All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


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Behind the Lens #2: Hope

This week’s theme ‘Behind the Lens’ is a combination of photography and memory. Each day a random image will be plucked from my archive and – regardless of how good it is – showcased on the blog along with the story behind the image. Today, the image called hope that marked the end of my photography hobby.

Hope (Port Fairy, November 2005) © Addy

“Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

Alfred Tennyson

This photograph was once described by my girlfriend as boring, uninspiring, monotonous, lacking in any aesthetic value, a complete waste of time and one of the many reasons she believed I should waste no more time on my photography hobby.

She may have been right. There are no curvaceous women, no point of reference, a somewhat obscure composition and little to hold people’s interest other than the seemingly endless sky as it plunges into the ocean below.

But when I look upon this image I see other things.

I see myself sitting on a beach in pitch darkness, a knife held to my wrist, as I contemplated slitting my wrists before wandering into the very section of ocean depicted here.

I see myself picking a stick from a crudely made fire and placing the flames against my skin in a vain attempt to feel something following a breakdown.

I see myself screaming into the night as I realized my life was over. That nothing would ever be the same again, no matter how hard I fought.

Photography is more than capturing a moment in time, space or place. It is a recording of emotion; of memory, dreams and life. When I took this photograph in late 2005 I was beautiful. I had a wonderful girlfriend, the beginnings of a social network, a job I was proud of and a whole life stretched out before me. Had I known what nightmares this beach would hold I doubt I would ever have taken the photograph, for no matter how many times I gaze upon it those hells have eclipsed the original emotion I was trying to record,

The emotion of hope; for my life, my mind and most importantly, for my soul.

A hope that was stolen by the winds of time and a few ill-timed words when I was most vulnerable.


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The only time I can be myself is in my dreams

“People think dreams aren’t real just because they aren’t made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes.”
~Neil Gaiman~

The only time I can be myself is in my dreams. Not the waking aspirations that tease me with promises of a better future but the phantasms my mind concocts in those brief hours of sleep.  During those short bursts of merriment I am Addy; strong, confident, desired, free from the safety-bar of the mental health roller-coaster I find myself riding through the volatile hours of daylight.

In my dreams I can converse freely without fear of embarrassment or shame, walk unhindered through sunlit parks, greet strangers with kind words and believe in my abilities to the point of success.

Whenever I dream I always wake with a grin on my face, lost in the chance to be un-shackled from my waking insecurities and insanity. Something I last relished in on Sunday morning, after dreaming a quite odd little dream.

I walked into the brand spanking new three-story building with a cheeky grin plastered on my face. Every ounce of my being knew I would be walking out with a job in online publishing. My briefcase was empty, my qualifications non-existent, but the job was mine; all I needed was my quick-witted intellect and spell-blinding repartee.

Scaling the glass staircase past palm trees housing miniature monkeys and exotic flowers feeding hundreds of multi-coloured butterflies, I was met by a young woman with a red clipboard.

“Mr. Addy?” She said, with a slight Tasmanian brogue. ”Welcome to Intercourse.com. Follow me,”

With a sparkling smile I did, taking in the flock of Parakeets that frolicked in the wide open atrium above me. As we ascended to the second floor an Indian Elephant plunged his trunk into a mail trolley and began delivering the mail to each of the desks that littered the space. All around there was the hum of computers and the delightful symphony of click-clacking keyboards with various beautiful people glancing up from their work desks to greet me with a suspicious smile.

“Don’t mind Gertrude,” The young woman said, patting the elephant lovingly. “You get used to her,”

My interview was on level three, a single expansive office owned by the director of the organization; an imposing man with wide-set shoulders, a Commissioner Gordon style moustache and a new suit that the Emperor would be proud of. After complimenting him on his shoe-size the young woman departed to allow the interview to commence. Four hours of intensive interrogation later I was the proud owner of my own sleek, wooden desk nestled amidst the neatly kept gardens of the second floor.

Eager to work I threw myself into the routine of brainstorming, report writing, elephant fondling and fiery debate with aplomb. Unaware of my lack of qualifications, all but two of my colleagues accepted me with open arms; a twenty-something woman who was aware of the lies I’d used to secure the job and an arrogant thirty-something male who thought elephants and parakeets were un-necessary intrusions into what should have been a serious working environment.

The latter, Edgar, made it his purpose in life to destroy my career; poaching article ideas to pass them off as his own, hacking into my computer to re-edit my work so it was littered with spelling and grammatical mistakes and creating a fake Twitter identity to troll as if he were me.

