Intro: Kate Bush: This Woman’s Work

This one’s for my mum, and is by one of her favorite artists when I was young. For some unfathomable reason, she stayed pregnant under less than ideal circumstances and eventually had a cold, blue baby that had to be forcefully convinced to start breathing.

There’s layers of meaning hidden away in this glumly beautiful song, and all of them apply here, but in the main it’s about traumatic childbirth.

1986: Billy Ocean: When The Going Gets Tough

My mum and dad split up before I was born, and then a few more times after that for good measure. Over the course of the next few years we were also rejected by pretty much everybody in our lives at one point or another. Not much fun, but on the other hand an angry 21 year old with a pissed off baby is also not the easiest thing to handle.

1987: George Michael: Hand to Mouth

We were pretty poor. Both in terms of assets and friends – usually just one of mum’s easily triggered tantrums away from being thrown out of wherever.

1988: New Order: Blue Monday

Council flats and shittyness. Mum didn’t really dig my company most of the time. Two year olds are not generally known for their ability to be useful.

1989: Suzanne Vega: Luka

And thus begins my long career in lying to people about how I got various injuries. Learned pretty early that telling the truth just made things worse, and I’d still have to live with it after.

1990: Pat Benatar: Hell is for Children

So that continued.

1992: Annie Lennox: Little Bird

My mum used to play this album all the time – her favourite was “Walking on Broken Glass”. This was mine. I was beginning to become aware of the fact that my life wasn’t quite the same as other people’s.

1993: Cypress Hill: Insane in the Brain

To everyone’s feigned surprise, turns out my mum was pretty unwell.

1994: Oasis: Rock n Roll Star

Started to get an idea of what normal kid-life was supposed to be like. Only had to fake it occasionally. Heard this on the radio and it blew my mind.

1995: Gene Wilder: Pure Imagination

Life was pretty shite, but I had lots of books to escape into. Roald Dahl was an enduring favourite.

1996: Garbage: Stupid Girl

I got called this a lot.

1997: The Verve: The Drugs Don’t Work

Sadly, antipsychotic medication can’t make somebody not be a fundamentally shitty person.

1998: Madonna: Frozen

I played this so much the cd went weird. I’m not sure what exactly I was dealing with at the time, but I guess I was doing some pretty heavy mourning for some reason.

1999: William Orbit: Adagio for Strings

As the world geared up for a new millennium and all the potential it might bring, my mind was elsewhere.

2000: A Perfect Circle: Orestes

Balancing love and fear and hate is a lot to ask of a 13 year old. This whole album soothed it in some places, stoked it in others.

2001: Muse: Plug In Baby

I could write for hours about how Muse were integral to my personal growth and also inadvertently kind of ruined my life for a bit, but that would be pretty boring. I remember being so excited for this song to be released. This was the year I decided to get up and do something about all the things I was upset about, with all the grace and wisdom a 14 year old can master.

2002: Jeff Buckley: Nightmares by the Sea

The drowning incident was the previous year, but it was weighing pretty heavy on me still. I wouldn’t talk about it to anybody for another ten years or so.

I accidentally set myself on a path to self-destruction from all possible angles. Jeff Buckley was there to say “oh, yeah, I know how that is”.

2003: Marylin Mansun: Tainted Love

It took me long enough, but I finally understood that not everybody that says they love you has your best interests at heart.

2004: Mansun: My Idea of Fun

Things weren’t getting better, but I’d temporarily stopped caring and gone on a mission to have some fun in between all the misery. A boy I liked had got me into Mansun some time ago, and when I heard this on a b-sides collection at random I laughed for a really, really long time.

2005: The Cure: Disintegration

This song was exactly the same length as my walk to and from work, and I listened to it twice a day as I sleepwalked through my life and straight into a breakdown. It was the only time of day I felt anything at all.

2006: David Ford: State of the Union

Having done something crazy, reckless and entirely necessary, I took stock of the few things I’d kept hold of. Dav’s album “I Sincerely Apologise For All The Trouble That I’ve Caused” was one of the few things I’d thrown in my bag at random. I chuckled at his heartfelt complaint “with friends like these, well, who needs politicians” and was like, man, I feel ya there.

2007: Eels: Mental

Took me until 2007 to start realising that I wasn’t quite as mental as I’d been led to believe. Just been through some shit and had mostly perfectly normal responses to it. Thus began quite a long unpacking process.

