Admission of where we really are, how we really feel, can be tricky territory, especially when wrapped around with a belief system (a common one) that positive spin is fundamental to making things any better; like we must thought-trick ourselves into a better circumstance by sharing only the good stuff, the happy thoughts and the up-tempo. This can leave us with nowhere to go with one of the prime instruments of healing – self-expression (and its sister, self-honour) – at a time when their collaboration are needed the most. If we mute ourselves whenever we are going through the ‘bad’ stuff, where do we place all that debris if not in our cells, feeding it back into the core of the problem, stoking its fires.
Sometimes, we just need to say it like it is without any apology, we need to know that we can, to demand that we be allowed to and to say it all whether or not anyone is actually listening. All too often, we sing out our happy-clappy stuff to the world and leave a whole undercurrent of darker waters with nowhere to flow to, trapped underground in the biology of us. This is what happened – and it was an enlightening, healing process – when I decided to ‘say it like it is’ and be damned (or socially side-stepped, perhaps skipped over or boo-ed for writing a depressing blog) and be damned because this is primarily for for me. I share it here because, if you are going through anything really challenging, that you feel you can’t burden others with or express out-loud and which isn’t getting better, may even feel completely stuck or getting worse, perhaps you will identify with some of what I have to share and find the processes at the end well worth trying.
If I’m honest, and I realise I seldom choose to be on this particular topic, my health – in quantifiable terms – is ‘worse’ now than it was ten years ago, when I first became unwell enough to stop conventional work to give myself all the time and space to recover. A decade later, my pain isn’t any less (though it generally takes newer, more alarming, forms that attack my nerves rather than just muscle); its just that I have learned to live with it as my daily baseline. You’d be amazed at the level of pain I call my norm. If I seem to be coping rather better with life’s routines than I did its because they have been made far easier for me (my husband has taken on most of the school runs, much of the housework; we have just had to bite the bullet and sign up for a bi-monthly cleaning service as I finally admit that I’m not coping with this at all). For the first few years, I still went to the supermarket once a week; now I get everything (I mean, everything) delivered do my door.
Exhibitions and art groups started as a way to get me out of myself and I was part of a weekly life-study group for years, perched on a stool or standing for three hours of drawing. These days, I can’t plan for more than an hour of seated activity at a time. These days, I only manage one of my art group’s exhibitions – the spring one – each year as the long driving back and forth and need to take turns manning the exhibition space have proved too much for me, so many times, that I prefer to avoid the risk of letting them (or myself) down at the last moment. This year, I am considering dropping the spring one too as last year was a struggle and I have been feeling so challenged for weeks now that I can barely imagine feeling better by May. I have stopped seeking, or taking on, commercial work such as commissions or trade shows as there is no way of predicting whether I can meet the deadlines or even produce at a reasonable pace; my art-output has never been so slow or so stilted.
Its been an especially tough few months in that regard – my last commercial exhibition was in October…and I didn’t make the opening! Many planned things have been cancelled, modified or postponed since September. I seldom arrange to see friends anymore as lunchtime meet-ups or a ‘coffee’ require being able to predict how I will feel in advance and hosting dinner parties (like I always used to do…) is far worse, I just can’t take all that prep, that cooking, those long hours of chatting and the expectation of ‘booze’. As for drink, I think its fairly accurate to say I no longer ‘do’ this as my body can no longer cope, my last sip was on 28th December; I didnt toast either Christmas Day or New Years Eve (that’s a first) and can count the number of glasses Ive had, since September, on less than one hand. It feels odd to say it but something I once enjoyed so much I couldn’t imagine one of life’s milestones or a weekend without it seems to have quietly slipped away…
There’s more ‘evidence’ of downturn if I look for it (and, being a pain-induced 5 am. wakefulness as I write this, such thoughts are very typical of the hour). Yes, I walk my dog every day, come rain or shine, but its been feeling like much more of a chore lately, not because I love him any less or don’t enjoy the outdoors anymore (its my best therapy to get out of the house) but because the pain, exhaustion and sheer heaviness of my limbs can make it feel so counter-productive, so very hard to tug on those boots, especially in foul weather when everything screams with pain. I used to be the queen of shopping and, even five years ago, would trudge around the shops with my daughter, willingly holding her coat, and my tongue, as she tried on outfit after outfit. Last week, I took her shopping for under an hour and we spent maybe fifteen minutes in a clothes shop where I felt, very swiftly, leaden and in such extreme pain I had to find a seat (I dont know what they pump through the air conditioners of those places but they make me feel toxic to the core). We were meant to be going to a cafe but, by then, I was locked in such awful nerve-spasm that I was mostly concerned about how I would drive the car home so we didn’t. Next week is the school holidays and I feel frustrated and a little worn out by the prospect already as what we had planned is seeming less feasible by the moment, relative to the challenging week I am currently in. I get so fed up of offering provisos and conditions (not too long, not too far…) to all the trips out we arrange as a family, trimming them to what I believe I can realistically cope with so that I don’t set anyone else up for big disappointment.
