When I Listened
I heard my kidney’s telling me I was trying too hard to hide the sadness.
That I should let it show. Breathe through it. Feel it completely.
I heard my heart tell me I was trying too hard to ignore my needs. That I should tend to my deepest needs. I should be my own best care taker.
I heard my head scream to me “It’s too much to resolve in an instant, in a day”, “you don’t have all the pieces to this puzzle“,
“leave it for another day”.
My back said “I am ashamed”
and my chest said “I am afraid”.
I straightened my back.
I pulled my shoulders back and opened my chest cavity wide.
Exposed my heart.
I set goals for tending to my heart.
I breathed through it.
I let the tears fall & the sadness show.
Took off the tight shoes of pretense.
Shook off the stifling wardrobe of pride.
Now I dance,
slowly to the moment.
Who am I?
The more you want to not think about all the hurt, the more it is buried at the back of my mind—the more the pain grows. How many times have you looked away today just to hide my swollen eyes? How many times have you heaved a sigh just to stop my emotions from building up? How many times have you tightened your grip on your pillow just so I can have a grasp on reality when the constant sting in my heart makes you lightheaded? How many times have you left your stomach empty just to punish me? You have thought through it for so long that you don't know what you've been thinking anymore. You began to lose our mind, and waking up is no longer in our choices. You got everything, but you got nothing. You are good, then you become worse. You were here, and now you're gone. We were here. We were here.
It was the ache of the jaw, the cramp by the shoulder blade, the knot in that triangular muscle holding the head in place that was keeping all the bodily tension from exploding like a shaken champagne bottle.
“Stop fighting it.” The massage therapist muttered gently, trying to work out the knot on my left upper back.
“I’m not.” I insisted.
She was silent for a moment, pushing on my shoulder with the palms of her hand. “Right here, you feel this? You’re very tense here.”
“I don’t know how to not be tense there.” I sighed. How many more minutes of this? I never would have come to this place if it wasn’t for the free massage voucher that my friend Zara had kindly insisted I redeem on her behalf. She had emphasized that I sorely ‘needed it’ and I knew I wouldn’t hear the end of it if I didn’t follow through.
So here I was, making things awkward not only for myself but also for this poor therapist who was unlucky enough to get me as her first client of the day.
“Try breathing out slowly after taking a deep breath.” The therapist, her name was Katarina, suggested helpfully. “Do you want me to guide you?”
“No.” I said, sharper than I intended. I tried to soften my tone. “I mean, no, it’s fine, really. Just… I’ll try on my own.”
Katarina was silent again, no doubt wondering how to get through to such a difficult client. That, or she was silently praying for time to somehow go faster so that we could both leave this awkward situation behind us with some modicum of dignity.
“Just… let me work out this muscle, can you do that? Imagine you’re letting go of it, letting me take full control.”
I almost laughed out loud. Relinquishing control was not something I knew how to do, no matter how much I wanted to.
I tried to take in the dim lighting, the scented candles releasing lemon balm and lavender into the air, the gentle pings of the classical music playing subtly in the background.
I attempted to hold my breath and to exhale it slowly, trying to ration out the the air in my chest to last a full seven seconds. Wasn’t that what they said in those meditation apps? Exhale for a full seven seconds? Or was it eight? I knew prolonged expiratory breathing activated the parasympathetic nervous system somehow. But the seven (or eight) seconds have always seemed unnaturally long to me. How did people do that? I ran out of breath after five.
Katarina seemed to have given up on trying to get me to participate in this exercise. (I was trying, I really was!). She was now really putting some weight into her massage, forcing the knot in my trapezius into submission.
The persistent tension in my shoulders, carrying the self-imposed pressures of my life, resisted with unnecessary strength.
his hand on my shoulder
flowers flop in my fist
"c'mon, let's go," he says
and I feel it start in my chest
jittering, crackling, burning
nausea settles heavy
tell him it's okay — it’s too late to escape
let him pull me along
pretend that it's her
pretend I belong
my body is screaming
that the walls are closing in
short of breath, sweaty palms
go to the bathroom
cold water on my wrists
bring myself back
shudder and shake off the ghost of his touch
Cold, gray static
A matte fog of numbness
My saturnine world muted
Of color and sound
Food so tasteless
Appetizing as ash
Nothing moved me
Or brought pleasure
While peering over
The observation deck
Of everyone else
Seemingly so alive
Coils of apathy
Would squeeze me
In a suffocating embrace
And dangle me over
My personal abyss of
Anorexia is thought to be about losing weight - the anorexic is obsessed with pounds melting away, desiring to be "bikini ready." But it's more than that. It's your ghost staring at you in the mirror, after you've passed out on the ground, after allowing yourself a single apple afterwards, hating yourself for that transgression. The ghost looks hollow, and there's nothing you can do to yourself that's going to fill the void of trauma that led you to this moment.
