Fear and Self-loathing

Fear and Self-loathing

Funny old week. Funny old life, actually, and no mistake. I mean, it really brings it home to you, brings you down to earth with a jolt that might even knock some sense into your tired old grey matter, my girl.

It’s all so… Normal, I guess. No, that’s not it. Not what I meant. Close but no cigar, as they say. Whoever “they” might be. Did you ever wonder about “them”, wonder why or even how they say so much and everybody knows what they’ve said, but nobody knows who they are?

I did. I wondered. Sat awake nights thinking about it. About lots of the things people say. I bet most of the ones who’ve said things to me over the years don’t even remember half of what they said. Not half. Probably not even a tenth of the words they casually tossed at me. Like you’d throw scraps to a dog.

But that was better than the ones who aimed sharp words in place of stones. Teasing they called it. Horrible word. Dressing up their malice in bright clothes to make believe it was fun. I think it was fun for them. Fun to point at the odd one, make sure she knew she was on the outside.

“Sticks and stones” is what I got told when I objected. “Words can’t hurt you.” Those words right there hurt me even more because they told me I was alone.

Being alone. It is my normal, I’m used to it. Everybody leaves me in the end. Still, on the bright side if I’m on my own then there’s nobody there to hurt me more. Just me and my past, strolling hand in hand down memory lane.

Yeah, a dead-end street, that. Past the gutted wrecks and garbage, scabrous walls with the remains of graffiti. Don’t look too closely at where you’re treading, avoid the eyes that peer from shadows.

I remember when all this was trees, when the sun shone and I would run around, laughing. But that was before. You know they say you can never go back? Them again, they get about. Never go back. You want to know why I can’t go back? Because I never managed to leave.

The old home town, you wouldn’t recognise it. All that time, all those lives, gone. Dark now.

Yeah, funny old week, like I said. Being close to Death will do that, you know? All those thoughts of mortality, all that pent-up grief, all the weight of realisation that you don’t deserve to be the one left.

I should ask them why, next time they’re around. Who knows, maybe this time they’ll tell me.

Anyway, I’m doing fine. Thanks for asking. That’s what I’m supposed to say, right?

And you?

Life Lessons

Life Lessons

L’oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal

A long time ago I wandered down a path, not knowing or even caring where it would lead. One step after another, one day after another, each much like the one before.

I had no real cares and I suppose that means I was happy. I never had a plan, you know? Never could picture any future except as a continuation of today. So I’m left to wonder at how I somehow got from there to here.

A tenuous thread of fallible memory is all that connects the grown woman sitting here writing these words to that child: how do I begin to explain the path I took? So much time was spent simply drifting along on favourable currents.

Parents and school didn’t prepare me for my life. Nobody handed me a map with my route helpfully pencilled in, or planted signposts to guide my steps.

Nobody taught me what it means to love somebody so deeply that you feel your heart torn asunder every time they hurt, or that you wouldn’t trade that pain for anything because the joy that comes with it lifts you to such heights.

Nobody taught me that there is an emptiness inside that you carry every day following the death of a loved one. That all the things you wish you could have said and done would continue to haunt you down the years. That missing someone so much kicks the breath out of you and leaves you gasping for air through your sobs of anguish.

I know now, as a parent, the strength of the drive to shield your child from the pain and hurt. To protect them from all the things that have hurt you. But I also recognise the futility of that. Indeed, I understand how such experiences are a normal part of life and open us up to much greater empathy for others.

Not the trauma though, never that.

That’s one life lesson I’d have happily played truant for. While joy and love and sadness and, yes, even grief all form part of the richness of life, trauma has no compensations.

So much wasted time, spent in fear and being made to feel that I was to blame. Spent in insecurity because I was more afraid of the unknown I’d face if I left, afraid that I couldn’t cope on my own. Spent believing that I was alone because that’s what abusers do to you through gaslighting and insidiously isolating you from potential support.

It’s so incredibly hard to come back from trauma. The effects–the scars–run deep and heal slowly if at all. My mind was reshaped by it, leaving me much more susceptible to anxiety and depression, and less able to cope with some everyday situations. In a very real sense, I’m not the same person I was before.

Recently I found myself in a church. It wasn’t planned: my particular friend and I were doing the tourist thing in Montréal, took the Métro to Côte-des-Neiges and walked up to St. Joseph’s Oratory. In the crypt church there we sat in contemplation, and as I reflected on my life I found my tears were flowing.

Not a religious moment, but certainly a spiritual one: I felt a release as if a weight had been lifted from me. When we moved on to the adjoining crypt with its ranks of votive candles I found myself in front of a board on which I noticed a single word: forgiveness.

Feeling a resonance within that moment, I decided to light a candle as a way of marking it. When talking it over later with my friend, they said something that seemed to fit: forgiveness is something we do for ourselves, not for the other person. I wasn’t forgiving the person who subjected me to emotional abuse; I was forgiving myself, absolving myself of blame for what was done to me.