People see my pictures grinning out of Facebook and assume all is more than well in my world. Most don’t have a clue I have anything wrong with my health (I don’t wear it as a badge) and I’m aware my determination to look happy, fit and ‘normal’ in social media had been as much about convincing me as its been about convincing them. If I just keep painting this picture of my life in sunny colours, I tell myself, then that’s the picture I will surely get; that’s basic ‘manifesting’ in action. So I chatter and I post, share family photos from yet another break or a walk at sunset (yes, my trips away have become my all, they’re quite literally what I have come to live for, like hand-rails pulling me through the monotony, so I give them everything including a song and dance on social media). What they don’t see is the ‘crash and burn’ day half way through my holiday, the tears at bedtime, the week or even month of recovery when we get home. For every outing, every treat, it feels like there’s a pay-off. My life looks just so active…thats another part of my game with myself; seeing myself in my mind’s eye as active and fit, not invalided and struggling. See those smiling pictures of my daughter and I cycling; there’s no caption to say we fixed the bikes up to make this a regular thing but I only managed it once. I joined a dance class and was so excited about it for 6 weeks but, by September, the vigour of the activity had all the signs of significantly aggravating my symptoms (one of the pitfalls of fibromyalgia) so I put it on hold until I felt ‘better’. I talk about ‘daily’ yoga but, many times, that’s just me laid out on a mat in corpse pose, trying to knit body and soul together to gentle music and deep breathing. I have tried to find a yoga class that suits where I am at, what I am capable of but I think I managed to put off the last teacher I spoke to for fear I would slow down her lesson; she hasn’t replied to my subsequent email. Our dog walks look so outwardly bound, we climb hills, we stand in the rain…yes we do all that, and then I go into wrap-up and recovery mode, I know not to do much afterwards or to make those days every day. I also do them out of some sort of necessary defiance, like giving the finger to how my body feels. The weekend we recently spent in London, I was crying in the shower that morning with paralysis of the lower legs and all sorts of weird neuropathic symptoms kicking off including very severe head pain; most people would have cancelled but I refused to. So we went anyway and took it steady…and I spent all day Sunday curled in a ball on the sofa feeling run-over by a truck.
Then there are times I don’t say anything at all, I withdraw because there’s no saying what I am feeling, not in any nice way. That has been the last few weeks. Did anyone notice I had gone quiet, my regular blogging and posting had ceased? Perhaps they thought I was busy doing all the usual wonderful things? The reality is that I’ve felt holed up in my own pain and have been struggling so intensely I didn’t know how or where to ask for help.
