On Heartbreak

“Any boy who breaks your heart never even deserved it.”

That’s what the article said—you know the kind, those “things you learn in your early 20’s” types, filled with advice that reads like the verbal equivalent of a hipster Instagram feed. The kind you scroll through because you have five minutes to kill and don’t want to entertain any difficult thoughts.

Except I hit a difficult thought: this idea that anyone who hurts you should be shut out of your life.

That nobody could possibly hurt you and also be part of a healthy future.

I’ve had my heart broken. By close friends. By boys. By books. By parents. By circumstances. I’ve lived my life running toward endings, drifting out of lives when relationships became too risky, avoiding goodbyes and moving on to the next adventure, chasing the dream of an impervious heart that never breaks.

My friends, people fail. It makes us human. It makes us beautiful.

Every boy will break your heart. So will every girl. Every friend. Every person you let close. To love at all is to open your heart to pain—to know that you will see your soul shatter and grow back together a hundred times over, and that every time, you will lose something. And every time, you will gain something.

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Love is not the absence of pain; it is not the absence of heartbreak or the promise never to fail. Love is a promise to fail together. To fight not to hurt each other, but to hurt each other anyway—and then to forgive each other, to hold each other through healing.

Heartbreak will happen. Healing will happen.

We are defined, not by the pain we cause, but by the ways we react in the aftermath of heartbreak.

Goodbyes will happen. Endings will come. Don’t run from them. Don’t consign them to bitter memories. But don’t precipitate them simply because you’re afraid. Don’t say the words “not meant to be” and move on because you can’t face the heartbreak.

Running will keep you safe, yes, but running will keep you lonely. Running away will take your mind off your wounds, but standing your ground, fighting for someone you believe in—that will bring healing.

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Today I Feel

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Today I feel numb. Or perhaps I feel so much that my capacity to feel is overridden and subsumed under a more urgent instinct—the instinct to hide. To curl into a ball tight enough to feel myself, to wrap my arms around my legs and feel that my body is solid, not flying apart in every direction, that it’s real, not an extension of my overactive mind. To pull in close until I think, maybe, I have some control.

A few years ago, on a day like today, I would have said, “I’m ill.” But over time I’ve learned to recognise this feeling and the seed of panic that comes with it, blooming somewhere at the base of my skull, spreading until it pounds through my mind. Today, I know to say, “I’m anxious.

A year ago if I were writing a blog post on a Thursday morning, I would have apologised for posting two days late. I would have said, “I was busy.” Today, I know the truth is not that I was busy but that I was anxious—so anxious that I opened my laptop to write, but instead found myself curled in a safe nest of blankets watching Emma for the hundredth time.

A month ago, I would have felt guilty for this—for letting my dysfunctional mind take over, for succumbing to the undercurrent of fear running through my life. But today, I recognise that anxiety is a spectrum, and living with anxiety is a journey.

Sharing my body with anxiety means some days I’m in complete control, and some days I fight for every step. And some days, the anxiety wins, and I watch from inside my head. And whereas a year ago or a month ago I might have seen a day like that as a failure, today I can see that day as a single step in a much longer walk—one moment that does not define me.

Whereas a year ago or a month ago I might have denied my own experience in light of the worse experiences around me, today I acknowledge that my experience is valid—that someone else’s greater pain does not lessen my own. And today I can focus on taking care of myself, whether that means staying in bed an extra hour or simply remembering to breathe as I walk through the snow to class.

Remembering Why I Write

“Sometimes I think I should quit writing and do something simple, like neurosurgery.”

I give this answer from time to time when people ask about my writing or when I’m faced with a insurmountable writers block. Sometimes I say “rocket science” or “quantum physics” instead of “neurosurgery,” but the gist remains the same.

It gets a laugh out of people. More importantly, it deflects attention and saves me from admitting I feel inadequate.

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This never happened before I became a writing major. Back in high school, I remember constant excitement as I switched between drafts, writing whatever caught my fancy at any given moment. I could ramble for hours about my ideas, and I proudly finished draft after draft and filed them away for revisions. Publishing hovered in the future somewhere, waiting for the day I had edited something to my satisfaction and found an agent, or whatever it was you had to do to get published. I didn’t know. I was happy and confident.

Now I’m a writing major. Professors expound on the near impossibility of getting published and preach the importance of racking up bylines—any bylines, in any genre—because nobody will take an unpublished author seriously. My files are stuffed with scrapped drafts, “need five more revisions” novels, and short stories with long rejection notes.

