Allowing My Heart

“My second day off this week. This morning I’m tired. The day involved simple things, sleeping and eating, painting and writing. I would be rested if life was functioning properly; but it’s not. Enough sleep doesn’t add up to enough rest. That’s been true before given some mental health concerns, but it’s so very noticeable lately.”

I’ve been staring at these words for two weeks. I wrote them May 7th, but it could true of last week or this one. a couple of days off do not resolve ongoing exhaustion.

Last week was difficult. Smoke alarms in my apartment ended their life abruptly in a chaos of light and sound that hurled me backwards through memory. Trauma lives in the bones and muscles, shuts them down without giving notice.  This was that was morning; sound asleep at 5 am my body slammed with a cacophony of sound and light, each pulse feeling louder and more intense. There is no up or down, no bed, no floor, no walls, no door, only bones and skin trying to hold together not knowing how to escape.

Between the strobes and blares, hands reaching for glasses, balanced on the side of the bed. Heart pounding, every muscle taut and loose at the same time, pain and panic became one. Stomach retched up while nerves shut down. Direction is a thing of the past.  Inside the bars of piercing tones and strobes of light, a sound. Low to their high, persistent, resonant, this deep drum roll of memory: pounding floors, echoing walls. A burst of anger. Feet and stairs colliding with enough intensity to break them. Before the assault, the sound wave hits.

Crisis ready. Trauma scarred. I wobble on the brink, between two boxes. Disorientation informs decision, but crisis says push on. Work calls. Crisis must be faced. So, I gather myself. Shaken. Carrying the pain. Ears screaming things my insides want to say. A voice finding a way through time and trauma speaks from memory, “What would you do if your house is burning?” 2014, revisited. I hesitated at the question, unsure of (the right) my answer. I hesitated. Stayed. Paid a debt not mine. Didn’t understand the question or the reasoning behind it. Learning the answer is a slow process.

Crisis and Trauma lived in separate boxes; still do. I shift gears and hope to find strength enough for this day. This time. For the smoke alarms; a phone call or two, repair handed off, I head to work only to find later the baton was dropped and two more alarms sounded that day as I waited for the electrician to come. One unit changed, one left, and two more alarms a day later. Five times total the shock wave hits before both alarms are changed. Broken moments too like memories past, I still cringe thinking of it.

Alert is a habit hard learned. Sleep is not rest. Rest is something beyond trauma that comes tentatively, touching a moment. Like the tiny birds on my balcony who chirp their questions at me and the day. Outside becomes sanctuary. Outside always was. Outside I was safe. Inside, halls and stairs, too many corners and doors. Boxes within boxes; no place to hide. Holes in the walls. Feet on the stairs. I can handle the crisis, but trauma wears me down. Rest? No. Rest is the full breath that comes when you have a safe space to breathe.

It has taken one whole week to convince my body this space is safe. I bought chairs and a small folding table for the balcony. Plants for something alive. I’m teaching myself to be in this space, enjoy the sound of birds and traffic flying past,  dandelions in the grass below affirming a change of heart is possible, imperfections are allowed. If I’m out early enough, the morning breeze softens itself against my arms, reassuring. It is in this space, I sit to read others’ memoirs and write notes for mine. Nine months writing, gathering, seeking form and momentum.  Allowing myself to look back, open myself to memory. As yet, no book, but many words. Today, a drawing. Allowing my heart it’s language of colour and form. Simplify. Memory. Just the heart of it, alarms and all, at the centre a hope: HOME.

Rest. I’d have you if I could. Stared two days at two lines from memoir notes. Yearning to rest. Question longing for answer:

Home is on my mind today.

Tell me where home is, I want to be there.

Connection

Photo (c) 2020 Margreet Kuypers, used by permission

I wrote the following and gave it a day to breathe. Rough starts don’t determine the end. Learning to speak truth, I’m discovering the good people who care about me.

The day began with words, as it often does, struggling with fears and the prospect of days off facing them. I continued to make notes throughout as I often do. It’s good for reflecting.

Make myself get out of bed, eat something, write out a gratitude list for a workshop. Tell myself I will do these things. I am depressed. I need to acknowledge it. I want to practice drawing, paint something for fun, write in my journal. Edit a section of memoir, poem or song. Play my guitar, even just one song. Call a counselor or friend.

Depression slows time, drags it out, pushes sleep like a pillow at my face. I can’t stay here. I push back with activity. That works some days. Others not at all. I don’t like this place. I carry it to work at times and the weight is crushing.

Work covers bills. It has been a safe place for two years. Fighting depression, I depend on interaction. Most days, it helps. Lately it’s more complicated and this week made me lonely. I need to keep an eye on how I feel.

At the beginning of our lock down, when lines and limits were first established, shock took charge. I know this place. Crisis and abuse for years, my body on high alert watching for danger, keep others safe, push away anything else but focus, stay focused.

This crisis is less now. It’s becoming familiar. I don’t have shock to help me cover emotions with necessity. Coping becomes harder. Work is safe, but brings an element of isolation. Self Check Out is work done mostly alone. It can be busy, but also lonely. It has run the gamut the past six weeks. At the moment, I don’t have panic to create an edge. I do worry about contact, still tell people stand back. It’s easy to forget. Weather warming, I spend days serving couples and families, people talking about homes and gardens, all the details of life shared. A quieter crisis. It sounds stupid. I miss those things even though I know I am better away from the abuse. I hate alone, but it’s life at the moment, so I live stuck between my two boxes. Work and home.

