When I was in my early 20’s I bought a little one-bedroom unit in a brown brick 1960’s block of flats. It was the first time I’d moved out of home; I’d designed every square inch of that place a thousand times over and finally, I had the keys.
Within days of receiving those little brass keys I lost my job.
Maybe it was a Tuesday…I can’t remember. I do remember it was only a day or two before I moved in. I was vacuuming the freshly laid chocolate coloured carpet, and I dropped the vacuum cleaner, sat on the hallway floor and cried.
What I didn’t know in that moment was that was just the beginning of years and years of financial struggle and hardship. If I’d known the GFC was only 18 months away, and about to hit me like a tidal wave, I’d probably have had the good sense to cry a little harder.
I spent a lot of time crying in my dream home. There were a lot of wonderful moments full of sunshine and music but there were also oceans of tears. I felt like everything was happening to me. I’d just start to get on top of everything and something would break and need replacing or I’d be flattened by another wave of bills.
I was an emotional wreck, I couldn’t get a job, I ended up on government benefits.
I’d often feel like I was trying to get warm under a blanket that was a few sizes too small.
It was hard. Really, really hard.
In the movie Fight Club there’s a scene where Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt, places some kind of acid onto the back of Edward Nortons hand. He’s in searing pain. Trying to get away – Tyler makes him focus, feel, surrender to the pain before he’ll neutralize the acid with vinegar.
I think about that scene whenever I’m experiencing pain – or any emotion I’m desperately trying to numb and escape.
Edward frantically tries to mentally escape, tap into meditations, zone out, disappear but Tyler pulls him back, again and again, making him feel e v e r y t h i n g.
I believe in feeling everything.
I believe in living in the full spectrum of emotion – from happy to sad, calm to rage, joy to fear. Painting my life with all the colours the human experience has to offer.
There can be great joy in pain, life-changing growth in surrender, bright sparks in dark places.
During one of many tearful conversations I had with my dad during those early days has always stuck with me. I was once again caught off guard by a new round of bills. He told me to figure out when the next bills were coming and mark it on my calendar, the reality was I was going to get bills and I could keep letting that fact surprise, shock and scare me or I could get a bit brave and face the facts.
In addition to sparking my life-long obsession with bill-tracking, that moment taught me to stop hiding from hard things. Life is hard and I can pretend that’s not true and sulk every time it punches me in the face, or I can accept it – learn that’s how life works and roll with those punches.
I kept crying every time a bill arrived, I was still scared, I still didn’t have any financial security, but I shifted from seeing it as something that was happening to me – to understanding this was a hard part of life, a burn on my hand – a pain I was learning to sit with and find space for.
A decade and a half later, I’m finding myself within the story of another global crisis.
Things are uncertain in an unprecedented way.
There have been days where I’ve had moments of gripping terror. I have felt heavy with dread and a rush of panic.
But I’m doing what I know best. I’m holding my hand outstretched. Feeling the burn. Feeling e v e r y t h i n g.
I have cried. I’ve been scared. I’ve acknowledged that I’m afraid.
This is a hard time.
This is also a beautiful time.
Life has taught me that this too shall pass. That I can be curious and sit in uncertainty. It’s an emotion I can learn a lot from if I’m willing to listen to what it’s telling me. I picture myself tilting back and sinking deep, down past the emotion, into a calm, peaceful space underneath it all.
There’s room in me to feel conflicting emotions at the same time. I am scared and sure, anxious and peaceful – I’m in pain but I’m accepting that things hurt.
It’s comforting to know I’m not alone.
This is a hard part of life, a burn on all our hands – a pain we’re learning to sit with together and find space for.
[Art by Neko Katz]