The Musings of an Elective Orphan

Sarah Brandis

Coming out of the closet – but not how you’re thinking!

Put a shirt on, Mr Tumnus, it's bloody snowing.

Put a shirt on, Mr Tumnus, it’s bloody snowing.

I have just submitted my first book for publication.  The subtitle is ‘A Memoir with Psychological Insight’.  For those of you who have never met me or read anything of mine before, I am an ‘elective orphan’.  I decided to write a book about not just the abuse I suffered at the hands of my parents, but about how I have gone on to screw up repeatedly as an adult.  Not in a ‘misery memoir’ kind of way, but with perspective, a bit of humor, and calling on psychological theories plus a tiny bit of neuroscience to explain how I made my mistakes in life.  I went for broke in the honesty department, and it might make a few people uncomfortable, but I really feel this was the right thing for me to do.

You see I have spent a great deal of my adult life so far trying to fit in with everybody else; people with loving parents and a tighter grip on reality than my own.  This never really worked, it was like wearing a very heavy mask.  So I’m taking the mask off and telling the world how things work a bit differently in my head.  It’s a bit like coming out of the closet.  I was living a lie, but now it’s all out there for the world to see.  All of it, embarrassing personal details and all!  I’m not panicking (honest!), it’s actually been very cathartic.

Here is a sneaky peak from chapter three, which is about being stuffed into a cupboard:

3 – Play dead, it’s safer

 

One of my earliest memories is of being stuffed into a cupboard and just letting it happen to me.  On this occasion it was not my parents doing the stuffing, but another child in my preschool playgroup.  Some nasty little sod who had not been taught to play nicely had decided that he was the farmer, and I was a chicken that needed putting back in it’s coup.  As he stuffed me in he told me I was not to get out, and so I didn’t move until an adult came to get me.

I have often wondered why I just agreed to do as ‘farmer boy’ demanded, even though it was dark, cramped, and just not fun to be in the cupboard.  Why didn’t I get out and stand up for myself?  My memory of this is very hazy as I was only little, but I really hope I wasn’t scared of another kid my own age and size.  I have wondered if I was just using my learnt response as an abused kid, to take my punishment and keep my head down.  I still exhibit this kind of ‘play dead’ response to fear and stress sometimes as an adult.  I don’t really know what goes through my mind when I do this, but it seems like nothing at all for a change.  My mind is usually a cluttered and busy place, but when I ‘play dead’ my head feels entirely empty.  Perhaps it is entirely a mid brain response, with no neocortical (grey matter) involvement at all.  You hear of animals playing dead to avoid danger, so perhaps this is my ‘animal brain’; the older, inner parts of the brain that pre-date the higher cortical functions of Homo sapiens?  Neuroscientists are aware of the amygdala (tiny, almond-shaped part of the brain) in the limbic system controlling our flight or fight response, and I wonder if this might be a similarly reflexive action.  On the other hand, I may have learned about how some animals ‘play dead’ through watching something on TV, or from an educational trip to the zoo.  This may be a tip I picked up along the way rather than an innate reaction.  It started when I was so little that I really cannot recall, but I would be very curious to know if others from similar backgrounds have ever used the ‘play dead’ method in a crisis.

‘The Breaking And Making Of Me, A Memoir with Psychological Insight’ is coming to an e-book store near you soon.  Dates will be announced here very soon.

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One comment on “Coming out of the closet – but not how you’re thinking!

  1. Chaos Publishing
    May 3, 2013

    I very much look forward to reading it. I love memoirs!

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