Sun

Surviving a Shitstorm

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“I had planned to go easy on you, but there’s this fierce warrior-goddess inside you, fighting with all her strength, calling out for a deeper treatment”. That was my reflexologist, mapping the soles of my feet exactly five days after my world imploded. I wanted to believe her, but not even head-to-toe chainmail could have made me feel warrior-like. A shitstorm had hit me, and I didn’t have a clue how to survive it.

You don’t need the hyperventilating, tears-and-snot detail of it all; suffice it to say, 2016 tore me apart. It dealt me one blow after another throughout the year, culminating in pure heartbreak. It unstitched me at the seams and didn’t stop until it had sunk its beastly claws into the very core of me. It catapulted me into a reality I could never have imagined and that I couldn’t stomach; anything I ate rose back up my throat choking me like the words I couldn’t say out loud. For a while, I’d had the only thing that mattered to me – LOVE – and in the slam of a door it went up in flames.  

Just like the two fishes symbolic of his zodiac sign, my lover’s heart began to swim in two opposing directions: one half chased something he didn’t even know existed, while the other half clutched at the shadows of the happiness he was throwing away. He became the epitome of Piscean indecision; a dark, deep, watery, enchanting and soulful mystery, whose penchant for living in a fantasy world ultimately demolished the reality we’d built down here on earth. Bags were packed, contracts were broken, memories were stuffed into boxes, keys were returned. The sky went black.  

In the first waves of shock, I sank. I reeled from the agony of it all, barely breathing. I knew that existing solely on wine and toast wasn’t sustainable, and that crying all day at my desk would wear thin with my boss, so I gave myself permission to do whatever was necessary to feel human again. If this involved letting people down, changing plans on a whim, over-indulging and over-spending, so be it. Anything to make me feel safe. Anything to make me feel loved. Anything to replace the weight of mourning with the lightness of joy. I asked myself: where do you want to be while you feel like this? Bali. The answer arrived like Usain Bolt. Just like that, I gave myself permission to escape.  

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I clung to this decision like a liferaft in the Drake Passage, with resounding approval from loved ones. “Put an ocean between it all and it might look a little funnier”, a text message read as I departed Heathrow ashen and depleted of strength. I dragged the shell of my former self 7,760 miles from the source of my pain, and touched down in The Land of a Thousand Temples, desperate to be healed.

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I never thought I’d be grown up enough to take a sabbatical. That was a word you heard whispered amongst your parents’ friends, referring in hushed tones to an acquaintance whose life had fallen apart to such an extent she couldn’t get through a dinner party without laying her mascara-streaked face down on the crockery and going to sleep in front of seven strangers. Yet here I was, amongst the hippies and the Hindus, beginning my own sabbatical. “I just need Bali to throw as much weird healing at me as possible”, I declared, and the island dutifully delivered.

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Legend has it that the magic of Bali – the very essence of why it’s such a healing haven – lies in its volcanic soil. This magic crept under my skin, whispering reassuringly, and I had no choice but to listen. I dug my feet into the earth. I howled at the moon and drank the stars. I climbed peaks in the blackness of night to watch the sunrise. I ceremonially released the past and beckoned the future with the help of the wildly crashing ocean. I covered myself in glitter and danced to reggae with strangers. I formed a coven with two amazing merwitches (a word we hope The OED will officially recognise someday).

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I skinny-dipped and delved into life’s big questions with a beautiful Alaskan kindred spirit. I poured my sweat and tears onto the yoga mat at every opportunity. I confronted my fears. I ate my weight in tropical fruit. I found a 95-year-old medicine man who healed me in mysterious ways I am not meant to understand. I bathed in waterfalls and monsoon downpours. I received massages and heart-melting smiles from locals. I gained a Balinese family. I met a guy at the public cremation of a princess. I met a guy whilst rescuing a litter of kittens from certain death. I drank coconuts and cocktails, watched sunsets and let turquoise waters kiss my skin.

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I practiced gratitude and spent time alone, absorbed in the chaos of my inner world, trying to make sense of it all.

I SURVIVED.

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After months of suffocating anxiety, finally I was able to just sit – with no distractions or support – and contemplate my life without the overwhelming sense of panic, anger, grief and fear I’d been consumed with. Where once I’d been rigid with tension, my body now relaxed and the waterfall of tears slowed to a trickle, rising up only in moments of healthy release. I gave myself permission to trust my instincts again, without which I would never have washed up on the shores of Bali.

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“Find closure”, people say. Closure. When your heart is still fully engaged in a situation, closure is the kind of word that makes you want to tell everyone to kindly fuck off. But the truth is, whichever word you use – peace, acceptance, forgiveness – you will eventually find a way of not being consumed by the issue every breathing second. And when you realise you’ve reached that point, it’s a Margaritas-all-round kind of milestone.

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Sometimes I still crumble – actually, let’s go with often. I’m a work in progress. Because I handed over my heart to a boy with blue eyes, for what I understood to be a lifetime. Because his face makes me weep with love, familiarity, confusion and loss. Because we shared private jokes nobody else gets. Because of memories and landmark dates. Because when he danced my sides split with laughter. Because he was my home. Because I can’t switch the love off. Because the world we created together was demolished one Wednesday night. Because trust was replaced with betrayal. Because my mind takes me to dark places when I imagine him smiling with someone who has thinner legs than me, a nose piercing, and the kind of forehead that can pull off a fringe. When my brain lures me there, I tumble through deep portals, into galaxies of the unthinkable, unsure if I’ll make it back alive. But I always do, somehow.

