Song for today: Utopia by Goldfrapp.

I was on the bus to uni earlier after my therapy session and the weight of my childhood (well, adolescence really) hit me like a sledgehammer. Oh my god. It was not OK. Not at all. It was really, really not OK. I looked around frantically for somebody to say it out loud to, but there was nobody, and even if there had been, they wouldn’t have been able to reassure me. It wasn’t OK. It wasn’t OK. It was barbaric.

It was listening to Goldfrapp’s Utopia that did it. Yet another song that I have loved and known for many years, a creepy, but beautiful song, from a beautiful and creepy album. The lyrics went through me like bullets, mirroring what we were talking about at the end of my session today. “I wasn’t allowed to exist”, I said. She asked what that meant to me. I thought about it for a bit. It was about existing for my parents, specifically my dad, and not being allowed to be my own person, not being allowed to grow. I knew this before I listened to the song today. Of course I knew it, I’ve talked about it before, I’ve written about it before. I was reading about my childhood last night though, when I was looking back through old journals, and found all this stuff that I’d written when I’d realised that my dad was basically a narcissist/sociopath/whateveryouwanttocallit. And then the lyrics all suddenly became real (italics are mine):

It’s a strange day
No colours or shapes
No sound in my head
I forget who I am 

When I’m with you 
There’s no reason 
There’s no sense 

I’m not supposed to feel 
I forget who I am 
I forget 

Fascist baby
Utopia, utopia

My dog needs new ears
Make his eyes see forever
Make him live like me
Again and again

Fascist baby
Utopia, utopia

I’m wired to the world 
That’s how I know everything 
I’m super brain 
That’s how they made me

Fascist baby
Utopia, utopia

The bit in bold hit me the hardest. I genuinely thought I was going to throw up. The way she sings it, so detached, almost murmuring the words. It all made sense, so much sense, like waking up with your contact lenses in and being able to see instead of everything being a blur. It explains the feeling of being attuned to other people’s emotions and their actions so clearly, being trained or moulded to be that way, when it wasn’t my role. I was wired to the world, and in lots of ways I still am. I wasn’t wired to myself though, because I didn’t really have a self to be wired to. I can tell you how other people are feeling, what they are thinking (sometimes), I’m intuitive and perceptive and sometimes it’s weird and it freaks people out. My own emotions and actions are often a mystery to me. We were talking about connection today as well and it is just slotting together perfectly. And the iciness of the song. It’s beautiful and poised and almost perfect in its sound. But there is no real soul to it. There is no compassion or warmth; any warmth is an illusion, a veil. It’s cold, like an icicle.

And “super brain”. An extract from 2007:

Well, you know, when you’re 13, sleep deprived and being made to keep a million and one ‘secrets’ that change every day, sometimes you cock up. [in reference to my dad semi-kidnapping me and threatening to kill me when I was 14, although apparently I might have been 13 judging by this. Who knows.]

I was expected to be on my toes all the time, alert, like a meerkat waiting to be swooped down upon by an bird of prey. I was expected to remember everything so that I didn’t mess up. School wasn’t a priority, other people weren’t a priority, I wasn’t a priority. Keeping ‘secrets’ was. They weren’t secrets as such, more that one parent would tell me one thing that I’d have to remember not to tell the other one and vice versa… And I was also having to explicitly tell them certain things too, so it was a constant battle to remember what I was supposed to say and what I wasn’t, and of course that changed all the time, sometimes completely reversing, so it became my life. The terror that came with feeling like I might mess up when questions were asked tarnished my entire existence, because it’s one thing having to memorise what to say and what not to say, but another thing completely to have to constantly improvise when you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing. It took all my energy. When I inevitably did mess up, threats and/or punishments occurred, like the one above, so my safety and the safety of my family were all down to whether I made a mistake or not and therefore constantly in jeopardy. No wonder my first reaction to messing up is wanting/needing to kill myself or harm myself, as melodramatic as that sounds. It wasn’t melodramatic at the time. Every act of ‘wrongdoing’, every ‘mistake’ that I made carried such mammoth penalties that my brain is catapulted back there, even now, only I’m not there anymore so it feels out of proportion. It sometimes felt out of proportion even then, because of course small things would happen, and I couldn’t distinguish between what was big and what was small, what could be let go of and what would be a grave error. That’s why there is still terror and trepidation rather than vague worry about everything from pissing off a friend to missing an exam. It’s why my initial gut feeling is that the world is ending rather than that things are momentarily hard but there is a solution to the problem. There were never any solutions in the past, there were only severe and long-lasting punishments. In the here and now, unknown consequences carry so much weight from previous experiences that they are like an asteroid crashing into the earth – the gut instinct based on many, many past experiences is that the consequences will be catastrophic and that I am irredeemable, that what I have done is so terrible and that it is all my fault with no hope of any negotiation.

