*B in the A-Z Writing Challenge I’m doing in September. A went a bit awry.
Can I connect to myself?
Healing is happening. But as I heal, I realise that buried within me lie fields of emotion. Great crops of grief, pain, sadness and loss reaching to the horizons of my mind and beyond. The vista as I look toward that horizon seemingly endless. The feelings as I look, disconnected and distant. I see them, but I cannot feel. Like lavender I cannot smell.
Why am I so far away from the feeling? What about facing it terrifies me so much?
I know I have dealt with a lot during my 46 years but has my dealing merely been a subterfuge? Have I completely failed to deal? Is my interpretation of deal to avoid? I felt at the time like I was fully experiencing my life. That I was there, present in body and mind through the pain. But perhaps I developed a coping mechanism early on. Perhaps I learned to turn my face away? Or maybe I learned to turn it towards those who loved me, with a genuine smile and a burst of humour to gently wipe the pain from their faces?
Was this it? Did I mask my pain as compassion for others? I know I did. I’ve acknowledged to myself recently that I often hid my struggles in order not to burden further those around me. They already saw me bleeding and bruised. Knowing the pain that came with that, the anguish, was unnecessary. And there the subterfuge began. My life undercover. My life of pretence.
At school I became a costumed clown, slapping on an exaggerated smile and performing for the public. I enjoyed having a laugh and joking about and this became my tradecraft, distraction. Who doesn’t love a clown… Ok, so perhaps not the best analogy. But I always entertained and by entertaining gained some level of accommodation for my disability. Counteracted the sympathy with tall tales of how a bleed was caused, deflected concerns by creating a story of how I’d got the bruise leaping over a fence on stilts, or some other such nonsense! Accents were my forte and I loved making people laugh
I always like to tell a story. Because my life had become untrue in some sense, I found acting was like putting on your favourite coat. I already played a part as someone unaffected by their illness. Now I had a plethora of roles and a library full of plays to enact. I could connect to those roles. I could reach inside myself to pull out the feelings and emotions from somewhere, as long as they weren’t associated with me. Associating them with a character felt safe, felt ok somehow.
I followed this through to university and studied theatre arts. However, once at university my life changed in two very important ways. Firstly, I realised when I got there I could be anyone I wanted to be! I wasn’t the girl everyone knew at school as the bleeder. I wasn’t the girl one of my classmates had cruelly called cripple. I could be myself! Did I want to be myself? Was that safe? Did I even know who myself was??
Once again I relied on my charm and humour and set about making friends. I made particularly close friendships in my halls of residence. The difficulty there was you were living together, it wasn’t easy to hide who you were. It was impossible to hide my bleeding disorder and since I can remember I’d always announced it as something I was proud of anyway. However, I was not going to be the girl defined by her disorder this time. I planned to embrace being a student and make the most of it. How I coped with the difficult times hadn’t changed. I still wore my brave face and rejected sympathy like it was catching.
At the end of the first year I discovered I had Hepatitis C. This threw my new life into disarray. I was spinning out of control and had no idea how to act my way out of this! I had one or two friends with whom I could share and they held me up when I couldn’t hold myself. I did the same for them, although that was usually a result of one too many Taboos and lemonade.
I felt my emotions and experiences tumultuous inside me. On the outside I was just like everyone else but inside I was facing an uncertain certain death. This ripped me apart at the seams but still I stitched myself up and shoved myself back on stage. I’m not sure I’ve ever faced those feelings.
Since then so much more has happened. Not least my survival, for which I am grateful. But also many losses: of multiple careers, of the potential of motherhood, of desire, of joy. I sit in stillness sometimes and wonder. Wonder how I have lived with all of this within me. Wonder how my disguise has fooled anyone. Wonder how it has fooled me.
What if I dug? What if I dug deep into those buried emotions? Took a spade to the great swathes of sadness and the dark fields of despair. Into authentic feelings I’ve denied over so many years. I fear they would flood out and overwhelm me. I fear they would rush like a murmuration of starlings to the surface of me. They would peck away my attempts to conceal, to protect, stripping me bare. They would swoop and swarm and as they did I would spin and stumble with the force of that which I have hidden all these years. But what if I could face that? What if I am as strong as you think I am? What if I could let them out and bare my soul. Would I be able to let them go? Would I be able to release the emotions and let them fly free, like the starlings spiralling into the dusk.
Who would I then be? Would I be me?