I was thinking about the story of My Teenage Angst I was telling you and how I got kind of stuck with it. This is because there is an essential but miserable interlude. The story of what happened to my sexuality when I got sick is really rather depressing. It's also displays aspects of my personality which I am rather ashamed of; a degree of vanity and self-absorption. Still, I guess it's got to be exorcised sooner or later...
When I got sick, my body changed quite dramatically in addition to the fact that the insides were malfunctioning. I used to spend so much of my time outdoors and without that, my hair got a lot darker and my skin got a lot paler. I had liked my freckles; they made my face look more interesting and helped disguise the acne, but now they were gone. Meanwhile, the condition of my skin deteriorated. I had always had acne, but my immune system struggling as it was, I acquired patches of eczema, boils and blood blisters as well as yet more severe acne. Nice.
Then, as a side effect to medication, I put on a vast amount of weight; about four and half stone in not so many months (uh… sixty something pounds?). This was unpleasant and completely out of my control. I already had a few stretch-marks from shooting up in height, but they now appeared all over the place like great pink rents in my bluish white skin. Meanwhile, I couldn’t go shopping for my own clothes; I had to rely on my Mum to buy things which fit. That didn't help.
And of course, this body, this pale, fat, scarred, acne-covered body was also causing me hell on the inside. It hurt a lot. It didn’t work in so many and varied ways, including some rather gruesome ways which I don't want to nauseate you with. So whilst I’d long been self-conscious about this and that, I was now disgusted by my body.
Yes yes, I know. I did know that there were many people in the world far less fortunate than myself. What can I say?
Fortunately, whatever part of my brain had previously been concerned with all things romantic and sexual, simply switched off. Not the slightest crush, not the faintest romantic yearning, not so much as a tingle of sexual frustration (can that be a tingle? I don't know). But despite all the previous angst, I was more conscious about sex than I had ever been before.
I had always felt myself to be a bit of a weirdo in lots of different ways – sexuality being just one small thing. And whilst it had bothered me a lot at times, I hadn’t minded all that much; I didn’t get bullied or excluded from anything, so it wasn’t a tremendous disadvantage. With sexuality in particularly, the only times it had been a big problem was when I was in love; the agony always balanced against the ecstasy. But when I got sick my life I was excluded. Totally.
There’s something particularly isolating about becoming sick out of school. When you’re older, everyone you know is going about things in a slightly different way. I spend most of my time at home, but I know others who in a not dissimilar boat because they are working from home, temporarily unemployed, sick like me, retired or parents looking after young children and so on. It’s not all that weird to be at home. But when you’re fifteen or sixteen, your social circle generally only stretches a few years in either direction; all my peers were at different stages on the exact same path. You chose you’re A-Levels, you finished your GCSEs, you chose your university and applied to it, you finished you’re a-Levels and you went to university. Everyone was in school, five days a week, doing much the same thing, working towards the same goals.
Other people I knew had had months off school sick with glandular fever or anorexia. These girls had been very seriously ill, but they’d also been among the brightest and most conscientious students and on their return they’d be a term ahead of the rest of us. I was having very severe difficulty reading, let alone learning anything. In that big project that everyone else was engaged in – something that was supposed to determine the course of the rest of your life - I was completely stalled.
And gradually, together with my spectacular failure to get well – something I saw entirely as a personal failure, having maintained what I understood to be the positive attitude that I would overcome my illness just by thinking the right thoughts – all this became mixed and muddled in my mind until I saw it all part and parcel of the same nebulous problem. My weirdness, my difference, my illness, my ugliness. It was all the same thing. It was all me.
And sex was one manifestation. I had no sexual experience and imagined that everyone else had. This mattered; it was another example of my inadequacy as a human being (I was a kid, and a sick one; I was making all sorts of weird calculations). I felt the reason I had no sexual experience was because I was so hideously ugly and unattractive, inside and out. I didn’t consider the fact that being at home most of the time, rarely meeting new people and when I did, spending the whole time looking for cracks in the floor in the hope that the ground might open up and swallow me.
So anyway, there were almost three years of this sort of thing – although it was an accumulative effect and all the time I was living in hope that things might suddenly dramatically change. It was only really horrible towards the end of this period. Only after I gave up hope did change finally happen. Naturally, it was not at all in the way I expected.
I cannot tell you how many levels this connected on with me: I'm just so glad that you made it to the other side. I'd really like to be able to write 'past tense' next to some of my own, more clingy issues (I'm 28... ugh). But those years can be spectacularly miserable, can't they?
I know what you mean about the personal failure bit. Luckily it didn't happen to me while I was in school - I cannot begin to empathise with what a kick in the teeth that must have been - but just that sense of what did I do? What have I missed? Where did I screw up?
It took a while to get to a point of realisation that illness takes little account of ambition, prospects, personal success or moral character, and that the question wasn't so much why me? as why not?
I'm just glad that life can surprise us in a good way sometimes. It's horrible to have the expected course of things interrupted, trampled even, but as the years pass life evolves, things change as a matter of course, and we continue to go forward even if we think we are not.
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