Me, Myself and the Multiplicity of ‘I’s

This is the final piece that I put on the blog earlier in draft form, which went in as my Life Writing submission on the MA…………

Me, Myself, and the multiplicity of I(s).

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Dorothy Parker

It is impossible to die of unhappiness. People in novels do it all the time; they fade away gracefully, maybe helped by a bit of galloping consumption. But in reality, however wretched and miserable you are, life goes on like an eternal curse. Morning after morning, the sun rises, you invariably wake up. You can try; you can lay in bed willing your heart to stop beating, your brain to stop thinking, wishing everything to disappear into a blissful inky nothingness, to become the darkness, to be yourself no more. Though your heart and mind are wrenched apart, though your emotional viscera are laid bare for the world to see and you can take no more, the body and mind keep on against your will. Like some god-awful divine conspiracy, a thunder-bolt ‘I told-you-so’ from up on high.

So, you cannot die of inaction. Simply willing yourself to is never going to be enough, you need to pull yourself free from the whirlpool of lassitude and do something about it. But even then, your psyche conspires against you. Whatever you do, it has to be final and complete. Either that or you still wake up, hideously scarred and disfigured, or a dribbling vegetable in a wheelchair, which isn't really going to cheer you up either. No method can be 100% guaranteed. There are always those pesky ‘miracle’ rescuers you read about in the tabloids to enter into the equation as well. Dorothy Parker was right. You might as well live.

Then you have the well-meaning friends. When you are curled up under the duvet for a week, wishing that it was dark all day as well, they try to 'cheer you up'. Nothing that they say or do will make you feel any better, in fact hearing them over the cacophony in your own head is bad enough. They buy you 'cheerful' clothes (which go in the bin), happy movies (ditto), and singalong CDs (ditto, but it pleases me to jump on them first). They still haven't cottoned on that miserable clothes and dark movies are what make me happy, even when I'm depressed. They are in fact the parts of my personality that I am quite attached to, thank you very much, and to take them away would be to take part of myself away, however weird that may seem to other people.

How does all of this start? As Freud would ask, what was your childhood like? Nothing out of the ordinary, would be the answer, only a marginally dysfunctional family when you fit it into the general scheme of things. I've had friends with major family meltdown who've ended up much less kooky than me. I always wished that I was really stupid though. As a 'clever' child, you always stand apart, you're marked out, singled out, not enough of this, not quite like that. So you never fit in, don't have the herd mentality of the pack. I always felt that if you were really dumb you might never notice all of this, that it might all pass over your head, that you would never feel any of that unhappiness. So there you are, the too-brainy geeky loner. That morbid girl in the corner reading a book. The friends you do have are the other misfits, the flotsam and jetsam, the too-tall, too-fat, too-thin, too-foreign, too-gay, too-poor, (in single or multiple combinations), and those like yourself, the just-too-plain-weird. Get used to it. That's going to carry on for the rest of your life.

The more you are alone, the more being alone seems natural, the harder it is to relate to 'normality' and 'normal' people. Left to your own devices, normality is relative. After a while observing the world from your exclusion zone, you think that you are the most eminently sane person in the world. Other people are the mad ones; your truth is the only real truth. How would you be able to tell? What do you have to compare it with? Do you care anymore? If the 'normal' world won't have you in it’s club, why would you want to be a member anyhow?

The problem is that you are really not quite mad enough. You are conscious of the fact that you are losing the plot, but you walk the razor-blade edge between sanity and insanity. Nobody cares as long as you keep it to yourself. You can lie in bed for a week, lose a fortnight in desperation, but nobody really notices. If you suffer from the quiet internalised hell, no-one cares. They can’t see or feel what is going on inside your head. If you laid on the floor screaming, or announced to the social worker that you were Queen Victoria, all hell would break loose, but keep it within yourself and you become invisible. Even if you ask for help, you're told that if you're sane enough to ask for it, you really don't need it. Sometimes you're even told that it's your life that's the problem, not your head. No psychiatrist will even offer to help with that.