The former, Francesca, would balance assistance and sabotage with equal determination; defending me spuriously from the Edgar’s attacks whilst simultaneously informing Emperor Gordon of my sabotaged mistake-riddled articles by providing him with printouts of the articles with all mistakes highlighted in red marker pen. All so could relish in my twice daily summoning to the third floor for corporal punishment; the regularity of these paddlings earning me the nickname Lee.

In spite of all this my courage and conviction saw me through. Shrugging off the punishments with well-timed jokes and refusing to allow the barrage of criticism to affect me in any way, shape or form, I began to flourish. Several of the pieces I put forward (The effect of diminishing cheese production n Indonesian Mice, Explainer: What is Tadpole Reflexive Disorder, The Climax Tax: How it will impact your relationship) became the most read articles on the site and, as a result, I began being sent on investigative assignments.

Such assignments involved conducting interviews and photography sessions with celebrities and public figures, often making use of Intercourse.com’s time bubble technology; a way to bounce through time and space to allow for increased research of historical incidents and conundrums.

It was during one of these assignments when Francesca, accompanied by her stowaway seven-year old daughter, became trapped in the past following an act of sabotage by my male-nemesis in the present. Unfortunately we had become marooned during the onset of the infamous Port Arthur spree shooting and I was shot four times in the buttocks after throwing myself upon my Francesca and child in a valiant act of protection/stupidity/selflessness.

Throwing me into the back of a taxi she told me to stop complaining and informed the driver to drop me at the hospital, thus beginning a 70s style car chase through the Tasmanian wilderness during which…

…I promptly woke up wondering what the hell my subconscious was playing at! Not that I was complaining, for that wonderful euphoric sensation was surging through me as I replayed the blissful memories my dream had provided.

A euphoric sensation I wish I could feel whilst waking.

Disclaimer: I do not, nor have ever wanted to, work for any organization that may or may not resemble the one contained within my dream. Also, I would also like to emphasize that I do not condone the use of corporal punishment within the workplace. Although saying that, some of the glaringly obvious errors contained within articles and news reports I’ve read online (weather instead of whether, seriously?) are probably deserving of a sound spanking.


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Teaser Tuesday – The Comfort of Our Kind (September 11)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

My teaser for today comes from the novel The Comfort of Our Kind by Tom Stoner.

Having never heard of this book before I borrowed it from the library last week on the strength of the review on the back cover:

“This fun debut novel by story writer Stoner chronicles the tribulations of a family caught in a war between good and evil in Franklin Notch, New Hampshire. Stoner’s stroytelling has a lot of Wes Anderson elements and should find a readership among those into the folksy, absurd, and poignant,” ~ Publishers Weekly


The Devil pulled a corncob pipe from his vest pocket, packed it, and fired it with a spark from his fingernail. He drew a long haul from the bowl. Blue smoke pooled under his eyes.

“Here’s the deal: You need to raise your children righteously. If they don’t find their spiritual gifts, I get the soul of your firstborn. And just to make it interesting, I get to visit him seven times. If he can’t find his faith by my seventh visit, he’s mine,”

from The Comfort of Our Kind by Tom Stoner


Anyone can play along with Teaser Tuesdays! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!


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Behind the Lens #1: Punk Queen Pelican

This week’s theme ‘Behind the Lens’ is a combination of photography and memory. Each day a random image will be plucked from my archive and – regardless of how good it is – showcased on the blog along with the story behind the image. Today, a personal favourite titled Punk Queen Pelican.

Punk Queen Pelican (Philip Island, November 2004) © Addy

“King and Queen of the Pelicans we;
No other Birds so grand we see!
None but we have feet like fins!
With lovely leathery throats and chins!”
Edward Lear

In November 2004 my parents visited Australia for the first time. Having been down under for over two years, my then girlfriend and I put together a comprehensive program of events that would showcase as much of the country as we could. Given my mother’s love of penguins, a trip to Philip Island and their infamous penguin parade was a no brainer.

After two days of exploring Philip Island we were heading back to Melbourne when we came across a number of pelicans being fed. Although not as cute as penguins, there is something majestic about a pelican, so we pulled over to take a closer look.

It was whilst randomly snapping photos of the pelicans that I noticed the woman held in hypnotic rapture by the beautiful avians before her. Immediately my attention was drawn to her hair; the vibrant colours, the spectacular layers, the contrast against the subdued colours of the overcast day. In all honesty I think I wanted to photograph this more than the pelicans!

