“It’s horrible when you’re not well isn’t it, you feel like dying” he told me “Yes” I said. This is the conversation I just had in the corridor with my next door neighbour who has recently been diagnosed with Parkinsons. So plainly that “Yes” came out, because yes I know what it is to want to die, six months ago that was me. The relentless pain, exhaustion from the pain, recoveries, relapses, social isolation, the inability to ever hope for the life that my friends enjoy, the one I used to have too, the shame of asking them to help with my shopping and, unable to leave the house, asking them to come visit or skype me so that I was not always alone. I literally felt like I had been rubbed out. I did not exist. I was in a dark place. Sometimes you have to sink pretty hard in order to re-surface. The hole I found myself in scared me stupid, sufficiently so to really try and get to the crux of the matter, I decided the only way forward was to feel all the pain, everywhere, and all at once. To feel the physical pain and the emotional, to walk right into it. It was frightening, dark and lonely but ultimately necessary and liberating and potentially freeing.
I had a dream during that time. I was on the streets, late at night, running away from something, there was this constant presence but I couldn’t see what it was. Someone put a note in my hand, from behind. I never turned around and I still don’t know what was written on the note but I remember how it felt to have it placed there in my hand, it was both a little frightening and comforting. I think perhaps this was the beginning, I realised I needed to turn around and face it, whatever the ‘it’ was. And my meltdown was such that, despite my lifelong distaste for ‘psycho-babble’ I knew that psychologically something was very very wrong. Where was all this emotion coming from? I wasn’t emotional, I was strong and calm and in control, always. Except I wasn’t, not really but I never knew. Not til then. And then the control all started to fall away.
And I started writing and writing, nonsense, anger, whatever was in my head I got down on paper, and the more I wrote and cried and crouched in a ball on that floor, the more insight I gained, the more I could see why I was so distressed, in addition to years of physical pain, all those seemingly insignificant patterns from relationships, childhood experiences, my inner voice, the one that relentlessly chastised me for failing to make myself well, all those started to make sense. And understanding, for me, is the key, if I understand then I can work with that, if you don’t know you are destroying yourself, then how are you supposed to stop?
The intensity of that emotional pain has calmed down now, but when it returns I just try to accept it, to let it do it’s thing, not to turn it away, not to berate myself for not being able to cope. Distress is part of life, as much as is joy. And the joy, well that started to surface as well, I cannot believe how numb I have been all this time, in a bid to block out physical pain I removed all the colour from life. I started to really hear music, the layers of sound, recognise texture in it, food had a renewed clarity, picking herbs, grinding spices, just soared through my head, the orange of the nasturtiums on my balcony was so intense it burned my eyes. This all happened in tandem with recognising the shades of my physical pain, that it too had texture, resonance if I really listened. I started to observe it with curiosity in a focused and structured way from time to time. I observed how and where it moved to, what shape it might be, how sound mirrored it, how the layers manifested themselves. This process gave me the important understanding of how it is always in flux, it is not stuck, and that actually when you look right at something, it loses it’s power.
The shift regarding my physical pain now is from drowning and self-berating to watching, watching and cajoling, nurturing. Pain just picks you up, you have no choice as to where it takes you, you have no control. I am trying to learn to surf it. As it hits I try to be more aware of where I am in relation to it, how I breathe, what is going on in my head, how I am engaging with it emotionally. I am now both separate from and a part of it’s whole, it’s a complex relationship to navigate, but I now have the reigns, kind of, most of the time, some of the time, I think. I lose hold sometimes and the pain bolts but it’s early days, and to feel any sense of control, that there is even a sense of push and pull, well, it’s progress. A beginning.