Anorexia is a public disease. People will stare at you while you walk down the street. They will ask you (this happened): how did you lose so much weight? Are you sick?
The answer is yes, always yes.
But that's not answering your question. What was my body telling me?
My body was begging to be fed. It was bones you could see visibly in my back. It was sleepless nights; I didn't have enough body fat to be comfortable falling asleep.
I refer to anorexia as a "disease." Like depression or anxiety, it is at its core mental. The body merely feels the effects. It's about wanting to disappear, waste away - not even in a physical way, not after a while, but psychically. If I could kill my mind, my character, my soul, not eating was just a means to an end.
I didn't want to die, my subconscious mind did.
The body is resilient. It fights back. Eventually, I caved - this time, not passing out because I hadn't eaten, but because I ate an entire birthday cake in one sitting, after not eating for weeks. I threw up in the shower, unsure if I had to energy to get out of it. Eventually, I did, in one fell swoop, throwing up again as I stepped over the edge.
Anorexia is not glamourous. It is hiding food in couch cushions in front of TV dinner nights. It is lying about what you've eaten. It is bones, bones, bones. It is people crying because of "what you've done to yourself." It is people pointing fingers. It is people who do not understand that anorexia is a mental disease, not a desire to be thin. That desire had disappeared like my body fat, a long time ago.
Anorexia is felt in the body. But it is purely mental; a disease that the sufferer conquers alone, if they conquer it at all.
conversation about my depression
I love this challenge, but will go on the record as being upfront that I am using a post from a few years ago- when I was in that valley.
if you are reading this and in a valley in your life, I love you and if you need to talk- I am willing ❤️
The two sat facing one another not breaking eye contact
"You know why I am here?"
"Do you have anything you would like to say... or ask perhaps?"
"Listen I know that you have tried, look at you now- you've let yourself go"
"I put aside time on myself for time in myself"
"What does that even mean?"
"It means I want to get better, and it is difficult enough, and nothing make up fixes"
"You've become quite angry I see"
"...and your faith, is this mess of you still clinging to faith?"
"I still have faith, I would not be here sitting with you if I didn't"
"but you know I am here to kill you?"
"So why need to have the pleasantries? I'm just curious"
"Because I have faith"
"We did cover that you know"
"Yet here we are"
"I wonder- will this be our last encounter?"
"It could be"
"And let's say it is, tell me- what happens next"
"There is no next, if there were we would not be here... this is it... "
Eye contact and silence.
"Do you need help?"
"Alright, and how about one more list of the.."
"...no... no more lists no more guilt, I have no time for lists"
"wow, okay then- no more lists"
"Soon but I don't know and I won't know until it happens"
"... and do you think you will go to hell?"
"I don't know"
"Well all I need is the permission then"
"Not to be cheeky- but what you want is going to have to be more than an O.K"
"Yeah, I understand that. I will write you a letter"
Silent. Eye contact and silent.
"Sounds pretty standard, that's not like you"
"I am not me anymore"
"I can see it actually, I actually can see it"
"I don't want to talk about this anymore"
"That's fine, but you will let me know then?"
One more look at one another, only this time more in full.
With a deep sigh, she stood- pushed her chair in, and walked away from the mirror.
Asthma, tics, weight or a heart condition?
I used to think they were "asthma attacks". I carried that term like a badge, presented it to the doctors, explained that it was because I hadn't eaten or I'd walked too far or I'd had a headache or I'd needed more room in that stuffy place to breathe.
I thought wrong.
As a child, my anxiety never displayed itself in the way it chooses to, now. Anxiety and I walked together. And it helped me immensely. Because of it, I got really great grades. Of course the price was paid in little hidden bodily scratches for every littlest cause, the smallest and mildest twitch in my eyes during really stressful moments that only a couple of people ever noticed.
That was secondary school. But in university, my parents chose the worst possible option for me. I agreed. And it changed... Everything.
