Someone I work with on a project had a serious medical emergency recently. Their recovery took a while and delayed the project. The delay wasn’t a big deal, we were all just glad that the person was recovering well and would be all right. And the project is more or less back on track now.
When objects or the body break, it is not only more obvious, but usually easier to accept the reality of the situation. The brokenness is a real thing in the world. If your leg is broken and in a cast, no one will ask you to run a marathon with them. One plans and works around the broken bones and adjusts to what is possible until they are completely healed.
When something invisible that does not obviously manifest in the physical world breaks, the only way to communicate it to other people is by putting on a cast made of words. But when you say ‘my mind is broken’ or ‘my heart is broken’ or ‘my soul is broken’ or ‘I am broken’, somehow it is usually not enough, unless you explain exactly what is happening. And the problem is that often you actually do not know, or are simply too vulnerable, too anxious, too confused, too exhausted to even try to explain. But because you seem otherwise fine, people still expect you to run the marathon with them.
I haven’t been well for quite a while and I am all of the above – too vulnerable, too anxious, too confused, too exhausted – to explain. I am sometimes angry that I have to explain anything at all. I want it to be enough that when I say ‘I am not well’, I am believed and that my invisible brokenness is respected. I want to be allowed to heal without constantly having to justify why I can’t run the marathon. I want to celebrate that I can get up in the morning and walk, which most days feels like the greatest achievement already. I still manage quite a lot, just not the marathon that is expected of me.
And then, there is the inescapable global brokenness. In her latest newsletter, the wonderful Esther Perel writes: ‘Is it any wonder so many of us are feeling numb and disoriented? Alert: this, too, is part of the mental health crisis. In response to tragedy after tragedy, many of us are cycling through fight, flight, and freeze responses faster than we can finish a cup of coffee—myself included.’
Empaths are having a really, really hard time right now, even if they themselves are not broken – the world around us is.
One of the hardest things for me right now is that I am breaking my promises. Because I promised to run the marathon – which is impossible with broken bones, even if only invisible – there are many people who are still eager to continue with the preparations and find it difficult to accept that it’s not happening as fast as I had promised them it would when I was still fit to run. My slow walking requires a lot of patience. But even though it does break my heart to have to deal with the occasional lack of patience, I also understand. After all, I made promises I cannot keep. It’s all right if anyone wants to run without me. I accept that.
I break promises I made to myself. This is hard, too. The only thing I keep hanging on to like a lifeline is my writing. The book is being written. But facing the book’s content is also facing my brokenness.
Another hard thing is the numbness, the inability to take stuff in – the good and the bad. It’s almost as if the metaphorical cast around me is so thick and large that nothing or very little gets through. Again, for an empath this is an unusual way of being.
Today, something really good happened. After almost five years of paying off the debt for Topolino, we finally, officially belong to each other, and this morning I received the document to prove it (the process of the transfer was quite challenging in my current state of being, but I managed!). I would take Topolino for a celebratory spin around town, but I – like so many others – cannot afford to be that frivolous when fuel prices and marathon dreams, among so many other things, are breaking my bank account. Also, ironically, I suppose, my garage door broke this weekend and going for a spin is another challenge altogether. I will be phoning the electrician today and waiting patiently for his arrival. I will walk until Topolino can be easily freed again.
Walking is fortunately still possible for me, even when I am invisibly broken. Walking will have to be enough for a while. Accepting my limitations and setting healthy boundaries are part of my healing process.