Trigger Warning

I remember the first time someone told me that they didn’t believe me.

I was just a kid, and I’d borrowed my dad’s guitar. I knew how much he loved it so I was extra careful with it, strumming it gently, and tucking his lucky plectrum back behind the strings when I’d finished.

When my dad next came to play it, the plectrum had gone. He was furious with me. When I protested, “I didn’t lose it! I put it back!”, he shot back that he didn’t believe me, then he ignored me for the rest of the day.

In my teens, I was regaling my friends with a story from the previous weekend, when I’d inadvertently got into a fight with a girl gang*. One of them looked at coolly and folded his arms, sneering, “I don’t believe you. That didn’t happen.”

A year later, I was attacked by an adult I trusted. He overpowered me, and then threatened me with a knife**. I was terrified, screaming, convinced I was going to die. After I’d managed to escape, I sought out a grown-up that I trusted and—shaking and crying—blurted out my story. He looked at me, confused. He knew the person I was talking about. “That doesn’t sound very likely”, he asked me, “are you sure that’s really what happened?” After that, I didn’t dare tell anyone else.

When I took driving lessons, my instructor would tell me to pull the car over. Then, he’d reach over and rest his hand on my breast. Just sitting there, in his too-short shorts, always in sunglasses so I never saw his eyes, telling me about the rules of the road, while casually fondling me. I was too frightened to tell him to stop, and too scared to tell anyone about it, figuring that they wouldn’t believe me and I’d get into trouble for lying. Instead, I went back for the next lesson, and the next, sitting there blankly, wishing myself somewhere, anywhere, else. Telling myself that perhaps he was only accidentally touching my tits. Again.

As an adult, I got into an abusive relationship. I was gaslighted***, intimidated and bullied. It didn’t even occur to me to do anything about it; deep down, I felt that’s how I deserved to be treated. Eventually, I found the self-respect, self-esteem and sheer determination necessary to get myself out of that situation. When I finally started to talk to my friends about what I’d endured, I expected support and outrage on my behalf. But, while most of them were wonderful, I was flabbergasted by some of the responses.

At the low end of the scale, there was detached bewilderment and disbelief: “Really? He doesn’t seem that type to me”, going up to “I don’t want to know, this really isn’t any of my business”, all the way up to: “I hope you’re not asking me to stop being friends with him. He’s always been very nice to me.”

A rude awakening. They didn’t believe me. My friends didn’t believe me.

Does it sound like I hold them responsible for what happened to me? Of course not. It wasn’t their fault at all****. But. It’s much easier to recover from trauma, to move on, to reclaim your life, when you have the support of your friends.

I learnt the hard way that if someone doesn’t believe you, then they don’t trust you. And if someone doesn’t trust you, they are not your friend.

And if someone doesn’t want to hear your story—because it makes them feel uncomfortable—then they are not your friend.

And if someone tries to shut you up, then they are not your friend.

And if someone isn’t your friend, you don’t need them in your life.

I can’t force anyone to listen to me. But I’m going to keep speaking out. And I’m not going to let anyone silence me. And if you’re my friend, we’ll stand together. And if you need to talk, I’ll listen.

……………

*Which reminds me, I must tell you that story sometime.

**I can’t see that I’ll ever tell you the full story of this. I hope you understand.

***Gaslighting: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-signs-gaslighting-in-relationship

****Seriously, please don’t think that I’m giving the perpetrators an easy ride. The things that happened to me were entirely their doing, no-one else. But, today, I only feel able to discuss the people I tried to confide in, who let me down. Please understand. xxx

ADVENTURES IN SHORT-SIGHTEDNESS #3: The gym

Every few years—when I feel I have too much money in my life and not enough punishment—I join a gym. Years back, I’d just got a membership to a local sports centre, and went there for my first swim.

Now, it’s not normally one mistake or misfortune that leads to disaster; instead, it’s several small ingredients combining to create a towering cake of calamity. For example, it’s not a disaster if your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. It would be a disaster if your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, your phone has just run out of charge, you forgot to renew your breakdown membership and you’re en route to your own wedding.

Of course, that’s an extreme example, and what I’m about to tell you certainly isn’t a life-or-death incident. But, believe me, I die a little when I think about it.

Ingredient 1)
I decided to leave my glasses in my car’s glove-box, forgetting that I really am short-sighted.

(The only explanation I can offer is that I can’t swim in my glasses, so I thought it would be easier just to leave them in the car. I should have left them in the locker. Stupid, stupid, stupid.)

Ingredient 2)
I assumed I could remember where I was going.

