theses on magic

WRITER'S STATUS: CONCUSSED, DRUNK, SEDATED. It is best that the below is taken with a fistful of salt.

Magic: the borderlines, the uncomfortable homoerotic tension between teutonic plates. old misplaced recognition across a room interpreted as a sign. the traffic light changing from red to green. lipstick smeared on your chin. flickering lights (neon). the accidental, the failed, the inevitable but unexpected.

Lana Del Rey is magic, blurring the lines between real and the fake. She's too honest and way too fake, fuck her! I'm in love with the first half of Honeymoon and I just really fucking want to move to the US and put on a leopard print fur coat and a fake-but-way-too-real persona of Lana proportions (there's a definite California theme for me this year - Halsey's Drive and Grimes' California are some of my most played songs. I start to live on signs).

There are roses in between my thighs and a fire that surrounds you 

I saw Lana talking about David Lynch and David Lynch talking about her a few days ago and I've just been !!!!!! since. They're both exploring this border of perfect, seductive, manicured beauty with its obvious underbelly of demons and disgust and self-hate and total unbearable pain. I feel like that's magic. Magic comes out of that border and the accidental slips, the reveals, the doorways and dark red-lit rooms and Lynchian electrical crackle and Lana Del Rey's smile.

In the land of Gods and Monsters I was an angel 



So much garbage will never ever decay
And all your garbage will outlive you one day

Trash is magic and I will stand by this until I am rotting next to all my fag ends and crisp packets. Trash will outlive you. Trash does not degrade. It repulses and entices (tell me you've never wanted to put your hand in something gross and I won't believe you). Trash is the ultimate survivor. Trash is immortal, the survivor is immortal. We also smell. Call it a curse or a blessing but you sort of want to set it on fire. You want to kill it but also save it; an honest-to-God baptism by fire. Out of the trash I rise, with my red hair...

"I don’t necessarily love rotting bodies, but there’s a texture to a rotting body that is unbelievable. Have you ever seen a little rotted animal? I love looking at those things, just as much as I like to look at a close-up of some tree bark, or a small bug, or a cup of coffee, or a piece of pie. You get in close and the textures are wonderful."- David Lynch


Suicide is also magic. The moment on the bridge is magic. A cigarette that hasn't been ashed in the hand of a dead man is magic. A body surfacing on a riverbank is magic. It's also totally pathetic, but most magic is, right? Like, everyone hates angel dust for a reason. You want to see it but it can get the fuck out of your life.

Anyway, I'm writing this because I've been listening to Lana a lot this year and experimenting with magic and I feel like that has been the essence of my 2015. An edging against psychosis, violence, a circle of candles, out-of-body sex, a prayer, a dance around death, a Catholic Church. I've chosen ritual over real every time.

turning into my mother: a horror/love story




My mother used to drive me to school every day, our old car spluttering through ten miles of lanes and sharp bends. I would burn CDs for the journey, and my favourite had every Laura Marling song ever released on it (this was pre-I Speak Because I Can). As I mouthed the words to New Romantic, my mother driving me to private school, I was aware of the boundaries, visible and invisible, that I was transgressing; the tension I was stretching between us. She was driving me to a world that she could not enter.

//////

The working class (single) mother is not the salt of the earth, she is dirt. She is the meat and bones. Fat, stupid, too sexual, too emotional, vulgar and loud and violent. She is the Other, the deviation from the norm of bourgeois femininity, its monstrous underbelly.

Dirt and uncleanliness are horrors coded as working class; when brought together with the body, particularly the sexual body, the horror produced is explicitly that of the working class woman. In the Exorcist, Regan's swearing/pissing/vomiting/masturbating routine constitutes a violation both of accepted modes of female sexuality and of the bourgeois order. Through horror history, the zombie is allegory for the working class (or even the "underclass") monster, lurching along behind its upper class vampiric overlord, flesh falling off in chunks.

Kristeva writes that "is is not lack of cleanliness of health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules." And there is nobody who disturbs order better than the working class single mother, who breaks all the laws of femininity. According to Kristeva, the two types of polluting objects (menstrual blood and excrement) both stem from the maternal, who is involved in the toilet training and first menstruation of her daughter. The mother-daughter bond, therefore, is a natural site of horror, and none so much as the bond between the working class single mother and her daughter, who are terrifyingly close, who sleep in the same bed, who, when they fight, will tear out each others' throats.

The mother is gradually rejected because she comes to represent, to signify, the period of the semiotic which the paternal symbolic constructs as 'abject'. Because the mother is seen as effacing the boundary between herself and her child, the function of ritual becomes that of reinforcing separation. The ideological project of horror films such as Psycho, Carrie, The Brood and The Hunger, all of which feature the monster as female, appears to be precisely this - constructing monstrosity's source as the failure of paternal order to ensure the break, the separation of mother and child. This failure, which can also be viewed as a refusal of the mother and child to recognize the paternal order, is what produces the monstrous. - Barbara Creed, The Monstrous-Feminine


When I was thirteen or fourteen, I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The bit that has really stuck with me is the relationship between Tereza and her mother:

Staring at herself for long stretches of time, she was occasionally upset at the sight of her mother's features in her face. She would stare all the more doggedly at her image in an attempt to wish them away and keep only what was hers alone. Each time she succeeded was a time of intoxication: her soul would rise to the surface of her body like a crew charging up from the bowels of a ship, spreading out over the deck, waving at the sky and singing in jubilation. She took after her mother, and not only physically. I sometimes have the feeling that her entire life was merely a continuation of her mother's.


I related to Tereza. Her flight away from her mother/her boring town where "nobody reads" echoed my own, as did her profound feelings of shame about her body and sexuality. She is the quintessential upwardly mobile daughter, clinging to bourgeois values as tries to distinguish her own authentic identity from inside the overpowering shadow of her mother's. Here, again, that place of horror: the continuity of two identities, the state of flux, the impossibility of a border.

For upwardly mobile girls, securing a break with the mother and a stable identity of one's own is necessary to defend one's new life, especially with the awareness of the fragility of it all, that one misstep can land you straight back in your mother's shoes at middle-age. Your mother lives in you, unconsciously, her presence tracing the lines of your face and the gait of your walk. But the new world you live in tells you to hate everything about her. Here in the ivory towers of rationality and Received Pronunciation, where a woman can never be rich or too thin, exorcism is the only solution to the persistent shadow of the working class mother.

Women who occupy a different class location to that of their mothers may fear, not just becoming their mothers, but becoming their working-class mothers. Their matrophobia may be bound up with a fear of coming to inhabit this position of pathology, constructed as lacking, as 'other'. - Steph Lawler, Mothering the Self: Mothers, Daughters, Subjects 

MIND



"‘Cleverness’ or ‘intelligence’ may be a metaphor for a form of knowledge which is highly class-specific – for a world of knowledge which the daughter has entered and from which the mother is excluded. The designation of this knowledge as ‘intelligence’, and its lack as ‘stupidity’, naturalizes both, constructing them as innate characteristics. In this way, not only does the possession of this form of knowledge act as a form of distinction between mother and daughter, it also marks out that distinction as located within the ‘selves’ of each of them." - Steph Lawler

As the educational worlds that I entered became more and more exclusive, sharing my experiences with my mother became more difficult. When I moved away for sixth form, our phone conversations became punctuated by silences as I tried and failed to share my new knowledge about moral philosophy. By the time I got to university, the minutiae of my life were essentially incommunicable. She wanted to understand and I wanted to confide, desperately, but attempts to convey anything brought only misunderstanding and irritation. She had left school at 15 with a few O-levels. I was at Oxford. The silences grew solid.

In my head, I called her stupid. My mother is not stupid - she is incredible in business, invariably successful in her projects, in possession of that rare practical intelligence known ironically as "common sense". But in those thoughts, I chose to ignore those forms of intelligence in favour of the class-coded forms in my possession - the kinds that are useful in Oxbridge tutorials and The Southbank Show and practically nowhere else. Even Virginia Woolf wondered whether "all the lower classes are naturally idiotic."

Academic success has always been my way out (of bullying, illness, trauma, my hometown and, yeah, the working class). It has been the rope I have clung to when I've felt a noose around my neck. For my mother, academic success looks more like the noose itself. She was there for me, would drive to London or Oxford (something my middle class friends' parents never did) and stay for as long as I needed and buy food and coax me back into the land of the living. But her advice began and ended at "come home". Drop out. Give up.


