As I write this I am at my parents house. This is not the place I grew up. I’m in their house in Cornwall which they moved to several years ago. I haven’t been in the place where I actually spent my childhood in almost a decade. Not in the flesh at least.

Over the past 5 years I got pulled into “therapy-space”. The wide range of practices, retreats, professionals who make claims about how they can help you grow and overcome the troubles in your life. I’ve seen several therapists, meditated for days and weeks and at times grown tired of talking about how my central goal is to connect to myself and others with more compassion. And as you might expect, I have also talked a bunch about my childhood.

What happened in that house in West Yorkshire? Why am I like this? I had a clear narrative of a happy childhood for so many years. But the prodding of psychologists and counsellors pushed me to reevaluate. I have generally been more socially anxious than most people. Why? In my early teens I had spent a surprising amount of time fantasising about dying. Why? When I was in my late teens I started to find talking in groups really difficult. Why?

I still don't have answers to these questions. I have theories of course. The therapists I’ve seen all seem to think it was something about my relationship with my parents, my brother, and my sisters. This seems like it’s probably part of the story. But it could also be something about being somewhat neurodivergent in a world that didn’t understand me. Or something more specific? Maybe it was that time that I accidentally peed on the living room floor at age 12 and was then perpetually scared of the kids at school finding out. Or maybe it is just genetics. Maybe the powerful early memories of feeling fear and shame were just the first time an inevitable predisposition struck me.

I am at my parents' new house now. Despite not being where I grew up, spending time with them still pulls me back to my childhood. I feel drawn when I am here to look at old photographs. I want to try and connect with what it was really like for that little boy 25 years ago. And this time I have been looking at my poetry. Maybe that is where I will find the answers?

I have been writing regularly for a few years now, but I had a long break from adolescence until I was about 30. I used to love writing as a child. I would craft stories and poems to entertain my friends and family. I viscerally remember 9-year-old-me’s excitement I had about a new poem idea. I stopped writing in secondary school. I don’t know why. But luckily I still have some of those poems. After reading them, I can’t help but think they are part of the picture; that they tell a clear story about why I am like this, or at least how I was always like this…. So this is what I want to share with you for the rest of this piece. A 9 year old boy's poetry, and my interpretation of it.

Here they are:

Poem 1: My Cupboard

"Mother Hubbard” is referring to this classic rhyme about a woman who has an empty cupboard.

This story of my cupboard is clearly about shame. The poem starts with the line “please do not look”, and then goes on to discuss the things I don’t want you to see. When I wrote this poem I was clearly unknowingly communicating something about the feelings inside of me. The thing I find particularly interesting about this poem is the clear mix of the positive and negative. I talk of things that seem tangled and pointless like “yarn” and “coathangers all over the floor”. But I also talk about lego, playmobile, and cars. As a 9 year old I already had mixed feelings about myself. There is so much complexity within me, much of which I can tell a positive story about, but I want to highlight the negative too. One of the last lines “you can’t say I like my cupboard” leans towards confirming the shame of the first line. Please do not look. The shame underlying my social anxiety was with me even then.

Poem 2: I am an alien

Here is another poem about avoiding connection. The opening line “I am an alien” isn’t hard to interpret. Clearly I felt different to others. There is a clear communication of a confused attachment style. I “try to contact you”, and “I love you”, but I really want you to stay away from me “you will regret it”, “you’ll catch my flu”. ET in this poem, like the yarn and the coathangers in the My Cupboard, represents the things I am ashamed of, the feelings within me I don’t want you to see. Maybe ET is my anger that I am trying to protect you from. The fact that I give two unrelated reasons for you to not connect with me (ET and the flu), feels almost desperate, like I am scrabbling for some reason to keep you away.

I don’t know what the dish and the spoon represent.

Poem 3: I am a monster

I typed this one up! Fancy!

This poem is similarly less subtle with regard to communicating shame, but is a little more bittersweet over all. I particularly like the themes of uncertain romantic love. I wonder a lot about Bigfoot and my brother in this poem. I suspect that bigfoot is the big bad feeling inside me again, as with the yarn and ET. But the death of the brother almost feels out of place. I used to fight with my older brother a lot though, so this might have just been wish fulfilment. The unclear sense of attachment to others is another theme that repeats here. It’s confusing that the humans “come back the very next day”. They must like me and my cave then? The inconsistency between the “people are scared of me” narrative and the actual behaviour of people around me was a theme throughout my childhood and adolescent.


This exercise feels a little silly. But it's clear from this poetry that the feelings that controlled me through much of my teens and twenties - shame and the relatedly a strong desire for and fear of connection - were there early on. I am glad that I expressed myself like this as a child. I am glad I can see and connect to this 9 year old so clearly even through his metaphors. I want to leave similar bread crumbs for my future self. I want to tell myself-at-50 what it was like to be me. This is why I write.