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Living without the person you love to the depths of your soul feels like shit, guys. There’s no sugar-coating it. But somehow we must rise. Somehow we must find a way to steer our ships calmly and authentically through stormy waters. Somehow we must hold the shards of our shattered hearts in our palms, and ever-so-slowly place the pieces back into our chests. Unlike a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces will never fit together the same way again, but a new shape will form, which we must grow to love. Above all, we must remember that scars are beautiful; they’re the tapestry of our existence.

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Every day during my two months in Bali, I’ve embraced fire; to cleanse, to feel strong. I’ve breathed volcanic air, fired up my muscles in Vinyasa Flow, lit candles and incense at bedtime and burned the toxicity of 2016 on the beach at midnight. I’ve worshipped that majestic fireball that’s born in the sky each morning and that dies on the horizon each night. Fire has become everything to me; it has attempted to evaporate the water of his Piscean energy and to dry the tears that have drowned me. There’s a burning determination within me to turn my pain into productivity. He may have written the ending to our story, but I’m in charge of the narrative from here on.

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Will I write a tale in which I transform the turmoil of 2016’s shitstorm into progression, personal growth and flourishing creativity? Yes.

Will I continue to heal, slowly and delicately unfurling like a leaf in a slow-motion nature documentary until I’m vibrant and whole again? Yes.

Will I remain steadfast in my pursuit of a life that sets my soul on fire? Yes.

And will the warrior-goddess that my reflexologist saw within me rise triumphant in the end? Absofuckinglutely.  

Latitude vs Attitude

Legend has it, there exists in this world a curious type of person who proclaims winter to be their favourite season.  I’ve never encountered such a person and doubt that we’d share more than passing pleasantries if we did meet.  Certainly, we could never hold down a genuine friendship, on account of how I tend to leave the country once the north wind begins to blow and the agonising countdown to Christmas commences.  We could be pen pals, at most.

I blame my parents for my barefoot ways and my insatiable need for vitamin D.  My Australian father is a legitimate sufferer of S.A.D. and a genuine candidate for light therapy.  My mother was a Sagittarian sun-chaser who believed that if she did not travel physically then her mind would travel – in other words, she would go completely and irrevocably mad.  Neither parent demonstrated much tolerance for the winter months.  My father would frequently pepper conversations with the following fun fact: “The weeks between your mother’s birthday on 24th November and my birthday on 17th January are the darkest six weeks of the year”.  Their solution to winter was to escape it, whenever possible.  I never stood a chance, did I?

photo 2I accept that I am a fairweather Brit, that I love my country but only when its skies are smiling at me.  I can take the abuse thrown at me by friends when I mention a flight booked, or a foreign adventure fantasised.  I am a lizard who soaks up the sun, a seasonal escape artist who misses the X-Factor final because I’m usually ankle deep in sand.  It’s simply who I am, and it has never concerned me.  Until now.

Now, life has taken a different shape.  No longer the drifter, I am now the nine-to-five-er, the post-work-grocery-shopper.  I made a choice to be here, beside my man while he carves out a beautiful creative existence and puts his stamp on the thespian world.  Currently, he is the artist, the drifter, the dreamer, the freelancer, and I’m OK with that for a while  But here’s the crux of the matter: I am not in the least bit mentally or physically equipped to endure the impending winter.  I can’t change my latitude this year, so I need a plan.  Pronto.

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I’ve often entertained the idea of becoming one of those “man up and knuckle down” types, but could never grasp the key ingredients of turning that concept into reality.  However two events occurred, not so long ago, which confirmed that it’s time I try: I purchased my first onesie and subsequently declined an invitation to a fun social engagement in order to stay home and suffocate in the hot, fleecy heaven of said onesie.  I literally hid, and felt guilty for being a social let-down.  It was Saturday night, people, Saturday night.  But with perfect cosmic timing, a game-changing article came to my attention, outlining the practice of hygge; the Danish notion of cramming as much guilt-free, feel-good, fun-loving, family-centred, book-reading, duvet-swaddling, dog-walking, pastry-indulging, cinnamon-scented cosiness into life as is humanly possible.  I don’t believe I need guidance on how to enjoy life in general, but as I believe we have established I could do with a few pointers between the dark months of October and February, and finally I discovered something of great impact.  

These clever, inspiring Danes allow themselves – without apology – to indulge in whatever makes them feel positive.  They don’t deny themselves experiences which will increase their happiness, nor do they force upon themselves experiences which will induce stress.  Hygge has no literal translation in English, but my understanding of the sentiment goes something like this: however simple, if it feels/smells/tastes/sounds/appears lovely in any way to you personally, seize that little bit of magic and glide with it all the way to Spring.  If lighting a few candles makes you feel snug and peaceful, knock yourself out. If your idea of rock and roll is cooking quesadillas in your slippers for a bunch of friends who are also wearing their slippers, then rock on.    

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I’m now officially obsessed with hygge.  Each day I evaluate activities, emotions, invitations, ideas, items and sensory experiences by how hygge they are.  If they’re not hitting at least an 8/10, forget about it.  My wardrobe door even displays a list I’ve compiled – mostly red wine and open fires – as a daily reminder of Nice Things About Winter.  And, quite crucially, I’m curbing the guilt feelings of my inner social butterfly – the one who hates cancelling plans – because if I don’t nourish myself during this testing period, my loved ones won’t want to spend time looking at my miserable face anyway.  I’m fairly certain that somewhere over the waters, there was a Danish version of me wearing a similarly ridiculous onesie on that very same Saturday night, ignoring calls from her trendy, vodka-sipping friends, and she didn’t feel a shred of guilt for having taken the quiet, cosy option.  She is now my heroine.

So I may not love rain, or illness, or frozen windscreens, or dressing in layers, and I may never give up dreaming of warmer climes, but I do love the concept of hygge with all it can teach me –  and by conjuring all the cosy optimism I possess, I will make it out the other side.