An unreliable sense of self

I’ve been hesitating. This is new; I’ve never been one to hesitate. Either something feels like a good idea or it doesn’t — so do it or don’t — but I was wondering whether to call someone tonight and ended up faffing about for hours (and not calling). In the end the clock decided for me: the moment had passed.

It’s my friend’s fault.

I spoke to a friend this morning who has known me for over twenty years, and they said they found me intimidating. This was a surprise. (Two whole decades and you’re telling me now?) It’s ludicrous because I’m short, round, mousy, and often dripping wet and shivering (I do a lot of damp sports). Politically I’m a chilled-out leftie, my nicknames used to be “Titch” and “T-bag”, and I once chased a school bus in my nightie. These are not the hallmarks of an intimidating woman. My kids are more frightening than me.

But we all have our own internal narratives and they’re often different from how others see us.

Look at the anorexics and the morbidly obese, both wrestling with body image and control, but normalising very different body sizes. There are the people with impostor syndrome, wondering when others will realise that they are no good at something (that they are actually good at), and others with Dunning-Kruger issues, who are so bad at their jobs that they don’t realise how bad they are. There are racists who believe in their own humanity but seem unable to grasp others’, and don’t realise that other people see them in this light. There are straight-A students who feel a B to be a failure and the newly literate whose B has just made their year’s work feel worthwhile; they stand beside one another and each feel the other to be the more successful. There are the rich, the wealthy people – “not us”, I mean the truly wealthy, the ones who have… more money? More food? More children? More time? More love? More shoes? Then there are the poor, struggling to afford houses, pensions, Xboxes, or food, or warmth, or shelter, or clean water. There are the lonely, sitting alone, and the lonely, sitting in crowds, and the overwhelmed, who need to be alone, each pondering their unhappiness and wishing they could taste the others’ problems.

So many lenses.

Of course we share commonalities. It’s a rare human who does not value health, comfort, and love. Or perhaps, most of all, we want to feel safe with one another. To rest beside someone and know that we will not hurt one another is perhaps a sacred gift.

Unless they’re just hanging around to see if there’s any free food. Then maybe you could just give them a bun.

But how would I know? I’m intimidating. People flee before me. Run when they see me coming. Cry inside when I try to sit beside them, and skulk away to the toilets to escape my fiery breath. (When I take my fiery breath to the toilet, I hear the clanking of windows hastily used as escape hatches. Sometimes there is breaking glass.)

To these people I would say this:


I do not know that this happens. I don’t know how I appear to the outside world. It both does and doesn’t feel like a question I should ask, and I won’t. I’ll lose myself in a book, or edits, or my laundry, and the moment will pass, but it’s made me look around and wonder how everyone else sees themselves. How do they think they present to the world? Could it be so very different from how I see them?

This year, I’m going to create more unreliable narrators. Let the stories tangle and confuse; let them be messy, human and honest.

Do any of us know how we appear?

Any of us?

Allow me to loom over you and ask, “Are you sure?”

Image attribution

Fling your veg: