Portraits of a Heartbroken Head

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Hell isn’t just real, it’s necessary. And if you don’t want to be in it anymore, then don’t be. Remember that the difference between heaven and hell isn’t sin or faith, it’s simply which of them you have the strength to let your life be part of (and what you’re willing to do to build that strength. Are you contributing to happiness, kindness and choice? Or sorrow, pity and dominance? It’s always much more complicated than that, but for the moment simplify what it takes to resurrect your mind from pain, confusion and fear to, ultimately, love.

Mental illness and instability has been on my mind a lot these past weeks. In order to process some of those thoughts, I drew on my face and offer these seven images of it to you, along with my lyrical and ripe melodrama. In the hope that by doing so I can continue to live heaven, and spur those around me to keep the conversation honest, challenging and special to the journey.

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DIS/ARM
The beginning for me is the ability to distance my mind from my body, confuse the power structure between the two. For the mind to treat the body like its vessel is the most intimate form of domestic abuse. Eating becomes incidental, hatred of flaws intensifies, heart rate becomes rapid, heat floods and self-care eddies away. Some people feel this distance so consumingly they can take a blade to their body, or a rope, or pistol. Some people feel this distance so suppressive they turn those weapons on each other. It’s a simple difference between recovery and ruin: putting the weapon down.

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NOT/HER
It does always come back to blame, and the harder it is to handle the impact of your choices in the present moment, the further you will run to the past to apportion the harm of who you are outside of yourself. But your parents cannot resolve who you feel now, and your past cannot be anything other than how you reacted based on who you were at the time. You can resurrect it and make the past the present so you can reattempt a resolution, but redemption will always come from what you do now to transform the future for what it can offer not torture the past for what it can’t change.

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SYCO/PHANT
Ambition hurts. Dreams, when applied to the present day, can corrode at your sense of self-worth like an acid addiction. This doesn’t mean you should abandon all aspiration; it means who have in your one life a serious decision to make. Do you focus your energy on satisfaction, or gamble everything on getting the goal? Before you cut your path one way or another, better know yourself so you know you can take one road without regretting the mystery of the other. Your decision isn’t irrevocable, you can double back, but wandering between admiration of idols and fighting for survival will exhaust. Remember as well that some people would give their lives to have lived so long as to still be able to choose.

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DISS/EASE
Other generations call mine weak, and selfish. Apparently that will shock us back into a sense of ourselves that can forget our species’ history of corruption and pollution, that can withdraw from the enormity of the world that we’ve been thrust underneath the scrutiny of, completely exposed to. One mistake makes a meme and civilian turns to celebrity turns to suicide. With the connectivity of the modern age, came the anonymity with which people could gleefully and liberally dispense stigma upon each other to distract from the impending destruction of our planet, and our very selves. This waste of time, waste of soul will be the key to regret and the type of barbarous, murderous ignorance that the threat of stretches our brains beyond breaking point.

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FREE/BODY
Sex is as much the enemy as the remedy. No currency is as valuable, no robbery as abhorrent, no plane as politicised by every system from civil to religious. The limitations of our most basic understanding of our own mechanics is not far from personal feudalism, whereby the mind does not respond to the environment, but weaponises it. My explorations of sexuality have led to a diversity and discomfort for which I’m grateful because it is a kind of liberation my heteronormative counterparts cannot name as they struggle with respect for the bodies as elemental, evolving. They can only be swallowed up by fantasy.

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CHOICE/CHANGE
It is scientific fact that we are creatures of two components: chemicals, and storytelling. We can be slaves to the narrative we recite to ourselves which some disguise as prayer, others as pep talk, and as far as our emotions are concerned, the things we tell ourselves become truth. There is a distinct difference between spending our lives writing our own story, owning our own plot highs and lows, and copying out what others wrote about us in their story. Or we might just read other people’s biographies and pay no duty to our own opus. Taking control hurts because we know what we’re gambling. Losing control hurts far more because we don’t know what we’re gambling. Like the man caught between the two cliff faces, our lives depend on our faith in surviving any trial of mind. Regret is the ultimate killer.

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GIVE/LOVE
Bearing in mind that there is only one way to learn, and that for all your hardship is relative to you, incomparable to another person’s pain or suffering, the only driving force away from trauma or fear, is love. I don’t mean romance, or sex, or even friendship. I mean a willingness to fall on your face so hard your nose breaks when your nose is the only thing you like about yourself, and still believe that your relationship within can still be filled with laughter and care and compassion. There’s little more frightening than knowing that of all the love you have, none of it is your own. It is a basic need we must provide for ourselves, however that is calibrated. For me it’s eating, and appetite suppression has long plagued me as a symptom of self-loathing and disappointment in myself. What I didn’t know, is that this refusal to sustain myself in order to get where I wanted to go is precisely what stands in my way.

Thank you. Gratitude is our easiest gift to ourselves, as forgiveness is to others.
Share you. In whatever way that looks like for you, and permits your simplest happiness, and therefore your most remarkable survival of this incredible place.
Love you. I know I do.

B.