2008: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: More News from Nowhere

The specific lyrics of this song are largely irrelevant, but nicely evokes the slightly weary confusion that comes from learning a whole bunch of things about yourself and developing new social skills years after your peers.

2009: Breaks Co-Op: Wonder

A coach driver in New Zealand put me on to this band. Hungover, curled up in a window seat, taking a moment to actually wonder what I was doing there.

2010: Shapeshifter: One (live)

A text message recieved while walking out of London Bridge tube with this playing on my ipod started a bizarre chain of events.

2011: Frank Turner: I Still Believe

I guess I’m neither as cynical nor as faithless as I’d sometimes like to believe.

2012: Ludovico Einaudi: Indaco

Random health bullshit screwed a few things sideways and I spent a lot of time staring out of windows into the night, listening to this.

2013: Kanye West: Stronger

Positivity, ego, self-deprecation, confidence and insecurity. Thanks, ‘Ye.

2014: The Temper Trap: Sweet Disposition

I can’t remember why I threw this in for 2014 but it made sense at the time.

2015: Robert DeLong: Long Way Down

Mostly included for the opening line “I’ve been fuckin around while you been saving the world”, but generally coming to terms with the fact it’s ok to not be 100% efficient and goal-oriented all the time.

2016: Tribe Society: Ego

Removing an ego doesn’t mean no room for introspection, it just makes it less crowded.

In Summary: The Wind and the Wave: The Heart it Beats, the Thunder Rolls

I’m not going to explain this one. Give it a listen and make up your own minds.

I wrote this a few months ago, and sat on it for a while rather than post it anywhere, to make sure I didn’t put anything out into the world that I couldn’t stand by.  It’s been four months, and a lot has changed in my life since I got all this down, but even after rereading it with a new perspective it still retains the power and intent it was written with.  To me, at least.  And what is a personal blog if not an exercise in bizarre forms of narcissism?

Three years ago I moved house, back to a town I used to live in and hadn’t foreseen myself returning to.  I was 24 years old, and going to start an undergraduate degree.

 

I felt old.  24 isn’t old, but it feels like it when you’re put in a room where the majority of people are white, middle class 18 year olds fresh out of sixth form.  I’m not particularly good at making friends at the best of times, perpetual foot-in-mouth syndrome and general social awkwardness makes meeting new people a rather painful experience.  This was not the best of times, I found myself unable to relate to these people in any way.  I felt like an alien.  It didn’t bother me all that much and I did eventually find a handful of people in my various classes that made me feel like a human, but it was still a very isolating experience.

 

My first day started badly.  The buses to campus were running late, and it was almost entirely because every single fresher stopped to ask the bus drivers “does this bus go to the university”.  Yes.  The big bus that says “university” across the front of it does, in fact, go to the university.  I was around ten minutes late for my very first first class, and upon arrival the lecturer threw a condescending and rude comment in my direction as I tried to find a seat, and in the same breath carried on talking about whatever she was teaching.  I had no right of reply and it angered me.  A woman I’d never met was rude to me, and I couldn’t defend or explain myself without disrupting the class further.  I fumed in silence as she repeated this act with every other subsequent latecomer.

 

Later that year, we were all repeatedly nagged into voting for this same lecturer to receive a teaching award.  She was an excellent teacher, and I eventually found out, a lovely person, but I refused to give her my vote due to this initial random act of hostility.

 

Not long into my first year of university, something went quite wrong with my reproductive organs.  It took several months and a lot of invasive and painful testing to fully diagnose, during which I maintained my basic ability to function by being completely off my face on codeine at all times.  The pain was so dreadful I was taking 100mg just so I could get out of bed, and then knocking more back every two hours until I passed out.  I learned precisely nothing while this was going on.  If I was in class, it was because I’d taken enough painkillers that day to feel like my head was floating two feet above my shoulders.

 

I ended up needing surgery.  I went into hospital the day before my exams were supposed to start, got knocked out, cut open and set on fire.  I was home the same day, but it took me weeks to recover.  I was supposed to be revising (read: learning it all for the first time) and all I could manage to do was eat more codeine and sleep for 20 hours a day.

 

This was my first major loss.  I was told that due to the condition I had, it was very unlikely that I’d be able to have biological children (also, the condition was permanent and while there are ways to control it, it’s something I will have to live with).  I wasn’t planning on having children.  I don’t particularly like children.  But there’s a difference between choosing not to do something and being told you can’t.  I laugh and joke about it and say it’s fine and it doesn’t bother me, and most of the time, it doesn’t.  Once in a while, though, I think about it and it makes me incredibly sad.

