The caged heart

A story within a story. Sitting with pen to paper, writing about the power that I tap into when I play energetically with others, suddenly out of seemingly nowhere my mind found its way into a cut scene, a story of a very different kind. A 5 second download of vivid images, some of them static, some moving, which has taken me days to capture in a way that can even begin to be conveyed to others.

I know not yet how to fully introduce this slice of my inner world, so, if I may, I’m simply going to dive right in. Welcome…

I found myself in a cavern. Transported there by my own imagination. It was not a place that I had ever truly been, and yet it was so familiar that I knew precisely where I was, immediately. A rich, deep, blood red cave, the walls gently pulsing with life. Looking closely out of the corner of my eye I could make out the occasional horizontal off white bar, a hint of the structure holding this cave in position.

The solid thud-thud, thud-thud, thud-thud of a heartbeat, resonating across the living floor, spongy capillaries forming a curious shagpile like carpet across the surface of the cave. And yet, the source of the noise was nowhere to be seen. I followed the vibrations to a box, of sorts. Hastily put together and yet somehow remaining intact, as it swelled and contracted again with every pulse. I had found what I was looking for.

The object of my quest was covered in layers of protection. Too many to see what was underneath. I saw the layers as planks of wood, hammered randomly across one another, as if frantically and urgently blocking out a dangerous beast or a zombie invasion. A piece of freshly sawn wood lay alongside; perhaps a sign of a recent attack, as I investigated the construction.

It appeared haphazard and rushed, with big cartoon-like nails only half hammered home, some bent and misshapen, patching up holes and gaps in the layers underneath. As I gradually worked my way through, prising and wrenching them off with a crowbar, hurling them into a pile behind me, more and more layers were exposed, yet somehow the package encasing that soft, beautiful, tender heart never got any smaller. Like a digital image of a fractal endlessly expanding, removing the outer layers simply allowed the inner ones to grow and develop, to take up more space.

I reached a crescendo, and the layers of constant growth ceased. The last planks were pulled away and I was through. Marvelling at this prized possession in all its wonder and glory, it pulsed bigger and bolder in gratitude, a thank you for being released from its wooden prison and allowed to expand. Swelling outwards, pulsing as it grew, it filled the chest cavity with a warm and tender glow, finding a new resting place and making itself at home.

I could not leave this core essence unprotected in its current state, it had been encased for so long; it was not used to this bigger existence and would need time to adjust. So I got to work with the cast off timber, building a larger frame around it. I worked with precision as I built the fresh casement, careful not to damage the precious cargo. My hammer drove home the nails into a good, solid frame. The structure was strong yet allowed for flex. Pine cladding could be added if life called for it, or soft drapes, perhaps. Whatever level of protection the owner felt they needed. I stepped back and admired my handiwork, beaming with joy and delight at witnessing that resplendent heart radiating happily in its new home, before raising my hand in goodbye, and leaving the vision.

What just happened? I said to myself as I switched back into reality. That feels…


Just sit with it for a while, my inner guidance said, with a smile. Just sit with it for a while; savour it, enjoy it, and see how it lands.

Travelling through time

I could feel my chest begin to tighten, aware of everyone’s eyes on me. Knowing what I was about to say, yet also not, as I had written it a fortnight before. The anticipation was mounting. My breath was getting shorter. I could feel my heart was trying to race out of my chest and into my throat. What would people think? Is this too big, too deep, too intense? These are words that have been hurled at me in anger in the past. Am I being too much?

I struggled to connect with the depths of what I had written. I had never intended for these words to be read out, and yet… Here We Are.
In solid black pen and underlined not once but twice beneath it, “See P33, the black and white project book for full story“.

The universe wanted this story to be heard. This was the first time I had spoken out loud some of the connections in this story, between the parts of me. And knowing the story was incomplete, knowing there was more to come.

I could feel my voice faltering, I could feel tears trying to rise up within me, to break free. Like a dam about to burst. Just keep going. Take a deep breath. Move through this. Think of it as a script. Just keep reading the script. “Nice clear voice, so I can hear you at the back of the hall.” The school hall from my primary school enters my mind, my teacher standing at the back. The hall I feel safe in, when I dance at school discos, knowing there are rules and that people will follow them, and that no-one will tell me off for moving. The hall that I screw up completely in when there’s any performance expected of me in front of others that I have been unwillingly persuaded to do.

I wish someone had told me ‘Don’t look beyond the lights’. Or, if they had, that I had listened, and understood. That ballet performance a few years before, on a floodlit stage, wearing burgundy knickerbockers and dancing alone to Little Jack Horner. This was not what I signed up for. This was not big choral numbers with fabulous costumes, with others dancing alongside me. The children in the wings were not my friends from school, there was no support from them. I peered through the lights to try and spot my mother. If she was watching and enjoying it then maybe all this ridiculousness would be worth it. But instead, I was met with the sheer enormity of the hall. A hall I was quite familiar with when my father performed on stage here. But now, it was me that was lit up, and I felt very small, and very very alone, suddenly aware of how vast this dusty, footprint covered black stage was, from out there in the hall. The sea of faces watching me, and perhaps worse, the sea of grey empty chairs on the raised structure behind them. This hall felt empty, I knew it could house so many more people. I froze. I forgot where I was.

If only someone had taught me to keep my mind, my imagination, my energetic self, within the lights of the stage. Perhaps then, I wouldn’t be where I am now, in school, unable to cope with being on this little stage made of blocks. But here I am.

