[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.