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A New Name

As we approach ever deeper into summer, which doesn’t seem to express itself as such, the weather matches my thoughts as I go deeper into my transitioning journey.

But before I go into that, I do feel I owe you a small apology for leaving it so long since the last post. I do however have a good excuse. You might have looked around on my website and found a lot of changes. I have created a web shop called ‘Gif-shop‘ where I intend to sell my artwork on prints, mugs and even t-shirts. But this has had some unforeseen consequences, namely I have had to become a bit of an IT expert as all the big platforms (Google, Facebook, Instagram etc.) have extremely tight rules for small businesses like mine. Anyway, I spare you the details, I just wanted to let you know I haven’t been doing nothing!

So, as I was starting to say, my transitioning journey has been evolving a little since I cut my hair. My youngest child also has noticed and I have been thinking about other aspects of myself that I feel don’t fit anymore. One aspect is that I have been trying for some time now to lose weight. In 2014 I had my last big mental health crisis, after which I finally decided I had no other choice then start taking medication. I have always been anxious and apprehensive about taking any kind of medication, as it also is a means of control over people. Which as an old punk I really don’t like. But in 2006, after finally being diagnosed with EUPD and Dystymic Disorder I went through some very intense therapy, group therapies of all kinds, for over 2.5 years, without medication. That therapy has helped to get some normality back in my day-to-day life, but it did not touch any of the underlying issues and past trauma.

In my orange F1 Max Verstappen top 😉

Anyway, after that crisis in 2014 the mental health team put me on the highest dose of Mirtazipine over a period which frankly changed my life. I have not had another crisis since. But it did mean I gained 30kg until I weighed 115kg at my heaviest (I am 6 foot tall, 1m80). The positives far outweighed (pun!) the negatives cause it allowed me to work fulltime for 5 years as a lorry driver and get my confidence back after a horrendous separation and divorce.

But now, I have asked my psychiatrist to wean me off mirtazipine and instead I get another anti-depressant which doesn’t have the weight gain side-effect. So hopefully I will lose some of that weight. Sadly it doesn’t mean I can come off all the other stuff I’m on either, but hey, I can live with the rest. So that is one change which hopefully is going to make me feel better about myself.

There is something else I want to share with you all though. I have been thinking about changing my name. Mayola is a female name, and I really would like to have a more neutral-male sounding name. How difficult is that though, to think of a name for yourself at age 47 that truly reflects how you feel and expresses your identity! I wanted a cool name, maybe to honour a fellow artist/revolutionary and then I knew it, it is going to be…..Kahlo. In honour and respect for Frida Kahlo who I feel is a great role model and fellow revolutionary artist. But obviously Frida is too feminine, but Kahlo is different and rare, and kind of cool I think.

So, there it is. The big reveal! Haha. So, if you do want to get in touch, please do, and address me as Kahlo, with they/them pronouns. And another trans term you might not know about; my old name is my ‘dead name’. Thank you for reading! Catch you next time.

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Why I wear black

Since I was a teenager my favourite colour has always been black. And this week I have been thinking about that. Why do I wear black? What is it that I like so much about that colour? I hear my 10 year old tell me, black is not a colour. No. It isn’t, because it absorbs all light. And the colour white reflects it.

Now, let’s think about that for a minute. I imagine what it would be like to always wear white. Immediately what comes to my mind is that it would attract attention, because it is more noticeable. That is the inevitable consequence of the reflection of light. Psychologically I think that is not what I want. Attract attention. I have a sense of feeling vulnerable, insecure and self-conscious because of my gender transitioning, because of having been victim of sexual predators and domestic violence, because of my mental-health conditions and how I am perceived. I don’t want to feel that, but it is always there, in my mind somewhere, even if I feel good. It feels like I have a big sign on my forehead saying I am a target, come hunt me down. Perhaps this is just paranoia, and it doesn’t really matter if it is or isn’t. That is how I feel, a lot.

It isn’t just those aspects of myself I just mentioned, it literally is my whole being. Let me explain. Physically I don’t fit in the norm, I am 6 foot 1, assigned female at birth (AFAB), I have a thick Dutch accent, so anyone I talk to knows immediately I am an immigrant, I am big and muscular (well, just overweight actually, lol), I am very direct which in the UK means people think I am aggressive. I am diagnosed with EUPD (Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder), the label already feels like a massive threat and one of the symptoms is paranoia. I also have a mood disorder (Dystymic Disorder) which makes me depressed most of the time, which also includes irritability, and massive mood swings. Luckily I am medicated which have largely made my life better and stabilised most of these. Still, all this has made me a recluse. I struggle to make lasting and meaningful relationships, friendships let alone romantic relationships. I am at home 23 hours a day, 1 hour to walk my dog. That’s it. Strangely I feel very comfortable living like this. I know it is unhealthy, but it feels good.

