General Musings, Mental Health, Sociology, University

I Belong Here? I Belong Here.

I keep telling myself I belong at university. I’m still waiting for it to sink in and actually take, because right now, I feel like a huge fraud.

Let me meander for a minute.

It is now the second week of lectures. I’ve moved from a joint honours programme to single honours, because as much as I want to be able to write creatively, I want to immerse myself in sociology more.

There are feelings and practicalities I hadn’t considered, coming back to full-time study. Not living on campus, commuting to and from the uni, being at the mercy of a woeful bus timetable, the time investment – all of these I prepared for and am willing to endure for the three years.

I hadn’t considered the sheer depth of imposter syndrome I would be feeling. I hadn’t considered that I’m, on average, 10 to 15 years older than the other students. I hadn’t considered quite a few things.

I also hadn’t considered quite how lonely I am.

I don’t make things easy for myself, I know. My resting bitch face is extraordinary (seriously, you should see it some time). I don’t socialise at the best of times, and definitely lean towards quiet nights in. I’m shy, introverted to a fault, and pretty aloof when people do make the effort to talk to me. Not an easy person to get to know, let’s be honest.

So I’m somewhat annoyed at myself for letting this pattern continue. Yeah, not going to blame others for this, because I’m not that self-centred and vain. Shut up. Call it personal growth if you will. Also, if I were that self-centred, I’d look after myself a hell of a lot more than I currently do (said while sipping a too-sweet chocolate-milkshake-frapp-thing).

I went back to uni full-time, because I miss learning. I miss the feeling of intellectual growth (this is not to say that university is the only source of such growth, merely that I missed this particular form) that lectures, seminars and reading provide. I also went back to uni full-time, because I need to put my first attempt in the past and move on.

So I’m annoyed at myself for repeating some of the patterns that made that first try a disaster. I’m annoyed at myself for making my age a barrier to talking to the other students. I’m annoyed at myself for not talking to people before class begins. I don’t want to change my introverted nature, because it’s useful, and I really don’t have the energy to be anything else. I’m also keenly aware that this is beginning to sound like a Livejournal post, so I’m going to swiftly end this before it gets too emo. Is that still something people say?

One thing I wish unis would do during fresher’s week is offer a colour-coded tag for people to wear around campus, based on their comfort with being approached. It’s something I first saw at Nine Worlds a couple of years ago, and I’ve been in love with the idea ever since then. It’s simple, really. Three colours (usually red, green and yellow), each representing a person’s approachability. Green is ‘hey there! Come talk to me! I love new people, yay!’, yellow is ‘I’m a little shy, so please ask permission to talk’, and red is… well, you get the idea. I’m not sure how well it’ll work on a campus of thousands, but if it helps…

I suppose I’m caught between two instincts. I want to know people on my course, because they’re a diverse and wonderful bunch, but I also want to shrink away because holyshitI’molderthanallofthemandImustlookweirdbecauseIdon’tbelonghere and breathe.

Loneliness really is a horrible feeling, and I can feel it tugging towards the depression and anxiety, who are both beginning to stir. I just wish I knew how to say to people ‘I don’t bite! Honestly!’

Human interaction is so weird sometimes.

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General Musings, Mental Health

Stand alone. Stand, alone.

When does independence become isolation?

It’s a question that’s been busily gnawing away at the back of my mind for a couple of weeks now.

Independence is a distant beacon. Entering the teenage years, it serves as a north star of sorts, pushing each of us on (in our own individual ways) to new experiences, new emotions, new limits. Independence is exulted as the brightest star in our emotional sky. Test limits. Spread wings. Fly the nest. Shape an identity. And numerous other clichés.

Isolation, though? Isolation is the darkness between stars. The gaps that identity can become lost in. Dark space becomes head space becomes own space becomes inability to share space. And space is pretty big. Is isolation independence’s extreme form; one that favours a different direction? Light-years of travel, not towards the north star, but away from it? Is it finding comfort in the gaps, where light doesn’t reach? Perhaps comfort is not the right word. Perhaps it is finding… relief.

Relief that nothing can reach here.

Independence is the ability to live untethered to others, even when choosing to live with others. Isolation is the ability to live untethered from everything, even when others want to live with you. One is desirable, the other incapable.

I have difficulties keeping friends and loved ones. I did not learn to become independent as a teenager, so I chose isolation as the next best thing. The descriptions sounded the same, but the trajectory veered off towards a part of the sky I hadn’t researched. As time and distance grew, so did my dependence on the life support systems of isolation. While telling myself with each light year travelled that I was doing this to help myself.

