So you remember I said that I had this bitch of a post just sitting in the front of my brain, waiting to be written? Well, I think I’ve finally written it.
Er, so yeah, on with the show.
I think I’m happy.
I know I’m happy.
It’s been about a decade since I could come out, say that, and most importantly mean it. Because for near as long as I can remember I haven’t been happy. I’ve had moments of pure joy, I have made good friends, I have lived my life, and some moments of it I have even enjoyed, but I would never had put my hand up and gone “I, Claire Louise Kemp, am happy”.
Let me get back to what ‘happy’ really is for a moment, because it is one of those words that people tend to use without regard for what, at the root, it means. Happy is pure pleasure and contentment. Happy is the knowledge that, at this particular moment, things could not be any better.
Happy for me used to be something that I saw other people have and wondered what was wrong with me to stop me having it.
It’s been ten long years now since the top of my world came crashing down. Ten years it’s taken me, but I’m finally back on the road, going where I want to go.
September 17th 1994; my aunt died after battling skin cancer. September 17th 1995; my friend died after fighting leukemia for most of her life. September 17th 1996; by grandfather died after stomach and bowel cancer came out of several years of remission. September 17th every year; my birthday.
Now I loved all these people, but for a myriad of reasons Granddad’s loss kicked me the hardest. He was always the one who thought I could do anything. Who made me feel being the girl was special. Who told me I was good at chess. Little things in the grand scheme, but they meant a lot to me, and they are the things that have stayed with me despite all I’ve learnt after.
To say I was devastated by his loss puts it lightly. My state of mind was not helped by me falling ill a few short weeks later with what the GP was convinced was gastro-enteritis. Fast forward through ten agonizing days with a 104 degree fever, and the medical profession finally worked out it was really that my appendix had burst and gone all gooey. On day one of the pain.
Emergency surgery, peritonitis, one stomach abscess and mild septicemia later, I was left with no appendix, a 10 cm scar on my stomach, bollixed back muscles, ME/CFS, one fucked fallopian tube, one possibly fucked fallopian tube, and indeterminate damage to my uterus. As I was 14 at the time, this last didn’t bug me as much more than an abstraction as I was far more concerned with getting walking again, getting my energy back and surviving secondary school.
And so it begins
Cue depression, though I didn’t realise that is what it was at the time, weight gain, and GCSE’s. After GCSE’s I got the chance to go to my local college for my A-levels and I jumped at it. New people! A chance to get away from the past.
But it didn’t work. I just kept to my shell, made one or two friends, and… got on with things. I doubt I went ‘out’ more than four or five times in those two years. But I also got a shop job – at Whittards – and found out I was good at it. My colleagues liked me. I could be confident about things as long as it wasn’t about me.
Then I failed to get into vet school. I had the grades but the admission tutors clearly thought I was missing something. Looking back I think it was clear I was missing a life (they do so like their well-rounded students).
It doesn’t take much to push an already unhappy kid back into depression. I have little recollection of the six months between finding out I’d failed to get into any of my four choices for uni (the first thing I’d ever failed at, for the record) in February through to Clearing in August when I stuck a pen in a list and chose Archaeology at Liverpool.
Why not stay and take a year out? Because I just couldn’t stay another minute in Glastonbury. I had to get away from my family to see if there was still a person inside. I love my family and they only want what is best for me, but that was part of the problem. I couldn’t stand them looking at me, not understanding why I was unhappy. I couldn’t face my mum wondering where her bubbly daughter had gone any more. I had to go it alone.
Life in Liverpool
Liverpool it was. I can’t say it’s a beautiful city, or that I ever really felt at home there, but I feel a great love for it all the same. It is in Liverpool as much as Terisia that Claire met Cas and started to live again.
I found the course quite easy, which was lucky when it came to the second year when I was more or less on auto-pilot the entire time. Liverpool and university in general saw some important changes:
- I made friends. These people had no idea who I was before. I could leave the crap behind for real this time and be who I wanted to be. I don’t think it’s any mistake that I pretty much no longer talk to people who knew me before Liverpool. The know the truth of what I used to be and… Eck, that’s a can of worms I don’t want opened in public.
- I started talking to my father and vice-versa. I also started talking to my brother. We’re an odd family with a strange dynamic, but we do tend to get on better when we’re apart. (Put us all in a room together for extended periods of time and our personalities tend to clash). But I started, tentatively, to talk to them and I found it actually did help.