Their primary concern of wanting their children to be happy at school was for some working class parents a response to extremely difficult but often unconscious feelings about their own unhappiness and failure at school. [...] All they wanted was for us to be happy, as happiness was the most they could envisage in an education system that had only brought them failure and unhappiness. - Valerie Walkerdine, Growing Up Girl


For working class parents who carry the anxieties and failures of their own schooldays into adulthood, who have never reaped the benefits of education, encouraging their children to struggle through the pain and stress of school/university comes less naturally. Happiness and academic success seem like fundamentally discordant values. Working class children who prize academic success, therefore, are often left to fight their corner alone. They are usually self-motivated from an early age and deft at hiding any sign of difficulty in school. Unlike the children of middle class parents, they don't grow up with the expectation of higher education, with an understanding of its benefits. They must continually convince themselves of what their parents cannot: that the pain will be worth it.


...she denied the anger, pain and loneliness by imagining defensively that she had need of no-one and could do it all by herself. [...] the defences Nicky exhibited were the very things that would ensure that she got to and succeeded at university. - Valerie Walkerdine, Growing Up Girl


BODY




Her mother marched about the flat in her underwear, sometimes braless and sometimes, on summer days, stark naked. Her stepfather did not walk about naked, but he did go into the bathroom every time Tereza was in the bath. Once she locked herself in and her mother was furious. Who do you think you are, anyway? - Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being


This year, my body has filled out to my fourteen-year old weight, my highest weight. I've seen my father and sister's features slowly overcome by those of my mother - a battle waged through all of my tissue, played out on my face. At fifteen, that Laura Marling song had extra resonance. I would no more give up trying to be thin than I would become my mother. I was starving.

As Laurie Penny says of female rebellion, "we have been taught to turn our anger inwards, to turn our rage inwards, to hurt oneself rather than hurting others." While boys may externalise their inner conflicts, playing them out interpersonally, girls more often retreat and take up arms against ourselves. The eating disorder is the perfect weapon against a body/self that fails the tests of an unfamiliar bourgeois environment: it shrinks, quietens, de-sexualises. The eating disorder performs physically the same task of self-policing that the upwardly mobile girl must practice on every aspect of her life. The flesh is a good stand in for every other source of disgust.

The eating disorder is peculiar in that its extreme violence can be hidden from anyone but the sufferer, and sometimes even them. It is total war, all-out class war, conducted within the quiet boundaries of the skin. Unsurprising that most eating disorder narratives situate restrictive eating disorders - particularly anorexia, which is less physical and rude than bulimia - as illnesses of the middle class. It is a polite suicide, the practice of which brings one closer to the celebrated values of bourgeois femininity.

("Who do you think you are?" asks Tereza's mother, humiliatingly reminding her of her class position. Shame is a virtue reserved for the bourgeois, and Tereza's ideas are above her station.)



SURVIVAL


I believe that the pain of everyday exploitation and oppression has worn so deep into working-class life that it exists there as patterns of conscious and unconscious coping, passed down through generations. ... Oppressed groups, such as the working class, have to survive in a way that means that they must come to recognise themselves as lacking, deficient, deviant, as being where they are because that is who they are, that is how they are made, an insidious self-regulation. - Valerie Walkerdine, Daddy's Girl

Now: I've been working out a new narrative for myself. A sludge and slime narrative of survival, where dirt and rot signify life and and not shame. My hair is in a worse state than ever since I cut most of it off and I've been too ill to keep up my skincare routine. I live with my mother again. Sometimes I leave the toilet door open.

Still, insecurity sits in my throat. I'm never sure what accent or intonation will come out and I'm embarrassed by the fluctuation. Slang and academic vocabulary feel as uncomfortable as each other in my mouth. I keep re-writing and deleting and re-writing, years of class trouble coming through in my words. Should I use feel or think? One or you? Sometimes words come out that my mum doesn't understand and I'm embarrassed. I don't have any friends from my hometown any more, so she's my only outpost of a culture that I never made any secret of wanting to escape. An outpost that I cling to with love and hate in equal measure.

my last month as a teenage girl



The teenage girl palette is blood and guts and chocolate cake. She wears her heart on her cheek, spikes and chains and charms on her wrists. She breathes condensation onto the windows of buses, draws hearts with arrows through them on the neon-lit glass, paints strange colours on her face. She grows up too soon. She doesn't know what the world wants from her. She wants to die. She imagines whole worlds inside her body. With scraped knees and bloody elbows, the teenage girl imagines and creates herself. Hands clasped, rosary necklace from New Look, glitter nail varnish, rose quartz. The teenage girl is a witch, an enchantress, a sorceress. The teenage girl is magic.


Remember how we used to party up all night
Sneaking out and looking for a taste of real life
Drinking in the small town firelight
(Pabst Blue Ribbon on ice) {x}



It's not surprising that most teenage girls are in love with witches. All that power and almost a decade of ritual - the getting ready in front of the lipsticked mirror, the practising your smile for hours, the fires and woodsmoke and dancing. Thirteen and doing a spell on our flat roof, read straight out of a YA vampire novel. Nineteen and doing a spell in my garden, paying my own rent, asking the moon to release me from my compilation of traumas. The teenage girl is heavily invested in her own power. She knows exactly what the right shade of lipstick, the right tilt of the head can do.




Carrie (1976)

But the flipside of power is pain. If you google "teen girl ritual" you get an assortment of make-up tutorials and real-life rape stories. The position of the teenage girl, best shown in horror films, is as a receptacle of trauma but also as someone capable of violent retribution. For Carrie, the pain inflicted upon her by bullies and an abusive mother is turned into raw, destructive, telekinetic power, and yet the audience retains their sympathy for her:

"Although the camerawork of Carrie repeatedly invites us to take the perspective of Carrie's sadistic tormentors, the majority position throughout, and certainly the position that prevails in the final phase, is Carrie's own. (It seems clear on the face of it that involvement in her revenge at the end is contingent on an earlier involvement with her pain.)" - Carol Clover, Men, Women and Chainsaws

This same phenomenon, achieved by more ways than camerawork, is central to the slasher film. While the audience at first urges on the killer (why watch a slasher film if you don't want to see some murder?), by the end of their film their sympathy has moved to the sole survivor, almost always a woman, usually a teenager, the Final Girl. "She is the one who encounters the mutilated bodies of her friends and perceives the full extent of the preceding horror and of her own peril; who is chased, cornered, wounded; who we see scream, stagger, fall, rise, and scream again." (Carol Clover again; I refuse to footnote on this blog.)

The teenage girl, like the victim-hero of horror, must suffer to survive. Her power, her ability to recreate herself and the world around her, her incredible capacity for creativity: all are grounded in the perverse difficulties of female adolescence. Like Katniss with her PTSD, the characters in the Craft with their bullies and suicide attempts and dysfunctional families, the uncomfortable R-rated realism of Nikki Reed's semi-autobiographical Thirteen, like Sansa Stark and the completely disproportionate violence done to her: she must be hurt before she can fight back.









More terrifying than girlhood, however, is the prospect of a looming adult womanhood (just three weeks away, for me) and an entirely new narrative, a whole host of new demands. Being a fuck up is kind of the teenage girl's natural state. Being mentally ill is so much a "teenage thing" that girls often get severe mental illnesses brushed off; even queerness - the ultimate deviation in adult women - can be tolerated in girls (everyone goes through "that phase"). The girl is free to fail - provided she gets back on the right track by the time she's a woman.

There is an absolute sense of failure in reaching adult womanhood as a traumatised, asexual, almost genderless wreck. The adult woman is meant to be self-possessed and sexual. She's meant to buy expensive lingerie. She's not meant to be a person who can barely pee without panicking, who cringes at the mention of sex, who dissociates in the shower. I'm not alone in this feeling:



As Halberstam wrote, "failure is something queers do and have always done exceptionally well." To reject adult womanhood, and to therefore embrace the unproductive state of childish girlhood, is an act which queers the boundaries of existence under capitalism. To reject womanhood as it's constructed is to reject an ethos of productivity and consumerism, to turn "you can have it all" into "we don't want any of it". It can also be a rejection of the pathway to heterosexual bliss that women in their early twenties are meant to start working on: the healthy sex life, the stable long-term relationship, marriage and children. To be creative and happy while embodying an identity which is, to psychotherapists and businessmen, "regressive" and "disturbed", allows for the possibility that the proper way of life is not inevitable; that alternatives are not only possible, but also more fun.

