Friday, October 30, 2015

"Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity." - Wikipedia

9 months ago, I wrote a blog entry about emotional abuse in relationships. It wasn't exactly my finest piece of writing ("HEY EVERYONE, PEOPLE WHO SOCIALLY ISOLATE YOU ARE PROBABLY BAD!") but it got a bit of attention, because a lot of people seemed to relate.

I described a relationship where a partner would isolate me by lying to me. Whenever I saw any of my friends, he'd flip out and accuse me of cheating on him, or ignoring him. It would get pretty nasty. But when I confronted him about it, he outright denied he ever got angry. To me, it was a pretty obvious pattern of behaviour. But according to him, it wasn't. When I made my accusations specific, he'd make an excuse for that specific occasion, where it was my fault, and I was lucky I had such an understanding and supportive boyfriend as him. He'd say I was paranoid, and obviously couldn't remember it properly. He'd say it was ok, because I was his, and he forgave me. For months, I was obsessed with arguing him into seeing my point of view. I thought it was all a misunderstanding; that once he understood how awful he was making me feel, he'd apologise and stop hurting me so much. I eventually grew tired with arguing it out. I stopped provoking him, I stopped speaking up. He never did understand.

A kindly soul in the comment section (A phrase which, not surprisingly, has zero hits on Google) identified that behaviour as gaslighting. I'd never heard that term before. I started reading. And god, my eyes were opened.

I remember the first time I read a list of symptoms of social anxiety, and it blew my mind because I had no idea it was a thing. Suddenly these horrible feelings I was experiencing weren't just me being an awkward twat; other people were talking about it, it was a thing and other people understood what I was going through. Discovering the word gaslighting felt like that. I read article after article, and identified with a lot. I had a name for something I'd experienced. It helped me understand my history better. And it got me to thinking about how it still effects me now.

I suspect the main way it effects me is in my expectations; part of me always presumes it's going to happen again. I struggle communications problems, because I still believe that I won't be believed. That there's probably no point speaking up, because I'll be argued out of what I'm feeling anyway. Instead of bringing up issues relatively quickly, I'll spend months internally reflecting on them, hashing out what I'm feeling with third parties, preparing counter arguments in front the mirror. I build myself up for exhausting arguments; it still surprises me when what I think or feel isn't dismissed.

I suspect that through "losing" my reality to gaslighting years ago, I've become hyper protective of it now. I'm terrified of being argued out of it. My reality is not up for debate. I've come out of the mindless haze I lived in for so long where I didn't trust my own head, and I'm very aware of my thoughts, my feelings and my intentions. I like them. I don't want to lose them. 

Which makes me a little shit to disagree with. Because however much of a wise oracle I like to think I am, I get things wrong. Regularly. Sometimes other people have insights I really need to listen to. Sometimes my presumptions are wrong. And when people call me out on that, I just stop listening to them, because I think they believe that my thoughts and feelings don't matter.

I don't hear, "You've got the wrong end of the stick." I hear, "I'm going to completely disregard your reality. Try this one, where you're a little bitch."

Which is unhealthy. I need to listen to other people. I need to consider what they're saying. I need to believe, most of the time, that people aren't lying to me or overriding my reality, or I'll end up a lonely, self important bitch.

I just need to learn how to do that while holding tight to my own reality. I'm not losing it again. I like it in here.

I just looked at pictures of myself 18 months ago. Fuck. I was different. I'm a fucking state.

I make reference to my eating issues constantly (I think I reassure everyone I've met in the last year that I used to be skinnier at least once a day) and I know that's crazy fucking irritating, but I really don't think anyone listens. This is killing me. I feel like I'm drowning, and I have no idea how to make it right. So many times I've gone to sleep thinking tomorrow I'm going to be okay, I'll kick these habits, and sometimes I can go a week or so, but that's all. And it's getting worse and worse, and I feel so out of control, I have no idea how to feel ok in my own skin again.