And that fits well into the “fascist baby” line. From an online dictionary:

fas·cism n.

1. often Fascism

a. A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.

b. A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a system of government.

2Oppressive, dictatorial control.

I mean, I knew that. I know what fascism means, what it is. But seeing it in black and white…I feel sick. I feel so sick and I can’t do anything. It’s in the past and I can’t change it. It’s already happened, it’s been and gone, done and dusted. But I’m one step closer to feeling it rather than just knowing it. And I don’t know how to cope with it, how do you cope with it? How do you cope with knowing that your life wasn’t your own, that you had no control, or at least that the control that you felt you had, and exercised, almost always ended up with you being severely punished, and being riddled with anxiety about the times that you weren’t? Just for trying to be yourself, for trying to be normal. It’s happened and I can’t get it back. It’s gone forever, a wasted childhood and adolescence, wasted on trying to fulfil the needs of others instead of my own, trying to and failing, being forced to do so because if I didn’t, the rebellion wasn’t worth the punishment. I feel like I was held hostage for years and that I am only beginning to feel it. I always understood Stockholm Syndrome, it’s always been something that I identified with. It sort of felt stupid, though. Now it doesn’t. And I don’t know whether it is stupid or not, whether I’m just making a mountain out of a molehill. It can’t have been that bad for so long. Can it?

I wanted to throw up again when I thought about how hidden it all was, or how hidden it tried to be. Tried to be because it wasn’t really hidden, was it? Every missed day of school, every swipe of a blade across my skin, every overdose, every letter to my teachers, every failed assignment, every time I ran away from home, every time I wrote fucked up stories at school or got taken aside in class for zoning out, or put on report…it was too big to be hidden, it was seeping out through the cracks and in my own way I was trying to get it seen. When it was seen it was still largely ignored, though, or it was misunderstood. Of course it was misunderstood. How can you understand something that is so carefully constructed to appear like nothing? Something so sinister but cleverly hidden so that it appears normal? Even I didn’t understand it and then I thought I was going mad. That it was my fault. Everyone else was OK, I was the only one who was crazy after all. This image popped into my head:

Image

My mum even had it framed in her room when we were growing up (well my room really – see, fucked up boundaries again). It stared at me every day, constant propaganda, like Khomeini’s picture on walls all around Tehran; it wasn’t ‘just’ a picture, it was a reminder of how to act, how to be. Remembering it made me want to vomit. Not the image itself as such, more the message. I had a dream the other night that I can’t remember, only the last bit which was a family in a car saying that they didn’t talk about things, that people shouldn’t know. It all seeps into my dreams now instead, I have crazy dreams night after night that mostly evaporate when I wake up, I can’t remember what’s happened but I know that it was bad so I’m exhausted but can’t analyse what happened or take it to therapy. My horrible adolescence keeps tainting my adulthood in so many ways and I am exhausted with having to deal with this, with uncovering more worms every time another rock is overturned in – say it with me! – FUCKING THERAPY.

I was talking the other day in session about how I’ve been fascinated and obsessed with so many macabre things since a young age. The plague. Nuclear war. The Titanic. Concentration camps. And all those things, what do they have in common? They’re terrifying, and you can’t escape them. And then I read this last night, again from 2007:

I’ve been having really bad dreams again too, so we discussed it and she [old therapist] said writing them out can help, just to get it all out.  I’ve done that but still don’t feel great about it, because writing it down almost makes it look worse.  I couldn’t even tell her the worst of it, I just burst into tears because it was all so sick.  But I’m going to burn them, and let them go.  I don’t want them.  So hopefully that will help, and be cathartic.  Dissecting the dreams, though, helped me to realise that at the core of them all is the feeling of being trapped, of not being able or finding it hard to get out of a situation, which mirrored my life back then. 

