I don’t get deep and reflective all that often. It’s a bad head space for me. But there was something that happened this weekend that has put me into said deep self reflection.
(To briefly quote lyrics at you from the Street Dogs… ‘When you’re stuck in a deep self reflective mode, reach for two bottles of sorrow…’)
Let’s talk about bullies. Let’s talk about bullies behind the cut, because this is a very long, very stream of consciousness ‘me, me, me, it’s all about me’ entry. This is a difficult one for me, but I need to get it out of my system, otherwise I might just crack up.
Let’s face facts.
I haven’t ever been the skinniest kid on the block. (In my defence, neither have I ever been a quadruple-size 22, either!) At my biggest, I was sized 16-18, and I now happily (this is the wrong choice of word) sit at the 14-16 mark most of the time, usually the lower end of that scale. I diet, I break diets, I struggle to maintain my weight – but in terms of fitness, I can run up three flights of stairs and still recite ‘Jabberwocky’ without getting out of breath. I can run around a field in a three stone suit of chainmail, waving a sword and shouting for 3-4 hours without dying in an exhausted heap. This is more than most of the skinny-minnies I work with can achieve. Having spoken to my doctor about my constant attempts to lose weight, I have been reassured that I am cardiologically fit, and as long as I keep trying (but not forcing it), then I shouldn’t over-stress the matter.
Simple, isn’t it?
But then let’s introduce psychology.
When I was at school (Murray, you may or may not remember some of this!) I was a fairly common target of certain people’s spiteful comments. Some of these people were in my class, some were other students in other classes, or different years – but they all used similar weapons.
‘Fatty. Fatso. Other derogatory terms directed at people with more meat on their bones than is considered ‘normal’.’
And do you know what it is? Those spiteful comments hurt. The names cut through me and ripped my self-confidence into tatters. From pre-adolescence right through to the age of sixteen, I had no self worth whatsoever. I had very few friends because I was conditioned into thinking that nobody would want to be near me. I took no interest in my appearance, was awkward and shy and could only escape who I felt I was through writing.
I said nothing to my family about this. I was too ashamed of it. I know that my brother has visited this blog once or twice. If he reads this, I’m sorry I never said anything. But really. I was ashamed of it.
Strange things occur to you as you grow older. Kind words of encouragement from an English teacher in retrospect suddenly show themselves for what they were – an attempt to coax me out of my self-constructed shell of introversion. It didn’t really work: I was too far tucked into it to come out. Hiding away was the best option for me, because if the bullies couldn’t see me, they couldn’t hurt me. I found like-minded people who also struggled with who they were, or who were targets for one reason or other, and we congregated every lunchtime in the drama studio.
They were good people. I don’t know where any of them are now. That’s sad.
So let’s spool time a bit.
Between the ages of sixteen-eighteen, I actually discovered I was starting to like who I was. I left school and thus the influence of the bullies – almost invariably girls – who had made my life so unhappy. I discovered an online world where I could engage with people who were like me. I met many of them. These are the people who I still maintain contact with, because they didn’t care what I looked like. They liked me for being me. It was a revelation.
Let’s spool it on again.
I still found that snippy comments I would overhear from time to time could reduce me to sobbing. There was a woman I worked with when I moved to Evesham who criticised every item of clothing I wore and pushed me straight back into that shell. It took me years to get over that. I’ve never had close female friends – because most of the females in my life up to that point were too busy tearing me apart.
Spool ahead again. I had my first live-in relationship. I moved on. I had a second live-in relationship with a man who turned out to be on the slightly mild end of the psychotic scale (this is the man who, when we split up, came round and threatened me. Me, being scared witless called the police. They came straight down, the gods bless ’em and told him to get what he needed and go. The policeman who stayed with me stared in disbelief as Mild Psycho proceeded to say he was working out half of his rights of the house and then counted the towels in the airing cupboard and the books on the bookshelf).
You can imagine what that experience did for my self-confidence, can’t you?
So that relationship behind me, I met and married my first husband. Then I had my son. The absolute joy of my life, that boy. And for the first time in my life, the first time in my life, I discovered what it was to love and be loved so very unconditionally. Without mincing words, fuck the universe. This was my purpose. To bring this ray of sunlight into my life.
Sadly, first marriage didn’t work out – although ex-hub and I have remained – and will remain very good, close friends. He’s a good (if occasionally dimwitted) bloke and he loves that boy as much as I do. I don’t doubt that for once second.
