Dateline 1991: The second year at college studying music and I’ve discovered something shocking. I have no idea who I am. I look inside and all I see is other people. What happened to me? Where did I go? You know that feeling when you walk into a room and can’t remember why you’re there. My whole life is like that. I’m nearly 21 and I know nothing.
I was born with a minor heart defect the weekend Hendrix burnt his guitar at the Isle of Wight Festival. That explosive act came to define him, despite the fact he did it only once. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
Being small, I grew up surrounded by giants but my artistic father was a leprechaun with a hidden history. The family black sheep, in the form of my mad dead grandfather, loomed from the shadows. Mystery hung in the air, thick like incense, and it fuelled by daemonic imagination.
Moment: carrying my violin case tucked under my arm pretending to be in the mafia.
Moment: chopping off Barbie’s silky blond hair so she could be either a punk or a man, depending on Sindy’s needs.
Moment: eating dinner under the disturbed eye of Hades abducting Persephone balanced atop a unicorn, all frenzied limbs and squall-blown hair.
I was once found kneeling at the foot of the stairs, hands together in prayer at my chest. When asked what in the name of sanity I was doing, I declared that the Virgin Mary had miraculously appeared at the top of the stairs and was hovering just outside the loo. It transpires I had been watching a programme on TV about St Bernadette of Lourdes and it had all rather gone to my head.
I don’t remember that vision (it wasn’t real and I was just playing), but I do remember the fractals.
At night I would lie awake and stare at the woodchip wallpaper on the ceiling creating pictures from the random patterns picked out in moonlight. Occasionally this would trigger a subtle shift, an opening in my mind, as if stepping out into the vast expanse of space, and a wall of intricate shapes would appear dancing in the air around me. These patterns, I later learned, were called fractals. They morphed into each other, evolving new forms and shapes, gyrating before my amazed eyes.
So how did I go from being a mini visionary (albeit with delusions of grandeur) to a confused and frightened nearly 21 year old who seemed to have mislaid her identity?
That’s a long story and the details need not detain us here. Suffice to say my innate mysticism was more or less beaten out of me through the combined efforts of the school system and the simple act of growing up. I became sensible, reliable, practical and rational. A good little Virgo, in fact. This was probably necessary in its own way, but by the time I got to college my neglected imagination was straining to break free.
Imagine trying to stuff a ravening lioness into a too small suitcase. While you’re sitting on the lid yanking at the zip, she’s bucking and clawing and roaring, and it’s just a matter of time before you are thrown across the room, and then unceremoniously eaten. With relish.
The truth was I was desperately unhappy and terrified I was losing my mind. A voice in my head began to contradict every word I uttered. I lost pockets of time. I could no longer trust my own senses. I didn’t recognise the face in the mirror.
It is impossible to live with that level of turmoil for any length of time and not collapse in some way. My mind imploded with self-hating psychosis and took me out with it.
I made a plan. It was a good plan and it would’ve worked, but, well…
The kitchen is cold so I switch on the stove and try to ignore the grease spattered over the wall behind the oven. The concentric rings on the hob glow flame-red as they heat up. I stare at them, mesmerised.
It only takes one thought to trigger the voices.
“I could put my hand on that, push down, it’d go straight through.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, it’ll hurt. You’ll never play the piano again.”
“Fuck the piano.”
“Go to sleep.”
“Stop ordering me about. Who the hell are you?”
“Stop trying to be clever.”
“Why is the stove on? Are we cooking something?”
I switch off the hob and retreat to my room.
“I’m going to sleep.”
I wake into darkness. The voices are silent. The lurid green paint covering the wall opposite my bed glows in a dull haze from the streetlamp. Rain patters against the window in pulses as the wind catches it and throws it against the glass. I glance warily at the damp patch in the corner. There must be a hole in the roof because when conditions are just right, the wind drives the rain inside and it pours down the wall. My very own waterfall.
I sit up and peer into the gloom. The bolt is across on the door. I must have locked it, I don’t remember. This is my cell, my sanctuary. Single bed, wardrobe, table and an old office chair pocked with rust. I reach out with my senses into the flat beyond. My flatmates are gone for the weekend, playing a gig in Blackpool or some other shabby dive, and won’t be back until after the bank holiday. All is still.
It is time.
I sit on the creaking chair and crush the pills I’ve stockpiled into a glass. There’s enough here to kill me ten times over. I haven’t written a note; nothing to say. I am numb, empty.
Something shifts. I am lifted into peace and wrapped in stillness, as if embraced by an angel.
“You’re all right. You’re going to be all right.”
My voice sounds strange: calm and serene, the way I imagine I would sound if I wasn’t screwed up, and I know without any doubt that what it says is true. That despite all the madness and confusion there is a part of me that is untouchable. It is beyond anything anyone can do to me or that I can do to myself.
It is my True Self.
That moment of grace happened over 20 years ago. It saved my life and revealed my dharma, my path. I didn’t understand it at the time. It took another twelve years before I realised what that True Self was, or is. But that was the first moment I became aware there was more to me, and more to life, than I thought.
One moment to define my life? That moment is Now.