10 Nov Be alive: to being open
When I was still really not well, and I was just focussed on surviving the days (and the nights), I had to close myself off. I had to live a small life, narrowing my world, controlling my experiences as much as possible. I had to protect myself from potential threats, from injury. I lived like a closed fist. I broke contact with people who I knew would ask a lot of me emotionally or practically.
It was necessary.
But it started long before that, before I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
Back then, I lived a closed life without realising it. Not as a proactive choice to protect myself, but because I thought uncertainty and doubt were dangerous. I had to live in a place of surety, where I could not be contradicted. It made me feel safe. I shut off new experiences, and was dogmatic in my beliefs. Without realising, I shrank the world until it became something I could hold in my hand, something I knew and understood.
It was exhausting, but necessary to enable me to keep what I thought was the truth, safe in a protective case, untouchable, inviolable. (As though the truth has ever needed me to defend it). I surrounded myself with people who agreed with me. I was scared of difference. I was nervous of possibilities. It was a sad way to be. Limiting and stultifying.
I believed living this way was the only way to make myself right. To be on the side of the goodies.
And if I had seen it like this, if I had known I was becoming was small-minded, I would have hated it. To be honest, I kind of hated it anyway but could see no alternative.
I believed by living like that I was fulfilling what was required of me. I was ticking the spiritual and moral boxes. I was better because of it. (And often that meant, better than you.)
I am being hard on myself, I was no bitch.
I still tried to be kind, I felt compassion. I was not a monster.
But this rigidity was calcifying my heart. I had set certain ideas in stone and in turn these ideas were congealing, forming a sticky mess of arrogance and fear.
Now, with some level of wellbeing (can someone give me a better word to use instead of that government-issued one?) I am trying to live an open life. With an open hand.
Being open is good.
Being open is scary.
It is a riskier and more vulnerable way of being.
It is being willing to say ‘I don’t know’.
It is risking disappointment and hurt.
But the only way to live fully and wholeheartedly, is to live openly.
I have always been a ‘wear my heart on my sleeve’ kind of gal. Last week I was at a workshop for a new piece of theatre and within an hour or two I was happily telling those in the room with me about my struggles with my mental health. But being open about how you feel and being open about what you think are two different things.
If you are not open you cannot connect. You cannot put your hand in someone else’s chest and feel how their heart beats. You cannot see the world through someone else’s eyes or walk in their shoes. You have a layer of steel, a suit of armour between yourself and the world. You think it is only protecting you, but actually it is shutting everyone else out.
I fashioned this suit out of other peoples’ expectations. I fused the joints with responsibility. I put it on and for a while it felt like it fitted. I could move and walk about. I could still interact with others. But it was making me very tired.
There is a well known story in the Bible, the story of David and Goliath. When David arrives at the battle field to fight Goliath he is first brought before Saul (the King). Saul is pleased that someone is willing to fight this man-monster who is terrifying his troops. Concerned with David’s safety – he is only a boy – Saul gives David his armour to wear. And David tries it out. He is doing what is expected of him, behaving in accordance with certain ideals, dressing appropriately for the fight that lies ahead.
But of course it is not his armour. It doesn’t fit him, and he is not used to moving in it. It exhausts him, he cannot move easily.
I spent a long time wearing the protection that I thought was necessary to shield me from evil.
I wasn’t wise like David, I didn’t know that this armour would become a prison for me. A lonely place. I looked all shiny on the outside, as though I was doing good. But the wearing something that doesnt fit you is very tiring.
Over the last few years, the past half a decade or so, I have been doing the slow and humbling work of noticing. Of seeing who I had become and deciding I didn’t like her very much. It has been a slow journey of one revelation after another. I have taken off my armour, piece by piece.
It has been hard.
And it has been very, very good.
Being open is a far more generous way to live. It says there is room for all of us here. And there is enough for everyone here. It says, I don’t have to hold tightly onto my space, to my ideals, my belongings, my rights. Being open allows for a multiplicity of ways of being. It allows for differences of opinion. It allows for conflict. It isn’t trying to shut anyone down, or manipulate, or control.
It can be unnerving with my flesh now on show. There is nothing to separate me from the words of others, from ideas that may surprise or challenge me, from painful situations.
I can be burnt. I can feel pain.
But it can also be exhilarating. I can move freely. And I can see clearly.
And the more I see, the less I am afraid.
And I like myself a whole lot more.