My symptoms get ever weirder and more intense, it seems, so that I am about to embark on another load of treatment and investigation…all at high cost, which I could seriously do without the worry of, or the feeling of flushing more money away yet getting nowhere with solving the mystery of my health, or the guilt that it would be far better spent on other things…family things. The wonderful therapist I am seeing, in desperation, tomorrow hasn’t seen me for a full five years as I don’t tend to allow myself these luxuries (as I regard them) very often. I live under a perpetual weight of feeling like I don’t contribute enough to this family and, in fact, only take away from its abundance flow and peace of mind. We really struggle financially, if I’m honest, with the fact I don’t earn a regular income and so every little extra cost my health generates feels like another guilt-trauma to my psyche. I love my family to bits and hate that I burden them, that they worry about me, that I trim their lifestyle, lower their mood and hold them back.
I have good friends but most are now ‘virtual’ and dotted around the globe as I really don’t get out (you’d probably be shocked how little). Seeing my hairdresser or going for my three-times a year yoga session are about it, maybe one or two other friends once or twice a year for an hour or two, which is about all I can handle in one go as even chat can wring me out. Though I have deep and intimate conversations with several of my online friends, they still see me through the window of what I project through social media and email. Whenever any of them so much as hint at meeting me in ‘real life’ I feel my knees buckle and feel sick to my stomach with anxiety, partly because I can’t seem to cope with the most mundane social demands let alone rolling out a red carpet to those from far-flung places, but also because…if I’m honest…I’m terrified that they will be bitterly disappointed at what they see, the reality of me. You see, me in the flesh doesn’t feel like an accurate representative of me in my heart and soul (the me that can best communicate through written words) these days…in fact they feel like two very different people. In my flesh, I feel flat and lack confidence, I struggle with muddled thoughts that have forgotten the merry dance steps of social nicety. I seem to have spent years trying to get the two things to match up – inner me and my body – thinking all the right stuff, living all the right choices, but still my cells sing to a different tune.
The mismatch is starting to feel malevolent, if Im honest, like I’m being poisoned by something in my environment, by my water, by EMFs or a nasty vibe sent my way by someone I’ve crossed swords with (yes, Ive even considered this…as you come to consider every possibility when you’ve felt unwell for this long). I’ve done all the inner work, detoxed all my cells and my belief systems, have worked so damn hard at keeping in a positive frame of mind, seeking the positive reasons for all this and believing (constantly) that I’m on the brink of a breakthrough. I’ve worked very hard to keep paranoia at bay and to seek empowering answers and meaning from the inside out but find I’m now forced to look at my environment as the missing link (those investigations I mentioned above). There’s no denying I struggle most profoundly around too much technology, around the wifi and computer world we’ve dived into hook-line-and-sinker as a culture and that’s just provided me with the latest kick ‘where it hurts’ as I swallow the bitter pill of the only solution at my disposal. If I really have to part ways with such reliance on technology, to switch these things off, more times than not, to mitigate the pain in my body then I just had one of my lifelines taken away. As someone who gets all their thrills and juices flowing exploring information you can’t gain access to any other way, by blogging, by working on my own photography and researching/preparing/igniting my next art project online, who’s closest friends are online, whose daily adventure into new music (a big passion of of mine), whose forays into new concepts and enlightening ideas are all online…having to accept all that is now on ration so that I can switch my wifi router off is coming at me very hard indeed, leaving me holding what feels like a shell of a life. So, nine hours out of ten, I’m left with – what – a paintbrush and a daily walk as my only thrills? It all feels too narrow to be borne and while it might all be tolerable in another, less stimulating, time and if I lived in a picturesque location nestled by a stream in the woods but it lacks appeal in a house on a busy urban road where the endless sound of traffic, and the vibe of everyone else’s wifi, is the container for my world while I am stuck in dull monotony wondering ‘what is this all about?’
