Fear of my own name

August 6, 2017

Recently, I made a very specific request of my friend. One which, if it was anyone else, I might expect more of a resistance to, but they said they would try to keep it in mind.
 I asked them not use my name.


It is one of these issues, one of many in myself, which only arises when I am in social situations. After all, I use my own name when talking to myself, but it is not really the same. I don't know about you, but I have a tendency to do one of two things when it comes to my own voice. One, completely zone out and let my speech run on automatic, trusting that my relatively good and moral nature will not land me in trouble. Or two, completely zone IN on my own voice with a spotlight illuminating the alley through which thoughts become words, completely disrupting the process. The words which were spawning just fine in the the dark now lurch, haggard and mutated from my mouth, materialising into speech so slow and chunky that it appears as if I'm being fed lines through a faulty earpiece. That's how it feels to me, anyway. When I'm by myself, of course, these things don't matter, I can flow between styles One and Two with zero self-criticism and even have fun with it. Lately, I've been repeating the word "could" out loud until it is nothing but a foreign syllable. I feel like this game has purpose too. I am an over-thinker and think heavily in words and sentences, so I often "see" the spelling of the word while I hear it, if that makes sense. Thoughts can be difficult to explain, but I figured if I keep throwing enough words out there, they will (randomly or otherwise) appear in a coherent and self-satisfying order. Conversations with others are a bigger ordeal because of the endless potential variables which start forming in my head from the fact that there is a consciousness and perspective of which I have no direct access to. I've been reassured in the past that you can 'use common sense' to navigate conversation and you can divine meaning through body language and their choice of words, as well as a variety of other entirely subtle cues which have always passed me by. It is common knowledge that people will often say one thing and mean another, or at least, mean less or more than they are letting on. This frustrates me, even though I will admit I probably do the same but to a lesser extent. I assume I do this less, not because I think myself to be less of a liar than anyone else, but because I just speak less than the average person in my day to day life. I live alone, I make art alone and I work night-shift with little socialising involved because mixing conversation with working can be quite stressful and confusing. Of course I think some people may consider me asocial or even rude, but it's simply a hell of a lot more comfortable than "chatting".


 When it comes to the two ways of hearing my voice around other people, this is what happens. In the first style of disregarding and ignoring my own voice, letting it go on automatic strangely seems to work well, at least for other people. They don't seem to think I'm anything but a willing and chatty person when they talk to me. But that last part is the clue - "they talk to me." Unfortunately, as functional as I appear in the moment, these social encounters cause my inner body temperature to sky rocket in the first minute. By the second minute, I am also sweating while feeling simultaneously shivery. By the end of the (hopefully short) interaction that has been thrust upon me, I am usually wet in all my creases and very got and bothered. This is not comfortable in the slightest, and clearly shows customer service to be an entirely unsuitable role for me, when even colleague interaction causes me to overheat. This is how I ended up, somewhat happily, on night shift. 


So while that first way of speaking is beneficial to other people, it's not nice at all to experience. The second state is actually the opposite. This is where I pay attention to the words I use, and while this does sometimes cause a co-workers attempt at small talk to crash and burn, it lets me acknowledge my own propensity to be quiet. If I try and force myself to engage in conversation here, it is almost impossible, and pulling the words from my head for a response barely yields half a sentence's worth before a sign reading "closed for business" clatters to the floor. It's not intentional, it's not passive-aggressive, it's simply an inability to comfortable communicate unnecessarily. And so, while I may not be an extrovert's ideal companion in the workplace, I can at least be mindful of my own limitations and use my social energy as it is needed, such as a specifically chosen period of socialising. For the first time the other night, in response to a colleague's attempts to ask about my recent change of hair, I muttered a bit, dragging words out, but instead ended up gathering together some confidence to say "Sorry, but I'm having anxiety symptoms just now, so I can't really talk". And they were fine with that! I put my earphones in, tried to get my breathing under control, and set about focusing on stacking shelves and listening to a new podcast, trying to ignore the four other people in the close vicinity. 


Because I like my real-life conversations to have purpose (with some exceptions of enthusiastic consent, of course), one of my biggest re-occurring confusions is the intent of others. Some people talk for the sake of talk, and that's just as acceptable as not talking for the sake of not talking. But it can cause a sort of mental clash for an over-thinker. You know that story about a person who wakes up every day and experiences everything as if it was the first time? Everything is new and strange and fascinating to them? It's kind of like that for me with conversations. Every conversation with a new person is pretty bizarre and exhilarating, but often comes hand in hand with paranoia and suspicion. When I first started my job, someone asked me, "what time do you take your breaks?" ...Why? Why do they want to know? Why did they ask this? Are they looking to have their break at the same time as me? How am I meant to answer this? Should I even answer? Do they know something I don't? ... You get the picture. Whereas a less anxious person might simply think for a moment and answer, "7.15, you?" 


There is not subtext in every question I'm asked, and usually people aren't approaching with some kind of subversion or malicious intent. The question, just like thousands of others I've been asked, was likely just for the small talk, for the sake of conversation. But because I look for intent in my own speech, I naturally look for it in everything else other people say, leaving me on edge at even harmless questions. If the colleague was instead a team leader, or manager, any perceived authority figure really, it would have been a different story since their very job title is the intent. They're th boss, they have a reason to ask. What deeply affects all of this, is the point of this essay - my name. If the colleague had used my name with that question, I would have felt more compelled to answer without thought (or with a whole lot more thought, depending on how I look at it). Not because it's a nice "personal touch", or because it would bring a deeper connection, but because of the power and authority contained in the use of my name. I am in no way suggesting it's the same for other people but when I hear my first name in a sentence, not even my full name, my body often reacts the same as the sweaty, sweltering response I described earlier. My heart feels like it has hung itself. It has dropped, and swings against my lungs, making my chest feel tighter and my throat longing for cleaner air. 