- I started online roleplaying at a message-board community called Terisia City. There I was loved, wanted, and my one-eyed barmaid character called Tocasia was a needed and valued part of the city. I made Cas(as she/I quickly became known) look normal, even ugly, but invested her with all the traits I wished I had – bravery, humour, compassion, love, emotional strength. And the ability to blast those who displeased her with searing fire.
Online Fun and Frolicks
The more I played Cas the more I found I started to take on her personality when I spoke with my online friends (not the searing fire part – that would have just been scary). I was an incurable flirt online. Cas said things that Claire wouldn’t even dream of. I met J as Cas and that’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for all the tea in Assam. We never met but we fell in love, or at least what passes for love between two cripplingly shy 18 year old gamer geeks. It ended in a horrible way with my trust gruesomely betrayed, but what can I say? We were naive, silly kids who didn’t know what they were really doing. And I loved it. Wouldn’t change a single thing, though it is hard to explain to your gran how you’ve never even met your first boyfriend…
So Gran was pleased when No 2 stepped up to the plate. Again, online roleplaying played it’s part, but so did physical attraction and, you know, meeting each other 😛
I’ve digressed slightly in my story. Somehow though my relationships (and lack thereof) are linked to, and exemplar of, my mental state. As is the length of my hair. A sudden desire to cut off all my hair is one I have come to associate with a downward turn in my seratonin levels. The whole “change anything but what’s really the problem” thing.
In all this time (we’re now up to about Christmas 2002), I would have said I was ‘happy’. But I wasn’t. It was just the lull before the storm of 2003. Oh how I hated that year.
I got bitterly, bitterly depressed. Probably triggered by a severe viral infection I got at the end of 2002; my CFS loomed large once more. I couldn’t get out of bed for weeks, let alone go to lectures. I honestly don’t know how I made it through to the summer, but I must have because I’m here writing this. That was also the year the doctor told me “we don’t know what state of your reproductive organs are in: the only way you’re going to know if you can get pregnant is if you get pregnant. But even then there’s no guarantee you’ll carry to term”.
Not that I was exactly planning on running out on getting pregnant with the next chap that offered – kids and me is an odd, odd thought – but the choice had been taken away from me. All because a doctor had refused to make a housecall back in 1996.
I got help that summer and when I went back to Liverpool in September 2003 I was, whilst not better, not at my lowest. On the way up you could say. I was determined to screw my critics and do what I wanted to do. It was hard, at times it was so unbelievably hard, but I did it. The two happiest memories of pretty much all time are graduating with a First, and A saying to me “I don’t know why I didn’t talk to you before, you’re amazing. Why did I waste three years?”
At the end of Liverpool whilst I rarely laughed and could see no future, but I also wasn’t so down that I couldn’t breathe. That summer I worked at Whittards again and amazed even myself with how good I was. I had no fear of customers. I was a born machine saleswoman. People told my manager how wonderful I was and how my smile made their day. It shocked me, that I could be so good at something, and find pleasure in being good.
One say a school friend from Millfield came into the shop with another “friend” from Millfield. I use quote marks there because I’d known him since we were both in kindergarten. Till Millfield we were close – TD was part of the group who helped me tell my first ever stories in the playground – but at Millfield, not so much. Anyway, it was the classic jaw-drop moment on his part. Perfect. To tell him I’d got a First and was off to do an MSc was just icing on the cake. But when they’d left the shop I was shaking so hard I dropped a pallet of mugs and had to go out the back for quarter of an hour to pull myself into some semblance of order. Why did he affect me so? Because it was all a facade. Behind the confident mask I was still a jibbering wreck of a fat, fifteen year old girl, crying in the toilets because of something Mary Gould had said.
The day I started S’oton for the MSc I was once again a gibbering wreck inside, but outside I was (and I have it on good authority) cool as the proverbial. So laid back as to be almost horizontal. About as stressed as a sleeping labrador puppy. And supremely confident to boot.
Cas comes to town
So Cas-In-Life was born. I behaved how I thought Cas would behave and it paid off. Which is still not to say I was ‘happy’. I still didn’t voluntarily go out. I wouldn’t speak to a stranger. I became curiously content with my own company. But I was more willing to share my time with others if they asked, which was a big step for me.
