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The head full of fear and the missing heartbeat

Hold your index finger and your middle finger together.
Press them to your neck, in the space beneath your jaw bone.
Or take those two fingers and press them into your wrist
between the bone and the tendon.
Hold your index finger and your middle finger together
Find your pulse. 
It's proof that your heart is beating in your chest. 

It's proof that blood flows through your veins and there is air in your lungs.
It's proof that you are here. 

Now imagine that with fingers pressed you cannot find your pulse. 
That you are alive and breathing and air flows in and out of your lungs, your brain keeps ticking, your blood keeps flowing, your eyes keep reading these words.
Only all is quiet in the cavity of your chest. 
No heartbeats per minute.
Your heart is there, it's just not beating like it used to. 
And if there's no longer proof that you are here in the sound of your heartbeat
I wonder, 
Where are you right now?
Where did your heartbeat wander?

There's a song I love that comes back to play in my head sometimes. It's this song called 'Secret Heart' by Feist. The words are simple and beautiful, and I find myself turning them into a question I ask myself. 
Secret heart, what are you made of? 

It's been a long winter for me. Longer than most. I happen to be one of those weirdos who loves the winter - I usually love the cold, the sharpness of the air, the way your breath appears and disappears in little cloud formations. There's something challenging about it and I love it for the way the season appears to challenge you to NOT love it. There's something about being hard to love that makes me love it all the more. 
This winter was a little different. This winter was a tough, and it was long. It got pretty dark there for a while. 

What are you so afraid of?
It's hard to say exactly, because for a while, it was everything. I tried to write a blog post about 21 fears I was too scared to admit and I wrote down 63. I'm not joking. This anomalistic fear just took hold of me and for a few months it really spun me out. It was the kind of fear that put pains in my chest and kept me awake at night. Fear that my life was just a boring story stuck on a loop, doomed to repeat the same days until I die. Fear that the people in my life were lying to me, fear that whatever I had to say or express or write wasn't good enough, (whatever 'good enough' means). I think the underlying fear was that nothing was going to work out. I'm not even sure why - it's not like I have a life of disappointing scenarios to make me fear it, but as anybody can tell you, fear and logic are not great companions. Fear makes a liar out of even the most honest mind. 

I have this idea that the heart and mind are two separate entities hopelessly bound together. That between them they work to give us a sense of who we are; they give us our self defined identity, the way we feel and think about ourself and the world around us - they form our world view. I like to imagine their relationship to one another as if they are two sides of the same coin, bound together and useful as one, but with parts of their true nature hidden from one another. In essence, the head will never fully see the tail (heart). Am I making sense? Maybe. 
If we think about our head and our heart this way, we can usually categorise things into one camp or the other. Falling for someone you think isn't great for you is a matter of the heart (there are saying about this - the heart wants what it wants etc.). The fact you have reasoned that person isn't great for you is probably a sign your head is involved. (Use your head).
I use my head a lot. Probably too much. I am a chronic over-thinker. 
I had a conversation with my friend recently where I tried to explain how my brain works. What it's like to be an over-thinker. How I wake up in the morning and it's like my brain re-opens 15 tabs instantly, and I have to stare at the ceiling until they form themselves into some sort of order. I am thinking about almost four things at any given time. One is the thing that is happening, one is the repercussions of the thing that might happen, one is the person I am with and what is happening with them, and one is whatever existential question I am currently processing. It's actually pretty exhausting. It's incredibly hard to make it stop - like trying to shut down an arcade with flashing lights and bell noises. 
Anyway, given I spend so much time in my head, it happens that sometimes my heart is doing something very hidden from the chaos of my mind. And over the past few months that's what happened. 