After lining up the shot, I waited for the pelicans to position themselves into the frame and fired off a few images.

As I was sans-digital at the time, the image was shot on slide film and then processed weeks later. It was only when I was studying each image in my flat did I notice the unfortunate positioning of a pelican’s beak which, given the text emblazoned across the woman’s posterior, gave the image its name for the rest of time.


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World Suicide Prevention Day: Breaking the silence

In 2000, I discovered that a wonderful human being I’d spent time with in Canada had taken her own life. Even now, twelve years later, I still think of the hole that Rachel left in my heart.

In 2009, I befriended a beautiful soul who had contacted me through this blog. She was searching for hope, someone to help her fight the demons inside her as all her friends had fled. Unfortunately, her pain overwhelmed her and she committed suicide. I’ve never forgiven myself for Stephanie’s death.

In 2010, a homeless man I had acquainted myself with decided to end his isolated, unloved life. He never revealed his hopelessness to me or anyone as he believed no-one cared. He was wrong.

In 2011, an acquaintance in a boarding house I was living in ended his life during a drug induced episode.

Suicide has touched my life far too much. Two members of my family have attempted suicide on multiple occasions, on at least two of these it was only good-timing that enabled them to get the medical intervention needed to save their lives. Close friends have attempted suicide; all good, beautiful, talented people who felt they could no longer deal with this crazy little thing called life.

The first time I considered suicide was during my teenage years. The first time I actively acted on these thoughts was in 2000, a few depression filled months after learning of Rachel’s death. In 2006, my desire to end my meager existence overwhelmed all rational thought. In 2007, I took both an overdose and, a few months later, tried to hang myself following months of loss, pain and abuse.

Since then I have done what I could to seek help before these desires overwhelm me, but that hasn’t prevented at least one attempt a year for the last half a decade; the most recent of these being at the end of last year. All attempts to gain support have failed, leaving me fighting these feelings alone.

Something no-one should ever have to do.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Today is the day I can’t stop thinking of Rachel, Stephanie, Gareth and Malcolm; of the losses that could’ve been and the surprise that I am still here to write these words. There hasn’t been a day gone by that I haven’t mourned the un-necessary loss of these radiant souls. Not a week where I don’t feel the river of tears that coursed my cheeks or the sticky wet blood that stained my arm.

Our society has a tendency to bury suicide with codes and cleverly worded articles. To a degree I understand this need for caution; this need to protect those most vulnerable. But fostering such a shameful silence only encourages people who need help the most to remain silent themselves.

Not once, before any of my attempts did I turn to family or friends first, terrified of the judgmental shame I had convinced myself would follow.

Every day in Australia six people lose their life by suicide. Every year, over 2000 lives are needlessly lost, leaving behind millions of family, friends and loved ones who will never be able to heal their broken hearts.

Forever left wondering what could have been had they known of the pain their loved one was in.

If they had just asked “Hey, are you okay?”

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Today is the day my heart goes out to all who have lost people to suicide. The day where I beg of you to think of those you love and show them you care. To raise awareness of suicide and convince the world it needs to be talked about.

Today is the day I urge you to end the insidious silence surrounding the most preventable cause of death.

My articles:

In memory of Stephanie: Her Grace, My Guilt
In memory of Rachel: Because you never know if today will be your last

World Suicide Prevention Day (conversingwithnovels.wordpress.com)
Suicide prevention a responsibility of all of us (napavalleyregister.com)
WORLD SUICIDE PREVENTION DAY – Sept 10th (thedepressedmoose.com)
The Funeral – world suicide prevention day (thedepressedmoose.com)
Creative not destructive – Suicide Prevention Day (radioadelaidebreakfast.wordpress.com)
World Suicide Prevention Day (gempayten.wordpress.com)
A deadly silence that has to end (theage.com.au)

In memory of
Rachel, Stephanie, Gareth and Malcolm

You will never be forgotten


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World Suicide Prevention Day: Stephanie; her grace, my guilt

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Today I am thinking of Stephanie and Rachel. Of Gareth and Malcolm. Of all the people I’ve known whose lives ended before their time. Today I am doing what little I can to break the silence and shatter the stigma over suicide.

