True Alchemy

Last year was undoubtedly the most challenging year of my life, so much so, it has taken me until now to process it and to find the courage to form the words to write about it. I had to face the depths of myself and, as if that wasn’t enough, I kept on going into uncharted territory. I’ve learned the pain of spiritual and energetic disconnection, as well as the cold light of day reality of my failing body. I’ve been avoiding looking in the mirror for years as the reality was simply too challenging which left me in a haze of denial as I thought I could bluff my way over it. However, denial finally caught up with me and pulled the fraying rug out from beneath me, leaving me tumbling into a free fall of pain and confusion.

Perhaps one of the most poignant experiences from 2019 was the intense feelings of disappointment I felt about myself and my life. I’ve always had issues with perfectionism and to face the slippery slope of illness has been stark, cold and extremely inhospitable. Many times over the last year I’ve found myself questioning if I really want to be here anymore and a few times I’ve come a bit too close to closing the book of my life. Yet, each time, something, or someone, pulled me back, instilling a renewed sense of hope, and enabling me to want an in-breath to follow an out-breath.

I’ve always struggled with repressing my emotions, in particular anger, but the anger surfaced with such force and ferocity over the last year it knocked me off my feet. I suppose I’ve always strived so hard to get life right and I’m so disappointed in myself for not being able to stay ahead of my bodily dysfunction. My mind is as active as ever and I dream about walks in the hills, going for a run or getting back into exercise; even just being able to walk up the road would be nice. My constant focus on what I’m not achieving though has kept me looking in the wrong direction as it’s kept my awareness on a sense of lack and feelings of failure. I’ve actually needed to concentrate on everything I can do, and whilst I may not be able to do the things I once could, or feel I should still be able to do, I need to find quality in what’s left.

So many people take things for granted and wouldn’t think twice about going for a walk, let alone being independently able to tie up their shoe laces. It’s only when we lose something that we can begin to appreciate its true worth. I was guilty of that until the day I couldn’t anymore. However, although I couldn’t take things for granted, I was in denial, and by focusing on everything that was going wrong with my body and my life, I was slowly squeezing the energy out of the little bits of good that were left.

As things intensified in early 2019, it felt as though someone was setting off land mines underneath the surface of my emotions, and they came flooding out like a tsunami of pain and grief. As my world started to fall apart there was nowhere to walk other than on more land mines and each one triggered new depths of emotional turmoil for me. I’ve never been one for being in touch with my emotions as I’m more of a cerebral being, but my emotions were protesting and taking over the building of my soul.

As landmine after landmine exploded and tore me apart, I felt a strong sense of disconnection from my body, mind and soul as everything I once knew fell away and turned to dust. I felt desolate and beyond despair, and I truly wondered what the point of living was; I had nothing left. Or so it felt. In the end, I had to let the grief and the pain follow its own path, allowing it to travel through my consciousness like a feather in the wind being carried along by the currents, sometimes twisting and turning in the breeze, other times resting lightly on the ground. When I stopped fighting and opened up to the process of allowing, I started to feel little glimmers of the true beauty of existence.

During such a profound and deep period of depression, the world closes up and seems to go further away from me, but when I started to let go, I began noticing the world around me once again and I could hear the birds singing, feel the sun on my skin and watch the magnificence of the natural world. Simple things, but enough to remind me the true beauty of life. I started to feel alive again and this felt strangely unfamiliar as I’d realised just how disconnected and shut off I’d become. To survive, I had closed down and whilst this enabled me to keep on keeping on, it meant I’d lost touch with my heart and soul, my creativity, my body and my spirituality. The more I opened up to allowing, the more I could feel the fires dancing within me as the brick walls I’d built started burning away, making room for compassion, love and tenderness.

In many ways my life has always been much bigger than me, as though I’ve yet to fill the giant pair of shoes I always thought I could fill. As a result, I’ve always strived to do more, be more and achieve more in order to get life right and to fill those shoes. This has meant I’ve rarely felt truly happy in the moment and I hadn’t even begun to acknowledge that, whilst I may not fill those shoes, perhaps I don’t really need to in order to be wholeheartedly happy.

I’ve spent most of my life running. Running away from myself, running away from pain, running away from the possibility of pain. In the end I sanitised and sterilised my life so much that it became a barren wasteland where nothing was able to thrive. Obviously my thoughts and beliefs ultimately shape and define the essence of my life, but I had closed down to the point where I was just existing.

When I sat in my car, staring intently at the brick wall in front of me, in those few seconds I felt an intense urge to push hard on the accelerator and keep going. Watching the drops of rain run down the windscreen took me into a moment where time froze. In that moment, I felt an intensity of despair that ripped my heart and soul out, but, at the same time, I felt a sense of reconnection to life as every sound, thought and echo suddenly got louder and hit me in the solar plexus like a wrecking ball. I felt alive, but dead at the same time. It was the bib of the car horn behind me that stirred me as the lights had turned to green. As my consciousness returned fully to the car, the moment had passed and I went on my way.