The farther from Earth a vessel is, the longer communication takes to relay between home and traveller. Eventually, time will render this dialogue impractical and cumbersome, and the equipment will fall silent. Thus, isolation becomes complete, coating the vessel in suffocating quiet.

The further I’d travelled, whether across the country or continent, the longer those lines of communication became. Over time, they became strained, eventually severing as friends and family, serving as mission control, logistical support, grew ever more frustrated with fragmented updates and long periods of static.

Travelling alone can be rewarding. It can be fulfilling, educational, transformative in positive ways. It allows for new connections to spread, linking someone with new people and experiences.

Travelling alone can be survival. Breaking the tentative connections before they can strengthen. Creating a buffer zone between self and outside. Establishing personae to protect against trust. Establishing perimeters for paranoia to patrol.

But above all, that relief.

Relief that life can’t live in this hostile mindset.

 

Gaming, Geek!, Politics, Sociology

Roll for Initiative

So, uh, you might have seen me posting a couple of days ago about registering a new domain, safespaceinitiative.com?

Yeaaaah, this might be my new project. I don’t want to give too much away, as it’s in very, very, early planning stages, but its purpose is to create safe spaces in multiplayer gaming.

I’m not going to say much more than that, because planning. But I’m tentatively excited, nervous, kinda anxious and terrified all at the same time.

I will post more about The Gaming Safe Space Initiative as progress develops, but for now, watch this space.

General Musings, Politics, Sexuality

White-hot anger

I am angry.
 
I am angry, because yet again, politicians (and yes, I’m talking about the US here, but make no mistake, the UK doesn’t get a pass here) have thrown trans people under the bus to score points.
 
I am angry, because this comes hot on the heels of the healthcare vote from earlier this week, in which rich, white arseholes once again show their true colours and push forward on a bill (I’m aware that this is just a vote to debate the bill, but it’s a significant step nonetheless) that will leave millions without healthcare.
 
I’m going to keep saying this until my final breath: HEALTHCARE IS A FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHT. No one, whether they’re rich or poor, white or black, straight or queer, disabled or not, should be deprived of healthcare. If you can’t see why everyone should have access to healthcare, or birth control, or mental health care, without having to mortgage themselves into oblivion, then I honestly don’t know why you’re friends with me.
I’m angry because people talk about Pride as a party, as a chance for companies to show they’re ‘progressive’, when what they mean is ‘look at us, we’re all about the queers! Just ignore that 80% of the FTSE 100 doesn’t have any provisions protecting LGBTQIA people! Ignore that we use pinkwashing to hide how terrible we are! Let’s whitewash the Stonewall Riots! Let’s pretend that LGBTQIA people are equal and not frequently the target of hate crimes! Let’s increase that figure if the victim is a trans person of colour!
It’s no mistake that people often think of it as Gay Pride, when history neglects to remind us that trans women of colour were heavily involved in the formation of the movement. And yes, I’m aware that I’ve volunteered twice for the London Pride parade, but I realised very soon after last year, what Pride stands for now, and how it’s distanced itself from the very necessary politics that propelled queer rights into public consciousness. Yes, celebrate what we have achieved, but by no means confuse that with true equality. Pride is, was and shall be, a protest. From all of the LGBTQIA community. Not just white gay men.
I’m angry, because trans people, non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid and all the lovely people who don’t define themselves anywhere on the binary, frequently get overlooked, except when they’re demonised by conservative politicians and activists (I almost put this in quotation marks, but decided that was too blunt). I’m angry because they are all human beings too and they receive hate and violence, simply for being true to themselves.
 
I’m angry, because white people, including myself, continue to discriminate and perpetuate violence against people of colour, holding them down because we can’t bear to see them succeed, because we still believe we’re superior. People talk about the good old days of the Empire. Guess what? We were murderers. We enslaved people. We destroyed cultures and forced our own on entire nations. We spread disease and famine in order to subjugate people. And then we destroyed the records proving this.
 
So believe me when I say this: 
If your politics, your worldview, your personal philosophy would deny people basic human rights, because it might cost you some money, or because you hate people who aren’t white, straight and cis, then you are the enemy. You would have people die for your personal comfort. I cannot allow that.
I am so, so angry.
 
Geek!

This is a test. This is only a test.

[Content warning for apocalypse talk]

 

I am fascinated by the end of the world. I’m well aware of how that sounds. I’ve pretty much spent recent afternoons on YouTube watching (or more appropriately, listening to) emergency broadcast videos. I should be working on one of my two essays, or distributing the posters for the poetry night (which arrived today!), yet here I am, on YouTube, cup of coffee in hand, browsing through Emergency Broadcast System videos (which was later replaced by the Emergency Alert System).

