Mistakes

“The truth is this: sometimes we display good qualities and sometimes bad. Sometimes we act in helpful, productive ways and sometimes in harmful, maladaptive ways. But we are not defined by these qualities or behaviors. We are a verb not a noun, a process rather than a fixed “thing.” Our actions change—mercurial beings that we are—according to time, circumstance, mood, setting.”

– Self-Compassion, Kristin Neff

For the first time in therapy I talked to my therapist L about the biggest mistake I have ever made. The long and the short of it is that I was abusive to my little brother, when I was 14 and he was 3. I was looking after him, and I couldn’t handle it. I screwed up, massively, and no matter how much I tried to make it up to him it felt as if I had a black mark on my soul, a stain on my character, a piece of me that was nothing short of evil. When he died 6 years later in a drowning accident, I felt as if I had failed him as a big sister in every possible way. I had hurt him, I had abandoned him when I left home, and I hadn’t protected him from the harms of my parents and their neglect. I pushed his memory to the side as much as I could, but despite my best efforts the memories began to resurface after I had my son, A.

My brother and A look similar: dark caramel hair, blue-green eyes, and a shining wickedness of mischief in their faces. I was filled with sadness, panic: seeing my brother “overlap” with my son when we went swimming, I imagined my son drowning. As my son got older, reached 3, then 4, I compared their lives and burned and raged inside at the unfairness of it all. My son is happy. Healthy. He’s safe, whole, growing, adventurous, explosive, and with a sense of humour that has us all laughing nearly every day. My brother was happy too, shining and bright in the midst of abuse, chaos, and terror. He was always smiling, despite his hand always bleeding from his obsessive finger-chewing, despite the bruises that always peppered his body. We loved him – all of us – me, my parents, my other brothers. None of the neglect or abuse came from a lack of love, just a lack of ability, a lack of control, a lack of support. I did what I could to look after him, and so did they. We all failed at it.

As I got closer to my therapist L, the black mark of my abusive behaviour towards my brother gnawed at me. I felt so ashamed, so guilty, and no matter how much I reassured myself that I am a totally different person now, that I regretted it, it fed upon me more and more. Finally, I crashed. Crying, I told L what I had done, feeling as if my entire body would just be swallowed up by the ground, as if my entire soul and heart was sinking deep into an abyss of guilt and pain. Steadily, she reassured me. She gave me a way through, a new way to look at the entire situation. I’m processing it, finding ways to discover the voice inside myself that says: “You did a bad thing, but you are not a bad person.” It feels horrible to try to reassure myself, as if I don’t deserve to ever feel better. I tell myself “Honey, you were 14. You were just a kid yourself. You and him were both in a horrible situation, together. He’ll always be your brother. Connect with him, don’t turn away from him anymore.” I’m still figuring out how.

It’s strange to admit: so often I apply a victim narrative to myself, a narrative of helplessness, hopelessness, abuse and harm committed against me. It’s true. But I have also acted as the perpetrator, the abuser, the harmful person, exerting power and control over someone much smaller than me, someone innocent. I know I did something wrong.

I have been reading a lot about how to process this, how to accept it, and how to keep moving: for the benefit of my partners, my kids, my friends, and everyone else who is still around me today. I work on myself to improve as best I can. The key thing I am discovering is that I can continue to choose healing over harm in every action I take: to the best of my abilities I can try not to harm others, and I can try not to harm myself. Yet, still beat myself up after nearly 20 years for my actions as a 14 year old. Why? Kristen Neff’s book “Self-Compassion” has been instrumental in supporting the techniques from my therapist, and attempting to find a way forward that is connecting and kind; I can focus on the now, rather than the past. She explains:

Rather than getting lost in thoughts of being good or bad, we become mindful of our present moment experience, realizing that it is ever changing and impermanent. Our successes and failures come and go—they neither define us nor do they determine our worthiness. They are merely part of the process of being alive.

The more that I think about these ideas, the more I can move. I keep reminding myself we are all one and the same: we are all wounded in some way, and we have all wounded others. It is not the wound that we create or that is within us, it is how we deal with it, and we are all in this life dealing with these things together.

The Simplest Stories We Tell

It took me a long time to realise how much shame I hold in my body. So many other emotions, behaviours, actions I take are mislabeled as other things without me taking the time to look the real feeling in the eye. Noticing, being aware of my own shame has a sort of triumph in it. Aha! I see what is happening, now! It sounds odd, to be triumphant about shame. For me the repair is in the knowledge, because without being able to see my feeling and the story I am telling around it, I can’t untangle it. Without feeling it I can’t heal it.

