Everything can change in a single moment, with the simplest gesture. Attachment theorist Robert Karen recounted the experience of a man who remembered how his visiting grandfather had once got up in the night to get him an extra blanket. "Nobody had ever done anything like that for me before, and at that moment I realized that not everybody was alike".
For me, writing this column, over many years, has felt like that. You guys, my readers, were the ones getting me a blanket. I have been through divorce, and depression and breaking open and breaking down. I learnt that I could be my broken, messy self, make faltering steps, fall down, and still be held.
So thank you for reading, and letting me show myself to you.
Even when, frankly, I could be a bit of an a***hole. I've named some important things I'm proud of but I also expressed some mean spiteful things I regret.
When you feel too much, too intensely and your feelings don't seem to matter, it becomes all about you. You become mirror-hungry. You're asking for something, then begging for something, and people are just shrugging and backing away slowly, and then turning and running as fast as they can like a cartoon character with a circular saw shaped blur where their legs should be.
When you feel like no one can see you and hear you, you do some crazy s***. Then you feel even more ashamed. These days, looking back, I feel empathy for that desperate, Klingon part of me, so wanting to be seen, but for a long time I was dismissive of my own pain.
I believe this minimizing attitude, the turning away from our own suffering, adds yet another layer of distress. If like me, you grew up in a middle-class family without any headline-worthy traumas, believe me when I tell you that you still may have very real losses to mourn. This doesn't make you an ungrateful brat, just human.
And when your feelings don't matter to other people, then your own feelings don't matter to you. For me, I didn't know where I ended and other people began. That makes it hard to feel like a real person. It makes you act like a jerk. The day you stop blaming yourself for feeling the way you do is the start of everything changing. (That could be today. Really).
And to do that we need other people, but it's hard because most other people have also been told their feelings don't matter too. So they don't know how to look at yours or hold yours gently.
But you can learn to have a different relationship with yourself and even be tender to yourself. It takes time. But over the years, I started to feel differently, a little less shame-bound. So now I am no swell sorted-out dude or anything, just a normal-level doofus, like everyone else. But sometimes recognizing you're just a regular s*****y person feels like a special kind of accomplishment, better even than winning a literary prize.
I realised the most powerful thing is not that we're all unique but that I'm the same as everyone else. That feels like freedom.
Sometimes people would ask me about my compulsive self-disclosure: "Why do you put yourself out there like that?" I would experiment with different replies but I never really had an answer. Perhaps, it felt less terrifying and exposing to write it down than to actually show up and share my real self in the real world.
And so now I realise it's time for me to let go of this column. Because I feel sturdier and safer now, out there in the real world. And because I am hoping one day I will be able to do for others what has been done for me.
Thank you to the Herald for letting me write a column for so long that wasn't about anything much and wasn't good talkback fodder or clickbait or part of the outrage industrial complex. Also saving me from my stupider self many times. The editors at the Herald have never, ever told me what to write, and they have protected me when I have made some dodgy judgments. That is gold.
Can I squeeze in a presumptuous last word? There is a Maori proverb: Waiho I te toipoto, kaua I te toiroa. It means let us keep close together, not far apart. I like this saying.
Because the truth is, none of us can do this stuff on our own.
We don't become a human being on our own. And we can't find acceptance, or find our way home, to ourselves, on our own either. I couldn't be where I am today without you. You all helped me. Aroha to you and thank you for reading. Go gently and when you can, try to be the one who goes to get the extra blanket.