It’s interesting reading that back. I remember the experience of that therapy being so powerful, it literally changed my life and almost overnight. It obviously brought up a lot of stuff though, I think that was the time that I dreamt about being disembowelled. Watching it from the perspective of being me, lying down and looking at it happening. Horrific.

I want to run away and I can’t. I want this to be over with and it isn’t. I feel like it’s only just starting and I’m so scared of what’s coming, because it feels like something is, it feels like the beginning of Threads [please DO NOT WATCH if you’re easily traumatised, it’s easily one of the most horrible things I – and most people who’ve watched it – have seen because it feels so real and is unequivocally grim. However, it is also very, very good. I actually watched a bit of it the other day. I felt compelled to, and I only stopped when my boyfriend looked at me with concern and said, “Are you sure you should be watching this?”, because he had a point]. It feels like when I used to read voraciously about those horrible things when I was younger, about being taken into gas chambers or knowing a ship is sinking or watching a mushroom cloud slowly rising. We talked about it being a sort of comfort, being obsessed with those things. Because in a way it was comforting, reading about horrific things that other people couldn’t escape from, although of course it was hugely depressing. It was also, on some level, thrilling and exciting because I sort of understood it and therefore must have felt somewhat understood as well. It’s like my darkness was reflected in history, in possible future history, and that brought about some level of peace, in addition to being terrifying and so desperately sad. I feel ashamed writing that because it makes me sound like some sort of horrible psychopath, although I probably wouldn’t be feeling any sense of sadness or connection to the victims if I was. It’s probably also why I like dystopian fiction so much, because I lived it – other worlds were magnified and distorted, of course, but I understood it – surveillance, censorship, misogyny and disproportionate punishment were central themes, like my life was the lovechild of The Handmaid’s Tale and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

This is probably one of the darkest thing I’ve written, and now it doesn’t feel real anymore and I feel as though I must have just been dreaming it all. Exaggerating at the very least. So here is the song. A live version because I love them live, and she looks beautiful here and the most normal I’ve ever seen her on stage; not a horse tail or jumpsuit in sight.

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2 thoughts on “Song for today: Utopia by Goldfrapp.

  1. Hi Blithely,
    Something about the lyrics caught my ear – did she say fascist baby?? So I looked them up, and sure enough yes. Fascism was a theme of my day too, dread and apprehension at having to give a speech to the Principal of the school I work at, and thinking: what the hell am I doing here? this place is so watertight and perfect and I can say all the right things and tick the boxes, but do I really believe in it? And where is my self respect if I cant be myself here and express who I am?
    I always wonder if its some kind of divine intervention or whether our brains just notice details when they fit a theme, but I thought it was strange that the song came on.
    So naturally, I was interested in your post and read it all. I know its a few years ago now, but I really enjoy the way you write, though its a bit stream of consciousness, I can hear your voice in it. And I felt grief for you, mourning your childhood, now you have more understanding of it, but knowing you can never get it back.
    I wonder whether you continued with the therapy, because it can be so traumatic reliving and remembering, but also having those hindsight realisations, putting together the threads of information into a narrative where you were the victim. It can be so traumatic that it feels like the therapy is the cause and the enemy. I hope you persisted, and I want to say to your 2013 self – keep going! It sounds like the therapy is working! Its helping you to understand yourself and be empowered through articulating all the mysterious emotional reactions you have! Its hard work but its so worth it and you will regain control of your decisions and your direction through this!
    As for my speech, it seems I said all the right things guauging from the feedback I got. I wish they had pressed me a little harder in a way, because they may have discovered what I really think.

    Kind regards,
    Madeleine

  2. Hi Madeleine,

    Thank you for your kind words. My writing here is definitely stream of consciousness – I blog when I need to work through things and understand them, rather than present them to the world in a neatly packaged way! I am definitely still in therapy and I think when I wrote this post I was in the very worst of it. It is definitely still worth it, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

    Well done on your speech, and for persevering through it even though it maybe didn’t go exactly the way you wanted.

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