It makes so much sense for our bodies to hold our hurts and experiences. How could it not — there’s no separation, even though some people talk as if mind and body are different things. My body has been through all the moments and events of my life, and my emotions have been felt by my body as physical, visceral things. I also know that experiences can be associated with specific physical consequences in a heartbreakingly (I’ll come back to that) metaphorical way. Women who have experienced sexual trauma are significantly more likely to experience IBS and cancers of the pelvic region. (Be careful: that doesn’t mean that someone who has IBS was necessarily sexually traumatized.) How profoundly apt and sad that a woman who already had to endure trauma in that part of her body then also has to experience something else terrible in a linked way. If I were Queen of the Universe, instead of just Queen of the Pillbugs, this whole deal would run very differently. As the benevolent queen I’ve always been, I would issue an edict: You were already hurt there, you don’t have to be hurt there ever again.
And so to me, the author of this blog. I can never talk about this without crying, but it is such a part of my life and has been since I was a little girl. My heart hurts, a lot. It gives me crushing pain, searing pain, penetrating pain. I have felt like I was impaled through my heart, for weeks after my father’s suicide. Surprisingly, I have had no trouble in my pelvic region, though the association would suggest I should; instead, I have these heart troubles.
A friend of mine had a heart transplant after his otherwise-perfectly healthy heart was attacked by a virus, so he has thought a lot about the metaphor of illness and heart, and he and I talked about it for so many hours when we were both in graduate school. It’s so poignant and evocative, and after talking about it with my friend, I realized that getting a donor’s heart is orders of magnitude different from getting a donor’s kidney or corneas, and not just because the donor always must die first. Always. Every time. That’s likely true with corneas too, but I’m unaware of any deep association with corneas, as fabulous and desirable as they are.
But a change of heart, wow. And heartache, not just a word or idea, literal heart ache. Pain, real pain in the chest where the heart is. And broken heart, how that hurts. Some broken hearts feel like you truly might not survive. Sometimes it really mimics a full-blown heart attack (Takotsuba cardiomyopathy, “broken-heart syndrome;” with immediate treatment, most people survive with no long-term damage). (If you, like me, enjoy this kind of thing, you may enjoy this academic article analyzing cross-cultural heart metaphors.)
And so my heart hurts, a lot. And frequently. I have a slightly insufficient aorta (not enough to be worried about, just monitored, and it doesn’t hurt at all; the only problem is that I feel insulted by being insufficient 😉 ). I also have this thing called paroxysmal tachycardia, diagnosed for me in Manhattan, and while it’s horrible to experience, it’s perfectly harmless. It doesn’t even have a long-term effect on the heart. Basically, I will just be doing something ordinary (sitting my chair, for example, or cooking) and all of a sudden my heart jumps to an extremely fast rate — it can go up to 220, but mine usually jumps to 160-180. It stops as suddenly as it starts, and can last from minutes to hours. There are different types, as a function of where it originates, but here’s the wiki page for the ventricular type. There’s a way to stop it (you hold your breath and bear down), but it leaves me feeling terrible, with a headache, with exhaustion, with a feeling of breathlessness. It seems to happen to me in big clumps, and I’m in one now so that sucks. SUCKS. When the first person arrived at poetry group Tuesday night, she looked at me and gasped, and asked what was wrong and said I looked pale and drawn. I’m telling you, it sucks.
Aside from the physical consequences, it also makes me feel like my heart is broken. It leaves me feeling the same pain I felt so many times when I was growing up, and those times were always while something terrible was happening, or had happened, so the feeling drags those associations along, even though I know that’s all old news and don’t even have to remind myself of that. So I’m left with a headache, a slightly elevated heart rate, and a reminder of old feelings. Sucks. Not good at all.
Of course I could be wrong, but I think if all this stuff was going on with my knee, it would be a very different experience. It’s definitely something about the heart, and all that signifies and carries. In New York I had one of the most wonderful doctors I’ve ever had, and once while I was lying on the table during an exam, after a bunch of cardiac tests, she looked down at me with soft eyes and stroked a clump of hair off my forehead and said, gently, “You have a broken heart, I know.” It was the most loving and maternal action that I’ve ever experienced. After palpating my abdomen, she stopped and did it more carefully and then turned to me with moist eyes: “You were kicked in the stomach a lot, weren’t you.” She was truly extraordinary, and I still can’t believe that I got to have her for my doctor.
I will be so glad when all this stops, which it will. Each instance stops, and the run of it will stop. And I am fine, and will be fine, and in my life I have had a terribly broken heart, even if it’s not broken now. Funky little heart, sweet and beautiful little heart, holder of so much.