(As a prologue, this post goes out to the people of my ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – group, for their encouragement when I spoke about my blog and the fears that have kept me from writing. Also to Julia Kyle, who just doesn’t give up on me. Thank you for making me feel as though I can, maybe, re-become my warrior-writer self.)
I wish I didn’t have to begin with this literal title.
I wish it with all my heart.
At first … at first I thought it would be okay, moving back to my parents’ place. It would only be for six months or so; I’ve got a room at a mate’s place, back in my beloved Melbourne, as soon as his sister moves out. It would give me time to recover from how severe my anxiety and depression have gotten, living in a space where I have to worry less about the basic struggles of just looking after myself. It would give me time to worry less about money, at least in theory, and work on finding a second job so I can support myself with fewer stresses. It would only be for six months. Endurable, right?
Oh, the lies we tell ourselves when we have no other option!
The truth is that as much as I love my parents, I moved out for a reason.
(If I were petty, I’d say that reason is my sister. I am that petty, apparently.)
My psychologist told me that it’ll be different, this time. I’m far more assertive, now. I’m not the weak, broken, voiceless person I was. I’m strong, even if the recent severity of my illnesses makes it hard to remember, believe or even feel something remotely close. I can survive something that isn’t forever. I can survive something that’s only temporary. It will be different. It will be easier. It will be better.
Lies, lies, lies.
Okay, not a lie precisely. It wasn’t a deliberate misrepresentation of the truth. They were the words of someone trying to encourage and support me in the face of something that was (and is) terrifying. The family house wasn’t a sanctuary for me, and there’s enough shame associated with the position of being an adult having to return to one’s family for a roof and financial support, even though my inability to have those things is a result of my illnesses, without facing down the reality of returning to a physical space where I was unhappy and miserable. Psychologists like this notion of looking on the bright side of things, something I find frustrating at times: I don’t think it’s actually depression, as in distorted thinking, that colours my attitude towards treating my pain sans-medication as much as it is four and a half years of trying a ridiculous amount of things and not finding a solution. We don’t seriously expect people to have much in the way of hope and positivity at this point, surely? Should returning home (no: returning to a place where I must live until I can build a new home with my mate and his family) be much different?
(And now, the thought that might be mental illness but might also be mental illness wrapped around a core of truth: since I am once again living in a house where it is not safe for me to open my mouth, am I going to be the wreck I was the first year I moved out, when I again escape? Because nobody, nobody gets to walk away from the monster worlds without scars, and these new wounds are cutting into only-just-healed scar tissue. And while that first year out was one of the best I’ve ever had, short of my second year out, it was also one of the hardest. I spent twelve months breaking down if I even saw somebody touch someone else on the tram. I had panic attacks every time I had to ring home. I had nightmares. The first time I actually went home I was dissociative to the extent of believing it was a dream, but the worst part was the moment I realised it wasn’t – that I was actually, for real, back inside the house that had been the site of so much awfulness, even if only for a couple of hours. I was a mess. I don’t want to have to go through that again … but I suppose that’s better than the life I’m now living.)
Those words, however, don’t reflect my reality.
It’s not easier, better or different. It’s exactly the fucking same.
I am not safe here.
I might be even less safe than I was the first time.
You see, I’m no longer equipped to live in the world of monsters. I don’t have, to the same degree, the survival strategies one needs to survive here, however maladaptive they might be in the real world (a place occupied by monsters preying/straying across the borders, yes, but there are places there where monsters are called for what they are). I had them, once, until I started seeing a psychologist whose objective was to teach me new strategies. I don’t need someone to tell me that how I am treated is wrong. I don’t need a psychologist to point out I deserve better and train me in being assertive. Part of me is screaming, every day, at the wrongness of this world and the attitudes of those who inhabit it. I don’t know what to do with this world anymore, for while there is a part of me that has retreated to the person I was previous to my first escape, afraid to say anything at all – and that is the part of me that doesn’t know what to write but words that are grief-filled rants, words I haven’t and won’t post here even though there’s a gaggle of Word documents scattered across two computers and a blog standing empty – there is also a part of me that doesn’t submit. There is a part of me that walks out of the room rather than listen to bullshit because nobody, fucking nobody, gets to treat me that way.
