Back in the body

When trauma, or physical pain, hit a highly sensitive person…perhaps repeatedly, relentlessly, over many years…a trait can be to learn how to leave that body, to vacate it (and anyone who is familiar with doing this will know exactly what I mean). Looking back, that’s something I did for long periods of time, days at a time, in the earlier days of fibromyalgia. I would vacate and float off, somewhere else, beyond all the pain and overwhelm, only coming back when the “show” was somewhat over, to repeat next time I had a flare. Perhaps I learned how as a child and young adult when, sometimes, the emotional, even traumatic, pain of life would get so much, so very severe, that there was no other way. It served me well, in its time…and perhaps again if I really needed it…but, lately, I’ve noticed a shift around calling on this trump card, this get-out clause. Lately, I’ve voted for staying in the body much more, even when in severest pain, even when it goes on for days…yet I’ve still elected to be with the pain, with my body, no longer the absentee landlord but at home with all the lights switched on.

It’s like that now, having just returned from a fairly arduous, if enjoyable, trip in more than one way (though notable for the fact I would have turned down such a trip…and have done…in the quite recent past yet this time I surprised myself by choosing to join in). Having travelled almost 200 miles north to Derbyshire to reunite with family last week, all those motorways that affect me hugely because of the intense EMF exposure and sitting posture, breaking the journey half way (as I felt I must) meaning having to sleep in two alien beds, one of them not so suitable for my hypermobile joints, one night after the next. Then settling in for a few days of what, for me, was an exceptional amount of “socialising” in a group of 12 people (more chatter and interaction than I’ve done for several years!), sat in a hard upright chair for most of that, then the return trip home, all in one journey this time (barring a leg stretch) because I felt I couldn’t cope with a repeat performance of the stop-over in “that bed”, my body is feeling hammered. Perhaps inevitably so, though the optimist that I am always hopes that it won’t happen and that this time will be different.

I’m in so much pain and stiffness its almost funny, especially when I limp across the room doubled up like the old woman of the hills (its how I feel). That’s how I start my days at least, and how I end them, and the pain doesn’t relent in the middle. But instead of befriending the sofa and vacating myself, drifting off to the sound of audio meditations, sleeping, doing whatever it takes not to be there with my body, less and less present or there whenever someone tries to speak with me, I’m doing the very opposite.

In fact, in the three days since we got back home I’ve completely redecorated a room! Not just “touching up” as I’ve been doing with much of the rest of my house in paced stages for a while now, nope, but opening that 2 litre can of paint and redoing all the walls as well as the woodwork. Its a job I knew I had to tackle before our trip, having failed to find a match for the original wall colour (and all my tester pots had made a graphitti of one of the main walls) but I had assumed it would take me a few weeks on and off between now and Christmas, not two days!

However, having landed back home in severe pain that walloped me all the more for how relatively good I felt when I was away, coping so well with the first night of seeing family that I elected to go out walking with them the next day and then socialise some more that evening (I really thought I was getting away with this trip!), I took the executive decision to get stuck-in the day after my first recovery day (already finding myself zoning out from the body most of that lost pocket of time…Monday was an absolute blur of succumbing to the desire to be “out of it”) and just see what I could do. This was a new tactic, born out of how much success I’ve had recently doing bits of decorating in small stages and my eagerness to get back to it and not put off my stride by a health dip…and perhaps because my trip away had grounded me in the body for five busy days and I really didn’t want to go back to all the abstraction of my ordinary life, not this time.

Before I knew it, I had covered two thirds of the reachable walls with paint and it was looking promising. By the next day (yesterday), fuelled by a steam of great music and audios in my earphones, I had done the rest of the walls too, including hard to reach areas and no short cuts taken where I had to shift old books and boxes off the top of the fixed bookshelves. By now, I had a fire in my belly to complete the job and perhaps overdid it by finishing off the woodwork I’d started right before our trip and there it was, all put back together again, my room all done and looking lovely as I sit in it typing these words, more than a little proud of my achievement.

Am I still in pain? I should coco, more pain that I could explain, more than most people could relate to unless they had been there. Pain that comes from deep inside tissue and limbs, from hypermobile joints, from nerve endings that have been over-sensitised for coming up 20 years and to such a high degree that it feels as though my skin is on fire, my clothing like sandpaper that I long to tear off; there is no rhyme or reason for this kind of pain except that it has become a habit of the body. So as I see it, I could deny it and leave the body behind, as though I am the co-occupant of a house that is no longer sharable, caught-up in an irreparable relationship with my lodger and unable to evict them so its down to me to move out, or I could put my feet back under that table and declare “I live here” again.

Inside house, outside house…in many ways its all the same. Investing in my own home with all this DIY lately has reminded me that unless we invest our effort and our care, its as though we don’t really inhabit there anymore, using it as the hotel for the night but seldom as the place we really want to be or envision a future for. Same with the body, unless we throw off our shoes and look as though we are planning to stay, the body starts to shut up shop, to make far less effort, becoming this cold, alien, cobwebby place where we don’t really receive such a warm reception.

