The problems in my mind began when I was much, much younger.
You’ve only heard part of a side of a story so far: my memories and perceptions of my experiences. I’ve been as honest as I can and I’ve always admitted it when I haven’t been sure of something. However, there’s always another side to every story, and I’m aware the sides might not match.
Case in point: I have a vague memory of being in a greengrocer’s with my mum when I was very little. I know I personally don’t remember the conversation, but my mum once told me – and I remember her telling other people – that the greengrocer had asked where I had been and I told him I’d had ‘germs and easels’, because I couldn’t say German measles. I mentioned this to my mum one day and she said no, I’d had measles. She was quite adamant. But now the anecdote doesn’t make sense.
Who is more likely to be wrong?
I was described by my mother as being ‘highly strung’. I think this is a Britishism for ‘anxious as fuck’. You see, I’ve been looking back and thinking ‘well, no wonder I’m a wreck – look at what’s happened,’ but I’m thinking back to the very little I remember of my early childhood and maybe I was always like that. Maybe that’s just who I am.
I remember having panic attacks at school. Horribly public ones. They usually peaked in assembly, in front of the entire fucking school, although I think I generally began crying every morning before the teacher had even called the register. I was 7, I think. The reason I was crying is because I thought I wasn’t going to see my mum again. I’d beg the teachers to call her and make her come back to me, they would refuse, and I would bawl my heart out in front of two hundred children.
Did something cause that? I was fine at school until that point, and I remember the rest of my time there to be perfectly normal as well. Just a relatively brief period – weeks, maybe a month or two – where I literally couldn’t cope without my mum.
She used to say horrible things to me, about me being an accident; a mistake. Can you imagine growing up as ‘a mistake’? You’re faulty from the start. You’re not supposed to even exist. You’re a burden on the world and its inhabitants and you’re always wrong, no matter what. What’s the point in doing anything?
I grew conflicted with these thoughts. Perhaps I am a mistake – to her. But perhaps I’m a mistake that was supposed to happen. I grew up a little and learned about genetics and heredity and couldn’t figure out where I fitted in. I’m not adopted – I look too much like both my dad and my mum (except I have normal sized, albeit wonky, teeth) – so how could they create me? It made about as much sense as astrology – maybe I was just born at the right time, in the right place, under the right constellations…
Neither of my parents are particularly bright – you only need to look at how racist my dad is for proof there, and my mum has said some beautifully idiotic things. When I was aged 6 or so, I asked her why AMBULANCE was written backwards on the front of ambulances and she told me it was so that dyslexic people could read it. When I was at her house just before my grandad died, I was trying to work out if Boxing Day was a public holiday in America and she told me that Americans didn’t celebrate Christmas because they had Thanksgiving instead.
She didn’t really know how to handle me. She didn’t know how to answer the millions of questions I had about everything. She didn’t know how to look after me when I was upset – it was just written off as me being ‘highly strung’ and I was left to sob by myself. I think I should have been taken to see a doctor, but that wasn’t something that was even considered in my family: you don’t waste a doctor’s time – you go when you’re sick and that’s all. Mental illness didn’t count. It wasn’t believed in. I just had a nervous temperament, a weak constitution, a jumpy character. It was just written off as part of who I was, and gradually it became that way.
A self-fulfilling prophecy caused by constant reinforcement of the fact that I am, ultimately, a fucking typo.