Over the last couple of years, I’ve had a much more conscious and awakened relationship with myself. In many ways, it wasn’t a choice as, due to my spiralling ill-health, I shattered and fell apart on every level of my being. In truth it was an inevitable conclusion to reach as I’ve resisted aspects of myself for most of my life; they are parts of me I don’t like that much (we all have at least some of those!), but as I’ve got older, my resistance waned as the pressure within built up and started to crush my spirit from the inside, out, as I just couldn’t keep pushing away and denying an increasingly bigger part of my heart and soul. I, like most human beings, have complicated my life by over-thinking and trying a little too hard to get my life ‘right’. I’d never really considered that, by focusing on what could or should be, I was denying myself the opportunity to live fully in the present moment.
Surprisingly, I managed to totter on through life, denying my pain (of all kinds) and doing my best to present a façade of holding it all together under a very convincing, but increasingly false, smile. When my resolve started to buckle under the weight of my ill-health and the pressure of holding all the pain inside, I started to feel entombed by an intense and deep sadness: a grief entwined within the story of my life. I had moments where I’d feel as though I had no skin as I was unable to filter out the wave upon wave of challenges crashing in on the shores of my life. I was desperate for even a little piece of quiet respite but it never came. My unbending, plastic smile finally broke and I was left sitting in the indignity of a failing body and a spirit fading in the sadness of a life unlived as I’d realised that, in my attempt to get life ‘right’ and to deny (and try to fix) my quirks, broken bits and imperfections, I’d also denied myself the opportunity to live wholeheartedly.
The benefit of hindsight brought the wisdom that resisting any aspect of the self blocks the soul as we simply cannot thrive when we try to selectively dismiss those parts of us we don’t like, or don’t want. Equally, trying to fix or eradicate them can be equally as destructive as it takes us further and further away from gracefully accepting ‘what is’. It’s similar with emotions as we either embrace the full spectrum or we become completely numb to both the ‘good’ and the not so good as we can’t live fully unless our hearts are truly open; we can’t sterilise life or anaesthetise our feelings to eradicate the possibility of being hurt. If we try, we deny ourselves the opportunity to live a full and enriched life. Of course, no one wants difficult or challenging emotions running amok in life but they are no less a part of us than the ‘good stuff’. It’s true that they also give us a reference point as it’s the contrast and shades of grey that enable us to experience the true masterpiece of life.
In my periods of intense grief, I felt as though I had no foundations. I thought about finding a shortcut home as life simply felt too confrontational and raw. In truth, I didn’t want to die, I was just lashing out against the trap I felt stuck in, but I wasn’t living and I felt lost in a crack of the pavement of life, unable to get my bearings and feeling so utterly exhausted on every level of my being that I had no fight left. Of course, it was my continued resistance that was repeatedly kicking in the doors of my soul but hindsight is never very useful in these circumstances. I shrunk back into myself and, for a while, I disappeared, as I’d lost my sense of me: I had no idea who I was.
I tried to make sense of the hotchpotch and mishmash of random, incongruent happenings that, when cobbled together, equated to ‘my life’ but I was simply finding more questions to ask and not finding any answers. Accepting the frustrating reality that sometimes questions remain unanswered wasn’t easy to accept until I realised my constant quest to make sense of why I am the way I am was adding to my unlived, and, largely unfulfilled, life.
I’d reached a pivotal point when, during a year of relentless hospitals, illness and challenge, I fell apart and broke. I’ve written about this chapter of my life before but there were days when I wasn’t sure if I wanted to rebuild my life as fading away felt so alluring but despite my fragile body, my soul was still vibrant and strong, and I instinctively knew I wasn’t ready to let go just yet. However, it seemed that letting go was exactly what I needed to do. Not letting go of a desire to live but letting go of my tendency to cling on so tightly all of the damn time. I was a perfectionist and I couldn’t accept the life I’d found myself living. I didn’t like my reality so I thought denial would make it better. It didn’t.
The façades fell away and I was stripped bare. I stopped the pretence and I stopped dancing around the edges of life. Instead I opened up my eyes and took a good look. I was broken and shattered but I was still alive. In a way, I felt a sense of relief and security as 1) it felt so familiar to me and 2) all the clutter and the inessential fell away as I couldn’t carry it any more. I was left with just me and it felt exquisite and beautiful, albeit incredibly unfamiliar, at the same time. My life had imploded and collapsed but it felt tangible, solid and real. It was refreshing and invigorating to feel so ‘light’ after carrying so much burden, pain and guilt for so long. Whilst this didn’t change my physical situation and my illness, it shifted my perspective which enabled me to re-engage with life once again as I finally made peace with my ill-health and also with myself.
‘Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life’ JK Rowling once spoke these words and I think until we actually reach that point we cannot begin to imagine the profound shift that occurs in such a space. We may try to understand ‘rock bottom’ but it’s not that easy gazing down the rabbit hole trying to imagine what it’s like laying in the dirt feeling lost, broken and alone. We each perceive and relate to this in different ways; but it’s only when we actually experience it, breathe it and live it can we truly know what it means.
However, reaching rock bottom inspired me as I was no longer falling (for a while, anyway!). In many ways I felt as though I had nothing left to lose by opening up my eyes and taking a big, deep breath of life. In truth, I’m not one hundred percent sure of the motivation that pushed me to fill my lungs with air that day but I chose to breathe back into life. I think it was partly the realisation that, despite feeling completely broken and shattered, I felt more alive than ever before. Acknowledging those parts of me I’d denied for so long felt such a relief. I had nothing left to lose by being me, myself and I. I didn’t have the energy to put on façades and I no longer wanted to. By not wanting to push away any part of myself I started to feel a growing sense of wholeness I’d never felt before.
In time, I started to develop a relationship with myself which felt fresh and new as I gave myself permission to acknowledge my pain and grief. I allowed myself the space to cry my uncried tears and the decades of detritus came flooding out. I entered a cycle of shattering and reforming which took me into unfamiliar territory as it felt so REAL. Every layer stripped back allowed me the space to grieve and to sit with my emotions – good and bad – exactly as they were. In fact, I stopped seeing them as ‘good’ or bad’ as they merged into a more cohesive, whole. I stopped trying to be someone I’m not and I started to be me: a curious and intriguing adventure into unknown terrain as I’d realised that I’d never really known who ‘me’ was.
It was unfamiliar territory and I still have fleeting moments of not feeling sure if life is what I truly want but these pass and with each new day of fresh, raw emotion, I feel lighter. I don’t fight these moments of fragility anymore; I embrace them as a part of me. I no longer deny those bits of me I don’t like and I’ve learned to accept responsibility for all of the choices I did, did not, do and do not, make. I spent decades frozen in the stasis of not living and although the life I’m now living is a million miles away from the one I’d dreamed about, I feel a growing sense of peace with my ‘what is’ as it’s real and this has enabled me to re-centre, to ride the ups and downs, and to feel more alive than ever before. Life is far from perfect but I love being perfectly imperfect as it’s the scars, quirks and broken bits that give me character…