There is so much difficulty trying to live in identities curated by patriarchy. There is so much trauma in trying to fulfil these roles. Girlhood and womanhood both follow narratives that are, by and large, written and policed by men. And yet: girlhood remains a state of resistance, power and possibility - an alternative to the fixedness of both adulthood and womanhood and a state which, recreated in our own images, provides an identity entirely our own.

assaultive memory

Trigger warnings for sexual assault, trauma.

my mind is stuck on one track, repeat, chanting, monotone. assault, assault, assault, it says. it's not like flashbacks. it's like the event has moved itself in to the front of my brain, where it sits, interrupting every thought like it owns all this space. it is exhausting to navigate around it. I try to make small talk. assault, it reminds me.

I remembered the event in January. I'd buried it for several years. one night, completely uninvited, it invaded my body. I was immobile in bed while I relived it in real-time. every sensation had been in my skin, recorded precisely. I've never experienced anything like that before or since. I immediately retold the event to my roommate, shaking on her bed. I had a long bath to try to calm myself while a friend kept talking to me on facebook until the morning.

since then, bits of memory have peeled back into my conscious brain. the name of the attacker. things that were said to me afterwards that made me keep quiet - I was told off for "ruining the night" by people in school. a few weeks ago, I found out that a friend and probably the most prominent person in The Oxford Student Left is a rapist. since then, the memories have been creeping out of flashbacks and into my normal mind, where my normal thoughts sit. they intermingle. the worlds that previously were kept so separate are beginning to fold into each other.

I want to talk about it. but I'm scared. the more I think about it, the more space it seems to take up. I'm scared of remembering my attacker's face. I know it's there; I can feel it, clouded by protective forgetting. but there. I know it will come out eventually.

I'm dissociating a lot of the time. it's hard to keep my mind in one place. I can't remember the day, or season, or where I am. I keep losing things, which is unlike me. I keep forgetting where I am or what I was doing just ten minutes ago. it's as if as this memory forces itself back into remembrance, the rest gets pushed away. I'm worried that it will take up my whole head. I'm working towards being able to retell the event in my own words, so I can put it back in the linear chain of memories. so I can structure my mind in a way that makes sense, in a way that allows me to function.

this is all I can say for now. I want to talk about how our spaces can become toxic, how narcissistic and entitled people find it easy to rise to the top, how no liberation space can ever be safe if it's hierarchical. I want to talk about rape apologism and how reacting in an inappropriate way to disclosures of sexual violence can irreparably damage trust in friendships. but trauma destroys energy; it destroys memory; it destroys language. there are some conversations I can't have just yet.

The acceptable performance of insanity

Despite myself, I love Lana Del Rey. She's the epitome of problematic, with her singsong hey-Lolita-hey and Daddy fetish and the not-like-other-girls kind of misogyny that you see in the music video for Ride (which is also like, racist as hell). Her vacant gaze pouted lip slurred syllable brand is so obviously fake, a perfectly crafted shot at the stars from boring bluesy Lizzie Grant. Her interviews reveal a grating depressive romanticism ("She has been talking about the heroes she and her boyfriend share – Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain among them – when I point out that what links them is death and ask if she sees an early death as glamorous. "I don't know. Ummm, yeah." {x}). She's a transparent collection of cliches. But I love her. Her precisely honed, holographic fucked-up-ness is everything I want to be.

Being borderline, listening to Lana Del Rey puts me in chain-smoking Jack Daniels dangerzone. Identity instability means that my personality (which is pretty sparse as it is) can shift easily into almost completely alternate personas. In moments of incredible stress, I'll act and talk in ways and voices I don't recognise. This isn't like dissociative identity disorder, where "alters" will emerge and leave amnesia in their wake. It's more like my identity is a very weak current and if something powerful comes along - like the deliciously inorganic del Rey brand - I get consumed by it. I've had strange men fall in love with those personas, artificial and confident and red-lipped while the real me is running a terrified survivalist commentary underneath. I'm impulsive, reckless, full of rage and obsession and a persistent deathwish. From an outside perspective, and sometimes from the inside, it's a fun diagnosis. "I'm a sad girl, I'm a bad girl, I'm a mad girl", croons Lana. 

Is this romanticisation? When I talk like that, am I just as bad as the neurotypicals who think depression makes a person quirky and interesting, who have blogs full of pictures of Cassie from Skins, who don't have a clue what psychosis actually means? Tbh, Cassie kinda triggers me as well. I went through a phase of basing my identity heavily on her. Maybe my symptoms make me problematic?! Idk, call me out if I'm being oppressive by being mentally ill.

I'm trying stability right now - I'm not smoking, I didn't drink for three weeks, I'm not going out except on chaste visits to coffee shops and the library. It's so boring. I keep having the overwhelming 
urge to book a ticket to LA or New Zealand or somewhere far far away where I can fall into another identity and don't have to do this "getting better" thing. Is this a symptom - "impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)" - or have I fallen in love with my sickness? 
Cat Marnell

“[Adderall] made me who I am now. I was a little more talkative than other people. I could write a bit better. I was a little skinnier and crazy-eyed. I got more attention than other people. […] If anything, that’s what you are addicted to: you become a little more special than other people. I’ve always been an enhanced version of a human being. Of myself. I’m addicted to that. When I went off of it, you know what happened? I became normal. I looked normal. My ideas were normal.” {x}

Thing is, society loves a certain kind of mad girl. The skinny smudged lipstick bleach and adderall insanity got Cat Marnell a column in Vice and a book deal ("I was Rolling Stone's "Hot Bukowski". I was the toast of the town. I was puking flowers afterhours; I was letting everybody down.") Felice Fawn would never have had the popularity to build several dodgy businesses if she hadn't been emaciated and addicted. Mira Gonzalez' career is built on her carefully curated image, drafted and re-drafted tweets and blogs and poetry that would be over-earnest if they weren't in that affectively flat tone:

I STAYED IN BED FOR OVER AN HOUR 
LOOKED AT THINGS ON MY PHONE 
I FELT SLIGHTLY ANXIOUS ABOUT NOTHING PARTICULAR 
I WALKED DOWNSTAIRS AND POURED COFFEE INTO A JAR 
I ASKED A PERSON ON THE INTERNET IF I SHOULD TAKE DRUGS 
I TOOK DRUGS BEFORE THE PERSON HAD TIME TO RESPOND
- “TODAY MY ALARM WENT OFF AT 12:30 P.M.,” MIRA GONZALEZ

This is how you get to be honest about being mentally ill. It needs some glamour, a strong and consistent brand. Someone posting manic paranoid ramblings on a livejournal/some other renounced online format gets grimaces. Someone who can craft their insanity into something digestible, funny or wonderful, gets the privilege of being acceptably mentally ill. 

It's harder if you're fat, or old, or you don't know the exact words to use, or you have difficulty with hygiene or self-image and can't put a suitably pretty face to your packaged distress. The rejection that comes with being unacceptably mentally ill is painful. Think about the treatment Amanda Bynes received compared to Mira Gonzalez. While Mira has built a brand off her instability, Amanda's twitter account made her a laughing stock. Her badly-framed, semi-nude selfies with the flash on and explicit tweets to Drake put her firmly in the unacceptable category. When Miley Cyrus lashed out at Sinead O'Connor, she posted screenshots of Sinead's old tweets, made in the desperation of a mental health crisis, with the caption "Before Amanda Bynes... There was...". The parameters of acceptability are clear: showing distress is out, asking for help is out; being symptomatic is only OK if it's presented with cynical self-awareness. 

I don't mean to suggest that someone who presents a mental illness in a more acceptable way doesn't face stigma. But you can maybe see why, when offered the option to romanticise or to tell the whole, gory, unmanicured truth, one would choose the former. When your brain is trying to ruin your life and it's probably never going to stop, you've gotta do whatever you can to survive.