In all honesty, I’m not sure if it’s ending that I’ve really wanted, but more an intense desire to find peace. The white noise in my world had got louder and more intrusive over recent years and I was really struggling to shut it out. My whole body was shaking with loudness as my filters on the world faded, making every sound and every breath audible and deeply penetrating as though I had no skin.

As a result, I became a shadow of myself; a hollow, empty and redacted soul. Life developed a kind of bleached quality to it: the vibrancy of everyday life became somewhat dulled and toned down as though the full impact of the real deal was somehow too much for me to process. Emptiness filled my heart and soul as I became entrenched in a smog of profound emotional pain and depression, unable to write (my emotional and spiritual catharsis), and feeling switched off from the world. This spiralled further after a string of continual stresses and it felt like the floor fell out from underneath me.

Although I kept resisting and fighting, intuitively I knew it was time to let go and to stop trying so hard to get life right. It was time to accept my frailties, quirks and many nuances, and learn how to love them, instead of trying to be the person I thought I ought to be. It became time to wholeheartedly laugh and to find some joy in life again. The force I’d been fighting was myself and the more I’d fought and denied my struggles, the more constricted my spirit became as I stepped outside of myself, unable to deal with the reality I faced. It reached critical mass in 2019 and, like icebergs colliding, my reality crashed head-on with my emotional turmoil.

I hate being me at times, I over-think way too much, I dig, poke about and seek answers to questions that don’t even have answers. I think I’ve given up trying to make rational sense of the seemingly irrational nature of my life. I’ve spent years trying to unravel and unpick the knots and tangles in order to find ‘the answer’ without ever really knowing what the question was in the first place. Over time, although I’ve realised the futility in seeking out answers to questions that don’t have answers, it hasn’t stopped me from trying all the same!

The change of pace in 2019 seemed to suck all of the oxygen out of the room which caused a kind of energetic hyperventilation for me as I retreated deeply into myself in order to try to survive, but, only finding a barren and lifeless landscape within, I was forced to face the depths of myself in order to finally heal some of the pain and grief that had taken root. When I tried to open up more and make sense of my life, I felt myself falling into a hole inside myself. Once in a while a sentence emerged, but it felt twisted and juxtaposed to everything else, and I just couldn’t talk about it or let the words out.

In the end, through the haze of my tears and through the waves of exhaustion, I began to find a new sense of peace; a sense of shift towards a new resonance. Although nothing was ‘fixed’ or resolved, I began to accept that nothing in life is ever truly resolved; questions remain unanswered and puzzles have pieces missing, yet life ploughs on in a somewhat random and chaotic fashion.

Throughout this time I felt a profound sense of aloneness, of disconnection with everyone around me. Friends have slowly slipped away over the years as my ability to meet up or make contact has dwindled, and whilst I still have a few precious souls in my life, each one has their own lives and their own challenges, so I closed up and recoiled into myself feeling unable to reach out or ask for help. I didn’t have the energy to use the phone or even send emails, so I shut down.

I think ill-health has a habit of making us withdraw when we need connection the most. Over time, with my medical issues expanding and my world contracting, I started to fade from view, feeling like one of the silent unseen rather than a valued member of society. I tried so hard to keep going, but the effort it took to sustain this became greater than the effort to let go. As I’ve come out of the haze, it’s made me realise how isolated I’d become and that needs to change.

It’s unquestionably hard to put into words the intensity of the emotions and turmoil I experienced last year. I’ve never been one for talking openly about either my physical ill-health or my mental health, not that I feel ashamed about it, but because I thought I was managing and to discuss it might break the stoical veneer I’d perfected. Denial can be a very destructive force. When I hit rock bottom, I realised the only way forward was to start acknowledging every aspect of myself and stop denying the bits I didn’t like. Whilst I’m beginning to accept the things I can no longer do, I still have to remind the stubborn side of me that constantly pushing on all the time isn’t the only way to survive. Sometimes I need to rest and be tender with myself. At the same time, I’m opening up to new avenues and pathways, as well as exploring new ways to do at least some of the things I once loved.

As the stillness after the storm begins to settle, I’ve finally started to find peace with the rapidly changing landscape with my health and my life, and this has enabled me to create the first note of a brand new song in my soul as I begin to think about living life and being me. I still have a mountain to climb and a gaping chasm of pain to face, but at least I’ve taken the first steps. I still occasionally touch the edges of those low thoughts I’ve described, but they are rapidly losing their power and momentum. It took many weeks and months before I started to have moments where I’d suddenly feel a sense of worth and a sense of purpose, and these are now expanding and growing. It’s definitely a work in progress, but it feels tangible enough to distil, condense and articulate into words now. It’s been a year of true alchemy for me as I’ve found a way to transmute the pain, grief and struggle into something stronger and brighter.

Looking back, I feel wiser and more balanced than before and my steely, stoical exterior is melting as I’m allowing the warmth in my heart and soul to breathe, expand and blossom…