Wearing black enhances these aspects. It absorbs my feelings, and it is like a protective shield almost. But another aspect of me that is different is my political views. I am a Marxist and Trotskyist and a proud member of the Socialist Party. I am a revolutionary. That is not exactly mainstream. A part of my political views is that it comes with a responsibility. In order to truly be a revolutionary I am obliged to be open about it, and live it in an active way. Hiding this aspect of me would be betrayal of myself, and what I stand for. I have to actively carry out being a revolutionary socialist, and recruit, fundraise, campaign and show solidarity to my class. Unfortunately this is in complete contradiction to my overwhelming urge to isolate and be alone. I have not found a way to merge the two or overcome this. But I do what I can. And wearing black helps me.

Wearing Black

Another thing I was pondering is, maybe it is also an expression of anger and resistance to what the colour of my skin stands for, still. I am white. As I mentioned in earlier episodes of this blog, racism is in my family, my country, my culture, my education, everything I experienced growing up. And from a very young age I rejected it because I could see the immense injustice, discrimination and suffering black & ethnic minority communities endure. I can’t stand it. So in a way, to me wearing black is an act of solidarity with anyone suffering adversity and discrimination.

Black is inclusive, absorbing, all encompassing, enveloping, safety, peace, rest, withdrawal of people, inward, calm and accepting.

I love what Johnny Cash sang in his song ‘Man in Black‘:

“Well, there’s things that never will be right I know
And things need changing everywhere you go
But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right
You’ll never see me wear a suit of white

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day
And tell the world that everything’s okay
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back
‘Til things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black”

And then further down in the song:

“Well, there’s things that never will be right I know
And things need changing everywhere you go
But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right You’ll never see me wear a suit of white

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day
And tell the world that everything’s okay
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back
‘Til things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black”

I think it is about time white people do their bit to set the record of imperialism, plunder, looting and enslaving whole continents straight and redefine the words ‘white’ and ‘black’. Cause how sickening is it to claim the word ‘black’ for everything bad, dirty and evil, and ‘white’ for everything clean, divine and right? When we look at the world today I can only conclude that that is false and we need to redefine those words, and redefine their meaning. For starters. I believe every white person today has the responsibility to do what they can to actively live this change.

For me the only way to change all this is by changing the system of inequality, greed, exploitation and oppression. That is a big task. But if we all talk to our family, neighbours, friends, collegues we will. It starts by not accepting it, calling it out, protesting and asking others to join you.

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Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment. It may evoke changes in them such as cognitive dissonance or low self-esteem, rendering the victim additionally dependent on the gaslighter for emotional support and validation. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction and disinformation, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs.

(Wikipedia, 2021)

You might have heard of this term in relation to domestic violence and narcissistic personalities, but mostly individual cases. But I would like to consider that gaslighting happens on an industrial scale by political figures and parties, governments and whole industries. The aim? To stay in power, and forever exploit working-class people for the benefit of an ever smaller group of increasingly, obscenely rich individuals. Ultimately, to keep the capitalist system with it’s skewed and unequal political system in place.

As public opinion and understanding of the social world has evolved from the times of slavery and colonisation, so has the capitalist class been forced to result to ever obscure, hidden and underground means of exploitation. Still, slavery exists today, and child labour is rife in poorer countries. But in the western world these abominations have gone completely underground, hidden and banned. I would argue that still, in the UK child labour exists. Gangs use children to transport drugs along their county-lines, as sex slaves and thieves (KSS CRC, 2019). And a seemingly ever expanding network of paedophiles exploit children for their sexual gratification, in which undoubtedly large amounts of money change hands.