But still, I worry what this means for people who, for whatever reason, do not perform insanity in an acceptable way. In eating disorder communities, there is an informal hierarchy of disorders: binge eating disorder at the bottom, EDNOS and then bulimia close together in the middle, and anorexia at the top. Everyone wants to be anorexic. The anorexics get to be thin, get the Success Stories and the most straightforward recovery stories (lost weight, got hospitalised, gained weight, recovered). This doesn't mean that people with anorexia have any easier a time of it than people with bulimia. Both are horrendous illnesses. But we do create these hierarchies; we imagine in the public consciousness an ideal ED sufferer. And not conforming to this - by not losing weight or by gaining it, as many bulimics do - brings its own issues. The same issues exist for those with disorders which are already more stigmatised: how does one create a Relatable internet brand around being schizophrenic, or having paranoid personality disorder? I worry that what might seem like a climate of increasing tolerance is actually marginalising some of the most vulnerable mentally ill people and erasing their voices from the public sphere.

So like, idk. I disagree with the Barbie-font Tumblr imperatives that tell us not to romanticise mental illness. Living with mental illness is more complicated than that. We have the right to exist in whichever way makes sense to us. We have the right to seek out relatable role models, even if they actually depict mental illness or instability in a pretty damaging way. But I also think that radical honesty is important and that, if possible, we should be writing narratives that challenge ideas of what sort of mentally ill person is acceptable. It's the same good/bad dichotomy that exists for every oppressed group, and it feeds ableist society just as much as much as total erasure. If things are getting better for us, we should be thinking about who is getting left behind.

exploring the fucked up intersections of my disabilities

I'm profoundly deaf in one ear. I can't identify noises or where they come from in spaces with lots of auditory information, so tend to become overstimulated and dissociate.

Dissociation is like a state of simulated deafness. It feels like being in a crowded room but cocooned in a silent sphere where all the noises and other sharp stimuli can't touch me. I can float silently through the world, my brain playing its own soundtrack of white noise.

I probably developed borderline personality disorder from being bullied for about a decade. One of the causes of this was probably my inability to socialise and follow prescribed social codes because of my deafness. Instead of joining in, I retreated to libraries and bookshelves, spent break-times reading and re-organising. I can navigate a library classification system much better than a group conversation.

Through my later years in primary school, I ate my lunch in the library. I couldn't stand the disembodied noise and anxiety that the canteen brought, a cacophony of unhearable sounds.

Lunch was always a trial. In secondary school, overstimulation in the crowded canteen meant that I often didn't eat because the act of buying food was too stressful. 

When I moved to private school, lunch in canteen was compulsory. The girls all sat on one table. I became an expert at navigating the conversation in order to disguise my dwindling diet. It was an artificial conversation, the language of middle class femininity that did not come naturally to me. I always left early, often panicking. My anxieties about class, about being too loud and unruly and sexual, intersected with the conscious modulation of volume and hyper-awareness of speech that I'd been doing for years.

In classrooms, on public transport, I always knew where to sit. Always furthest to the left, always with my deaf ear to the condensing windows. It's not surprising that lunch, where the table set-up demanded that there would be someone on my left, became the fulcrum of my anxieties. It's not surprising that these anxieties, already rooted in my bodily failure, became expressed through food. 

In my first year at university, large meetings and dinners were difficult. When I came up for interviews, I gave so much attention to following the over-dinner conversation that everyone else finished before me and I forgot how to hold a fork.

I often had panic attacks when eating dinner in college. The choice was between the canteen, which was smaller but involved queueing and bright lights, and hall, where I couldn't hear a thing. Without access to a kitchen, I struggled to eat enough, and spent term-time trying not to relapse into old eating disordered behaviours.

My anxieties about group socialisation are deeply related to my hearing loss. I am constantly aware of how loud I am, of my pronunciation, of following and responding suitably to the conversation. Since I've stopped drinking, my anxiety has been so strong that I've stopped socialising with more than one or two people at a time.

My disabilities are invisible. Wishing to avoid more bullying, I refused a cochlear implant as a child. If I try very hard, I can disguise my deafness and my mental illnesses. But the world, built as it is for hearing and neurotypical people, does not work for me. Trying to live in it makes me more disabled.

I wonder if I would be more mentally stable now if I'd gone to a Deaf school, if I hadn't been "mainstreamed", that word which fails so much to encapsulate the awkwardness of trying to assimilate into the hearing world.

Failing to meet the standards of mainstream society is a self-perpetuating sentence & it sucks.

notes towards a theory of the dead girl

[trigger warnings: rape, CSA/incest (mention of film containing), murder (fictional and real), eating disorders, suicide, necrophilia.]

[spoilers: Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Sharp Objects, The Virgin Suicides, Heathers, Heroes]


i. UNWRAPPING HER SECRETS

A girl with an eating disorder goes missing. Posters go up: she's dressed as the girl with the pearl earring. When her body floats to the riverbank, the pro-ana boards are busy. "So she was murdered? Shit man, all this time I was assuming she was suicidal.." Underneath, the poster's signature lists her highest and lowest weights in pink lettering. Girls with 100x100 pixel pictures of hipbones and collarbones as their avatars post links to her Instagram, search for her Tumblr, in starved whispers try to unravel the girl on the riverbank.

glamour shot of Sheryl Lee,
wrapped in plastic
Dead girls are fascinating. Their lives are ripe for unraveling: no longer alive, they no longer have privacy to respect. They are in the public domain. Traces of them are scattered across the internet: in password protected blogs, chat logs, Twitter accounts stretching back to pre-teen thoughts sent out into silence, unfavourited. They are immortal, preserved in tiny packets across the world.

In 1990 a fictional girl washed into the popular imagination in a similar way. "Dead, wrapped in plastic." The question "Who killed Laura Palmer?" reverberated around the country. But the mystery was more about the girl herself than her rapist-killer. Homecoming queen with a taste for nose candy and an advert in Flesh World, Laura Palmer had her secrets. Secrets which, though she took them to the grave, would be prised from beneath her fingernails, from the pages of her secret diary, by the men entrusted with justice.

In Fire Walk With Me, we see her death unfold in real time. It is gruesome, glamorous, electric. HE SAYS HE WANTS TO BE ME OR HE'LL KILL ME, she says earlier. She knows what putting on the ring will do, how protecting her identity and her secrets will mean death. But she goes willingly and whole. Still Laura, still pure. A virgin suicide.

ii. CURATING GIRLHOOD

In The Virgin Suicides, the girl-deaths and their immediate circumstances are narrated by a group of boys who want to know the sisters. They steal their diaries, spy into their bedrooms and occasionally infiltrate their home on carefully chaperoned evenings.

The Virgin Suicides
They are the real murderers of the Lisbon sisters; from the beginning of their idealising narrative, death is the only end that makes sense. If the girls had grown old, gaudy, with a list of mistakes and divorces and wrong-shade lipstick, there would have been no story worth telling. The Lisbon girls are perfect because they die before their intrusive womanhood can ruin them.

Trip Fontaine says of Lux "She was the still point of the turning world, man. I never got over that girl, never." But he still left her on the football field in the morning.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was never as popular as the series. I wonder if this is because nobody really wanted to see Laura alive, splayed open, secrets on show. Unravelling a girl's secrets in an act of seduction, all about the chase. Nobody wants to see the woman in the morning light. A woman's worth is in her secrets.

On the commentary of the Twin Peaks boxset, someone says of Fire Walk With Me, "it's showing you why Laura had to die - because she was being abused."

So far, we have two reasons why the girl must die (according to the will of the male narrator/writer/director):
a) The girl is unbroken and must die before she becomes broken.
b) The girl is has to die because she is broken.

In both these cases, girlhood/womanhood are states curated by men. The girl they want is innocent-untouched-virginal-whole. Death is the path to preserving that ideal - or to redeeming oneself from transgressions. Forgive me Father for I have sinned.

iii. WHAT DOES IT MEAN THAT THE BEST THING A WOMAN CAN BE IS A DEAD GIRL? Is this why the conceptual space between GIRL and WOMAN is so difficult to navigate?


iv. DIE YOUNG, DIE PRETTY

When I had an eating disorder, a common sentiment on the black-and-white hipbone webpages we frequented was "I don't want to die fat." We were suicidal, fantasising about myriad deaths, but in all of our ghostly visions we were thin. Thin and pretty in our open-topped coffins. The thought of yellow fat living under my skin even in death made me nauseous. We didn't really consider that Dead Girls decay and become very un-pretty in their graves. We just wanted that one moment of frozen perfection. A moment that our living-body tendencies of moving awkwardly and spilling out in the wrong places could never achieve.

What does it feel like to be a corpse before you're a woman? Easier?


v. ARE WE GOING TO PROM OR TO HELL?

Laura goes to heaven, with curled hair and a full face, lit up in blue light.
Laura Palmer goes laughing.