Sharing my mood on Facebook, a friend offered a walk (appropriately social distanced). An hour meandering old streets, by water, old houses, tall trees. We stopped at points to take photos, reflective, social, just for fun. Water and shadows, movement and moods. We caught up on life and longing. Processing our current state of suspension, our observations on ways we, and others, cope or don’t as we navigate needs and wants.

End of day, I finished writing this, most of my hoped for activities done and space for contemplation of what’s to come. I’m grateful for friends reaching out, for time, walks and opportunities to hug a tree. Yes. There is still life left to be lived. Alone is part reality, part state of mind. And a little connection goes a long way.

Life is good.

 

Allow Peace

In my building, there’s no beauty outside my windows, just a parking lot. I’m one of the few who don’t have at least a chair on the balcony. At home, I had chairs front and back, both decks. Nothing fancy; simple plastic chairs my son painted green out front and a basic metal and glass patio set out back, umbrella barely hanging on as it rusted around the base.

I’ve never been good at Martha Stewart, Feng Shui or Hygge. I’m more give me a step to sit on, a patch of sunlight and birdsong, a table covered in paints, brushes and water jugs. I definitely do not do the windowsill decorations that neighbours take so much joy in creating. A few I admire. Mostly, I stop and look out towards the farm to our north. I jokingly tell people I may move into the hallway as it has my favourite view.

Admitting that I miss the views I enjoyed at my house is sad. I’ve been realizing that with more strength of emotion lately; how much I miss. I miss my spring garden with its beautiful bulbs. Butterflies, bees and ants, many birds and every year a robin who would sit on the kitchen windowsill and say hi. I miss the backyard. It was a mess. Just a garden-covered rock hill whose plants I couldn’t keep nice. I took a better run at it in the years before neck and shoulder injuries stole the enjoyment, but it was beyond me. Maybe if I could have paid for help? Maybe.

Martha Stewart, Feng Shui and Hygge assume willingness to live in your space. I have so much trouble doing that, worked too long at believing where I lived wasn’t mine to enjoy. Miss my house. I could almost let a little Hygge happen there if I still had it, but here. Here is still far from me.

I met a lovely woman when I first moved here, and miss her since she moved away. She had the most beautiful things in her apartment, all laid out in Hygge style. Her rooms had the same directional space as mine, but felt so different. It mystified me. I loved being there for the softness of her couch, the simplicity of her table and other furniture, the colours, and lights, everywhere tiny lights danced on surfaces and hid among her other decorations. Her apartment was so peaceful.

She was brave. When she found herself alone, she decided to take a firm stand on out with the old and in with the new. She purged completely. What she had now was all her. Where she lived told that story. Every piece of furniture, while inexpensive, was something she had chosen for this place. Every decoration, all of her kitchen appliances, art, tiny lights hidden in tree branches, the colours and positions … none of it was accident. It was all her and designed to help her be at peace. I enjoyed going there just to sit and breathe.

I’ve been here two years. I don’t find mine comfortable yet, it has a few spots, but I’m still working at it. Past things live too large. I can’t get rid of them. They aren’t the things that can go. Not yet. Later maybe, but for now they are here, and I live in the nook and crannies of my art space … a table, a chair, bookcases and a window looking out onto cars in the lot. It has to do. Creativity only needs an opening to exist.
Creativity happens in the little things, finds life in surprises. When I get the chance, I walk the halls. I look to see what people put in the windows. I look out over the fields to my farm. I look to see if anything living comes to visit. I look for the peace I had with my friend. I try to find some Hygge even without her here.

And so I stopped, looked, took in the scene. The tiny window layout had that sense of calm and comfort. I took a picture because it framed my farm so nicely. Because on that day, walking the halls, that window, that scene made me smile and there are times I need to remember.

We are all still isolating. I don’t walk the hall often at the moment. I don’t visit neighbours, though I hear other voices at times and occasionally see people coming and going. Being inside without connection is a strange feeling. I miss connection. At work, I’m surrounded by shoppers. Standing on circles. Marking distance. Moving back to lines on the floor for price matching or asking for help. Stay back. Keep away. It isn’t really connection. Little conversation happens beyond how can I help and thank you for being here. Being here. It’s a big deal. Existing. Doing. Being. It’s tiring. At times I walk between me and work. Stare at the same things. Breathe. Look for peace. When I find it, I take a picture. I want to remember.

Remembering is one way of coping with being. Learning the things that let me smile, breathe, find peace. This is a long journey. I take the picture and hold to the memories when they come. Allow peace … and Breathe.

Intangible

Instagram is becoming a closer friend. For quite a while, I had the app on my phone but seldom looked, even at posts from friends. 

Lately, I’m posting pictures …. paintings actually …. reflecting moods in my off hours. At home, after work, before work, alone is too much. I need something tangible to ground me.  So much of this time hurts the intangible. I ache not knowing how to fill it. 

I paint, write, email. I phone. I struggle.

Today’s painting reflects the weight I feel. And strangely, the lightness of being alone within it.