What it feels like to be “other”

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?


6 thoughts on “What it feels like to be “other”

  1. Elissa says:

    Thanks for your opneness Robyna and I agree – I think it is all to easy to feel disconnected and so many ways it can occur. Hopefully in sharing, people feel less alone in their experience.
    My own feeling of ‘other- ness’ has not occurred so dramatically and in the face of such devastation. It has been a slow build. Over the years as all of my friends have married and also have young children it has grown. As family and child oriented social events take over, singles are no longer so much a part of the scene. For some there is an inherent assumption that those without kids wouldn’t be interested, as well as (of course) life just getting damn busy with kids on board! Family time is precious.
    Which brings me to the more salient factor in my feeling of other: family is indeed precious; having people to love is precious. And I never thought I would be single, childless and approaching 40. So it is not just a distance from those who are near and dear to me that creates a feeling of other – it is the sense of distance from where I want to be.
    In the face of that, I too want to be more, to fill gaps. I work bloody hard. I have made some more single friends and tried some new social scenes (some of which have been fun and some…..let’s just say I am a shocker at singles parties. No idea at all and completely out of my element!). And there are certainly things I like about my life and am grateful for. But it has not entirely filled the gap. So in a world where I am ever more aware of mummy bloggers and maternity leave, my grief is comparatively subtle, slow and gentle. And not immediately obvious.
    Maybe one day yet it will all change. But increasingly I am staring at the very real possibility that children are not going to be a part of my life. Given that, I need to find a way back to meaning and contentment, to feeling less other in myself.

    • Robyna says:

      My darling friend, so beautifully written. I just want to reach out and give you a big hug. I did think of you when I wrote this and wondered if you felt the “othering”. I think we should talk about these things and be aware of the ways we can unintentionally add to that isolating feeling.

  2. Cat says:

    Sending you all the love. There is honestly nothing worse than being “othered”.

    I wish I could come up to the Nevertheless She Persisted event you will be awesome.


  3. Annie says:

    So beautifully written. Over the six years my husband and I tried for a child my experience of becoming ‘othered’ was a gradual one. As family and friends around me had children – my infertility and years of IVF treatment took over and started to define me – when I swore it wouldn’t. I felt as I was defined by my inability to have a child. Being ‘othered’ is a lonely place and when I emerged on the other side I took from the experience that I am resilient and strong and I can cope with anything.

    • Robyna says:

      These experiences really do make us grow, even when it’s complete hell going through them. You can definitely cope with anything x

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