Heather Chandler's funeral
Heather Chandler lies in an open coffin with curled hair and a full face of make-up. The other Heather uses holy water to fix her hair later. In Veronica's funereal dreamscape, Heather #1 says "Is this turnout weak or what? I had at least seventy more people at my funeral."

Funeral as popularity contest. Death as fashion show. Heavenly ascendancy as the prom makeover of ur dreams.

Girls are awfully picky about what they want to be buried in.


vi. CORPSEBAIT

It's notable that in Heroes, Claire Bennett's most serious death (she has many) follows her attempted rape. She wakes up on an autopsy table, staring down at her open chest. Dead Girls can't consent to their postmortems.

Ram's thoughts as he prays over Heather Chandler's dead body are still with her fuckability. "Why'd you have to kill such hot snatch?", he whispers to God. The necrophilial forced sexuality of the Dead Girl is the most disturbing aspect of her cultural appeal, and the area I'm least willing to think about. (Some potential avenues: True Blood's Fangbangers, the overt sexuality of vampires, Jennifer's Body.)


vii. QUEER-CONTROL

In Sharp Objects, the child-murderer inflicts perversely feminine acts of violence on her victims. She shaves and paints them before killing them, applying make-up and nail varnish to their soon-to-be-corpses. It is bizarre but understandable. These girls are transgressors and tomboys (maybe even queers) and forcing them in death to perform the femininity they refused in life is the ultimate act of heteropatriarchal control.

In real life, which is always darker, real mothers do similar things to their queer babies. Queer and trans women go to their graves in gendered costumes they never chose.


viii. MOURNABLE BODIES

Dead Girls are, as a trope, overwhelmingly white. White girls like Leelah Alcorn are remembered in vigils worldwide. Hollywood churns out film after film with another glassy blue-eyed protagonist. Princess Diana gets mourned even on colonised land. Black girls, especially black trans girls, are forgotten. #SayHerName, a movement against the erasure of black and brown women's bodies, forces their remembrance. The importance of a death signals the importance of a life, and the refusal to mourn blackness echoes a lack of concern with black women's lives.

Black and brown girls don't get the same access to girlhood as white girls do. The values that make up girlhood - innocence, purity, a carefree trust that belies a lack of trauma - are steeped in centuries of racism and generally coded as white. Black women are not given access to the virtue of Christian purity that makes white bodies so grievable; black girls are hypersexualised and assumed to carry more responsibility, require less protection. The latter value also intersects with class: the aesthetic of girlhood is not only white, but WASPish. An aesthetic of débutante balls, satin gloves, pale skin and long blonde hair. The white girl is a blank slate in kitten heels. She's unburdened, unscarred, underage.

The Dead (white) Girl is all of this without the complications. She will never age. She'll never get fat. She'll never refuse the hand of a man, whether he has an open palm or a scalpel in hand.

When it comes to performing femininity, Dead Girls do it better.

Suspension, shame, survival

I'm currently sat in the garden of Corpus Christi college, Oxford. As a suspended student, I'm not permitted to enter my own college. While members of the public can come and go, I've been told not to come on campus unless I have an appointment concerning my suspension. This rule is difficult to enforce, but successful in amplifying that feeling, already present in students from non-normative backgrounds, of being unwelcome.

I still have access to the libraries, the facilities - rights hard won by the student union. I can still use the wifi and enter other colleges. I'm still privileged as fuck by having a card that opens doors in this institution. It's hardly an injustice to rival the fact that only 11% of Oxford and Cambridge students are working class or that BME and mentally ill students are less likely to be accepted. But it does make the feeling of exclusion explicit. For suspending students who are already struggling to feel like they belong here, this is the confirmation our thoughts have been seeking.

I wasn't forced out of Oxford by any means - in fact, my tutors have been nothing but supportive and willing to work around the rules as much as they can. But other students are less lucky, have their suspensions arranged between their doctors and college staff without their consent, are told to pack up and leave within a few days. Some students are made to sit penal collections (exams) which they must reach a certain mark in to return, illegally held to higher standards than non-disabled students. Some students have requested their documents from college and found strings of emails making ableist comments about their fitness to study and dark jokes about their health. Sophie Spector recently went public with her documents, which glibly ask, "Yes, why did we admit her?" The process of suspension is often violent, traumatising and self-perpetuating: a process of exclusion which makes it even harder for students to develop the confidence and self-assurance necessary to survive here.

And this place is hard to survive. The city itself seems unstable. At times it is euphoric, wonderful, full of grandeur and wild possibility and molten gold. When I've been well and able to study, the place seems to embrace me; doorways stand open for me, all-nighters beckon and everyone looks sharp-eyed. But when I can't study, the whole city seems built in antagonism, every fucking sunset-lit sandstone wall reminding me how little I belong here. I've hidden in my room too many times to count because I couldn't face all those people for whom this place was working. And then when I finally admitted that I needed a break, those hallowed wooden doors shut in my face. Now walking through the city makes me feel smaller than it did even on my worst days. Now I'm terrified just going to check my post in college in case someone tells me to leave.

In the collegiate system, our colleges are our homes, where all our friends live, and where most of our teaching happens. Suspending means losing the place you've come to know as safe and to instead associate it with shame and transgression. It means being denied access to events held in college or on college owned property, for which you must email the Dean for explicit (and often denied) permission. It means not being able to visit friends or eat dinner with them. When asked why this rule was in place, a member of staff in my college said that it was to prevent suspended students from "dragging their friends down". The message is clear and deliberate: you're no longer a part of this community. You're no longer welcome here. The shame that this creates feels remarkably similar to the shame I already feel for being disabled, queer and working class. It's like all those insecure thoughts have been typed into a contract and signed.

Oxford spends a lot of money on access, but seems to give very little thought to how to support those students once they're here. The suspension process sets the student against the university and forces us into a defensive position. Our time here becomes more about survival - against the odds, against the university, against our own illnesses and insecurities - than about learning and enjoying university. Something as simple as changing suspension policies to allow us in college would change the nature of suspension - to make it feel like rest instead of exile. It would make disabled students feel like valued members of the college community instead of forcing us to skulk in the margins.

a brief history in cardboard boxes and runaways

When I was nine, I would proudly tell people that I'd lived in nine houses, one for every year. Perennial box-packers, girls with itchy skin if we stayed in the same place too long. When we sold the eighth house, we used the money to run away to Canada. At the airport in Toronto, we almost didn't get through Customs - the guard thought my mum was stealing me away from my dad. She presented my birth certificate, his name absent, and we ran through, thanking the stars for disappointing fathers.

We stayed in a high-rise in the suburbs. I'd never woken up that high off the ground. I'd never seen chocolate milk made with syrup or yellow school buses or garbage chutes or waterbeds in big Canadian basements. I would do my homework - my mum had told the school that this was an "educational trip" and they'd let me go with a pile of worksheets - and we'd get doughnuts from Tim Hortons. I'd never seen a Wendy's or a Subway. There wasn't much to do in the suburbs except wander the too-wide roads, the huge shops with prices marked with numbers I couldn't understand the value of. We weren't homeless, we weren't poor. We suspended reality for two months. We went to Niagara Falls and stayed in a fancy hotel, wandered the strange Frankenstein houses and Believe it or Not! museums, we ate at Planet Hollywood and stole a cocktail glass. We stood underneath the falls and the water splashed my face. I turned nine in Gossip Girl dreamland New York, with mansion-sized Time Square Barbie houses and Broadway and a horse-drawn carriage through Central Park. We snuck into a private event at the MOMA and ate canapés on every floor. On the evening of my birthday, we ate spaghetti in Little Italy and a magician did tricks at our table and I drank a Shirley Temple, high on a hundred new experiences.

Back in South Wales, we lived in a shed. In a spare room in a friend's house with damp creeping across our ceiling. On Valentine's Day, we moved into our ninth house. I told everyone, I was so proud. Nine houses, nine lives, nine different girls woven into my history. I'd already seen so much of the world.

I guess I'm more like my mum than I would have liked to admit at sixteen, when I started moving again. To London this time, the city I'd crafted my fledgling identity around. So busy, so much stimulation, danger! You didn't have to move around in London. You could live nine lives in a day - a different person in Camden than in Notting Hill. Resting on the long underground journeys between each place, or closing your eyes against sticky heatwave windows on double decker buses, and then bursting into life again as you jumped off, eager, taking in the street, the buildings piercing the sky, the thousand different languages. I can navigate London better than all my friends who grew up there - I've been everywhere, swallowed every street like it was keeping me alive.