I know I had an eating disorder back then too, but I felt so pretty. I know I felt miserable and crazy in other ways, I'm not mad, I do remember that, but I felt pretty. I don't feel pretty now. I haven't for a really, really long time. I hate how I look. I hate getting dressed up. I hate people looking at me. I hate how my face looks with a layer of blubber around it. I hate that my fat day pants dig in so much it hurts. I hate it more now. I miss my old type of miserable.  God, that's fucking emo of me. Fuck. I hope this doesn't last much longer. I can't handle this. I'm not handling this.

I think I'm the only person in the world who has "accidentally" visited a brothel. I appreciate how ridiculous that sounds, but this is all true. I am that stupid.

It started innocently enough; I'd noticed a new Chinese massage place had opened near my bank. I'd just had my nails done. I felt a bit low, I figured I deserved a treat. I went to go see if it had a price list, and to see if I had to pre-book. I like massages. 

I think it's a point in my favour that they had some printed price lists next to the door. What brothel has a price list? (Well, maybe all of them, I'm hardly an enthusiast.) I skimmed it, didn't really understand it, so went inside. I remember thinking they had unusual opening hours, because one handwritten sign said "OPEN LATE" and the printed price list said 10pm. How handy, I thought.

I got inside. There was a clean, simple waiting area with a young male receptionist. He looked up at me and seemed panicked. 

"Hello!" I said. "Do I need to make an appointment, or can I just walk in? I don't mind waiting."

"You... You want massage?" His English wasn't incredible. He was younger than me. I smiled at him, trying to make him feel at ease.

"Yes please!"

"You... You want massage here? In waiting room? Or, or, private massage. In room. On bed?"

I take a better look at the price list. There's a list of prices for "chair" massages, which I presume are the ones in the waiting area, then there was a list of prices for "private" massages. Then a further list of prices for "VIP private" massages. The price jumped up significantly.

I didn't twig.

"Yes, on a bed!" I pointed at the price for 20minutes. "That one."

He seemed flustered, and went into a back room. He returned with a smirking elderly woman with wiry arms, who ushered me into another room. It was pretty bare; a massage table on either side, and a sink in the corner. 

There was a language barrier. I couldn't really understand her. She pointed at the sink, and told me to "wash myself." She pointed at one bed and said something about my clothes, then she left.

It was then that I realised this might not be the quaint, family owned therapeutic massage business I'd originally envisioned. I am not ashamed to say I panicked.

I kept my clothes on. I... I didn't wash myself, because I honestly didn't know where she wanted me to wash. I laid down and tried to figure out how to politely decline sex with a woman I'd already paid, and couldn't. In the most British moment of my entire existence, I decided I'd have to sleep with her, because I couldn't figure out how to get out of it politely. 

The woman came back. My heart was beating so fast. Was I in a brothel? Was she about to do something sexy? What if she wasn't, but I presumed she was, and really offended her? Does this happen to massage therapists all the time?Then she climbed on my back, straddled me, and started jabbing me with her elbows. Hard. I had no idea what to do, so I was a good masochist, gritted my teeth and concentrated on surviving.

At was at this point that my assailant put her mouth next to my ear, and in a very loud, slightly gleeful voice, decided to make conversation.


"It's ok," I said, my voice breaking slightly as she started using her bony knees to assault the small of my back. "Maybe... Maybe a bit softer? Please?"

I think at this point she took pity on me. She climbed off me, and used slightly less of her elbows. "I have special treat for you," she said gleefully. "Extra 10 minutes!"

And so, I endured a full half hour of her bony abuse. Thankfully, she didn't try and touch my underwear parts at all. I was very relieved about this, and almost relaxed towards the end, until she mounted me one final time, and put her lips next to my ear.

"I AM LINDA," she announced.

"Erm, hello Linda."

"What is your name? My name is Linda," she said.


"Hello Vickie. My name is Linda." She pushes her knee into my spine. "Next time you come Vickie, you will have one hour session. With Linda. Ask for Linda. A whole hour."

A murmur something I hope sounds positive. She slaps my arse, then leaves. I throw on my clothes, and run. Then tell my friends, and they laugh. And laugh. And laugh.

Since that distressing day, I have done a little research on that business. It would appear that yes, I did go to a rub-and-tug shop. Yes, a "VIP Private Massage" is exactly what I presumed. Yes, Linda probably had a good laugh at me.

My shoulders did feel incredible afterwards though, so I'll give her that.