And so they make me wear a faceless brown spiky mask and a green polo neck jumper that itches so much it makes me want to tear the skin from my neck, and they give me the role of a tree in the school play. If there’s something worse than messing up lines on stage, it’s being made to stand at the back of the stage with my arms outstretched seeing the audience through almond shaped eye holes cut into that mask. Unseen.

In that moment I make a decision. I refuse to put myself in this situation again. If I am to be unseen, I should at least do it well. For there are many things I am good at. And being a bloody tree is not one of them.

I realise I am becoming distracted by the stories in my head, not really focussing on the words I am reading from the page. It must have only been the briefest of pauses, but in that moment I have travelled through time and back again, pulling a thick cloud of emotions with me, wrapped in a blue sheet tied in a knot and hauled over my shoulder. My audience are completely unaware of my amazing feats. I find my place again, and continue.

Mumbling my words, I become aware of another memory. Another belief. Another reason for words sticking in my throat. If I mumble the words, maybe no-one will hear my voice. They won’t hear what I have to say. And then I won’t be called a liar for speaking my truth, I won’t be hit, I won’t be shouted at, I won’t be sent to my room alone, unable to regulate my emotions, left to shake and scream until I am too exhausted to make any more sounds, and the defense mechanism of sleep finds me.

Just keep to the facts. Stay cold, calm and collected. Push the worry aside, keep reading the script. What you’ve already written, it’s all planned out. Keep going.

And then, then the plans end. The words stop. I had hit a canyon, a void, and there was no safety net, only emptiness. I didn’t have the end of the journey, I didn’t have the smoothing over, the fawn response, the wonderfully calming neutralisation of the big emotions, the way that this particular piece of me got wrapped up in a neat little bow; how I usually find peace. I was unable to tear my way through the fog.

So I had to sit with what I was feeling.

The energy in the words themselves, along with those emotions dredged up from my old memories racing, chasing and swirling through my body trying to find an exit, crashing into barricades as I tried to listen to what was being said to me. Seeing the old memories in a fresh golden light, and not wanting that light to fade. Making excuses for my jumbled-up-ness.

The image flash of my own written words from a previous day flying through my brain, imprinting solidly with a blow before leaving in a puff of smoke. “Stop making excuses for yourself. It is only keeping you small.” Attributing the feeling all over the place to my story, but realising after I had spoken the words, the discombobulation resided in my body.

Not able to take in what was being said, as I found ways to ground myself again, to send out deep winding roots to the earth, connections to others. My brain beginning to regulate again, seeing another human face moving in front of me, smiling. It’s ok, says the smile. You’re not in trouble. You’re safe. The voice in my head, that time not mine. An echo of a previous day.

Bringing another echo of another memory, another smile when my brain froze up. There was a time when these big emotions would have caused my brain to crash, to bypass, to forget the last 30 seconds of life. My own damned brain found life too dramatic, too intense. To come back to a calm smiling face. Whatever else has happened in these moments, nothing I have said is wrong.

behind the mask

This week I worked in a unit where we all had to wear masks the entire time. The unit had recently experienced a covid outbreak and it had to have come from one of the workers, as no-one else was allowed to enter, so they were finally exploring how best to use PPE to protect everyone.

It was interesting to observe what I was first introduced to as ‘biker’s nods’, back in the days of being on the back of a moterbike, in the staff engagements, burner behaviour of saying hello with body language as our expressions were mostly hidden by our masks.

And then I recalled one of the residents I worked with in a dementia unit, so far in her own happy head that she was unable to engage much with reality. But she knew when you were smiling at her, even with the mask covering. The way she responded when you gave her a big beaming smile, it doesn’t matter that she can’t see your face. There’s something I’ve noticed about a good number of dementia clients, is that they seem to reflect what you project at them. They have lost the ability to ‘be nice’ and are very much in tune with the thoughts in your head. If you’re nice to them, they are often lovely back. They can feel when you’re thinking about going home for the day. But, put them in an environment where they never get their needs met and they take advantage because they don’t know when their needs are going to get met again. Dementia clients don’t remember events, they remember how they were made to feel, and if someone new makes them feel lovely, they want more of that.

mmmm, not sure where I was going with that. It’s just like being around sensitive children, though. Feeling what’s in the room. And practicing having that happy mask on, in order to have an easier day.

selective mutism

Often when I develop selective mutism it is as a result of having a meltdown or an argument, and it comes the next day and stays for a few days, gradually fading and getting easier to handle. I am fearful of triggering another one, perhaps? Or I am mirroring something within the person I have had an argument with, I’m not sure.

Anyway, yesterday I spotted that I developed it for entirely different reasons and found it interesting to observe. It was a very stimulating day at work. I hadn’t slept well, I was on recovery from having a bout of insomnia a few days beforehand and something disturbed me in the night. The unit I was working on was busy, but just about in hand. The fluorescent lights were bright. The building was warm. The residents were being demanding. The call alarms were going off all over the place, making beeping noises.

When I finished work, I identified that all I wanted to do was curl up in the dark and quiet and for my skin to be touched. (Skin was feeling hugely hyposensitive from being encased in a uniform all day.) The boyfriend usually does like doing some skin touching, but for some reason he was not interested in the idea, so I did not get any rebalancing despite dropping some big hints, and the lights and noises in the room while low were still not low enough, and I eventually lost the ability to form coherent words. Everything was just too much, and it wasn’t one thing that set it off, it was just a little bit of everything all at once. And the next day, after I had slept, then it wasn’t there any more.

Trying to explain to the other half that when I lose the ability to speak it isn’t that I choose to stop speaking, it is that the anxiety of speaking becomes too much for me to bear and I just can’t do it. That did make me lose my voice a little bit, but I did manage to hold it together to finish the conversation. Go me.