It kind of was - I was running away from the sickness I'd been in for two years, 24/7. I liked to pretend then that it was my hometown that was crushing me - it was too small! I was bound for greatness! I was bound for London, not small-town life, the local comp, the same streets and people. But it was more like trauma and eating disorders and a sickness that had become fused with my home and streets and life there like blood on carpet.

In London, I lived in the front room of an extraordinarily generous family friend. I could stay for free - she even helped me when money got tight, as did the lodger's supply of emergency fish fingers, stocked up when I or my cousin were looking skinny and skint. I lived in between her stuff - a hoarder, the house was stacked from floor to ceiling with furniture - mainly bookcases to hold a lifetime's collection of a reader who wouldn't throw away a single book. I lived between theology and science fiction. Geraniums crowded the shelves in the winter, and I obnoxiously stuck posters and post-cards on top of her glass-framed illustrations. I pasted my personality on top of her stuff for the two years I stayed there. Eventually I got a bed, instead of the ramshackle collection of planks and props and foam. I got some fairy lights - the insta-home decoration.

In my trips back to Wales, my mum begun to move again. To start with she stayed in the same house but took on a lodger, so my bedroom became his and the sofa became mine, which upset us both. Then to a bunkhouse, which, following the collapse of her community project, passed to her. Back to the house, to my grandma's, to a forge with no phone signal where she did clay and gardened. Now to a caravan - it's to be mine, she says. A stable home - a source of income if things get tough. My dad even made a stove for it. When I saw it, I felt an unfamiliar feeling rise in my chest. This is the first contribution he's made to one of our homes, my mum and me. It's a beautiful one. A sharp, steel indicator of his presence, until now unfelt.

I've had more homes since London, too. Paris for a month. Drinking cheap red wine on the glittering Seine, drinking cheap red wine as we danced to Dexys in our Rive Gauche apartment, writing reams and reams, pasting our ideas onto the walls, smoking too-harsh American Spirits while our legs hung out over the boulevard. A hostel in Belleville, briefly, where I rapidly learned to book the women-only rooms, where I stayed up all night scared and walked the whole stretch of Paris early, that morning and the rest, through Chinatown, through the empty Place de la République, through streets filled with mattresses and homeless families sleeping through the heavy July rain. That month was the first (and so far only) time that my eyes have burned with tear gas, the first time stealing bread from a bin (Cafe de Flore! Can you imagine). A lot of firsts, another dreamland where reality hung suspended. I was living with my future room mate at Oxford - we'd both got into the same college - and going to museums and reading Sontag and Carson and Simone Wiel. I didn't realise that this sort of life was real life for her, not dreamland, and that's been a stumbling block for us since.

Since then, the suitcase girl life has become more tiredness than adventure. In Oxford, you have to move out every eight weeks or pay conference prices over the vacations. The Christmas vacation took me first to Durham, then to London, then back to Wales and London again. I can't remember much of this. I was psychotic - induced by the stress of Oxford, and probably by exhaustion. I'd been living beyond my means for too long, refusing to just be an ordinary teenage girl, considering ordinariness to be toxic. But at Oxford everything sped up. Being exceptional was a superhuman feat. Just Being was a superhuman feat. People didn't sleep or rest or look after themselves, all those things I'd dutifully taught myself to do, so neither did I. My last inter-term home was my girlfriend's bed, while she was gone and my borderline head was driving itself psychotic again with fears of abandonment. We broke up a few days after she got back, with my suitcase back in my college room still unpacked. I was so exhausted.

I'm writing this on the floor of my grandma's living room, my current home-but-not-really. Being a frequent mover is less exciting than it was when I was nine - now each new home doesn't mean another self and another world of experiences, but disorientation and perpetual anger at never being able find any of my stuff. I'm heading back to London soon, but that room is more cluttered and less mine than it was. Technically I'm homeless (I can't say this without hearing Jean Ralphio's voice in my head, which makes it sound pleasantly less depressing and pitiable, because it's really not) but the kind of homeless than me and my mum have been so many times isn't really the hard-luck TV movie type. To a degree, we both chose to live this way, though class background and recession play into it. But my mum could have chosen the life of secure homes and no debt instead of trips to Toronto and Tunisia and Greece, just as I could have chosen the local comp and a university that doesn't kick me out every holiday. It's not pitiable or enviable. It just is.

In twenty-seven days I move into a house of my own. I'm finally going to unpack the boxes I packed three years ago. I guess I'm finally going to have time to relax, to stop running, to stop the manic experience-collector act I've been pulling for the last three years (or last nineteen, possibly). I'll be able to answer the question "where do you live" with a true answer rather than an approximation, a location last seen. No more suitcase girl. At least for a year.

Living on the borderline: thoughts on the experience of BPD

This month is Borderline Personality Disorder awareness month - and since its start, I've been trying to write something about BPD. Only whenever I do, the symptoms slip through my fingers and tower in front of me: a big ball of wrongness and fractured memories of questionable authenticity.

This is the nature of BPD. This is why it's a personality disorder. It can't be held at arm's length - unlike anxiety and depression, you can't point at a period of your life or a particular episode and say, "that's borderline." It conditions your every reaction; it conditions how you process the world, how you form relationships, how you formulate reality. It's really hard to put my whole subjective reality into words. So instead, I'm going to use the diagnostic criteria as a guide and expand on what each of them actually means, both in relation to my experience and the anecdotal experience of others.


Affective instability & emotional impermanence 

Basically, this means mood swings. Unlike bipolar, where mood shifts occur over long periods of time, a person with BPD can witness maybe 20 mood changes in an hour. You're catapulted from pseudo-manic euphoria with its delusions of grandeur to immobilising depression to rage to fear, through a whole spinning roulette wheel of unnameable emotions.

Emotional reactions are acute and overwhelming: an embarrassing encounter on the street might throw you into depression for a week; an tiny confrontation might induce suicidality that lands you in A&E; a positive affirmation throws you into euphoria that lasts all day. You are hypersensitive to an excruciating degree. As Marsha Linehan put it, “People with BPD are like people with third degree burns over 90% of their bodies. Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement.”

Tied to this symptom is emotional impermanence: inability to recall any other emotional state than the one you're currently experiencing. It's only with the help of blog posts that I've been able to see how erratic my emotions are. When you're high, you feel indestructible, almost immortal - there's no way this won't last forever. And when you're low, there's no way out - even if that feeling only lasts for ten minutes. This makes diagnosis really hard, because people tend to present doctors with just their current emotion. It also makes for a lot of "I'm fine!"s followed rapidly by "Oh shit, not fine."
"A borderline suffers a kind of emotional hemophilia; [s]he lacks the clotting mechanism needed to moderate spurts of feeling. stimulate a passion, and the borderline emotionally bleeds to death."

Emptiness


Possibly the most common sentence uttered by borderlines is "I feel so empty". Looking through old blog posts, it's repeated again and again through the years, with no explanation. This emptiness is both emotional ("I don't feel anything") and deeper, concerning a total lack of self, a lack of permanence at your centre. The rocketing emotions, the million different personas, the dissociative clouds - they keep your head busy - but underneath it feels like a black hole. You're not a person; you might not even be real. There's nothing solid, nothing continuous that you can call a self. There's nothing there to love.


Identity instability/impermanence

The issue of impermanence goes beyond fluctuating emotions: identity is also incredibly malleable and frequently changes. Many borderlines find it difficult to consume media without taking on the persona of a character (it's very dangerous for me to watch Twin Peaks or Factory Girl). For me, I have to constantly resist the temptation to relapse into my "crazy girl self", which is the persona I had between ages 14-16, heavily informed by Effy and Cassie from Skins. This isn't a conscious reshaping of your personality to be like a character, it's an actual change, possible because your sense of self is weak or non-existent. We also tend to take on characteristics of whoever we're around- which can make us highly skilled at sensing if something's wrong. However, it's exhausting and disorientating. Many borderlines want to be alone because it's so overwhelming trying to regulate your sense of self around other people, but equally fear being alone because then they cease to exist/have to deal with the emptiness.


