On the way home from school the other day, my five-year-old daughter was talking about diaries. She told me that some people write ‘Dear Diary’ in their diaries. She wanted to know if I did that, too. I explained that I don’t really do diary entries like that, and the people who do only tend to write stuff like ‘Dear Diary’ if thinking of their diary as a person helps them to get the words out.
I did actually try it, once or twice. Back when I was younger and I wasn’t sure if I was doing it ‘properly’, I tried addressing my diary as though it were a person in whom I was confiding – but I felt like a twat, so I stopped. I was worried that someone would read it and laugh at me.
It didn’t matter much, because I had already started writing as though one day it would be read. Not out of arrogance, but because my diary had been read on multiple occasions. When I lived with my mum and her boyfriend, he used to do stuff like that and then he would openly mock me about what I’d written. I was ten. There was nothing wrong with what I’d written. Ten-year-olds are allowed to have silly crushes on their classmates or people in boybands and have terrible taste in music. It’s part of what being a kid is about. But I was shamed out of it; I had to keep it all in my head.
When I did write, I assumed there would be an audience at some point. All the bullying had made me feel as though everything about me was terrible and that I was a terrible person because of it, so I kept it all inside. I learned to lie, mixing mistruths with writing so cryptic that it may as well have been in code. Keeping a diary gradually felt more and more pointless.
I think this is partly why I never fill notebooks. I want to keep a diary, but I get worried that somewhere down the line it’ll be read by someone else and then I start feeling ashamed and uncomfortable all over again. Writing like this is the only way I can do it; writing retrospectively is all I can really manage. As soon as I try to write what I’m feeling right now, my words start disguising themselves again. I panic that I’ll be embarrassed with my own feelings one day. I rip the pages out of the notebook and give up.
Back when my privacy was being invaded in horribly cruel ways, honesty did not seem like the best policy. I wanted to protect myself from being humiliated further so secrecy and misdirection were the defences that allowed me to keep writing. Now, however… I’m a bit angry about it. There was nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t doing anything weird. I was just writing about my life. I don’t know why they (he) couldn’t just leave me alone.
It began to change during that year when I was looking after my grandad and the little white bird. I had started writing about my feelings again; still in a very cryptic way, but I was enjoying playing around with the words – twisting them until they were pretty and making them sound much more magical than they really were. In the June of that year, I fell out with my mum and her boyfriend after he angrily tried to intimidate me because I told him I didn’t give a fuck about his opinion, to the point where my grandad stepped in ready to fight him, all because Maelie and I were going to a fucking Take That concert. Sometime after that – but before my grandad got really sick – I decided to write about how awful my mum was and how shitty it had been growing up with her. Not just a blog post, but an entire novella.
I actually did write it. 22,000 words – lost now, but it’s not really a huge loss. Most of what I wrote is here; I didn’t lose the memories. And it was probably terrible anyway. It was an exercise in catharsis, not literary excellence.
I had never been honest before. I just sat there and wrote out what I remembered, how I remembered it, and how I remembered feeling at the time. This was before I was aware of how unreliable memories can be so it’s possible I didn’t take that into account – not to mention the fact that I was pretty fucking angry when I was writing it – but allowing myself to just write what I wanted to say felt amazing. It would be a cliché to say it was a revelation, yet it would also be an understatement. The fear had gone, and had been replaced with whatever the feeling is where you think ‘if they didn’t want to be written about in such a way, then they shouldn’t have been such dicks’. It was marvellous.
I wasn’t quite at the stage where I was fully comfortable admitting everything, but it was a start. At the time, I was barely eating or sleeping, and I was doing some weird Jungian active imagination kind of meditation (which one day I hope to understand well enough to write about) so it’s quite possible that this was just some kind of high-functioning breakdown. But whatever it was, it helped.
The more I wrote, the more I remembered – and the more I remembered, the more angry and sad I felt. It wasn’t the big things, it wasn’t the more traumatic episodes. It was the little things. The memories of random days that feel as though they must be special in some way because my mind has chosen to remember those things over others. They probably aren’t all that special in reality, but whenever such a memory appeared it seemed to drag me back to that moment in time and suddenly I was that scared little kid again. Every time I bounced back to the present moment, the scared little kid was still there with me.
I felt so sad for her.
One of the memories that came back was of trying to get to sleep when I was very young. I used to lie there, watching the asteroid shower and fireworks display that plays out on the back of my eyelids – or on the wall, if the bedroom is dark enough. Every night I had trouble sleeping, but every night I had to lie still and be quiet as though I were already asleep, so I used to just try to relax and enjoy the pretty colours. I noticed that there weren’t really that many different ones. Sometimes I’d get little bursts of light, sometimes it would look as though it were raining. Sometimes there were pretty twinkles, and sometimes there were jagged bolts of lightning. My favourite was a blue and red sparkle – once I had seen that, I could finally go to sleep.
I remember telling my mum about it. I told her I could see patterns all around me when I was in the darkness, and I asked her what it was. She had never heard of phosphenes; she told me it was probably just the pattern on the duvet cover playing tricks on my eyes. I told her the patterns were still there when I closed my eyes. She told me to stop being stupid: there was nothing there.
At some point I forgot about the twinkly lights behind my eyelids. I don’t know when. But then, when I was writing my memoir/novella/trashy tell-all, I remembered them. I was upset that I’d forgotten about them. I don’t really know why. Perhaps it was because it felt as though it was yet another thing about me that my mum had tried to stifle. Perhaps it was because I felt as though I was totally disconnected from my childhood and suddenly I’d found myself back there. Perhaps it was because I felt as though I had totally lost myself somewhere along the way, and remembering that somehow brought a part of me back.
I want myself back.
My daughter told me she sees the twinkly lights too. She asked me what they were; I had never heard of phosphenes at that point, so I just told her about the ones that I see and we compared notes. She has slightly different sparkles. I told her that I told my mum about them and that she’d said they were just the patterns from the duvet.
‘That’s silly,’ she replied.