So what do you do with admissions like these? Do you take a flying jump off a cliff while holding them? Or does the saying of them out loud…the very allowing of yourself to say them outoud…help to purge them, to de-energise the sheer foulness of the situation and come back like an energetic battle-cry and a fist punch in the air? Should, perhaps, I print them off, take them for a little walk and float them away on the river, or tear them into tiny pieces and burn them in my hearth? Make a celebration, perhaps, of the me that has been through all this and honour her, THANK her for doing all that stuff, giving her all the recognition that is long overdue for being so stalwart and brave through trial after trial. Should I perform a little ceremony (it won’t be my first…) to take back my own power, my liberty, my broadest sovereignty and declare that I’ve had enough of all this now, its time to move on? To demand that it be so, throw some cosmic weight around, with this sorry account waved in the air as a list of grievances that I will have addressed as I demand my life back, in full (and with interest)? Ten years to the month since my health crashed and burned; I feel I have done my time – and then some – and this post feels like a line drawn in the universal sand.
Has the act of writing, itself, released something in me that was hitherto held hostage lest it tell the world that my smiling face is a facade, a front that belies dark currents of despair and futility? Yet that too is a complete misunderstanding, perhaps the one I fear most, because none of this and none of the ‘me’s I have put forward is a lie. All those smiling faces, those twinkles in the eye, the trivial quips and shared silly videos, the success stories (“I sold a painting today”) rather than the ‘failures’ (“Who doesn’t make it to their own exhibition opening?”), the uplifting blogs, the hope messages are all real, they’re me as much as anything is; I just want them to be the bigger part, to tip that balance, to be carefree, pain free, at least most of the time.
I used to think tipping that balance involved me staying on the cheerful side of the line all the time, tugging and pulling and hauling circumstances over to that side, seeing everything as optimistically as possible (or not mentioning it at all), like I was in a one-person tug-o-war contest. All that did was give me rope burn, it seems, and it was deeply dishonouring of the ‘me’ that needs to express how much pain and frustration she is in. I stepped right back from social media this past few weeks and it taught me something interesting; I recognised that I only shared when it was good news, not ever when it was bad, like it had been underwritten into my friendships contracts that I would keep them out of any ‘murky stuff’ that was going on with me, would keep it ‘nice’. This left me with nowhere to go, nothing to say, when I most needed my friends and I have been very quiet for some time now, have withdrawn ever more deeply into myself, malingering in the shadows, when letting myself our more would have achieved more balance and let in more light. It made me question the worth of social media and my blogging community because they still left me feeling utterly isolated when I most needed support, quite regardless of how many people I told myself I was ‘connected’ with. Maybe this post is the exclamation mark that follows a very long line of dots in my self-expression for all the weeks (lately) that I’ve felt far too lousy to blog or chat online, too fearful of saying something down-tempo that people would judge me for, shake their heads and say “oh no no no, she let the dark stuff out of the bag, tut tut tut, nobody wants to read that over breakfast” and so I embraced the forgone conclusion and stepped away to lick my wounds during my hurting time. I’ve been quiet all these weeks because I felt like no one wanted to hear what I had to say. Well hang that, I’m saying it anyway – for me.
So, maybe this post is a bit ‘oh no’ for some people…unless you, too, are feeling this crap and were, at some level, waiting for the permission, the cue, to say it out loud, to just say it like it is, just once. As I’ve always said, better out than in so this one is ‘out’ and I do feel somewhat better for it, in ways impossible to explain. I’ve been back to bed and slept for two hours solid, very deeply, since writing this and it has the feeling of the levy breaking in my body, like the moment when the back of the flu-fever is broken. I can allow now that the extreme intensity of recent weeks has been some sort of healing crisis, the darkest hour before the dawn and it is as though the energy is shifting around it already. My situation, my health, has lost a sort of malignancy that was anchoring it and making it feel especially heavy.
Malignancy is a deep and often unnoticed process, it’s where we turn in on ourselves and literally eat away at our own centre, our life-source, and take things on all alone rather than burden others with them or prepare to share the load. It’s when we feel most afraid and empty in our sense of isolation, of not being heard or wanted, in our separateness – which is an illusion but a very convincing one when we are locked into the dungeon of pain. It can happen for all sorts of reasons but lack of self-expression is one of them. Theres no room for politeness where avoiding malignancy is concerned; we owe it to ourselves (and everyone around us who is feeling anything like we feel) to say it like it is and to honour our own experiences by recognising what we are feeling, how it is affecting us and how scared we have become. I know, without knowing how, it’s the first stage of any sustained healing process and not one that can be avoided or side-stepped. Maybe, by restoring balance and allowing it be to be said, I just achieved something quantumly that will allow me to heal and move on.
