Yesterday I watched some footage of myself from fifteen years ago. We are not who we were.
The surface impression was disturbing. A face and a body I’d now love to inhabit. Yet I remember the agony of doing so. Looking good was my only compensation for a life more miserable than I could communicate. There’s no sign of the misery. She’s the party girl, full of talk, full of herself. And at every opportunity, full of drink. A person seemingly strong, even forceful, yet incredibly unstable. Little wonder she had so much trouble holding onto friendship, finding love. No wonder she provoked dislike; even hatred. No wonder she experienced men largely as predators.
Around this time, I read poetry in public for the first time. Just before I went up a man said to me ‘How can you write poetry when you’ve got no soul?’ At the time, I felt eviscerated. Watching this footage, I can understand his mistake.
She is not me. She is heading for a catastrophic breakdown. You wouldn’t know, to look at her, how much she cries in private. Three small children she cannot cope with, no help. She drops them off at school and nursery and cries the whole drive home. Drinking used to begin when she put them to bed. Then it began at bath-time. Now six on the dot. Sometimes lunchtime. The tension between how she appears to be, and how she feels inside, will break her. Appearing to be okay takes a huge amount of energy, but is necessary, to prevent the unwelcome attention of strangers. She has seen her friend sectioned, Largactyled, subjected to Electro Convulsive Therapy. So no trip to the doctors. Medication would only be a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. Talk therapy: did that in her twenties. It taught her *why* she was messed up. But after a year she was still messed up. In some ways, worse. Picking a scab doesn’t heal it.
Everything bounces off her surface; she’s afraid, because she feels so deeply, hurts so intensely. Her talk is fast, snappy, sharp. Mine is slower, softer. Things go in now. When I began the shift, nearly six years ago, into the person I am now, I heard that change in my voice, felt that increased openness, very early on. Dumping years of baggage was an unbelievable relief. For the first time I was able to provide my own emotional support, and that was incredibly empowering. If you’re curious how: EFT, PSTEC. The latter requires no learning, and is (I’ve found) more appealing to men. A dear friend started using it a fortnight ago and the difference is already noticeable: he’s nicer to be with. Contrary to conventional wisdom – which might more accurately be called conventional ignorance – it need not be difficult, nor take a long time, to reinvent yourself.
Recently I had to fill in a medical form for a writing residency. Have I ever suffered from depression or anxiety? Ever? Is that a reasonable question to ask any person in their forties, let alone a poet? We are not our history; we have passed through it, been forged by it, recovered from it. I can fudge mine: no trace on my medical records, thanks to my terror of being sucked into the mental health system, and one good friend who offered me sanctuary when an acquaintance was trying to have me sectioned. In any case, I was telling the truth. Have I, this me that I am at peace with, ever suffered from depression or anxiety? No. That was her. The gorgeous one. The party girl.