From waves of grief come ways of knowing.
This afternoon, I watched a film called Crooked beauty: Navigating the space between brilliance and madness. I am not going to review or describe it at length, though I highly do recommend it. It spoke to me, to a path I feel that I have been trying to navigate in my own way toward setting free my own inner voice and finding creative ways to be a world that would seek to define and limit this tendency.
The woman who narrated the film shared experiences from a traumatic childhood and eventually being labeled as having a mental illness as a young adult. She moved through a time and space that was not linear where she explored creative ways of finding consciousness and outlets of expression that would allow her to find balance and exist in a way that was natural and sustainable, even if it did not fit with the accepted confines of our society—Monday through Friday from 9-5pm, numbness in the face of the suffering that happens around us, finding a way to focus only on the joy and light of existence, etc.
I wonder if all of us carry elements of what Jacks refers to as “madness” but some are better able to bury this madness than others. The social norm is to hide this madness. Should we engage and embrace it in an effort to find balance and sustainability in who we are and what we feel and experience, we bring negative attention to our behavior or we are chastised, criticized, labeled as having something wrong with us.
I go through periods of prolonged softness. The only way I can think to describe it is that I build a cushion or bubble that protects any pain or emotion from life experiences from being truly felt. I move through each day tentatively. Not quite on eggshells but not allowing myself to feel what is happening deep inside. I simply do not engage with these emotions. I pretend they aren’t there. I protect myself. I live in a world of light, low-lying clouds or fog that hide me. I am safe inside. For a time.
At some point, this fragile balance shifts. It might be from something big or very small. And then all hell breaks lose and I am left falling, grasping, forced to reconcile that voices accusing me from within and seemingly from without, though the latter may only be a projection of the voice of my own inner critic convincing me that I am being judged by everyone around me.
At the outset of leaving my husband just over a year ago, I went through an intense period of pain and what I suppose could be labeled as depression, where I felt every emotion, listened to every voice, and moved through some kind of space, attempting to embrace my inner demons and reach a deeper understanding and sense of self. I tried to meditate. I read books about “monkey mind”. I tried to sit still and participate in the waves of grief that washed over me.
And slowly, I found light at another side. I don’t believe this was the light at the tunnel by any means. I think I found a place between where the intensity of my suffering lessened and I was better able to survive each day without crying or drinking as heavily just to make it through the evening alone.
I found support from friends, a few in particular who encouraged this kind of deep penetration and exploration of my sense of self. Others grew noticeably impatient. I was criticized for not being able to separate my selves. I let my personal life interfere with my professional life was a frequent critique. It seems an odd demand to make on people—one that would certainly lead to some form of madness—to actively fill different identities in order to please a strict social code. If you think about it, it seems like an exercise in insanity, yet I think we all participate in this exercise throughout our lives, to whatever end.
When I feel most whole is when I create, when I write, compose, tell my story and help others tell theirs. But it is so easy to shut down, knowing that I need to go to a creative place but am unable to do so. I am not sure what event sparks something within me to crawl out of the dark place and reach for some kind of light.
Perhaps, it is a film like Crooked beauty. Or something meaningful I notice. A singing towhee. An impossibly blue Arizona sky. A soft caress. A story that rises from within and demands to be shared.
And so I share that voice. And for a time I am free. For a sacred, beautiful moment, I am free.