Heartbeat, by Nicole Schafenacker

This post is part of our collection of “Gold Nuggets” —  our way of alerting the medical community to original artwork, poetry or multimedia that stimulate discussion and reflection.

If you have an original piece you think would make for good discussion by the medical community, you can submit a Gold Nugget by emailing bking@gold-foundation.org

Heartbeat, by Nicole Schafenacker

photo by andyarmstrong on flickr

photo by andyarmstrong on flickr

Friend since childhood you lap over me like freshly cut waves.
I feel you in my blood, a constant thrum,
heartbeat quickening or slowing, slowing,
the room lightening as I become dizzy or short of breath.

I have a small lisp when I’m nervous (am I doing it now?). When I was young I couldn’t say “s”s at the beginnings of words: chool, poon, nake sssssssssssss

An ever present layer, this nervousness, I wonder where it’s held in my body.
I would like to track its snaking pattern through my mind as thoughts coil tighter and tighter.

My logic seems razor sharp, I’ve looked at the situation from so many angles,
but I know that the work you think you are doing when you’re with anxiety,
the puzzles you believe you are solving
the analyzing
can turn out to be an incredibly detailed
but obscured lens that hovers over reality, missing its gentle truth.

So what use is this experience? What purpose does it serve, if any?

One night I felt paralyzed with fear. I wrote in the dark, “I am lost in my body and in my mind, two shells undecipherable to me”.

I was lying in bed with my boyfriend, tried to wake him up and explain.
It became clear to me then that there is no one who can help you in those moments.

But you can: listen to the sound of the wind moving through the tree outside your bedroom.

Look out the window. See the streetlight shining down on its leaves, and watch their soft moving like a sea anenome in dark water.

Turn you attention to your breath. Feel it move into the space between your ribs, soften your jaw, let your eyelids become heavy.

Melt into the sound of a train blowing its horn as it passes in the night, you are both awake together.

Remember the slick black road you drove on to get here, Alberta pavement still wet from the rain, and know that darkness is a necessary and nurturing space for new life to take root.

Allow this experience to be a way of learning yourself differently- panic is a small pocket of time that pulls you into the need to be fully present.

It gives you something to stand on, and while it feels like a precipice, it is also a small landing in no time-space where you must be with yourself fully.

Then wait.


Wait for its teachings and its mysteries to come.


Discussion Questions:

-How does the experience of anxiety manifest in the body? As a reader, did this poem register with you on a physical level? If so, what did you feel? Likewise, did the experience of calmness or mindfulness manifest for you in a physical way when reading the poem? And if so, what did you feel?

-What is the role of intuition in learning how to be with anxiety? How can we access our intuition on a regular basis to know what we need to self-regulate in a given moment? How can we do this in the face of a chronic condition when each experience of anxiety or panic is unique?

-What is the role of rhythm or sound in the poem and does this contribute to accessing embodiment or mindfulness?

-Are there feelings or images within the poem that you connect with or relate to in some way? How do you view the connection between the mind and body?