A sand-shifted state of mind


So here I am once more, in a search of permanence, or some semblance of it. I hop from one boulder to another, traverse the shoreline without getting my feet wet. I’m nervous of getting cold, this is a new sensation. I’d rather be barefoot with wet sand slipping between my toes. When life seems somewhat precarious, I search for something that feels solid, reliable, persistent; something to fuse myself to. Bedrock. A fossil. The sea.

Since I was 17 I have had seven operations. I feel my body is inherently unreliable. It is only recently that I’ve put my finger on this, and it’s a strange revelation, only there at the forefront of my mind because of a passing comment made by a friend. “It’s good when you feel fit, strong; I like the feeling I can depend on my body to buoy me up.”
I’ve never been able to do that.

This was a shock, to realise something essentially so simple, so deeply, completely true about myself, my body, my psychology.

I sit down on a sandstone slab. It dips away to the west, a segment of an anticline. Part of a landform, millions of years old, the once horizontally-laid layers of sediment in this area were shoved from each end like a wrinkled carpet, then tilted on their side and eroded away. If I rub hard enough with my fingernail on the rock, individual crystals come away, their colours opaque, filtering the autumn sun.

Four operations for varicose veins, painfully present from the age of 5 upwards. A genetic fault. Two operations for ectopic pregnancy. Simple bad luck. The most recent, at the start of last year, was to have my gallbladder removed after months of deep, frightening pain. None of these I could have avoided.

I trace star systems in the rock, running my finger over sparkling patterns, finding constellations. Within each design, I see a tiny story, a character, a shimmering train of thought. A handful of pebbles from the beach in my coat pocket is another reassurance; each is a different colour, shape, texture, pattern. Each is millions of years old, likely completely unrelated to any other in my palm, and has survived time languishing under desert suns, or beneath the waves, or forming and reforming deep underground.

Two weeks ago, I was told I have the early signs of hypothyroidism – an underactive thyroid. I had ignored the fact I felt unwell, again, refusing to acknowledge that my body was letting me down, again. But symptoms worsened, the grainy, pebble-like sensation in my throat was distracting and after I experienced my first real panic attack a couple of months ago I returned to the doctor, trying not to cry.

Sandstone is my base layer. I grew up surrounded by it. I scrambled over and under it. I searched for fossils in it. I hurled chunks of it into the sea in joy, worry, fury and sorrow. I watched as flat fragments bounced and skipped over tiny waves on calm evenings, skimmed from my curved fingers. I stood on top of it and yelled, letting emotion stream out across the North Sea to dissipate, fall to the ocean floor, layer up in the silts, half-forgotten, half-fossilised.

I often wonder if some folk are made of the land, of the very rock-type they grew up surrounded by. If I’m sandstone, others are granite, Lewisian gneiss or limestone. Each etched by time and tide in their own unique way.

So, in the face of so many fine-grained layers of uncertainty in this world, I return to my bedrock. I walk its ripple lines and contours, reassured by its outward appearance of permanence. It helps me reset my internal map, refocus and continue, albeit in a newly sand-shifted state of mind.


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