As a child, my parents often rejected me. My mother especially. Not because of me, but because she was overwhelmed. Preoccupied. With a violent marriage to a man she loved, and a mother telling her never to give up on commitment, she lost her power and hope, lost herself in her own despair. It culminated in her trying to take her own life, and I will never forget the moment she stood right next to me and swept our telephone to the ground, ripping the cord from the wall so my Dad couldn’t call an ambulance. I barely remember the rest: did an ambulance come? (I guess so, since she’s not dead). Did I run away? (I don’t know). Did she get better? (Sort of). When I realised as an adult that she had tried to leave us so permanently, the sense of abandonment and fear I felt was unreal. Were we not worth sticking around for? Did she not love us? How could she look right into my 7-year-old face, less than 1 metre away from her, and fight being saved?

These adult musings are just a fraction of the story my young self began to tell, without the words to describe the terror, no outlet to talk to, nobody to mend the pain. I withdrew, became angry and anxious, and the photographs of me from that age are nothing more than haunting, light gone from my eyes. She was out of control, chaotic, cold, and the shame I internalised in response to this behaviour has torn the good parts of me apart for the longest time. The stories children tell are simple ones, because we do not understand the nuances or complexities of human behaviour or abuse. We are totally dependent, and require a steady and stable caregiver who we are biologically primed to attach to. I was torn between the need for closeness, the fear of danger, and a lack of understanding what was going on. With constant rejection and chaos the stories I told were: This is my fault. I am not good enough. I am “too much” for her. I make her crazy. I’m bad, disgusting, no good.

I’m lucky that I had enough in me to make it through that, as well as everything that came after. When I look back at my life and see all this chaos, with this little girl wading her way through the swamp without giving up, I realise I told the wrong story. The story is not that I’m worthless, or bad, or someone causing problems. I’m brave. I’m resilient. I have so much love in me, and I have enough strength in me to feel the feelings, untangle the narrative, and mend it all. Of course I don’t do it all alone. I have many people standing by my side. I asked my mother for some photos of her as a teenager and as a young woman, and I looked at this 19 year old in her wedding dress, love and compassion just pouring out of me towards her. It’s so heartbreaking to realise that she was in so much pain that she didn’t want to stay anymore. And I know from experience that being that chaotic, being in so much pain, makes you believe that you are a burden, that you are damaging everyone around you. She wasn’t trying to harm us. She was trying to save us, along with herself.

I look at all this toxic shame I carry and think about pulling it off my body, out of my skin, out of my heart and ribs and the soles of my feet. It doesn’t belong to me, nor her. I don’t want to keep it inside anymore, so I take it out and release it into the air and the sunshine one bit at a time.

All Things Stand Out In the Light

I could count the things I know about you
on both hands,
with not one door (but four) between us
and the entire world.

I know that you wear fantastic earrings,
That you are particular about teapots,
And that you have far too many hats
(in my opinion).

I know you have made mistakes,
that your heart is gold,
and that the sunlight sometimes flickers
through your curtains.

I also know that with you 
my life has bloomed a hundred flowers over my whole body,
Sweet
And gathering on your floor.

The Problem of Achieving a Quiet Heart

So, it’s been a long time since I last wrote. Interestingly, my last post was around the time that I started therapy with a wonderful woman called “L”. This blog started as a way to express my thoughts, to chronicle my attempts to choose courage instead of fear, to reinvent my life and pull myself out of the mental swamp that I was tired of living in. A lot has changed. So much has changed that I feel almost like a new person, renewed and fresh.

Therapy is such a weird process, one of the most challenging and beautiful and painful processes I have ever gone through. I say “gone through” as if it’s in the past, when I’m still in it. As much as it pains me though, I know I am nearing the end of at least one phase of it. I feel a deep ache at the love L has given me, over and over and over, the patience and the kindness, and the thought of our time together changing and closing. I know some of my intense feelings are just part of how therapy works. Yet, some of it is so much more than that: a genuine, deep, and meaningful connection, a striving for balance; tranquility and growth at the same time. At certain points the sessions were excruciatingly difficult, while these days it slowly settles. We still have moments where everything feels incredibly consuming, but mostly I feel a sense of peace and a knowledge that I have to take steps into my own independence.

