“It’s a theme that keeps popping up” said my counsellor.
Yes indeed it is.
I felt isolated from my two sisters as the age gap (8+ years) was so enormous. I felt isolated from my father as he kept us at arms length. I felt isolated from my peers, first because they bullied me and then because I stopped having any idea of how to talk to them. I felt happier talking to adults but was aware I was talking a lie and didn’t want to be caught out (“What do you do for a living?”…) I felt isolated from my parents as they weren’t really listening to me. I felt that I had no-one to talk to about my relationships when they started to break down, that my partners weren’t listening and no-one else was. I felt alone in the evening with young children in the house and not being able to go out. I felt frequently, if not for most of my adult life, that there was no-one to call.
And of course, it becomes self-reinforcing. When I eventually had the conversation with a school friend in the sixth form, she asked why I was so stand-offish and reserved when I first came to the school. “I wasn’t”, I said, “just shit scared”. I had by then lost much of my confidence. I walked into a room full of people and felt unable to walk up and join in a conversation if not invited. When I started a new job or a new school I would have sleepless nights for several days beforehand as I worried over them. I dreamed of making prat falls or otherwise making a complete idiot of myself so I’d be totally humiliated. It wasn’t until I moved to Manchester and spent six months moving from one temp job to the next that I really conquered that fear and just got on with it. I still find meeting new people difficult but I’ve got better at not putting up such a cold front that no-one wants to talk to me.
The state and media are also factors I wouldn’t want to omit. The way that being a single parent and on benefits is cited as the root of all our problems, that we’re all layabouts who dump our children in school (if we can be bothered) and then lie on the sofa watching telly, content to never earn a penny again is an image frequently promoted. I hate being misunderstood and misrepresented. I hate the fact that I’m not considered economically productive if I’m not at work. The fact that I’m there for my children, that I have time and energy to spend talking to them and taking them out, bringing them up ‘properly’, these things seem not to count. And that is also isolating. And demeaning.
I bottled it all up. I learned to not cry in front of my partners so as to not show them how much they were hurting me. I used to cry a lot on my own, but somewhere along the road as an adult, I stopped even doing that. I hardly cry now at all. Sometimes I have a little cry when I’m writing this, but usually big tears only come when I’m watching a sappy sentimental film or the very rare book. I went to the (absolutely excellent) Tracey Emin exhibition at the Harvard gallery and I almost cried. I was moved to tears, but just not quite enough to cry. It’s not that I feel obsessed about tears, just that I’m capable of laughing, of expressing love to my children and friends, of hugging, all these happy things.
But the sad emotions, feeling unhappy, isolated, tearful, miserable, depressed; these stay locked in. I am, going back to the previous post, scared to release them. And I’m so scared to release them, that I really genuinely don’t know how any more.