(Right now there’s a part of me looking at the difficulty of surviving the next few months, the problems my illnesses present in terms of finding another job and being able to afford my mate’s room – and this is no small difficulty, between pain and anxiety – and deciding that the only way that preserves my sanity is suicide. There’s also a part of me making plans for job searches and eating every meal in my bedroom because like fuck am I going to sit around the dinner table with a person who treats me like shit just because the parentals want to play happy families. Sure, that lets my sister win, or so sayeth my family, but sitting there in silence because anything I say will provoke abuse and homophobia isn’t a victory, and the part of me that lived on my own for three years knows that’s the truth. Victory is getting out. Victory is never going back. Victory is the day I don’t have to play a game I, as a mentally-ill chronic-pain-suffering queer, can never win.)
It’s funny how, living on my own, I could spend a day alone in my studio apartment and never feel lost, lonely or locked in.
Of course, when I lived on my own I didn’t have people yelling at me through my door. I wasn’t considered craven for closing the door on an abusive dialogue in the first place. I didn’t fear getting up and going to the toilet because I’d have to leave my (questionable, limited, broken) sanctuary for a few moments and face people who can dismiss and belittle me. I didn’t have to suffer the heartbreak of walking through the lounge on the way to the toilet watching my mother comfort the person who abuses me whilst I go ignored. (Knowing the reality of this situation doesn’t make it not hurt.) When I wanted, I could say the things important to me to an audience who listens, understands, cares, respects, empathises, believes. My authority in the matter of my own experience is a given. Those are amazing, precious freedoms.
(I could in my old life, by the mercy of the universe, say the words on my mind without someone leaping up to tell me in all the ways in which everything I think and feel, including those things on which I have the lived authority to speak, are wrong. In short, I wasn’t invalidated every time I opened my mouth. Do you know what a blessing that is? Do you know how oppressive it is to live in a world where everything you say, do and feel is wrong? Because yes, we minorities get that almost every time we leave our homes, in big and small ways, but to come back home and receive that same judgement is a hard thing. I survived the homophobia/transphobia/gender essentialism I endured at school because I could come home to a homophobia/transphobia/gender essentialist-free space. Now the reverse is true: a game shop, where the boys so often voice casual, homophobic slurs but are called out by my boss when he hears, is the safest place for me, but that comes at the cost of wearing a female skin* – and, gaming environments being what they are, it is not free of homophobia or gender essentialism. Even if I believe, unreservedly, that I work in the best game shop, with the best damn gamer guys, in Melbourne.)
They’re not basic human rights, because the world is what it is for minorities, but they fucking should be.
Anyone who does not give you those things – understanding, care, respect, empathy, belief, validation, authority in your own experience – does not give you love, not the kind that is meaningful, not the kind that makes one feel safe and cherished and wanted. This shouldn’t have to be stated, but I live with monsters who don’t know this truth.
(In fact, I live with monsters who think that love is a commodity expressed through doing things, and think that those times groceries are bought or money given stand for love in its entirety. They don’t know that groceries mean nothing if they don’t also come with validation and respect. They don’t know groceries mean nothing if they tell me what I can and can’t consider homophobia. They don’t know groceries mean nothing when I’m afraid to tell Mum my sister’s most-recent invalidating deluge was homophobia in action for fear of yet another lecture.)
Those things don’t exist in the monster world, but I have come to know them just enough to expect them and be confused by their loss.
I used to live in a world with slanted footpaths, and left to live in a world where the footpaths are straight. It took me time to learn to walk on these straight footpaths, and I’m no master yet, but I learnt well enough to get by, albeit with regular trips and stumbles. Hey, I spent twenty six years in the monster world. That I learnt to walk at all in three isn’t bad going. However, that is to my detriment, because now I am back in the monster world, and the footpaths are slanted, and I’m walking with strange, swinging steps. I run into and fall over the people who walk these slanted paths, because I no longer know how to walk them – and I have a voice in the back of my head, screaming, that this is wrong, all wrong,.
I will lose the person I am if I learn how to walk here.
The truth is that, before I left the first time, I wasn’t walking all that well. I can’t have been, because if I were I would be a monster, and I wouldn’t have taken to the real world the way I did.
The truth is that I am more assertive. I do say what I think and feel in matters that pertain to me. I believe I have the right to do so. I believe in respectful debate and dialogue. I believe in being treated with kindness and love that honours my identity, personality and lived experience. I believe in those areas in which I have authority, and I believe in those areas in which I need to shut my fucking mouth because I have no right to speak or no knowledge base on which to speak. I believe in walking away when I don’t get those things. I believe in telling (majority) people who tell me I’m wrong on issues that pertain to me that they have no right or reason to correct me. I believe that I deserve better than the arrogance of people dismissing my feelings, based on my lived experience, and I believe that I don’t need to listen to excuses about the validity of everyone’s opinion.