I have other things I carry with me: the burden of bad choices. Times when I acted out of anger, frustration or selfishness. Times when I didn’t live up to my own moral and ethical values. Hopefully in time I will be able to forgive myself for these too.

The lessons of life hopefully teach us the knowledge and skills we need to survive and grow. I have learned no hidden secrets, no mystical arcana. What I have learned is that making the world a better place most often comes down to small kindnesses rather than grand gestures, and an important part of that is being kind to yourself.

Finding My Voice

Finding My Voice

Looking back through my school reports recently prior to my autism assessment, I was reminded how seldom I used to speak to anybody. One of the earliest labels I acquired was shy, and my teachers in comment after comment expressed their belief that I could go far if only I would talk more. Or, indeed, at all in a lot of situations.

The contrast between that and my assessment report which mentions my tendency to talk too much and go into too much detail is remarkable. So what changed?

There isn’t one single factor that helped me develop my self-confidence. Rather, it has been a combination of changes in my life, the most obvious of which has been my gender transition. Since reaching the point where I’m comfortable with how I look, I’ve become less self-conscious which translates into a more confident presentation.

I’ve also, with help from my wonderful daughter in particular, got out of a toxic relationship where I’d been controlled. My new-found freedom has enabled me to get out and about, spending time with friends. Indeed, it has allowed me to develop close, supportive friendships, where before I wasn’t able to due to restrictions imposed by my former partner.

As my support base has grown, so has my confidence in my own ability. I’d been gaslighted for years, told that I was no good at certain things, that I could never manage on my own. I believed it, and so was trapped in that situation by my lack of self-esteem and self-belief.

It’s been hard to break away from that dependency, and I didn’t get out unharmed: the trauma of living in fear for my safety has left me with mental health problems. But even so, I am definitely better off than I was before getting out.

Most of all, I can be myself. It took a long time to get here, but I found out who I am. For years I tried to be the person I believed those around me wanted me to be. I wore a mask that had been designed by others, and it didn’t fit. When at last the chafing became unbearable, the woman who emerged from behind that mask into the light of day needed a little time to find her feet. To find her own voice.

And I have. A voice that draws from all my experiences, all that brought me to where I am today. My voice.

AIM for the Rainbow

AIM for the Rainbow

Many of you will know that I am on the board of Autistic Inclusive Meets, an organisation run by and for autistic and neurodivergent children and adults to provide services and support, as well as actively campaigning to improve lives.

Well, I have exciting news: we’re picking up an idea we had in the early days of AIM and launching AIM for the Rainbow, a part of AIM that will focus on the particular needs of autistic and neurodivergent LGBTQIA+ people of all ages.

I’m especially proud to be involved as an autistic bisexual trans woman. I intend to make this the kind of resource I wish I’d had when I was growing up. Information, support, and connecting with your peers are of the utmost importance when you’re discovering your own gender and sexuality, so we want this to be a safe space where people can do this without fear.

We’ll be collecting links to resources that we personally trust and endorse. We’ll share our stories, and those of others like us. And we’ll be working to improve the lives of all of us under the rainbow.

It’s going to be great. We’re aiming high: we’re aiming for the Rainbow!

#Brexit – A Letter to my MP

#Brexit – A Letter to my MP

Dear Ranil,

I’m contacting you as one of your constituents [address redacted] because I have grave concerns regarding the handling of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

My daughter is [age redacted] and has been living in Sweden for about 18 months with her Swedish partner. [Personal details redacted] the continuing uncertainty regarding her status as a UK national living in a EU country after the 29th March is causing her immense distress. Nobody, not the Swedish authorities and certainly not the UK government (it seems) are able to provide guidance as to what will happen to her.

I also have concerns regarding the preservation of the Good Friday Agreement in the event that the UK does not manage to avoid coming to the end of the withdrawal period without an agreement in place. I remember all too well the IRA mainland bombing campaign, the bombings in Manchester and Warrington especially since I grew up near Wigan and my father worked in the city centre of Manchester in a street that saw damage from that blast. I rightly fear a return to those days if the peace agreement that has lasted half my life is not protected.

My feelings about the unutterable folly of Brexit aside, I urge you and your colleagues in parliament to seek a rapid conclusion to this sorry episode so that we can all finally have some stability in our lives. After promising strength and stability, Theresa May triggered Article 50 without any clear idea of what our future relationship with the EU would look like, and she has led the UK into some of the most turbulent times I’ve experienced in my 45 years. I am watching in dismay as our global reputation sinks below the waves that surround us.

The past two and a bit years since the referendum have been truly awful. I’ve felt constant anxiety and I’m not sure I feel like I belong in this country given the isolationist direction in which it is heading. I have ties of friendship and family across Europe (and beyond) and having my EU citizenship taken from me against my will feels like a betrayal, and not one I think I can easily forgive.

Yours,

Alexandra Forshaw (Miss)