Dissociation (+ "transient psychotic symptoms")

last night was bad. i fell into a state that i haven’t been in for some time: crazy, pacing, hyperventilating, rocking back and forth in the corner while ridiculous ideas sprint around my head. all blood and death and darkness and wanting to run, far away from this house, this town, this body. the body that sits there in an almost catatonic stupor, unable to speak, and then twists and furiously mouths the cruelest things it can fathom, jumps up and whips around and breaks things and hurts itself. i speak of my body with passivity because when i’m in that state, i don’t even feel present. i don’t feel any control whatsoever. and when it’s over, my memories are blurred and tinged with a feeling of madness that i don’t like to examine too closely. i have no idea what triggers it or if there is something fundamentally wrong with my brain that makes me act like this.
 i feel like i’m floating, like a foot or so above a body that people describe as me. nothing is real. i just ate dinner and faye is laying out poker chips. i’m waiting to wake up.

These above are blog posts by sixteen yr old me, the first of which describes a violent dissociative episode and the second of which describes depersonalisation. Both of these are common to BPD and happen more often under stress. Last term, I was dissociating almost every day - during one episode, I poured boiling water over my leg. I missed New Years' because I dissociated on top of Primrose Hill for four hours. People with BPD can also experience psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions, particularly paranoid delusions relating to abandonment.

Dissociation can also happen on a lower level that you may not even notice: I've spent months of my life in low level derealisation, not taking anything in, terrified of sensation. Since starting anti-psychotics (magical drugs 10/10 highly recommend), I've realised that I probably spent the majority of my life in this state.


Impulsivity
THE IMPULSIVE BEHAVIOURS OF BPD ALL HAVE COMMON ELEMENTS. THEY ARE IMMEDIATELY GRATIFYING AND ARE PRECEDED BY A BUILDING OF TENSION, WHICH THE IMPULSIVE ACT RELIEVES. THEY ARE USUALLY RISKY, AND THERE IS LITTLE CONCERN FOR NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES IN THE FUTURE. THEY ARE OFTEN RITUALIZED, WITH A STEREOTYPICAL PATTERN FROM ONE TIME TO THE NEXT. THEY MAY SEEM IRRESISTIBLE, WITH TENSION MOUNTING TO AN INTOLERABLE DEGREE IF THE ACT DOES NOT OCCUR. THEY ARE FREQUENTLY FOLLOWED BY FEELINGS OF REGRET OR REMORSE.- Richard Moskovitz, Lost in the Mirror: an inside look at borderline personality disorder
The diagnostic criteria says: "impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g. spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)". This doesn't include self-harm or suicide attempts, which get a criterion all of their own. This is your basic off the rails stuff. You go out alone at 1am, get drunk, go home with a stranger, take drugs without knowing where they're from or what's in them. You put yourself in danger - probably because you hate yourself and lowkey want to die or just because you don't feel like a real person or maybe because you're verging on manic and nothing can hurt you. And then, because of the whole OTT emotional reactions bit, you spend weeks or months or years in remorse. You avoid people altogether or you hate yourself so much that you go out and do it again, spinning into a self-destructive spiral.


Splitting

You've probably gathered by now that the BPD world is one of extremes. The world is black and white, all or nothing. "Splitting" is a term used to describe what happens when black turns to white or vice versa; when a shade of grey enters our worldview and shatters it. Splitting can particularly impact relationships: when we meet a new person, we tend to idolise them. They go up on a pedestal and become the best person to ever exist. We remake ourselves in their image. And then they reveal a very normal, human flaw - and suddenly they are the worst person in the world, they are irredeemably evil, we hate them and hate ourselves for associating with them. In most instances, this means the relationship gets cut off for good - we draw a line in the sand and move on to the next glorious, perfect person. Sometimes, splitting happens again and again in a relationship, the person ricochetting between good and evil. All of this makes for incredibly unstable relationships, and is the main reason that people with BPD have such a terrible reputation. There's no doubting that we make for difficult partners and friends. But splitting can be improved massively in therapy and it's something I've already worked on a lot since being diagnosed. Just being aware of what your brain is doing can sometimes give you the tools to fix it.


Self-harm and suicidal behaviour, gestures, or threats

Not everyone with BPD self-harms, but enough of us do (
around 70-80% of us, to be exact) that it's become an issue in psychiatry that people who self-harm are automatically assumed to have BPD. Additionally, around 75% of people with BPD will attempt suicide at least once. Between 5-10% of those with BPD complete suicide, making up 7-38% of all suicide cases. [The Borderline Personality Disorder Survival Guide]. Many of these attempts are impulsive, "ambivalent" suicide attempts, where the person seeks to put themselves in danger of dying but not guarantee it. I've overdosed four times, taken myself to hospital three times. Each of these have been responses to being acutely upset and not seeing any possible solution. One of these has been in response to a perceived threat of abandonment.


Fears of abandonment (real or perceived)


This one took a long time for me to come to terms with. None of us like to see ourselves as needy or codependent, and I've always prided myself on my total independence. When I fell over as a child, I would refuse help, determined not to be seen as weak. But I've also been crying and hyperventilating on the kitchen floor at 3am with a bottle of whisky because my girlfriend's phone died and she stopped replying to my messages. I've had delusions that all my friends secretly hate me and been so convinced of them that I've tested them, lashing out at them to see if they'll show their true colours and leave. When my ex-boyfriend went on holiday, I saw it as an abandonment and turned to hating him as soon as he was on the plane.

There are some more symptoms, scattered around and vaguely related to the above. Irrational "rages" are common, as is sensory overload and object impermanence (people and other bits of reality existing a little less when they're not with you). Many people with BPD are torn between feeling like frauds for identifying with the diagnosis - even if professionally given - and feeling like they need to be sicker. Lots of people with BPD don't experience all of the above symptoms, so if you have BPD and didn't relate to one or several, don't worry. This is also v much informed by my subjective experience of the disorder.


There are positive symptoms too: we are highly perceptive, creative, adept at empathy, incredibly self-aware and therefore ideally suited to recovery. Always experiencing the world at top speed can be a gift when it's not trying to kill you, and having an emotional range greater than most people can be glorious as well as dangerous. Impulsivity can bring benefits: I wouldn't have had half the defining experiences of my life without the impulsivity that drove me to move to London at 16 or to book a train to Paris with no money and nowhere to stay.


BPD can be hard and horrible - for the people around us as well as ourselves. But it shouldn't be the case that you can't look for resources to help you manage a relationship with BPD without finding a dozen articles on how to "deal with" your borderline significant other, all of which tell you to abuse them by invalidating their feelings or run away as fast as you can. We are not inherently abusive; 75% of us are survivors of abuse. Personality disorders are not hallmarks of bad people. What they are is complex and in need of more attention. Treatment programs are scarce and underfunded - and the intense stigma around personality disorders allows this to continue.

On hearing, sexuality and denying myself

There's sometimes an embarrassing moment, when I meet somebody new, where I have to mention my deafness. Usually because I'm trying to awkwardly manoeuvre myself onto the left side of the pavement, or turning my head awkwardly at dinner so my right ear is closest to their mouth. I explain, then; I don't want to seem weird. I'm hard of hearing. No, not since birth. Yes, I can hear fine in my other ear. Superhuman, actually. Top of the charts. It's just when there's background noise. I'm normal, promise.* I drop the subject as quickly as I can. I make it very clearly that this only affects me in very noisy environments, and then all I have to do is turn my head. I don't admit that my deafness goes far beyond that, even to myself.

Just before university began, I came to Wadham for lunch, to meet my tutors and other history students. It was awkward anyway, but made worse by the fact that a tutor was sat on my left. I spent the entire time straining to hear, trying to figure out what words could fit into the gaps, spluttering "what"s and "sorry"s (the most used words in my vocabulary). Eventually, unable to hear more than a few scattered words, I gave up on conversation and quietly excused myself. It was after that lunch that I realised how much I'd designed my life around my deafness, and how much it would affect me now I could no longer choose the circumstances of my social situations so carefully. As a child, I could organise my deafness so that it went unmentioned, never a problem, certainly not a disability. I made friends with loners, one friend here or there, never a group. I knew where to sit in classrooms, knew automatically where to sit at tables. In secondary school my group, all slightly uncool and thus targets, ate our lunch in the art room or the woods away from the noise of the canteens. As a teenager, I went to bars with one friend, telling myself I just preferred to talk one-on-one. I didn't consider that this was because I couldn't hear otherwise. When it finally clicked, I cried for days. I was upset that my life, which should be under my control, had been silently manipulated by my disability for as long as I could remember. I was also profoundly embarrassed. I could feel every "what" sharp on my skin. 

