On Being Invisible, On Shame

I have always wanted to be able to become invisible. Out of the major superpowers usually rattled off among children (or at least the kids I hung around, and don’t quote me on this because I was never really that into superheroes) like super-strength, invisibility, mind reading, shapeshifting, and the ability to fly, I would always choose the ability to move undetected through worlds and spaces, to have impact in a way that is not attributed to a physical form. I wasn’t a prankster, rather more of an observer, someone whose very first journals from age 6 are logs of my spying from various posts in various bushes, and who in second grade dressed up as a private investigator straight out of a noir film complete with khaki blazer (my dad’s, and on me, a trench coat) fedora and magnifying glass. I was a voyeur in the making, and someone who only flourished under the spotlight if I was performing, or more accurately if I was being anybody but myself.

In my attempts over the years to belong to social groups that seemed stuck on maintaining an identity through exclusivity (read: I wanted to be in with the popular girls) ((read: mean girls)) it became apparent that the more I tried to squeeze myself into a tightly-laced outfit, the farther and more forcefully I flew away from these groups when the binds were finally released, usually by my own hand. I was drawn to people who seemed to know who they were and who they weren’t because I had no idea what I was, and the notion of being as empty and vast as I appeared inside was terrifying. I tried to fill, stuff, tighten, repress, and ignore that hole, the overwhelm of which may have been exaggerated by depression and emotional disregulation, and at times still is. Instead of floating in the uncertainty of my identity, I focused all my energies on belonging to groups who not only fit in, but who defined what it meant to do so. The result was damaging. I was not a person who I liked, and I spent time working for the validation of people whose values do not resonate with me. I was self-centered, vain, and sometimes mean. If not outright mean, I was catty, petty, and insecure. I left these groups in volatile ways, exploding when the pressure of repressed disappointments and disagreements built up and sent me over the edge. After that, I floated. After years of wanting so badly to be seen, after years of failing to fit into the mold I had created for myself, all I wanted was to be forgotten about so that nobody would see that I had failed to live up to my own expectations.

Shame builds up. It wants to make you invisible to the world, and wants to make sure its sources are never seen. Living in shame means constantly wishing you could disappear, that nobody else could ever see the things you spend every minute meticulously trying to cover up. I’ve done a lot of stupid and risky things, and I have behaved in ways that I’m not proud of and that I don’t speak of to many people. As a result, I’ve become more comfortable in the shadows. I find fascination in the world, but only when I am able to remove my own being from the scene at hand. I try not to stare too hard, or to tread too loudly, or to make my presence known as definitely one thing or another. If I could I would transcend categorization completely, not out of some religious individualism but rather in order to be forgotten, to be utterly unremarkable. Unfortunately, I too often act in ways that categorize my identity, though I still don’t know as what. My Italian roots mixed with a hefty dose of mental illness and resulting black and white thinking make it so that I cannot be invisible, no matter how I fantasize about embodying the trope of the quiet girl, as transient as the wind whose impact on her surroundings is equal to that of a leaf falling from a tree. And try as I might to correct it, my gait will always be clumsy and my footsteps loud.

My desire as a child to claim invisibility as a superpower stemmed from curiosity, and from the desire to dig deeper. I wanted to taste the depth of knowledge that something like moving through the world unnoticed could supposedly afford, to look in the desk drawers of strangers, to read journals not intended for public viewing, to stare as long as I wanted at the details without fear of being judged. I think, too, I wanted to be safe, and I thought that not being seen would keep me that way. I still want to be safe, but now from judgment shattering the fragile identity and semblance of confidence I have only recently started to build. Invisibility is security. It is release from all the heaviness.

I started writing a story about a woman who one day turns invisible. I want the readers to know that she is depressed, and that she is living with shame and trauma. I want to write about her transformation as a literal metaphor for an emotional state and a longing that is brought on by an inability (or a refusal) to accept one’s past actions. Repression and shame make us heavy, and they make it so tiresome to live that we wish to simply not exist anymore. I started this story, but I stopped writing it when I realized I didn’t know what she was going to do now that she was invisible other than go about her daily life exactly as she did before the metamorphosis. But of course she can’t do that, and that being the only place where I perceived any conflict in my story is largely why I put it away. Because the only negative side of being invisible I could possibly see, the only obstacle I could create for my character was utter liberation from the world. That’s no story at all.

As the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva wrote in her diary, “I don’t want to die. I want not to be.” She later committed suicide. While I am not expressing that desire, I think many resonate with the sentiment of wanting to be rid of their weight, their existence. Consciousness is a heavy thing, and affords us much joy, but also much pain. So does the body. The dissolution of the body, as in invisibility, makes certain that only our consciousness remains. This is the split, the riddance of the grotesque, selfish, hedonistic flesh and the inhabitance of the “pure” or even holy spirit, isn’t this the dream of many or most religions? I could go even further and bring up the fact that in most patriarchal religions, the body is associated with the woman and the wisdom and purity of the spirit and intellect is seen as a male symbol, but I will save that for another rambling, spontaneous essay. The difference, here, is that my desire and my character are not shedding bodies, the bodies are simply not a public spectacle anymore. Their physical beings are taken, at least to the reflective surface of the world, out of the equation. (And can you tell I was raised going to Catholic church?) The idea that by taking the body out of the equation the depression will be gone is naive. I will try my best not to subscribe to it, but I do want to follow this thread.

When I came up with this story, I was writing with the theme of literal, physical manifestations of emotional states. I like that theme, but I’m a little plot-deficient in most of what I write. I wrote this post on a whim to start feeling excited about exploring this topic again. I still long to be unseen, but nowadays I satisfy that urge with hanging out in dark places and wearing black all the time like the tortured, overgrown, vitamin D-deficient, teenaged goth that I really am deep inside.


One thought on “On Being Invisible, On Shame

  1. This rang like a loud and clear bell. I heavily agree with Marina Tsvetaeva. I don’t want to kill myself nor do I want to die at all, but I do want to stop being. Just the essence of being is so solid that it feels bothersome to me. I suppose in that sense, I’d to like to be invisible. To observe and be limited to no space would truly be a miraculous thing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s