My messages wouldn’t send to you last night, my sister said over dinner recently.
Oh, I was in a cave, I replied.
Which was the literal truth — I was in a cave — the oldest pub in Britain (which makes it very hard to order drinks via an app, I might add.) Wondering how I might possibly smuggle an entire knight’s suit of armor out of there without anyone noticing. Or if I dare use the bathroom that is apparently haunted (I held it).
And I hate to go all Plato but my very tangible answer might’ve also held weight, well, metaphorically.
Because I have been in a cave.
I have been in a cave.
It’s been dark and dismal and I naively assumed that once I saw the first crack of light, my feet would pick me up and pull me towards it. That I’d go bathing and then swimming. That the sweet scintilla of fresh air would initiate a chase from my nose. I thought that once I’d addressed the presence of the cave — that talking about my struggles two newsletters ago, beginning antidepressants, doing all of the damn dances, it would begin to dissolve. That the shadows on the wall would stir me into consciousness and lead me out like a map. But it’s taking me longer to emerge out of this darkness, in all honesty.
As The Oh Hellos would say, the truth is a cave. And the truth is I’m still in it.
A little while ago I learned that the visual cortex — the part of the brain responsible for sight, is too, the part of the brain responsible for dreams. When its function isn’t needed: when our eyes are shut and sight is nothing but darkness, instead of switching off, the visual cortex remains active/requires defense. It produces shapes and colours and visions that we know to be our dreams.
It’s why visually impaired people often have incredible sensory abilities elsewhere, like excellent hearing — a navigational technique referred to as ‘echolocation’. Because just as the visual cortex temporarily reassigns itself another job to the sighted when they are not using their eyes at night, it permanently reassigns itself another job to those without sight at all, rather than being a defunct part of the brain.
Which in and of itself, is miraculous. The way we adapt day to night, let alone the way conditions influence our neurological anatomy and functioning — I should know.
I have been having incredibly vivid dreams — or rather nightmares, lately. Nightmares that appear like feature-length films, that are of course unmoored yet equally extremely distressing. Where I normally forget my dreams by dinnertime the next day, these have stayed with me for weeks. My visual cortex is in overdrive.
I’m wondering now; maybe my visual cortex has been in overdrive as I sleep because it’s not particularly in focus when I’m awake. Mentally, I’ve been treading the darkness — eyes fogged and the world impenetrable.
I have been in a cave.
An anxious ball of gloop. Not seeing. Sitting on truth not spoken.
And I’ve not spoken it because it is a tenuous thing. Bends to the will of interpretation, which, of course could be argued is the basis of all truth.
So here it is: I’m scared.
Scared because all of the small losses, the rejections and the days I can’t seem to drag myself from my bed have amassed to something. To the cave.
And it’s as if I can’t quite bear the thought of any more hurt. I’m scared of having my heart of gold turned as cold as these concrete walls.
I am somebody that wears my heart on my sleeve. When I find myself interested in someone romantically, my friends will ask have you done an Esme yet? Which is to say, have you tattooed their name on your forehead yet?
My lovable insanity is something I admire about myself. It causes me problems, sure — I cannot keep my feelings from spilling (hi, this newsletter!), I usually end up doing a lot more liking than being liked. But I’m an advocate of remaining open in lieu of living ten steps removed out of fear. I will always choose living balls to the wall because I happen to believe there is a tremendous amount of beauty in the trying. In the discovery. In the question mark that purses itself between two people’s lips. At clutching hold of someone’s hand in an attempt to steady the blur.
The whole point of Plato’s cave allegory was that the people who have always been inside the cave only know life inside the cave. They don’t know reality — are ignorant to it — because they don’t know better exists.
But I know better exists.
Sometimes the world shrinks, sometimes you shrink alongside it. Sometimes the truth is a cave but sometimes it’s also blindingly bright.
Because unlike the prisoners chained up in Plato's cave, we are beings who were gifted the ability to see in the dark.
As always, I love to hear from you. If you liked today’s newsletter, want to carry on the conversation or have any thoughts or feedback at all, do hit reply. Thanks for reading x