Much like the harmless attempts of small talk, 99 times out of a hundred there is likely no discernible reason for the use of "Eilidh" in a sentence. It may as well be a punctuation mark, or less than that since most sentences my name is used in works just fine without it's inclusion. On a surface level, I might use this as a justification to others not to say my name. "There's no point!" I exclaim. "You're talking to me directly, you don't need to use my name, I know who you're talking to!" but I know that this is just a thought-based reaction to the guttural echo that passes through my rib-cage, howling "Eilidh..." ... My blood feels sour.


My analytical mind sets to work, not with the objective of removing this visceral response, but instead to understand it. Hearing or reading my own name, almost mainly when used to address or greet me, has always had this effect on me. Who knows when exactly it started, but like with a lot of things, I don't think there is a specific point I can pin it on. More like an accumulation of moments, clumping together to form a calcified mass in my skull. So dramatic, but accurate. 


 My name, used in this call-and-response form, has overwhelmingly become associated with negativity, fear and punishment. I've heard my name used in anger for the most part, in sadness and in stress, in beration and ridicule. It's been screamed, and muttered, spat and snarled. It's been preceded by "It's your fault"s and followed by "don't do that"s. It's been assembled in mouths which also contain "bitch"s and "fuck you"s, closely followed by physical threat, aggression or assault. My name has communicated dread and foreboding, a one-word warning meaning I dare not do anything further that is natural to my namesake. 


The name "Eilidh" is Gaelic for "Helen", meaning "light", yet the darkness and weight of its use reverberates throughout my bones reminding me of all the times I wasn't allowed to actually BE Eilidh. The memories stay inside the name with the same warning and tension as the sentence,  "I won't ever leave you, Eilidh". I've heard that that sentence can also sound romantic, but I'm afraid it resembles the shackling of handcuffs through my ears. My name sticks, it stays, re-affirmed with earlier memories of school and childhood. I was relatively well-behaved throughout primary school and high school, so again the origin of the fear related to that eludes me. I wasn't told off very often in class, and never for anything very serious, but I learned very quickly that a teacher does not call out your name for anything good, for the most part. Instead it's going to mean putting you on the spot which feels shit, or telling you off which feels worse. Outside the classroom, your name will mean someone wants to take the piss out of you or embarrass you, and wants to make sure you know it. At home, it might mean you'll get into trouble, because your sister has lied about something again and your parents don't know who to believe. It might mean the very same sister is going to scare you in whispers while you try to sleep, or threaten you while you try to maintain hold of your own quiet computer time. One time, "Eilidh" meant a telling off for scratching your name into a cupboard door, in effort to feel something was yours and not at risk of being snatched off you by the dominant personality you share a room with. It might mean you're late for dinner or have fallen asleep again, making you late, and that's probably quite a mild "Eilidh" to receive, but it all builds up, in your muscles and your mind.


Logically, I know the way to try and remove the insidious dirge from my own name is to have it used in more positive ways, rather than just avoiding hearing it at all, but for now I've requested the latter in the case of texts from my friends. When they texted me the other day and I saw that it started with "Eilidh, you...", I just couldn't open the rest until some time had passed, because even though I know this friend wouldn't get unnecessarily angry with me, I still had the gut reaction that I had done something wrong. I undeservedly launched a miniature tantrum when he previously texted, "Eilidh, can I ask you a question?" because that's just a double barrel of stress right there. My name, plus a vague intent of questioning without actually asking the question?! Are you serious? 


It was around this time when I actually realised my problem and put a label on it. "To solve" it reads. Because I'm not going to change my name. The name in itself isn't the problem, it's my ingrained fear response which causes difficulty. One way I attempt to manage this is writing my name with a lower-case E at the start. It's not exactly "correct" but hey, it helps a little bit at least. If there was a different way to pronounce my name with a lower case E, I would do it! My friend said he'd try not to use my name in texts, because it isn't necessary as well as because of the fear, but I'm not going to ask the same of everyone, it's an impossible request.


As a final thought, I can't help but wonder if there is a third reason for my forename aversion, and that is perhaps that hearing or reading my name is a sudden stab through the carefully constructed bubble I live in. I am an introvert, a solitary and faily asocial one at that. It is not fully by choice, but it works for me as I can control my environment, my interactions, and the energy I want to put towards different areas of my life. "Eilidh" might be the waking life equivalent to someone turning to you in your dream, looking you straight in the eye and barking "THIS IS ALL A DREAM". It awakens me to reality with a needless shudder, showing that my bubble can indeed be burst and a voice other than my own saying my name proves I am not living in a one person world after all. "Eilidh" reminds me that I am not the only one, and that can be terrifying. Sometimes all I want to do is forget the notion that there are billions of other names in the world, each with their own fears, memories and hang-ups. It's overwhelming. It's scary. When I hear my name, I hear the vastness of everything compounded into two rhyming syllables. Ay lay. Ay lay. Ay lay. A primal chant that forces me to the brutal truth - that as much as I would like to deny it, I am not alone.
 

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