Warmth is one thing I really appreciated in Derbyshire; the weather turned while we were there and, combined with the keen wind up in those northern hills where we were staying on a farm, warmth became a primary preoccupation. It was a timely reminder, about now and my future life. If I plan to move somewhere “like that” (and I do) I will need a warm, hospitable house, inside and out; my body will need to be the right home for me, one that I cherish time spent in, every bit as much as my actual bricks-and-mortar house, or the dream of finding my true earthly home, the one I’ve long been searching for all my life, won’t come about.

Derbyshire is also one hell of a grounding force…all those rocks and crags, water, wind and elementals coming at you from all directions…hard not to be in the body in such a landscape, as though gravity has given you an extra tug, crashing you back down to the ground with a slight bruise on the forehead and reminded you “there, you’re on planet Earth and don’t you ever forget it”. Hard to be airy-fairy all of the time there; to zoom off into the ethereal, spend all of your time on a cloud of abstraction. Not like back home where its been made all too easy for us to leave our bodies; our whole culture is built upon escapism and there’s a strong, pushy, element of “somebody” really wanting us all to vacate our bodies, to prefer to live in some virtual reality, so that we become far more complicit, far easier to shepherd around, to make decisions “for”, without any come-back. Such a timeline holds only horrors ahead, in my view, making this is a time to become vehemently grounded in our bodies, even more so if we are aware and sensitive, so as to cast our vote for something far different to all that. Its what COP26 is all about…our collective responsibility and how we all step up to it, not just allowing the few “in power” to cast a vote for all of our futures.

So perhaps it’s a time for sensitives to take this stand for becoming more grounded, whatever the cost to our sensitivities, no longer always choosing to vacate, floating off into abstraction, fleeing to the “spiritual” (rather than grounding their spirituality) whenever things get too triggering, too hard to swallow, too abrasive, too painful or traumatic, just generally too much. Realising there is always a choice, to either go or to stay…and, then, if staying, to be fully present in my body, and with my body, with my spiritual aspect right there inside of me, as fully intact as it ever was when I used to go “out” of myself to visit it all of the time (which was perfectly alright for me back then…it fuelled my spiritual awakening), all together sharing the same physical house…this has been a BIG movement towards the positive for me, this year. Huge!

What I notice is that somehow pain and overwhelm become less, at least for the larger portion, when I’m engaged in projects that mean something to me, and I don’t just mean the decorating…it could be anything that inspires, big or small. It’s the engagement with something that lights us up that makes it possible to hang around for far longer in a physical sense, even when that physicality continues to feel so triggering and “too much” whenever we stop and think about it (the key is not to; to redirect those thoughts to the positive, over and over and over again). Holding a vision is absolutely key, so work on envisioning what you would like to aspire to realising in this world, beyond the smallness of all the usual limitations and triggers. There are those moments at the beginning and end of each day when it really is harder to forget the pain, even sometimes in the middle of the day if I’m overdoing it…but then, I also think about what I’ve achieved today and what I’m looking forwards to achieving next, keeping that torch lit, so that becomes the predominant focus, not the pain at all.

When pain is unavoidably attention-seeking and physically limiting then (I’m not running a boot-camp here…activities are meant to be enjoyable) of course I allow the abstraction, the dozing, the journalling, the meditation, the drifting off out of the body for a respite yet I set a time limit to that, in a positive way, as in “have a break for an hour now but wouldn’t it be great to get that thing done between 2 and 3”. Then I can get myself back to it and so it repeats, day after day; the dress rehearsal for a zillion other ways I know I can become more fully engaged with life again, only this time more “switched on” and aware than I ever was before all this health crisis happened to me.

Having the daily rituals in place, for instance the morning meditation or time set aside for journalling, followed by an idea when you would like to get upright and more productive (by the way, this is helping enormously with core strength and dysautonomia as I find I’m able to sustain being upright, even balancing and stretching above the head, the more regularly I do it…astonishing compared to how I was just a few months ago having dizzy spells all over the place), helps to strike this balance. In fact, its perhaps essential in the early stages of becoming more grounded, meaning you are still consciously factoring in those times (as regular as you feel you need) when you are off the hook to go soft, to stop doing and just float away, until a more balanced habit of life takes shape. And, of course, there should be no imperatives that anything “has” to be done at this stage, its just a case of making space for more intentional behaviours, goals, tasks, small commitments that would make you feel good about yourself or as though you have contributed something tangible to your day, even (perhaps especially) on a day when you are more challenged by pain…because the satisfaction of the achievement outshines the pain every time. The next morning as you wake up you won’t remember “yesterday I was in such pain again” but “wow I did that thing” and so, inch by inch, you reinvest in life and it starts to tip its balance.