Racial gaslighting – Express article

But how does this relates to gaslighting? Well, you might remember the child sexual abuse scandal which started the public inquiry Independent Inquiry Child Sexual Abuse. This unveiled the widespread scale of this problem within our communities, churches and state run services. Victims have a very hard time getting heard, still now. They are being silenced, intimidated and gaslighted into thinking their pain is not valid, not important and dismissed as lies. It has been proven very hard to hold big organisations like the Catholic church, the Church of England and state run children’s homes and schools, football clubs and other powerful figures to account. This points to a system that is functioning to the benefit of a few very powerful people, and subsequently to the exploitation of the vulnerable. But this all starts with an education system that is in the process of being privatised, run for profit, instead of run for the education of young people. So what do children learn in this system? They learn straight away the world is divided in groups, male and female, rich and poor, black and white. They learn everything is a competition, and only the best achievers, the most beautiful and fastest are worth the best wages. And literally, the schools get funding to how well the grades of their pupils are. The higher the grades, the more funding they get. So from a young age, children learn that if you don’t fit in, you are worth less. It undermines people’s confidence, especially in the time of their lives that they are most vulnerable, least confident and still developing their identity. Social media, advertisements and promotions exacerbate and install these judgements, divisions and, frankly, lies. Schools don’t teach children about their country’s colonial, oppressive past, employment rights and empowerment. They teach them just enough to be a productive citizen, but not enough to stand up for yourself and others, question the rules and laws and the power of the collective. Instead it makes people question their sanity, their sense of self, their validity. That is exactly why I think capitalist society uses gaslighting on an industrial scale to pursue profit and keep the gravy train rolling.

References

Kent, Surrey & Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company (2019) Research: County Lines (Literature Review) [Online], December 2019. Available at https://www.ksscrc.co.uk/2020/01/06/research-county-lines-literature-review/ (Accessed 10/05/2021).

Wikipedia (2021) Gaslighting [Online], 04/05/2021. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting#References (Accessed 10/05/2021).

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Identity transition

Only a few years ago, in 2019, I realised age 45 that I identify as transgender – androgynous to be precise, which comes under the non-binary branch of the transgender tree. I am still on a journey trying to figure out how to express this, and exactly what it means to me, and also more importantly exactly how I feel. Since then, I have cut off my hair and got a ‘male’ haircut. My clothes have also changed to more unisex and I wear more gender neutral glasses. And off course, I have really thought about it a lot.

I think that when I was younger, if I had received the support and encouragement I needed, I would probably have transitioned to male. But back then, off course this was out of the question, and I was forced to conform as soon as I hit puberty. This, and also massively the childhood trauma I experienced, led to lots of mental health issues, drug abuse and sexual- and domestic abuse.

Only now, I have the mental space and peace inside myself to start to address my gender identity. I accept my body now, as it is female, but I can’t accept the female identity. I still feel mostly male inside, but at the moment the androgynous identity feels best suited to my feelings. I don’t feel I have the strength and endurance to go through a full transition to male, it feels like a massive task to even think about. And, still, I am not sure that is truly how I feel. I do however, feel very confident in my new identity. But, I have no friends or anyone who I can relate to, and talk to about this.

Another aspect is that I am now confused about my sexuality. I have always had hetero sexual relationships, but only had one time I really fancied a woman, although I did not have the courage to make it known to her. Now I question how I feel. I really feel attracted to the idea of pan-sexuality, which means being sexually attracted to people, regardless of their gender identity. But the biggest obstacle in exploring this is that I have no social life to speak of, and struggle to trust anyone. There are so many aspects of me that are not conforming with the norm, I just don’t know where to start or how to find likeminded individuals even just to make friends with. Also my traumatic past is a major factor in this, I just feel I have nothing to fall back on, no reserve, no strong support network.

Basically, I feel I can’t afford to make any more mistakes in my choice of partner, also for my daughter’s sake who is struggling to accept even the idea of me getting another relationship. Well, with a man, cause as far as she’s concerned, she could live with a woman or other transgender person, but not a man. But my concerns are more about my wrong choices of partner, ending up in abusive relationships in the past. But now I have been single for about 7 years, and I really yearn for someone to share life with.

Luckily I have learned a few things over the years which could help me overcome some of the difficulties. I have learned that I need to put strict boundaries in place when I deal with people. And then, adhere to it myself which means that I have to make sure others and myself do not cross my boundaries. For instance, when I get to know a person I should not meet at my or their house the first time, or even the second time. I should not stay the night before I am certain this person will respect my boundaries, and is cautious to give me space to develop trust. This I find very difficult, and I tend to make lots of excuses why I should not stick to this rule, or why the other person doesn’t need to adhere to it, which undermines my self-care regime and sense of self respect. I understand this comes from my self-loathing and lack of self love. So to protect myself I have for years locked myself away in my house, and been quite stand-offish and put up a front.

