Delicate corridors that would be more comfortable left shut

Monday, 2nd February –
First morning alone in the new flat; woke feeling awkward and anxious. Cut and bleeding, alone, I attacked a hat, tidying up the fluff that was covering it, stretching it over a balloon; wetting it, drying it, attaching a pom pom. Lacking complication, it calmed me. Then washed, dressed, drank tea, restored order to untidy bits and left, heading to Covent Garden.

My shoulders still ache, although not as bad as before. My nose is still cracked; equally, sore. But I think there has been progress with my eczema, even if it is only visible to me. And last night wasn’t quite so bad in the end. At 9pm, I finally relaxed. I managed to sleep. Small things. Important. Although far from perfect: with settling, some peace has been restored.

I think the lesson I have learned is to lower my expectations; to not want so much. Expecting, wanting… is dangerous: I’m constantly setting myself up, searching for perfect in an imperfect world, an environment that is hostile and violent. In this way: a house is never a home, a cafe not a sanctuary, a friendship insubstantial, a phone call lacklustre, a book empty, a song fleeting, a prayer overly demanding, a wish destined to be unfulfilled.

Days drag, evenings fly; sleep, a respite but not a remedy. My batteries run low. My mood crashes. My motivation drops. Standing in winter, cold to the core, I struggle to see ahead. Clutching at straws, forever pulling the short one, the runt: I survive, but only just.

Thankfully, today is a little better than the few that went before: Friday, Saturday and Sunday proving a chore. Moving depletes me, taking more than I have to give. There was a time when I used to court it, viewing a change of scene as the simple solution to the numerous complexities I am unable to fix. Now, I am wiser: experience has taught me that there is no out-running the suitcase, that problems also have legs. Like the Hungry Caterpillar from the children’s book: they run on many and they do not quit.

Grounding myself in the present, living for the day, existing in the moment and allowing it to be enough: so far, so good. I am not hurt. I am not injured. I am okay. Infinite pleasures can be found in the minutiae of mundanity.

Learning to trust in the bigger picture, stand straight and tall, keep doing and trying even when to do so feels impossible, is painful and hard. Just as breaking hurts because it surprises and shocks: so healing can be uncomfortable because it changes solid things. In clinging to the past, we might gain temporary respite, but only in the sense that what we know no longer hurts us all that much. Change is difficult, something that most of us shun, but without it the ‘now’ can never be that different to the ‘then’, ‘tomorrow’ nothing more than a replica of ‘today’. In order to grow, to gain: we have to allow that there will be a period of transition that might involve pain. Like childbirth: new life must find an exit, pushing itself down delicate corridors that would be more comfortable left shut.

On the outside, my body is growling in complaint, but inside a seed has been planted and asked to grow up. I try to water it and treat it with respect. A work in progress, we have good and bad days.

Tuesday, 3rd February –
Up early, despite wanting to sleep, woken by the clitter clatter of impatient feet. Groan, stretch, complain, sit upright; immediately become aware of my shoulders. Tense, tight, several inches too high, hunched and sloping: they ground me, pulling me back to last night – the ugly words, the heart that was broken, the head that was heavy and sad. I look at the floor and they’re still there: the words, the feelings, the pieces… lying in puddles. But then there’s the man, all effort and smiles, and I can’t stay mad or broken. So I forget and forgive, shoving it back to the place where I put everything until there is time and space.

An hour passes, and I am alone, padding my way around the flat. I find it hard to leave: washing, drying, dressing, cleaning, tidying up. I get trapped. I loop. Finally, I free myself. I celebrate, stepping out into the street: the peace and quiet, the unfamiliarity, still covered in dust, twinkling at me from beneath clouds that would upset Pollyanna. But I am smiling and okay and I’ll take that. Grabbing hold, I draw myself up the street – towards the centre, the dial, the heart. I’m smiling and I’m light, shining for now. I even spend minutes I don’t have buying a gift for my partner, debating over character and colour, design and need. Whenever I’m angry, hurt: I react with love, guilt festering inside. It’s something I need to work out: how to accept myself for who I am, what I’m capable of, what I have, instead of throwing it all out in the bath each time I encounter something I don’t like. We are all a mixture of good and bad. Good things can be bad things and bad things can be good. The challenge is accommodating it all, taking from each what it has to give.

Wednesday, 4th February –
After yesterday, today was a pleasant surprise – brighter, lighter, less intense; the temperature was also that bit more tolerable, which meant that places were warmer inside. I had energy I didn’t expect and I felt more positive, like I had reached the peak and was now free to descend. Or would it make more sense to say that I have hit and skidded along the bottom, bruising and scraping all manner of things? Either way – climb or fall, ascend or plummet – my face is healing and my glands have gone down, no longer causing me noticeable discomfort.

I go out. I sit and work. I meet a friend and we chat. We also make – her a scarf, me a hat – twisting and looping yarn with dexterity. Before I know it, it’s 4 o’clock and I have survived.

