Confessions

I’ve Never Told Anyone That…Sitting on the Toilet Is My Safe Space

Bumping heads with my dysfunctional family is inevitable in our one-bedroom flat but on the porcelain throne, the kingdom before me goes on as far as I can imagine.
May 20, 2020, 8:41am
privacy, mental health, family conflict, anxiety
Photo by Filios Sazeides on Unsplash. Edit by VICE. 

Confessions is a series of essays on personal experiences and intimate issues, many of which have been kept secret for so long. By sharing these previously confidential accounts, we explore our own mental health without judgment and the various ways we cope, with the hope that it makes it a little lighter of a burden for us to carry. It's also a reminder that no matter how odd or unique these experiences can be, someone can relate to it – and we are not alone.

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It’s dark but I don’t really care. The setting sun finds its way into the corner of the room casting shades of blue that lightly bounce off eggshell-white ceramics. The National is playing “Graceless” on my phone and I am far away from here.

When you’re living in a one-bedroom flat with your family, there isn’t much room to be an individual. When I think about something, I’m thinking on behalf of the two other people there. Every move I make sends ripples through the house and eventually laps at everyone’s feet. With a family as dysfunctional as mine, those ripples usually transform into tidal waves, and before you know it, I’m neck deep in another shouting match.

Fights range from something as trivial as unwashed dishes to serious ones like pointing out character flaws, most of the time with the sole intent of getting under each other's skin. Yes we’re family, and yes we’re supposed to love each other, but throw in a checkered past stained with unresolved familial issues and you’ve got a toxic cauldron waiting to bubble over.

Living in a small space hardly ever allows for alone time, and even when I find the quiet privilege of an empty bedroom, I’m always on edge, waiting for my disgruntled mother or brother to barge in. A locked door requires explanation, and "alone time" just isn’t good enough.

The one respite from navigating this emotional minefield comes in the unsuspecting form of a toilet. There, I could finally find quiet solitude and a place to bask freely in anonymity. The toilet has become not only a place of physical relief, but also a go-to to decompress, reflect on the day, and let out all the hot air and emotional baggage I had picked up.

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In that porcelain throne room, my family understands the concept of boundaries and a locked door is finally justifiable.

It might seem strange but sitting there buck naked is when I feel the most free. Whether I’m listening to music, mindlessly scrolling through my phone, or letting the water fall over me as I sit beneath the shower head, my mind is free to run wild. Inside your head is a funny place to be and for me, unlocking the mind to explore requires certain keys. When I’m outside the bathroom, even if I'm alone, I’m constantly looking over my shoulder, unconsciously bracing myself for a fight. If I want to truly centre myself, I need to know that I’m not going to be jerked back to reality. I need to know that my vulnerability is not going to be exploited over some dirty fucking dishes.

It's hard to take a walk around your mind when you’ve only got one foot in the door. But once I lock the sliding doors of the bathroom behind me, apart from death, war, or sickness, there’s nobody that needs me more than me. Only then can I finally dedicate time to do whatever I want, especially if it’s nothing.

This has been my reality for a while, and now that everyone’s on lockdown, I find myself spending more and more time in the bathroom. Before this, sitting on the toilet was a 10-minute affair. If I needed space, I would simply go out for drinks with friends, see my partner for dinner and a movie, or take a walk in the park. Since we're all confined to our houses, there’s none of that. Now, I can spend anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half in there, doing anything and nothing.

I sing, I laugh, I cry, I be myself.

It’s cathartic to have that quiet time where release finally comes, and even if it’s just 20 to 30 minutes, it does wonders for my mental health. I can re-centre myself and think about how I’m going to take on the rest of the day. It gives me clarity of mind and wipes away any of the stains left behind from the day. I’ve accepted that my family is a lost cause, and that sometimes distance is the only way to heal a wound. Until I’m capable of establishing that distance, the toilet will just have to do.

Recently, I’ve noticed that my mum and brother have also been spending more time in the bathroom. Maybe they’ve finally found my hiding place and have adopted it for themselves? The one place of quiet contemplation that this house allows for, I shouldn’t be surprised that they want it for themselves. I’m not mad though. We can take turns, and maybe for once, we can finally share something.