My first post on this blog was about beginnings. My friend J’s correspondence art project and mission statement were what I started this blog with, and the concepts in her words still resonate with me:

Conservation of Energy (knowing– exactly –when to “end”/knowing what is a “beginning”)

I wasn’t thinking too hard about endings years ago, I was all about reinventing myself, making conscious choices to move forwards. But beginnings and endings are all part of one and the same cycle.

My therapist L introduced me to the I Ching, also known as the Book of Changes. The truths that fill this book are a special kind of wisdom about life’s rhythms, and the natural laws that govern our beautifully changing world of flux. It makes me happy more and more that the tattoo on my left arm is a tree with all four seasons. When I got it, it represented change: my changing moods, the cycles of my life, and the ways in which I tried to come to terms with the shifting multitudes in me, many of which I struggled with immensely. It was an attempt to see the beauty in something that tore me apart, a mixture of positive and negative. The tattoo on my right arm is one of flowers: growth, memory, and a re-writing of my past into something beautiful. Beginnings and endings are woven through the I Ching in a tapestry of life and death, acceptance and struggle, polarities in good and evil, the shedding of the old, approaching the new. In the first Hexagram it states:

Here it is shown that the way to success lies in apprehending and giving actuality to the way of the universe [Tao], which, as a law running through end and beginning, brings about all phenomena in time.

I realised recently that I’m afraid of the next ending. Ending therapy, finding my autonomy. I read back through some of my old posts on this blog, many despairing, confused meanderings through the darknesses of my mind. Those dark moments didn’t stop when I started therapy, though they come less frequently now. They are less deep, less severe, easier for me to pull myself out of. The light and the gold and the brightness that has come into my life is of a magnitude that is indescribable.

When I’m grateful to L, she often says that I’m the one doing the hard work. But I cannot imagine the responsibility of having other people’s minds in your hands, their happinesses, their traumas, their dreams, their fears and abuses and angers and loves and failures. I am doing the work in my own journey, but she has been right there alongside me showing me the path. With her help I have transformed in ways I never thought possible. L’s Dad passed away early this year, and I went through my own mini-grieving in response to hers. Over the last few days I kept thinking “I suppose none of us are getting out of this alive,” and for some reason it has given me a strange comfort and drive to be more brave, more open, more loving. I wrote a post some years ago talking about the “small but strong” version of myself that was scared of my depression, scared of my moods, scared of the darkness in me. I know now that my heart is stronger than I ever thought possible, more courageous than I dreamed. I can look at my moods, the darkness flitting around the edges and smile at it. It doesn’t beat me to a pulp anymore. The fear never leaves me, but most days now I can turn towards it with curiosity and an open heart.

Endings feel like they are a part of everything around me. I am planning to move away from Berlin to travel some more while the kids are still young and not in school, and I get sadder and sadder at the prospect of leaving. I told L that I was thinking of whether or not I wanted to have a personal relationship with her instead of a therapy relationship, and for the first time in a long time I am struggling to untangle the courageous choice from the fearful one. Am I afraid of the relationship ending, afraid of not having her in my life? Perhaps the courageous choice is to just let her go and focus on my own autonomy. Or am I afraid of attempting something new and different, following what I know my heart wants? Perhaps the courageous choice is to take a risk and try it. This odd bubble sits in my chest as well, reminding me that I am not the only person involved in this decision. Can I even fairly put her in a position where I would ask her to answer me? Am I being foolish even considering the idea? It’s an ethical minefield, no doubt. Maybe my courage and hope aren’t balanced enough with consideration, seriousness, and contemplation. Maybe the answers are clear, and I just don’t want to accept them.

One of my previous posts was about a relationship I was considering starting with a woman called A. My post was about my hesitance, my refusal, my resistance to her. Nonetheless, at some point I decided to go for it: falling head-first in love, it became one of the most fundamental and heart-rending relationships I have ever experienced. She made me feel alive, she woke up pieces of me that had been dormant for a long time, and she also broke my heart into a thousand tiny pieces, leading me on a journey of self-discovery, reflection, pain, and growth. Wandering in and out of each other’s lives by virtue of both proximity and a tiny red thread of enduring connection, we began something new. Our friendship has bloomed from the ashes of our romantic love, and I never thought I could feel so happy and calm with the way things have turned out.

