'Where Does It Hurt?' : On Shame & The Body

‘Where Does It Hurt?’

On shame and the body

I’m really proud of this song "Where Does It Hurt?' and I want to give it its best shot to reach the ears of people that need to hear it. There are a couple of definite influences for the song which I’ve talked about quite a bit: the initial inspiration being Ruby Sales’ interview on the ‘On Being’ podcast and more generally the work and words of Brené Brown especially around empathy and shame.

But, as well as these, this song is about my own experience of shame and what happens when you don’t deal with it, what happens to your body.

I came out nearly 20 years ago, after a sudden epiphany that I might possibly fancy a female friend of mine. I was euphoric (and most probably clinically manic) for a while following this revelation. And then shame struck me, literally. Very suddenly, I was totally unable to move my hands for 2 weeks (which, for a practical musician on a music degree is bad news). It was like they were frozen in place.

My GP put it down to stress and I was ordered to rest and relax. My family doctor was brilliant and a little bit alternative in his methods and suggested Intra Muscular Stimulation on the muscles in my back (which is like DEEP acupuncture in to your muscles) and amazingly it resolved the issue almost as quickly as it started. Friends and family were sceptical, I was sceptical, trying to understand why my hands should be fine, then suddenly and completely stop functioning for a period, and then resume normal functioning. Following that strange episode, my mental health became my primary health concern.

Perhaps you’re wondering “Where does shame figure in all this?”

When I was growing up, I didn’t know anyone who was openly gay until maybe my teens when a few friends came out and there were whispered rumours about a couple of teachers (some of my favourite teachers, as it happened) but remember this was still the time of Section 28. I had no issue having friends who were gay but I did not even consider it a possibility that I was. It just wasn’t an option in my mind. Every book I read, every song I loved, every TV programme, every film, every magazine represented romantic, adult-love between a man and a woman. Systemic heteronormativity, if you will.

The only role model I had was k d lang (oh, thank Gaia!) whose music I loved and who looked a bit how I thought I might look when I was older – but I didn’t even know she was gay at the time. And I thought I wanted to fit in and be normal and I understood that to mean getting married in a white dress to a man. At 17, a friend lent me Written On The Body by Jeanette Winterson (I think she was trying to give me a gentle nudge) which was the first time I intellectually considered the idea of being gay. But again, I couldn’t see how it would apply to me because that was not my expectation, not when you’ve had 17 years of heteronormativity. Representation matters!

So, when I eventually came out, it just didn’t fit in my world view – I had nothing to attach my new self too – no map, no landmarks, no footsteps to walk in. It blew my mind. I had to reconfigure my settings. Update my operating system. Indeed, I nearly had an entire system failure.

Without articulating it openly at the time, being gay felt wrong, felt bad, it wasn’t what I wanted or what I thought I should be. And that feeling of ‘being bad’ is the shame I talk of. It is invisible until you shine a light on it. I have no doubt that this shame was a major trigger for my years of poor mental health.

Fast forward to 2017 and the thing that happened to my hands nearly 20 years previously, happened in a much more dramatic way to my legs. They suddenly wouldn’t function. I thought I was dying (not totally unusual for me!) and I ended up in hospital for a week having all the tests and eventually being given a diagnosis of Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) – but that’s a whole other story and not for now.

We try and separate body and mind in to these distinct separate medical pathways but they are so interlinked and interdependent. What happens in the mind affects the body (see above) and vice versa. And if you ignore shame, it will find a way to manifest itself in your body and mind.

So that, dear listener, is what this song’s about!

Pre-save the song on Spotify here: https://show.co/QiKPkZi

Ruby Sales’ ‘On Being’ Interview: https://onbeing.org/programs/ruby-sales-where-does-it-hurt/ and Ruby’s http://www.spirithouseproject.org/

Brené Brown: https://brenebrown.com/ and ‘Empathy’ animation by The RSA:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

Functional Neurological Disorder (FND): https://www.neurosymptoms.org

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