Safer spaces

By Izzi Meynell, 1st year Creative Writing NTU Student

One of the strangest things about my trauma that I’ve discovered recently is the ability to fear your own safe spaces when, mere months ago, they were your only solace.

For much of my life I yearned to leave Derby – escape – perhaps disappear up some mountain and never speak to anybody that knew me again. I took pride in being forgettable, disappearing from lives that I’d once felt thoroughly embedded in. Understandably, the prospect of higher education so close to home made me viscerally ill. For several years, I would duck my head below the glovebox in the car whenever we drove past a place that I considered Bad. How was I supposed to survive going out into a world that would remember me as a person with a name, no creative usernames or block buttons to use to my advantage.

Isn’t it strange how things can change? How your fear can turn to fuel in the blink of an eye, that suffocating sense of being turning into that insatiable desire to be seen.

Each day I get into my taxi I watch the world fly past the window. I see lanyards that change colour each year, and each time I look at them and feel as though somebody is suffocating me with them, wrapping them around my neck and pulling, the rough edges turning the skin red and angry. Usually, I see them when we go past my old college, and my body tenses up against my will and screams at me to run, though the times I see them closer to home are worse. An intrusion I cannot describe. But I survive that part of the journey, and I breathe.

Nottingham starts to appear on signs. I’m beginning to learn this route, despite my awful sense of direction and inability to recall road names. I know of the A38 but do not know where it is. The M5? I only know about it because I spent hours stranded there during my exams. I couldn’t tell you road names, but the twists and turns are comforting, even if the driving of the taxi is not.

Truth be told, Nottingham feels like a safety net. Close enough to home yet far enough away from the trauma to make me sigh in relief despite myself. I can’t explain what it is, or perhaps I have a different answer every day; whatever the conclusion is, maybe I don’t need to know. For the first time in my life, I yearn to explore and have no fear of seeing somebody, no awful memories associated with the most trivial of places. My mind feels safer here, free to write a new story on a clean slate, to scribble out bits I don’t like without shame.

I have become my own person here. I feel alive for the first time in such a long time. And, for the first time, I trust the joy and its authenticity.

The journey home is less enjoyable. We always go past my old college on the way home. We go past Derby University, and the driver asks why I didn’t go somewhere closer; how do you explain to a stranger that you saw the can’t-do attitude of the people there and forgot how to breathe? I often joke (nervously, desperate for approval) that I simply had a better feeling about Nottingham Trent – the truth, I promise – and insist that it is worth the commute. But I wish to dig deeper in those quiet moments when the driver isn’t ranting about conspiracy theories or playing off-key covers of Ed Sheeran songs, ask myself why.

Perhaps I’ve not had time to be disillusioned by the novelty of Nottingham. Maybe the things I experienced in Derby have jaded me so thoroughly no happy memories can plaster over it. But I came up with plans to stay, study, explore the area around campus and feel excited for the first time during our matriculation.

Joyously overzealous. A feeling I wish I could bottle and tuck away for the bad days.

But, in the cloak of darkness that winter nights bring about, I open the front door. The cat waits for me, squeaking at me, six parts relief and half a dozen affronted. My father, tucked in the dining-room-turned-office, leans back until he can see me through the crack in the door and says hello. My shoes are kicked off and tucked neatly into the shoe rack (provided my brother hasn’t filled it with his own shoes in my absence), and I head to my room to throw my bag down and wash my hands.

And sometimes, I sit there eating my dinner (alone because illness has robbed me of even the little things like sharing meals with people), and I stare at my screen. If I have anything left in me, I write. Sometimes I even write things like this before sending a message to a friend asking if they want to study tomorrow. It gets me out of the house and brings me somewhere where I don’t see the lanyards, the ugly blue of my old college campus, or the kids attending my first secondary school in their uniform trudging by the house and smiling.

I hate and fear my safe space as much as I need it. The familiarity comforts me after a long day. But it is lonely to have a life you care about further away, just out of reach. I dread those long and confusing journeys, but I adore the destination more than that.

My love of learning was ripped away from me twelve years ago, replaced with a visceral fear and the goal of simply surviving. I almost didn’t make it this far. But I’m glad I did, that I held on this long. It feels like that love is back at long last – not identical, complicated, but adored all the same – and was handed back to me wrapped in compassion and care.

Perhaps that’s enough.

For help, advice and resources whilst studying at NTU, take a look at the following for sources of support.

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