I suppose this is what informs me with L, because I don’t want to live a life of regret. It’s hard to know what you should take a chance on, and what you shouldn’t. The main things I regret are the times I have harmed others, and I know that this is something L is fearful of. It is true that potential for harm lies in attempting to change our relationship into something else, and that staying in the safety of the therapy relationship is significantly less risky. Whenever I think about risk though, I smile when I think about how she often says “No risk, no fun”. So far, she has been totally right for everything I have encountered – I question now where the limit is. There are certain kinds of risk-taking that are akin to leaping off a cliff! At least for now I decided to do nothing and accept that everything comes in its right time. Maybe there never will be a right time, because it’s just not the right thing to do. I don’t know. What I do know is that when something is right, you feel it and experience it without so much internal conflict: it just happens. Something interesting about the I Ching is that “After Completion” comes before “Before Completion” (the two final Hexagrams).

While the preceding hexagram offers an analogy to autumn, which forms the transition from summer to winter, this hexagram presents a parallel to spring, which leads out of winter’s stagnation into the fruitful time of summer. With this hopeful outlook the Book of Changes come to its close.

A natural cycle governs everything in life. I could never have dreamed years ago that I would be able to consider anything with even some sense of the confidence and harmony I feel many days now. Pulled from side-to-side by my own mind, I felt only chaotic, wild, and out of control. One part of me hopes that actually it will never be fully tamed, because I grow to enjoy having a little bit of wildness in me. Anyway, I know that this path is not a linear one. As L says, we all do the best we can in the time and space that we do it in.

Island

I know something is wrong with me. I don’t know how to explain it other than that this can’t be normal, this can’t be how life is supposed to be and how people are supposed to feel. Every time I’ve gone to therapy in the past, as soon as they start questioning me about my childhood and my parents and everything, I stop going. I haven’t been able to process it. I’ve been hesitant to call it trauma but increasingly I realise that it is. It was traumatic. I was just a child. I felt so grown up at times but I was a child, and everyone around me who was supposed to keep me safe, didn’t.

I went to Naples on holiday and had to wear my headphones for most of the time because all the city noise triggered my anxiety. I felt like I might have a panic attack, so I shut it all out so I could enjoy the city. I felt somehow weak or strange, that this was how I had to experience somewhere as fantastic and lively as Italy. I was slow to leave the house in the mornings, I found it hard to experience real joy. I’ve wanted to go to Italy since I was a kid. What happened?

When I search for what’s wrong with me, there are too many things that kind of fit and don’t fit at the same time. I keep trying to diagnose myself and find something to hang my hat on, but the more I look the more nervous and confused I get. I used to have hallucinations and I didn’t even realise at the time that’s what was happening, I knew that I heard voices and saw things that weren’t there. But it stopped. Was it just stress induced? It stopped when I moved away from him, away from them. I realised how much it affected me when I went to Edinburgh and saw all the same street names. It felt like home, well… what everybody calls home. My home was a house of pain and disappointment. I only started seeing it when I saw other people’s reactions, when I tell people how I was treated. I told A. just one tiny piece of the story at a dinner the other night, just one small thing, and she cried. What’s going to happen when I tell her all of it? I feel so alone.

What The Fuck Am I Doing Wrong?

So, it happened again. Another woman from my daughter’s Kita has feelings for me. And of course, just as perfectly and just as terribly, I have feelings for her too. I saw it months ago: joking to my husband “I think A. has a bit of a crush on me…”, hearing how she talked about me “People are staring at you because you have those flecks in your eyes… and you’ve been cycling.. you look so healthy..”. It was obvious and I ignored it and ignored it because I didn’t know what to do. It felt sweet and maybe (just maybe) like I had imagined it. I talked to my friend M. and said “Am I losing the plot here? She’s just into me in a platonic way, right?” and M. said “Yes, platonic, platonic.”

And no, it’s not platonic. Not at all. A. told me that she’s bisexual, or queer, or pansexual, or whatever you want to call it: not straight. She told me she wanted to go to this club with me…. KitKat. It’s a sex club, a fetish club. We went out for drinks, got drunk, and went there. I couldn’t focus on anyone but her. I wanted her, and I knew I shouldn’t.

After things ended with S., all those months ago, S. and her husband split up. They both reassured me it wasn’t anything to do with me, and that their marriage had actually had problems for a long time. They don’t hate me, they both still talk to me, and as far as I can tell, they are telling the truth about it not being my fault. But I no longer feel like I would do it again: I changed my mind, I think it was a mistake.