This does no longer suffice. I am lonely and really suffer from lack of social interaction. At the same time though, the pressure is mounting inside me, because I don’t think I now have the skills to safely go out there and date, or even socialise. That is a dangerous situation developing there. What am I going to do?

For now, I try to reach out in safe places like my friends in the Socialist Party and carefully try to make friends at uni. I am in a few trans/non-binary groups but it seems there’s mainly very young people in there, and quite focused on physical appearance.

So, if any of you are in their 40’s or 50’s, are active socialists and interested in friendship, please get in touch ;).

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Fighting yourself in the pursuit of love

At my core I have a deeply engrained self-loathing. My own analysis concludes that when my sister was adopted when I was only 2 years old, I must have subconsciously concluded that it was because I wasn’t good enough. I also developed a jealousy towards my sister, as she did towards me. This is a common issue between siblings, so I guess it is not surprising between adopted siblings either. She was a novelty in those days, and attracted a lot of attention, although in our village there were several other adopted children, and a few years later we moved to a street with right next to us two Indian families with in total 5 children.

But besides us both developing jealousy towards each other, I think subconsciously I must have wondered about the reason why my parents adopted a child from so far away. My theory is that along the way I developed the idea that I must have been not good enough. When they undertook the trip to India to collect my sister, I was brought to my mother’s eldest sister, who had a daughter a few years older than me. I still remember some details about that. But off course this can be seen as an abandonment, even if it was just for a month or so, especially that when they returned suddenly there was this dark skinned girl to compete for my parents attention. This must have been a big shock for me.

Then the abuse towards my sister started. What message does that send to me, her older sister? First of all, that is a lot of attention directed towards her. Yes, it’s negative attention, but attention nonetheless. Second, it made me feel unsafe, and that I could not trust them to defend my sister and me, to provide care. Neither of them ever choose our side, stopped the abuse and neglect. Nor did any other family member, neighbour, childminder or school teacher. So I learned to distrust adults, and hate myself.

Then I was talking a lot, probably in an attempt for attention, and with a raised voice, which must have been very annoying. So I was repeatedly told to shut up, for years and years on a daily basis. I didn’t fit in anywhere, I felt different, and I wanted to be a boy. I didn’t like playing with girls, so I tried playing with boys. But they didn’t want to play with me, because I was a girl. This then resulted in me always being on the periphery of groups and just feeling awkward and alone. I felt I wasn’t listened to and to add to it, my father often laughed at me on moments that were particularly important for me to be heard.

During my teens and adulthood I have always sought to reinforce this feeling of hate inside me. I choose partners and ‘friends’ who were not interested in me, were emotionally unavailable, abusive and manipulative. By doing that I was never confronted with having to show my vulnerability. And if someone did take an interest I would skilfully avoid. But now, this is harming my own children because I struggle to show them love, physical touch and emotional support. How can I if I have this self-hatred? When my daughter tells me she loves me, I struggle to say it back, because I feel this rejection inside me. ‘You wouldn’t love me if you knew the inside me’. That is the kind of thoughts I have. I have no social life, no close friends and no family nearby. I have to change that.

I guess somehow I have to start loving me, really loving myself. But how do I go about that if my natural tendency is to reinforce this message of hate? Well, I have a few ideas. First of all, I have to set boundaries and stick to them. This is very difficult. Because I constantly make excuses as to why this person doesn’t need to abide by them. Say I get to know someone. One of my boundaries should be to never go to someone’s house the first time I meet them. Always meet in a public place and make sure my son knows where I am and what time I will be back. Or, set boundaries when and until when somebody can call me. Cause if I stick to those ‘self-love’ rules I will look after myself and my health and safety. But instead I often ignore all that, and allow myself to get into situations I can’t get myself out of or to be used. Because I give in to the promise or even just the anticipation of attention, physical or otherwise, which to me look like love, but I know isn’t. And then, I get abused, raped, manipulated, ignored or dumped and that, off course proves I am worthless, stupid, ugly etc.

‘Borderline’ | Graphite and ink on paper | Gif | 12/2020

When sometimes somebody comes along and actually is gentle, loving, caring and sensitive I feel extremely uncomfortable, awkward and I just want to run. Which I always do. Leaving people heartbroken, angry and upset. And I am alone again.

