in front of me. You can’t live life, when all you choose to eat is stale memories. It’s time to find some new, fresh ones.