So now with A. … beautiful, smart, wonderful A. … I can’t do it. I want her to like me, I want her to have a crush on me, I want her to lose control and do all the things with me that she and I both know we shouldn’t do. But this time around I don’t think I can’t do it. I like her so much, and seeing how S. and I grew apart, seeing how we broke our friendship in the end, seeing all the pain and complication surrounding our lives, there’s no way that I can do this with A. It would be so reckless, with foresight, knowing exactly how badly things would end.

I love how she laughs. I love how she smiles. There are so many things about her that I can’t help but feel so drawn to, not least of all that she seems to understand me. I love hearing her talk about her PhD and all the academic stuff she’s working on. At coffee this morning she mentioned something about illuminated manuscripts and I felt my eyes grow wider and I felt my breath catch in my lungs; she’s so intelligent, so interesting, I can’t get enough. Yesterday she tried on some clothes for work, some business outfits, and one of the items was a leather jacket. When she put it on I just felt this “Oh god..” feeling in my body. She looked hot, and as much as my brain could try to ignore it, my body told me in no uncertain terms how I felt.

I like her so much. But we must live in this universe, this world in which we like each other but it will never be realised. Nothing will ever happen, and one day when one or both of us decides we don’t like each other in that way anymore, it will be the end of a relationship that never happened. And thinking of that, makes me sad.

In all of this, I wonder: what kind of impression am I giving to people. What are the chances that in my kid’s kindergarten, there are two mothers, two married women, who are both falling for me. What am I doing wrong? It’s not supposed to be this way. A. and I did some work together, editing someone else’s document, and the guy had written that to determine the history of an object when assessing it for art acquisition purposes, that one should circle the object first from far away, and then up close: like prey. I joked that a friend calls me a predator, because I always seem to get the people I’m interested in. But I don’t feel like a predator, not at all, rather I feel like sometimes I am so confused and so uncontrolled, that suddenly I am leaping into something completely blind and that it just so happens to work out the way I wanted it to. And of course… sometimes it doesn’t work out, at all. When this happens again, first with S. and now with A. … I begin to wonder whether I really am treating people as if they are a goal, a challenge to beat. Am I unknowingly seeing these people as not people, but prey? Am I disregarding what is right, what I should do, how I should behave, purely for my own selfish interests? Life isn’t supposed to be this complicated. I can’t help but think that I am making it so… but another part of me wonders if this is just what life is, sometimes: complex, uncontrolled, inconvenient, pleasurable, hard.

The Other Me

I guess it’s that time again, that time I start to feel like something isn’t quite right. It feels like something inside my head is being carried away in a swag over someone’s shoulder, someone shadowy and fast and mischievous, someone who I’ve known for far too long. It’s always a “he”, and he’s there with a baseball bat to beat me into submission when I least expect it.

Sometimes it’s okay, everything seems okay, and then suddenly it’s happening and I feel as if I got grabbed from behind in some dark alleyway and all the breath is gone from my lungs. Other times it’s like he flies in and out of my consciousness, flitting about like some kind of Tinkerbell in rags and with sharp teeth, and all I can do is try to push him away, run faster, take a left turn and then a right, trying to get away.

Eventually he always catches up, and then the damage begins. It’s always just a matter of how much damage, not if, but how much. When he’s with me it’s like my brain is trying to breathe and it can’t, like someone took two of those paddles they use to jump-start a heart, and they put them on my brain – suddenly I’m falling like Alice down the rabbit hole, gasping and motionless.

“RUN”, she says, the old me, the real me, “If you stay healthy it’ll be okay. Do social stuff. Eat well. Read books. Run as fast as you can. Get some sunshine, hug someone.” And then before I know it it’s been 3 beautiful days of sunshine outside while I sit inside and lie in bed and eat and eat and eat. I don’t get dressed, I don’t brush my teeth, I start panicking. I check my phone for messages, turn it off, turn it on, turn it off, throw it at the ground, turn it on, cry and then force myself into something like a bike ride or reading a book or doing something, anything productive that might have a chance of saving me. It feels so naive having this hope that maybe if I just do something, if I just keep moving, that maybe this time it’ll be okay.

But when it’s not enough, it’s not enough.