What happens is that if you keep a certain urgent thing or emotion suppressed for a very long time, it often finds a way to show itself. It's like a mole digging underneath the skin. If one passage out is blocked, it finds another - all it knows is that it needs to come out. It needs to be free or it might collapse without the oxygen...
We don't think about breathing, much, do we? It's simple. It's just there. I didn't, once, too, I suppose. Not until the first time I had a panic attack. I'm sure I had things like this in secondary school. Lesser, more hidden shows that I never did in public. But this time, it was different. This time I couldn't suppress it and I couldn't make it go away.
No, instead, my body demanded my attention. My body forced all that horribly uncontrollable energy into my face, my eyes, my hands. My body made me jerk and twitch - I call it glitching, now that I know the reason why. Now that I understand it a bit better.
But you can imagine how confusing that might be for a teenager who felt anxious so generally that seeing it as the root cause seemed ridiculous. So I told the doctors it was asthma. And I got nebulised over and over again, every single time. People would crowd around me each time it happened in public. My mother caught it a couple of times; my father once.
And the shame just grew and grew.
The attention always made it worse. I'd get triggered by something seemingly small and random. Forgetting whether the word I was meant to use was morning or afternoon. Of course, it could be a much bigger cause, too. And then the ability to breathe would escape me. And I would keep searching for it, trying to suck out all the oxygen of the air around me in shallow, desperate, hungry gulps for life until I was inhaling pure fire, braising my lungs in stinging marks, filling it up with smoke and fumes.
I try to make the words pretty because it's nice to make something so terrible seem beautiful. I like the thought of it. Fire and smoke and desperation. Clawing at my throat, hoping someone, anyone could make it stop. And sometimes, the attacks were quiet. Once upon a time, barely triggered at all, I felt a weight collapse against my chest for a full hour or so.
And I was crushed and I was crushed and I was crushed...
And being the me I was, I wondered if it was a heart attack. Some physical illness, definitely not mental. I asked myself a few times, laughing between the tears that night, if I was going to die. And at times, I'm between the heaving palpitations, I would consider calling out for help. But how many mentally ill people consider stretching a hand out into the world a worse fate than drowning?
Progress, now. I do know that I wasn't having asthma attacks or heart attacks. It seems ridiculous to me today that I even considered it. But when you live in a world where people hide their more broken sides, what else can you rationalise? But that it has to be physical unwellness and not the mind that can have so much power over the body?
It's some time later that I read about something like what I'd gone through in a book. The first time I saw it being represented, maybe. Perhaps not the first time but... With words that truly spoke to me. It was "Veronica Decides to Die". Paulo Coelho. I saw it again in this recent Bridgerton series. I saw my pain represented in fictional people and I smiled for a moment. Because hey. Maybe some people are better at hiding. Maybe it doesn't come out in uncontrollable twitches and spasms (which I've recently learnt how to better deal with). Maybe not all these people accidentally misdiagnosed themselves with Tourettes or asthma or heart conditions before they discovered the truth.
Maybe that doctor that spoke to my parents when I was maybe six years old should have maybe told them it was a deeper problem than just the cliche fat kid needing to lose weight trope.
But I taught myself what was wrong. And I learnt to do my best with it. To accept it. To press a hand to where its hurting, as if that could somehow cool the pistons firing off within my chest, to ease my stomach into less knotting please and to breathe. The more I gasped for oxygen, the less seemed to come.
So instead, I let go. And I turn my eyes towards oblivion. And I wait for this body of mine to stabilise. This tired, kind body which does its best for me. This body that begged me to listen to it until it had to force me to hear its pleas instead. I'm a teeny bit older, now. And more importantly, I know myself a little more. And I am kinder to myself too; mind body and soul.
And that has made all the difference.
Awful, Anxious, Anxiety Monster
Ah, anxiety. My sometimes nemesis. When my anxiety is raging, what is my body telling me? A couple different feelings come to mind. First, would be a large something sitting on my chest. Pounds of weight pressing down on me, trapped. When I out, I usually feel like there is a tight band wrapped around my lungs over and over. Deep breaths feel far out of reach. Sometimes my body says it's cold. My hands shake, and my teeth chatter. Sometimes it feels like there is a hand around my stomach, or a spoon inside stirring it around, pushing bile into my throat. Or every once in a while, on those really bad days, I feel like it's all crashing in on me. My anxiety plays straight mind games, and tells me I'm going to die. Maybe this didn't sound good, or wasn't well written, but my anxiety told me not to tell anybody so I'm doing my best.