Xe is not just for Xenon

I have barely laid the foundations for my new library cottage. I am still exposed. Still raw. I feel at once impatient and underprepared for the term and years ahead. I’m only beginning to rebuild, there is so much going on that this new snow globe cottage won’t be perfect. Some of the bricks will be laid slightly crooked, some of the rooms won’t be precisely the right layout. There is a deep rooted, familiar part of me that wants to simply leave it then. To stay huddled under my blanket in the rubble until such a time comes that I would be able to reconstruct my library absolutely perfectly. If I did that I would spend the rest of my life living huddled under a blanket. It is the same with my degree and by extension my adult life. As I am starting to come to terms with, the world does not go on pause just because I do. All I can do is make the best of what I have now and know that whatever happens it can always be tweaked.

I may be engaging. I may be picking up the pieces left behind years ago, but the snow globe itself remains intact. Being part of both the Disabled and Mental Health Students Association and the LGBTQ Association, there has understandably been a lot of talk about various aspects of identity over the past week. There are two words that I would use to identify myself regardless of the context. The first is Other. The second is Outsider. Perhaps it is because, despite all I have learned, on some fundamental level I still lack Theory of Mind. Perhaps it is because while in the safety of my snow globe I can interact with the outside but never fully be a part of it. When I was younger the only way I could put it into words was that I couldn’t even do odd properly. I am a misfit even among misfits. Somehow that doesn’t bother me in the same way as it used to. I can pick and choose exactly what I’m interested in and exactly what I want to put the energy into caring about. I don’t have to care about X because I fit into category Y.

One particular box I have known I’m on the outside of for so long that it never even occurred to me to think about it is the gender binary. I am not a girl, a lady, a young woman or any other variation on female. I am also not a boy. Neither am I a combination of the two. I am Other. I believe the official term for the way I feel is Agender. As far as I or anyone else is concerned, I am Robin. Just as I always have been. If, when referring to me in the third person you would use sibling rather than sister, child rather than daughter and xe, xyr, xem (or they, their, them) rather than she, her, hers, I would appreciate it. If that is too much to wrap your mind around, for me, it’s not that much of an issue, just know that I will be silently judging you. 

A letter to a disappointed 18 year old

I will write a real post involving returning to university, rebuilding my snow globe library and the like over the weekend, but this is something I wanted to do. Walking around the campus at university I was constantly seeing ghosts of my 18 year old self out of the corner of my eye, so I wrote a letter in an attempt to let them go. 

Dear Robin,

 I’m going to begin not with an apology but with an explanation for an apology. This isn’t a self-depreciating kind of sorry, I’m not trying to shoulder the blame, say that I screwed up and everything is my fault. I’m empathising. I’m sorry that things didn’t work out the way you’d hoped. You tried so hard. You were so brave. So determined. I’m sorry it didn’t go according to plan.
Despite everything up until then, despite the almost overwhelming fear, you went to University with an open mind. You wanted – just this once – to be a normal person. To belong. To fit in. You threw everything you had at it. You were incredible, you had so much courage. You spoke to people despite words catching in your throat. You signed up to things despite feeling like malevolent eyes were watching your every move. You found a group of friends among other people who had been misfits at school. It was hard and a lot of the time you did feel awkward and slightly removed. Not so much a square peg in a round hole, more like being out of phase, there but not there. You pushed through that. You studied and socialised and took part in groups. You planned out your time meticulously, promised yourself every day that tomorrow would be better. There was always something you were looking forward to and even if it left you feeling hollow afterwards you brushed that uncomfortable sensation away. You acted happy and focused in the hope that maybe if you played the part long enough you would become it.
Once you even tried to voice that niggling sensation of nothing feeling real or intense enough only to be told that ‘maybe you just don’t feel things very much and that’s okay’. So you kept brushing it away. Even when things started to spiral you kept your head up, you kept trying, you refused to give in. Even when you were coming in from lectures and falling asleep only to get up in the early hours of the morning to eat and attempt to study, but ultimately get distracted, you didn’t give up. You held things in because you couldn’t find a way to verbalise what was going through your head so any attempts at explaining it were brushed off as nothing.