I met the Cute Canadian on the course. Oh, that was a fun ten months of indecision – does he like me, doesn’t he like me? Is he flirting or just being kind? Then I finally snagged him on MSN and, well, he didn’t stand a chance. I always was better at writing than speaking (hence, I guess, the blog). Date One ended in what could only be described as disaster with the ill-timed arrival of a boy on a bicycle, but he (the CC, not the cyclist) clearly saw something he liked and persevered. Thank god he did, because if it had been down to me he’d have gone back to Canada without the fun in the middle. Date Two was much more successful… At the time it was one of those “oh, there’s just a month left, so what the hell” kind of deals, but it just kept going.
Till it ended as these things have a tendency to do.
In the middle of it all though, when everything was going swimmingly, I got depressed again. Badly. This time however I had people around who I could talk to. I knew what was happening and got help. I was helped to see that I was my own worst enemy. Self-deprecation is all well and good, and quite funny in it’s place, but when that’s all there is you’re in trouble.
Winning the Temp Lottery
Then I started doing temp work and met some wonderful people. They liked me for me. It wasn’t a mask, a front that I was putting on any more. Cas/Claire really is who I am. Sublimely ditzy. Laughing at the world. Confident. Devil may care. Insecure. Taker of chances. Shy. Quiet. Party animal. Introspective. Private. Blogger. Curvy.
All these attributes and more I’m coming to like about myself. Sometimes I can even look in the mirror and see what Surly and RIB have been saying for the past five years – I’m cute, I’m amazing and it’s not impossible to believe that someone might love me.
I don’t think this all the time I hasten to add. I said I was getting where I wanted to be, the important word in the sentence being ‘getting’.
I was sitting on the bus coming back from enrolling at college at the start of September and the thought struck me that I am happy. I am really, truly, genuinely happy for the first time I can remember since Granddad died. I’m living the life I want to lead. I’m doing what I want to do. It’s MY life and I think I’m doing pretty well with it, I thank you very much.
So my job isn’t stellar, but it’s making a real difference to people’s lives when they need it most. It’s not the career I ultimately want but I’m only 24 – who says I need all the answers right now?
Recently we held a dinner party at Meadow Towers and as I looked around the table I was again struck with the thought of how lucky I am. These amazing, beautiful women have all ended up in my life one way or another and want to be friends with me.
The Long Way
It’s taken me ten years for me to able to say this, but I like me. I’m happy. I don’t want to be living a life any different to my own. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone. There are things I want – a pet cat, maybe someone to come home to, a career in publishing – but these are all obtainable I’m sure. I don’t lay awake at night any more worrying because I can’t see my future. The future is still hazy (if it wasn’t, I’d have won the lottery by now), but I’m really rather enjoying the present if it’s all the same to you. The future isn’t clear, but I’m pretty certain I’ve got one, and that’s good enough for me.
I know I’ve not fully faced up to everything that’s lurking there in the back of my mind. My feelings over children and the possible lack there-of are a whirling whirlpool-type-thing that still threatens to suck me back in if I focus too hard on it. It’s the not-knowing that’s bugging me most of all I think. If I knew either way I could make contingency plans (I do like to work out possible scenarios in my head). As it is I’ve just got to wait and see. Then again we’re playing a game of cart, go find the horse, here. Kids/Not Kids is a scenario that always comes after Man/Not Man. Just call me old fashioned like that. As I pointed out a few paragraphs ago – I’m only early-to-mid twenties here with time and a plenty before I go all Two-Point-Four on y’all. Would just be nice if the choices hadn’t been narrowed some without my discussion.
All things taken into consideration however, I wouldn’t change my past. The past decade has made me who I am. Everybody’s flawed but it is their flaws that make them so beautiful. I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that says without suffering you’re not worth it as a person, but without all that’s gone before I wouldn’t be able to write what I’m writing. I never liked “what if’s” but I’m pretty sure if something had gone different along the way I would never have come up with Bright Meadow. So it took me a while to get here is all… I always did like the scenic route 😉
You’ll forgive me if comments are closed on this post. Times are you just need to say something, regardless of what other people might think. Those of you who might want to say something back to me, well of course I’d love to hear from you – use the contact form, phone me, email me, pop round for a cup of tea and a hug – but I don’t want y’all to feel obligated to say anything by the “please comment” link staring you in the face.
I’m not sure how to finish this except to say thank you all from the bottom of my heart for listening to me ramble. As a word ‘love’ is overused and most commonly refined down to simply romantic love, but I really do love you all. That I’m still around and capable of love is perhaps what surprises me most of all about the whole thing.