The Tragedy of Living Your Life Facing Backwards
Back in ye olden days, psychologists everywhere were heavily influenced by the ravings of some cray called Freud, who thought that your childhood and how your parents raised you were at the heart of everything that went wrong for you. Healing came through lying on a couch and waxing lyrical about every little failing of your parents—they hadn’t toilet-trained you properly, had never put Fruit Roll-ups in your lunchbox, or they’d had the sheer audacity to die early on you.
My dad went to a Freudian psychologist about 20 years ago, and his subsequent years of angry diatribes about various wrongs from his past created large fractures in our extended family, and eventually led to dad concluding that psychology is a bunch of quackery. Growing up with dad’s crazy theories about the wrongs of his past, and his subsequent deep mistrust of psychology, I was inclined to think the same. It was only when I went to the dark side and (dun-dun-dunnnnnn) went to study it for myself that I came to realise that there was actually a grain of truth buried in old cray Freud’s ideas.
You see, early childhood is a time when your brain is laying down the neural pathways that will shape your brain for life. What happens to you when you’re teeny-tiny can guide how you relate to people later in life—from whether you cling to your man/lady-friends, to whether you’re going to be prone to mental illnesses when you’re finally on the Adulthood Express.
I come from a long line of crays, but in the glorious arrogance of youth, I knew that I was absolutely immune to any ill-effects of my childhood, because mine had been just super, thanks.
I knew in theory that we had been poor; we could only afford to heat one room in the house, I never had a packed lunch, and a lot of my school days were spent shuffling around in shoes that pinched the shit out of my feet. But I also knew that I had the greatest parents ever—that my mum was an inspiration who had single-handedly supported her family for decades, and that my dad was the “cool dad,” the guy who merrily called everyone “chief” and picked me and my posse of friends up from “movie nights” (that would be teenage-speak for “drinking cheap vodka and ringing boys”).
And then my mum told my dad that she was gay, and everything I’d formerly taken for granted fell apart. Mum being gay was never an issue for me (or my sisters); I’ve always known that mum loves the ladies, so when she confessed her sexuality to me, it was a bit of a non-event—it just made sense. I was proud of my mum for coming to terms with who she was.
But mum coming out to the family was the worst day of my life. My dad was sobbing, my sisters were in hysterics—because this meant that my parents were going to divorce. My family’s finest moment was when they all stood up, hugged my mum and said that they loved her and that we were all so proud of her. But oh, how it hurt.
I spiralled into a crippling depression that left me crying in bed for days on end, missing lecture after lecture of my final year at university. The whole foundation of my life was crumbling—my parents weren’t who I thought they were. I’d never heard my dad say a single bad thing about mum until their relationship splintered. He had always sung her praises, and it was clear that he was deeply in love with her. But now my mum was the villain; history was being rewritten, and mum was now the bad guy. And my mum was suddenly a tragic figure; someone who loved my dad, but not in the way that he needed to be loved. And above all, that looming divorce meant that my idyllic childhood was at risk of being exposed as a fraud to the world, because I had no idea what version of history was right.
When it became clear that I wasn’t going to make it out of my bed without some kind of intervention, my dad finally convinced me to get some counselling. So I swallowed my fears of falling down the Freudian rabbit-hole, and I went. My counsellor wasn’t a Freud fanatic by any means, but she understood that I needed to take a look at my childhood to make sense of what I was going through now. So I took a deep breath, choked down my Freudian fears, and started my own personal This is Your Life.