It had been a while since the gym induction where they showed me where the changing rooms were. But, even though the sports centre was massive, I was sure I could remember.

Ingredient 3)
I was too embarrassed to ask for help.

Turns out, I couldn’t remember where the changing rooms were, and I couldn’t see any signs, or see anyone to ask. I mean, I really couldn’t see, full-stop. (I am extremely shortsighted.)

Anyway. I was delighted to eventually find the changing room. It’s a challenge sometimes finding a good space in a busy changing room. I can’t see anything; everyone’s just pink blurry shapes to me*. But this means that I don’t know where my gaze is settling, and I don’t want to unsettle anyone by appearing to be laser-focused on their genitalia*. So, it’s easiest if I just keep my eyes low and sweep the benches until I find a spot.

I grabbed a space, at a bench in the middle of the room. There was something odd about the atmosphere in the room, but I couldn’t figure out what I was missing. Anyway, I stripped off, wrestled myself into my swimming cossie, and tried to stick my bag in a locker. But, it ate my only pound coin and then refused to lock.

Aggrieved, I wrapped a towel around myself, grabbed my things and marched (via an unnecessarily complicated route, I’m sure. If it’s not already clear, I really do have the worst sense of direction) to the front desk.

Staff member: “Hi, how can I help you?”

Me: “Hi, the locker ate my coin.”

SM: “Sorry about that, I’ll get you a replacement. Which locker was it? We’ll get the maintenance team to look at it.”

Me: “It was locker B342.”

SM: “Couldn’t be.”

Me: “It was definitely locker B342. I double checked.”

SM: “Can’t be. That’s in the men’s changing rooms.”

Me: “…”

Yes. I really had performed an ungainly, unwanted striptease in a room full of blokes without noticing.

Great.

Ah, but surely had I learned my lesson? Surely, there would be no more Adventures in Short-Sightedness?

Ahahahaha. No.**

 

* Pink, blurry shapes

** Plenty more where that came from

Stage Fright

It’s normal to get a bit anxious about doing a good job.
What’s not normal is to get stomach-wrenchingly, can’t-breathe, can’t-stop-shakingly anxious about it.

Welcome to the wonderful world of stage fright.

I started playing the piano when I was 4. I practised and practised for years, and eventually got to be a pretty good pianist (and I’ve got the Grade 8 certificate to prove it), but I still remember the night the fear started. I was 16, and the Head of Music had asked me to accompany the junior orchestra at the Autumn Concert.

The concert rolled around, and I was so confident, it didn’t even occur to me to be nervous. I played the first part of my piece beautifully, then I was off for 16 bars. I just had to sit and wait for the orchestra to play their piece, and then I was back in. I just had to sit and wait. And concentrate. And not start daydreaming about what I was doing that Sunday, and had I finished my homework, and when was I going to see that cute… hang on, what was I doing?

I was lost. I didn’t know where I was in the music. I didn’t know when I needed to come in. I was staring around the orchestra for clues when I noticed the Head of Music frantically gesturing at me. I’d missed my cue. Scrambling back in, as best as I could, I fell over my notes and limped to the end of the piece.

The concert was repeated the following night, so I was determined I was going to get it right this time. All I had to do was concentrate for the 16 bars. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake and let my attention wander to the party on Saturday night, and whether that idiot on the school bus was ever going to leave me alone and… oh dammit.

I’d done it again. But this time I definitely knew where I needed to come in, so I launched myself confidently at the keys and… THUNK!… no…

Again, I’d come in at completely the wrong time. The Head of Music glared at me and mouthed something that probably wasn’t a compliment on my playing. As soon as the piece was finished, I shot off my stool, ran off the stage and out of the hall.

And I’ve suffered from stage fright ever since. Which is a bit of a bugger when you make a living from performing (in my career—amongst other things—I’ve presented on radio, lead parent and baby music groups, plus I play the odd gig at the Union Chapel as part of the wonderful Daylight Music).

Anyway, over the years I’ve shuffled out of the limelight (my career right now is 99% writing, 1% music). But I still force myself to perform in public a couple of times a year because apparently I enjoy the psychological torture. (Yes, those are my feet in the picture, practising the organ in preparation for another concert.)

These days, the terror’s a lot milder than it used to be. But it’s still there. The knowledge that I’m only ever a moment from disaster. That no amount of practise will guarantee I play perfectly. My hands will be shaking before I play. If I’m really unlucky, they’ll still be shaking while I play.

But, I still play. I force myself onto stage, I tremble with nerves, I take a breath and I start to play.

Wish me luck.