Soft Shell

The scared child who morphs into the anxious adult 

Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression have taken centre stage in the media and the hearts of wannabe do-gooders as of late. We are being encouraged to talk, share our problems. 

What if you can’t half a problem that you can’t articulate in digestible sentences? And this problem is also one you didn’t realise you had? Or you suppressed it or turned into something that is acceptable in society?

Imagine a baby snail, surrounded by its soft shell that is transparent for it to see all and for all to it. See its inner workings. Imagine that baby snail was afraid. Afraid of the dark, afraid of her family, afraid she would choke in her sleep, afraid armed robbers would break in and kill her family, scared the teacher would embarrass her. 

Now imagine that baby snail, immersed (against her wishes) in a community where violence is a constant. Not drive-by shootings but children fighting, kids robbing adults, and other criminal activities that are normalised and expected. 

The baby snail tries to adapt but its apparent she is different, her shell is so soft, free of the pre-programmed community issues handed to the others at birth. Her shell being soft, she is picked on, beat up, has tacs placed on her seat at school, punched in the face by boys and made fun of for her soft shell. 

The softness of the shell leaves her vulnerability, her difference makes her a mark. So that one day she is robbed, at knife point on the bus while others look on. Forced to give up her coat and jewellery that her parents worked hard to buy for her. Her parents, you see, loved her soft shell and saw nothing wrong with it.

Imagine the trauma that one event caused. And miraculously, the shell begins to thicken and grow opaque, locking in her softness to be hidden but presenting only a hard shell to the world and suppressing the kindness she really wants to show. 

And as the world turns, she forgets the softness and becomes her shell, hard, unable to express the way she truly is. She has swallowed her former self in favour of being protected. 

But now that protection is being on constant guard, with her shell as her armour. “they can’t get me”, “I’ll embarrass them before they embarrass me”. The rigidity of the shell not allowing her to think like a healed adult but like a constantly on alert soldier preparing for war. A soldier buys supplies in anticipation of war. A soldier stomping out the enemy because of it’s hyper-vigilance. 

I wish I could pretend that I am not that snail but I am. When I moved to Boston with my parents as a child, I felt threatened all of the time and not just by neighbourhood children but also by adults in my family who weren’t kind and didn’t understand how sensitive and fragile I was having been uprooted. 

I was always scared as a child – scared the car was going to crash, scared someone was going to kill my mum whilst she was at work, scared that someone was going to beat me up or embarrass me. I can recall my great-uncle locking me outside of our home and instructing me that I wouldn’t be let back in until I beat another child who wanted to fight me. This created a terror inside of me, a terror that I still replay. 

But what really shaped my personality in an adverse way was being robbed at knife point by two girls on the bus, just outside my home. The two girls were instructed by a third to rob me of my black shearling coat and jewellery. The orchestrator then pretended to help me, knowing all along that she gave them the knives. I was 15 years old. What came next was a series of violent events that I won’t go into but a lifelong fear that started with me being transferred to a local school to minimise my exposure to further fights or robberies. 

My anxiety was sewn into my being on that day. It presented itself in an inability to wrong, the constant looking for deception and the refusal to be disrespected in even the slightest way. I never wanted to be embarrassed like that again, shamed in front of a bus full of people who didn’t help. 

Now my anxiety is comfortably part of my DNA. I can’t remember the girl who smiled and played with her cousins, she actually smiled. Now I am a woman corrects every slight against her, who is sometimes scared to leave her house for no discernible reason, who stockpiles so that COVID19 and Brexit don’t see her family without. 

I miss the transparency and softness of my youth and gave up long ago trying to find it. 

To the insensitive, poorly raised, destructive humans who took my softness away, you have stamped your venom into every person I’ve had a negative encounter with, every company I have written a letter to, every wrong I ever corrected in the wrong way, every relationship that could have led to happily ever after because I couldn’t trust the men enough and viewed them as wolves in sheep’s clothing. You’ve left me exhausted from having to be constantly alert and angry with my loved ones who are softness and light. Because I can’t get that softness back. You moulded a woman with a big crack down the middle of her soul, who fights with herself every day. 

My dream is one day to wake, miraculously free of my shell and the shame I have carried with me. Be who my true self is…..

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2 comments

  1. What a beautifully written piece! Such sadness and experiences I had absolutely no idea you had endured. The legacy those experiences have left behind inside you is devastating. You are a beautiful soul, a caring, considerate and loving person in every way. Yes you are battle scarred but you should carry no shame. The shame belongs with those who perpetrated the crimes and behaviours against you. Give your shame to them and release yourself from it. I still see your inner softness. It’s there and will always be there no matter how you try to hide it. It’s who you are. Huge hugs. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

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