I’ve always loved words – books, reading, writing, conversations. Words in all forms have always fascinated me. Words have been my entertainment, my way of exploring the world, my comfort and my way of connecting. I’ve read widely, eclectically and voraciously. I’ve written professionally and for my own enjoyment. I’ve enjoyed conversations about a range of issues and topics, loving the way people use words to express their thoughts and emotions.
Words have been my solace in tough times and my constant companion. It’s been a rare occasion that I haven’t had a notepad or book (usually both) within easy access. It’s been an even rarer day when I haven’t read or written something. It has always been easy to find the words I need to express myself.
Until April last year.
At the end of April last year, after 22 year of an unhappy and extremely dysfunctional marriage, I left my husband.
I never expected the breakdown of my marriage and the horrible emotional trauma of the past 12 months to impact my relationship with words. My ex-husband rarely showed any interest in my writing. He read hardly anything that I wrote, he didn’t ask questions about the progress of my latest manuscript, he showed no interest in meeting the people who were part of my writing world. He rarely read books. He disliked engaging in conversations about topics that involved the sharing of opinions or any form of debate. Words were not significant to him. Including my words.
In a world characterised by silence and unspoken judgement, words were where I found my validation and value. They offered comfort and escape. They were engaging and inspiring and helped me to believe that there was life and hope beyond what I was experiencing. They helped me to feel like I was making a contribution, achieving something worthwhile, even though I felt so isolated and purposeless.
So, I expected words to fall firmly on my side in the his stuff/her stuff division that is a necessary part of separating two lives. Words are an intrinsic part of who I am and I assumed they would come with me as my ex-husband and I parted ways.
Instead, one of the fundamental relationships of my life has faltered and all but stopped. I’ve barely read a book since the separation. I have a collection of manuscripts that I haven’t looked at in just as long. My blog has been ignored. I’m struggling to engage in conversations that relate to anything beyond the most superficial topics or the heartbreaking experiences of my marriage and the past 12 months. After 22 years of suppressing my emotions and using books, writing and words to get me through each day, the emotions are surging and the words have retreated.
With everything else I’ve lost, and the numerous emotional and logistical challenges I’ve faced over the past 12 months, it seems absurd that losing my connection with words would feel so significant, but it does. It hurts. I feel betrayed. And abandoned. I’ve longed to write to help clear the swirling thoughts, but the words refused to flow. I’ve struggled to find ways to express what I’m feeling and experiencing clearly. The words have felt awkward and clumsy and chaotic as I’ve tried to explain my marriage and all the reasons it made me feel insignificant and invisible. It’s been incredibly hard to find the words to explain how I feel after so many years of using words to hide what was really happening.
For so many years, words have been my refuge and retreat – my safe place. And now, when I need a safe place more than ever, I can’t read, I can’t write, and I can’t express myself clearly. I feel vulnerable and disconnected.
The thought of trying to read a novel or open up my folder of half written stories makes my chest ache. This weekend is the Newcastle Writers Festival – an event I’ve spoken at for the past two years – and just the thought of attending made my chest ache. I couldn’t even open the program. I feel incapable of chatting about books and reading, topics that previously gave me so much pleasure and helped define my place in the world.
I’ve started writing again in the past few weeks, but the words refuse to flow the way they used to. The picture book manuscripts remain untouched. There have been no book reviews, no interviews, no chatty and (hopefully) entertaining blog posts. The thought of writing these things triggers the anxious ache in my chest and a strong sense of resistance in my brain. After 22 years of forcing myself to focus on the surface because what was happening below the surface made me feel so achingly lonely and insignificant, it seems that the words have decided it’s time to dig deeper.
After 12 months of silence, the words are returning and they are raw and intense, which triggers a different type of anxiety. I loved what I wrote before. I loved the community I was part of because of what I wrote. Am I ready to write something different, something harder and more honest and intense? It’s not just about cathartic, emotional writing. I want to reactivate this blog, but my focus has shifted and my writing here needs to shift too. Or I need to close this down and let Reading Upside Down become part of the list of things I’ve lost in the divorce. I feel like I’ve had to redefine so much of myself because of the separation and now it seems I will also have to redefine who I am as a writer. What if I discover that I can’t write anymore. Who will I be then?
This blog, my writing, and my life are a work in progress currently undergoing an intense period of change. As much as I long for and need the change after so many stagnant and damaging years, I can’t help but be anxious about what lies ahead and the possibility that words will be part of the collateral damage as I redefine myself. I hope not, because I’m really not sure who I am without them.
[Note: This post is an explanation, of sorts, to someone who loves me and wants me to find a way to reconnect with the words that mean so much to me. It feels clumsy and incomplete, but hopefully it offers some explanation for my anxious thoughts and the mental paralysis that has stopped the flow of words for so long.]by