I love words. I love how they roll around my tongue and catch on my teeth. I love how they dangle and splutter and sometimes struggle to find their way out.
Last week I did something new. I entered poems in a competition that required a reading. It was easy enough, I signed my name and waved it away. It would be a future-problem. I would consider it then.
It’s important to tie myself into those moments. Funnelling myself towards the cliff edge. I remind myself that I can always turn away, because if I don’t, if I become caged, then I will rant and roar and tear down the funnel. Never tell me I ‘must’ do something. Never use the M-word in my presence. It is such a dangerous word in my world. There is no ‘must’ or ‘should’, only ‘can’ and ‘could’.
If I give myself the option not to go, then I can guide myself towards that drop, and maybe – just maybe – take the leap.
That day came and it was hard. I’ve got one of those fitness monitors that tells your your heart rate. Mine is usually a slow and steady 60, but when I sat back down afterwards it was hitting 150 beats a minute.
The competition was in a church. I had been there before. A beautiful building with its matt black wood and colourful windows. The rows of interlinked hooks holding up the black iron of the chandeliers, made pleasing shadows on the walls.
A church is a good place for poetry, for words that mean something.
The poems were many and diverse. Each had their own beauty. Some had meaning, some had musicality, some snatched a moment from time.
It was a worthy way to spend an afternoon, but my God was it hard. The getting there, the people, the fear, the noise and the lights and the need to stay still. I wore my mask.
My name was called, I focused on the slate slabs of the aisle as I walked down it. I knew that with my thoughts taken up by, “Smile now, stand still, find the words, hold the room in your head, find the words, find the words, find the words”, that my clumsiness would be looking to find its way out. Any distraction and it’s there to trip me up. My heavy boots held me down and I made it to the front.
My hands shook, my eyes prickled, my heart pounded in my eyes, but I did it. I let a little piece of me out, in public. Not my stimming, not my face, not my eyes, but a small part of how I see the world was shared.
I didn’t win. I didn’t come second or get an honourable mention. It would be easy to let my perfectionism throw down my pen and grind it to dust. This bit is hard. Going through the pain of interaction and not achieving is hard.
But I did achieve. I stood and I spoke. It didn’t matter that the thumping in my ears sounded louder than my words. It didn’t matter that my hands wouldn’t stand firm. I did it. I didn’t fail to win, I succeeded in being a part of a moment, which is far more important than mere winning.
My initial feelings were almost overwhelming. I find them incredibly difficult. They push me along and make me feel less than gracious. First came the shame and disappointment. Then that voice that is always with me, telling me I will never be good enough, pointing the finger at my achievement and mocking it. I am not a child, but these feelings leave me desperately holding on to my control. It is not childish or selfish or petty, they are my feelings.
I don’t choose those feelings. I don’t want them. They are overwhelming and cruel, but they do not rule me. I have ridden their wave and emerged stronger for beating them back.
I will do this again, not often, not every time, but I will do this again, and each time I will emerge stronger.
One day I will even leave the mask at home. I will stim and that will help me keep on top of my negative emotions and keep my heart steady. I will be able to use all the tools I have, instead of only employing the discreet ones. One day. I have made a start.
For those of you interested in poetry, I have recorded the two I performed that day
The Green, is about being fluent in more than language
Silence, is about just how loud the world is when you stop and listen to it