~ Stephanie: Her grace, my guilt ~

For Stephanie

Would you mind if I pretended we were somewhere else, doing something we wanted to…

…cause all this living makes me wanna do, is die cause I can’t live with you…

Stephanie was 23 years old. A gifted photographer, raconteur and writer with a knack for seeking out the beautiful in the forgotten, bizarre, banal and sad. Physically, in an ironic twist of fate, she was very much a cross between Kathy and (later) Sa5m, only with flaming red hair and porcelain skin. She made me laugh, a lot, with her jet black temperament and an ability to play with words that I could only dream of. If we’d had the chance to meet face-to-face, I like to think a friendship would have blossomed. But the life that shone brightness into the lives of others was taken by the darkness that suffocated her from within. And it was my fault. I was responsible.

…and you don’t even care…

Steph first contacted me because she didn’t know where else to turn. Her email just said Hey and found your blog and a few other niceties that I hear from time to time; all of which bolster my confidence and make me feel that sharing my life isn’t such a bad thing after all. Then it said I think about death all the time too, that must make me as loony as you, hey? and then signed off with a single thanks only with an x in place of the k and s.

I didn’t write back after reading it. I didn’t spend much time online back then other than the necessary job hunting. My blogging had ended months earlier, overtaken by a cacophony of problems  following the events of Alice, moving back home, trying to rebuild my life and stabilising an unsupported mental health problem. All I did that was leave the Internet cafe after signing off and headed into town.

I spent the night walking through the islands, my favourite spot in Inverness, thinking a pantheon of thoughts. Of my stupidity with Grace, my guilt, of that line, of wombats and shinglebacks and CVs and Vegemite and feather dusters and pizza and Jack Bauer and Kathy and Mae and Diane and pyjamas and promises both kept and broken and jam, who doesn’t think about jam? But always my mind kept coming back to Grace, my guilt and that line. When I eventually returned home in the early hours I curled into bed and when I woke up in a sweat after a particularly disturbing dream knew what I had to do.

…Would you mind if I pretended I was someone else…

There was a reason for putting that word there. The amount of things she could have written are endless: cheese, jam, butts, the Doctor, pancakes, whipped cream, wombats, Battlestar Galactica, voles, badgers, the whole army of small mammals that had invaded my blog posts, sex, undies and a plethora of random things that popped up from time to time. Why death? Why emphasise that word?

I’d known from the fist time I’d read it, I just hadn’t wanted to admit it. I convinced myself I was being paranoid, that I was seeing it everywhere I went. I’d wanted to forget about it. I didn’t need more proof that Kathy had been right all along. I should move on and forget about it. But I couldn’t, not with all the guilt in my heart. Whether I wanted to admit it or not that flashing neon sign had been blinking away for a day – nope, not “LIVE NUDES” but “CLASSIC INDICATOR”. Could I take the chance that I was just reading something into her words that weren’t there?

So after cleaning off from the dream, I headed back into town to use the Internet for the second day straight. It was a response that I kept controlled; thanking her for the kind words, telling her a light-hearted anecdote about getting lost a few weeks earlier and then, without being confrontational, asked if she was okay.

…with courage in love and war…

When her response came a couple of days later it was – excuse the crude metaphor – as if she had vomited her life onto the screen. Far longer than the first, far more emotional, and from the first read through I could sense two things:

1) Like me, she kept everything bottled in.

and

2) How similar she and I, and our experiences, were.

She told me of abuse both emotional and sexual, of being dumped by text message with no explanation, of self harm and depression and trouble getting an official diagnosis. She lamented her lack of friends as most had sided with her ex and the rest had fled out of fear of her “unhappy” mood. Her family didn’t understand why she couldn’t just “cheer up”. She’d lost her uni course because of the illness. She was lost, alone and scared. She told me she’d been researching ways to kill herself when she’d come across my blog.

She’d read every post and page (one of the few who has) and wishes she had the courage and strength I did. She’d written to me out of desperation, fear and that she felt she knew me somehow.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it wasn’t me any more. That events had changed me. I wasn’t strong or courageous. I was weak, selfish and guilt ridden. I was then, as I am now, as far from the “Addy” who’d written those words as I’d ever been. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the person she believed in was gone.

…I used to think that’s what I was…

Instead I told her how she was brave for admitting her feelings and seeking help. She was courageous; as any abuse and mental health survivor is. I asked her to seek help; urging her to go see a Doctor, a professional, talk to her family and make them understand things were not all okay. Failing that, to call Lifeline and seek assistance there.

I also asked her questions; who she was, what she loved, where she was, talk to me. I wanted to know about her life, about the things that warmed her heart and ignited her soul; to focus on her passions instead of the darkness within her, all the while encouraging her to seek professional help.

This is how I found out that she resembled a red-haired Kathy/Sa5m with a delightfully naughty grin.

This is how I found out about her love of photography and art, and her obvious skill in both areas.

