9 min read

Dark Stirrings

Unravelling the self, unleashing the wild within - meeting my creature in the darkness.
Dark Stirrings

So far, I have been writing in response to things, often wanting to generate ‘content’, to share my experiences in the hope that they might reach others. I am becoming increasingly compelled to speak more frankly and honestly, to share words that come direct rather than through an experience (though of course, most words have had seeds in experience, somewhere). Shaking and with that sinking feeling in my stomach, I will share a piece of me here that doesn’t depend on the structure of some other thing; a walk, a gathering, someone else’s content etc. Like stepping out into the world alone, this is where I also need to join with my words.

Lately, I have been feeling a restless current internally - my moods and thoughts drifting between various tones of shadows; of darknesses. I have spent the last year or two really focusing in on my self, of trying to understand myself better, of avoiding the resistance to view myself after a long period of simply surviving. The more work I do, the more I unravel and step towards (or away from) certain parts of me, the more my breathing shakes like long grass on a shoreline in the wind and the more unsteady my footing becomes. As I learn to try new ways of being, the dark clouds of uncertainty build and my mind is ravaged like a ship, as I sleep.

I awoke in such a panic one night, my heart was in my throat and every part of me was shaking - a strange sensation in my left leg had me crawling to the end of the bed, only to have stirred my son awake next to me. I held him close, praying into the darkness around us for more time; to be with him until he is a grown man, that I wasn’t ready. I truly believed I was dying, and this subconscious unease has become heightened with each step towards my self. Often seen as this enlightening, joy-filled, light-strewn place, I know there are reasons behind my previous avoidance of meeting self; and that often like therapy or other ‘healing’ journeys, the discomfort and pain when unravelling in this way is often not touched upon. I’ve heard many people overcome difficult things, the ‘before and after’ photos, the gleaning of knowledge learnt from this path, but very rarely have I read accounts of the explicit journey through. This is what I’m trying to share here - not just my forays and interactions with nature, but those times I am indoors facing nothing but my own nature; of the seething, snarling, knotted creature that claws to be undone, to be freed enough to sing into the trees - to tread trails with a self-assurance rather than fear.

I have spent the majority of my life battling to hold onto and seek life, and only two years ago hitting such a low that I no longer understood any part of my own terrain or surface - I was beyond dissociated and suffocating in the thick fog around my life, my thoughts, that I could not see a way out. It took this realisation, this stepping out of that experience and viewing it from a further perspective, that it drove home how removed I was. I tried out yoga classes and started to feel more connected to my body, attempted counselling which left me open and holding my wounds in a more raw and vulnerable place - open to the elements more than ever before. From there, I began to learn to take steps in nature, and through the lockdown this practice, sadly, began to falter.

I live in invisibility; other than my son calling out for me in the night, I spend most of my days feeling misunderstood, unheard and unseen. Not being skilled at verbalising my expressions (something The Artist’s Way has covered recently, in terms of creative vs verbal-therapeutic expression), I’ve come here to share my piece of life experience in the hope that it might resonate. I feel like I’m battling with an unknown dis-ease or condition; being hyperaware, hypersensitive and always on alert. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t like this; its often been heralded as a positive trait in that I am observant, aware and insightful, but the inner experience of this is that I am aware of everything - even others’ feelings and slight changes in moods and body language - and I take it all in, often believing that every change in energy is a result of some action (or inaction) of my own. The place I come most undone, the place that forges these traits into something more coherent and joyful, of course, is in nature - my heightened senses taking in every little detail, all eventually culminating in an immersive experience that I don’t need to be on high alert for. I can surrender into it. Similarly to art (or gardening, meditation, etc), nature can be therapeutic but it isn’t therapy in itself. What I have missed from my life all of these years, is expression through words or art, which Julia Cameron encourages - a much more radical and freeing act, than the therapy practice of mere ‘acceptance’. I am not belittling therapy, nor claiming it is one or the other (in many cases, it is both), but I have been unable to share myself fully lately, either through feeling like my voice falls on deaf ears, or not feeling like I can even open my mouth to speak in the first place. I’ve wondered and observed how nature - my greatest teacher - express itself, watching as it turns to the light, grows with the rain (and recedes with too much of either). By reading and listening to it, I am learning to do the same for my own needs - of when I need to turn to receive light, or when I need less. Nature doesn’t stop to think about expressing itself, it just does. It lives. It falls back into the seasons, it goes quiet and it blooms and shares its voice, its pollen, when the time is right. Its open to others and takes time to bed down into its roots, and that’s where I am right now, in the soil - figuring out how to send a shoot up into the air, all waxy and new.

