It’s a good thing June’s here. April was awful. May was better, in comparison, but not actually good. I’ve spent the first ten days of June realising that I survived my personal goal of two months of the Anti-Flinch discipline. What have I learnt? That flinching is not all bad. The crystallisation of this thought might have to do with a book I finally read, after having known its most fundamental premise from an excerpt read in childhood. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I read an excerpt from this book when I was a child. It was the chapter where Harriet’s classmates find her book and read it. So that was the thing that captivated me the most when I read this as an adult. I guess it would have, even if I hadn’t been familiar with that vital premise since I’m a writer myself and I grew up as a rather lonesome, broody child who enjoyed scribbling in books. Harriet’s story was probably what made me aware of how easily people could find you out through your words. And I tried everything from locked diaries to writing in code to finally blogging under and anonymous identity. Writing is such a way that some people make sense of their feelings. But like most feelings & thoughts, we need the privacy of our own eyes only to be able to truly evolve. When that is interrupted by the rest of the world’s attention & their subsequent reactions, we are irrevocably changed. It is a violation that’s not reversible.
Then again, one can argue that this is precisely the kind of violation that all writers undertake with the rest of the world. It’s a complicated, self-loathing, self-affirming kind of knife’s edge that any person of words lives on. Harriet embodies that well as an 11-year-old.
This is also an excellent book that centres a female character as imagined by a female author with almost no pointless gendering, even in the school. Of course Harriet is white and pretty privileged, as evidenced by her nanny who goes by ‘Ole Golly’. Still, it’s a pretty noteworthy story from its times, for young (and otherwise) readers.
Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
I read ‘Harriet the Spy’. An 11-year-old girl writes her thoughts and (sometimes snoopy) observations in a notebook. Her friends find it and read the book, hate what they read and proceed to attack her systematically. The family and system get involved, take away her books and force her into therapy. Only a writer who has been gagged will ever understand the horror of that. I have experienced this before when I was much younger and worse off and it was bloody.
Since a horrible bullying incident in March, I’ve been silenced and laced with statements like ‘Everyone thinks you’re a man-hater’ and ‘You’re just being silly, honey’. I’ve barely been able to breathe and not realised it. And the words stuffed back into me, turned into something poisonous (just like with Harriet) that made me sick. I was being suffocated.
Come first of June, I switched off my phone in a lot of pain. It hurt so much, too much to make sense of what why where who. A minute later, I could suddenly breathe. I slept well for the first time in months. The next morning when I awoke, I reached for the phone. And then I thought, this feels so good, let me have just a little more. The phone stayed off for 13 hours. I am not talking about freedom from social media notifications but freedom from a different sort of poison. Till I dared switch off my phone, I didn’t realise exactly what I was fearing.
I interrupt sleep, work, and social occasions to respond immediately, fearing violent reactions from a few people in my life. I keep my phone on through the night, sometimes getting up at 4 AM, just to show, ‘I’m there for you, 24 x 7′. In those 13 hours I realised, none of those people do the same for me. What’s more, in the past few months, they’ve been dismissive of my problems, lied to me, blamed me for things that have nothing to do with me, just not being there and shrugged it off with the excuse of ‘I’m having problems’. It was adding starvation to suffocation.
Perhaps this is my own fault. There is an ego-stroke by way of feeling needed, a grandeur in being the saviour. That same ego notices that it is being battered by being made to feel terrible for being there. No more. I can give this up like I can give up other potential addictions. And I do those by quitting cold turkey. If that is like a flinch reaction, hallelujah, the anti-flinch ban has been lifted.
Shutting my phone off was the first step to throwing off both suffocation and starvation. Lifting my anti-flinch ban has let me just move away from situations that are detrimental to my well-being. I bring my best to people (as much empathy, respect and hope as I can muster). And when they let me down or disappoint me, I move on. That’s labelled as reckless, cruel, impulsive and other things that made me mistake them for wrongful. But I need to be able to do this because if I don’t, I am trapped in situations with my unexpressed emotions turning poisonous.
My Flinch reactions help me move out of detrimental situations or ones that have outlived their purpose. I am not a thoughtless, impulsive person. Quite the contrary. I invest a lot in people, situations and actions. This means, that if I do not permit myself to cease when I say stop, I imprison myself. My Flinch reactions are inconvenient to other people, not to me. Especially when these are people who demand from me what they do not feel the need to give, it’s time to take my power back. I’m reclaiming the flinch.
June has been neither lonely nor sad. I’ve slept better than I have all year. I’ve rested easier. My garden grows well and I’m feeling easier in my mind. I can suddenly read again. And now, I’m writing.