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 just went to Naples on holiday in October 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. Depression, anxiety, bipolar, BPD, CPTSD. I used to have hallucinations and I didn’t even realize 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, like that version of “home” that everybody calls home, but that’s a place in name alone to me. That home is a house of pain, of disappointment. I only started seeing it when I saw other people’s reactions, when I tell people how I was treated. I told A. at a dinner the other night, just one tiny piece of the story, just one small thing, and she cried. What’s going to happen when I tell her all of it? I feel so alone.

Beast

I tell her she has brown eyes like me.
Her brother has blue eyes like Dad.
Parts handed down like quilts, eyes from so far back and so far across the sea I don’t even know where my own body was made.
And I see in my hands, heart, lungs everything you gave me, that scarlet bloom of sickness in my chest, bursting up into the air.

I remember hiding under the table, my whole body shut tight, hoping you wouldn’t see me

searching for just a stupid rubber ball.

That ball was the end of me and my clouded eyes that didn’t really see anything at all.
I was blind and yet when I saw you I was blinded more than I ever thought possible, a crouching baby beast feels such electricity in the air and just knows that it’s wrong.

And did you put this wrongness into me too?
What on god’s earth did I inherit:

brown eyes like my mother, brown eyes like my father

and the passion of both enough to split a thousand knuckles wide open.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Tomorrow is the 9 year anniversary of my brother’s death. Discussing it is still so hard for me, and yet I’m increasingly realising that I must find better ways of dealing with it and talking about it. When I recount how he died, when I explain everything, I somehow feel like I have to give people a disclaimer.

It’s a pretty morbid story. I don’t know if you want to hear it.

I tend to avoid talking about it. But when someone starts asking about the scars on my arms, or about my depression, or about being a teenager, inevitably the topic of my stepdad comes up. And then through talking about my stepdad, I talk about my brother, and the whole dark and twisted story comes out. There’s no good way to talk about it all, there’s no simple way to say it. When I push the words out of my mouth it’s like I’m shoving them through a barrier of cotton wool, as if by uttering them, the person I’m speaking to will be so horrified that they will disappear in a puff of smoke.

He drowned, okay? He had a seizure and drowned in the bathtub.

If he was alive he would be 18 years old now. I can’t even imagine what he would be like, what his life would be like, what any of our lives would be like. When I think about him my chest feels tight and heavy, and I feel as if my mother must be consumed by this sorrow so large that she cannot even begin to climb it.

I remember stroking his hair in the hospital when he was in the paediatric ICU. His hair was flattened into a Johnny-Bravo-style peak, from everyone stroking his hair in the same way. It was so soft.

The doctors had to test if he had any brain activity remaining, so my parents could decide if they wanted to switch off the life support or not. The doctor shone a torch into his eyes, and I stared so hard at his pupils just hoping and screaming inside my head: “React! MOVE! JUST DO SOMETHING”. But nothing happened, they turned off the life support, and that was it.

I hated his hugs, because he was always sticky and slimy and he was so skinny that his hugs were bony and painful. He would hug me and say “I love you, Leah”; he’d wake me up at 3am, standing by my bed, wanting me to play with him; my boyfriend and I would babysit him and take him places and look after him as if we were our own little family. But then he was dead and the hugs were gone and I wished with every piece of my body that I could go back in time and love him better, pay him more attention, spend more time with him, make sure he knew in his bones that I adored him even though he drove me crazy.

Four brothers seems like a lot to most people. But to me it seems like such a tiny number, just four. Four doesn’t seem like enough, when it should have been five.

We’re With You

Everyone cares about what other people think. I’ve been fighting against it for so long, taking tiny steps towards doing what I feel is right, presenting my true self, and living authentically. But there are still times when I think to myself “Am I doing enough? Do I still care too much? Should I come out of the proverbial closet just a little bit more?”.

We’re all driven by a desire for people to like us. It’s only problematic when that desire overtakes our own selves, to the point where we don’t ever do anything weird or unconventional or challenging, simply for fear of having the people we care about turn their backs on us.

One tiny thing that has helped me has been (surprisingly), Twitter. I started posting things. My thoughts. Re-tweeting jokes I thought were funny. I stopped worrying if anyone liked what I posted. I slowly gained followers, random people who saw some reply of mine to someone ‘bigger’. Some Twitter comedian that nobody knows unless you spend too much time on the internet.

I wrote about my ex-girlfriend, and how she dumped me. I wrote about my queer identity, my marriage, our lives, our kids, my political views. I forgot that my husband’s father follows me on Twitter.

My daughter E woke up one morning with tonsils so huge that they were blocking her throat. I rushed with her to the ENT, and struggled to explain in broken German what was wrong with her. The doctor looked in her throat for a few seconds at most, and said with a serious and firm voice “She needs surgery”. I posted on Twitter about this experience, and later that day sent an email to my in-laws back home, explaining what was happening and when the surgery would be.

When my father-in-law replied “I saw your Tweet and photo” I felt this weird feeling in my stomach. He saw my Tweet? Does that mean he saw my Tweets about my girlfriend? About getting dumped? About polyamory and getting high and being queer? I wondered what he thought. I love my husband M with all my heart. I had this cold and heavy thought that my father-in-law would think I was cheating on M, or that I didn’t love M, or that I was somehow messing up our family.

I hurriedly replied with a huge email, detailing various aspects of our lives, being careful to include how happy we are, holidays we planned together, information about our mostly-very-normal life. And then I wrote it: “You follow me on Twitter?! I tweet about a lot of stuff I don’t put elsewhere so that’s… Probably raising various questions for you…”. I decided that tackling it head-on would be best, and that if he had any questions about my other partners or about the stability of my relationship with M, he could just ask me.

It turns out that when you marry someone as wonderful as M, you should not give his parents too little credit.

My father-in-law replied within an hour, giving me all the updates on their life back in New Zealand, expressing sympathy about E’s surgery, asking me what I plan for my career when both my kids are in Kita.

And then at the end he included one final comment:

I’m a very rare twitter viewer – mostly just look when I have a few notifications come up. Don’t worry – just be real 🙂 We’re with you.

So I guess that’s the end of the story. I care immensely about what they think. Nothing worse than having your husband’s family hate your guts. But they’re with me. They’re with me, despite all the life decisions that I’m sure they wouldn’t make in a million years. That’s a pretty wonderful thing to happen; to accidentally take your mask off, and have the people that you love still support and care for everything that’s underneath.