Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'My whole notion of truth has shifted. It keeps moving and I can't tie it down and this frightens me'
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Life is so strange. I've spent the last week deeply concerned about my social skills, about the fact that at times I have felt totally inept, almost shy. But the truth is that I actually don't have anything to say, or, to be even more truthful, I have nothing to say to the person to the left of me, or the person to the right of me. It's a combination of being alcohol-free and the notion that romance is dead.

The white wall is no longer blinding as the lunchtime sun dapples its light in rays of splendour. The stars are no longer a million, million miles away twinkling like whispering dreams. The sea does not have the ability to surround me like an oceanic cloak. Sun is sun, stars are stars, sea is sea. My world has lost its magic. Everything is as it is, and that is a very difficult conversational point. I can't cross that bridge anymore, I can't be the last person standing in the bar and I can't be the first person to arrive to have a drink. It's like I'm floating on the outskirts of the social evening.

I have had terrible pangs of loneliness, where sleep is by far the best option, to disappear inside myself, away from the constant feeling of social difficulty and all its trauma. The strangest thing is the realisation that I don't know myself very well and, as I don't know myself very well, I can't actually trust myself. Would anybody trust someone they don't know? Especially someone who has been pretending to know them for years?

I keep looking at my face in the mirror and try to weigh up whether it really looks like me or not. Then, the most scary thing in the whole world, the "Movement of Truth"; my whole notion and understanding of truth itself has moved. It's shifted in a completely different direction and it keeps shifting. It keeps moving and I can't tie it down and this frightens me as everything feels slippery and untouchable.

White lie, black lie, shifting the boundaries slightly, keeping a bit of information back, relaying the story subtly. All of this fucking shit I never had to deal with when I went to bed half-cut and woke up half-cut. Truth just screamed out of my mouth, sometimes in the most horrid, abhorrent way and other times it would slide with enough wit and eloquence to grace a court.

Some people, when they drink, lie constantly. I have the opposite problem and now my level of truth shocks me, I even think it borders on the spiteful and those parts of me really are not very nice. So, when I'm sitting at the table on holiday in Kenya, next to an almost complete stranger, it's almost impossible to make polite conversation unless I lie. The lie is emotional, a veneer, an appearance to be socially acceptable and the reality is that I want to scream.

A few days ago I did scream, I screamed quite a few times, I embarrassed myself. I had flown up to a tiny place close to the Somali border, a place in the shape of a crescent moon, an idyll of palm trees, white surf and nothingness, a desert island cliché, heaven – turned into hell. I never knew I had a crab phobia until last week. Crabs the size of my hand, millions and millions and millions of them, a giant crab carpet, which most people found amusing and enchanting. My banda only 20 yards away from the water's edge, the serenity of the lapping of the waves and the fear of my high-pitched screams as I sat on the middle of my bed listening to them scuttle across the brush matting floor.

My fear was irrational, I shone my torch down on the sink as I went to brush my teeth and a crab, illuminated like an extra from hell in its own tiny spotlight, stared up to me pleading for deliverance from its porcelain cell. I lay in bed listening to its claws scratching away on the white china surface. Sleepless, riddled with guilt and unable to pick the damn thing up. I slooshed it with water throughout the night. Even with all my fear and hatred for the thing, I really didn't want to wake up and find it dead.

Something really lovely came out of all this. Last week when Kenya as a nation appeared to be heading towards some kind of civil war, I had countless messages from people worried about me, some extraordinarily over the top. I had a very simple text message from my mum: "Tray love, thinking about you, love Mum". This week I received an email from her which read: "Dear Tray, are you with your friends out there? If you are on your own at least you are with your birth sign. Don't be scared, the crabs will be more scared of you. Enjoy the lovely sunshine and the sea. Lots of love, Mum."

Both these messages made me feel very loved and very understood by my mum. She knows my level of fear. She also knows my level of rationale, extremely level-headed when it comes to it. Am I in any danger of being caught up in a civil war? No I am not – and if I was I wouldn't be here. But am I going to go into a total traumatic breakdown over a crab? Yes, I am. Sometimes in life you need your mum to tell you everything's going to be all right, even if it isn't. Today I need my mum.

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