Bare with me on this post, it’s probably going to be messy, emotional and very, very confusing.
I want you to do something for me, if you would be so kind. I want you to take a few moments out and to think about the word ‘Heart’.
What does it mean to you? Heart. What images does it bring to your mind’s eye? When you say the word ‘Heart’ to yourself, what do you see or feel? What does having a heart mean to you? Having a heart. You do have a heart don’t you….???
Maybe it brings up images of fat red love hearts, hearts with arrows through them, “Tracey + Rob 4 Eva 2geva”. Valentine’s Day, day of the lovers. Maybe your image is a broken heart, cracked in two, barely held together by it’s stem, or it’s patched up with wild zigzaggy stitches, scarred, battered but still beating. Maybe you picture the heart in all its anatomical glory, beating with thick oozy life blood. Did you know the heart is completely colourless when drained of blood? I saw a picture of a heart drained of blood, it was so white, like lard or porcelain, of course, if you think about it, it would be colourless when empty, it makes sense really, I guess.
For most of us, and I am making a huge assumption here, I guess we cannot separate the symbol of the heart from the feelings that we associate with love, we have a handy cavity in our chest with this ball of muscle that pumps the blood around our bodies and there we store all the images, emotions and feelings we have about love. Our hearts get ‘broken’, ‘battered’ or ‘torn’. Our hearts swell with ‘love’, ‘pride’ or ‘affection’, we give our hearts away and are given other’s hearts to look after, sometimes this works, sometimes this doesn’t, sometimes we forget to take care of the heart given to us, sometimes it is too heavy to carry and we have to sometimes let them go and give them back.
Anyway, these assumptions I’m making here are probably to do with our culture, the way we have been brought up, Society, the Media, etc, etc, and they are probably tapped into by us at a very young age. These encompassing feelings that actually inhabit the whole body are neatly given a place in the body to be filed and stored. We say things like, “Our hearts rule our heads” or “My head rules my heart” which is a way of separating our emotions from our thinking, and what about the Gut! Where does the gut feeling come in??? Confused? You betcha, I certainly am!!
One of the things I’m learning in my Counselling Training is to listen with my whole body, as one fellow student put it, “….even my toes are listening…” Which is such a lovely image, but she’s right, even my toes are listening when working with someone. So this idea of compartmentalising my emotions is becoming more and more strange, the more I read my text books, the more I practice my skills, and the more I attend class. This is where I’m really wading through stuff I don’t understand yet, but in time I hope to get a clearer picture of what I’m trying to say.
So now I bring it back to myself, me. My Heart. So, all of that emotive stuff that I’ve associated with the heart is there, in and around my own heart. I had a very normal upbringing and the symbol of the heart is a very powerful one, it has very powerful emotions attached to it, but yet, here’s the interesting bit. The difference. Before I had ownership of my heart, it was sliced into. Before I was really and fully conscious of my body it was intruded upon. As I learnt about the symbolism of the heart shape, the emotions ‘it’ felt, as I learned what it anatomically actually looked like, what it’s function was (I think I was 5 when I asked my mum “What does a heart look like?” and she struggled to describe this hunk of muscle and I was disappointed that it wasn’t heart shaped). I also learnt something else. It was an object, a medical, clinical object that looked like an empty black blob on X-Rays. It was an object that the Dr’s (who were mostly men), discussed over my head, it was an object that with my parents decisions were made about without consulting me. Everything that happened to it in the operating theatre, I wasn’t conscious when it was happening, I only was aware on coming round of an instinct to keep moving forward. In fact after asking mum that question: What did a heart look like? I think, I just didn’t care for it. I had no interest in it apart from a clinical, medical one – (I was top of the class in Biology for Heart Anatomy!) I learned that my heart was defective, but was medically salvageable, and by ‘this’, ‘this’ and ‘this’, it was patched up and I was sent on my way.
I’ve always said that this blog would be about me trying to find out about myself as a person with a CHD and thinking about all of the above especially the last paragraph.
I wonder, I really do wonder, if that is why I have not taken care of my heart emotionally. I say this with a real sense of wonder, because if you think about it, the Dr’s and Nurses, Cardiologists and Surgeons have always looked after it.
I have never really looked after my own heart; I’ve always expected other people to look after it, because physically, they always have…..
What a massive load for someone else.
And that brings me to the present. Last week, I did something for my own heart. I looked after it. The first time in a very long time. It was clumsy, messy and very juvenile in its execution and I am not proud of the way I handled things. But. For the first time in a very long time, I thought about my own heart and looked after it, but it still hasn’t forgiven me for it…… yet.
In time I hope it will, and if I listen to my body, even my toes, I think it/I will find that it is saying that what I did was an act of love for myself, for my funny little patched up heart.
This article was heavily inspired by Dr. Liza Morton’s article on Psychology that appeared in the ‘The Somerville Foundation’s’ newsletter last year. The article originated from a paper, entitled ‘New voices: Healing hearts and minds’ (living with Congenital Heart Disease) and was written for The Psychologist. I thank Dr. Morton for her article as unconsciously it has pointed me to the start of the path that I am taking now. At the time I read that article, I had no idea I would start training to become a counsellor. Thank you again Dr. Morton. Funny ol’ life init…