When Things Get Under My Skin

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Yesterday, I took a deep breath and told Laura all the things that were on my mind.  

It took a while. 

I listed the disappointments and the complicated relationships. I told her how everything was changing and I didn’t know how to respond to this shifting landscape. I told her of anger that had started to fester in the pit of my stomach. New and surprising feelings for this habitual peace-makerWords falling over words, long-hidden emotions tumbling out. It wasn’t pretty and I knew it. 

I recited stories and half facts about tiny incidents that had happened over this past year and how they had got under my skin like a splinter.  

At the end of the summer I spent a week in Anglesey with my husband and our three kids. A beautiful, small island connected to the mainland of North Wales, and less than two hours from our home in Liverpool, it is a place we visit often.

On this sunny Thursday morning, we went for a walk through farmers’ fields, along the well-trodden coastal pathways. As we walked I absentmindedly plucked a wild flower here and a leaf there. I allowed my hands to brush through the waist high grasses and gaze at the horizon, the sun on my back, my children chasing ahead of me.

All this beauty.

And then my hand carelessly brushed across a thorny plant, a thistle.

I put my hand to my mouth to suck the tiny spikes from my skin.

But one small prickle was too deep. It had burrowed itself under the skin of my index finger, into the fleshy pad of my finger tip.

I didn’t overthink it, expecting it would eventually work its way out.

Ten days later I found myself typing, trying to avoid using this finger. Every time I mistakenly pressed it against a letter on the keyboard I felt a sharp dart of pain. I would be brushing my daughter’s hair, holding my finger out of the way, pointing into the middle distance, chopping vegetables awkwardly (and possibly dangerously) using digits not used to the job.

On my finger a covering of hard skin had formed, the splinter seemed deeper than ever.

From time to time I used my other fingers to squeeze the splinter, trying to remove it. To no avail; its position made it impossible to remove by myself.

Eventually, my sister came over. She set to work with tweezers and a pin, digging through the hardened flesh, finally exposing the tiny thorn that had become a part of me over those two weeks.

Sometimes I can talk myself into a better frame of mind. I can think or write myself to a healthier place.

But sometimes the wounds I have experienced are too difficult to expose on my own.Sometimes I forget all of us are walking wounded in this beautiful and broken world and there is no shame in admitting it. Sometimes I need someone else to work with me through the tough skin, through my excuses that “I know it is ridiculous but—” and “I’m sure this is all in my head but—, and “I’m sorry, I’m sure you don’t want to hear me bleat on about this but—” to get to the truth. To bring the thing that has hurt me into the fresh air.

The prickles of anger I had tried to hide have been uncovered. The situation has not changed. Nothing has changed, except this: I am not alone, and I’m not pretending anymore.

And that is not to say that I am hunky-dory, peace and love to all men, but now the fragments have been brought into the light, I don’t catch myself suddenly undone by the pain.

I find freedom when I’m honest. I find peace when I allow someone into the messy, undignified parts of my life, someone who can speak truth and grace to me.

I look at the offending thorns in the clear light of day and rejoice knowing that now, healing is possible.

Elli Johnson
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12 thoughts on “When Things Get Under My Skin

  1. This is so true: “But sometimes the wounds I have experienced are too difficult to expose on my own. Sometimes I need someone else to work with me through the tough skin” I can’t do it alone. I think I’m really open and transparent, but when it comes to the deepest hurts and fears, I am shut down and need someone to help me unearth my feelings and thoughts. Thank you for this.

  2. Hello Elli,

    “Sometimes I can talk myself into a better frame of mind. I can think or write myself to a healthier place. But sometimes the wounds I have experienced are too difficult to expose on my own. Sometimes I need someone else to work with me through
    the tough skin…” So true! And so impossibly difficult to become vulnerable to another human soul and get to the thistle, a big struggle for me. I talk to the dogs all day long and it helps, but it is not the same as time with a trusted heart to spill out all that is festering. Thank you for your wise words and gentle reminder that sometimes we need help with those buried thistles. Wishing you a cozy day with a bottomless pot of tea!

    • Thanks Terri. I don’t have dogs, but am often to be found stamping around the house muttering to myself. A true friend is a real gift. Wishing you a cozy day too…

  3. The way you described avoiding the use of the finger with the embedded thorn was great. I have done the very same thing and could visualize exactly what you were talking about. What a fitting analogy to the hidden “thorns” in our souls, the things we keep trying to hide or figure out on our own. It’s so hard to find people you feel that you can trust with your deepest thoughts, but when you do it is a blessing. It’s hard to bring some things to the surface but once out “I look at the offending thorns in the clear light of day and rejoice knowing that now, healing is possible.” This is a beautiful piece of writing, Elli! I enjoyed reading it and being reminded of the truth that some things can’t be done alone. We need others. We need community. Blessings to you!

    • Thanks Gayl. So often I end up thinking that I should be able to sort everything out on my own, and have no need for others… What a lie! You’re right, we need community!

  4. When I was a kid I heard preachers talk about “keeping short accounts with God,” and I think it’s true with people, too. Those relational callouses that form just make it harder to get at the “splinter” when our souls decide we’ve had enough of hiding and festering. Aside from all this lovely truth, your words took me back to summer for a few short minutes, and that’s a gift on this gray autumn day.

    • Thanks Michele, I know – here in Liverpool it is pouring with rain – I’m grateful for any reminder of the sunshine! Sometimes I think I need to keep short accounts with myself too – acknowledge when I am struggling, not just swallow the pain and hope it will go away.

  5. Sometimes it’s just easier to help others , with their pain. And grin and bear it with our own pain. Thanks for letting me know its really ok l to be patient with that process , as long as its addressed. 😉

    • I know Jennifer – the expectation of perfection we put on ourselves is crazy, isn’t it? As if it is okay for everyone else to be in pain, but not us – no way! It is only though being honest with our messy stuff that there is any freedom though!

  6. Such a beautiful image of the way we need each other. That’s been true for me this month as I’ve greived a loss while trying to keep life happening with my family at home. I’ve been so grateful for the meals and prayers and hugs and compassion from my community.

    Lovely story Elli, beautifully told.

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