This is how I got to know who she was and what made her tick and smile and laugh and cry and feel all gooey.

…but now this lying hurts too much…

All this from just emails, a few MSNs and the need of two lonely people to feel as if someone cared about us. Two people who seemed so alike, whose experiences had been so similar, who had known agony and loss and the exquisite incomprehensible link between pleasure/pain and life/death. There was a reason we’d found each other, there had to be.

…And I don’t know what for…

So why, I’m sure you’re asking, if you got on so well did you not meet? Well, there’s the rub, the further irony, for she lived in Australia – Sydney to be exact. Whereas at the time I was 15000 miles away in the Highlands of Scotland.

So why, I’m sure you’re asking, if you got on so well, and were so concerned, did you not get help for her? Well, I tried. I only had an email address – she wouldn’t give me her phone or snail mail. Plus, I’m not Willow; blogs, HTML, websites and porn – sure, we can all do that – but hacking? Sorry, my skills and ethical code prevent me from doing this.

I did what little  I could; all I could think to do. I talked, communicated, offered support, all those things that had eaten away over of the guilt of Grace and Rachel. Here, now, with Stephanie, I had a chance to make up for the mistakes of my past. Slowly, I thought I was getting through to her.

And then…nothing.

And then…still nothing.

And then…even more nothing.

I began checking my emails less, threw myself deeper into job hunting and self-harm and Wire in the Blood and had to stop watching during the last scene of “Hole in the Heart” because the silence from Steph was deafening my mind.

I’d hoped she was on holiday.

I’d hoped she was in hospital.

I’d hoped she was happy.

Getting laid.

Getting hugs.

Getting kisses and bum squeezes and tickles.

But she wasn’t.

I found out after nearly three weeks of silence that I’d failed (yet) again; that Stephanie had hung herself.

…How could I be such a fool to think that there was anything that your love could bring to my life to my eyes what I wanna see that I wanted your love to belong to me…

It was my fault. I was responsible. I should have saved her. Through writing a blog she had chanced upon me, me, who she had asked for help, me, who had failed to stop her, me, the failure. Maybe if I’d never written this bloody blog in the first place she would still be alive; snapping photos, cracking smiles and relishing her love in the forgotten, bizarre, banal and sad?

…but I’ll stand if you want me to…

In June, I returned to Australia. The UK wasn’t my home any more, I knew that, I’d always known that. For the first time I flew into Sydney and wondered what it would have been like had Stephanie still been alive; would she have wanted to meet me? I took time to visit her favourite pieces in the National Gallery, moseyed the gardens and saw her reflection everywhere I walked. I took time to sit on a bench she’d loved and anecdoted about. I took time to walk over the bridge at night, stare into the icy depths, and question why I hadn’t succeeded in taking my own life yet.

When I visited her grave I sat for hours, thinking of her, of Rachel and the many souls lost to this despicable scourge.

I hated neither Rachel or Steph for what they’d done; I hate myself for not helping them. I didn’t blame them for being selfish; I blamed myself for not being there for them. They were in pain and I’d let them down.

The world had let them down.

A world where helplines must be paid for, where GPs charge over $60 and medicine and psychologists enter into the realm of extortion.

A world where there’s a blanket ban on ever talking about the dreaded ‘S’ word; where empathy is a swear word, it’s meaning forgotten.

A world where work, status, money, expensive jeans, over priced restaurants, fat cat politicians, alcohol and self – the increasingly omnipresent “me” – take precedence over the raw emotion we all as humans feel.

A world that needs to change, with immediate effect.

…my legs are strong and I’ll move on but honey I’m weak in the knees for you…

~ Coda ~

This year marked the third anniversary of Stephanie’s death. As I do every year to commemorate the day I cracked open a bottle of wine and toasted her life. I thought of the MSN chats we used to have; discussing everything from how shit she thought Sydney was to Conan Doyle to Samboy vs Smiths to her dreams. All the desires that burned away inside her that had become so hard for her to believe in.

As I drank in her honor I asked myself whether all the guilt I’d carried for those three years was warranted?

Shortly after first posting this back in 2009 I had a conversation with my dad. I hadn’t told him of Stephanie or what had happened for, over the years, I’ve learned to bottle up the pain and deal with alone. During that conversation he told me that it wasn’t my fault, that I shouldn’t blame myself for what had happened. If anything, I should be proud of myself for at least trying to do something when her friends had pushed her aside out of fear of her depression.