After a few days of crying, I buried it again. It was only yesterday, flicking through the Disability Studies Reader in the library (looking to read something reaffirming about my place in the world as a queer mentally ill woman, not for one second considering that I could add "deaf" to that list), that I remembered that episode in the summer. I had forgotten about my deafness. I had fallen back into the familiar pattern of passing as hearing, which is fine as long as I avoid noisy environments like socials and dinners (a habit which, I learned last term, had led to my being thought of as "intimidating"). My strange "accent" can be pinned on coming from South Wales, because nobody knows what the Welsh sound like anyway. It's possible - though not exactly easy - for me to deny my deafness, to bury that huge part of my experience in exchange for the comfort of passing. It is, in fact, very similar to my experience of passing as straight.

I've known that I'm bisexual since I was ten or eleven, but not until this year did I allow myself to embrace it. I kept myself in a strange sort of suspended animation: aware of my bisexuality, yet subconsciously repressing it, keeping it entirely off the table, hiding it. If asked, I would usually tell people that I was bi - as long as I was safe, what was there to be ashamed of? But it didn't feel like something I could actively be. I didn't feel queer - didn't identify with what I knew of queer culture (entirely cis gay men and sequins, at that point) and over and over again told friends that I didn't care much about LGBTQ+ activism because "my sexuality isn't a big part of who I am". Still, now, I feel too straight for words like "queer" and "bi" and especially "gay". They slip out guiltily; I don't feel entitled to them in the same way that I don't feel entitled to call myself "hard of hearing" or "deaf" - let alone "Deaf"**. These words describe me, but they're not mine to use.

Ilene C. Caroom, "Like Love, This Choice of a Language"
A part of this, I'm sure, comes from rejection by the communities that should take in people like me. I am loathe to use the word "monosexual" - partly because it just sounds ugly but mostly because it's used to promote the idea of a hierarchy of queer oppression, whereby monosexual gay people are "privileged" over bi/pansexuals, which is a completely inaccurate portrayal of societal power relations. But there is extreme biphobia in the community. Bisexuals are continually and sometimes explicitly made to feel unwelcome by the perceived gatekeepers of our community. And even if nobody's being outright biphobic, there are still those standards of performative queerness - the walk, the look, the dress code, slang and in-jokes and TV shows - that we're held to. Stumbling into the queer scene at my university, I found myself unable to speak the language or notice the codes of queerness - just as, in a Deaf environment, I'd be unable to communicate (never having had the opportunity to learn sign language - and even if I did, I wouldn't fit in. I've been "mainstreamed". I haven't grown up Deaf, so Deaf culture will never be fully mine). I'm not queer enough, not deaf enough. But I'm not straight and I'm not hearing, and neither of those communities are ever going to welcome me.

I am realising that my sexuality and my deafness cannot exist as small, separate parts of me. My deafness isn't a quirk to be brought up when necessarily and swiftly put down - quips about cochlear implants over dinner to hide the acute pain of not being able to hear a thing - nor is my sexuality something that I can only acknowledge during games of Never Ever Have I Ever. Both qualities have shaped every part of me: my personality, the way I live, the friends I make. The experiences of being deaf and queer are so fundamental that I can't imagine their opposites. And yet identifying myself with those words, privately or publicly, is painful. Every time I call myself queer or hard of hearing, it's like wading through every time I've been told that those words aren't mine to use, every time I've been turned away from those communities, the endless cacophony of "not enough". I have burst into tears more over the last few months than probably any other time in my life. Realising my own internalised biphobia and ableism is painful; realising how deeply my subconscious passing techniques go is painful. Realising that I am not going to be welcomed into the LGBTQ+ or Deaf communities - realising that even here, I still have to fight for my identity to be considered valid - makes me want to give up go back to denying myself. But passing - though maybe an easier route through life - is violent; it erases, it replaces vibrant identities with emptiness and a sense of self-deception that you can never quite shift. Surviving, as I am, with all my identities intact and visible and glorious, isn't easy. I'm always going to have to fight the battle on two fronts - against the able, heteronormative world and against those in my own communities who don't want me there. And against that part of me that calls me a fraud for claiming those communities as my own. But I'd rather fight than hide; unapologetically using my voice - loud, unafraid of my mispronunciations and volume - will always feel better than policing every move and sentence to make sure I'm not found out.



*I have unilateral sensorineural hearing loss with negligible hearing in my left ear. This means that I can't filter individual sounds out of background noise - so though I can hear well in one-on-one situations where there's no background noise and the person who's talking is facing me, I struggle to hear in group settings or if there's background noise.
**Deaf refers to deaf or hard of hearing people who are active in Deaf culture.

Queer feels

I just watched Pride again - third time, still bawling into a bag of popcorn. The twin pains of seeing the Valleys in a way I never had before, alive and singing (my memories from going to school in Rhondda Cynon Taf were mostly of bullies and far too much grey, welfare hall day and night in her widow's weeds) and of seeing the queer community in a way I never had - singing, fighting, angry as hell. Both communities which seem unrecognisable now. But this time I cried for another reason as well.

The first time I saw Pride was just before I started university. Coming out of the cinema, I called my mum and gushed about it. I can still feel my heart skipping a bit with the anxiety of saying "lesbian and gay" over the phone, spluttering over the syllables. I was scared that even talking about queerness would be an admission of my own.

Queerfest costume: Rocky Horror/high society
Edie Sedgwick inspired queer alien looks
I'm finding it hard to write this. I'm giving myself the space I need to breathe; giving myself this clean blogspot window and the wide, sprawling emptiness of the internet. Excuse me if I trip over these words because I've been keeping them tightly wound for a very long time.

The second time I saw Pride I was with my mum. She cried a lot, too. But I couldn't put into words exactly why I was crying so much. We talked about the Valleys and Thatcher a lot afterwards, not so much about LGSM.

Today, my mum sleeps opposite a pair of alien boppers with the letters 'B' and 'I' stuck onto them with see-through plasters. They're from my Queerfest costume this year, which was on my birthday. I'd arrived in university in October and without thinking, I was out. My queerness fitted easily into this college, the bi-weekly trips to LGBTQsoc drinks and gay clubs, its emphasis on intersectional feminism, the active non-heteronormativity (queernormativity?) of students here. I was still scared. I still danced with boys in queer clubs even when I didn't want to. I kissed girls and slept with girls but didn't have the words that came easily with men. I couldn't speak to them afterwards and hated myself for it. Over Christmas, slipping between various beds that altogether constitute my home, I still tripped over my queerness. I talked, stuttering, about sex with women to my cousin as we'd talked about sex with men. I talked queer politics with my mother. Still not my politics, though. Not talking about me.

beautiful queer Wadham
The other day I called my mum to tell her about the girl I liked and who likes me and how we're navigating the minefields of mental health and queerness, but I couldn't. My mouth was open but the words wouldn't come out. I told her about "romantic developments", keeping pronouns firmly out of it.

But it's getting easier. My voice is getting stronger. This time, watching Pride, I was crying because I could recognise myself and my friends in it. Some of that wild, unpretentious, idealism has crept into my life. That glint Mark has in his eye at Pride. That feeling of being totally accepted, totally deserving of my space in the world, totally able to change it.

My point here is that I can feel my chest expanding like it's breathing fresh air for the first time and that I keep crying from happiness so much that when I told my psychiatrist he thought I might be bipolar. But it's actually because for the first time in my life, I'm surrounded by beautiful, radical, supportive queer people. Communists and anarchists with bones to pick and binaries to dismantle who hold each other and sleep together and go onto the streets shouting together. I'm unlearning heteronormativity, unlearning the gender binary that made me fuck up my friend's pronouns the first few times I talked (gushed) about them, unlearning this damn persistent idea in my head that queerness is something I have to hide and feel shame over. I don't feel any shame when I wake up early lying next to a girl in clean white sheets and everything feels purer and simpler than I could have imagined.

My point here is that I've found something I didn't even know I was missing. My identity as a queer person feels like it fits me for the first time - because I'm visible and I'm political and it's so much fun. I feel like I have what Pride managed to capture - I'm Joe, grinning as he says "shut up and march". Walking into the pub or club or whatever space and knowing it's yours. And I don't know how to put that feeling into words without being unbearably cheesy - I'm just so grateful I've finally found it.