A shock comes, out of a clear blue sky. It is a life-changing shock. It comes in a letter. I read the words and burst into noisy tears, as if I were a child. Everything, in an instant, is different. I feel my brain ceasing to function in any meaningful way. I feel confusion, and fear, and sorrow. The lovely ground on which I plant my feet disappears from under me.
That was three days ago.
I do all the things I do. I process the emotions. (Those bloody emotions; I shall be processing them until the end of time.) I talk to dear friends; I write everything down. I try to give myself a break, every so often, by doing something lovely so I don’t have to think about the shock. (I remember this with grief: it was in my third-last death that I developed a theory that I had to give myself at least fifteen minutes off every day. I used to watch old episodes of Graham Norton, because he was so sweet and good-hearted and funny. This – what is happening now – is not a death, but it is a kind of grief, so I go back to my tried and tested method.)
I do all the things, but the shock keeps on coming, rolling over me in seismic waves. I don’t sleep. I have sudden crashes of sorrow. I have moments of flat terror. I scold myself a little, because I believe in stoicism and suddenly I’m not being very stoical. I remind myself that not everything is about me. I tell myself that many, many people are going through many, many worse things. This is true, but it does not feel tremendously consoling.
I return to the basics. I remind myself of the fine line that always has to be walked – you have to acknowledge the pain, but you can’t let yourself dwell in the pain. At least, that’s what I believe. Feel it, see it for what it is, make the choice to let it go. Is this despair doing me any good? No. Then I need to mark it and honour it and maybe even listen to it, and then give it permission to leave. I need useful things now, because I have a mountain to climb. I can’t sit wailing in the foothills, although there are moments when I want very much to wail.
And here’s the funny thing. In the middle of all this, as the melancholy grows in me and my throat aches with it and I wonder whether I can do anything at all with this dour, heavy Monday, I have to work with a client. She’s a writing client and she is starting her first book. One of the most important things in a first book is finding one’s true voice, so everything we do is about authenticity. I’ll have to tell her, I think, because I can’t fake it. It’s like when I am with my red mare: if I am carrying an overpowering emotion I have not yet dealt with, I have to tell her of it and then we are congruent and her prey animal instincts don’t get triggered for danger. (She can deal with me being sad; she can’t deal with me being phony.)
But the client and I start talking at once and canter away into such fascinating pastures that there is no moment to say, ‘I’m so sorry, I am not at my finest today.’ I am so galvanised and so absorbed that I find my better self, which I had lost down the back of the sofa, and I hear myself saying good and true things. We chase down universal truths together and stumble upon startling revelations. A new chapter emerges, and we grow excited about that.
This is all that matters, in those forty-five minutes. There is no room for regret or rupture. There is her mind and my mind and the sparks that fly as we test ideas and ask questions and follow thrilling tangents.
And weirdly, I felt better after that than I would have had I said the thing and got sympathy and empathy and been offered the chance to talk about it. Diversion, I think, and absorption; perhaps these are my allies now. Doing something meaningful, something that helps someone else. Doing something that stretches my mind and gives me a shining sense of purpose. I always tell myself not to dwell in the dark places, but sometimes I get stuck. In that dazzling session, I had movement – everything was going forward. The horrible sucking stuckness did not have a chance. I was rolling. I was galloping over the open plains.
I’m not sure really what I’m saying now, but that’s all right. I needed to get this down and get this out, and I’ll probably have to do that again tomorrow and the day after that. When life throws you into a hundred and ninety degree turn, you need a minute. The thing is the thing, and it hurts like hell, but the beauty is that there are other things too – things of hope and usefulness and delight and possibility. I can choose to live in those, as much as I can. I can choose. I do choose. Yes, yes, I do.