No I don’t think I hate it.
I think it’s a fine name. It’s like I have to keep reminding myself that when people say ‘Michelle’ they mean me. I don’t think I… identify with it, I guess.
I know I could change it. If I wanted to. But I don’t know what I’d change it to. I don’t feel like I am Michelle. But I don’t really feel like I am anything a lot of the time.
Maybe there isn’t really much to being person. I am groot, you know? Maybe that’s all it is.
Mum used to call me ‘Shelley’ when I was little. But I don’t know. At some point Alan Sebastian learned that my name was actually Michelle and he got really upset when people called me Shelley. So of course we all gave in. I’m just lucky he didn’t keep calling me Michelle Jean Parker all of the time. Even now I can’t think of him as just Alan you know. He wanted to be called Alan Sebastian Parker by everyone all of the time but we managed to talk him down just to Alan Sebastian. That was the compromise.
I could go back to Shelley I guess. Nah. That’s worse. And it kind of just reminds me of how hard Alan Sebastian objected to it.
It’s funny. I joined this band once. Years ago. This guy Dan was the lead and he was kind of a jerk at first. He’s… he was… the kind of person where you really needed to prove yourself before he’d respect you? Which is fucked up but I guess at the time I just wanted to be… not like the other girls, you know?
And he wouldn’t even use my name at first. “Cello,” he’d call me. Like I wasn’t even a person. Just the instrument. And he meant it as a kind of hazing thing. Like… he was trying to insult me.
But it was almost disappointing when he started to use my name. Like… I’d gotten used to it?
But it doesn’t seem right to ask people to call me that.
I kept going to the group meetings week after week.
And there were a few familiar faces, but new ones every week. New people who treated me like an authority. Like a person who knew what was going on. And it was nice to have that routine. The tables were always put together the same way and the chairs all went in the same places. I like it when I know what I am doing like that.
At first I’d held back. But when people started to talk about their trauma… well, it didn’t seem so hard. And I talked about how my mother used to hit me. How my brother was the favourite child. How I never knew my father. How I was raped in year seven by the boy who lived across the road. How I’d never told that to anyone before.
And rather than making me feel small and ashamed and damaged I just got… praise. Praise for being open. Praise for being honest. Praise for owning myself. Admired for being fierce and fearless. And mature. I’ve never been mature. People admired my boldness for having blue hair. My obvious commitment and self-assurance for having a tattoo. I always felt about five years behind everyone else. But here? I was mature. I was owning myself.
They talked a lot about that. About owning yourself. About owning your identity. About letting go of fear. Of taking your power back. Of taking control of your own narrative. You don’t have to be a victim.
And that was nice.
“I really think other people could learn from you, Michelle,” June told me. “I know I’ve mentioned our Weekend Aways before. I think you’d get so much out of it. You’ve come so far just in Group… it’s so inspiring. It took me years to get to the point you already are.”
Money shouldn’t hold me back, she told me. She wanted to sponsor me. I could attend the Weekend Away for 25% of the normal price. Because she just knew that having me there would inspire other people as well. We’d all help each other.
What do I like about it?
In some ways it outsources my motivation, I guess? Like I need to play regularly. I’m committed in some ways. But I kind of binge, you know? I’ll play constantly for days on end and then not even look at an instrument for a month. Being in a band is more… regular without being all-consuming. And it feels good to play something with someone else. Less selfish somehow.
I don’t know. Isn’t it? If I just do it for me and nobody else.
I used to play for my brother. Like even when we couldn’t talk to each other I’d play music and feel like he really got me. Music is like… everything you don’t have words for.
I kind of wished I could express myself to my mother that way. But she never really listened, I guess. I know she wanted to connect with me. And I did want to connect with her too. Our ways of connecting with people just weren’t compatible. At all.
But Alan Sebastian got it. Or I felt like he did. And I don’t know that anyone has ever really got me like that. Or ever will. Which is okay. I mean… We were in the womb together. I wouldn’t expect anyone else could really ever be that close to me.
I felt… high. Not high high. But… good. Free.
I was ‘working on myself’ and it seemed to be really working. I’d had so many therapies. Talked to so many doctors. Taken so many medications.
But a five day Workshop ‘getting in touch with my inner child’ was incredible. I beat a foam block with a baseball bat and screamed at a woman who pretended to be my mother. Then I curled in the foetal position on a mattress and the whole class stroked my arms and legs and told me I was safe and loved.
So of course I wanted to keep doing that. To be a part of that. To give that to other people.
And being a part of SelfWork felt wonderful. Like we were all equals. Like we could really help each other to stay motivated. To stay fearless. To stay accountable. To let go of everything that didn’t serve us.
Now I don’t… it’s like at first I’ll find something in common with someone and that’s all we’ll talk about. Like music. Books. Agatha Christie or something.
When I was at school that made me a bit weird, you know? To be into classics or whatever. But you know. It can’t actually be that weird. They’re popular for a reason.
But eventually people want to talk about other things. And I don’t know. I feel like I have to just fake interest.
“Just talk about something else, Michelle. Anything else. Don’t you have any other interests? Can’t we talk about something real?”
But then if I do talk about something real – like how I’m feeling or what’s happened to me or… well of course that’s too much. And at first people are all sympathetic but then they expect that they’ve helped somehow and now I’m over it. And if I keep talking about it… well then they’re sick of my bullshit.
