I see versions of myself reflected all around me. As a white, cisgender, straight, healthy, educated woman who chose marriage, career, house and family. I do not presently live with a visible or invisible difference. Added to that, I’m a dedicated rule-follower, colouring nearly inside the lines. Typical. Generic even.
My life has lead to very few experiences of feeling other. But I did enter that way of being after Xavier died.
Some people live their entire lives feeling “othered”. Seperate and not quite welcome. Living in a world not designed for them. It’s exhausting. When your difference seems wider than the things that make you the same. It’s tiring — that feeling of having to constantly bridge that gap, with the onus on the person with difference to do so.
When Xavier died, I felt othered for the first time. The world shifted and the rules changed. An unwritten contract was broken. What once felt familiar became strange and off-kilter.
Where I was once firmly rooted in who I was and my place in the world, I was scrambling for where my experience and my new self fit.
People around me didn’t know quite what to say. How to act. What was appropriate and what was not. I struggled to relate to them, and their perfect, perfect lives. Which I tried so hard not to resent. But the perspective that allows you to understand no-one’s life is perfect fades in the face of enormous personal tragedy.
I felt like I moved from “us” to “them.” People would say “These things don’t happen to us.” They would say “We couldn’t do it – cope with what you are going through“. I know those statements weren’t meant to bestow isolation. There were given as comfort. But I heard distance. I saw a wall going up.
People struggled to relate to me. I felt their wish to support me tugging against their desire to protect themselves. Stepping into my space meant stepping into discomfort.
But of course people did. They stepped up and in and made me feel less alone. Less “other”. Sometimes the weight of educating people on how to provide that support felt heavy. Unfair. That is something that happens to the “other”.
And I desperately, desperately didn’t want to be defined by my otherness. “This won’t define me, I am more than my grief,” became a mantra. I needed to see myself as so much more. I needed others to see me as so much more.
While I didn’t want to be placed in the box of “bereaved mother”, I also needed to be recognised. It was when people would see me and pretend nothing had happened that I would become angry. My son had been ripped away, leaving nothing but pain, love and memory. To ignore what was left was to erase him completely. To ignore, not accept, a large part of who I was.
I don’t feel “othered” now. It was only the first grip of grief that I felt it. The experience of loss and pain is universal – so it’s strange that the most painful part of grief feels so foreign and isolating. But I do feel like I have a better understanding of what it is like to feel “other”.
No matter what it is that sets us apart.
Come Along …
On the 25th October I am one of the panel speakers for the Champagne Cartel Nevertheless, She Persisted event at Rydges Southbank.
We’ll be talking (with bubbles in hand) about some of the big questions and how to keep get through and emerge stronger when life throws you its inevitable curve balls.
I predict with the wonderful Rebecca Sparrow on board as well as the hilarious Suzi O’Shea, it will sell out, get your tickets here before they do: TICKETS
Do you, or have you, felt othered? How do you deal with it?