"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Thursday, July 16, 2015

embracing brokenness

Now Playing: Like Real People Do by Hozier (I will not ask you where you came from, I will not ask it, neither should you) 

I think I've finally reached a point where I am secure in myself.

I've always lived in a state of malcontent. I remember being in primary school, finding increasingly obscure places to sit and mope, feeling like this time of my life would never end.

I read a collection of Buddhist tales around this time. One of them talked about This too shall pass. Some famous prisoner wrote this over his bed in jail, and then again when he had cancer. I felt like that. This too shall pass. But I didn't believe it. By the time I left primary school I had spent three quarters of my life in that place, which is a big thing to process for a twelve year old.


I did this through high school, too. Always pushing myself. I wouldn't be happy until I went to uni, no, until I'd graduated, not even then, not even until I went to school in England, and even then only after I'd finished with a handful of fancy degrees. I wouldn't be happy until I had a dream job and a dream house and a dream spouse and a dream child and I just wanted perfection, you know? I would look at my sheets that didn't match my pillowcases and my spotty adolescent face smeared with cheap makeup and the fact that I didn't have many friends and didn't have a boyfriend and I just wasn't happy.

(I realized later I had depression. But back then I just had a serious issue with mismatching pillowcases.)

I've always had a broken body, and I've had to learn to live with brokenness. I've always been acutely aware of the many ways my body has failed me, and my teenage rebelliousness was always tempered with an uncomfortable sense of my own mortality. It's not just how you look, but how you feel; and not just emotions and shit, but when breathing is hard and shitting is hard and just everything is hard and painful it's really hard to not hate yourself.

But you learn to live with brokenness. I think that's the most important thing I've learned so far. My body will not magically heal itself, it's just sort of patched up enough to keep on keeping on; and that's what you have to do, too. Just keep on keeping on. My physical limits don't bother me anymore. I don't think about how I'll never be in the Olympics or walk on the moon because, you know what, you probably won't either.

When I was fifteen I started a relationship that I thought would make me 'happy', because I understood happiness as a state of being rather than a quality in a certain moment, or an element of a particular worldview. And in exchange for total lack of control, debilitating insecurity and endless rages and tantrums yes, I suppose I had a few fleeting moments of giddy joy.I also developed severe panic attacks and social anxiety.

Dating...is not something I've seriously considered since this relationship ended. The idea of being alone in a cafe or a movie of whatever with someone I like is just too scary for me. I really struggle with basic things, like ordering food or making phone calls. Panic attacks are mortifying and scary but a daily reality for me, now.

And this was really frustrating to deal with, as a young person who really, really, really wanted a boyfriend. I was frustrated and humiliated and, you know, nerds aren't great at taking failure very well. I felt like a failure. When I was very small I was somewhat shy but I'd always been a people person up until now.

Anxiety is something I have to live with. I've had to re-learn a lot of things. Good days are filled with little milestones that make me incredibly proud of myself, and bad days are filled with, you know, bad stuff. But in not being able to date, I learned something really important; I don't want to date. I'm not ready to date. Anxiety or not, this pressing desire to have A Boyfriend was no longer a priority. I grew up a little, and there's the silver lining to that story. You learn a lot, when you reach a roadblock. Anxiety used to be one of the ways that I was broken, and I really fought against it. But in embracing brokenness, we learn more about ourselves, and I think there's something special in that.

But the biggest one for me, so far, has been vaginismus, which is when vaginal penetration is extremely uncomfortable. It is almost entirely psychological.

In our patriarchal society, it is hard to be a cis-woman with vaginismus and not feel like a failure, like something's broken. And it's incredibly defeating when you use your agency as a human being to consent to things with another human being and then you quite literally can't. And it's really hard to know that subconsciously something is wrong, but you can't get to it because you really, genuinely, feel fine.

I don't identify as asexual, so my sexuality has had to exist around vaginismus. And I've learned a lot. I've learned that sexuality exists outside of heteronormativity, even between a cis-man and a cis-woman. I've learned that there's more to sex and sexuality and being sexual than what people let on, and in being forced to set boundaries and just be really frank and honest about sex and consent, I've become a more mature person, and I've watched my partners grow in their respect for bodies and the people they belong to. It's actually less of a problem than you'd think, you know, having sex without actually having The Sex. When I first got vaginismus, I'd totally lost faith in humanity, in sexuality, the whole thing. But in navigating my life through brokenness, I've met some amazing people and had some incredible experiences and learned that, despite everything, there are people out there who respect boundaries and understand consent.

In embracing brokenness, we learn to imagine ourselves and other people more complexly. People are forced to see you as a human being with flaws and baggage and bits that don't work, which is a difficult lesson to whack into people, because it is confronting to care about someone who is living in a state of brokenness. And then you learn to care about yourself, in your own state of brokenness.

Fixing what's broken might be an option. I don't have the energy or the resources to fix some of what is broken now, and that's okay. I've never been more okay with myself, and I think it's important to accept who you are, where you are, as you are. I get so frustrated so easily; and whilst I've never let go of my need to improve myself, to be better at more things, I have also learned to accept and to live with some of the ways that I am not a perfect person.

I'm not saying to live in a state of disrepair. If something's broken, fix it...but understand healing as a process rather than as an event. My anxiety is better than it was and will continue to improve, just like my depression did. One day I will be in a situation where I feel ready and safe and secure enough to deal with vaginismus. But I have learned that there is great value in embracing brokenness, in understanding that perfection is an illusion and that we are not machines.

We are so afraid of brokenness in all its forms; we hate it in ourselves and we hate it in other people. We've become so impatient, so unwilling to see disability, illness or disadvantage with empathy and respect. It is possible to live with brokenness. It is possible to live with pain. We all do it, all the time, and in embracing brokenness, in accepting that some things take time to fix, and some things cannot be fixed at all, I think we learn a lot about ourselves and the people around us.

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