There was a time in my life when it was very comfortable for me to play the role of the invalid. It was the only character in my repertoire that got me attention. The good girl role only got me so far. Yes, I was a teacher’s favourite, but only because I could tick the correct blocks, not because of anything intrinsic to me. I was a talented lab rat. The problem with the talented lab rat is that it does what is expected of it, and then it is ignored in favour of the rats less receptive to training.
So when I had my breakdown in my early 20s, the sudden attention from the psychiatric institution paid to my emotional being (a completely unexplored and unseen side of myself) set me up for a decade’s dance with madness as my lover. Looking back on my dependence on the mad invalid identity and my attempt to use it to fill the void terrifies me. Because if I hadn’t set myself up as the lunatic waiting for the pill/therapist/white padded cell to ride in on its tranquilised horse, I would have saved myself from years of depression; years of a self-induced frontal lobotomy. Being dependent on my this identity leaves me feeling physically ill as I sit here: ill with the anger, the sadness – all of that time, wasted; all of that hatred I built up towards myself; all of the damage I did to myself, physically and emotionally. But I’ve learnt to turn this sadness and anger into a fierce insistence on life, my self, living with passion, living with love. Sadness and anger simply fuel the madness.
At the height of my depression, I was told that I would be in and out of hospitals for the rest of my life, that I would be incapable of holding down a job and that I would never be able to live alone. And I believed that. I proved them wrong. I proved myself wrong.
It’s a very difficult thing to step out from one’s own shadow; to claim a new self, a new life, to leave everything else behind. But I’ve done it. And I keep claiming those things; each and every day. And I do not recognise the person I am in relation to the person I was two years ago. And my friends can attest to that. I still get Facebook messages from friends who have never met me, but who are astounded by the difference in me since they’ve known me.
And because this stepping out from my shadow has been, and still is, a very forceful act of will, a gritty and determined passion project, being forced to relate to my previous self in a non-constructive way is something I cannot allow. I allow myself relations to previous selves in the space of my writing, therapy and with supportive friends. I will never, ever regret the time I spent being lost; because it changed me forever. It taught me so much about the human condition, about myself; it taught me to value life, value living it passionately. The indelible knowledge that one can take one’s life in cold blood, or that one can cruelly starve the life out of one’s self over years, decades, effecting an extended suicide with complete dispassion – this intimate contemplation of the ceasing of one’s own existence leaves one with a hard-fought and hard-won respect for life that few human beings will ever know. And for this, I’m thankful. But for my sake, literally – for the sake of my self, my sanity – I will not tolerate being seen within the framework of madness, addiction, a lost, floundering, emotionally stunted being clawing through the padding of the past. My Clockwork Orange days are behind me, and I’m not interested in watching the reruns, or being typecast.
Do I have much to learn about relating to people, dealing with emotions, the world at large, myself? Yes. But I will do so from a position of adventure, power and limitless possibility, because I am not the madwoman in the attic; I am no longer afraid of the potential that I contain, and I am no longer terrified of having that potential, and by extension myself, realised and witnessed.