Pain. 1.

It’s the anniversary of me destroying my back (which is probably why I’ve been more morbid than usual – sorry. Unicorns will return shortly.)

It was an enlightening if horrifying experience. Within a split second I went from being an above-averagely fit, strong-for-my-size, pretty physically capable person to a shambling wreck. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. The change to my quality of life and self-image wasn’t quantitative, but qualitative. Things weren’t the-same-but-muted; everything was completely different. I was forced to realise a lot of stuff about myself, my life, and the people around me.

I realised how much of my self-image and ego are wrapped around the fact that I’m An Independent Person Who Gets Shit Done. It’s not what I do, it’s who I am. I also get huge ego strokes out of doing stuff that other people couldn’t or wouldn’t (which, incidentally, is how I destroyed my back. Nothing’s free.). Being almost fully incapacitated took it all away. It wasn’t just a case of “what is my value?”, but literally a case of “who am I?” Who am I, if not only I can’t do the improbable, but I can’t even achieve the bare minimum? Who am I, if not only I can’t look after others, but can’t even look after myself?

I realised how much my identity had shaped my support net, which was essentially largely non-supportive. It wasn’t just a case of people not caring. It was simply a case of “you don’t ask, you don’t get”. I had not made any effort to surround myself with people willing and/or able to support me. Not only I hadn’t looked for support, but I tended to actually reject it, because I was Independent(TM). Therefore, when I needed people to help me, they simply weren’t there. Some weren’t able to help due to geography and/or greater commitments. Some turned out to be just not that way inclined. This started a pretty massive shift in my priorities regarding people. Some are no longer welcome around, others have been deprioritised.

I realised that my existence was completely hinged on my being physically able. I live on my own. My house is not accessible and would be difficult and costly to adapt. I am self-employed and the work is physical in nature. The village is about a mile away, a leisurely walk which became an impassable distance. My dogs need me to walk. Not having considered the possibility of physical incapacity, I’d not made any plans for it. Given the fact that I’m getting older every day, this is incautious.

I realised how it felt to be truly vulnerable, which took me by surprise. Being much smaller than the average person, I’d always been aware of my comparable weakness. However, I’ve always made up for it with a combination of cunning, ferocity, and the willingness to scarper. Well, out of those I was only left with the cunning. Not only I couldn’t run or fight, but I couldn’t even walk away briskly. I have never felt as defenceless. I also realised that this is how many people I know feel every day of their life. It was chilling.


I was hanging out with the ex-father-in-outlaw (never did marry his son), picking cherries. He was telling me about his lovely childhood memories of picking fruit with his uncle. I countered with my lovely childhood memories of trespassing into the abandoned villa at the end of our estate with my best friend to steal fruit. We picked a ton of cherries, until the drunken homeless guy who squatted there spotted us and started to chase us waving a hatchet, and we had to leg it.

I wasn’t being sarcastic: it’s genuinely a lovely childhood memory for me. We didn’t get caught or butchered. Nobody told our parents. I got to eat so much of my favourite food that I made myself ill. My friend eventually became a competitive sprinter. It was all round awesome and jolly good fun. It’s perhaps rather less cuddly than some people believe childhood ought to be, but, back then, our lives were not always cuddly. Thing is, we didn’t expect them to be.

I had a lovely, busy childhood, with plenty of friends and fun. However, even at our happiest we were always aware that our world wasn’t wholly safe. Aside from accidents and illnesses, of which we saw plenty, there was an element of human darkness lurking around us. We knew to avoid certain people and places. We knew that bad things could happen. Our childhood had fairies and unicorns, but also plenty of ogres. Sometimes even the grown-ups in our lives, who we knew to be basically good, would go wrong and end up in jail or hospital or rehab or the morgue.

Shit happened. We weren’t paranoid about it; we weren’t hopeless; we weren’t particularly frightened. We were just aware of the possibility of shit coming our way, and of the fact that you can’t always dodge it. It was part of our lives. Most of our choices carried a cost, or at least a risk. If you ride your bike, you may fall down. If you go trespassing and stealing fruit, hatchet-wielding drunken men may chase after you. It’s all about the cost-benefit analysis. How badly do you want those cherries? How fast can you run? Is it worth it?

Now, for me this is all normal. This kind of thinking is normal, because I can’t remember thinking any other way. The event itself is normal, because that sort of thing happened often enough to make it normal. I’m not saying it’s good, mind you; I’m just saying that, for me, it’s normal.

I find it very hard to explain this to people who don’t think that way and haven’t lived like that. So many people seem to measure normality not against how the world is, but how it should be based on their expectations. Anything that falls outside of their expectations is abnormal, regardless of whether it happens more often than their “normality”.

I don’t get it. I understand wishing for a better world, but I don’t understand what I see as willful ignorance of reality. Then again, viewpoints come down to a cost-benefit analysis, too. Is blissful, willful ignorance worth the risk of getting blindsided?


I was talking with a school friend. She was behaving in a way I thought both shoddy and cruel towards a common friend, and I was trying to half-arsedly pull her up on it, or at least work out what was going on. We were completely failing to communicate effectively until she came out with it:

“If someone puts you in a position where you can hurt them, you have a right to do so.”

I understood then why I’d been finding her behaviour so unpredictable and erratic. In my mental landscape, if you accept someone’s vulnerability towards you, it makes you responsible for protecting them. In hers, it gives you the right to use them any way you see fit – the right, not just the ability.

The difference between those who loved her and those who didn’t had nothing to do with emotional connection, responsibilities, loyalty, or love. It was merely a case of enhanced control; the more people loved her, the more control she could exert over them. The more involved people were with her, the more she could use them to improve her life and her environment. Once they had exhausted their purpose, they were discarded with the same compunction we feel flushing away used toilet paper.

I understood her better then (and yes, I stopped hanging out with her). It also made me understand another source of confusion. I was well aware that some people only want you to show them your soft side so they can disembowel you, but I thought there had to be malice behind it. I thought they had to hate you, or despise you, or at least need to vent the negative feelings they felt towards an unreachable third party. But this girl wasn’t motivated by anything personal about the people she was hurting; she was only motivated by her own convenience and whims. She put as much thought into hurting those who loved her as I would into squashing a mosquito. She felt the same amount of guilt afterwards. Throughout it, regardless of what she did, she never looked evil; probably because she never felt it.

Although the experience was intensely creepifying, it was probably one of the most useful conversations of my life. It made me able to predict certain people’s behaviour based on how they saw me – a person or a resource. It kept me safe in sticky situations. It made me less easy to fool.

Because, you see, this girl didn’t have horns and a tail. She was affable and popular; more popular than me, in fact: she haz the social skillz. She didn’t lack the ability to interact with people in a social context; she just happened to saw the entire social landscape as a game in which other people were mere pawns. When she befriended you, she was perfectly plausible. You only saw the other side of her when she chose to display it. But people still couldn’t see it: they were caught in the belief that what they had was an interpersonal relationship, that the problems they were suddenly experiencing had something to do with them. They were unable to accept that, to her, they had never been more than the role they fulfilled.