Katie spent much of her life feeling as though she didn’t fit anywhere. Years of bullying, loneliness, and anxiety eventually led her to self-harm and suicide attempts. However, it was in the dark world of monsters and horror that she found comfort, an understanding of herself, and a place to belong
Have you found that place where you feel you truly belong? That sense of warmth, joy, and relief? Well for me, it was Halloween. As a therapist, I feel I should be talking about something more spiritual or tranquil, but it was, and still is, Halloween.
You might ask why this corny event should mean so much to a 35-year-old woman from Liverpool, but the reason is quite simple. Halloween is a place for the misfits to belong.
I have always felt like a misfit, either because I hated the way I looked, or because as an only child I didn’t develop the best social skills. I struggled to make friends, and was painfully shy. Everybody else seemed to manage in the world, but for me it felt like a nightmare. I was lonely and sad, and by the time I was in my mid-teens the depression and desire to die seemed inescapable.
I had a pretty normal upbringing. I lived with my parents in a quiet area on the outskirts of Liverpool. I was close to my grandparents, had some friends, and enjoyed trips away and playing outside. I attended a small primary school and started to do pretty well, despite my shyness. It was towards the end of primary school that the bullying started, a theme that would stay with me, in different forms, until my 20s. In high school it only got worse.
I was a lanky teenager who hit puberty late. I had bad skin, needed glasses in class, and at one point had a head brace to rectify my overbite. I looked in the mirror and hated who I was. I tried everything to fix my looks, and I fantasised about being somebody – anybody – else. In reality, I was an average looking girl, but in my head, I was a monster.
I didn’t have the tools to control any of this, or to manage the huge feelings that I was experiencing. So much was building up inside me, and the medication that was supposed to help only seemed to make things worse. When I was around 15, I began self-harming. I don’t think it was a cry for help, because I didn’t want anyone to see. But I knew that I needed something. I wanted the pain to go away, I needed to find relief of some kind.
I clearly remember sitting in the garden with my parents on a sunny day, and telling them that my life felt like a prison sentence, and I wanted to be free. It was not long after that I took an overdose; I still feel tremendous guilt about that day.
My later teens saw me start to discover and embrace counterculture. I had one big passion that had been with me since childhood; monsters. The first picture of me from Halloween is at around 18 months old, clinging to a mask and smiling. From then on, I threw myself fully into everything spooky.
I could escape into my fantasy world of colourful creatures and exciting characters, forget about the world around me, and completely lose myself. As life became more difficult, horror stayed with me. I began to watch films, read Stephen King, and my own image became darker. Things that scared other people felt like comfort to me. However, the truth was that the real world left me terrified.
When I look back at my life, it amazes me just how much of it I have spent afraid. Anxiety felt like my normal state and I couldn’t shake it. I was scared of people, scared of failing, scared of judgement, scared of everything; and, honestly, I did not make things easy for myself.
Becoming a goth in Liverpool in the early 2000s meant developing a whole new skillset – the main one being how to run fast in incredibly impractical footwear. I was a moving target for abuse of every kind, and even had men of my dad’s age spit in my face.
But at the same time, I found people who were equally as hated as I was. Others who felt alone, different, and often sad. Others who struggled with mental health, who didn’t fit, and who found safety in the darker things in life. I had a community for the first time, and while I still struggled, I didn’t feel so alone.
When I did have time to myself, I embraced my fantasy worlds. In these spaces, I would be a vampire, a werewolf, or a witch. Monsters were powerful and exciting – they could take on the world that judged them, and make it understand their pain. I never saw monsters as bad things; they were just different, and the world couldn’t understand them. Frankenstein’s monster, or Beast from Beauty and the Beast, were seen as ugly and freakish, but I thought they were beautiful, and they often just wanted to be left alone. I could relate strongly.
"Anxiety felt like my normal state and I couldn’t shake it. I was scared of people, scared of failing, scared of judgement, scared of everything"
That’s the thing with monsters and horror, they have always had strong messages within them and have always reflected the psychological. Creatures who are made to feel unwanted or feared, are often the victims of ‘normal’ society. They have emotions, like rage, that take over them until they cannot control it; they hide themselves away, search for companions, they long for peace.
All of these themes fitted the way I saw the world; after all, I had my own demons to work with. Much like my creepy counterparts, I started to find that I could use my difference as power. I could take what I thought were my weaknesses and my weirdness, and turn them into my strengths. This all came together when I was training to be a therapist.
I was lucky that the teacher on my counselling course also embraced difference, and encouraged me not to lose mine. I saw that my demons now created an empathy in me for those who struggled. Once I had developed my private practice, I did not hide my own identity, and I still don’t. I have tattoos, I have hair that changes all the time, and my clothes still reflect my goth/punk roots. I am proud of this, and I know that it still fits with my therapy style, which is professional and warm.
I have been able to help so many others connect with their own identities, and be proud of who they are, by showing my own flawed self. I’m not sad or lonely any more. I have a wonderful partner, who embraces my weirdness, and I am able to exist in a world that feels right for me, without having to escape.
Monsters are still my friends, and I am now working on a book project that uses characters from classic spooky stories to help us understand mental health. It isn’t dark or scary, but colourful, positive, and full of life. My monsters took me from the darkness and helped me feel comfortable in myself: they helped me feel human.
Graeme Orr | MBACP (Accred) says:
Growing up, Katie had support from friends and family, but still struggled, and found bullying throughout school to be emotionally damaging. Katie’s life felt out of control, and she self-harmed and had suicidal thoughts. Feeling like an outsider, she was drawn to horror fiction, and connected with the monsters who provoked fear, and yet in reality were incredibly vulnerable. Identifying with these characters allowed her to find the strength to move past the persecution she felt, showing us the power of valuing our own identity. Katie trained as a counsellor, and uses her empathic understanding to help others to face and embrace their own demons.
If you need immediate help and are worried you can’t keep yourself safe, please:
- Go to your nearest A&E department
- Call 999 if you can’t get to a hospital
- Ask someone to take you to A&E or call 999 for you
- If A&E isn’t an option, or you just want to talk to someone, call the Samaritans on 116 123
Worried about someone else? If you know someone who might be feeling suicidal, you can read our information on how to help someone who is suicidal.
To connect with a counsellor to discuss feelings of anxiety or depression, visit www.counselling-directory.org.uk