He told me something I’ve never forgotten; that talking to me during the last weeks of her life may have brought her some of the happiness that she’d been missing. That even though she took her own life, at least there had been some joy in her final weeks on this Earth.

When I sipped on that wine back in May, I was thinking not only of this but of the happiness she’d brought my life during those weeks. It is shallow comfort, to be certain. There is nothing more I would like than to know she is out there somewhere, dazzling Flickr and Facebook with her photographic take on the world, smiling her naughty grin and living the life she deserved.

I will always blame myself for her death. Just as I will always punish myself for not being there for Rachel, or Grace or any of the other people I’ve let down over the years. Whether this is good or bad it’s part of who I am, part of my highly sensitive soul, and there’s nothing anyone can do to alleviate this eternal grief.

Every year thousands of people die needless deaths because of the silence that hangs over suicide. A silence we should all be ashamed of. A silence I refused to be a part of.

For a brief few weeks I brought laughter and warmth to Stephanie’s life. A life that would never have ended had she not been shamed into silence by society’s obsession with cowering away from this issue. I tried to do something, however small.

And every year, when I crack open that bottle of wine, I will drink to this.

And to a unique woman who will never be forgotten.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Today I am thinking of Stephanie and Rachel. Of Gareth and Malcolm. Of all the people I’ve known whose lives ended before their time. Today I am doing what little I can to break the silence and shatter the stigma over suicide.

What are you doing today?

If you are feeling suicidal please contact your local help line (in Australia, Lifeline 13 11 14) or emergency health services. There is always someone who cares and you never have to deal with this alone.

Stay strong, there is always hope in the world.


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Unsent Letter #7: And before you think it – no, I’m not trying to flirt with you!

The idea for this series came to me last week whilst writing about how social anxiety has affected my life. How my inability to share myself with others prevented me from saying the things I really wanted to say. So, last night, I tore a sheet of paper into 100 pieces and upon each one wrote a name. These names were partners, teachers, acquaintances, ex-work colleagues, family members, old friends and random strangers who made a significant impact on my life.

Each day this week I will draw one of these names at random and then write them a letter.

The only rules for this challenge are:

1) The person will remain anonymous.
2) The letter should include unsaid things I always held back.
3) It shall be written as a sixty minute stream of consciousness. (i.e. no painful seven hour editing sessions, so please excuse any grammar and/or spelling mistakes)

So with all that in mind…[shakes beanie, shakes beanie again, once more for good measure, plunges hand into sea of scrunched up piece of paper, selects, reads name]…okay, this is going to be a little interesting. And difficult. Apologies in advance if I lose my way on this one!

9 September 2012

Dear ——–,

I know you’re not one for taking orders, you’re stubborn like that, but for the first time in your life you will do exactly what I tell you to do, understand? Trust me, you’re gonna want to.

Okay, I want you to grab a couple of bars of chocolate, a mirror and a bottle of water (it’s very important that it’s water) and then you’re going to walk to the Castle. Yes, there! See, told you I knew you! Not every day you receive a letter from someone who knows exactly what you’re thinking, is it?

You are not to read any further until you are safely nested away in your Fortress of Solitude, got me?

I’ll see you in about twenty minutes.

Okay. Settled in?

Good. You may proceed.

——–…I’m Addy, aka, you in twenty years.

I’m writing to you because in September 2012 you come up with a crazy idea to write a series of unsent letters on your blog (you’ll understand in time) to important people in your life. You don’t decide who will receive these letters yourself, but instead write down a hundred names and then draw the lucky recipient at random. You’re supposed to keep them anonymous, but given I’m writing to little-me, I’m bending that rule from now on!

Today, Andrew, your name came out of the hat. And yes, you are important to me, even if neither of us believes it.

So, before I go any further, I want you to pick up the mirror I asked you to bring. I want you to spend the next five minutes just looking at yourself. Look at your hair, your nose, your lips and the funny little scar above your eyebrow. Look at your eyes, I mean really look at them. Now stand up and take your top off, look at your chest and nipples, look at your back, your freckles and muscles. Unbuckle your belt and take a gander at your penis. No need to strip fully, just look at it. Run your hands over your body, feel your skin, your hair, your earlobes. Squeeze your buttocks. Wiggle your toes. And before you think it – no I’m not trying to flirt with you!

I know you Andrew. I know how much you hate yourself. All those hours you spend sitting in your room carving patterns into your leg with those scissors isn’t just because of the emotional pain. I know you’re telling yourself that, because I did.

You’re self-harming because you hate yourself on every level.