 

So that happened.  I sat my exams late, and predictably, didn’t do particularly well.  Between revising, being stressed because I wasn’t revising, undefined amounts of self-hatred, intense pain and the assorted medications I had to take, I was a wreck.

 

My second year started slightly better, though I felt at a major disadvantage due to not really learning anything the previous year.  I came to uni through a nontraditional route, as my compulsory education more or less ended when I was 14 and had to leave home.  The access diploma that I did to gain entry was quite informative, but frankly did not provide a solid enough background in the subjects to be of much use beyond unlocking the door for me.  I struggled through and things were actually going quite well for a time.

 

Then I lost my mind.  The stress of uni is enough to send people off the deep end all by itself, but I was coping with it.  Then I acquired what I can only really describe as a stalker, but she is so much more and yet so much less than that that the word seems completely inadequate.  She’s always been in my life to varying degrees, a violent, abusive and dangerous woman that I used to keep at arm’s length and gently push away whenever she tried to get closer.  She got too close and wasn’t going away, and then found out where I lived.  This gave her the power to insert things into my home, amongst other antics designed to make my life hell, and I found myself wholly unable to cope with the situation.  This became the trigger that set off some pretty impressive mental health issues, the fallout of which I am still trying to clear up a year later.

 

I think under the circumstances the neglect of my studies during this period is fairly understandable.  I ended up being able to rescue my dissertation at the last minute, for which my supervisors can have all the credit and all my love and respect.  Exams were something that happened, but I honestly don’t remember them all that well.  Those few months went past me in a blur of tears, anger, frustration and prozac.

 

By the time third year came around I had my issues mostly under control.  I was healthy(ish), happy(ish), and generally feeling pretty positive about the whole thing.  I looked in the mirror and saw a woman I barely recognised – the last two years took their toll on my body.  Spending months at a time shut in my house unable to move for physical or mental reasons meant I’d put on weight.  I carried myself differently.  I didn’t really like these changes, but I felt good about getting back in control of my life.  I’d started some pretty hardcore exercise regime, and was thinking about taking up running when the weather got a little better.

 

Then, in January, I fell over on my way to the opticians.  Slipped on some litter in the rain.  Oh well, sometimes you fall over and it’s fine, carry on.  Except it wasn’t fine.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d caused deep trauma in several bones that make up my knee joint.  Then I walked around on it for three weeks, carried on exercising, running around, carrying heavy things, and managed to make it a hundred times worse.

 

I ended up in A&E, on crutches, in complete agony, yelling in pain at the doctors trying to diagnose me.  I couldn’t walk on it.  I couldn’t leave my house, I had to drag myself up and down the stairs just to use the bathroom.  My old friend codeine was back on the scene, and it made the pain go away, but if the pain wasn’t there I inevitably managed to make it worse because I couldn’t feel the warning signs.  Go to my classes?  You’ve got to be joking.

 

And that’s how I lost my mobility.  I couldn’t drag myself to classes on my bad leg.  I couldn’t keep up with my subjects very well, even with the materials available online.  I couldn’t sleep, because wherever you lie, your knee is touching something.  At time of writing I’ve just finished my final exams, and they came and went in a cascade of poor-to-averageness.  I don’t know what else I could have done, really.  The knee doctor said it’d be four to six months to recover.  It’s been five and it’s almost as painful now as it was when I went to hospital, so I can only assume it’s four to six months if you can manage to completely avoid using or touching the affected joint, which is really damn hard when it’s something you need to use every day.

 

I’m 27 years old.  I walk with a stick.  I’m going to graduate with an average degree, at best, and if I go to my graduation ceremony I will accept my degree with a limp after taking as many simultaneous painkillers as I can just so I can try and make the walk unaided.

 

These last three years I’ve suffered some intense personal losses, and had control of my life ripped from my hands and given to people that don’t care about me.  I’ve been living in a purely reactionary state, bouncing from one crisis to the next without any time to make my own decisions.  I’m emotionally exhausted, and I look around now to try and work out how to start putting everything back together and I don’t really know where to begin.  I have left so much undone.

And no words to say it.

Broken women are on my mind a lot of late.  I look back and find my past full of them, broken women that have shaped my life for better or worse – I won’t know yet which it’ll end up being.