Don’t sweat dying alone

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We sat opposite each other on his floor mattress. He was older, he’d been loved, he’d accomplished things I could only dream of, and he’s listening to me but he’s not hearing. I was telling him that if I died alone, like Jane Austen, then it wouldn’t be a terrible thing and he kept saying how ridiculous it was that someone my age (21) would think it likely they’ll die alone. Needless to say he did not fall in love with me. But I did stop talking about it from that moment, because there’s no easy way to tell someone, ‘I’m all I need, and if I do die alone, I won’t be wishing I wasn’t, I’ll be grateful I spent every moment making my life something else”.

Aside from being an inherently sexist paradigm similar to the ‘clock-is-ticking’ bullshit, designed to guilt women into settling or selling out for a relationship because it’s your primary value-base as a female, dying alone is nothing more than shaming the self. When I see people now, who look teary-eyed into their selfies or slouch across from me at coffee saying they know they’re dying alone, I feel like saying “yeah, so what’re you going to do about it?!”. Trouble is, I know they’ll loathe me for that because there is no way to stop yourself from dying alone unless you meet someone who loves you until-and while- you die, and you can’t control that, you can’t force that.

  • Darling heart, you have no clue when you’re going to die, so there’s never going to be any way of telling if you’ll die outside of a relationship. You could break up with someone who has been emotionally belittling you and physically abusing you for over a year, and when you leave in floods of happy tears that you’re free be hit by a car. Did you die alone?
  • Darling heart, you know as well as I do that no matter how well you think you know someone or how much love you give them, there is no guarantee they’ll be with you until you’re old, until you’re old and for fuck’s sake they still won’t leave you the hell alone and thank goodness for that!
  • Darling heart, even if you could force someone to be with you forever, you know it like a ball of wool sitting under your stomach scratching at your diaphragm that you’re only together because you’re full of fear, not full of love. You stick by each other because you prefer the devil you know than the devil you don’t. But that’s not love, that’s punishment. It’s not trust, it’s dependence. You both deserve better.
  • Darling heart, you know what to me is worse than dying alone? Dying beside someone you don’t love, and who doesn’t love you. You can spend your whole life pretending that’s not true, but I genuinely believe that at the last moment of our lives is when we reach the most clarified and pure truth of our lives. I would rather anything than my last moment feeling that though I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t happy.

That all being said, I think there are ways around this nightmare we continually empower, this obstacle we keep building a skyscraper of then applauding ourselves that we can’t overcome, an unsinkable ship. Here’s three ways you can stop the seemingly inevitable:

  1. Work out what “dying alone” actually means. Does “dying alone” mean never being in a meaningful relationship, does it mean not having any children, or any friends who call you more regularly than once a month? Does it actually mean you never having a fulfilling career, or travel to India, or own a home, or lose that last seven kilos? What do you want to look back on? Once you actually work out what it is, the steps to overcoming it instead of crucifying yourself with an unknown therefore insurmountable regret become easier to break into steps to walk on.
  2. Take a look at the map of your life. How far do you ever travel from home, or from work. We humans are truly creatures of habit, but we’re also creatures of comfort, now more than ever. We frequent the same places, we see the same people, we sit on the same train carriages and stare into our screens, we shop at the same stores. Make an effort to go to one entirely new place a month and not hide in your phone or earbuds the whole way. Take a friend if you feel the need, but just try and observe the undiscovered world around you- if it’s in a small way like a new bar, or a gallery opening, or a big way like a mystery road trip or surprise visit home to your family. You might catch someone’s eye, you might find the best coffee in ever, you might like yourself a little more for growing a vagina and getting the heck out there.
  3. Being sad, or feeling lonely, is never something to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s something to be encouraged by, it’s your soul telling you there’s something you want, something you’d like to change. In the same way our bodies tell us we’re hungry, but we ignore it because we’re busy, or that we’re tired but your ex will be there so we’ll still go and look drop-dead gorgeous, or that we’re in pain but the shoes just look so good. We know intuitively what we need, but are so capable of starving ourselves of for some alternate, usually regrettable purpose. Stop doing that. Eat the food, get the sleep, try the talking, do the changing.

There is no living creature to whom nature has been more generous, but in turn has been most ungrateful to and destructive of. We use our gifts of critical thought, mass production-and reproduction- and ingenuity to squander and destroy our planet’s resources, each other, and ourselves. All the while we hate, we fear the end of our suffering and we admonish those who love, anticipate it. Sometimes I go to bed feeling wasted, like there’s some unfulfilled purpose, some soul-level goal I’ve not even begun walking consciously toward. That means something. That means there’s more to be gained. Sometimes I go to bed feeling like I’ve fallen too far behind, because I’ve never been serious or long-term with anybody, but that has never stopped me, and never will. Whatever it took for me to learn I can only count on myself, I’m grateful for. I think it will make me a better partner someday. But today, I don’t matter any more or less, but I do.

In love and independence,

B.

Also read Augusten Burroughs and Brene Brown. Like now. Not Elizabeth Gilbert, she’s onto it but seriously these people first.