(You may have your opinion. You don’t, however, as a straight person, a cis person, an able-bodied person, a man or a person without mental illness tell me your opinion and expect me to behave as though your opinion is equal to mine and worth my attention. Until you wake up queer, trans, non-binary, disabled and mentally ill, until you have the small, day-to-day lived experiences of those identities, your opinion is worthless, and I don’t have to fucking sit there and listen to your arrogant presumption you know as much as I do or, worse, better than I do. You are giving yourself authority over my life. When you correct me you are an arrogant, disgusting fuck, and you are the reason people like me cry in public toilets, on trains and in our bedrooms. You are the reason our lives are so hard. You are a fucking monster, and I am never, never, going to stop calling you for what you are.)
The truth is that I can’t survive here because I lost the ability to surrender to the monsters, and that’s what makes it harder to survive.
The truth is that while I can’t survive here, I am losing the ability to walk in the real world. This blog, for example. My anxiety has been severe, but living surrounded by constant negative evaluation and invalidation makes it hard to believe in my own words for long enough to write anything that is not a sobbing rant. I am coming to expect commentary that lays out all the ways in which I am ignorant and wrong. I’m now not writing out of the belief that I won’t cope with such negative commentary. I’m now not writing because I’m so afraid my inability to cope with negative/invalidating commentary will mean I won’t be able to write at all – oh, did that realisation make me sit up in group!
How do you trust in your words when the loudest voices in your life are telling you, over and over, that you have nothing to say that’s worth acknowledging? How do you believe in the worth of your thoughts, ideas, hopes, dreams?
(Which is, I think, the struggle all minorities go through: we are all told that we are not worth acknowledging, yet we are also all told that if we want to make a difference, we need to speak up in a world that drowns us out. Can we stop for a moment, please, to acknowledge the immense courage possessed by those people who share their stories with the world? Who act counter to the message that makes us small? Who start stories that might, one day, make us big? Who give us a fire to hold close to our chests when we feel most alone and worthless? Can we acknowledge, praise and cheer their courage possessed by all those, in so many ways, who inspire the rest of us? Who have made a difference in the lives of one or many? Can we thank them for positing and championing this radical notion that we deserve to be heard?)
I hope it says something about me that my response, today, was to write something real for the first time in months.
Sadness, despair and defeat aren’t fuel for a long-burning fire.
A tiny spark of anger, though?
Maybe, just maybe.
In the meantime, I am stuck again in the world of monsters, cherishing my day trips to the real world, flinching at every slap to the face given by monsters who refuse to hear that they’re hitting me. I don’t know if I’ve got enough fire to get myself out. I don’t know I’ve got the strength for it.
I do know that the only person who can rescue me is me, but I also know that my illnesses make that road out a near-impossible climb.
And I know, irrevocably, that I won’t long survive here in this world of slanting roads and footpaths.
If I can hit the post button, however, perhaps that’s one step forwards.
(* On work: no, I don’t correct people when they assume I’m female or use female pronouns. It’s hard being female-assigned and a feminist gamer working in a game shop, because I’m already a minority based alone on my assumed gender, body type and my refusal to indulge the tendency to masculine colours and themes in gaming accessories – my Magic the Gathering kit is various shades of pink, purple and aqua. Right now I come to work to relax and have fun, which means talking to customers and friends about things we have in common. Like my Abzan Scalelord deck. Or my favourite Planeswalkers, Elspeth and Sorin. Or my favourite legendaries, like Anafenza and Alesha and Avacyn and Thalia and Dromoka. Or my love for Tarkir block in general, what with amazing female leaders and warriors in appropriate clothing and armour. Have I said I’m all about the flavour? Constantly correcting people about my assumed gender is exhausting, stressful and tiresome, and being constantly on-deck in a data-entry-and-stock-management-interrupted-by-customer service job takes enough energy. Also, by being visibly female I’ve been able to support and reassure girl gamers who feel they need to avoid pink sleeves and deck boxes for the comfort of the masculine majority, and since I’d love to see more tournaments feature more than one girl at a shot, encouraging girl gamers to get in and kick arse at Magic and any other game they love is important. I’m openly queer, which has resulted in a few amusing and a few awful conversations, but the truth of my gender is mine. This doesn’t make my genderlessness any less real, which I hate that I feel the need to say, but it means that, right now, it is easier for me to masquerade as a queer, dykish butch/dapper woman. And that is an awful thing to write, for the world just shouldn’t be that way. I am a warrior in my writing, but the expectation that I needs must be a warrior in every aspect of my life is an oppressive one – another battle I can never win. Again, the only thing I can do is what causes me less grief while I promise myself that I will never forget who I am, a feminist queer non-binary gamer.)