On waking this morning I found an old friend of mine had posted a couple of photos from nearly 20 years ago to Facebook – which has sent me back to a world where I was desperately unhappy and living a lie. Looking at the pics, I am smiling, but look closely at my eyes and you can see a horrible sadness (well I can at least, although that may be just the memory.) The picture was taken just after I split with my wife having admitted to her that I was gay, but I still hadn’t told the rest of the world and was very much pretending to be straight. What added to the discomfort was the location of the photo – a gay club in London where I had gone with a mixed crowd of friends to see the group ‘Steps’. I can actually remember it as though it was yesterday. Wanting to be there to see what a gay club was really like, but so uncomfortable about being there and controlling my emotions in case they outed me.
I’ve written before about my coming out story, but very little about my pre-coming out one. Mainly because I still hold a lot of shame about that part of my life – a time when I was lying to everyone about everything. I was living a double life and battling with self hate and misery. There’s still much of my whole life story which I can’t bear to put down in writing and even remembering it has made me once again feel horribly disappointed in myself and angry at how I couldn’t find a way to be happy for such a long time. One day I will find the right time to put it all on paper but now is not that time. Even after all these years, it still feels too raw to think about it too deeply.
Not that there weren’t times when I was happy – there were many of those and I had some amazing friends who are still friends today, and others who were friends then and have come back into my life now. For those friends reading this who were around at that dark time of my life I just want to say a few things. ‘Thank you’ – because without you, who knows how my life would have turned out. Without you there (even not knowing the full truth of what I was going through at the time) I wouldn’t have had any support or happy times. And also ‘Sorry’ because I know it must have been hard for you to cope with me. Even at the happy times there was always something not quite right. I wasn’t able to be a true picture of myself. The real me couldn’t shine, because that was the me I hated and tried to hide from all of you.
Another observation about the photo on Facebook is how fat I was. It’s easy to look at my life and work out when things aren’t going too well. I’m an out and out comfort eater. Food is my crutch when I’m feeling low, so it’s unsurprising to me that when this particular photo was taken – about a year after I divorced my wife – I had piled on the pounds and was far too heavy.
I was told once by a doctor that I suffer from body dismorphia – a psychological condition where you see yourself very differently to how everyone else sees you. It’s the thing that causes eating disorders and, rather interestingly, sits on the obsessive-compulsive disorder spectrum. Anyone who knows me well will also know that I can be a bit OCD – especially when under stress. I guess that part of my personality is magnified in periods of extreme self doubt. If I have an important meeting at work, I suffer huge bouts of anxiety about my appearance. Ridiculous I know, but I imagine that’s the result of years of not feeling happy with who I am.
So put all of that together – the overeating when stressed/feeling down (I won’t call it depressed because I’m sure I wouldn’t qualify) plus the body dismorphia (making me feel even worse about my looks) and the cherry on the top of the ‘self-esteem sundae’ – anxiety about how I am perceived by others and what do you get? A bloody nightmare, that’s what!
I hate what this emotional baggage does to me. The effect it has on my day to day being. The self doubt and crippling need to be valued adds a huge negative impact on me and how successful I can be. This is what I have to live with every day – the feeling that I’m just not good enough.
Looking back at that photo with older eyes, I just want to shout at my younger self and tell him not to be so stupid, but I know even if I could step back in time and pass myself a note saying ‘they love you for who you are and it won’t matter’, I know I wasn’t ready then. Because it wasn’t really about anyone other than me and my feelings. I didn’t love me for who I was – I’m still a long way off loving myself, there’s far too much internalised homophobia to allow that, but I guess I have more of an appreciation for who I am and what I can offer. And I also have Paul in my life which is more than many people have.