My files are also filled with publications—but not as many as I’ve learnt to need. More people read my writing now than ever before in my life, but I’m less content than ever before. I’ve been taught I need more, always more. And someone else always has more impressive numbers or more exciting bylines than I do.

This week, a couple people wrote to tell me they appreciated my writing, and suddenly I saw my life in perspective. I don’t write for faceless numbers. I write for people—people I care about.

I write because words are a gift I want to pass on. Because other writers gave voice to my own fears and dreams. Because if I can touch one person’s life in even the minutest way—if I can bring about a single smile or let a single person know they’re significant—I’ve accomplished my purpose.

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Writing isn’t about getting published or developing a fan base. It’s not about being the best or having the most bylines. Writing is about loving words and sharing ideas, working out impossible dreams and inspiring conversation. My writing is an extension of me, not the other way around, and that’s a vital difference. I define my work. My work does not define me.

I write for the joy of the language.

So this post is for the artists who crave recognition: someone sees you. Even if it’s one person, you serve a purpose. Your efforts are valuable if you inspire a single new thought, even if the new thought is your own.

It’s for the writers who face rejection slips: your words matter. Remember why you write.

Don’t write for a byline. Write for the joy of the language.

 

Synaesthesia, or: Seeing People Past the Time

“So my mother and I were talking about synaesthesia,” I say as we pull out of the driveway.

“Oh! Debbie has that,” my aunt says.

“So do we,” I say. “Mum said to ask about your calendar.”

My aunt and I have what’s sometimes called spatial sequence synaesthesia: we see time.

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I see the calendar as an undulating, multi-coloured ribbon extending in front of me, curving away to the left, rising and falling with weekends. My aunt sees a circle like the clock’s face, with winter at the top and summer at the bottom.

We agree that we both see deadlines.

We’re driving to the airport, the car curving along overpasses at the same angle as time, and somewhere into the conversation, she asks my friends in the back seat if they see time.

As it turns out, they don’t have a visuo-spatial sense of the calendar.

“I think of events,” one friend says. “And people, and the things we’re going to to do.” She explains that she has an emotional sense of time. When she thinks of last summer, she thinks of New York, the places we went together, the museums she saw.

I see New York, too—my flat, the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, the pillars of my subway station, all rising from the waving curve of yellow summertime off to my left.

So I ask, “Do you see events bounded by time?”

My aunt tells me that I’m misunderstanding, still thinking my friends have a visual sense like I do.

I ask my friend if she sees deadlines. She says no.

I ask what she sees when she thinks of tomorrow.

She thinks of getting home, and of our roommates arriving back at the flat. She thinks of how we’ll hug them and ask how their Christmas was, and of whether they’ll want something to eat.

I don’t think of our roommates at all. I see tomorrow in lines—pale blue 5:30 am, when our flight will land, and then the long blank space of the day, which I plan to sleep away, and the darker line of evening.

I see the limits.

She sees the people.

My aunt and I talk about the lines—the time until things are due, the blank spaces that aren’t blank, because they ride above deadlines. We agree that we feel pressured and annoyed when people demand attention during those spaces, because we focus on finishing things on the lines.

My friends talk about people—about events to come, and people to be met and parted with, and time to be spent over tea and coffee and conversation, and my aunt says that perhaps we should step off the line sometimes.

I have synaesthesia. I see time.

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Because of this, I’m good at getting things done. I finish projects. I don’t turn things in late. I see the boundaries of my time and I pack things in, filling the blank spaces.

But I don’t always see people.

People show up in my blank spaces uninvited, and I often brush them away. I can see the lines drawing nearer, and I forget that the people are far more important than the to-do lists that hover along the ribbon of time.

It’s an odd fact of life that the easiest things are seldom valuable, and the most meaningful things are seldom effortless. I see time without trying; it’s a part of my psychology. To see people, I have to try. And maybe having to try a little harder makes seeing people, caring for people, just that much more meaningful.


If you’re interested in reading more about synaesthesia, here are a few great blogposts and articles I enjoyed:

The Wikipedia article, which is actually quite comprehensive and well documented

The blog that first made me realise I might not be totally normal

A rather dense scientific exploration of some benefits of synaesthesia

An even denser discussion of categorising synaesthesia