They’re curious creatures, these videos. There are countless fake ones, which vary in quality, with the occasional genuine video somewhere in the mix. The genuine ones are typically in the US, and are, more often than not, severe weather warning for tornadoes and the like. Their combination of harsh tones, stark background, plain text and scratchy-voiced reporting is utterly chilling and unsettling. We don’t really have anything like this in the UK, as our weather is, with the occasional exception, pretty much mild and damp. The wonders of being an island surrounded by water, I suppose. The BBC is charged with updating the population in case of emergency, so that’s the closest I think we have. Although there is a set of protocols to be followed in the event of the Queen’s death.

I’m an late-80s/90s kid. Born in 1983, I grew up during the latter stages of the Cold War and was 7 when the Berlin Wall began to come down. By that point, the threat of nuclear war and massive worldwide destruction had eased, with the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 marking the end of the tensions and uncertainty. So I wasn’t really old enough to live through atomic panic, and thus didn’t appreciate the scope of the situation. The first major conflict I remember with any clarity was the first Gulf War and, even then, only as background noise (I was seven when it began, eight when it ended). Looking back now, it was a major turning point for the post-Cold War world and would, along with the mid-80s proxy war in Afghanistan, shape the current geopolitical environment in which we live.

My first encounter with apocalyptic fiction was in 1994 when I watched a (now terribly-dated) tv film called Without Warning. It mimicked the infamous Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast, by telling the story of asteroid impacts and alien contact through news broadcasts. As an 11-year-old with an active imagination, it had a profound effect on my young mind. The world does end in the film, and the final few moments are deeply unsettling, as the newsreader states his intention to relay information until the very end (This is something that is perceivable now, given the 24-hour cycle of modern news reporting). Ted Turner very famously stated, when founding CNN, that if the world were to end, they’d cover it until the final moments, and would cease transmission with Nearer My God to Thee. The video is sombre, haunting and very, very creepy.

 After that, came Independence Day, which I loved, and still love even now. Yes, it’s cheesy, overblown and US-centric, but it involved the world ending and long, lingering shots of cities in ruin. It was the right mix of mindless plot, excellent special effects (which still hold up 21 years on) and gung-ho bravado. But it wasn’t really until perhaps the most significant event of the last 20 years, that I realised how much I thought about the end of the world. Even then, it’s only been in the last 6 months or so that I’ve understood how deep this fixation runs.

I should probably clarify that I don’t revel in disasters, attacks and loss of human life. Instead, I want to understand. I want to understand how, in the event of terrorism, people think that mass-murder is the best way they can convey their point. I want to see how governments react to natural disasters, both domestic and international. I want to see their response to massive ecological changes and the impact of climate change. I want to understand how people rally, how they support each other, how the rescue system works and its potential for success or failure. It is a distinct influence in my decision to study social sciences, that much is certain.

I remember exactly where I was the morning of Tuesday, 11th September, 2001. I’d only recently received my A-Level results (equivalent to the GED for my US readers), and was unwinding with my friends as the summer drew to a close. They were due to leave for university in a few weeks, and I was killing time until my (somewhat disastrous) gap year began in the French Alps in November. It was a beautifully sunny day, and we were in Slough, my hometown (yes, the one from The Office.) I was with one of my friends in Argos (I’m not sure if there’s a direct equivalent in the US, but think something like a Target where you choose your products through a catalogue), waiting for something he’d bought to be collected. We’d been there for about 10 minutes, when we noticed that the TVs in the store were all slowly being changed to BBC News, which had begun reporting non-stop on the attacks (it was around 10 in the morning, if I remember correctly, that we were in the store).

The reports of the events would be all that I watched for the next week. From the early reports, through the towers’ collapse, to the rescue and recovery efforts, I found it difficult to focus on anything else. I found myself asking, ‘what could have driven people to doing this?’, like I suspect countless others were also asking. I’ve watched both the original unedited and the CNN-hosted edited versions of the Naudet brothers’ 9/11 documentary, and each time, I wondered just exactly how significant this attack will be in the decades to come. Given that it’s been over 15 years and still holds sway over much of Western foreign policy, as well as being a catalyst for a huge increase in racially-motivated crimes, I suspect no one will really know for a few decades at least.

I may not have been alive during the threat of possible nuclear war, but I did grow up during the height of the IRA’s bombing campaign. For a period in the 90s, it felt like there was a bombing every week. The politics of the Troubles is something I’m not going to even contemplate discussing in this post, for hopefully obvious reasons. But the campaign did have long-lasting impacts. For a long time, rubbish bins could not be found in any train station or airport, as bins were a common choice for planting bombs. To this day, it still feels a little weird seeing bins at train stations, and sometimes I find myself giving them a wide berth. Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, there has been peace in Northern Ireland, although with the Conservative/DUP alliance, that may not continue to be so. And then there’s the 45th US president (I’m not going to name him directly, as people tend to search for that stuff and troll).