“We usually insist that people do at least two year’s worth of SelfWork – or four Retreats before considering becoming a Guide” June told me. But she’d see if she could get an exception for me. I’d done one full day Workout, two weekend Aways and one five day Workshop. She wanted me to meet David.
June was a Guide and down on the Gold Coast we were an offshoot of the Brisbane Centre. Opal ran the Brisbane Centre and she was a Navigator which was above the Guides. I’d also met Elaine who was the Navigator down in Sydney. David was the Listener.
It’s not a hierarchy, they were all very firm on that. The whole point is that we were learning how not to abdicate our own power. But the Listener is there to help and give advice to the Navigators who oversaw the Guides.
And June said she’d sponsor me again.
And of course it’s not a hierarchy but David was the Listener for Australia and he ‘listened’ to the Navigators and the Guides but he also listened to Owen. Owen didn’t have a title. He was just Owen.
“If anything… I’m just a student, really. You, all of you are my teachers. all of you are my leaders.” He said in the video David had played at the end of my first ten day Retreat.
“I don’t like to say I founded SelfWork. I like to say I found SelfWork.”
Sometimes I think I do. But other times I’m not sure if ‘anxiety’ is the right word.
I always thought my brother had anxiety. He’d get really distressed if we were going to be late or if the TV wasn’t already on at the time his show started. Or if he’d forgotten about a school project that was due. He’d sort of rock back and forth saying ‘oh no oh no oh no’.
And maybe living so much of my life like that just made me hyper-aware of being overly prepared. He’d always NEED to be early to things and we always had to be ready so it just became a habit or something. I’d like to be more relaxed about it. Now I’m always early. I hate waiting for other people to arrive. I hate inflicting that on other people.
But I don’t know… I don’t feel like I’m… worried about anything? It’s just… the way I feel all of the time.
Maybe that’s why it feels like it doesn’t have a trigger or a cause. Because it’s so… It’s everything. It’s every moment of every day.
David explained that SelfWork had sponsored me to attend those two Retreats. And he didn’t want me to have to pay that back and have that debt hold me back from harnessing my inner power. What he wanted was for me to Guide others and take over the Group since June had abdicated. Opal had also abdicated and Brisbane no longer had a Navigator but Elaine split her time between Sydney and Brisbane. I didn’t need to pay back the money. I needed to pay it forward.
Somehow I didn’t realise it had been a loan.
So became the Guide and David said that I was clearly overqualified and wanted me to enroll in the Navigator program. It was expensive but if I would be running paid full-day Workouts along with the free evening Group. I’d get a percentage of the fees for the Workouts so I wouldn’t be out of pocket. And if I could do all of that as well as attending two more ten-day Retreats along with the coursework I could probably become a fully qualified Navigator in less than a year.
And once I had that well then I’d be able to set up my own Aways and Workshops.
And he showed me all of the numbers and how it would basically pay for itself.
Because I have to. Otherwise I can’t keep track. I have a poster up by my washing machine to remind me to take the dry clothes out of the dryer before putting the wet washing in. It’s not that I don’t know what order to do them in. I just… don’t think about it in the moment and end up holding the wet washing and having nowhere to put it down while I get the dry washing out.
I just like things to be… it isn’t like I always want things to be the same. I don’t mind when they change. I just like to know ahead of time so I can prepare for it because if it is different than the way I thought it would be… I don’t know. I just hate it.
I have to be really regimented and look at my calendar every single day. Even if I am 100% sure I know what is on it. Because I’m so often wrong about it and there’s an appointment or an event or a show or something that I’ve forgotten.
Almost as soon as I stop actively thinking of something… I can just forget it exists. I buy things and put them away and forget I bought them and buy them again. Then I go to put them away and realise… oh. I already had one of those.
I close the cupboard walk away and… poof. It’s gone. Like some kind of cupboard ghost.
I have to write things down. I have to write everything down. Or it stops existing as soon as I’m not thinking about it.
I say that I just don’t know how to form friendships with people. But I do. I know how other people do it. They remember each other’s names and interests and they follow up on things that had been mentioned the week before and they text each other and they know when “let’s catch up!” means “let’s catch up!” and when it just means “I don’t want you to think that I hate you.” I can tell too. But it takes a lot of effort to work out the difference. And I try. I try to put in that effort. I make notes about who had a job interview coming up and who moved house and what movie they were planning to watch. But it’s artificial. I don’t dislike anyone but I don’t really like them. I just pretend to so they’ll pretend to like me too.
And it’s fine. It’s good when we’re all new to it. I know what it will be like. I know what to talk about and what questions to ask. It is only later when people are starting to know each other that it gets hard. Then I never know what people will ask or what they’ll say so I cant think of what I am going to say ahead of time. It just takes so much more effort when things aren’t the way I thought they’d be.
But if I walk into a room where other people know each other better than they know me… I need to run and hide. I think school was okay because I was never the new girl. Now I move houses and move cities and I run away and run again and I’m the new girl over and over and over again.
When I started with SelfWork I used to go home and make notes about everything and I remembered people’s names and asked them questions and people seemed really happy to talk to me. And to hug me.
I’ve never been a hugging person. David said I didn’t allow myself to be loved by others. So I tried to work on that.
But a year later they were all talking about things they’d done together on the weekend and planning holidays together and dating and breaking up with each other. And somehow I felt like I was the new girl even though I’d been there as long as anyone else. So I do try. But I fail.
And I wonder
what would happen
if I just stopped