…days, like today, when I am feeling subdued, unhappy and in pain, are far fewer in number than the happy days – and certainly rare in comparison to April 2016.
What has kicked this low mood off? Some things I can trace: News which, though none of my business per se, has ripped the scab off a wound which has been lamentably slow to heal anyway. A reaction to my photographs, which I’ll expand upon in a moment. The pulling of muscles in my back, which has brought physical pain and some degree of a return to my habit of anxiety.
Let me go back to the photos – for there have been many of them – and the delayed, though, I can now see, predictable reaction to them.
Brought up to be modest, unassuming; taught that self-display was almost a sin and certainly a sign of a monstrous ego; rebuked for flirting, trying to attract sexual attention; aware that women, in this light, had to avoid being gaudy and posing with any skin on show; told time and again how embarrassing I was because of my dress sense, my hair, my footwear – and all of this internalised so successfully that, until very recently, I would as soon have beaten myself up as shown an image of my face in public.
Convinced, from the earliest age, that I was plain, even ugly, and quite without any kind of sex appeal, loathing all attempts to capture my likeness on film – and sure that the resulting images were uniformly hideous – I hid, in fantasy, in reading, in writing, in music, in nature, in corners and hidey-holes, in dreams, in humour.
My measure of myself was infinitesimally tiny. I was, in my own estimation, little more than a tool to be used by others: To listen; to make them laugh; to be kind; to be the plain friend set against the glittering sex goddess type; to be the quiet one next to the flamboyant Character.
To be, above all, un-photogenic. Goddess knows, I had this ‘truth’ instilled into me enough times, and by enough people.
So, my recent habit of posting selfies has provoked waves of guilt and terror. I fear that I have become as self-centred as a gyroscope; that I am trying to persuade myself that I am still young; that I am in a cloud of utter delusion and arrant stupidity; that this endless displaying of self on posts is cringe-worthy, tedious, repetitive and shallow.
I guess I am trying to measure up – and always have been, at some level – to a physical ideal: The epitome of femininity as decreed by twentieth/twenty-first century taste.
It is not even that I genuinely believe that the physical appearance is the most important part. I do not, never have. Perhaps I am more afraid of reaching sixty than I am aware of. Perhaps, the spectre of lonely and, in the boyfriend sense, unloved old age is tickling at my subconscious, even though, on the surface, the idea of an intimate relationship fills me with absolute terror.
I do crave attention. I know that’s childish and selfish, but I am being honest here. I want to be noticed – and yet I don’t. I want to be loved and desired and thought beautiful – and yet I panic and freeze at the thought of male, or female, attention. I want to be seen – and yet I also want to retreat, to hide, to be invisible. I want to cheer people up, to make people laugh – and yet I also want to cry, alone, unseen. I want to be thought talented and loving and friendly – and yet I am also shit-scared of trusting, of being used, of being rejected.
I can see that these conflicting thoughts and feelings reflect the bitter measure of nastiness which so permeated my life in 2014-2016 – and, in lesser ways, still does. I can see that, for each inch of skin (metaphorically) I assume to be healed, there are another hundred still weeping, bleeding and hurting. I can see that, sometimes, nay oft-times, I am trying too hard, am Marathon-running before I have even mastered a basic baby crawl. I can see that I am impatient with my own rate of healing – and that, if I am rock-honest, I want all the after-effects of the past few years to be behind me, in my past, a sepia photograph from a bygone age and get very agitated when I have to confront the truth: That I am far from healed and that I WILL get days like this.
The reduction of my self-image to shards of grotesque, almost monstrous, matter; the measuring of my personality up against a variety of strait-jackets; the nurturing of uncertainty, anxiety and fear have all resulted in a rattling hollow beneath the surface cheer and loud persona. As I have said before, looking at photos taken in safety (by me), gives me a moment of material existence. Not that this certainty lasts, of course.
I know I am real – but it is, at times, a piecemeal version of reality. I cup my cheek with my left hand and can feel the warmth of the palm, the bony jutting of face, the fluttering of eyelashes on the little finger. But my face is as mysterious and unseen as ever. Photos are not me – and yet, logically, they capture moments of who I am. Weird, eh?
But here is the rub: The images captured by mobile phone (I don’t own a camera) are a measure of Ali, the Corporate Being as seen by the world (if you see what I mean) and do not correspond terribly closely to the Ali within. My persona – orange, larger than life, dramatic, loud – is the hooded cloak I have woven to cover my absolute sense of nakedness and, I guess, vulnerability inside.
I think, ironically, the photos reflect the persona most readily. This is because I am so terrified of being seen when vulnerable that even camera images, which supposedly reveal the soul, are a measure only of the me I am prepared to show.
Three recent images – which showed my fragile centre unambiguously – have been shared only with two close friends. Why? Because, with them, I have no need to pretend to be anything other than the self I truly am. Because they got my measure long ago and I do not need to advance and then retreat in their company.
But, back to the beginning, I still maintain that it is a measure of increased strength, confidence and happiness that days like today are relatively few and far between.