Now being alone feels so comfortable and great. I made myself believe it is better this way, because I am safe, my children are safe and nobody gets hurt. Which off course is a lie, because as long as I live like this my daughter gets hurt by me not meeting her emotional needs, and I have an enormous hole in my life of deep, black emptiness. So yes, I now realise I have to work on it, because I realise it. Ignorance is bliss, but sadly I am never ignorant.

Then there is the issue of the fact that every human needs other human contact. And I am still human. So all this time I have yearned for emotional comfort, safety and closeness. It’s called love. But I have never really felt it, truly. So I fight it, because deep inside I hate myself, but at the same time I want it. I need it. That is what Borderline Personality Disorder, or Emotional Unstable Personality Disorder is. Push and pull. Pull somebody close and push them away, sometimes in one sentence, in one moment. I bet you can see how hard it is to be in a relationship with somebody like me.

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Victims and perpetrators

In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defence. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim.

Herman (1992*, p. 8)

These are the first lines of a chapter in my learning materials I was studying this morning. And they hit me like a brick. To me, this is so recognisable in my life. Most of my abusers, including my parents, have done exactly that, secrecy and silence and attacking my credibility.

In fact, since starting this blog I have received an angry email from my father blaming my personality disorder and accusing me of publicly slandering his good name and venting lies about them on social media. Then he went on to say I had to delete it and how and what I could say instead.

Since I was a child he has been telling me to shut up, be quiet and let others speak. I had a big mouth and was always exaggerating everything. He was always telling me how things should be done and what was best. And now, nothing has changed, he still thinks he knows best. Well, I am an adult now, and in my experience people learn by example. He might have told me many times over what was best, but he didn’t show me in his actions. His actions are that of a coward, hiding behind his infantile wife who bullies him and her children around. And even now, 40 years on he denies facts and tries to silence me.

I think it is absolutely crucial to let others know about the abuse, to talk about it and bring it out in the open. As long as it’s hidden, and nobody talks about it or knows who commit these crimes it will continue and perpetrators will know they are safe. By saying here, publicly, what happened and who did it I hope somehow I can find a way to stop history repeating itself, and it also is an opportunity to learn. I imply here, that I am not merely a victim, but also a potential perpetrator. Because the sad truth is, because this is my example I find myself in similar situations with my own children. I feel incredibly lucky to have a sense of self reflection, which allows me to change my behaviour. I have to work hard for it, because it doesn’t come natural to me to be a warm, loving mother. I have made mistakes, I have been unable to give my children the emotional safety and care they need many times, but I recognise it now and I can start to change it.

So perpetrators are often themselves victims too. Because of this it is often extra hard to admit, recognise and work on breaking the chain. But there are always opportunities both for the victim and the perpetrator to start recovery. There are lessons for both.

Breaking the chain

At the bottom of all of this is a deep lack of love. There is probably a long line of loveless parents before me, my parents, my grandparents and so on. If you are victim of domestic violence you learn you are not worth love, you are worthless. And because you don’t love yourself, you can’t be around people who show you love, and you can’t show it yourself. You will be on the roundabout of looking for confirmation of that self-loathing. And so the cycle continues into eternity. Except, you can do something to stop it. By owning up to it, to your own faults, by starting to recognise how you can’t be vulnerable to others, even your own children, you can try practise and face that deep fear. Be uncomfortable, feel anxious, be brave.

Surely that is less hard than see your children turn their backs on you, see your children suffer like you did, see them try and run away from it all, see them in unhealthy relationships, see them lose themselves in addiction and sometimes even kill themselves. I am determined to let the buck stop with me. Or at least as much as I can. Cause I know I have already passed on some of the bad stuff. But at least I don’t want to be a coward and stick my head in the sand pretending it isn’t there. It IS there. My own daughter is afraid of me, at least sometimes. But that is one moment too many. She shouldn’t feel afraid of me even one moment. I need to make her feel safe, I need to protect her. I need her to love herself. And that can only happen if I learn to love myself.

So, facing the facts is important, but also accepting that the way you experienced something might be different to somebody else’s. In my opinion a perpetrator is not allowed to devalue the experience of the victim, their feelings, nor their way of expressing those feelings about it. As a perpetrator you can only accept the facts and live with it, own up to it and do whatever is in your power to not repeat it. This is off course not even possible or feasible for a lot of people, because they simply lack the ability, deny it and continue their abusive behaviour. The consequence is this endless cycle of violence, passed on from generation to generation.

Reference

*Herman, J. (1992) Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, New York, Basic Books.

