The other day I came home from taking my dog hiking in the woods above my house, and my wife asked me, “What did you do to your foot?”
“What do you mean?”
I looked down to see the left side of my right foot smeared in blood.
Naturally I went to investigate. There was a long gash on my big toe that had pulled the skin away from the nail, and apparently had bled profusely for awhile. The blood was already mostly dry by the time I did see it.
You’d think that I’d notice that something had gashed my toe, at least at the instant of gashing. But oh no. I’ve actually become desensitized to cuts and scrapes when I go hiking after thirty years of doing it – especially thirty years of getting cuts and scrapes when I go off-trail – and so I really don’t feel them most of the time.
Actually it probably goes back farther than that; I spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid, and when I went roaming around the woods once with a friend when I was ten years old, I came back to his house to his mother asking, “What happened to your ear?” Sure enough, I’d sliced it and there was a stream of blood descending from it to my neck. And sure enough I didn’t feel the gash, or the blood.
And it certainly doesn’t take me decades to get accustomed to something. I gashed my toe because when the weather’s warm, I’ve gotten in the (probably bad) habit of hiking my dog while I’m wearing sandals. I only started that early in the summer.
This isn’t to say that I don’t feel pain at all by any means. I’ll curse if I stub my toe. I’ll snatch my hand back if I burn it when I’m cooking. When I had kidney stones three years ago I was thinking all the way to the hospital that I didn’t know whether or not I was dying, but if that pain kept up, I hoped I was.
No, when I don’t feel pain is when I’m either tuned out, or I’ve grown so used to a situation that the pain no longer registers. I’m sure I yowled the first time I got cut in the woods, but by the hundredth it would have gone completely unobserved.
This is exactly where I think I am in my life right now, though I’ve gotten somewhat better about it over the last few weeks.
My social isolation didn’t start out with me suddenly and so obviously almost never seeing people anymore. My emotional armor didn’t begin as a full suit of plate mail. And I didn’t abandon my spiritual explorations all in one fell swoop. I started not seeing people with a little compromise here, a “Maybe next time…” there. The emotional armor went on one knock-down drag-out argument or intentionally hurtful comment flung at me at a time. The exploration stopped with a little bit of feeling unworthy one day, a few snide comments made by people I cared about another.
It’s amazing what we can get used to when we’re slowly acclimated to it. Or maybe I should say horrifying.
You don’t necessarily realize what’s happening until suddenly you’re so deep in the hole that you can’t figure out how to get out. Until, say, you’re having a long, bluntly honest conversation with a friend and suddenly confessing to them the darkest thoughts you’ve ever had about yourself – which you’ve not only never told anybody else, but didn’t even write in your own personal journal.
I may not be aware of my toe being cut this one time, but it could have gotten infected, or multiple such cuts could have had a detrimental effect on my health. We might not notice the little things when they happen because we’re acclimated to them now, but they’re cumulative, and sooner or later our body and our soul will notice, usually in a big way.
A big way like my depression getting worse over the past few years (which fed the emotional armor and being a hermit). Or like not thinking twice when I boxed up all of my spirituality books. Or having a vivid dream of dying in my sleep to make me think about reordering my priorities. Or suddenly blurting out those dark thoughts to my friend – and feeling once I’d done it like I’d awoken just in time to keep someone from shoving a pillow into my face while I slept.
I’m not a very observant person in general by nature; subtlety of most kinds is usually lost on me. That’s always been the case whether it was something like dream symbolism, or even positives like people flirting with me. *WOOSH* (That’s the sound of things going over my head.)
But I know that if I’m going to break this downward cycle I need to learn to be more observant. To be in the moment. To be here now. At least I’ve gotten the wherewithal to look up and start climbing, though, so I figure that’s a good start.
*Gets hands dirty on the climb up*