More than any other time in my life I find myself surrounded by wonderful people – a haphazard family that seeped into my life from nowhere.  I find myself drawn to all sorts of people from all walks of life, but most of all those like myself.  Children of broken women.  An angry sisterhood of solidarity that has trouble keeping eye contact with itself.

It’s infuriating to be so hyper-aware of your own shortcomings.  I see myself wallowing in narcissistic self-pity and all that happens is I get annoyed with myself, which makes me even more unbearable, which makes me more annoyed.  It’s the spiral of pathetic self-hatred and I appear to be stuck on it.

I seem to remember a time when I was articulate – if this was ever the case it appears to have long since passed.  I speak in endless words and circles and squiggles and yet somehow I can’t actually say what I mean anymore.  It’s like there’s an invisible person smacking me in the mouth every time I try to express myself honestly, so I have to talk around it for long enough that hopefully people can vaguely get what I mean.

I think at one point it didn’t feel quite so difficult to just do things.  It feels less and less like I’m “running out of spoons” and more and more like somebody has come and replaced all my spoons with toenail clippings and blades of grass – what the fuck am I supposed to do with these?  They are a completely inappropriate tool for the problem.

I’ve been trying to express my general daily woes in limerick form.  I’m doing pretty well at that actually, or at least I think I am.  I’m sure I’m not the first person that’s ever turned limericks into a form of expression for intense personal unhappiness, but I think more people should do it.  It’s hard to concentrate on being sad when you’re trying to make rhymes out of the pain that’s trying to take over your life.  I’ve also started making them up for other people, which usually gets a laugh.  Problems seem so much easier to deal with when they’re reduced to a five-line rhyming verse.  Maybe I’ve just invented a new form of therapy, who knows.

I’m existing in two different states at the moment.  I either feel all fragmented and disconnected, like I’m looking at myself through broken glass, or I feel completely whole – but somehow that there’s less of me than there used to be.  Also naked, which lends a layer of panic to the whole thing.  I guess it’s like I’ve looked in the mirror for the first time and my reflection is somebody three foot shorter than me that’s mislaid their entire personality somewhere.

But hey, I did my laundry today, so I guess I’m not completely dysfunctional.

I’ve been an object my whole life.

Not all the time, but often. For twenty-odd years the idea that I could have thoughts and feelings and ideas that originated in my own body have been dismissed. Not by everyone, but by a depressingly large amount of people. To so many of them I have been a commodity or a possession, to be traded and bartered and fought over (not the same thing as being fought “for”, exactly one person ever has fought unselfishly on my behalf). The thought that I might have a voice of my own has been alien, dismissed and laughed at. I have been an empty vessel. Assumed or accused from all sides of being filled with the words of others, the opinions of my peers or betters.

I’ve been a child, a girl, and now a woman. Rarely a human. I fought it at first, but I was shouted down. Where did you get that idea? Who put that in your head? Whose words are those coming from your mouth? I could never make anybody believe that I was my own person, because of course those I was trying to convince assumed that my arguments to assert my independent opinions were fabricated by a third party for me to repeat. It was a constant barrage of the sort of maddening circular logic that makes arguing against any dearly-held belief so frustrating. I can be stubborn, but it eventually wore away until I was left with no will to fight. Clinging desperately to the quiet, personal belief that it didn’t matter what anybody else thought because I knew I was at heart my own person. It began to wash over me. Let them think what they want, because nothing I say can ever make anybody change their minds. Let them carry on pretending to act in my best interests when they have no idea what my best interests are.

That was me as a child. I held on tightly to that as a girl, privately. Publicly I became what anybody thought I was. It is incredibly easy to be whoever everyone thinks you are. There’s no fighting, no surprises, no difficult conversations. Just play up to expectations and everybody is happy. I was, unsurprisingly, an immensely unhappy girl. I never really lost sight of who I was at heart, but completely lost track of how that related to who I appeared to be. I can name exactly one person from this period of my life who recognised me for who I was rather than who I allowed myself to be, and I have as much of an idea now as I did then as to how that was supposed to make me feel (which is to say, none whatsoever).

At some point, I became a woman, and I’m not actually sure if that happened before or after I began to really look like one. It still happens. I am an object. I am the clothes I wear. I am the curve of my waist and the fall of my hair and the swell of my breasts. I am my posture and stride. In sensible terms, of course I am more than I appear to be. Nobody can really take the measure of a person from appearances alone, yet so many try.

