Learning to Dive – To Bleed Willingly

I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I’ve always felt an intense ‘pressure’ or expectation to be happy. During those times when I’ve been swamped with pain and unhappiness, I’ve struggled as it’s somehow felt wrong and socially unacceptable, so I’ve tried to fix myself and smile over the cracks. It took me many years before I started to look beyond these beliefs to consider the idea that unhappiness is actually okay.

It seems there is a deep sense of fear or discomfort with the idea of being unhappy or sad so we resist it at all costs. However, leaving the default setting turned to happiness can lead to a life of lack as we constantly strive to eradicate unhappiness in an attempt to be happy, seeing it as the enemy rather than realising it’s just a normal part of being human. Of course, there are levels of unhappiness, and, as someone who has suffered from severe bouts of depression, it can be hard to feel the love for the intense lows I’ve experienced, but how does fighting it help me? Resisting it makes things worse, as it means non-acceptance, so I end up fighting myself.

Of course, depression is more than unhappiness, it’s an incongruence between heart and soul, a stage where emotions grow so intense, I become numb and unable to express the depths of my pain. Yet, is depression a form of dysfunction or is it simply a part of being human? There’s such a strong focus on trying to heal and fix depression, but there’s a risk that, in our attempts to eradicate it, we lose sight of what it brings us. I’m not about to start waxing lyrical about depression, but it happens for a reason so perhaps allowing it is actually the true path to healing? Maybe stubbornly ignoring it isn’t the way, nor is doing battle with it, maybe we need to honour it, acknowledge it, seek support if required, but not try to push it away? Perhaps Kahlil Gibran (The Prophet) captured the essence of this the best:

‘Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain. And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief’.

For me, when life gets too much, the shutters fall, I go inwards and slow down as I can’t function at ‘normal’ speed; it’s as though the world has speeded up, I’ve moved on to slow motion, and the incongruence between the two rips me apart. In these moments, I feel neither alive nor dead, awake nor asleep, just empty and numb as a torrent of pain surges up and takes my breath away. For years when I found myself in this state it consumed me completely and it felt like all of the oxygen had been sucked out of the room. It put me in a kind of ‘panic state’ of disconnect (as though I was held in a long breath hold) until one day I realised it was a fundamental part of me and it was a part of my ‘norm’. So, quite tentatively, I stopped resisting it and fighting it; I can’t say I love having it in my life, but it’s a part of me.  Yet, it is full of fertile inspiration and intense emotions rushing around inside my heart and soul, so I now try to look right into the depths of this to find sustenance. There is a tenderness that surfaces in expressing this through creative endeavours as it can reach deeply into my own heart as well as, hopefully, offering others understanding, hope and a sense of unity.

Of course, it’s often hard to see the inspiration when I feel numbed or overwhelmed (or, more often, both at the same time) by intense emotion or when, in the past, I’ve longed for the hoped-for peace of death but, like the rise and fall of the breath, this ebbs and flows, and, in the moments in between, I sense a connection to the fertile soil of my pain and grief. Although I’ve had times when I wanted to put a full stop on my life, I lingered over a semi-colon** instead: I was life weary, fatigued of the inner struggle. Yet, when I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, even through the disconnect, I could still sense my spirit soaring brightly and this inner light kept me from toppling over the edge.

Maybe if we acknowledge this pain then we can turn from being victims to being survivors and, hopefully, thrivers? For me, the only way to heal is to go into the wound, something many find contradictory, but to me it feels like the only way forward. Life isn’t all love, light and fluffy bunnies, it’s full of pain, angst and turmoil as well. To avoid it is to step around an opportunity for healing. This isn’t necessarily right for others as we are all unique individuals, but it’s been working for me. (Perhaps Kahlil Gibran captured it perfectly: ‘to bleed willingly’…)

During more challenging moments, I focus on my breathing and observe the in-breath following the out-breath and repeating the cycle. Honestly, I have times when I want that cycle to end, but I trust the desire will pass. It’s hard as sometimes I feel a torrent of rage and I want to self-destruct. Yet, I breathe through it and I’m gentle with myself, which is hard for a life-long self-critical perfectionist! Not giving myself a hard time is definitely a work in progress!

I find writing when I’m lost in the spaces between life extremely cathartic as, through words, I can let my emotions weave and dance, reaching deeply into the nooks and crannies of my soul. Sometimes it helps me make sense of my inner pain and turmoil, other times it allows me to go into them more deeply rather than skimming the surface with my smile. For me, writing makes it real and allows me to be authentic rather than locking the pain inside. Despite the years being dotted with ‘therapy’, I still find it hard to verbalise my struggles, so writing is my way of accessing my soul.

My experience has taught me not to push away the sadness or the pain, but to turn to it and allow it to bring meaning back into my life. This isn’t the same as wallowing in pain, it’s accepting its role in my life. Of course, it’s our willingness to be vulnerable, and to allow the pain that opens us up to the full spectrum of life as the more we push away pain, the more we shut away joy as we can’t selectively pick and choose; it’s not either/or, it’s all or nothing. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t seek support or help as sometimes we can’t do it alone.

Letting go of my resistance, I’ve realised there is great healing potential arising from my willingness to face my inner demons as I’ve realised they’re not demons, they’re just another part of me. This has set me free and allowed me to acknowledge my pain rather than damming it up within; I’ve found my willingness to dive in has allowed me to find a deeper sense of peace as I’m learning how to ride the up’s and down’s with more grace and serenity. I’m not suddenly living in a rose-petalled wonderland, but letting go of my resistance has made it easier to move through life.

I’m not ‘fixed’ (whatever that means), but I no longer feel broken simply because I feel sadness, pain, grief and anger. They’re a part of what makes me, me and I love myself for it…

‘Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully’.

K Gibran, The Prophet

**Please see Project Semi-Colon