You despise the way you think; the way you can’t talk to people, the way you can’t talk to girls (especially Kathryn, but we’ll get to her in a minute), the way you think you’re useless at everything you do.

You hate how you look; your thin lips, your unmanageable hair, your weight, your chubby backside.

You abhor yourself so much you just want to end it all. No need to fake denial, Andrew, I’m you remember!

Well, I need you to understand that it’s all wrong. You’re suffering from an illness that’s all. It’s not an illness that affects the body – like mum’s diabetes or dad’s asthma – it’s an illness that affects the mind – like Kathryn’s anorexia or mum’s depression. I know you don’t know this yet, but you will, and I really, really, need you to start changing the way you think.

You are a beautiful boy, Andrew, really, truly, honestly. In a few years you’re gonna have girls wanting to strip those clothes off right where you stand but if you continue thinking the way you do you’ll bottle out and miss out on seeing their cute backsides!

You are not useless. You are not worthless. You are not stupid. You are not ugly. You are not grotesque. You are not evil.

You are the exact opposite.

Think of you’re writing, how creative you are, how you spend hour upon hour drawing portraits of Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton. They’re good, Andrew, really good! Think of how imaginative you are, how your fantasies run so wild you spend weeks writing story after story. Think of how much you care. How you’re always trying to help people – mum and dad, Kathryn, your classmates. Think of when you helped that man cross the road even though those prats ripped the shit out of you for days afterwards. Think of when you helped the old woman on your paper round when she slipped on her front steps. Not everyone would do that, Andrew, but you do.

You spend so much time worrying about everyone else’s happiness you don’t leave any time to think of your own.

And you need to!

You need to be nicer to yourself. You need to stop berating and beating on yourself. You need to be kind to the only person you will spend your whole life with you. It’s not fat, it’s a challenge. Your hair isn’t unmanageable, it’s rugged. That butt of yours isn’t chubby, it’s spankalicious. Your nipples aren’t pathetic, they’re Super-Nipples (you’ll laugh when she says that, but it will make you so happy!)

Before we go any further Andrew you need to promise me that whenever you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts about yourself you’ll stop, take a breath, and twist them around just like I did above.

Because if you don’t do that you’re going to start self-harming more and more to get the same hit. You’ll move on from scissors to knives. You’ll start pondering matches, and then entire boxes, and you don’t want to go there Andrew, believe me, I speak from bitter experience.

OK? We got a deal?

Good.

Now, Kathryn. Not your sister, the other one. The one you’ve been dreaming about every day for the last eleven months. The one with the magical eyes, heart stopping smile and excellent bottom. You’ll learn for certain as you get older that women are scary, and enchanting, and terrifying, and amazing, and frightening, and the greatest thing on Earth. Seriously, Andrew, women have it all worked out. They are smarter than boys, funnier than boys, better looking than boys and you get on with them far better than you do the males of the species – even if that’s hard to understand right now.

What you’ll also learn over time is that, no matter what the media tells you, women and men are basically the same. We all want the same things; love, affection, care, compassion, orgasms and ice-cream. Not necessarily in that order.

They’re not going to bite your head off and feed it to their offspring. They’re not going to stab you in the eye with an ice-pick if you say something stupid. And they’re not going to chain you to a wall and whip you to within an inch of your life unless you ask them to and/or pay for the privilege.

What I’m getting at Andrew, is your anxieties over talking to Kathryn are powered by the same issues that’s clouded your opinion of yourself. You’ve convinced yourself you’re a terrible person so you can’t imagine how she could ever be interested in you, whereas you’re an awesome person (change your thinking, remember) and she’d be lucky to have someone as amazing as you in her life.

So stop umming and ahhing and convincing yourself it’s all too hard, just walk up to her and say ‘hello’!

That’s all you need to do. After that, it’ll be second nature.

As for the other Kathryn, there’s nothing you can do about her right now other than what you’re doing. Although, in a few years, when the family goes to Great Ormond Street – do whatever you can to convince mum and dad that she should be in there! She won’t get the treatment she needs where she is, regardless of what anyone tells you. So if you want to help her, make it happen! Okay?

POP QUIZ HOTSHOT (you’ll understand that in a few years) Fill in the blank….your feet are                                 .

The reason I’m saying all this Andrew is that you think you won’t always be like this, but the way you’re thinking at the moment is only going to get worse if you don’t take care of it now. In a few years you’ll be thinking of killing yourself, a few years after that you’ll be running away from home, and a few years later you’ll be so caught up in the cycle of negativity and self-harm you won’t know how else to live. You’ll end up homeless, isolated and alone.