What I also find is that, as triggers arise, they only make me more determined, more “fuelled” in my commitment to shake it all up, to move the body…and the energy…around to better suit myself. What I glean is that we sensitives serve as alchemists, expressly because we are so acutely aware of the difference in frequency between one experience and another and thus the stages of shift it takes to manouver from one to the other; and far more so than someone who is not sensitive thus cannot even perceive that the energy of a situation is “off” or challenging in the first place. So, this is our gift, but only if we bring it down to earth to use it in our daily lives!

So, in effect, nothing has gone wrong here, none of it is a slip-up or mistake, not even the pain; really, all just a journey towards renegotiating our relationship with the physical whilst expanding to incorporate the non-physical (which we sensitives are world leaders in doing; and much needed in these times, where far too much onus is put upon the mental/logical in a way that would be the ruin of us all). Aren’t we the ones that can see how it’s all going wrong, how desperate mistakes are being made, how the world needs more soul, more compassion, more oneness? No point realising all this if we don’t bring it to ground and embody it, urgently now, as who we are, how we conduct ourselves, the living example of our days. We are needed…not out there in the abstract (the abstract can get along just fine without us standing in attendance) but here and now, anchored to this physical reality.

As I alluded to above, its been made all too easy for us, not just the most sensitive, to vacate our bodies, even preferable (culturally speaking) that we lose ourselves in escapism rather than staying fully present and awake, having an opinion or taking action regarding whatever timeline we are collectively on. Perhaps its time we sensitivies commited to becoming more grounded, practicing how to be more fully present with our bodies (first…inevitably spinning this out into the world the more we balance our own health), learning to ride or even transform all the triggers, in order to anchor our higher vision to the physical world we all share together as our only embodied “home”.

When our sense of home is more than just our body or the house that we live in but also the whole of the world that we live in, with all its occupants our extended family all living beneath one roof, we start to spin out the same priorities for all as we would want to preserve for ourselves and that’s where we all start to make a real difference, together, as embodied souls living on a beautiful, healthy and supremely well cared-for physical earth; one where pain might not be completely absent yet where it begins to self-limit through the dramatic reduction of provocations and the embodied focus upon higher things.

Post script: Shortly after publishing this post, in fact it was 11:11am because I had just laughed outloud at the synchronicity that it should be that time on 11/11 (double whammy master numbers) I learned from her husband that my dear friend Kat had died this morning. Kat had had a rare kind of cancer for quite some time and we knew this was coming, in fact I have spoken about my grief in this space before, yet it is still a lot to process. She was the closest friend (my husband excepting) that I ever had in this lifetime, although we never met in the flesh (it didn’t really matter to us, in fact it helped us to go in really deep and multidimensional, without so many worldly distractions). I recognised her the very first moment I “met” her online all those years ago, and she felt the same. In Derbyshire last week, I felt her in the wind, the rain, in running water, jutting rocks and craggy hilltops, in fact in all the ever-present elementals of that rugged earthy landcape, perhaps especially after darkness fell, when the senses become all the more keen…her kind of place. I just kept feeling her there as though she was already stradling realities, which I suspect she may have been by then, expanding out of her troubled body to better match the sheer scale of her consciousness, playing with the elements.

As I was pondering the timing of her passing, I was struck by the irony that I had woken this morning at 6.30am on the nail with a blog post (this one) quite determined to come out of me and with the ready-formed title “Back in the body” already waiting for me to use, even before I really knew about its content. Oh the irony, given Kat had, at that very moment (I later learned) left her’s behind! She would have belly-laughed at this with me…we were always playing yin and yang to each other, its what made us such a tour de force. One of us would be grounded when the other was “out there” in the ether, or one would be up there on the high end of the see-saw of life when the other was down in the floor-sweepings and yet we came to realise, over and over again, that both ends were really all the same, no better or worse…that’s how we did big alchemy together and, apparently, we still are doing it today. Celebrating the enormous heart and uniquely free-spirited soul that I knew as Kat, feeling so much boundless love and appreciation for her today, knowing she will always be with me and that we will likely meet again.

About Helen White

Helen White is a professional artist and published writer with two primary blogs to her name. Her themes pivot around health and wellbeing, expanded consciousness and ways of noticing how life is a constant dance between the deeply subjective and the collective-universal, all of which she explores with a daily hunger to get to know herself better. Her blog Living Whole shines a light on living with high sensitivity, dealing with trauma and healing from chronic health issues. Spinning the Light is an extremely broad-based platform where she elucidates the everyday alchemy of relentless self-exploration. A lifetime of "feeling like an outsider" slowly emerged as neurodivergence (being a Highly Sensitive Person with ADHD, synaesthesia, sensory processing challenges and other defecits overlapping with giftedness). All of these topics are covered in her blogs, written from two distinct vantage points so, if you have enjoyed one of them, you may wish to explore the other for a different, yet entirely complimentary, perspective.
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