He’s stated that he wants to expand the US nuclear arsenal, and has an… interesting track record when talking about nuclear weapons. While it is still unlikely, the potential use of nukes is higher now than it has been for a long time, particularly as Russia made similar noises about expanding theirs. Now it’s possible this is just posturing and ignorance, but I’ve found it wise never to underestimate the power of bluster. And then there’s climate change. Our planet is getting hotter, the ice caps are melting at a terrifying rate, droughts are widespread, and the ecosystem in numerous areas is dying. So here I sit, YouTube in front of me, EBS/EAS alert tones blaring, and idle thoughts of nuclear endings.

The apocalypse is depicted repeatedly in fiction. From the Fallout series and The Last of Us, through literary depictions like The Handmaid’s Tale, Children of Men and The Road, to films like Mad Max, The Day After, Threads (which is seriously creepy) and 28 Days Later, there is no shortage of fiction about the end. I am always drawn to the apocalypse as a premise, as it represents our darkest intentions. It acts as a device to warn us of our own hubris and ignorance; that we pushed ourselves too far towards annihilation and, instead of pulling back and realising our mistake, we pitched too far forward into cataclysm.

The best stories show us something about ourselves. Whether it’s something localised, like how to deal with growing up, or something extraterrestrial, a story is a way of understanding ourselves and our role in the world. The apocalypse is a narrative device for exploring our tendency towards self-destruction. Yes, it depicts the end of the world, but it’s a powerful tool for showing how to pick up the pieces and rebuild after an event so shocking and final. Yes, some depictions border on cartoony (the Fallout games are an interesting example), but other pieces are distressingly realistic. Threads is very disturbing to watch, because it doesn’t shy away from the horror of nuclear explosions in a major city, nor does it flinch when depicting the post-nuclear world, in which society has regressed back to pre-industrial levels.

I keep coming back to Threads, because I know Sheffield well. I also come back to it, because a recurring point emerges in the run up to the first nuclear detonation, and it seems distressingly appropriate. During the first half of the film, characters lead their lives as normal, while news agencies report on the escalation of hostilities between NATO allies and the Soviet Union, in between Protect and Survive broadcasts (similar to the Civil Defence warnings). This reporting is entirely in the background, and is ignored almost entirely by the cast. It doesn’t end well for the majority of them. I hopefully don’t need to point out the parallels.

I’m fascinated by the end of the world. I wonder how well the human species will cope when it comes.

Mental Health

I’m only human, after all

[Trigger warning for self-injury, mental health and alcohol talk]

 

It’s been four days since I cancelled the poetry evening.

I’ve had lots of lovely people voicing their support for me, and their anger on my behalf at the person who tweeted at me. It was very much appreciated, even if at the time, I didn’t sound appreciative.

I’ve been asked a few times this week why I cancelled the event. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t let internet randos dictate my life for me. That I can always pick myself up, dust myself off and try again.

I should probably explain everything. At least it might make some sense of the situation.

 

My personality has changed dramatically in the past decade. When Lisa and I met, I was more outgoing, more amenable to new experiences and just generally a more entertaining person. Of course, up until that point, I was pretty much a functioning alcoholic who was cutting themselves to shreds. But I was sort of maintaining a social life, even if it was at the expense of my studies. Lisa and I got together, and she had an immediate stabilising effect on me. I stopped drinking and cutting, and was able to focus a bit more on my studies.

And then I went abroad for my third year. It’s a requisite for language degrees to spend at least a term in the target country. For me, that meant time in France and Germany. France wasn’t so bad, the town was pretty but dull, and I found people to spend time with.

Germany, though. Germany was a disaster from beginning to end. At the time, the language department was supposed to help set up accommodation for each student studying abroad. The German department… didn’t. They’d left it until the last minute, and all the accommodation was already allocated. We found this out about a month before we were all supposed to leave the UK. What transpired is thus:

I booked a flight with Easyjet, turned up at the airport, got on the plane, landed in Switzerland (the town was right across the border) aaaand completely lost my cool. I had nowhere to stay, it was hot, and my German is much worse than my French. Eventually, I found a youth hostel, and stayed there for about a week, while trying to find a place to live for four months. Luckily, I found a room, staying with a lovely Romanian family, and promptly dug myself in. Turns out, that was the easy bit. Germany loves its bureaucracy something fierce. I had to register with the uni, with the local authority, with the hospital, and I was doing it all in a language I should really have been able to speak by this point. (As an aside, German is HARD. It shares some similarities with English, but is far, far stricter about enforcing the rules.)