During a few very difficult months of my life, a very, very dear friend of mine who passed away last year introduced me to LRP, because he said that it ‘would do me good’. It sounded utterly weird and I wasn’t convinced, but he was so kind and sweet that I couldn’t say no.
Because of LRP, I’d started to put a careful plaster over all those gaping wounds. Because of LRP, I found myself in a metaphorical drama studio with all those people from school. People who couldn’t give a rat’s arse about my appearance. People who were fun to be with, who flirted and joked with me. I met my now-husband, who frequently tells me I’m batty to feel the way I feel about myself. I laugh about it with him, and yet all the time, there’s that dark side lingering. But for a long time, it hadn’t emerged. Maybe eight years. That long.
In the last 24 hours, though…I have begun to realise the long-term effects that the childhood name-calling had on me. The ones that really hit me are these.
* I can’t go into women’s clothing stores without being convinced that people are staring at me thinking ‘we have nothing in here that would fit you! Get out you tubby cow, you’re making us look bad, and yourself stupid.’ Thus, I only go clothes shopping when things actually fall apart and I have no other choice.
* If I overhear any kind of conversation about weight or size, I assume that people are either talking about me, or that any moment now, they will look at me.
* As happened this weekend, if I overhear a remark, even if taken out of context, that I presume (in this case wrongly, but I’ll come to that in a minute) that I feel is a direct dig at me, then despite my best efforts, I have to lock myself away and cry so hard that I can’t see straight.
So last night, I overheard a remark – or actually, was told by proxy – that because of my self-image problems I presumed was directed at me. At first I shrugged it off. I didn’t think about it. But then the damaged part of my psyche took over. The damaged part of my psyche is an evil little witch.
“They think you look fat, Sarah, that’s what they’re saying. And do you know what? Despite the fact that you know there are people FAR larger than you here, despite the fact you looked in the mirror earlier and thought you looked quite nice – do you know what, Sarah? They’re right. You are. Fat. Ugly. Who are you trying to kid? Also, do you know something? Despite the fact that obviously the person who’s innocently passed this remark on doesn’t think it applied to you, because she wouldn’t have said anything otherwise, they’re STILL right.”
I hate my psyche.
Do you know the worst thing? It’s irrational. I know it’s irrational, and yet despite this, I still had to cheerfully excuse myself from a room filled with happy, laughing people, pretty much all of whom I was more than aware of weren’t even LOOKING at me and disappear for a full thirty minutes to cry my heart out. And the more I cried, the angrier I got at myself for crying. And it went on. And on. And on.
And then calmness kicked in.
I got Dearly Beloved to go and find the chap who had made the comment. When said-chap came along, his first reaction was ‘are you OK’? Because quite frankly, after crying solidly for thirty minutes, I must have looked even worse than I perceived!
I was adult. I said to him that I’d heard this remark (I left out the third person and said that I’d overheard it). I added that he was perfectly at liberty to say what he wished, but could he be more careful in future that it didn’t get heard by me.
He was truly, genuinely horrified that I thought he had been talking about me. He hadn’t, and I actually have no reason to believe that he was just trying to cover his tracks somehow. The fault is very much mine for taking something that is retrospectively harmless out of context and leaping to conclusions as if I were jet-powered.
He said that he was glad I had talked to him, that he understood how I felt (I know from conversations he and I had had in the past that he has his own self-image problems. He really was genuine in his concern). I was similarly glad that I was grown-up enough to talk to him. The air was cleared, I laughed at myself for being silly and it was all smoothed over.
I’m over-sensitive. I know I am. He really, genuinely was quite upset at the thought that I was so unhappy.
But the worst thing was the sheer anger that came out. The sheer fury at those people who, all those years ago when I was at school thought calling me a name was a funny, or cool, or smart thing to do. Children are horrible and the damage they do is permanent. That a spiteful comment by a classmate made maybe twenty years ago or more is still stuck there somewhere…
It hurts. And I don’t know if I’ll ever really move on from it.
But you know what?
I have the world’s most entertaining son. I have a fantastic husband who reduces me to tears of laughter with his silly streams of consciousness and his version of the Horus Heresy (in which Vulkan is played by Mr. T. and ‘ain’t gettin’ on no Thunderhawk, sucka.’. I have just been given the opportunity to do proof-reading for a publishing house. I have been complimented over and over on my writing.
I am healthy.
I have a brain and an imagination.
I am Sarah.
And she’s not so bad. Not really.