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Turbulence

My life has always been very turbulent, a whirlwind of stressful and intense situations specked with parties, lots of togetherness and community spirit. Cause no one’s life is only horrific and traumatic.

When I left home at 17 I had no one and no where to go. I met up with my friend who already shared a flat with someone, where I slept on their couch for 2 weeks. One day we sat in a park with a bottle of wine and a few spliffs where we saw this tall man tie a rope between two trees and started walking on it. We were quite amazed how he did that and strung up a conversation. He was British and in his 30’s and very shy and quiet. He asked where we lived, and I mentioned I actually was homeless. He said he lived in a squat with a few other people, and one was leaving so a room would be available. He said if you are interested, come and introduce yourself and maybe they’ll be okay with you moving in. So that’s how my squatting journey began. I had no income, I was too young for benefits and quit school so somehow I needed money. I managed to get the child benefit money from my mum, which was very little, like f100,- (guilders) a month at the time. I remember often buying one bag of potatoes and a bottle of oil so I could make chips. But often I shared food with others, or went to a cheap soup kitchen in another squat. That first winter was very tough, I left home in October and in the squat there was only a big fireplace in the livingroom for heat so we had to venture out to collect firewood from the streets. We were roaming the streets a lot, to find stuff we could use, food at the market when the market closed, sometimes leftovers at shops who were friendly with us. I had to go to the laundrette to do my laundry, to the swimming pool to get a shower, but luckily we did have electricity and water which we paid for, like ‘normal’ people.

I think in this country there are a lot of misconceptions about squatting. There were in my country too. But back then, it was legal. There were strict rules like a building had to be proven to be empty for at least 1 year. So we were always scouting for empty buildings, sticking hairs on the edge of the door and the doorframe, leave it for 24 hours and come back to check if anybody had entered the building. If not, we could go in, check it out and if we liked it stay. We then had to stay inside for 24 hours, quiet as mice. If anybody would notice and call the police, we would be nicked for trespass and criminal damage. But if we could stick it out we could call the police to declare the building officially empty and they would then notify the owner. The owner could only get us out by going to court and proving to have either a building permit, a buyer, a renter or a permit to demolish. If there were no plans and the building was empty without prospects, the squatters could stay or make a deal with the owner. Sadly, the law changed and criminalised squatting somewhere after the year 2000.

I met the most colourful and diverse bunch of people during this time. There was still a lot of solidarity and a tight-knit community of misfits and drifters. I miss that a lot. I miss sitting around a fire, drinking mugs of tea with others and making music. I miss helping each other out. I miss the whole way of life, of making mend and make stuff from junk, creating homes in weird places, travelling, meeting hundreds and hundreds of others like me. But the strange thing is, I didn’t make really good friendships. Out of all those people I only still have contact with a handful, maybe 2 or 3. I feel sad about that. I feel sad that amidst all of that appearance of togetherness I still felt desperately alone.

My life was and became more and more chaotic and I felt so restless. I couldn’t settle anywhere, I moved probably more than 50 times. I drank a lot. I used drugs, a lot. I became very very depressed and I started to get psychosis. My trauma haunted me, and nearly killed me. But somehow, slowly and after 5 years of this a few things happened that really clearly signalled I had to drastically change my situation or face death. But I will talk about that another time.

‘Maalstroom’
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The attraction of rejection

Since my separation and divorce from my ex-husband I have not had a serious relationship with anyone else. I got hurt so badly that I decided it would be best to be alone. Not in the least because I nearly lost my children and I wanted to protect them from any more trauma.

But slowly as I recovered, I turned my thoughts to why I am always attracted to emotionally unavailable, distant, violent and manipulative men. I have had a few relationships with loving, kind and caring men but after a short while I felt uncomfortable, anxious and basically ran for the hills. Breaking hearts as I did. For which I feel very guilty and if any of you read this: I am sorry.

I have discovered that as I have never known unconditional love, as a child, I have not learned to love myself. Only if a child has the experience of unconditional love from a parent or carer from birth they will develop a sense of self-love. I have clearly been taught the opposite. I witnessed terrible violence against my sister, and was told to shut up and stay out of it. When I was 2 my sister was adopted, which subconsciously told me I must have not been good enough if they went all that way to adopt another child. She then got a lot of attention, mostly negative but still attention as I was the ‘good’ child. But the biggest overriding message was that I couldn’t trust my parents, they did not keep us safe, they violated our trust and loyalty towards them by abusing and starving my sister and neglecting both of our emotional needs and allowing it to continue. This is a very powerful message of rejection and abandonment which to me clearly said: ‘you are worthless and you are not worthy of love’.

