They call it that. Sometimes that’s accurate, but sometimes it’s pathologising difference against a crooked template. It’s expecting a cat to recognise itself in a mirror, despite the fact that cats can’t see as well as us and can’t see well at all within a foot of their own head, and rely on smell, their whiskers and ears to identify who and what things are. Yet we put a cat in front of a mirror, we watch it not react, and we decide it has no sense of self, no personhood. Science.
It’s not that the cat is stupid or deficient in self. It’s that we are unable to have a conversation with difference.
So let’s get this straight from the get-go: call it what you will.
I am alive in strange ways.
I’m an extremely emotional person. A thing you’d brush off as nothing will make me want to hang myself, quickly, vividly, but then it’s gone. I’ll have to fight that, and that takes an enormous amount of energy. I can’t relax, because if I relax and suddenly I feel like that, I hurt myself. I do it before thought steps in to mediate action. It happens quickly. It’s a dangerous thing to be: that quick, that decisive, that reckless of hurt and damage to myself. So I remain vigilant and mostly – it is a habit of a lifetime, after all – that is sufficient, in the same way that you don’t put your hand through windowpanes and you don’t set fire to yourself on the gas, because in a lifetime of experience, you have learnt to be vigilant. It’s just that I have to be vigilant about different things from you. My open flames are internal, and I’m pushed into them by interactions with other people, people who don’t realise.
I love people with the same speed and intensity as all my other emotions. It’s not fake, it’s sudden and complete and (unlike the urge to harm me), it lasts for ever. This makes me more and more self-isolating. I am scared of you, scared of the effect you can have on me without even knowing it, wandering out of my house without a clue about the wreckage tumbling behind you. (This statement does not apply to a small handful of people, and they know who they are, and I love them with my werewolf soul.)
This is the reality of being me, that I live in a burning tower, and mostly – MOSTLY – I stand on the roof marvelling at the sparks against the dark sky and I am one with the flame and the cool air, I am made of it and the sky. But when someone kicks my feet out from under me I – abruptly – fall through the floors. Sometimes I fall through all the floors, to the very bottom. When that happens it takes me months, or a year, or five years to climb back up.
I hide this. This makes me impossible to know. I can’t bear people knowing I’m in the basement, burning and trying to crawl out. I can’t bear the comforting noises people make, or the fact that those don’t help, they just make me feel more alone. So I hide it. I push it so far down that sometimes for a few hours even I don’t even remember that I’m burning. I don’t do a perfect job though. It comes back and from the outside you can probably tell I feel a bit “off”. But you have no idea, really.
This happened in January, after a year of fighting it off. Someone did something. In fairness it was something very unreasonable I had asked them not to do. BOOM! I went through several floors. And for the second time in my life, I sought some help. The doctor put me on Citalopram. I thought I’d give it a try because – why not? It helps some people. After starting it, I had a week of vividly wanting to harm myself. I knew that would happen though, and remember I am adept at living alongside this urge. I also knew it was finite, so I waited it out. Then I had a week of throwing up. And then it settled in, and I felt pretty good for a month. Odd. Stable. Able to organise. No longer disassociated from life and so able to cope with what I felt instead of stuffing it into cupboards. I liked it. Then I noticed that it was wearing off. I got a bigger dose. I felt good for a month, but now I couldn’t stay awake at all. And I wasn’t just stable, I was dead. There was no fire left in me. It was rather hard to tell, though, as I was only awake for about eight hours a day.
I jokingly referred to “the ‘pram” as my anti-werewolf pills. Sadly it turns out if you remove my emotional werewolfism, there’s nothing left. I stop existing. I persevered with it for another month. I was having someone else’s dreams and they were awful. I hadn’t wanted to pin someone down and lick their skin in months (I am habitually celibate, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the idea). I didn’t feel anything. In fact the state I was in more closely resembled the medical definition of depression than my vivid sometimes-urge to not-exist ever had.
So I have decided to go back to living alongside the werewolf, although I know that ultimately this will be the thing that destroys me. Not for decades and decades, don’t get me wrong. But you don’t walk alongside something like this, and keep it in you, and BE it, without knowing for sure how that ends. And in the meantime – if I can stay away from people who drop me through the burning tower – in the meantime there is the run and the lift of it, the million scents of the world, the tilting sky, the beating heart of it all.
So forgive me if I am too tired to pretend to be similar any more, forgive me if I am isolated. If the ‘pram has achieved anything it seems to be this: I have chewed through my restraining pretences.
I am not very like you, and perhaps I need you to start dealing with that.
I am alive in strange ways.