The pain under the smile

Yesterday my inner peace was shattered in my front yard. We had spent most of the day in the garden enjoying the sunshine together as a family. Life was in the slow lane and we were all woozy from the heat. Walking into the front garden, we were alarmed by an ambulance and two police cars.

Earlier we’d heard some strange noises – which sounded childlike in their tone; coming from our neighbour’s house. We assumed that it was nothing to be concerned about.

Walking towards the front gate, a wild frantic voice filled my senses, something was very wrong. Our neighbour, a peaceful woman always seen with a smile on her face was exploding right in front of our eyes. She looked psychotic, wild and lost like a frantic animal trying to find her way out of a maze. She looked dangerous, her usual peaceful manner nowhere to be seen, the woman we wave to was not present.

She was in flight and the fight was in full throttle, it took four people to detain her, a bruise on her cheek spoke of war wounds. We watched her being wrestled to the floor, then strapped to a stretcher. Her two boys watched on, visibly distressed and one sobbing with his head in his hands. Another neighbour broke down boundaries and walked across the pathway to hug the boy, coronavirus was not front of mind. My heart opened.

Our neighbour cried out for help, her voice shouted words that made no sense, a part of me fell apart at her struggle. It’s been 24 hours now and I feel oddly silent inside, the anxiety in my chest has subsided but I can’t yet shake the sense that two doors away a family is aching.

It speaks to me of all the women (and men) who hide their secrets, their traumas behind their smiles. It also reminds me of a vow I took many years ago to live a life of truth, to drop the fixed smile and speak out. I haven’t lived that vow 100% of the time because it’s a tall order, but I’m still proud of the woman I have grown into, my journey and my ongoing sense of becoming.

Conversations with Richard have been deep, connecting as we struggled to make sense of what we witnessed. Her pain spilling out onto the pavement alongside ours. I haven’t cried yet but I sense this will come, crying for a woman I barely know but recognise in many ways.

Mental illness is brutal it takes many lives and it spills into the lives of many more. I wonder how long she had been suffering and wearing her smile when all she wanted to do was scream. I will never forget the animalistic, childish echoing sounds from deep within, it was as if she had left her womanly form and travelled back in time to a space when she couldn’t fight back.

I do not know her story but I do know the story of pain, I have learned to go deeper into my dark edges and allow what’s been hidden to rise and heal because within me (like all of us) is the ability to lose myself in my own pain. Show me one woman’s pain and I will show you the records of feminine shame that dates back to Eve herself.

Without a sacred, empowering space to come home to, without kind and caring hearts, healing hands and willing, non judgmental ears we are confined to a life of secrecy.

Many will not implode in public like my neighbour did, theirs will be a more private affair, but inside they will be weary, wasting away, the mystery of love and life lost on them as they fall prey to the vicious voice of the patriarchal trickster. The stories of despair that have plagued her will live on and the impact will be passed down to her children.

We have to break the chains that hold us. It’s important to keep talking about our fears and share our stories, just enough so we can break free.

So if you are feeling like you can’t take much more, reach out and ask for help. If you see someone is smiling just that bit too much or something seems a little bit off, like milk that’s on the turn, check in with them.

How are you really feeling is a great place to start?

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