Trauma Self

Lying in bed, watching rubbish on YouTube, my mind drifts and I forget where I am. The room fades to black beyond the light of the screen and I find myself simultaneously lodged between different space-times. Hull, 2014. London, 2017. Newcastle, 2022. Muscle memory, as each time I remember the embodied sensation of being similarly reposed in a dark room. Three periods of distress, sociality, loneliness, and struggling to cope. I spent a lot of the preceding two points in time in bed and came to feel the blackness of my room at night like a voided madeleine, a Proustian memory of mental departure and spiritual nothingness. The present resonates and, when the mind comes to rest, I don’t know when or where I am — only that I know this feeling and hope to never feel it again.

I had another mental health assessment, this one with primary care services. The man I met was instantly likeable and we began cracking jokes and swapping witticisms immediately. When I told him all that I’d been through over the last few weeks, however, his demeanor changed and mine with it.

“It’s nice we’ve started off with humour, but I’m just giving you an excuse to hide, aren’t I? You’re not as well as you seem.”

I moved into a defensive posture and he told me so. He began gently but systematically deconstructing my current comportment. I confirmed it was the medication doing its job, cocooning my emotions in a smaller and more manageable box, but that nothing had really changed beyond that.

He asked if anyone had ever explained trauma to me. I said no, which is true beyond an ambient knowledge of its use as a theoretical concept in psychoanalysis and philosophy. I had no idea how a professional psychiatrist would define it to a patient; a layman.

He drew a diagram, a meandering life line, and began plotting noughts and crosses along it — the former being “good” events; the latter “bad”. Attached to the life line, to an internal narrative, these events were ordered and organised. Trauma, however, is a free-floating cross, he said. Though we might be able to plot the event on a line in theory, the emotional response to that experience can return and re-establish itself, front and center, in the present, by attaching itself to other experiences that may trigger it.

“When in this state, you’re not Matt now who is 30, but Matt who is 7, say.” He stopped abruptly. “Do you like yourself?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“That’s as good a response as any.”

“I’m not sure I really know who I am.”

I told him the story of the other night, how I often don’t feel one age but several. If I have found myself overwhelmed recently, it is not because I feel like another particular Matt, but rather Matt aged 8 months, 18 years, 25…

“Have you told the crisis team about this?”

I said no. Their primary concern seems to be that I am not an immediate risk to myself.

“That’s true,” he said. “But you hardly sound like someone who is stable, if you’ll excuse the expression. And until you are stable, you can’t see me.”

I wasn’t disappointed by this. Instead, it felt like a confirmation of how I was already feeling. My friends and the crisis team have insisted I let them know when I don’t feel safe, which I think we all take to mean that I feel like I am an immediate risk to my own physical health, dangerously close to acting on feelings of self-harm or worse. I have not felt that way all week, thank God, but what was now clarified in my mind was that there is a world of difference between simply feeling safe, relatively speaking, and being safe, being steady. My emotions have been contained, but they are no less far from level. I am now more capable of withstanding my unwellness, but I am no less traumatised.

It was insisted upon that I ask for what I’ve been wanting for weeks. I don’t want to just learn to cope with the feelings I have. The fact is I shouldn’t be having them, not like this. I want to rewire my own brain, if I can, and there are methods for doing that. I need to ask for access to them.

After the assessment, which turned into more of an affirming pep talk — and was all the better for it — I walked through town and found myself in a courtyard, which was attached to an old friary building containing a parlour bar and restaurant. It was beautiful. I ordered a glass of Beaujolais and sat in the sunshine, feeling almost regal, no more than two-hundred metres from the nearest Tesco, but suddenly catapulted up three or four social classes by simply being there.

It was a decision made entirely on a whim, and yet it was euphorically calming to feel like another self for a moment, like someone who had half an idea about wine, like someone who was entitled to be there.

I chose the Beaujolais on name recognition alone. “An excellent summer wine,” the bartender said, making me feel smug about my shot in the dark. He was also not wrong at all.

I opened Maurice Blanchot’s The Space of Literature. “The impossibility of reading is the discovery that now, in the space opened by creation, there is no more room for creation. And, for the writer, no other possibility than to keep on writing this work.”

This isn’t “a work”, of course, in any restrictive sense. But I think about Foucault’s ethics of self writing. I cannot read without writing constantly alongside, always affirming the space of creation outside the text. That is what I need: new selves always emerging, displacing the trauma selves that deny and destroy. “He whose life depends upon the work, either because he is a writer or because he is a reader, belongs to the solitude of that which expresses nothing except the word being: the word which language shelters by hiding it, or causes to appear when language itself disappears into the silent void of the work.”

I feel this immensely, fully fated to a problem, hidden at first behind the work of another, Mark Fisher, but finally starting to come into its own as I continue veering between islands, settlements, looking for a place of my own. But there is always the fear of running this energy into the ground through my own obsession with it.

The obsession which ties him to a privileged theme, which obliges him to say over again what he has already said — sometimes with the strength of an enriched talent, but sometimes with the prolixity of an extraordinary impoverishing repetitiveness, with ever less force, more monotony — illustrates the necessity, which apparently determines his efforts, that he always come back to the same point, pass again over the same paths, persevere in starting over what for him never starts, and that he belongs to the shadow of events, not their reality, to the image, not object, to what allows words themselves to become images, appearances — not signs, values, the power of truth.

There may be no medium better suited to the cultivation of a repetitive monotony, a beginning that never starts, than blogging. But I continue to share my thoughts here out of a certain pride in the amorphous work of writing, an elation that comes from the sharing of private reflection.

Previously, all posts on this blog have been written directly onto the WordPress website — written, read, honed, sculpted, scheduled. Right now, I write first in my journal, then type up the results. I have surprised myself with the fluidity of the pen. Nothing presented here has been massaged; only more visceral reflections are left out. I write without much editorial forethought, crossing out only the most intolerable of errors and false starts, which occur surprisingly infrequently and only at the level of sentences.

Otherwise, I write whatever springs forth. It feels liberating, grounding, as well as ephemeral and fleeting. I find myself back in the present when I write in this way, which nonetheless makes blogging more peculiar as I share these scribblings some days after they were first written down. But to have a new present that is mine, shared only after the fact rather than compulsively and immediately, is itself a wonderful feeling. But what can I say? Writing always succumbs to some sort of exhibitionism.

But the hand that holds the pen still “moves in a tempo which is scarcely human”, as Blanchot writes: “not that of viable action, not that of hope either, but rather the shadow of time, the hand being itself the shadow of a hand slipping ghostlike toward an object that has become its own shadow.”

On my second glass of Beaujolais, it feels revelatory to have spent the afternoon being so exceptionally kind to myself. Newly aware of the trauma selves I carry with me, in the they that I am, I take them along for the ride. Previous Matts will have had little interest in a day spent writing in some cloistered upper-class enclave, drinking in fine wine and the sun, but in this I feel a kindness given to an unactualized Matt, which the prior selves are calmed by. I am feigning the ideal writer’s life, ignoring the realities of mental illness and the tightened purse of statutory sick pay. I am treating my selves.

“The fact that the writer’s task ends with his life hides another fact: that, through this task, his life slides into the distress of the infinite.” Not today. Just this moment, lovingly affirmed and savoured.

Leave a Reply