Once he starts pushing all those tiny black seeds into my brain, they sprout into nails and push out all the good things. Every single time I have to take a deep breath and uproot this horrible garden one nail-plant at a time, using all my strength, whispering to myself “It will be okay, keep going, keep going, keep going”, bleeding and bleeding all the while. I try not to let anyone else around me see that I walk this nailbed and that I’m hurting so much, I could bleed out through the floor and nobody would know why.

But no matter how much the real me fights, the other one is always there, the boy one, though boy makes him sound as if he has some aspect of sweetness, of innocence, but he is not that. He is a man, a rapist, a murderer, a thief, he takes everything from me. The real me is so small, and she always gets up, so bruised, sometimes bleeding, sometimes tying the knots around my own throat and just waiting for someone to shout “no”. Every time I crawl out of that pit again I’m dragging the ropes behind me like chains, old marks lingering in the places where he knows to tie them again when I make a mistake.

Right now it feels as if I climbed up so high, I felt invincible, maybe that time was over, maybe I would be able to be myself for once and that I could just live my fucking life. And then I see him out of the corner of my eye, and I realise that somehow I walked into some street that I didn’t know was a dead-end and he’s there and he’s there and he’s everywhere I turn.

The worst part is that it feels like he’s laughing, I’m his hostage and we both know it, we both know that he is me and I am him and that the person inside my head that desperately wants to live cannot escape no matter what she does. He knows exactly what will bring me down, exactly what will make things worse: alcohol, not enough sleep, isolation, and makes me crave those things with an intensity so strong I feel as if I cannot control it. The insomnia is the worst, and I cry so deep into my soul, just knowing that every single second I lie awake is him tightening the ropes around me, the small but strong me who is so, so scared.

He holds up a baseball bat, and I crouch down on the ground.  I wait for the beating to begin, one eye always looking to the side for a way out. Other eye to the ground, knowing that maybe, maybe, if I just stay very still, I’ll still be alive at the end of it.

The Words We Cannot Speak

“[T]o love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.”

– Exit West, Mohsin Hamid

So much of life is about loss, and how we deal with it, process it, keep moving afterwards. I told my best friend M. that I love her, and that this feeling scares me because love is like my lungs have been scooped out and replaced with pop-rocks. She told me she sometimes feels as if she loves in a surface way, shallow and never quite getting so deep. When she loses someone, when someone dies, she cries and then keeps on with life.

I feel right now as if someone tied me up with red threads, as if the world is so much tinier than I imagined and all these connections are pulling me in different ways. What do I do with all the loves I have? How do I explain to people: I adore you, I miss you, I love you so much that the base of my spine turns to butterflies when I think of you. I can’t help but feel so alone sometimes with these feelings, like nobody else feels so strong and keeps it all so pushed inside. I store it in my bones, in my blood, and yet when the time comes to actually say the words I can’t, I can’t, and instead all that comes out is tepid.

The flipside of that coin is that I’m fickle, easily extinguished if I don’t get enough to keep the flame alive. I cannot say that either: if you don’t love me enough, if you don’t show me enough, the fear fills me again and I will leave. But where do I go? I can’t say what I need to say, and the sadness of losing someone makes me feel so scared that I just push it away and move backwards, move away, put something in between us so that the loss will not be so much. But all the feelings are still there, everything still simmers underneath, I just need the right thing to wake it up.

I think when it comes to my flight or fight response, I’m all flight.

I met a girl on Thursday who had a tattoo of a cormorant on her back. She told me that the cormorant stretches its wings out after diving, to dry them. It’s one of the only aquatic birds in the world that does not have fully water-repellent wings.

Platonic

Recently I’ve been feeling something pretty strong towards my best friend here. She’s wonderful and I can’t help but adore her and I feel nothing but joy when we’re together. At first when I started feeling so emotional I would leave her house and think “Oh shit, am I falling in love with her?” (not again!?) and I felt scared that it would tear us apart and ruin everything. But I sat with that feeling and decided to just let it be, to just let it happen. And it kept happening, I saw that I loved her and that I felt this way and that it was okay: how can there be anything wrong with loving a friend?

I usually feel a lot for my friends, but sometimes it goes beyond what I think most people seem to experience, something in that slightly-more-than-just-friends zone. Sometimes there’s attraction too, and when it’s mutual that’s when things can get complicated. But I’ve navigated these strange and tiny ships through big storms, and even though I have a few friend-shipwrecks along the way, most of them survive and make it through to calm waters on the other side.


