24 May, 2006

Fear of Writing

I’ve wrangled around with this entry a lot of different ways, and the words fight me every single time. I think the problem is that I’m so used to not writing about this issue, that it’s really difficult to find a way of facing it down.

See, the reason I haven’t been writing on my dissertation is that, separate from all the usual reasons people don’t write, I also have to fight intense terror of the act of writing itself. It’s been with me for as long as I can remember, and gets worse the more direct and real I have to be in the writing. Thus, writing a history dissertation becomes something of a problem, because I have to take facts and make my interpretation of them as clear as I possibly can.

When I sit to write, and it’s something that touches on reality, I struggle. When I’m lucky, I can find that clear space in my head, and write without connecting to what I’m writing about. Things focused on the present, touching only peripherally on my emotions, are the easiest. I can write lists and charts with very little difficulty. Stories are pretty easy, most of the time, until they become stories about myself.

But writing, real writing, writing where I take facts and state an interpretation of them… this becomes terrifying. I sit to write and my hands shake, my vision grows dim, the world tilts and spins around me. A filter intervenes, somewhere between thought and expression, to make what I’ve said as inscrutable as possible.

I thought, for years, that this was just a problem with academic writing. In college, both I and my professors were puzzled by it, because I could express my thoughts clearly in words, and I had definitely mastered the mechanics of writing… but my papers did far more to obscure my thinking than to express it.

And then, after college, I read over some of my journals, and realized that the avoidance and inscrutability were more, rather than less, present. I noticed that, and kind of worked on it, but mostly put it aside. I couldn’t really face the reasons that I find it so hard to put words onto paper (or onto screen, as the case may be). I hoped that the problem would go away, without me having to actually face it.

But I’ll keep trying to do this.

After I was in the hospital last February, I had voices in my head, repeating over and over “This is what we SAID would happen if you told. It’s what happened the last time.” And I could only respond, “What last time? I’ve never told.”

Then my brain would thrust forward a half-remembered event from my childhood. When children’s services came to investigate. The thing is, I always remembered this as being because my sister said or did something in school that made them come. But the image was persistent.

So I make my guesses. Perhaps I was the one who wrote something at school, something that made my teachers wonder, something that caused social services to come. I don’t remember what happened afterward, but I cringe every time someone mentions a social service investigation. I am terrified for the kids in the family.

When I worked in a high school, and was a mandatory reporter, I hoped I would never have to call children’s services. I remember my absolute fury in the training, because they instructed us not to tell the kid whose parents we were reporting that we were doing so.

And I have to wonder. Why do I remember the… violence coming towards me, if I wasn’t the one who told? Why am I the one who has such fear of putting things down in words, if it wasn’t me who made the mistake in the first place?

But I struggle with that, because it’s tied up with realizing that perhaps there was a time when I wasn’t able to keep myself safer than my sisters and brothers, when I wasn’t able to maintain that protective distance.

Rationally, I know that there’s nothing my family could do to hurt me now, no matter what I put into writing. It’s still hard, to get past that part of my brain that has kept me safe for the last quarter of a century. I am accustomed to writing around and through the barriers, finding ways of getting words out without alerting my internal censors to the danger.

I need to find a different way, though. I have a strong sense that the only way for me to get this dissertation finished and get on with my life is to finally face those censors directly, to address why they are there, and hopefully to put them to rest. It feels like dragons or monsters, lurking in my brain, waiting to attack as soon as I make the wrong move. And let’s face it, I can’t write clearly enough when I’m cringing, waiting to be attacked.

So I’ll give this a try, writing about those forbidden topics, trying to prove that it’s really okay, that I can say what I need to say without being beaten or yelled at. I can’t say that I’m looking forward to it.

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