How do you get to this point? How do you let yourself get to this point? You don’t; of course, it creeps up on you until one day it seems to sucker on to your soul and never leaves you again. Like a dark invasive fog between you and the world, colouring your vision. It comes over you in waves, each wave more overwhelming until the last one knocks you flying. You can't feel it as such, because you are becoming more and more numb and distanced as time goes on. Eventually, you can't even summon up the tears to cry at the hopelessness of it all. They don't flow any more, even they have dried up. Yet still you continue, a shell of a girl, when even a smile would crack your carapace face from side to side. The worst thing about this is nobody seems to notice that you are eaten away from the inside like a tree- or maybe they do and they just don't care. If they tapped you, you would shatter into a million tiny fragments, and be carried away on the breeze like so much ash.

Eventually you descend into a numbness, a null void. Your own unhappiness winds round you like a shroud, an impermeable shroud, a winding sheet through which nothing can penetrate. Life, death, happiness, sorrow, everything just passes you by, stuck on your emotional bypass while life shuttles by. Nothing seems real, nothing can get through. It's like being buried alive in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, you can observe everything go on around you but you are no part of it and it is no part of you. Relegated to the fringes of life.

As an adult, the prejudices change again subtly. You are not only too weird, but many other things on top. You can add new insults to the list. You are now seen to be 'deep', 'complex', 'complicated' to add to your sins. Just when you think that you are half-way towards a functional relationship with a member of the opposite sex, they offer this up on a platter as a ready-made excuse for finishing it there and then. Sayonara psycho.

Here, you have two choices. You could of course just keep yourself to yourself, live in an attic with 93 cats, and become known as Miss So-and-so, the ‘old witch upstairs’. Never get close enough to anyone for them to remark upon your ‘otherness’.

There is the other route of course. You could decide to play them at their own game. Buy into the ‘Stepford Wives’ mentality. You carefully put aside all that is ‘weird’, refute every part of yourself, deny everything that is fundamentally ‘you’. Have a ‘normal’ relationship, following this up with the expected wedding on a summer’s day with pastel shades, cute bridesmaids, and warm champagne. You can buy normal clothes and try to follow normal pursuits such as going to the gym and going camping, pretend to care about who is doing what to whom and have trivial conversations about fame. Make 16 course dinners for your mother-in-law. Go the whole hog and get yourself the ultimate ‘normal’ accessory, a baby. Coo and cuddle and dress it to the nines, burbling to it in the fashion of the mentally afflicted as everyone else does. Become the 2.4 children norm, spending your Sunday afternoons in Matalan and Ikea.

Yet somehow they see through this veil of normality. Is it something you said, your attitudes towards this and that? Could it be an earring too many, or your cavalier attitude towards the sainted status of motherhood? It could be that despite all of this normality, it has still been noted that you are reading too many books of ‘the wrong kind’. They might notice that any of the friends that you choose come from the lucky dip of loonies, and not from the Women’s’ Institute. If you are unlucky, they might try to beat the weirdness from you, believing that if they hit the head that holds it for long enough, they will banish it forever. Eventually, spurred on by the comments from their friends, the ‘normal’ partner will turn around and blame you for the weirdness, accuse you of duplicitously fucking up his life, and leave for fresh fields and pastures new and normal with a secretary from Pinner who laughs at their (feeble) jokes.

