Right now, life is intense and exhausting. It feels a bit too much at times. Yet, finally and with great relief I can say...in really good ways. I know, even I am shocked at hearing myself say this! After a deeply fracturing, splintering and traumatic few years, this year I've been returning slowly back to some new-kind-of-myself. I feel back in 'my life'. In my body. And despite the last few difficult years, I've realised that it's actually been decades since I've felt this kind of flow, this belonging in my life (just to say - it's not all perfect, there are still challenges and difficult days!).
A 23 year career in Social Work, whilst full of growth, challenge and learning (and occasional running for my life) sucked every bit of spare life-energy out of me. The spare life-energy I needed to make vocational changes, follow dreams, write stories and essays. I berated myself for years for not being able to shift my life in a more creative direction. But now I look back and realise with compassion, there was no energy at the end of each day to water the seeds I was planting. None.
Thankfully, the seeds lay dormant, waiting. Waiting until I glued myself together.
My Dad's death in 2016 slammed mortality at me and thoroughly woke me up. It split me open and demanded change. It was a violent awakening. I made the conscious decision to fully grieve, to let the deepest howls of pain spill out. I couldn't live the old life any longer. And I couldn't hold the pain in. Even though I tried. The pain of grief has been unlike anything else I've ever experienced or wish to experience ever again.
In June 2017, I woke up to find my face red, raw and blistering and parts of my labia minora had disappeared. You read that correctly. Parts of my most precious flesh had literally disintegrated, a process called re-absorption due to a condition called Lichen Sclerosis. This was a week after the Grenfell tower block fire in London, a catastrophic event that made me critically question my role as a Social Worker due to the mass failure of public services to support traumatised residents in the immediate aftermath. What was evident was that the local, grassroots response to the fire became the agent of comfort and solace to those who survived - local people caring for each other, not the professionalised public sector.
A week later, around Summer Solstice, I lay on the Hill of Tara near Dublin and said ' do whatever you need to do with me'. I was barely holding it together. 2 days later I woke up completely broken, not remotely together, barely functioning. I called in sick to my contract (I was due to work a 64 hr on call shift) and have not returned to social work since. That summer was filled with a deep depression yet moments of pure wonder - this is another story.
Returning to the body...
Looking back from where I am now, it's weird to see that I wasn't in my body and I definitely wasn't in my life. I was a zombie, a night walker, a shell. Trauma, grief, stress and living a life that's not yours does that to you. It steals YOU. It stole me. It's difficult for others around you to understand and when you're in it, stunned, it's difficult to describe it to others. In Shamanic cultures this could be described as soul loss, parts of our soul disappearing in to the ethers, fractured by trauma, waiting to come home to us. On a neurophysiological level it may be described as an amygdala response, getting 'stuck' or a very challenged polyvagal nerve. Spiritual crisis, nervous breakdown, meltdown, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, some WHO ICD-10 category or the other. Mostly deficit-based descriptions. None of these labels felt feral enough for me. They were too limiting to describe an experience of multiple shades, quirks, pains and wonders.
My definition - one mother of a fucking wild awakening, a brutal splitting open, a dragging by the hair, ripped from the old and thrust in to a more 'me' version of my life. Because I was resisting too much. Too bloody fearful of real change. Damn, I could've made the changes so much easier if I'd been brave. Really I could have. Maybe I've watched too many Bollywood movies and went for the full shabang of a wailing change instead.
The last 6 months have been a slow returning, a slow belonging and a massive relief - I'm back. Parts of my soul have returned. I'm still looking over my shoulder, still slightly wary after the tumultuous times of what unwanted surprises may lay ahead. Mostly, I feel immense gratitude at being wildly alive. Of surviving. Thriving. Wild. Alive.
Singing from the glue...
Now, you'll hear the good singing, from the bits I've glued back together and that's where I intended to start this blog post, with some inspiration from the book, 'Poetic Medicine' by John Fox, where he asks, 'Where are you glued together? (That's where you hear the good singing)'. Reading that line reminded me that all the work I do with words and glue-people are about the 'good singing', the loud singing, singing from the glued up bits of ourselves, finding the courage to express our dangerous and untidy bits, our suffering and joys. This is where transformation happens, when we sing together and others hear us. We need to write words that sing.
It's O.K. for the rich and the lucky to keep still,
no-one wants to know about them anyway.
But those in need have to step forward,
have to say: I am blind,
or: I'm about to go blind,
or: I have a child who is sick,
or: right there I am sort of glued together...
And probably that doesn't do anything either.
They have to sing, if they didn't sing, everyone
would walk past, as if they were fences or trees.
That's where you can hear the good singing.
People are really strange: they prefer
to hear castratos in boy choirs.
But God himself comes and stays a long time
when the world of half-people start to bore him.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke.