What fear made me do

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”-  Nelson Mandela
Art by Kate Gillett

She had been afraid all the long years of her very short life.
As a young child, she worried where the snails went, once the rain had stopped and heat returned. Did they overheat in those stuffy shells? She could not understand the whispers of the leaves in the wind, and worried the trees might be lonely. In school it became clear that the other children were not studying the sandpit for its bigger rock origins, worrying that grains had become separated from their family. So she learnt to hide these worries, even from herself. 
Instead the earth spoke directly to her bones, and her bones knitted their concerns together in a tight blanket, laying it tight over her skeleton. When the osteo-real estate became too crowded, the worry reached into the muscle itself, nestling between muscle fibres. 

In this way she remained sensitive to the turns of the earth but was no longer disturbed by intrusions into her thoughts or conversation. She became just another little girl, and instead of staring deeply into the pit she climbed up on the monkey bars. She swung and screamed, giggled and chased, and everyone thought There goes a rambunctious one.
As a startling child she drew everyone’s gaze but she wasn’t quite popular. In a group she didn’t quite know how to slip into the stream, always gushing too high above causing celebrity for a moment, or rumbling along too deep below. Standing amongst her peers, her bones worried that she might prefer to be alone, and knitted a new blanket around her big toe. 
By her teen years she became adept at picking up masks. She could slide well between social groups, equally befriending the girl sitting all alone, or sprawling on the grass with the coolest girl in school surrounded by cronies. She relished in her mastered skill, changing her personality with her outfits. 

Art by Kate Gillett
Then deep into her tumultuous puberty, she woke up one day exhausted. 

Her bones throbbed between her muscles, like steel rods suddenly iced over. Her muscles were feverishly hot, tying themselves in impossible knots with unrelated distant neighbours. Bicep entangled itself illogically with calf, contorting her into foetal position. Her diaphragm tied itself to her pubis, dragging her breath heavy into her hips. At sweet sixteen, she felt a weariness beyond all the years of the earth. A blanket of fog swept over her sharp-witted mind like eyes closing to avert from suffering. She rolled onto her side and stared at the wall. Tears rolled down her cheeks.
Days passed like this, into months, and then years. Her parents took her to the Doctors, who took many tubes of blood and came back with no answers. They offered a candy flavoured pill known as an antidepressant. But she refused. In her bones she knew differently.
She learnt to live with her pain. She was a good girl and did what everyone told her was wise. She got a degree that was practical, employable, solid. She had steady monogamous relationships with nice, respectable boys. 

Without noticing it, she got the message:

Choose something safe and secure,
and live your passion from there.

But what if her passion is neither safe, nor secure, but the wild screech of the kite taking full flight in the storm?

It began to all seem like madness. The poor girl graduated, began to work, succeeded too. She was intelligent, beautiful and sociable. She married the nice, respectable boy. She went to work everyday, and most days even enjoyed it. Except that some days she would wake too exhausted, bones throbbing like icy steel rods deep within feverish muscles, knotting impossibly with their unrelated distant neighbour. And the fog would move in thickly. She would switch on the TV and watch back-to-back episodes of Mad Men.

Where was it going to end? The long hours, the never enough. To work more to buy more to own more and owe more. Colonising the planet with the plastic waste of an all-consuming emptiness.  In the moments before she turned from her aching body to the TV screen and Donald Draper, she would see for a second the pitiless irony of it all. But she could not settle her own uneasiness, and her own bitter cry for more, more, more. 

How could she turn and face her uneasiness? It required admitting that she was hungry. If she admitted that she was hungry, she would have to ask the very scary question:  What am I hungry for?  Which is a question to always avoid, because right on its tail comes Will I ever be satisfied? And to ask this question is to risk that the answer might be No.

No, you will never be satisfied. Never be happy. Never find peace.  

And here, skulking in the dismal depths was the dark and hidden shame, the festering suspicion that something within her was irreparably broken. That she was not enough. That she could not find the way. She feared that she did not know how to live.

Better to leave these questions, the festering shame and the ghostly fears undisturbed. Better for her to struggle on in all of her guises, in an imitation of life that she hoped was convincing. Better to follow the advice of everyone else, for who was she to know better?

There are too many voices in this world that claim to know the way. And not even the way, but with warning and measure, steer this way and that into cosy dead-ends. Caution beyond living. The middle road, which is no road at all but an illusion that lulls the consciousness to sleep.

Passion, destiny, the evolutionary beckoning from the deep is risky for just how vague and ethereal it can be. It’s nothing the mind can grasp. And in the midst of cultural norms that establish who and how she should be, in the clamouring of everyone else’s opinions, fears, jealousies and religious fervour, passion beckons her to wordlessly lean in.  To hear a still quiet voice that doesn’t even speak English.

The alternative to passion is to imitate and replicate the tried and tested routes of other people’s lives. But this would deny the unique masterpiece. She is one of kind. She knows to listen to the trees, the sand and the snails. This world only made one of her. It accumulated her atoms in that concise configuration, at this exact moment in history. 

The body knows its own process. Cells live out an organic evolution they are assembled for. From the sperm fleeing to the ova, and ova releasing itself down the fallopian tube. A zygote knows to nestle into nourishing womb, and divide until all those layers of epithelium, neurons and osteoblasts web themselves out to make exactly her. As a baby she knew to cry for milk and as an infant to reach for vertical, sitting to rolling, crawling to clambering, onwards and upwards to walk on her own two feet. She instinctively knew to reach for the love and comfort that knitted together her body and brain. She knew. She knew how to be born, how to grow, to thrive, to love, to connect. 

Art by Kate Gillett
She always knew exactly who she was born to be. 

But even in the confines of our personal dark closet behind the winter coats, it’s terrifying to whisper just to ourselves: I believe in you.

To have faith, that perhaps something inside knows exactly how to unravel, how to open, how to undo. Knows exactly how to live.  

To liberate the Mad Genius within who knows exactly how the brush strokes must fall. Who knows how to throw paint to create the unique masterpiece that might disturb, rivet, compel, unsettle and satisfy this world.

She had been afraid all the long years of her very short life. But even so, one day she turned off the TV, and quietly, gradually, crawled back into her body. She felt the tightening of the blanket over her bones, and all the worry that it whispered. And the fog began to thin so that she could see more clearly.

“And the day came when the risk to remain in a tight bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
- Anais Nin


  1. caitlin your words are so beautiful and so powerful, you sum it all up. I love and miss you so much!! xx pep

    1. Thanks Pep. It does my heart good to know they're touching you. Since I started writing these blogs, so many women of all ages have come forward with their own language for these same experiences. It's difficult to find our own unique way in the world...and we're the only ones who can do it.

  2. Caitlin, it's like you're writing for "Everywoman"... I'm sure you are reaching many with your powerful and eloquent words. For me, I've finally figured out after a mental breakdown that the fear that's crippled me all these years is actually Fear of myself. .. fear that if I dig too deep I might discover a blackness, a terror of not knowing how to live... but like you I've worn many masks and finally I'm stripping away at the last one .. tiny flashes if skin are beginning to show. Skin that's raw and painful but once nurtured will be glowing... slowly slowly. It's terrifying like a new discovery. . But absolute necessary.

    1. Ah, painful, terrifying necessity. It sounds like you've done some difficult work that has brought you face to the face with the most precious thing in the world. Mental breakdown/spiritual awakening/really living. Beautiful, difficult things...


Post a Comment

Popular Posts