“Tell the same person that you think that motorway signs are giving you hidden messages about the secrets of time, and they look at you like you’ve just grown three heads or murdered a puppy.”
It began sometime, I don’t know when. It could have been at the time of my birth, the tumour on my spine subjecting me to a life-long trauma that may not have been felt in one way, but certainly in another. Feeling as if I were an oddity was something I carried with me throughout primary school. I remember being in the playground with my three closest friends and thinking they are all so similar; so together, so contained. I could be taken out and everything would remain the same. I did have one close friend, she invited me round to her house and I spent a lot of time there. We would watch Top of the Pops and eat onion bagels, waffles, pancakes, fruit twist things that looked like tongues with doodles on the underbelly. They said that I was a polite and kind child. I always saw change lying around and wondered what would happen if I took it.
I stole something from the British Museum once, or at least tried to. It was a small turquoise scarab, it cost fifty pence but my dad wouldn’t buy it for me so I shoved it into my front pocket and it bulged out conspicuously. I saw it as we left the shop and we stopped, he asked what it was, what have you done, I lied, I defended myself. It’s nothing. (It wasn’t nothing.) Was it the first sign that something wasn’t as it should be? There was a money-tree in my friend’s garden and I used to wonder what it would be like for a tree to sprout coins. Was it greed, or envy, or loss, I don’t know. Her house smelt of something familiar and cloying, the detergent, and I used to want it to be mine. I wanted that smell, just like I wanted to live in a house with lots of upstairs floors and a pull-out drawer filled with snacks and two cats who would curl up on my lap.
I used to think I could communicate with animals. My aunt had cats too, one of them went missing a few years before the other left, or maybe it is still there. Sometimes we went to a house on Downshire Hill where two children lived, twins in my sister’s year at school. I was a little older but I looked the same age, a little smaller in height, a little more slender. They had an Aga and a garden, chickens and small snails that we used to watch and inspect by turning then upside down. We would go inside the Wendy house and pretend to make tea and take calls. I borrowed their wellington boots. We went on the heath. But I preferred being outside, inside; inside the safety of this garden with a large tree that draped over the edges.
It is only recently that I have enjoyed being outside, outside. But even then the garden where I spent most of last year was not really outside. It was a garden, despite its grandness. On the inside of this garden there was a small enclave with some larger trees and one which I would sit underneath and read or listen to music when I was feeling melancholy. No one could see me, but sometimes a figure would pass and once someone came in. He said this is where he would go, too. I didn’t offer him a seat because I wanted to be alone. Another friend once met me there, another time. I found it exciting, because he seemed so strange and I felt so secure. This was my place, and I had invited him in, and it was on my terms. We spoke as I lifted off my headphones and proceeded to speak about how much I hated this place, wanted to leave, so did he. I didn’t because I couldn’t. I had no sanity left in me, and I was only just keeping it together. I wasn’t really.
That year was the loneliest year of my life, if I could call it that. But it was lonely in a different way. At school I felt lonely and yet I still recognised other people as real. This time was different. I don’t know why (it was drugs probably) but it came to the point where nothing was real. That might sound romantic but it was incredibly dangerous, I had no body, my parents were unreal things I had imagined in my mind. The external world around me was a fiction that I had myself created because I was the creator, only I existed. How do you find help in that kind of a situation where no one else exists? I do not know how I made it from then to now. I could not seek help, not only because no one was real, but because this was something I had to endure, and to seek help was to fail. I was awakening, spiritually.
When I first exhibited visible signs of anxiety and depression to my mother, who did not see me at school, nor in the years preceding as I left her house at fourteen after many bitter exchanges, she showed me to a website which spoke of spiritual awakenings and their symptoms or signs. To me this was what I needed to hear. There is nothing wrong with me – I could not handle yet one more blow to my sense of self – it is just that I am more special than most. Indeed this sense of uniqueness kept me going when there were too many dents made in my already buckling armour. I could not voice myself for one thing, I would spew knots, as one person recalled, of potential acuity and yet knots all the same. We need to work on you having more skin, said my therapist.
