I grew up from being a beautiful cygnet and turned into an ugly duck.
Usually it’s the other way round, from ugly-duckling gawky kids with freckles and sticking out ears, all awkward knees and elbows and acne, who then develop into beautiful swan adults, with all the right bits in all the right places, graceful, elegant and sophisticated.
Talk about upside down.
I wasn’t a confident kid. In fact, I was abused very badly by – of all people – a jealous parent. In retrospect I came to recognise they were jealous of my looks and abilities, to the point where as an adult I am so damaged, I can’t go out. I’m housebound, crippled by Social Anxiety Disorder.
All my sport trophies, achievement awards and works I created through my school life went in the bin when I brought them home. I was made to feel guilty for doing well. Even after I left home, I could never do well.
Now I’m in middle age, and I’m not doing so well at all.
Throughout childhood, the development of ego is often fraught with difficulty, but most manage with appropriate support. There are often times when appreciation and approval is craved. Am I doing the right thing? Am I getting anywhere? Am I worth anything? It falls to parents and peers to address these needs. When people feel good about themselves, they project that onto others, and invite them to feel good about that person too. A person who doesn’t feel good about themselves can quickly become the target of bullies. That was me.
Bully ground zero.
There were the taunts, the teasing, the trippings and the terror. There were assaults, fists in belly, fists in face, rocks thrown, possessions stolen and destroyed, false accusations inciting teacher or parent wrath, and the endless attempts at humiliation, which only works when the target has some sense of self-worth that can be taken down in the first place.
All that and more drove this cygnet to self destruction. There weren’t drugs, bulimia, suicide attempts or self-mutilation, but there was self-deprecation and there was self-indifference. There was venturing into the darkness, which reaped a cataclysm still playing out.
Yet the brain persevered. There was still a keen intellect. There was escape – books, movies, writing stories, a life filled with fantasy. There were no friends, because for the few who ventured, they ended up fearing association and consequent targeting themselves. Life was as brutal as it was relentless.
Unsurprisingly, I failed miserably at forming romantic relationships. In my twenties, I stumbled from one disastrous attempt to the next, hoping to learn along the way but suffered defeat every time. While others were getting married, I got left behind. I lost weight. My hair started to fall out. So did some of my teeth. I was eating all right, and didn’t get sick, but the signs were there of other problems.
People would avoid me in the street. I would get stared at. I became fearful. The anxiety grew and grew. I stayed at home more and more. Working on my own things, I became self-employed and laboured on projects for clients for stupid hours and low pay. I neglected myself. I stopped exercising, stopped going out entirely. My hair grew back, but I gained too much weight and contracted diabetes. I was not only alone, I was lonely – but I didn’t deserve happiness or companionship. Ugly people don’t deserve nice things, and by now I was the very ugly duck indeed.
The bullies were right – I was worthless and useless, with no alternate voice to suggest otherwise.
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: “what does not kill me makes me stronger”. I’m not quite dead, but I must say I do not feel strong, either. I feel weak, alone and naked in the darkness.
That’s what it is to be abused as a child and then abused as an adult. That’s what it is when you end up alone in the world.
I write. I make art, I bring beautiful things into the world. I create. That’s my outlet. I channel my rage and pain and tears into things that celebrate the lovely things in life. I marvel at the wonder of nature, the beauty of the world around me. I sit in the back garden of the house in which I now reside and am visited by all the beautiful birds that dwell in this area. They do not criticise me, perhaps except when I have nothing for them to eat, and they have their lives to lead away from me. I prefer that to caged captives.
I am a captive now, but at least my feathered friends are free.
Perhaps one day I can be free as well.