I had a meltdown in the small hours of this morning. I woke around 4am and spent a long time trying to get back to sleep and ease my growing nausea without success. At about half past 5 I woke up Rose. She shut the door as I crashed into vomiting and hysterical crying I simply couldn’t stop.She rubbed my back while I sobbed and apologised because I wanted so much to not be experiencing that and could not stop it, and because I’d filled in a stack of mental health assessments the morning before and the questions designed to measure my levels of self compassion and mindfulness were making it harder for me to have self compassion about my intense pain.
Today, sick and fragile I’ve watched the world from my couch and felt myself shifting into a dark, heartsick place where I need something I can’t name yet. Restless, I can hear the wind in the trees out in the night and it calls to me in a language I don’t speak but do recognise. Better to sail my hurting body out into the dark and answer the call than to stay cocooned and feeling a poison seep into my heart.
Snatches of poems call to me. The coming upon the end of my strength. That some things are untrue even in the darkest places. (The Bad Fathers) I hunt them down and read them with tears on my cheeks and I can’t tell you why these poems or what I’m crying about.
I’m not here, but I don’t know where I am instead. I’m not me, but I have no name or place except the night and the wind. Stepping sideways into a shadowed place, there’s a memory of hysteria but no voice cries here. There’s a silence under everything, under all the sounds I hear, and beneath even that is a yearning.
As the dawn broke this morning I hunched over vomit and sobbed. My self cracked and pain broke through like a storm. I could no more stop it than stop a waterfall. My mind was thorny with the sharp and broken ideas beneath simple questions on paper. I washed upon them naked and they cut into me. “How often do you feel anxious and scared for no good reason?” Never, I whispered defiantly, never. There have always been reasons and all them are good, even if I can’t see them or name them, even if you can’t see them or don’t think they’re important. All their words, so seemingly harmless and well intended, make it so much harder to be human. The act of observation changes what is observed, it sets a fire in my bones. You cannot measure me with impartiality and likert scales that assume I am mentally ill because I am in pain, that I am defective in some way in a world that is just and safe, that pain is madness and madness is without meaning. You cannot measure my capacity to be disengaged from my own anguish and compassionate towards my woundedness without leaving a stain of shame upon my vulnerability. This is what it is. I vomit your beliefs in the night and my love strokes my back.
Here in the night again, waiting for my body to knit back together I find I’d still rather be a poet than believe that pain is sickness. So much of your ‘health’ is simply good fortune. The obsession with control and disconnection are your sickness, not mine. I can break into a thousand pieces and the night after still be moved by the wind in the trees. I am not numb, and I can walk in other worlds. Pain is not the key, but it is part of the price. With one eye I look into the sun and with the other, into the night. (you will not take me, you will not make me your own)
There was no unkindness, on the contrary, I spent a long morning with the kindest and warmest professional I’ve met in a long time. She stoked the fires of my hopes for credentials, income, employment. Told me with delight that the late Michael White, a brilliant narrative therapist who’s work I greatly admire, would have loved me. Opened all the doors I was closing with grief and fed all the starving hopes. I was near manic with excitement all day. There’s something I don’t yet understand beneath all my pain about work. I can’t see it clearly or find a name for it. It has twisted my passion into an unbearably intense pain and self hate that are triggered both by hopelessness and, more cruelly, by hope. These are the thorns that prick my spirit. I scrape over every moment that triggers shame, every opportunity I missed, every time I’ve frozen up, trying to figure out if it’s me or the world. Did I self-sabotage? Was there something I missed? Passed up? Should I have tried harder, fought longer, believed more deeply, needed less. Been less poor, less sick, less wounded, less alone. Would this then have all worked out and I could be the properly ‘recovered’ person I’ve been trying to so hard to be, and wear the armour no one can see that stops you taking the kind of hits you throw up the next morning? I’ve tasted employment and credibility and having an income and it is so much better than this. I may still be alone and naked in front of the crowd but I can afford a robe to put on when I get off the stage. And it’s also no better at all, the aftermath of passion and exposure can still strip me raw and strand me in a place without comfort.
Maybe success would cost me something I can’t see. While I’m here, wrestling with snakes in the pit, I find others reach soft hands to me, likewise scarred. Me too, they say, me too. I know this grief and hollowness, the sense of non-self, non-identity, outside of history and the great people, outside even of the ledgers of those who bind self to job. I know the death by a thousands cuts of your world, each cut a space on a form after “employment?”, a pause in the conversation after asking what I do.
My child still lives within me, what more fortune can I ask for than that? If fortune is a well from which we draw, who’s portion would I take? Here, with the other broken people I find a kind of gentleness, like the quiet generosity of the very poor. You, I am not ashamed of, sisters. Their world is not our world, and I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to wear fine clothes without feeling like a child dressing up. My limitations and my aspirations collide and I am the one that falls.
Ah well. The moon is high and beautiful tonight. The house is quiet. A life deeply lived cannot be without risk or without pain. Pain is not all there is here.