 Things did go horribly wrong. You were overwhelmed, exhausted, defeated. So you made the bravest choice you could and you reached out with the written word because that’s the best way you could make yourself understood. It’s been a long time and the road to recovery is twisting and still not at its end. You’ll beat yourself up over that one very mature decision for years. You’ll do it because in making that decision you were deviating from the normal. You disappointed yourself. I forgive you. I forgive you for letting things get so bad before you reached out that you needed so much time out from the world to even begin to piece it all back together.

 The truth is, if you hadn’t made that decision I wouldn’t be here. Maybe I am a disappointment in your eyes, but I’m still grateful to you for doing what you did. You gave me a second chance, a chance to really learn how my brain works and learn to deal with it. A chance to acknowledge everything I’d been silently struggling with for as long as I can remember. You gave me the chance to learn what it means to live in my head and to belong in a world I’ll never be a perfect fit for. I’m sorry that I must disappoint you, but we were never meant to do things the way everyone else does. We were never meant to be a perfect fit. We were meant to be the definition of individual. A part of you knew that, but a bigger part feared the isolation you assumed came with it. I’m at a point now where I can see that being the way I am, thinking the way I do, doesn’t have to isolate me. Being different does not mean being alone. I could never have come to that conclusion if it wasn’t for you. For that, I thank you.

 Much love, 

 Your 22-year-old self. 

Rebuilding from the Rubble

I’m outside. I have my blanket wrapped around my shoulders and pulled up over my head. My snow globe cottage is a pile of rubble around me. Maybe I could have held it together, kept plastering over the cracks in the walls, kept all my emotions in jars in the back of the larder. Perhaps that would have been easier. But instead, in a moment of frustration and impulsivity, I left the library, took my blanket and made for the front door. I let the windows shatter, I watched the roof cave in. I let myself cry and panic and really, honestly feel. I will rebuild my library and the rest of my snow globe house, but this time, I’ll let emotions in. I might still be in a bubble separated from the rest of the world, but at least I won’t be separated from myself.

It is hard. In the physical world, I’m in my flat at university. The level of background panic is almost too much to handle. I feel sick to the point where I’m scared to eat more than a handful of almonds or a bowl of soup. When I go out of my room and even more so when I go out of the flat, the light is shockingly bright but at the same time I can’t focus on anything but what’s directly in front of me. I am raw and over exposed. It feels like the world is collapsing and I am right at the centre. The glass around my snow globe is exceptionally thick, it’s hard to see other people as being real at all. There is a vast gulf of space between me and everyone else. If I walk down the high street or look towards the campus all I see are ghosts of my younger self. Every muscle is tensed, every fibre of my being is on a hair trigger. All my instincts are screaming to run. Now. As fast as I can and not look back.

Even though I’m in a different flat, in different Hall of Residence with different people, I have the strongest sense of déjà vu. When I fell asleep last night I half expected the three intervening years to have been swallowed up and to wake up and find myself back where I left off. Of course that didn’t happen. I’m still 22. Most people in my year group will be younger than me. Everyone I knew in First Year will have graduated. It isn’t just the place that is bringing on the sense of déjà vu, it’s the stepping back from an intense relationship not knowing whether or not I’ve broken it beyond repair. It’s the accompanying sense of unreality. The difference is now I talk about it, whereas before I tried to pretend to everyone including myself that I was fine, that I was happy, all the while feeling this sense of being totally disconnected. It was more pronounced then, because my emotions were already being muted.

The adrenaline pulsing through me is triggering that impulse to run without looking back. My body is twitching and tying itself in internal knots wanting to carry out that action. The part of my mind that is panicked and the part of my mind that is convinced that I’m dreaming and none of this is happening are pushing to run. They were pushing for me to go and hide from the storm in my warm, safe library. This time, and perhaps it is this part of my mind that has grown since I was 18, there is a part of my mind that says no. It says patience. It says wait because if you can just push through this bit things will feel more real, you will feel safe, it will get to a point of being better than it has ever been. All you have to do is let it. All you have to do is give it that chance. For once that part of my mind was loud enough to be heard. 

Earthquakes, from the epicentre

My blog schedule is slipping. I know. I think perhaps, given that I’m about to return to university, I’ll change the usual day from Friday to Sunday and see how that goes.