(This isn’t a “woe is me, I am beautiful and really deep too, how on earth do I sleep at night” ramble. I’m allright looking, some have said attractive. Fine, I accept that. I’m also not a deep meaningful genius. I don’t stay up at night writing award winning poetry then go to work to continue my research on a cure for cancer while debating high politics in the European parliament before my shift in the local soup kitchen and my nightly round of giving toys to sick kids in hospital. Just want that to be clear.)

I actively hate being objectified as a woman. It’s sex. Sex defines everything I do, whether I will it or not. It’s got to the stage now where it’s becoming a meme amongst my friends that everything I do is flirting. The way I tilt my head, the way I hold my hands, the way I smile, the way I frown, the way I sit, the way I stand, the way I breathe. It’s a joke amongst us, and I’m ok with that because I’m in on the joke. I play up to it for laughs with my friends. But sometimes I’m not playing and it’s still funny. With people I’m not close to it’s not even remotely a joke though.

It’s real and I hate it. I hate the way people address the person I’m with instead of me when I’m out, like I am incapable of telling somebody what my name is and where I fit in a social network. I hate the way people talk over me when concepts and ideas are being discussed, and only engage me in conversation on the inane and meaningless, especially when I can see in their eyes they aren’t listening to my replies, but are instead enchanted by the tone of my voice or the way my chest rises and falls with each breath. It’s usually men, but I don’t really hold it against man as a gender. As soon as I realise it’s happening I actively go defensive and draw myself away, but it’s often the case that the damage has already been done. For similar reasons I find that heterosexual women often struggle to talk to me socially until they know me a little better. I can tell when I’m being evaluated, and I hate that too so I close off automatically and have to actively try and keep engaged in inane, unthreatening conversation until it passes. It barely works because I’m rubbish at feigning social grace. Combined, it makes it very difficult to make real friends. I am often rather lonely.

So many years of being an object of one kind or another and I’m actually used to it. I expect it. Sometimes I play with it, if I am feeling robust enough to withstand the inevitable crushing despair and self-loathing that follows. But it’s normality for me. I plod through life expecting to be treated as a sub-human. Only after typing that does it hit me how awfully sad and melodramatic it sounds.

So once in a while I meet someone that treats me like a person. A real, complete, person with ideas and opinions and flesh and blood and tears and tits. The whole damn package. And what happens? I panic. I don’t know how to deal with it. I get uncomfortable and stressy and withdrawn yet euphorically happy and relaxed and open all at the same time. It’s comical and strange and silly. I become sad and hurt because they don’t see me as an empty shell of perfection, but ecstatic that they recognise me for a human and not just a woman, a girl or a child.

I’m lucky enough to be slowly filling my life with these people. It takes time and trial and error, but I’m getting there. I had hoped my reaction would get less extreme as time passed, but as yet, no such luck. Treat me as a human and suddenly I’m thirteen years old again, sitting in a teacher’s office, terrified and delighted that finally someone has bothered to take a closer look.

I’ve never thought of myself as a guide, but people keep asking me for directions.

I show them the way as best I can. Sometimes I know exactly where it is they’re going and how to get there from where we are, and sometimes all I can give is my best guess, possibly with further advice to seek a second or third opinion. I’m not overly fond of giving directions, and I rarely volunteer myself for it, but if people ask me I will try. And they do ask, with a frequency that baffles me, given my fairly well-known preference on the matter.

Whatever I say, inevitably they set off on search of their destination, usually in vaguely the direction I suggested. Presumably, they eventually arrive there. Usually, without me.

I sometimes wish someone would come and show me the way. Just for once.

It feels like you’re always right here with me, except when you’re not.

I turn to ask you a question or share a thought, and you’re not there, and the loss hits me in a place I rarely use.  Then it creeps out and around until it clouds my mind and my thoughts, and taints all that I say and all that I feel.  It fades, eventually, and clarity seeps back in slowly, quietly, and I don’t notice it push the darkness away.

Words often fail me with things like this, so I try not to try.  A constant desire to verbalise thwarts me.  If I can say it, I can deconstruct it, pull it apart, separate the components and study them before I destroy them.  But the power of expression is lost to me.

It’s Sunday night, and we’re walking home.

We stop and stare into the distance.  No words pass between us as we stand there, momentarily captivated by the perfect scene we stumbled into.  I lose all sense of the passing of time.  For a while we are two single entities absorbing the night.  Then I feel your arm around my shoulders, and we become an amorphous shape in the darkness.  Still there are no words as more time disappears, until we turn to each other at the same moment, and we both know it’s time to keep walking.