And you deserve more than that!

You are an amazing kid, Andrew, looking back now I can see that – and I wish I had someone telling me all this when I was your age. Hence, why I’m breaking the laws of space and time to try change things! Although I can’t give too much away – partly because of the time-continuum, partly because I don’t want to spoil too much – here’s a few things to keep in mind:

– In 1995, when it comes to choosing your A-Levels, listen to your HEART not your anxiety!

– In 1997, phone home first.

– In 1999, don’t question the woman with the left-hand side obsession.

– In 1999, remember the word Walkabout.

– In 1999, listen to what Alice tells you instead of thinking it’s a joke.

– In 1999, tell the person who paints your face what you’re too afraid to tell Kathryn right now.

– In 2000, the woman who slaps you in the face needs your help. Do everything and anything you can!

– In 2000, don’t listen to your ethical code; you will regret it for the rest of your existence!

– In 2001, remember the initials V.S.P

– In 2002, listen to your heart and punch you’ll know you in the face.

– In 2004, suggest you wear a wedding dress as a form of protest.

– In 2004, don’t worry, she’ll be back.

– In 2006, trust the taller one.

– In 2006, remember to say what you’re thinking when you’re eating soup.

– In 2007, if you’ve forgotten all of the above and things play out exactly as they have, remember:

– In 2007, do not drink the Gin and Tonic. If you do, and it happens (believe me, you’ll know what), tell someone.

– In 2007, triple bind the scarf to stop it stretching.

– In 2008, someone will offer to repay you in kind, accept it.

– In 2008, call her! Just fucking call her. Do not let anything, anyone or any anxiety stop you!

– In 2009, the person who shares the name of someone in your past needs your help. Do everything and anything you can!

– In 2009, remember a synonym for rocky pinnacle; not a flightless bird.

– In 2009, do not click ‘publish’ when mentally unstable.

– In 2010, they are not offering Salvation!

– In 2011, if you’ve forgotten all of the above and things play out exactly as they have, buy a new belt, yours is getting weak!

Hopefully you’ll only need to remember the first item to give you the life you want; I’m just trying to cover all the bases!

Now, with all that in mind, and without trying to embarrass you, I need to talk briefly about you know what. If I remember rightly you’ve already started thinking about it and you’ve already started convincing yourself that it’s wrong, bizarre and downright disgusting. But remember what I told you? CHANGE YOUR THINKING!

POP QUIZ HOTSHOT: Fill in the blank…your thoughts about this are                                                                 .

I told you to think positive! Now, given I know you won’t want this written down anywhere – prying eyes and all – I want to let you in on a few things. Firstly, you are not alone! There are many people who think the same way you do – millions upon millions of them! Secondly, in about five years you’ll discover something called the Internet and when you do you’ll berate yourself for wanting to type something in. Don’t! Because you’ll finally learn that I was speaking the truth when I said you weren’t alone. Thirdly, there is nothing wrong with it! Fourthly, never, ever, ever, let anyone stop you from experiencing it.

Life is meant to be lived, Andrew, never forget that! You don’t want to get to my age and still have this as a fantasy! It will invest you like a parasite and devour you from the inside out! Just embrace it!

You see Andrew, like all those body issues and mind fucks you give yourself, this is just another part of the anxiety; another reason to hate yourself, another reason to convince yourself you’re the world’s most grotesque human being.

Whereas in reality, it’s just another reason to love yourself even more!

Like your writing, your art, your imagination, your compassion, your creativity, your passion…this is just another small stitch in the multi-coloured tapestry that is you!

No-one will ever define who you are Andrew, trust me on that. People will try. Oh, believe me they’ll try! But no matter what gets thrown at you, you don’t let them. You channel your strength and keep trying to be the best version of yourself you can be. This is what you need to start doing now.

Don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life. Don’t let anyone tell you who you are. Don’t let anyone control your destiny. Not those cunts at school, not your sister, not your teachers, naysayers or abusers. You – and you alone – are in charge of your life.

So as long as you believe in me like I believe in you, we’ll be just fine.

Take care my friend, be nice to yourself, always.

With love and hugs,

Addy xx

PS…In 1996 you will become disheartened and question your faith…just remember 2005!

PPS…POP QUIZ HOTSHOT: Fill in the blank…The freckles on your hand are                                                  .

PPPS…Yes, I still write dozens of PSs!

PPPPS…Please stop hating yourself so much, no matter what you or anyone tells you, you really are a good person.