Suggested exercises for releasing and healing
Write down whatever you are going through, every bit of it, starting at the beginning (which could involve taking it back years) – this is your ‘story’ and it deserves to be honoured and acknowledged as the epic that it is.
Be as honest as you can be; don’t hold back in deference to any particular audience (as though you will be judged for it); this is for you and no one else has to read it – unless you want them to!
Notice, and take time to mentally bow to, all of the things you’ve ever been through; allow the patterns and trends to show themselves; breathe through anything painful that you hadn’t allowed yourself to own before or to think about lately; take pauses to let it all find its equilibrium and go back into it, filling in gaps, until it all feels complete.
Prepare to be truly awed at the amount of suffering and challenge you have single-handedly taken on and be more than a little bit reverential around that. Allow it to puff up your sense of self, to pick up what feels like a sad and sorry account into an epic one with you as its unsung hero. Love yourself, love yourself and love yourself a little bit more for all you have been through. Acknowledge how unconditional that love is – it is not dependent upon happy circumstance but has been there through thick and thin. Let the knowing of that power you up ready for whatever life has to deliver you, going forwards, knowing you will never abandon yourself, come what may. Recognise that it is the depth of pure love, in action, that you have always been seeking outside of yourself and yet it was always there with you on the inside.
Notice the forward traction even where you thought there was none; notice how even a backward moving / deteriorating state of affairs is always moving forwards in ways often more subtle than overt, even if they have been moving you towards a healing crisis that must be gone through for the ‘fever’ to break and life to heal.
If you recognise that you are in the midst of that healing crisis now then give it fuel by embracing it as such. Allow that this is the dark before the storm and feed that reality with the expectation that, on the other side of the absolute darkness of today stands a colourful dawn the likes of which you have never seen before. Make that a vivid reality by focussing on it, visualising it, feeling excited for it. Allow that solutions will now come to you from wholly unexpected sources, that the reason you couldn’t figure your way out of this crisis is that the ‘solution’ is not anything in your prior experience but something entirely new; something for which you had to travel this particular route (however hard it has been) in order to realise.
Appreciate that journey; know (deeply) that you wouldn’t be the ‘you’ that you are today unless you had travelled this particular path, with all of its pot holes.
Step into your sovereignty and demand that you are ready to reap the benefit of your experiences now, without further delay. Allow that you have your own back covered, that your innate guidance is built-in and that you can’t put a foot wrong as long as you listen to the way you feel about each step along the way.
Be prepared to share your experiences with others, little by little, and allow that vulnerability to flower into a reciprocation as they open to your trust in them by releasing their own locked-up emotional burdens and cellular debris. Start to recognise places in your energy field that feel like they are carrying stored debris from those aspects of self that you tried to protect others from knowing, out of embarrassment or protection – and consciously let them soften, open and release. If you can’t say these things directly then write them out ‘as though’ you were unburdening to others, just like you have done with your story in this exercise. Visualise your body as a storage facility, like a vast library, and then imagine all the dusty shelves, all the microfiche drawers and all the locked-up cabinets have been emptied out for a deep spring-cleaning exercise, then flood them all with light. Decide they look (and feel) much better that way and dispense with all the clutter – permanently!
Make a ceremony of self-appreciation including dealing with the account you have written as you see fit, be that sharing it with others, scattering it on the winds or onto a bonfire, burying it in the garden and planting a bulb on the ‘grave’ and watching it flower…just do it your way and see what happens next. Allow that you have made a transition – invisible though that may be – and entertain the reality that everything is starting new from today.