I reject “spirituality” wholeheartedly and yet it may have been the way in which I was saved from myself. This ambivalence fleshes out a little with my visit to Castro Urdiales, where in the summer I taught two children, Lorena and Natalia, to speak and read English. I did not know when I made contact with their mother that her husband was an energy healer. He was also a Taoist, or a Buddhist, he often used the two interchangeably, and when I arrived there I had had the second of my two “near-death experiences”. Prior to this I had been in Berlin, depressed but unsure of it, definitely sick, and took two pills in one go because I thought I could handle it, as the three boys I was with seemed to. These were pills you didn’t find in an Apoteke, but on the street, via dodgy text messages. I had found myself in situations like these regularly since I was sixteen and I always felt uneasy about it, and guilty, but would go through with it nevertheless.
This man had learnt the art of energy healing whilst in China. He could see auras as a young boy. He also told my impressionable mind that there were no such things as coincidences. I was sceptical and yet awe-stricken, and I welcomed this new way of seeing. My friend sent me an Alan Watts book for my birthday, which I received whilst staying there and I took this as a benevolent sign. Trust this man. He indeed assuaged my reflux, pain which I had been experiencing prior to that moment for two years, and not very often since. It was strange, because he presented himself as someone who also thought they were special, and ought to be treated as such, and he bought his children countless things from Primark which I thought was strange because aren’t Buddhists meant to be unattached to possessions and leaders of an ascetic life and didn’t he know about child labour? I told myself that I was reciting garbled knowledge and things I had picked up whilst at university, and that I ought to be more open minded.
Whilst staying in Castro we spoke infrequently, always in Spanish. He was an anarchist, and he loved me, just as he loved everyone. Still I was filled with hate. You have a very narrow mind, he tells me. I can open it for you. I didn’t refuse. I wanted to see more clearly. He gave me magnets and he experimented on my body in front of a friend to whom he was teaching his method. Look, he said, you just need to use the feet. The body knows it all. He taught me a meditation practise that would heal me, but ever since then I have been unable to stick to it for more than two weeks, let alone two months, which was the advised time. The problem with this encounter was that I treated this man like a god. And so when I experienced my fourth or fifth psychotic experience on the coach to the airport, where the world separated from me and my head from my body, and wouldn’t stop moving in vacant lots gathering fuel for nothing, I didn’t say anything to anyone. They might undo my mind opening. I thought that if I endured it then the fruits of my labour would be revealed to me.
This Taoist man healed my reflux and me profoundly, told me things about my family that were profoundly accurate, healed my mum’s sickness from afar, and yet ever since that time I have been more psychically and psychologically sick that I ever have been. Imagine suddenly feeling so light you might be cut in half or popped, like a balloon. Seeing your toes in the bath and wondering whose they were. Looking at your hands and marvelling their marble-like sheen, their fluorescent outline, and treating them as a work of art rather than a part of you. How can it be that my body is not me, not mine? Perhaps it begins in this very slippage; for in declaring our bodies ‘ours’ we irrevocably separate ourselves from them. What are we if not our bodies? Our mind, or perhaps our spirit.
To identify with anything might be to narrow down a conception of one’s self. Identification might be a curse, not a liberation. Incessant identification brings about a kind of merging, a seepage. An attempt at empathy gone mad. The ubiquitous screen might not be helping, for one thing my frayed nerves clasp to it with might and desperation: my body, clamouring to be made whole. To be healed in the body is radical act, and I want to resist. Yet my mind and nervous system plea to be coaxed back into familiarity and home. Home is within you, I would hear, and yet when your body is a stranger you need something more robust than just an idea to see you through, to the light.
What began to see me through was my voice. No longer spewing knots but many tears, my throat began to rebuild itself through song. For the voice is not solely the bodies domain, it is also, through language, that of the mind. (The mind and the body are not so separate after all). Whatever become of my mind, and I know that there is still further to go, I do know that my heart is a lot larger than when I began, wherever and whenever that was. And that an interest in things spiritual brought me here, but it did also bring me out… (Om namaha shivaya?)