I went to one class in four months. I was retreating back into myself, and found solace in the uni computers and the town’s bookshop. I must have read about two thirds of the Discworld books by the time I returned to the UK. Lisa visited for a week, and we went to IKEA, and for that one week, it was bearable.

Towards the end of my time in Germany, I realised that I really didn’t want to go back to university. This didn’t go down well with my mother, which is a topic for another day. Suffice it to say, I put my return to university on hold, eventually withdrawing as I found myself less and less inclined to return. And then I fell into retail, initially with Borders and then with the Giant Fruit.

By this point, any and all extroverted aspects of my personality had withered away. While at work I put up a front of confidence and bravado, behind it all was the persistent fear that I would be found out as a fake, as a fraud. This fear followed me wherever I went, eventually merging with the self-loathing that had always existed deep in the bottom of me. And it never really went away. It would stop me from expressing myself. It would prevent me from contributing to work. It would tell me, every time I closed my eyes, how worthless I was. Am. Whatever.

So I threw myself entirely into work. For a while, the voices would stop, as I gave more and more of myself to the job. I stripped away every individuality I had, to give them to the job. I didn’t have hobbies, I didn’t have a social life. I was the job, and the job was me, and that was it. When Lisa suggested that we buy this flat, which would require relocating to a different part of the country, I was caught between two mindsets. One was looking forward to leaving the job, the other was panicking about filling the free time.

The poetry night came to me one afternoon. I don’t remember exactly what prompted it, but the thought was something like, ‘I wonder if they have that here?’ So I did some research, and quickly realised that no, there was nothing like that in town. I set about registering domain names, email address, social media accounts, and then stopped. For the record, I have never organised anything on this scale before. Remind me some time to tell you the story of the setting of our wedding date.

To be honest with you all, it didn’t feel like I had complete control over my mental processes. I was working on impulse, firing off emails to venues, looking at PA equipment costs, asking a friend to design logos and posters. I didn’t, I wouldn’t let myself think about the sheer fragility of the whole thing, because then I would remember that gravity existed. And you know what? For about 6 weeks, it was fine. The response from the venue and local events people was positive. The artwork was phenomenal. I wasn’t even worried that only one person had reserved a ticket. It was happening, and it was my creation. I was allowing myself to believe, somewhat foolishly, that this could work.

Until Monday night. The tweet came, out of the blue, aimed at the poetry account, and accused me of being a charlatan for asking people for a small payment to perform at the open mic portion. Truth was, I’d spent a good few weeks agonising over whether to charge or not. I’d looked at every (admittedly London-based) poetry evening, and there was a pretty even split between free and paid open mics, eventually deciding on asking for a payment, to pay for sound equipment and such. Looking back now, I think perhaps not charging at all would have been the best idea.

When the tweet showed up on the notifications feed for the account, my brain lurched, and I felt like I was falling. I could feel, as it was happening, all the processes shut down, one by one, as my coping strategy woke up and knew that it was needed. The jubilation and joy were quickly replaced by shame, fear and loathing. The rational processes were immediately halted, and the fight-or-flight response was triggered.

I chose flight, as I always do.

The flight response screamed GET AWAY. It hissed that I had to disappear into my little hole and not show my face again. I deleted the Twitter account, the Facebook page, the email account, I cancelled the Eventbrite listing and deleted that account. Piece by piece, I ripped apart the fragile tissue paper model that was the poetry evening, as I raged against my own hubris. Until I was left with the last traces of an evening that, until ten minutes ago, was all set to be the first positive creation I’d made in nearly a decade.

I think I was looking for an excuse. I wanted, on some level, to sabotage the event, because things like poetry nights? Only competent, confident people can make those work. You get the idea.

My therapist has been trying to work on the instinctive suppression I perform when I’m emotional or vulnerable. She’s been trying to help me understand that failure is not to be feared. I don’t know if it’s working yet, but I know that if I continue like this, I’ll lose every part of me.

Sunbeams lay across my body as I write this. I feel warm, but I also feel distant. Like the warmth is happening to someone else. This is what it feels like to not feel. This is what it feels like to feel everything.

 

Geek!

Foolishness

I’ve cancelled the poetry night. I received some feedback which hit me really hard and made me realise that this was only ever going to be a foolish venture. So I’m in the process of removing every trace of it from online as best I can.

Perhaps I was too ambitious.