Life as a Space Invader

Creating one’s own space after the confinement of abuse.

A freed person doesn’t automatically escape confinement. The mind finds equilibrium even in the most terrible of circumstances: eventually, confinement becomes how life is. It becomes normal to stay in whatever spaces we’re allowed. I escaped my cage and created a new one for myself. I didn’t mean to, but here I am two years on trying to persuade myself that I am allowed to occupy spaces.

The existential questioning started a few months after I was settled in my rented room. To start, I assumed it was just self-questioning consistent with the new medication and my new perceived role in life. So many things changed; I didn’t have the strength to think of the damage from the past. My eyes forward, I looked to the things that gave me joy for answers. It was what I had the space to do.

Three months ago, I was moving in with my fiancée. I set up the computer: put the desk together, reassembled the chair. Hooked it up, turned it on. Simple. The machine’s fans hummed to life and I sat down to watch the startup sequence. My chest tightened. I got up and went upstairs to the bed. My world felt real again once I was under the blanket.

Twelve years confined to a computer desk, and now I’m confining myself to my bed. I haven’t felt entirely comfortable sat in that chair since recreating that corner. I’ve stopped playing games to avoid it. Hobbies I enjoy; one of the few solitary blank spaces I have. Sometimes I can still play. Sometimes, I hide in bed.

What’s especially perplexing is how normal it felt to be confined to a corner. After a processing session with my therapist, I found myself questioning whether it was really abuse all over again. But if it wasn’t abuse, why am I panicking when I set in the chair? Why do my friends continue to say to me how horrible it sounds (despite sounding perfectly normal to me)? If I wasn’t harmed, why am I pulling back to these incredibly normal-feeling memories with a sense of dread?

I have no answers. Just questions. And the existential ones continue to whisper across my thoughts: am I a good woman? Am I a good friend, fiancée or colleague? Am I welcome with humanity? This space I take up, is it OK for me to occupy it?

"WHAT IF THE SPACE I TAKE UP DOESN’T FIT?"

What if the space I take up doesn’t fit? I’ve spent a lot of time and effort changing my shape, has the space around me changed as well? It doesn’t feel like I’m growing into something that fits my space better. I don’t feel more like I belong than I did before. So what was that about?

If coming out and living your life within that status is about comfort, then this was a good idea: I feel internally more comfortable. I’m at ease with my sense that I’m intruding on everyone around me. But I still feel like a space invader.

Trouble is, I don’t want to be comfortable with the feeling that I shouldn’t be wherever I happen to be at any given time. I don’t want to feel like I’m in the way. I don’t want to accept the invitations of friends with lingering doubt over whether I’m welcome. I know this stuff is ridiculous, but I feel it anyway. Is the space I occupy shaped like me?

To know, I need to know what I’m shaped like. I don’t know that; I’ve changed a lot and most of my time before those changes was spent trying to take up as small a space as possible. My friends will probably laugh at that, outspoken, attention-seeking loudmouth that I am, but it’s the truth. I didn’t want to be a burden.

My brain is happy with this strange combination of staying out of the way and speaking out about what I see. But not speaking out about what I see that’s unjust or damaging to me. Just other people. I’ll protect the space of others but not my own. I will actively try not to take up any space or act on the self’s account. And this is ordinary, right and reasonable. Except I know it isn’t.

All of this stuff was true before my abuse (it was abuse, wasn’t it?). My ex just took how I was and made my space computer desk-shaped. She took my general unease around people and made it a specific fear of intruding. I think. Now that it’s on paper, it’s hard to believe. I’m left not knowing what to believe.

Even addressing this idea that I was abused makes me uneasy; abuse is a heavy subject that takes up space. Talking about it makes me a space invader, and I automatically want to withdraw. You might think I’m good at small talk as it doesn’t occupy space, but I’m not. It leaves me feeling foreign; unwelcome.

"THIS ESSAY STARTED WITH THE QUESTION OF WHETHER THE SPACE I OCCUPY IS ME-SHAPED, AND IF IT FEELS UNSATISFYING TO READ THAT’S BECAUSE I HAVEN’T GOT AN ANSWER."

This essay started with the question of whether the space I occupy is me-shaped, and if it feels unsatisfying to read that’s because I haven’t got an answer. I don’t even have a vector to explore a possible answer. I’m pretty sure my shape was pushed into a very small corner of a house for many years. Now that I’m away from those people, I’m unsure what happened or what space I’m allowed to be in.

Confinement damages anyone, and for me it’s left me unsure of my welcome in the world. I only have the panic of being in that defined space and the sense that I shouldn’t be anywhere to tell me that something is wrong. It’s left me with a further sense of confusion as I look around to other recently out folks and see their newfound comfort. I wonder why I don’t have that sense of ease.

I’m not prepared to accept life as a space invader. That life is one where being under threat and feeling fear is the white noise of experience. Where uncertainty clouds interaction. But how to stop confining oneself after years of habit when you’re not even sure that’s what happened is a riddle I can’t solve right now. For now, I will defy myself and try to be with people in the hopes that I’m wrong and welcome after all.

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