“I was terrified someone would see me. I was also terrified that no one would”
At the end of March, I had the chance to share the story of how I learnt to share my story.
In the past few years, I've been working hard to chase down, organise and share words for the sake of connection. Posting some of those words has helped me to build up a lot of much-needed confidence, though sometimes the act of posting seems passive-- as if I'm sending a letter that's important to me, and it never gets delivered. This made the opportunity of the stage-based show, Down There very special to me. I got to write knowing that this time, an audience would be receiving the letter. I've always found theatre seems to add value to words. When stories are told, it removes a few layers of the mess that anxiety adds on. When stories are presented in a way that is both heard and seen, I'm reassured. Hearing a simply delivered line of truth brings it success. Success in struggle is interesting to me, because I think it’s found simply by feeling heard. When we are able to take the tangle of struggle, and find meaning, we can feel we are successful within that struggle.
I really appreciate what Down There does to create space that turns silence and loneliness, into words and connection. The brilliant, love-filled and caring directors, Daisy and Evelyn allowed me to feel my past could be welcomed into the present.
My piece was originally written to be performed in a more theatrical manner. My original writing was a scripted stage performance intended for other performers to voice aloud. Though, in a last minute change of plans, I had to find a way to speak it myself. With no time for staging, planning, or even a second take. I simply sat and read the words (thank you to David Vassos for filming!). I'm not very proud of this video as a performance... because it accidentally became too much of a ''performance'' (meaning that all my real emotion ended up being all filtered away so that I could enable myself to say this in front of a camera). Though, as a moment — one where I said this aloud knowing it would be seen, I think this Down There video is something I think I'll always be pretty proud of.
Read, or watch below-- I've worked hard to find words, but I can't share without an audience.
Thank you for connecting and closing distance.
Written for Down There (performances March 29-31, 2019):
Today, I do not feel far away...even though I am. I used to feel distant all the time, and feeling distant is very different than being distant.
Today, I can’t be there in person but words keep us connected. I get to share words with you and that makes me feel closer than ever- because it was words that closed the distance of difference and it was words that armed me with resilience.
Today, I am over in the Rotunda Theatre saying someone else’s words. During the Down There performances, I am in dress rehearsals for Fun Home. I am playing a young Alison Bechdel- who showed her resilience by looking back into her past and connecting through sharing the truth. And over here in the Isabel, Down There gives me the chance to help me do the same and tell my story.
In the same way, we begin this story by going back.
We’re going back to places where I lived in fear.
What is it, to live IN fear? Fear was a place that followed me, it surrounded me as if it was the air I tried to breathe.
Truth and feelings seemed unacceptable.
Words were impossible.
Without acknowledging truth and feelings, I was hiding myself in every space.
I was trapped in. I felt so far-away from where everyone else was.
How did so much distance grow?
It took a long time to learn just what it was. But it was always present. I learnt it’s called non-verbal learning disability, and it explains why I interpret and hold information a bit differently.
After a lot of tests, my verbal skills scored in the 99th percentile, but my non-verbal skills in the 10th. The difference between them make communication lines strained.
I try to balance incoming information, but I falter- I, I can’t communicate with myself. I get overwhelmed while connecting and analysing information, things seem to fall before I can get a proper hold on them - this overwhelm is drowning - I come to avoid even the things that interest me, because it all brings fear. Emotion brings fear into the air, I panic, I drown in it.
Growing up, through some back and forth moving, I felt removed from what others seemed to know.
Picture the feeling of being suddenly asked to make a presentation.
You had no idea you were supposed to prepare.
Your audience all already know this topic well.
You have seconds before to scramble some half legible notes...
But you know it will be obvious to everyone that you haven’t quite got it together.
That panic of being unprepared and separated was how a young-me felt constantly, every time she tried to relate to others.
I’d been trapped. I’d been trapped in a room by a stranger.
This was terror.
Terror was my choices torn away, terror was tearing apart.
I felt I’d been locked out of myself and left with nothing to come back to. How can you feel at home in yourself when there’s nothing left to come back to?
A youth psychiatric ward. I was trapped, I didn’t want to be there. But that’s also why I had to be there. I had to be there because I didn’t want to be anywhere.
I would come to know hallways like that one three times. Hallways that can pull all the life from you when it’s sole purpose is to put it back in.
I’d been in boarding school before the second inpatient stay. I couldn’t go back after.
The moving started up again. Two years and bouncing around to something like 50 places. I couldn’t settle.
Everything felt fast. I couldn’t keep up.
I felt so different and so distant that I hid myself in every space.
And then I found a space that hid me.
I trapped myself.
I was between places.