How can I write about my stepping-in to my self, of finding my skin and my own bodily boundaries, of finding the strength of the bones that still hold me together despite my brain feeling like a swamp, until I have made it through? I know now, that its by writing through it. I wake constantly with my hands drowned in pins and needles, feeling as though the circulation in my body has slowed to broken trees piling up in a river, the trickle of water seeping out being the bare minimum of its force and vitality. Gradually building-up over time further back along its course, I am overtaken by this sudden pang of finiteness, as hard and cold as a boulder that no matter how much I push against, will not move. I have to learn how to climb it - shaking fingers that when pressed, don’t bounce back - the tiny paths of my other nails and the ground itself imprinted in cold skin. I have to learn where to place my hands, even when I’m unsure of what I’m placing them on. I have to seek my breath, go hunting for it, be prepared for it to resist and become more than a shudder or whisper; sweat pooling between my collarbones as my eyes seek something they can grasp.

Without the softly-spoken words and strokes that I crave, I fall into ragged and broken shards of sleep. If the wind is feeling kind, then it sometimes creeps between my blinds to nudge at my forearms or face and remind me, that it is all out there; I am a part of it. I hear foxes ravaging what’s left of my plants outside, my son restless next to me, and try to teach my lungs how to expand again - like a flacid mammal dowsed in amniotic fluid, I am something else; birthed every night through each wrestle with death. I’ve come to understand the feeling of it, the literal embodiment of my life seeping out of its cavities and returning to the rest of life energy - its a heavy, pulling sensation on the chest, like holding your breath under water for too long, like waves of icy electric surging into one final beat that leads to an ejection into the ether. Except… I keep waking into the injection of reality. With each veil that I lift, each cloud of mist that I pull myself out of, drenched, comes this feeling of getting ever closer to something more alive, more warm, more unknown; something I’ve never tasted or smelt before - murky blue eyes grappling in the dark for that fire and heat. This is visceral and wild, untameable and unknown; its where fear and curiosity meet together, a reckoning. I’m dowsing myself in salt like I'm trying to preserve myself; sweat on my spine and encircling the hollows of my eyes, as though I'm throwing myself into the sea and the undergrowth, pushing myself to seek out light and air; forests teaching me about darkness and the waves leading me to air, to breath - one invades the lungs, the other invades the eyes; both grip at the nape and scruff of my neck as it unlearns the softness of my pillowcase and instead finds itself in a frozen grip. It takes every last ounce of energy and breath to crack the surface of this ice and haul myself out.

The overwhelm has been intense this past fortnight; thoughts running so fast that I can't keep up - I've had motion sickness even when laying down in the dark. Any time I tried to focus in, I could feel it, and I started to feel utterly desperate to get out of my own head, yet chaotically strewn across the room so that I could not grasp at a single speck of dust of me. Nothing made sense. Aside from some stress at home, its clear that the pandemic has not just given me space to unknot certain parts of myself, but found me more tightly-spun in others. A question that keeps spinning around my consciousness right now is: how much are we ever really living - how much of our own lives, are truly ours? I’m battling a lot with my sense of space, choices and freedom; of not even knowing how to claim it or to give myself permission, and this mood has eeked out of me, with dips and lows and shades that have left me feeling lost and stuck - burnt out and cold. Displaced.

Again and again, I have come back to movement - the internal surges as well as the physical rotations of hips and knees, wrists and shoulder blades. When I’m sitting with this unleashed and wild velocity, in the fear and depths of its feral nature, sometimes I feel as though I cannot place a foot outside. So I don’t. I watch the house sparrows and starlings from my window, know that my body will walk across fields and chalk ways again, but instead use writing to articulate and traverse my own landscapes - like casting an eye out over heathlands, trying to find focus, I have to cast my words out into the blank spaces of pages; to find the river, so that I can reel back in again - all tough silver scales, muscle and gasping. I come back to my body through writing (and over time, with walking more often), yet don’t share these moments - often feeling they are too emotive, too deep, too wiry - yet I wouldn’t be a complete human without these things. I am far from just ambling along trails and naming flowers; they help me find my place, but its the lone ant crawling across my carpet, the closed daisy heads I’ve just pulled out of the washing machine that fell from my son’s pockets, the rotting potatoes in the corner of the kitchen and the plastic bags of plants I’m willing to grow outside on a 3m x 1m patch of gravel, that are closer to me right now. I didn’t want to write or face it in those moments, but I had no other way through, and I’m learning to further that process by releasing my words now, too.

On days when I was lost in the thorns of it all, I turned to other voices and was held within rather than simply escaping - most notably through the harrowing, painfully beautiful words of Tamsin Calidas and Anita Sethi. Its through reading the path of others, of their pleas and their fragility, their impermanence as much as their strength and will, that I slowly awoke again, and understand the need and importance of continuing this on - for my own words might one day carry another through their dark waters. It feels like a duty, and maybe even a 'purpose'. I wanted this post to hint at some semblance of apology, for not showing-up, for not providing more - but with each retreat of quietness, comes the next wave of something far more real, far more human; a level I don’t often dig up to the surface to see the light. I thought I must always bring beautiful things here - but beautiful things aren’t always leaves and feathers, petals and fur. Sometimes, they are skin and blood, nails and teeth. Sometimes, they are me.