After last week’s foray into world news, I’m returning to what I know best. The inner sanctum of my snow globe. There are cracks in the plastered walls of the snow globe cottage now, I’ve known for a while that they’re there. I’m sitting in my library, wrapped in my blanket listening to the low rumbling of the bricks as they begin to tremble. I should go outside, get to a safe distance. Watch as it tumbles down. I’ve spent so long patching it up, clearing out the cobwebs and decluttering bit by bit, but the very foundations are damaged. I need to let it go and rebuild it the way I want it to be. Make it a home rather than a cage. A place of safety and a place of freedom. If only letting it fall weren’t so terrifying a prospect.

The snow globe cottage is, essentially, my mind. Different rooms are different aspects. So what then is the fault in the foundations? The walls were built to keep feelings out. Recently there have been cracks, doors and windows left open letting in floods of anxiety, gusts of anger, and tiny flurries of happiness. What I consciously feel is only a tiny fraction of what is there, it’s just that the walls prevent most of it from coming in and being expressed. To say that I bottle feelings up is wrong, because it implies a decision being made. I’m not choosing to bottle up emotions, I can’t express them because there are walls in my mind keeping them contained. Keeping me safe. I’m so afraid of being overwhelmed. It feels that if I were to give into an emotion, to really feel it, it would expand exponentially until I disintegrated. Not in the metaphorical sense, in the sense that it would be too much, that the emotion would take over my body, that I’d lose myself and every particle of my being would be scattered. I’m a scientist. Logically I know that isn’t going to happen. Intuitively I’m not so sure. Hence why everything is kept contained. Hence why I can’t be emotional even when I want to be. Hence why, from time to time, it does get too much and I do lose myself and have a meltdown.

Going back to university, all the fear and memories and excitement and anxiety that that brings has triggered earthquakes in my snow globe. It’s been like the final culmination of everything that has been changing over these last few months. The windows of the snow globe cottage have shattered, the front door has been blown off its hinges. I need to learn to let myself feel again. I am going to whether I fight it or not. I need to rebuild my mental library with my emotions rather against them. If only feeling weren’t such a frightening thing. 

I’m not the only one in a Snow Globe

I haven’t written in a while. I’ve been somewhat distracted. That is not what this post is about.
The past week has brought home to me the fact that I am not the only one living in a snow glove. True, my snow globe is smaller and more constrained than most. My snow globe isolates me from almost everything outside of my own head. But, however wide the diameter, however many people are encompassed, most of us live in a snow globe. You might not be trapped away from everyone, everything, even your own emotions in the way I am, but you are almost certainly still contained. You might have a job, family, friends, things you care deeply about; these are the things you allow in. It’s the images on the News, its phases like ‘refugee crisis’ or ‘migrant camp’ that are on the other side of your snow globe. The things you find too big and scary to look at you unconsciously keep at a safe distance, somewhere they’re not quite real. Refugee might be a more accurate description than immigrant, but it’s still not person. It’s still keeping you from having to face their reality and feel that absolute pain and horror that comes from realising that these are human beings. Mothers, daughters, friends, siblings. They are not numbers. They are not an undifferentiated mass. They are human beings. Every single one of those thousands of people the papers talks about has a face. They have likes and dislikes. They have family. They have a history. They are just as real as those people you share your snow globe with.

For so many people across the world, it took the picture of a drowned toddler to even crack the outer glass of their snow globes. That is what it took for us to realise that these are real human beings not numbers, not financial cost, not a distant faraway story. Real human beings who are really suffering and dying.

I remember as a child, when I still had the ability to feel things incredibly intensely, learning about Anne Frank. I remember floating in a daze for a long time afterwards at even the watered-down horror of it permitted in a primary school. More than that though, I remember having complete conviction that had I lived then, I would have been one of the people hide Jews from the Nazis. That I would have stood up for what was right. That I wouldn’t have kept my head down and let these things happen. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in feeling like that. We’d all like to believe that we have that capacity for goodness. We like to believe that we would have that kind of courage and compassion. Now that belief is being put to the test. Would you take refugees into your house? Would you give them somewhere safe to call home? Would you spread the word to help find homes for people? Would you give up your time and your money to help? Not would you like to? Not would you if….? Would you really? Of course there will be excuses. Of course there will be reasons not to. Just like mine, your mind will probably shy away and want to hide behind the safety glass of your snow globe rather than actually face a terrifying reality and do something. You don’t have to be a special person to do something, but doing something makes you special. Find that childish part of yourself that always wanted to be someone’s hero and channel them. Now is your chance to change someone’s life. The question is not how can I? It’s how can I not?