Another friend of mine moved away recently. When she left I realised that our relationship had been deep in some ways but very shallow in others. We had shared a lot of stories with each other, we had eaten many meals together, our kids played a lot. But I didn’t feel anything for her. If she didn’t message me, I didn’t mind. I liked her, but the emotional depth just never happened for me. With my best friend, when I’m not taking to her I miss her, I wonder how she’s doing. I think about her and her little family with those intense feelings that come with actually loving someone. I want her life to be wonderful. It’s a selfish feeling too, that I want her to be in my life. I want to have her and to keep her, but if she wanted to leave for something that would make her happy, I would want her to go.

When I got here I felt so isolated and scared of being lonely; it was a fear that I didn’t even realise I could experience until I got here. I had been afraid of the language barrier and of the logistics: visas, permits, apartment, kindergarten for my kids… I never thought about how I might not make friends. Everyone who knows me well is back in New Zealand, they know all my quirks and weirdness and flaws, but still choose to be in my life. Here I had to start again and just hope like hell that someone would like me.

After meeting her I felt like everything would be alright. At first all we did was go to playgrounds and eat ice cream with our kids. I don’t know how or when but it gradually became a lot more. It was as if she had grabbed my hand and gave us this shelter from the insanity of moving to the other side of the world. She told us about how when she arrived in Berlin she was so depressed and so lonely, and I felt like she protected me from that pain. I will be forever grateful for that.


With M. and the kids I have my own home that I created, one that travels with us no matter where we actually live. But my friend gave me a home here. Enjoying Berlin and loving Berlin began with having that security and love she gives. She gives the best hugs, and she is free with her affection. That’s exactly the kind of person I need in my life, and up until now I’ve only had a few of them. For all I know things are not the same for her, and maybe things are a lot more shallow in how she feels towards me. But I know she cares about me and opens up to me, at least enough for me to see there’s something beautiful between us. In my life that’s something rare.

What I Need

For the first time in ages I have told someone what I need. Not what I want, what I need. A girl that I’ve been sleeping with keeps wanting to meet up, but I lost all my energy to socialise and have sex and it all just fell away before I even noticed it was gone. I told her that it’s nothing to do with her, but that I can’t meet up with her and I just need to focus on myself for a little while.

Even though my mood feels okay, I’ve been spending the last month in bed, at home, not venturing out much other than places that I have to go to. I take the kids out, I go to the supermarket, but I actively avoid everything else unless it’s with a close friend. These are the little blinking orange lights that show me “Hey, look out, things could get a lot worse from here if you’re not careful.”

5 years ago I didn’t notice this was happening until it was too late. I sat in my bedroom every evening, ignoring M. and refusing to interact with anyone unless I was drunk; I would wait for that blurry feeling to wash over me until I could show affection and say what I thought and crack jokes and then as soon as it was over I was back into my bed and thinking some of the darkest thoughts I’ve ever thought in my life.

We did go on holiday to Edinburgh; it felt familiar — the city is laid out like Dunedin; the street names are all the same and even some of the buildings felt so much like New Zealand. Everyone was speaking English instead of German and I could just breathe for a moment. It also felt like as soon as I caught my breath, I was suffocating all over again in everything that came with those home-feelings: memories, people, damage, the small-city-ness of it all. I missed Berlin and the trains, I missed the queerness, I didn’t feel as secure walking around just being me, even though visibly I look like some boring 30-year-old Mum. I don’t look like anything strange or weird or like I push any boundaries in my life ever, but I do feel inside myself like I just don’t fit in some places. A woman I met at a rooftop bar the other week told me that in Berlin she feels like she can really be herself and relax and everyone just accepts her. She said:

In Berlin, everybody cares about who you are. But nobody minds.

And she was so right, this is true for me at least.

My fuck-buddy replied quickly when I messaged her, she was kind and told me that she understands. If I want to message her again one day, I can, she said. I told her what I need and everything was fine. I’m not used to this.

I need to focus on myself for a little while, I need to gain back some idea of what I’m doing and where I’m going. The emotional responses I’m having to M. and my friends and my kids is something that I didn’t expect – I’m not feeling so grumpy or angry or short-tempered as usual, instead it’s openness and love and this good feeling for them, mixed in with this bad self-feeling, this lack of motivation and quiet fear of venturing out into the world. But why do I feel this confused bundle of emotions, why do I feel so simultaneously buoyed and flat? That’s what I need to figure out.