Feeling peaceful, I decide to go for a walk, simultaneously phoning my mother to catch up. I manage to remain buoyant throughout, even when talking about things that aren’t pleasant – like flats and moving and feeling unsettled and how the cold attacks my bones. Then, an hour left, I tend to my karma, giving money to a homeless man, thanking a shop assistant for her previous advice, spending time talking to people most people usually neglect. I make jokes. I smile. I listen more than I speak. I feel good too, or alright.

Thursday, 5th February –
Still feeling stronger, slowly allowing that the worst of it – the cold, the eczema, the stress – is over for now and I am free to move on, forging ahead into a better future, with more sky up above. And I’m trying hard to let go, removing all expectation, all hope and fear, all need, from where I will eventually end up. Life is too chaotic, too unplanned, too determined (at least right now) by external influences and events. I am not the master: I am simply the maid, and I do not especially like this. It’s limiting, restrictive, contrary to what I, individually, need. I know England is all about touching base with his career, reconnecting with old acquaintances and contacts, making a mark in a new field, but it’s important that I find a space too: attending workshops, taking courses, classes; gaining knowledge and insight, qualifications and skills. And I also want to make friends, reversing my previous almost complete isolation from anorexic to nourished. I never want to be that lonely again; as an experience, it was horrible.

Taking my own advice, I went straight to a cafe and wrote, fitting in an hour before class. Then I went to the meditation centre to continue my course in ‘practical meditation’, where I cleared up a lot of Tuesday’s confusion and learned about something called “The World Drama Cycle”, a concept that, unlike the rather bleak ‘karmic’ one, I liked. Entering with a medium-sized bounce; I left with a large leap.

And from there, it went downhill: the lack of a plan fuelling my discomfort. Why does it always have to be this way? Why am I such a chore, such a puzzle, such a tangle to figure and smooth out?

Friday, 6th February –
I feel like a mouse, stuck on a wheel; turning and turning, unable to get down. Life continues to evolve: the world revolving, slowly but surely. I get up, I go out, I go about my business. But what is my business about and what am I trying to achieve? The plans I had have disintegrated; in my hands, a crumbling mess. Picking at the pieces, examining them, holding them up: I seek with a view to find, but the glass is covered in dust. Why, in order to feel excited, motivated, not only to want to sit but also to settle and remain, must I constantly mix it up? Why the need for change when, elsewhere, I desperately cling – to things remaining the same; to nothing picking up and moving, to strangers stealing the rug? And is it just me; or is it this way with everyone the globe around?

I know the world is suffering and that we each carry a case. I know that most are overly full: a lifetime of problems folded inside. I know mine has run out of available space, that I either need another one or to attempt to take things out. I currently don’t know how: all former attempts disastrous, diabolical, hard to taste. I still have their residue on my tongue: mistakes and regrets, pain and anger, a bitter pill my stomach objects. Presently, there isn’t much I can tolerate, which is why I keep my circle small: a wheel in a cage, a mouse in a house, straw on the floor and cotton wool in the bed; toys, both hard and soft, scattered around… and me – long-tailed, whiskered – in amongst it all; my anxiety contained.

Today has been a bad day, not greatly different to all of the others; no better, no worse. I navigate it with ease because, although odious, it is at least familiar. I fantasise about when it will change, when it will about and turn around. I should also dream, but I lack the strength. Navigating dreams takes effort and concentration, direction and intent: things I do not possess.

On a physical note: tongue slightly better, sore but not cracked, not bleeding; eczema continuing to improve, now confident it will go away; foot weak, delicate, threatening to break, to do what it has done countless times before; nose cut, dry, bleeding, painful to touch; shoulders tense; stomach red, burning inside; mood delicate, confidence shaken, self-esteem low; tired, running on empty, ready for it to all be over now. This particular trip has cost me more than I anticipated, more than I prepared for. My reserves, already depleted, have all but run dry.

Saturday, 7th February –
Weekends seem to be the hardest, demanding more clarity and focus, more making-do and managing-with, than I am prepared for or have within me to give. I circle the flat. I spend hours getting ready, delaying going out. It’s wet. It’s grey. The day does not pull me. Neither does the question of ‘where to go?’ and ‘how many hours do I have to fill up?’.

Time drags. Anxiety bites. My mouth snaps. I am mean when I do not mean to be. I hurt what I want to have.

Walking off – anxious, alone – I pace streets covered in puddles, pass people in huddles, visit shops. Minutes collect. Hours accumulate. Why can’t I sit?

Eventually: a place, a space; heat… I sit. I work. I chat, a stranger providing temporary distraction from the things I cannot confront.

Sunday, 8th February
A space with a door and, inside, windows. A ceiling that is high. Radiators that creak and floors that complain. A sink that is screaming. A chain that won’t flush and a bath that won’t run. Lights that flicker and stop. A bed without springs and a chair without legs. Boxes and cases. A table that bends and a sofa that won’t. Blinds that are black. And in amongst it all, giving and trying, making and thinking, creating outside the box, a heart that is hopeful and a mind that believes.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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