There you go again. Excluded from the world of the ‘normal’, nursing the internal and external bruising, alone once more.Of course you could try the drugs. They'll offer them to you at every point, and in these you have a great and glorious choice. There are the ones that turn you into a cast member from 'Return of the Living Dead'. They don't make anything any better, but as even walking is an effort, you wouldn't care anyway. There are those that make you sleep, I say sleep, but it's more like catatonia really. There are those that send you completely loco for a week or two (whereupon they decide that you might have a 'reaction' to them). Then there are those that slightly lift the veil, and fool you into thinking that this might just work. These are the most insidious of the lot. Everything's great for a few weeks, then you realise that you can't sleep. So they give you something to make you sleep. Then you can't relax without twitching, so they give you something for that. You become a walking talking pill-bottle, but as everyone cheerily says 'you look a lot better'. Then you begin to realise that you are losing yourself in all of this. You need a pill to wake up, a pill to go to bed, a pill to exist. Your personality is dying; it attacks you, not the cuckoo that has taken up permanent residence in your psyche. So you flush the lot down the lavatory, have even worse panic attacks for months, and start all over again.

At this point, I'm sure that you're waiting for me to make it all better. Not for me, but for you, that is. You would love me to say that I'm all better now, that yesterday I cut the plastic starfish off the sunglasses case for the baby to play with. Or that I live in pastel pink cashmere and occupy a des-res thatched cottage in the country with my three gorgeous and gifted children and my perfect husband. Lived happily ever after. ‘Ils se marierent et eurent beaucoup d'enfants’. But it's a bit like an infection in some ways. It eats into your soul, once you’ve noticed that it’s there, you're never quite rid of it. It lurks, somewhere in a dark corner, waiting its moment to pounce. You can never exorcise yourself, no matter how deeply you wish to. At its best it adds a bittersweet quality to even the happiest of moments, at its worst, poisons even the most innocent pleasures. You can visualise it as a black cloud, a seeping cancerous mist that goes everywhere.

You might, eventually, after much seeking find someone almost as strange as you. They might identify with your exclusion, sympathise with your dissociation, you can form a club of two against the world. But everyone’s little psychoses are different. There will be moments when you can identify personally, this person is the nearest you will ever come in life to a soulmate, there will be other moments when the blackness within both your souls will jar, when the blackness within your soul will be cruel, will push them away and wound them. You do not want to hurt them, it is something that rises within you from time to time, flaying all in its path, decimating even that which you hold dear in life. If you are really lucky, they might actually hang around long enough for you to explain. If you’re exceptionally lucky, they might even understand.

Although some parts of your life can function quite normally, the rest seems to end in a pile of emotional debris. You have to evolve ways of coping with it. You come up with complex strategies so that no-one notices. You become the most skilled actor in the game of life. Eventually there are two 'yous'. There is the everyday 'you' that is seen by the public, and then there is the same private 'you' that hears the chaos inside your head. On one side the acceptably slightly dippy side of lunacy, the amiable though a little eccentric, smiling even when your face aches, and on the other, the internal you, screaming wordlessly into the void, crying silently and tearlessly behind the mask. They function in tandem, despite all your best efforts. You white, you black. And when you try to write it down, it complicates further. Personality as jigsaw. There are then three yous. You white, you black, and you the writer. Not so much bipolar as tripolar.

Of course you could move away, change languages, cultures. The ideal solution, escape yourself, create a ‘new’ you. Believe me; they will see through it just the same. There is a weirdo radar in every culture, and you won’t pass through it unperceived. There must be some kind of secret abnormal signal you give out. Then it gets even worse. You have six of you, a black, white, writer, one in each language, in bilingual hell. Is there such a word as hexpolar? It sounds oddly appropriate.

The only answer is to know thyself and love thyselves. If not love, then at least tolerate thyself a little bit. Watch for the signs, know the triggers, avoid the situations, sometimes just walk away. When all is a black maelstrom, just spend time by yourself. At least that way, nobody gets hurt except you. Learn to appreciate your self(ves). At least you'll never be bored, you can always entertain yourselves. If they think you are the weirdo in the corner? So what. No one will ever like everyone, and maybe you are an acquired taste. You should have learned that by now anyway. At least you'll never be alone, you always have yourself to fall back on. You will never lose yourself, however much pain you inflict on yourselves, they can never escape. So there you are for eternity, all of you. Smiling, smiling eternally, whilst crying into the void behind the flimsy mask of 'normality'.


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