Vertigo

I’m going to be thirty soon. A matter of months. I shuttle between terror and indifference: the common assumption that i’m a scruffy undergrad or hovering disgracefully around my early-to-mid-twenties at war with both my despairing anger at the insidious assumption of youthful appearance being some sort of index of female worth and also, apparently, with an increasingly ‘confident’, ‘mature’ and ‘self-possessed’ manner. (Nb: adjectives borrowed either from one of my tutors or from the random swimming pool attendant who stared at my bikini-clad body and guessed my age as ’23’ until I started talking, whereupon he announced I had a ‘really mature voice.’ I hadn’t even been smoking, and have yet to puzzle out what the fuck he was on about.) The prospect of leaving my twenties terrifies me because it (culturally) signals the loss of appeal, the loss of opportunity, the loss of that malleable feeling of potential; the loss of status, of femininity, of worth. Obviously, much of my life is fundamentally geared towards being appreciated for my words and talents instead of my looks, such as they are; but nevertheless, the prospect of people ceasing to *notice* when I enter a room or listen when I speak; the absence of the twisted reassurance I gather from the attentions of strangers even as they flabberghast or anger me; the absence of the kudos that I know I get, amongst my sexually open and literate friends, for being perceived as vaguely attractive, is going to hit quite hard.

And suddenly, my lost years – the years between 18 and 25, give or take, when I was basically lost to the world, first through ME and then through anorexia, are thrown into sharp relief. Suddenly it *matters* that I only lost my virginity at 22, or graduated at 25; suddenly it *matters* that while everyone else was growing up and making friends and having sex and fucking up and *living* every glorious mistake as only the young can do because the sense of perspective or of equilibrium takes a while to develop, I was essentially trapped, subject to a malfunctioning body, indulging only in the supposedly ‘mature’ and certainly more stereotypically midlife pastimes of reflection, contemplation, self-analysis. Not for me the high-speed immortality and travel (physical or symbolic) and intense emotional rollercoaster traditionally associated with youth, from 18 onwards at least; after an immensely destructive relationship, I withdrew, choosing on some level not to engage with a world that could be so hurtful, or (later) to engage only through the medium of food and with the protection of my own pre-emptive punishment, self-deprivation. And suddenly, that matters. Part of me wants to rage at the world that it’s not fair, that I want those extra years back somehow, added on, I want more chances – and yet I wouldn’t for anything (well, happiness? no, for that’s fleeting, and at least innocence cannot be lost twice) wish that hard-won self-knowledge unlearned, or those experiences undone. Absurd, given that I *do* look slightly younger than my age, and so maybe the world’s doing the best it can there. Like my build, another instance of genetic luck: another area in which I feel I’ve lucked out, cheated a culture that prizes youth and slenderness above age and weight and presence, in women at least; another way in which I’ve managed to scrape together a few extra shreds of self-esteem from the bombsite that was my sense of self-worth for so many years.

And yet, why does it matter? Partly, because I’m practically as well as physically a bit behind my peers: i have no money, no marriage, no stable career, no savings, no property, certainly no children. (If I wanted those, I’d probly’ve missed my chance.) Had I made different choices, I likely could’ve managed at least a few: but I didn’t, and so all I have, really, is myself and a laptop full of writing and a jumble of books and secondhand clothes in a poky but much-beloved flat that I’ll be forced to leave in a matter of weeks. (Altho, ftr, I’m well aware that however meagre that may be compared to some of my contemporaries, it’s a good deal more than others, and certainly much, much more than the majority of people in the world. I feel guilty, about caring so much for the crises induced by a fundamentally luxurious society). For suddenly, sometimes, it feels like I’m standing at the top of a waterfall, watching all the cards I had in my hand tumble down, dashed on the rocks below. I know that the chances are, because of the person I now am and the choices I’ve made, that I will spend the rest of my life alone. I know the chances are that I will die alone, in pain, surrounded by strangers. I know that the rest of my life will probably be shaped and conditioned by a profound loneliness, however much I am loved by my friends. I remember as a teengaer reading about Germaine Greer and her farm in Essex and feeling horrified, despite myself, that she could possibly be content thus, let alone prefer it to marriage and cosy domesticity. But that horror is the flip side of hope, the kind of hope I don’t have any more for a kind of bond and connection I’ve had and lost and never expect to find again, and having accepted its loss, all I would ever ask of life, now, is not happiness, but anaesthesia. Enough little happinesses to make up for the lacunae. Somewhere to lie, and work to do, so I can stay inside this carapace and close my eyes and turn away instead of forcing the soft, flabby fragility of my vulnerable emotional self against the sharp edges of a world whose cruelty to those with no beauty or youth or money to recommend them – and no cosy coupledom to use as a buffer against demands of rent and bills and work and the stubborn, incontrovertible insistence on individual insignificance – is well documented. I know I will never matter, really; all I can imagine asking,now, is a (symbolic) place to go where that doesn’t matter so much.

And I know too much about old age in this country: my mother has been wrking with the elderly most of my life. I know just how harsh, and lonely, and cruel, contemporary ‘care’ can be, especially for those with no families to protect them.

First major break, I’m considering suicide. Major, as in serious-lifelong-mobility-impairment-or-pain-type major.

Yet, maybe I won’t. Maybe it’ll go another way. Maybe my older self, years along the line, or even sooner, if given choices, would choose differently. Maybe I’ll compromise, forget, despair. Maybe once all sense of the cultural worth attendant on youth and potential has gone, I’ll give up on desiring somebody to whose feelings it’s irrelevant. Maybe I’ll stop resisting so fiercely the idea of exclusive commitment without understanding and learn once more to love somebody simply for wanting me, or for being there.

