Clara Barnhurst

It’s a common reaction to trauma, retreating. Everyone seems to have somewhere to go; a place they can be, even if it’s a corner in a room, where they don’t have to worry. A sanctuary of some kind. It’s important to have somewhere, but it’s hard to know how much it affects you until you stop and look at how messed up your life is without it.

I don’t have a place to go. I have a place to sleep, get dressed, clean myself and suchlike. There’s a roof there. But I don’t feel safe there. I won’t get too deep with it but I had a housemate that threatened and made me fear for my own safety enough to make me stay in my room if I heard noises around the place. He’s gone but the feelings aren’t. It doesn’t help that the others don’t look after the place, but I could cope with that.

I knew it was bad. People would tell me that it’s not good for me and I believed them. I knew I had problems and it was enabling a whole range of unhealthy behaviour for me. My fiancée would tell me that I visibly tensed when we got back to mine, and that was after some months of strengthening. There was a time when I would literally hide in her arms if a housemate would pass through the kitchen as we made dinner.


It’s exhausting to be without a safe space. I don’t rest. Yes, I have somewhere and I know that’s more than many. It means that when I do physically or emotionally collapse, I can stay in bed, lock the door, and let myself heal a little. But it takes a collapse to make me do that. I don’t just rest. I don’t just relax. I absolutely don’t stop monitoring for danger.

The consequences of that only really became clear in the last couple of months. A couple of things have happened that shook the understanding loose: first, I’m moving in with my fiancée in a couple of months. Second, I’ve hit a series of emotional walls where I needed to unwind but had to actually break to allow that to happen. It gave me some perspective.

Acknowledging that I’m utterly exhausted for having nowhere to rest is one thing, but what to do about it? Well, I’ve got nowhere to rest. Not sure what there is to be done and I know there are far too many out in the world who don’t even have somewhere they can collapse. One person suggested I find a space I could take with me; a place in memory or imaginings that would allow me to calm. I guess that’s a bit like meditation, a thing I’ve never really got on with.

I’ve retreated into friendships, most notably my relationship with my fiancée, to give me places of safety. I don’t feel safe alone at home, but I do feel OK when I’m with a loved one. I struggle to relax in public spaces that are inevitably crowded and busy unless there’s somebody there to focus on. These relationships can be online, but work better face to face. People keep me safe.

Relying on people is a source of guilt for me because I don’t like that I’m constantly offloading my rubbish on them, no matter how much they tell me it’s fine. Anxiety says no even if they all say yes. It does have the advantage of being a thing I can potentially have anywhere, but people are people. Places and objects don’t have their own feelings or agendas. They don’t have needs; we can just use them without guilt.

As I look down the timeline of the next couple of months and consider the upcoming move, I find myself frightened that my reliance on my fiancée will only get worse, not better, for living with her. But I don’t have a choice. I’ve got to get out of where I am, and this is my chance to both find a safe place and become closer to someone I love - who wouldn’t do it? But my brain can’t even let me have that. I need to justify myself, to somehow weigh my well being against the perceived cost I incur on others.

I long for a place I struggle to leave. If I’m going to have hardship and become an anxious wreck, I want somewhere I can retreat to. I’m desperate for somewhere that I can just be unwell and not feel in danger. I don’t even remember what that is like. I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever had that: as a child, it was dysphoria that kept me low and relatively unsafe. Now it’s fear. Maybe there is an existence where I’m at home in myself and safe in my surroundings at the same time. I don’t know what that looks like.


I’m often saying how my transition is largely over, and from a perspective people often apply to a transgender person saying the word, ‘transition’, I am. But my life isn’t done transitioning. The problems I have aren’t really to do with gender, directly, except perhaps that guy that ruined my house share for me wouldn't have had I been seen as a man. For me, that’s an affirming thing, twisted as it is: I’ve assumed a social role that allows men to casually ruin my safe spaces.

Hopefully a safe space will be something I can have soon. I’m pretty sure it will resolve itself with my impending move, but this two year ordeal without a place to let my guard down is not something I’ll forget in a hurry. I’m not foolish enough to think I will just relax right away, either. I might never relax, but I’ll at least find a space where I might. I hope that everyone in this situation does eventually get safety.


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