Chapter 1

Have you ever wondered if it’s possible to love another person if you don’t love yourself? I think it is. In many ways, it’s easier.

I have been called many things. Weak. Funny. Self-destructive. Generous. Cowardly. Sexy. Selfish. Handsome. Ugly. One of the things that hit home hard was that I “like to evoke sympathy from others, especially women”. I think that is accurate.

Curiosity over the roots of self-hatred, over the impact of nature versus nurture, has consumed me for a long time. Much as I dislike what I see when I pull back the curtain, I do want to understand myself. There’s an agonising satisfaction to it, like worrying at a scab until the wound opens up again.

I went through the blaming parents phase, like a lot of people do. How could they? It must have been their fault. Boo hoo. Excuses.

I blamed myself too, as often and as aggressively as possible. Painful memories held fast while good ones, transient and undeserved, floated off into the ether. Mental ammunition ever ready to blast scattered buckshot through my psyche. On a hair trigger eager to cause damage to myself or anyone in my path whenever I began to feel good about myself. Not physically, of course. I’m not hard enough for that. But I’m smart and I know how to use words.

From an early age I remember anger. A sense of vague injustice; even if I’d experienced no real slight, I was ready to get upset and defensive about it. My earliest memory is either of having the measles and being incredibly itchy or of standing out in the rain letting an overflowing drainpipe spill cold water onto a cut on my hand. I don’t know which came first. There are photos from back then and sometimes I wonder if I actually remember anything or if it’s just the photos tricking my mind into thinking my memories are real.

My parents are good people who should never have been together. They were forced to marry by the judgemental patriarchy of 1970s Catholic Ireland. Stern, sober men in white collars who both sides of the family viewed as their conduit to the divine.

Once I figured out I was the accident that led to their doomed marriage, I spent a few years wishing I’d been aborted. Though that might just be how every teenager feels.

I think when on one hand you’re told you’re deeply loved, and on the other you’re slapped, or hit with a wooden spoon, or screamed at, it makes you unsure of people’s motives. To this day I wonder when people are kind to me if it’s a trick. I’m a walking punchline, waiting for people to laugh at me.

Self-pity is pathetic. I don’t expect to avoid it completely in these pages, but I will do my best to tell you my story without wallowing in it. I am the architect of my own situation. I know this. I also know only I am accountable for improving it. Not my wife. Not my lover. Not my children. Not my Twitter followers, nor my work colleagues. Only me.

 

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