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About Goblin

Academic, critic, endlessly fascinated; reads, thinks, listens and talks far more than is good for her. Ex-anorexic, ex-ME, excitable, queer, kinky, nosy, mouthy; overanalytical, overaffectionate, overarticulate, oversensitive, certainly overfond of the prefix ‘over’. Purveyor of uncomfortable truths. Talks filth in public. Needs more sleep.
This entry was posted in Culture, Love, Psychobabble, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Vertigo

  1. Christina says:

    All is not lost until you are dead. There’s no sense in hurrying the process.

    My brother is 31 and has none of these things that you speak of which constitute value in modern day society. He lives as a lonely academic in a crummy flat in Canada, finishing his PhD, something he loves. My violin teacher didn’t find a life partner until he was 46 and my grandmother wasn’t truly happy with her choice in partner until she was 70! There shouldn’t be a time limit on these things, everyone has a different way to get where they want to be.

    We find value and meaning in all that we see as we go through life, but it’s only you who can judge yourself to be happy or successful or even valuable. You must know that you’re friends value you, really quite a lot! So please, do yourself credit by holding yourself responsible for achieving goals and objectives that only you want and not those which society or anyone else for that matter tells you should be the case by such-and-such an age. You’re never worthless or useless until you decide you are, and it’s never too late to change things until you’re dead.

    I’d further add that in my view you have plenty of worth, you need only look as far as your friendships to see how much people care for you. That to me is what worth means. You aren’t happy but you have never been since I’ve known you but you still keep going and you seem to be getting happier, something I admire. You are far far from useless otherwise who would publish your writings? Who would meet up with you? Invite you to parties? Give you responsibility to actually DO anything. You are in my mind a great success. You are an academic, writing works and giving talks and actually DOing something. Am I a useless failure for being depressed, a bit broken and unemployed? If you’re going to measure yourself then taint me by the same brush and let there be no excuses because we’re both here at the same time living in the same place. Don’t be so hard to yourself, it’s unfair, you’ve plenty to be proud of.

    I know you’re lonely and it’s hard for you to find someone to love who’ll love you back. But I believe that there is someone out there for you whom you haven’t met yet, even if you don’t believe it. I think the only way to find them would be to look to the present and live for the future because there’s nothing to be gained for you by dwelling on your “lost years”. I’d further add that these are never years lost because you wouldn’t be who you are now without them and if you still feel that they are at least “not efficiently spent” then make sure you don’t waste the now by thinking about the then.

    Like

    • Goblin says:

      Oh hon, I’m not ‘dwelling’. I hardly think about them, really -it was just that in the process of unravelling the powerful fears of aging and of loss that went into this post, they have a presence. They’re certainly not something that i ‘think about’, just something i’m vaguely aware of in considering the progress of my life.

      Thanks for the knuckle-rapping re. valuing myself, tho. Much appreciated. :o) x

      Like

  2. Sarahmonster says:

    I would say something meaningful at this point, but Christina has already summed up my thoughts more eloquently and articulately than I ever could hope to.

    Of course, I don’t have the background of years lost to anorexia, but I still sometimes struggle with similar feelings. As you know, we are the same age, and I also have no money, no marriage, no stable career, no savings, no property, and no children, and far, far too little time. I also do not have the advantage of a youthful or slender appearance. At the moment I feel my body has (for reasons of stress, age, or and unhealthy lifestyle) taken on a shape that could be described as ‘middle-eaged spread’. And that kind of body-loathing is… exhausting to live with on a dailty basis.

    It’s difficult not to compare yourself to others, but I am trying not to. I also feel blessed in many ways: I have wonderful, loving friends, I am highly educated, sensitive, and I have a sense of humour and self-irony. I think you are similar in this respect…

    Lots of love,
    Sarahmonster xxx

    Like

    • Goblin says:

      🙂 I love you, monster mine, and you’re beautiful. Although I certainly, certainly get the exhaustion tat comes from continual self-loathing, and am deeply sorry if this post made it worse in any way. I do thin you’re more balanced in a number of ways than I am, even now – not least your ability to truly recognise your last pararaph – and you *do* have a completed thesis, which is a step ahead of me!

      Thanks, as ever, or caring, and for being there, and for not twatting me round the head with something blunt even at my most self-absorbed and solipsistic. 🙂 xxx

      Like

  3. Seamus says:

    the prospect of people ceasing to *notice* when I enter a room or listen when I speak; the absence of the twisted reassurance I gather from the attentions of strangers even as they flabberghast or anger me; the absence of the kudos that I know I get, amongst my sexually open and literate friends, for being perceived as vaguely attractive, is going to hit quite hard

    I remember turning thirty and I’m pretty sure your head doesn’t fall off or anything. Sure, people’s looks change over time but only very gradually; it’s not exactly a Lamarckian punctuated equilibrium thing and the day you turn thirty you’re really not going to look any different than the day before.

    Also, if you fear old age heroin (or whatever vastly better equivalent they’ve come up with by then) is your friend. They can’t even arrest you properly when you’re really old so the risks are nil, the combination of pain and boredom relief peerless and it’s a cool thing to look forward to about your senescence that you’ll be high as a fucking kite all the time.

    Like

  4. Goblin says:

    😛 You’re a *bloke*. the gendered experience of aging is kinda the point. It’s different for you. But heroin? Oh, hell yes.Have I told you you’re awesome of late? 😛 x

    Like

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