Monday, I broke a tooth at breakfast. It was my second tooth. The first one was impossible to save, it had to be removed a couple of months before. As someone who rarely had to visit the dentist, I was shocked. I am approaching forty and I am starting to lose my teeth. I mean, when did that happen? What’s next? Osteoporosis? Hip replacement? Zimmer Frame? My decay is no longer a thing of some distant future. It is happening right now.
My recently-contemplated mortality was not only a reason for existential anxiety, but also inconvenient.
Despite having started the paperwork five months before, our French health insurance still isn’t sorted. During the rare moments I actually have the moral strength and the time to call them, social security just told me to wait. Shelling out money for health (between shelling out money for fixing both heating systems about once every two weeks this winter) has been a drain on our finances. A few weeks before, I had to take my husband to the neurologist and I almost jumped out of my seat and kissed him when he didn’t recommend further tests. (Yes, theoretically you get reimbursed once your social security does materialise, but I will believe it when I see it).
The dentist informed me that he was not going to remove my tooth, but that it was going to cost me 750 euros to fix it. I explained I didn’t have health insurance yet, feeling tears forming in my eyes. They tried to be helpful, suggesting I should contact such and such but I just sat there nodding, hoping they’d shut up so I can pay for my consultation and leave. How could I tell the lovely French dentist and his lovely French receptionist, in French, that their country had broken me? That I had arrived over a year before excited and jolly and ready to solve the inevitable problems an expat might expect, only to be served with problem after problem, like in a game of Whack-A-Mole? How could I tell them that I had been working without a break for more than a year making money that disappeared the moment they arrived and that I was a tiny step away from hating my job, my life and everything else in between? How could I tell them I felt lost, exhausted and defeated? That my body hurt, my head ached, that I was nauseous and I had a claw in my sternum?
Turns out that aside one broken tooth, I also had gastro-enteritis.
I laid in my bed squirming in pain and wondering how did I let it happen? How did I get from a place I knew, loved and belonged to, to where I was? In a place I was nothing but a slave with a purpose I had lost sight of? I was neither here nor there. I wasn’t living in London, working in a cool office, wearing cool clothes and drinking coconut lattes. I was wearing dog hair on yesterday’s clothes, working alone, cursing the Internet speed and not going cycling, running, kayaking, skiing or whatever the hell I imagined living in this part of France would entail.
Between bouts of diarrhoea, I realised this was more than an illness. This was a reckoning. This was a kryia.
’Kryia’ is a Sanskrit word described by Julia Cameron as a spiritual emergency or surrender. It is the final insult our psyche brings to our injuries when we are down. It is the slap in the face telling us we simply can’t carry on the same way.
My first kryia happened during The Love Project when, exhausted and defeated, I decided to abandon it, only to re-emerge stronger. That’s when I met my husband Alistair.
This time my kryia was directed at him too. I resented him for bringing me to France. I resented him for pushing himself so hard so that I felt I always had to follow. I blamed him for my unhappiness.
But the truth was that he had done nothing I didn’t willingly accept, even wished upon myself. Since the day we met, I instinctively bent my behaviour to fit his expectations. I didn’t even know I was doing it, I just desperately wanted him to love me. I wanted to preserve the honeymoon feeling we’ve had during our first two months of whirlwind romance. I wasn’t ready to move into the messy reality of relationships so I pendulated between trying to keep up appearances and contemplating running away. I wasn’t sure he would love all of me. I skilfully nipped and tucked myself, edited myself and shut myself up to please him. And it wasn’t even hard. I was used to conceal the truth. As the child of an alcoholic, I had grown up learning that telling the truth could be dangerous. I was masterful at hiding it, even from myself. Pretending that everything was ok was my truth.
But in the words of Glennon Doyle (whose book Love Warrior I devoured recently), “no woman on earth doesn’t give a fuck—no woman is that cool—she’s just hidden her fire. Likely, it’s burning her up.”
The good thing about my recent illness is that it forced me to rest. I stayed in bed for days, I did a lot of tapping (if you don’t know what tapping is, check it out at Tapping Solution), I wrote feverishly in my journal and I cried a lot. My body purged and so did my soul. By the end of it, I wasn’t taking any more bullshit from myself nor anyone else. I made a pact with myself to tell the truth, no matter how scared I was.
I told my husband I didn’t want to carry on like that. I told work I needed my workload cut back. I started asking myself before I speak if it is really what I felt and wanted to say. And my pain subdued. All that grief, all that desperation, all that anger, disappeared. It wasn’t anyone’s fault that I was unhappy. I hadn’t been myself and it was killing me inside. But once you let your fire burn, once you let yourself be seen, it doesn’t matter if they like you or not. Because the only person whose opinion matters is yourself.
When life seems wrong, try telling the truth. Sometimes someone will say me too, sometimes you’ll find a sympathetic ear, sometimes just genuine relief of letting go of all that bullshit you’ve been carrying around.
I know truth telling takes practice when you’ve been taught the opposite. But I am working on it. Self-care helps. Yoga, meditation, a good bath, an afternoon nap, it all helps. But most importantly show up for yourself. Let yourself know you have your back.