‘Attraction Rejection’, pencil and ink on paper, Mayola 2020

Then when I grew up it felt safe to be with people who weren’t interested in me, who didn’t show care and protection and love. And when somebody did show interest, care and love it felt very uncomfortable, uneasy and scary. So I ran. Instead it felt much better to have my internal message of self-hate enforced by violent, abusive, manipulative men, because I actually believed it to be the truth!

So the inevitable conclusion is, that if I want to experience true love I have to start learning to love myself. Only once I feel comfortable with that feeling, I can allow somebody else to love me back and be in a successful mutually loving relationship. But how do I go about that? For decades I have worked on enforcing the feeling of worthlessness and self-loathing, and I have come some way of practising self-love by looking after myself better, live healthier, engage in therapy and support but I don’t think I have even scratched the surface of starting to love myself more.

The evidence of that lies in that I am still attracted to unhealthy men, bad boys, tough guys, emotionally damaged men who are in one way or another not emotionally available. Still, I am very comfortable in my own company, I look after myself physically and mentally and I don’t engage in risky behaviour anymore. But I just don’t know what the next step is, except that I have to draw boundaries and stick to them.

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Isolation

Being and feeling isolated is a common theme for anyone who is a little different from the norm. Especially people with mental health issues or from the LGBTQ+ community can experience this. As I tick both those boxes and I also am a single parent and a student studying from home it is extra difficult to connect and interact with other adults.

As a child experiencing and witnessing domestic violence I also felt extremely alone. But not just alone, I felt alienated, expelled and rejected from society. I could never find a safe and comfortable place anywhere where I felt included and accepted. I didn’t have friends, not real friends anyway. I was bullied. No wonder I felt suicidal and desperate to be accepted the way I was. I was desperate for touch, for love, for friendship, for comfort but off course because of that I was vulnerable. Predators were out looking for adolescents like me, even as an adult. So I got raped and abused again and again until I decided a few years ago, no more.

I isolated myself, and deliberately retracted from social interaction out of pure self preservation. I was so afraid of being abused again, and also that I would lash out and hurt another person that I just worked, slept and ate and that was pretty much all. But even that didn’t fully protect me. I was also worried for my children, I wanted most of all to protect them from any further harm. To me, the only way was not to get into another relationship and not having friends. But this meant that I got completely stuck in more than one sense. I found that I couldn’t keep a job, I kept getting into trouble in one way or another and got sacked. I worked extremely long hours, 45 hours a week plus, and the jobs I did were always precarious through agencies. This meant that I hardly had time with my children, only about 2 hours a day, and they suffered emotionally. My chronic backpain got gradually worse and worse, my mental health was in decline. The situation got untenable.

But how to get out of it? How to improve? How to change? What to change? I had and still have not much of an idea. I stopped working, simply because I couldn’t carry on physically and mentally. I started looking for help. I got help from my daughter’s school, and from social services. Then I asked my GP and mental health team to re-assess me. They gave me different and additional medication and put me in a ‘skills group’. This got the ball rolling. I started to look after my physical health. I started to think. I started to talk. And now, I am on my way although I still don’t know exactly how I can get better. I still have no real friends that I talk to. I don’t talk about what I find difficult, when I struggle, when I really don’t feel well.

I am sorry if you read this and consider yourself my friend. I am not intentionally rude or out to upset you. But the problem is, I don’t know what a real friend is. I think a real friend is someone you can be vulnerable with, who you tell difficult stuff to, and who offers you safety and comfort. Someone who shows you respect, and who you show respect to. And that is the problem. I don’t allow myself to engage with someone in that way, because I feel I can’t risk it. I struggle to communicate my boundaries, and to stick to my boundaries. I am basically too nice. I make excuses why I shouldn’t stick to my boundaries, probably because it feels like I demand too much of someone, and I am not worth it.

‘Isolation’ pencil on paper, Mayola 2020

I think that is what lies at the basis of this; the overwhelming feeling of worthlessness. I know that to overcome that, I have to set boundaries and stick to them, because only then you will get self respect and value. A friendship can not be real without value. And a friendship only has value when both participants respect each other’s boundaries, and give as much as they take.

