What do you do, when the ones closest to you do not believe in you?
Many of you whom I have met through this blog have a great deal more faith in me as a writer than my own mother, which is both sad and funny – and awfully disheartening to deal with in my everyday life.
It’s true. According to society’s terms, I am “disabled”. I find it difficult to leave the house and set foot into the noisy, bustling streets of the city, and was classified, by a dunderhead of a psychiatrist, as having an anxiety disorder, and depression. But whether my difficulty venturing outside is due to anxiety, agoraphobia, heightened sensitivity, Asperger’s – or the fact that perhaps city life just doesn’t agree with my soul – it doesn’t matter. All that matters to my mother is that I am unable to seek a traditional pathway of employment and contribute to the family’s finances.
She doesn’t know me in the slightest. She doesn’t know how certain I am that writing is what I was meant to do. She doesn’t see the ideas churning in my head, flashing like all sorts of sparkling multicoloured substances in a simmering cauldron. She isn’t aware of my creativity, and scorns my literary dreams. She is a practical, miserable woman who has been hard done-by life, saddled with three children while nearing her sixties and a job which she hates and gives her back pain – and after her husband left her, I am merely another disappointment added to the list.
I tried my best to help her, and am still trying. I read extensively and practise writing, treating it like a full-time job. I added a Donation button to my blog, even though some part of me felt guilty for asking people for money. I joined oDesk, and am currently building up my profile and applying for writing jobs to contribute to the family’s income. And I’ve listed several items on eBay, in the hopes that I can turn a profit. Of course, I have not told her what I have been doing. She would only scorn it.
“Donations? We can’t survive on donations! In this world, you can only depend on yourself when it comes to money. And a little writing job here and there isn’t enough to pay the bills, nor is selling your junk on eBay going to make a dent in our debt. Do you know how much it costs to keep you fed, a roof over your head? If you were working, if you were normal, how wonderful our lives would be. How much you would help your brother and sister, and me.”
Each day, unfailingly, she reminds me that I am a disgrace, a failure. A parasite, sucking her resources without providing anything in return. Her hatred and disappointment seep into me like poison, tainting my universe. Even when she isn’t blatantly abusing or screaming at me, spurred by the uncanny ability to find fault with everything I do, everything I say, her disapproval is evident.
She knocks brusquely into my elbow while passing by me on her way to the bathroom and speaks not a word in apology. Upon discovering a cockroach in the bathroom, she blamed my untidiness for its presence, pronouncing me a dirty, unsanitary creature as she beat the insect to death with a shoe. She constantly tell me that I am exactly like my father, unselfish, unreliable, weak. I am quite a sensitive creature – I don’t mean to sound precious when I say that. It’s just the way I am. And being around her, though I try to drown myself in books and writing as best as I can, is making my heart sick.
The thing is, not being able to go outside without cringing, the world bright and busy and awful, like a lamp constantly beaming into my face, is not something I can control; I would give anything to be able to wade through society with ease. But I can’t. It’s hard to explain why. I wish someone understood. Sometimes I feel as if I will shrivel up simply from lack of validation of my experience of the world. The best way I can explain it is that it’s as if my nerves, instead of being tucked beneath my skin, in nice little knots and squiggles, radiate outwards from my flesh in all directions, thousands of delicate tentacles like those of a jellyfish.
And every time a single tentacle brushes against something in the outside world – a sight, an emotion, a person, a light, a sound, a word, a colour – it sparks with an electric shock that affects me rather than what it touches. Different things, then, result in different “shocks”. Watching a caterpillar crawl along the grass in the quiet sunshine, transfixed by its oddness and intricacy, stimulates me only a little bit, and thus gives me a pleasurable shock because insects are fascinating and I adore them. A car driving past, a group of people walking past me, shouting, send my tentacles into an electric frenzy, shocking me again and again, until my heart is rattled and gasping.
Therefore, when I step out into the city, bombarded from all sides by people and cars and loud noises, by ugly machines, by advertisements in a hundred splays of colour, by people walking past me wafting emotion after emotion after emotion, the smell of pollution and garbage, my system, “shocked” a a few thousand times per minute, goes into shut-down, and I have a panic attack or disassociate (which is where you feel as though you are watching yourself from outside of yourself).
I stop functioning, and feel the urge to lift up a manhole and crawl down there, into the cold, damp, darkness, and never come out. On returning home, I collapse into bed, and sleep for six hours, and then wake up feeling guilty for wasting so much time slumbering.
It’s as if every single sense organ of mine, from the photoreceptors in the backs of my eyeballs to the taste buds on my tongue to the synapses in my brain, are on overdrive. A single vitriolic remark burns through my skin like acid. A delicate turn of phrase, a beautiful bit of imagery in a book, is enough to send delight coursing through me in an overwhelming burst of sweetness for several minutes. As a child, I always imagined myself to be a creature from some other realm who had accidentally fallen through a rippling, rainbow rift from that world into this one, and in the process transformed into a human, for apart from quiet places where only nature or literature or the imagination reigns, the physical realm is torture to me.
You can’t imagine how much I long for a little cottage, with roses crawling up the front of it, and a little green, peeling gate, plonked right beside a stream, and nothing but meadows for miles around. Quite often I close my eyes and transport myself to that cottage, into a room filled with bookshelves and a writing desk, and the warm summer wind blowing through the curtains, bringing with it the sound of birds chirping and the sweet smell of flowers, cats threading around my ankles. I think I would die of happiness to live in a place like that.
In meantime, like you, like everyone in this world at some point or another in their lives, I must make do with what I have – and what I have is an awful lot. I have my family, even if my mother isn’t the nicest person to be around. I have books, and writing, and dreams and hopes. I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, clothes on my back. I am alive.
And, most of all, I believe in myself, and my own creative and literary talent, even if my own mother doesn’t, even if sometimes self-doubt wracks me like a fever, and will continue to do so even if the world comes crashing down around my ears.
PS: This is one of the most delightful paragraphs in all of literature. It is so delightful I can barely breathe when I read it.
“James glanced round the room, wondering which of the others he might be talking to, but they were all asleep. The Old-Green-Grasshopper was snoring loudly through his nose. The Ladybug was making whistling noises as she breathed, and the Earthworm was coiled up like a spring at one end of his hammock, wheezing and blowing through his open mouth. As for Miss Spider, she had made a lovely web for herself across one corner of the room, and James could see her crouching right in the very center of it, mumbling softly in her dreams.“
-Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach