On heart break…
Once upon a time I took a long boat ride out into the great Australian bite in order to dive with great whites. Prior to stepping onto the boat my mind was preoccupied with a fear that my anxiety would overtake me and I’d be unable to get into the cage, thus wasting my time, my money and the courage I had so carefully scraped together. Unbeknownst to me at this point was the fact that my biggest hurdle would not be the 5m long predators circling me while I swayed inside a cage constructed out of a metal that appeared roughly as sturdy as your average coke can but sea sickness. About 30 minutes into the voyage it became sadly apparent that my sea sickness tablets were insufficient and that I would be throwing up nearly continuously for the next 5 hours. The sickness in fact abated while I was in the cage making it by far the high point of the day. Anyway while my life was progressively ebbing out of me one of the crew told me that during sea sickness people go through two stages. In the first they feel so incessantly ill that they fear they will die. In the second the horror dawns on them- they can be this sick and in fact not die but instead remain hideously alive and aware of each convulsion. This I think is also a horribly apt description of what heart break feels like.
Once the shock wears off you feel as though someone has opened up your chest cavity, inserted a sizable piece of granite inside and then sown you back up. The pain that lodges in your chest and emanates throughout your body is tangible. It aches and aches and even though you haemorrhage tears nothing seems to erode so much as a millimetre off it. You wallow on the floor, flail on the bed, cry, become entirely numb, go out, stay in but it remains stubbornly in place. A boulder of hurt and pain that you drag with you from place to place. Often you feel your chest loosen a little when hope first appears on the horizon. This is often in the guise of your ex reaching out to check on you. Your optimistic self deluding mind choses to interpret this as a sign that they may be wavering in their resolve. That after a little time apart they too have been wracked by internal haemorrhaging resulting from disentangling their heart strings from yours. A flicker of light appears as you envision them prone on the sofa looking through photos of the two of you, rereading old cards and contemplating the empty space by their side. Sadly all too often this contact is not a result of their epiphany that you are the one for them but rather their need to assuage their own guilt. They can’t quite stomach the idea that their actions have left you crushed and so they reach out on the pretext of checking that you’re ok. They even sell this to themselves as kindness, a way of maturely honouring the connection you had etc but underneath this their motives are primarily selfish.They want you to be ok so that they can be ok with their actions and not feel accountable for the wounds they have inflicted. This realisation tends to precipitate the real fall. The pain is so all consuming you can’t imagine that you will survive.
Here the self blame sets in. Every little thing you have ever felt was not entirely charming about yourself becomes a reason to despise yourself and clearly contributes to how profoundly unlovable you are. You rewatch Bridget Jones which in your 20’s made you feel decidedly perky about the likelihood of finding love regardless of your flaws. Only now all you see is that recovering from a break up doesn’t fit into a neat 3 minute montage, your friends are all married not quirky single Londoners and you are in fact now older than Bridget Jones. Cue another wave of crushing hopelessness and near constant tears. And some time after this point you realise the truth; you are not going to drift off into oblivion on this cloud of pain and self loathing, you are in fact going to continue to live. At this point if you’re smart you decide that given the ongoing nature of life it’s possible that your relationship was not in fact the only thing that gave satisfaction in life. With the granite still lodged firmly in your chest you open one eye to the outside world and begin to recall that it has continued on its merry way without you. And so you drag your boulder with you to bars, movies, yoga classes and realise that for a few fleeting moments you no longer feel it while you are connecting with these experiences rather than wallowing in all your glorious self loathing navel gazing misery. Although there will still be bouts of this for some time to come. But as you ramble off on meaningful journey’s and anticlimactic dead ends little pebbles slough the boulder in your chest and fall by the wayside until one day your realise you don’t feel it anymore.
One day you will feel a flicker when you catch someone’s eye across the room, sit next to them on the tube or chat to them in bar. And most often nothing tangible will result from this, it just serves as a reminder. The contrast of this little spark with your regular day reminds you that it’s been a while since you felt anything of this nature at all. And a little bubble of hopefulness resurfaces from some place you had no idea still existed. To cope well with being single one needs incurable optimism. This bubble will nudge on to new possibilities. You’ll realise that you’re back on dry land and still standing but after a while of treasuring the security of standing a sense of inertia begins to tickle at your feet. And at the back of your mind a thought begins to blossom, love can come at a high cost, it’s floundering failures bring great pain but perhaps after all it’s worth it just to feel something. You’ve long since accepted that heartbreak will not kill you (even when you wish it would) this leaves two options- live your life as though your heart has in fact died or, come what may, just live.