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  • Writer's pictureKiri Self

It’s all about where you stand when you look at it.

"because being clean meant that you had a brain again, which meant that you had to face yourself and who you were, and . . . well, all that shit."

The Sun Sister, Lucinda Riley

I've been wondering for a while now why I broke down in the way that I did in the summer of 2020. And I think one of the main reasons was that I was clean and sober, and my brain just couldn't cope. The painkillers I was on for my nerve pain didn't help, and the trauma of what was essentially an amputation didn't help. But mainly, it was my brain working again. I say again, although it could have been perhaps for the first time.

That brain has lately been asking why it needs to keep going back into the past, and another line from the book I'm reading at the moment says it well - "Therapy is all about dealing with the past, so you don’t need to look back any longer" - and I think I'm getting there. I've accepted I'll probably never have a linear timeline of my childhood with normal memories and I've accepted that I can neither change what has happened to me or how anyone around me reacted to me then or even now or in the future. I'm beginning to grasp an understanding of what it will feel like to be comfortable and secure in my own skin.

I had an incident at college recently that, whilst it was pretty hideous and embarrassing, did in fact help to bring all of this into sharp relief. I'll tell you about it, but please, if you want to laugh at me maybe do it somewhere I won't read it. That would be great. I know you'll want to laugh because the sheer ridiculousness of the situation made me want to laugh and cringe in equal measure.

Here goes.

Normal day back at college. Second Day back after the Christmas break, a break where I decided the best thing to do would be to paint this enormous beauty.

Photo credit Annie Bungeroth
Memory of trees

I mostly painted this while lying or sitting on the floor because even before the holiday period I was completely exhausted. Even though I was only at college 2 1/2 days a week and all my lessons had been timetabled to be on the ground floor (lift problems) it was wiping me out. I had made the decision that I was going to need some kind of wheeled solution for the New Year, but I hadn't yet got round to sorting that out.

So - 2 days in and we had just been given our new project briefs. My brain got overloaded and I lost it. I lost it over something completely insignificant, and I got wildly overwhelmed and started shouting at two of my poor teachers, and then burst into noisy snotty snobs all over my poor friend K who was an uncomfortable bystander to all of this.

We had a reading week the next week and when I came back into college I profusely apologised to all involved and distributed apology boxes of chocolates, and we organised a sit down with the teachers (J and I and three of them). We had a really good and frank disucussion about what went wrong for me and here's the embarrassing bit - I had to talk them through something I had learned about myself through this particular incident. Part of me is still stuck like a child. I had to tell them that if this happened again, (which I really honest to god hope doesn't happen again, but anxiety is a bitch and doesn't like forward planning this kind of thing) that in that moment you couldn't reason with me. Just like a small child having a shit fit, you hug them and let them cry, and when it's all over you reflect on what happened and rationality and logic have a chance to have their say.

My therapist broke down for me what had happened - basically, when you're tiny your brain needs to go through certain experiences to have the best chance of developing in a 'normal' way. Take for instance walking - most kids need to go through a crawling stage before it can move to the walking stage. Some kids don't go through the crawling stage but most do. My brain had skipped a whole load of stages for all sorts of various reasons, and added to which childhood traumas had left me in a permanent heightened state of alert. Plus ADHD and the impacts on executive functioning that it brings - the result was that in a situation that my brain perceived a threat my response system goes into overdrive and then completely overwhelms me. It just shuts down for a while.

Knowing the things in my past that have shaped me is allowing me to understand my responses and reactions to life, and that understanding is the first step to being able to make changes in the future.

Understanding what happened to me then, and in other situations really helps because the overwhelming guilt and shame that I felt is somewhat lessened. In my head I imagine that everyone else somehow miraculously deals with the same feelings that I do but somehow (and god only knows how) they manage to control themselves better, or deal with life better, or just generally do better than me with all of this crap. But it turns out that whilst I do definitely need to do better in the future it's not because I'm too stupid to already know how to do this, it's that I actually need to learn some fundamental stuff first and then it naturally flows that control comes with it. It's absolutely on me to do something with the knowledge I've gained through this process. It doesn't absolve me of future responsibility for my actions, it informs my future actions and reconfirms to me that that (and sorry for the 'woke' terminology here, but it is accurate!) I have to reparent my inner child. I have to teach myself those things I missed out on as a kid.

Why am I sharing this?

Because it's a lonely fucking place thinking that you're doing life wrong, and that those around you somehow glide through situations we just can't comprehend. If you see any of yourself in what I share, then I hope you find some comfort and maybe even some ideas of where you can find the help you might need to get to a place where you enjoy life more, and begin to find a little bit more confidence and comfort in your own skin.

It's all about where you stand when you look at it.


Last term my ceramic project was 'Vessels'. I couldn't get out of my head the line 'I hold you in the palm of my hand'. I'll put some pictures up later in the week - hopefully now I have my electric wheels (or as J likes to call it 'The Purple Peril') I'll have a bit more energy and not leave it another four months til I post again.


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