Secret heart, why so mysterious? Why so sacred, why so serious?
I got so caught up in everything I was afraid of that I forgot to check in with my heart. 
I felt like my internal navigation system was completely awry. My heart had gone missing, leaving the shell version of myself trying to carry on with a life that suddenly no longer felt like it fitted. 
Around this time, a friend and I were talking about feeling 'tired'. This friend had recently attended a conference where he heard a speaker name Dr Peter Cammock suggest the solution to tiredness is not necessarily rest, but rather wholeheartedness. He went on to acknowledge that obviously we need rest, but we also need to live wholeheartedly and believe our lives are rich and our experiences and interactions have meaning. He reasoned that we know we can be tired and happy, but we can also be tired and unhappy.
Something about that shared wisdom resonated with me. I was tired (probably from all the fearful over-thinking), but no more than I should be. I was in fact uncharacteristically disheartened. I had lost heart. 
My heart wasn't in my work, it was missing in my interactions with strangers as well as friends, and it was sorely lacking in my writing. 

Secret heart come out and share it, this loneliness few can bear it. 
Maybe you're just acting tough, maybe you're just not bad enough, what's wrong?
So I found myself at the end of winter with a head full of fear and a heart that was missing, and somehow this smallest soul had made it to spring. 
Friends, things are looking a little different in the sunshine. 
Maybe it's because I couldn't see the lessons as clearly in the middle of all that, but I had a moment in a bar in September where something clicked. 
I realised I needed change. I needed adventure, I needed out, I needed to let fear motivate me instead of immobilise me and I needed it as soon as possible. 
I bought a plane ticket the next day. 

This very secret that you're trying to conceal is the very same one that you're dying to reveal.
Go tell it how you feel.
And here we are. 

I'm learning to better manage my relationship with fear. It helps if I try to understand it as a component of my heightened sense of self preservation. Fear I think, at the heart of it, wants to keep me safe; but given the chance, it would keep me safe the same way a prison cell would. I need fear because it makes the things I do feel worthwhile - activities and decisions I make in complete fearlessness are insignificant. Fear exists because it's the brain's way of understanding risk. Granted my brain can get carried away, but I understand there is no real reward without risk. I'm trying to manage healthy fear and rid myself of the major lies. 
I'm farewelling fears one by one, with both reverence for what they represent and also relief. 

I'm learning it's okay to lose heart, even if only for a little while. I know it's not lost, just wandering, but it is missing from the places it used to be, which in a way is telling. I think it's up to me to follow it, to go and find it in new experiences, new relationships, new places. It's terrifying. It's thrilling. 

The last few months have been a struggle but I'm older and wiser for it. I'm braver and more settled in the chaos of it. I'm taking my wandering heart and my head full of madness and packing a suitcase. I'm taking myself on a trip for five weeks to see a part of the world I haven't yet seen, and visit a handful of far away friends and shoot film and write things and learn, and I haven't been this excited in a very long time. 
I don't think a plane ticket is required to seek wholeheartedness. I have every hope you can find heart in wherever you call home, but for me right now, this feels right. 

For the next little while, I Hannah (Smallest Soul), will be on tour - I'm going to document bits of my travel and lessons I learn on the road here. There will probably be pictures, and maybe videos, and lots of writing about the souls I meet and the things I eat and the places I find myself. 
It's a new chapter in fearlessness, the beginning of rediscovering wholeheartedness.  
I hope you'll come with me. xx

Extra Small
You made it to the very end, what a merry chuckler. Here are some extra things for you as a reward...
This post was inspired by a conversation I had with Jehan in June and he was kind enough to pass on the wisdom of Dr Peter Cammock
More on 'The Cure for Exhaustion is wholeheartedness' here 
I was read a handful of articles by Mark Manson and if you need a life pep-talk I highly recommend them - this one in particular is good
The pictures in this post were taken by my friend and travelling fruity head Sophie and I in 2012 and were shot on 35mm film.


  1. I've just read this Hannah and I think I'd describe it as translucent - you're writing about your own illumination, but in a way that sheds further illumination. I've always thought that the purpose is fear is to make us small (I don't know the adjective for this - the opposite of enlarging - ensmalling??) It makes us close down and creep in. What you are doing - figuratively as well as (gloriously!) literally - is choosing to go large, to open up and jump in. Bravo you. I am so excited for you. xoxox

  2. This is absolute gold, I felt every word of it. Thank you <3