(CONTENT NOTE: SELF-HARM)
I’ve been reading (well, listening to audiobooks of) Stephen Fry’s autobiographies; Moab is My Washpot was wonderful, and I’ve nearly finished The Fry Chronicles. At some point (in the latter, I think), Fry talks about finding a teenage diary in which he had poured scorn on his future, grown-up self, condemning the adult that he thought he was doomed to become as a stuffy, emotionless conformist. This reminded me of a discussion on Russell Brand’s radio show of Richard Madeley’s comment to Morrissey on what would happen if present-day Morrissey could meet his younger self: ‘You’d strangle you, wouldn’t you?’ While Brand and his co-host, Matt Morgan, delighted in the absurd proliferation of the second person singular pronoun, I was wondering which ‘you’ was which. Would old Morrissey strangle young Morrissey for being so consciously odd and flamboyant? Or would young Morrissey strangle old Morrissey for having become such a staid old fart? I’m not sure if teenagers feel things more acutely than adults do, but I recently found something I wrote seven years ago, when I was nineteen. I don’t know if I recognise myself in this pretentious detonation of emotion; the person portrayed here seems like someone else, yet I remember some of the intensity of feeling. I’ve published it here unchanged: a museum piece, a memorial to another one of ‘me’s that I no longer am.
I know some things that it would be better not to know. I know the feeling when your teeth cut through your own skin, and you spit out tiny pieces of your own flesh. As if this material, skin, which is you and which is innately to be protected just became a piece of thick rubber belonging to no-one. I know that when you cut yourself with a blunt knife there is a pink residue of blood and skin left on the blade. You wipe it off with a tissue.
I know some things that I am very glad to know. I know what it feels like when you sit on a plastic chair in the wooden-floored hall of The Site at the Royal Court, next to a theatre director and opposite a line of actors who are reading your short play. I know what it feels like when the actors ask questions about the play, and are interested in your reply, and conjure the substance of characters out of the nothing of words you typed on a page. I know about the backstage corridors where a speaker on the wall lets you hear everything that’s going on on stage. I know about stages, where things that never happened, things that people made up with words, are the only things that matter in the world.
I am a writer. It is what I am. I am also a child of the eighties, nineteen years old, squalid, shy, an social actor, well organised, a freak and a neutral passer by. I have had OCD since I was eleven, which is considered “early onset”. I have been afraid of germs, of dirt, of other people, of flies, of food outside the home, of mould, of dog shit, of glass fragments, of the thought of mould and of dog shit and of glass fragments. Of wall sockets turned on without a plug there. I have seen nine shrinks. I have been taking fluoxetine for seven months. I have also been depressed. I have hated myself, hit myself, scratched my skin off, bitten myself, cut myself a few times. But that never seemed right, to use something other than myself to hurt me. It left me feeling dirty, mad and shocked. The worst thing about self-harm was the evil it represented, a filth that I was scared might contaminate and poison my family. The worst thing I could ever do would be to hurt them.
For about eight months I have had tics. Just a feeling of needing to do something, to say something which, when it isn’t a tense, uncomfortable feeling is a playful, happy feeling. I need to grimace, to stick out my tongue, to twist my body, to repeat words I have heard or words I have thought of or read or just need to say, like the occasional “fuck”. Of course I blamed myself at first. I knew I was acting like an idiot, but not why. Could I stop it? The tics come and go, often gone for a couple of weeks at a time. When they’re there they’re not constant, and they rarely happen in formal situations, like at work. But after eight months, I am beginning to believe that they are real.
In October, I’m going to Cambridge to read French and Spanish. I’ve got in twice. The first time, I couldn’t go because I was depressed and odd and incapable of the work. I told the college and asked to defer, but they dumped me. That’s when I carved a scar in my left forearm with a fingernail. I just scratched the skin off till there was a raw line. It made an ugly scab and then a scar, a four-inch line of darker skin that still hasn’t gone. But I applied again, to a more prestigious college. I had a tense, fearful headache the night before the interview, and I went to the college for the first time high on “Kirk” brand paracetamol from a one-stop shop. The water to take them with was “Kirk” brand too. I thought of the Enterprise boldly going. I boldly went, and I got in.
The thing that I care about most is the theatre. But I don’t always care for anything at all that much. Sometimes I can write, and I feel great. I write plays. I went on a course at the Royal Court which was like finding out that life existed. Writing is what I define myself by. It’s when I feel that I am myself. But I can’t do it all the time. Often I can’t see the point, or I don’t have the energy. But inside there is always one atom of me that burns brightly for words.
This doesn’t make me a good writer. It doesn’t mean I will succeed. I’m not asking anyone to like my writing, or to feel any sympathy for me. All I want is to be allowed to be what I am.To be a freak with OCD and a depressive side and tics, a more or less friendless virgin who has never kissed anyone and isn’t that keen to, and for none of that to matter. I am a writer. It is what I am. I’ll live by my own standards, I’ll fight in my own arena and I’ll die there if necessary. That doesn’t matter. I’m not the best or the strongest. But I exist. My story is not the most important or the most interesting or the most dramatic. I haven’t been as low as the gutter, or as high as the stars. But I am alive, and I know that I would rather go up than down.