What Happens When A Heart Breaks


A broken heart is like a broken bone in that it can happen in varying degrees, result from different causes, come in different severities, and heal at different speeds. But while it’s broken, you feel it acutely, so much so that it seems to cast everything else into vagueness and watery blur.

It feels like being aware of things that should happen as easily and effortlessly as breathing. It’s being uncomfortably conscious of the edges of your existence against the edge of the rest of the world — not in a good way, in a way that makes you claustrophobic and frantic. Crushed in on. Paralyzed by your surroundings. Locked in place, for bad or for worse.

It’s like feeling your vision fade, but not accepting it, so you’re struggling to see everything. Remembering how you used to see everything clearly without a second thought — and the disparity is worse than the strain on your eyes. It’s blurred landscapes and headaches from exerting every ounce of will to make things come into focus because you still remember how it all used to look — sharp and vivid and beautiful. Comparison is a bitch, and she obsesses over you ‘til you obsess back and find everything unsatisfying and underwhelming.

It’s tasting your favorite meal and finding it unmemorable. You question what ever made it special in the first place; you question your ability to identify anything special.

It’s taking a deep breath but still feeling deflated. It’s trying to yawn but being too desperately tired to overcome the peak; sliding back down, dissatisfied, still exhausted.

It’s an emptiness that can only be filled by one thing — the one thing you promised to push from your mind because it poisons your thoughts with the shadows it casts on all other thoughts. It’s toxic because it makes everything else subpar; it made you so much better, so much more complete, and now you can’t have it, so you almost wish you never experienced it to begin with — it’s ruined everything else for you.

It’s a corrupted confidante. It’s turning to confide in your usual comfort and remembering it’s now the source of your sorrow, and you’re left with no idea where to bring your burdens. You just stand there, stale, weighed down, not really anywhere in any way that matters.

It’s daydreaming about rainbows in black and white. It’s a disconnect between your mind and your physical presence. They just send each other postcards but there’s a time difference and there’s jetlag so everything is delayed and misinterpreted and sluggish. They’re like estranged friends, exchanging formalities — an insult to the intimacy of the past, but somehow some invisible insurmountable obstacle prevents its rekindling. Your mind and your body stare at each other at arm’s length and exchange polite smiles; strangers on an elevator, as if they haven’t grown up together and shared every moment and memory.

It’s monotony while you do something new; it’s foreignness when you do something familiar. It’s an inability to invigorate weak sparks; a disinterest in extinguishing dangerous flames within you — consumed either way, whether by indifference or destruction. It’s severed ties; it’s broken bridges that you suddenly feel would be better off burned. Ash doesn’t beg to be rebuilt.

It’s remembering how you felt in a moment, vividly. The same shivers on your skin, ripple through your veins, smile forming inadvertently. It’s reliving it but this time from the outside. Watching yourself — an actor in your own past. Then drowning in how badly you miss it, desperately aware of how difficult it is to stay afloat, panicking over the distance between this moment and your memory. It’s every ache you ever felt between then and now rolled into a dense knot that refuses to vacate the forefront of your mind, the center of your heart. It makes your blood flow like molasses; when one thing is missing, everything is an effort, everything is exhausting. You feel paralyzed by your inability to change your circumstance — trapped in your heartbreak.

It’s your feet as anchors, your mind as murky fogged over thoughts. It’s preferring that to the clarity of being fully present because when you are, all you know is how it ought to be and how it isn’t — anymore.

That’s the worst part. The anymore. The used to be. The no longer. The ever growing space between then and now. The former further out of your grasp with every passing second.

A few weeks ago I got a glimpse of how heartbroken I would be if I didn’t have basketball in my life. I twisted my knee in a game; just under a month has passed since I’ve played. One month, that’s it, but it feels like an eternity. I’m already well on the road back to normalcy, which is a good sign. When there was no sense of when I might set foot on the court again, I could barely keep my balance internally. My weeks felt strangely incomplete; I was restless and sulky and felt I was flailing without my games to look forward to — to structure my week and fill them with purpose, to give me the energy of anticipation.

I couldn’t reel in the expansion of my reaction even while it out scaled the severity of the situation. So instead I held on to it, and took it as a testimony to my love for the sport.

It made me realize how much of a pillar basketball is in my life, how completely essential it is to me. I felt suddenly terrified of falling into the vast cavern that’s usually filled with anticipation of games, the heat and hustle and adrenaline and aggression I get to leave on the court, the utter and complete relinquishing of all second thoughts and doubts, running strictly on muscle memory and passion.

That’s a whole lot of empty and if I ever fell into it I’m scared I’d break something irreparable and never return. It’s not the bursts of hurt in my ligaments that matter it’s the lack of court beneath my feet, it’s the not playing basketball, and it’s the initial fear of not knowing when I would be able to play, normally, in my element again. It’s the tormenting thought that by the time I step foot back onto the court, it will have been so long that I’m hesitant, that my reunion will be foreign like friends who’ve known each other since before memories, been apart a lifetime, reunite and underestimate the power of time passed. It’s the deflating thought of having to play halfway, of not being able to dive in uninhibited. It’s that I’ll have to be conscious in the only arena I ever existed entirely on instinct. 

It makes me realize two things, though. That heartbreak, whatever its cause, is universal — and we’re all so insurmountably human, so desperately connected to something or someone — and that’s a good thing. If we’re capable of heartbreak, we must be living or loving with conviction. It also makes me realize how instrumental your passions become in forming who you are, in shaping the best of you. I would lack a lot of what I most value in myself if it wasn’t for basketball, and not being able to play now, and the frustration and sadness it causes, is evidence that this sport has both made and become a part of who I am. If you have something like that, think about it now, and celebrate it. It’s a privilege and it’s a purpose.

In the meantime, writing holds together the edges on either side of the empty space in the shape of a ball or a court, or maybe an elbow to the forehead, well worth it in pursuit of a rebound. So I guess I’ll wait for my ligaments to heal and my heart to follow suit. Impatient as ever, the ball is in time’s court until it’s back in mine.

featured image – Lauren Treece