I couldn’t feel at home in myself and I didn’t feel I had anywhere to go. I hid away nights in a room. This is where I came to know what the word ‘’lost’’ means.
Writing burst out of me, this is what it was.
Not being able to feel ‘’at home’’ anywhere is living amidst constant storm. It disrupts all adhesives within you and breaks you slowly apart. It’s stumbling into the core soul of anxiety. Nothing is certain, nothing is stable, nothing can rest or be still. It is all moving. Moving too fast, and in all the wrong directions. It was nothing like the “lonely” I thought I understood. Now that i’ve been properly introduced to “lonely”, whenever I hear it, the sound of that word darts through my insides with sharp, rusted edges, and leaves behind a clatter that echoes hollowly through me after it’s passed over. It seems ridiculous now, to think that lonely is just a word. Just a word, just a word that exists because of a feeling. Just a feeling someone felt, and needed to explain. So they named it. They tucked it into a neat, definable box, and hoped they’d feel better. Alone, lonesome, lonely, lost. But once you’ve truly been there, you know it’s a word that unravels. It unwinds. It won’t fit in it’s box. It flutters out and escapes. There’s nothing neat about it. It flaps its fearful wings through all you know. It feels like it is all you know. It is everywhere, and you’re nowhere. Nowhere, no one, nothing, none. Alone, lonesome, lonely, lost.
Writing that , turned out to be the beginning of understanding what to do when we’re lost and what to do when we need to find our way home.
To begin finding what resilience is, I started with knowing what lost is.
From that place where I hid myself, I wrote-
“I am terrified someone will see me. I am also terrified that no one will”
“I am terrified someone will see me. I am also terrified that no one will”
Resilience. We refuse to let the fear of being seen stop us from letting ourselves be seen.
The fear of not showing ourselves has to be greater.
I stared down a blockade that I thought would stifle any cry for help.
At first, I thought it was about crashing down the wall. All the differences I felt, I thought if I got rid of them, destroyed them, no one would see them... so they’d see me! But then…. I realised, it isn’t as hard as that.
As I found what resilience is, I found that everything that I thought had blocked me in was also a part of me. My differences weren’t going to go away. To be out in the open, I had to see that those differences were waiting to work with me. My past is a part of who I am. My differences don’t have to force me down. Instead they can lift me to a place of better perspective.
I’d turned a feeling into something I could communicate. I’d found words.
I did something that I had no idea was resilient at the time.
I did something that, at the time, I had no idea would change my life.
I had been thinking of differences as distances. But what if... what if they can be the opposite?
Once, there was a fortress of fear. It was a place where silence ruled. Then one day, A paper airplane! I typed up words into a message, and sent them to my friend Charlotte.
I was still SO scared of my own feelings and words. But this was lift off.
Slowly, SO slowly... I got more confident. The typing turned to talking, and then the talking got louder...
Words meant moving forward, I felt heard.
I realised there's a path! A path towards an always open door.
I walked out of that room and started looking around at what freedom looks like.
I’ve seen from perspectives that have made me feel distant to others. These have also been the things that have brought me closer to others. This has made me strong as I forge a path that seems uncertain. Strength and growth over time created the power to accept vulnerability, and it helped me find something I started to think of as ‘’Eternal Resilience’’.
When you’ve experienced things that are unique, they are unique every day because they become a part of who you are. There’s no representation of yourself anywhere, because it’s created in progress each day. Because I still struggle with the emotions of my differences, I am not in a degree program here, and when I look to the others around me, I see that my days look pretty different from an average student’s. Though everyday, I do learn a lot.
So still today, nothing about the framework of my life is "normal". This means I still live from a perspective of difference. But today, instead of hiding myself, I try to live out in the open.
This means I have to explain constantly. I have to come out with difficult truths constantly. Each conversation requires me to be extremely vulnerable and brave in my sense of self. I have to be confident that my path is a worthy one even though it is unfamiliar to those who hear what choices I'm making.
Eternal resilience is Staying true to your inner identity when, outside, it’s not clear what your path looks like. Eternal resilience exists when we are strong and vulnerable even when we are uncertain.
Now, I am able to draw courage from the journey I’ve already taken.
Once, I thought I’d never talk about mental illness, once I thought I’d never talk about disability. And now, I know I’m grateful to. It made coming out easy because I’ve finally seen what it is to know an accepting space.
When we push for connection, it’s easy to find hope. There’s hope because, as humans, we will all experience struggle in our own ways. This means though, that we all have the ability to hear other’s experiences with a level of empathy. When we can lay out and share what makes us feel distant, we have the ability to become closer. Maybe we’ll never truly see and feel in exactly the same way, but because it’s different, we can know that it’s not only okay to be different, but it’s because of the differences that we can find similarity.