People with EUPD (Emotional Unstable Personality Disorder, formerly known as Borderline Personality Disorder) keep others at arms length whilst demanding them to stay close. So I have a strong feeling of wanting to be near someone, even to the point of being needy, and at the same time keeping that person at arms length and pushing them away. That can be extremely distressing for both parties. It is impossible. Still, I think there is hope. I think I can improve, with practise and careful management.

One thing which would be very good is by aiming for a L.A.T. relationship (Living Apart Together). And then also an important ingredient is patience, taking it slow, one step at a time. I think what I described before, setting boundaries and sticking to them is probably one of the first things to do. It is also extremely difficult. Because if I really like someone, I so desperately want to go all in, but I really shouldn’t. I know this won’t end well. Another symptom of EUPD is being impulsive and engaging in risky behaviour like promiscuous sexual contacts. And all this behaviour whilst absolutely starved from intimate social contact is a recipe for disaster.

But the biggest problem I feel is that I am irresistibly attracted to unhealthy people, and even toxic people. No. 1 is alcoholics. I can’t allow myself to engage with any of those, but how do I get attracted to other people? I honestly don’t know. If they are not alcoholics, they are either addicted to something else or have similar experiences as I have eg. abuse, neglect and abandonment, or have been adopted like my sister. In short, they have been traumatised somehow. But maybe I should just accept that as an inevitable factor and try to work towards engaging healthily with those people. I am hoping that my study (Criminology & Psychology) will help get answers to these issues, as well as my weekly sessions with a councillor. If you read this and you have suggestions for me, please get in touch!

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Defining love

As a severely emotionally damaged person, it is hard to get my head around the concept of love. I only know dysfunctional love, which in my book is no love at all. When I was thinking about this I could come up with two essential ingredients; trust and equal distribution of power.

To start with the latter, to establish equal distribution of power between 2 people they both need to be self-aware of their personal boundaries and immediately communicate to the other person when they approach a boundary, and off course when they cross it. Being self-aware is one thing, but then to communicate it in an assertive, but not aggressive way is much harder. It becomes even more complicated when you take into account that people are naturally lazy, I mean they usually choose the way of least resistance. So over time, people just can’t be asked and give in just to get some peace. But off course, this is totally counter-productive because from that point on the relationship will go out of canter, power wise. One person will start to dominate the other and if not corrected by both parties the relationship will become dysfunctional.

Another factor is behaviour patterns and habits which become more and more engrained over time. So when you struggle to stand up for yourself and have low self-esteem a pattern of behaviour can develop out of self preservation. For instance avoidance. So your partner is approaching your boundary, you give a warning, they ignore and step over your boundary and violate your space in some way. You don’t address the violation and ignore that it ever happened. Next time you don’t even give a warning, you allow your partner to cross the line unchallenged but you see it coming and you avoid the situation. This then becomes your survival technique. But the consequences of this behaviour is that the whole relationship is based on a lie, because you have not addressed your true feelings of being violated and your partner hasn’t checked if they have crossed your boundaries. When this becomes a pattern the relationship will develop in a dysfunctional way.

Then the issue of trust. For love to blossom there needs to be trust between two people. This also is hard work. One needs to trust the other, and the other needs to respect the trust one has entrusted onto him. This is a constant interaction between the couple. Both people need to be absolutely honest about their feelings and actions, and communicate this assertively. The problem is, if your trust has been violated from the start, by your own parents or carers you don’t trust anyone and you start to develop self-preservation type behaviour and patterns.

Now I have come as far as realising all this, and I acknowledge that my dysfunctional behaviour is for starters that I avoid having to be vulnerable. Being able to show vulnerability is important to gain trust. But I have learned as a child that when you show vulnerability you will get abused, killed, beaten. You don’t get trust. Because I was part of a dysfunctional family. So when I became an adult I was always attracted to manipulative, emotionally unavailable, needy and violent men. I always liked someone who needed ‘saving’, ‘rescuing’ or care in some way. Like alcoholics, drug users, people like that. But as soon as someone wanted to look after me, I was gone. I just felt so uncomfortable, it just never felt right. But then, as a child I have always had the role of parent. Parent to my mother, parent to my sister, parent to myself. When you are emotionally neglected as a child, this is how you develop. It is pure self-preservation.

Now though, I’m through with that. I don’t want to have that in my life. I want the real thing or be alone. But unfortunately if I want to break this pattern, I will have to show my vulnerable side, communicate my boundaries on time and accept care and attention. This notion scares the heebie-jeebies out of me, but I will have to find a way to do it, and test it out. So that’s where I am at. Wish me luck!