Heartbreak: A Definition by Erin Alexander

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Heartbreak – As I sit and ponder how to start this piece of writing, (which I have uncharacteristically offered to do of my own volition) I am beginning to think about what heartbreak even is.

A pain, an annoyance, a rite of passage, a hyper-over-analysed situation, romanticised, a fiercely unforgiving emotion which we all will inevitably feel one way or another. A feeling we will have to learn how to deal with, and one which will appear in a range of circumstances – way more than the simple romcom imaginings of the teenage me. I am well past my teenage years now and do believe I have experienced a fair bit of heartbreak from the romantic, platonic, familiar and personal.

The main thing I have taken however from each of my heartbreaks, is weirdly, love. Love is actually the strongest emotion I feel throughout each and every single one of my heartbreaks. Sometimes alongside anger, jealously, hatred, fuming rage, and hormonal anguish, love is the part of each of my stories which helped me heal, learn and move on. Just like everything else that can physically break, a broken heart needs to heal to become whole. This may end up as a slightly different shape to the one it took before, but it’s most definitely going to be whole.

Note to self: you are a whole person, always, even though some things are now gone.

So, what even is heartbreak – and is it real?
The definition of heartbreak is a feeling of great sorrow, grief or anguish. Psychologists have found that when we go through heartache/break we actually go into that fight or flight reaction. It feels like an intense physical rush, maybe explaining the sudden feeling to lash out, swear, run away – or do all three – I would not recommend lashing out at others or yourself. Running on the other hand can be very productive and therapeutic, as in fact can swearing. Fuck yes.
Studies have shown that our brains register emotional pain in the same way it does physical[1], and that when going through heartbreak we promote the building of negative thoughts in our heads[2] as well as, and probably making things worse, you can develop medical conditions related to the stress which heartbreak puts on a person[3]. So, when people ask – is it real? The simple answer is yes.

I shared my love story a little while ago when Ria posted a question on her Instagram.

 

I was the girl who stood at the station platform expectantly waiting for my partner of nearly 2 years to arrive so we could start our new lives together, in our new home, in a new place.


I stood on that platform for 30 minutes after the train had emptied, having checked my phone 100 times, and as the ache in my stomach grew I gradually convinced myself to turn and walk back to my new, empty house with the knowledge that he had never got on at the other end. I was heartbroken. This was not my first romantic heartbreak, but it is the one that left the biggest mark.
So you may ask, how then does love come into this, huh? Well, as I sat in my new house with literally one chair, a mattress on the floor and some belongings I had collected from my other half, I slowly packed him into a box - which I had an abundance of considering today was moving day… So, in went his t-shirts, DVDs, photographs, letters…everything. I taped it up, labelled and posted back down south. Yes, I did this in the first hour, and no I do not regret it.

[1] Read the article here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20445032/

[2] Read more here: https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/psychology-of-heartbreak.htm

[3] Read more about this here: https://www.health.qld.gov.au/news-events/news/science-behind-a-broken-heart

In doing this I realised that he had loved me; he had written me love letters, drawn me sketches; of me or my favourite places, and made me feel comfortable in my own skin. He had loved me once. It may have ended, but that doesn’t mean our relationship was a failure, in many ways it had been the start of everything for me. I started to believe I was pretty and worthy of having someone else find me funny, intelligent and sometimes sexy. He taught me that I was worth loving, and for that I am

grateful. He also taught me that I did not need him to know or feel this way when he chose not to step on to a train that day. The pain was real and, yes I cried, often and randomly; the snot ugly kind of cry. But I also laughed, smiled, and decorated my new home whilst holding onto the knowledge that I am, and always will be, worthy of love.

Flash forward a couple of months and a man I had been friends with years ago cycles past my house. I took a chance and conversation flowed. Two months later he knocks on my door and tells me he loves me. This man is the love of my life and the light of my world. I don’t need him, to know I am worthy of love, I’d learnt that along the way - he just re-affirms it every day.

 I don’t need him, to know I am worthy of love, I’d learnt that along the way - he just re-affirms it every day.

So there is my ode to romantic heartbreak, but heartbreak, as I said, comes in many forms.

Loving my person the way I have, for what is now the majority of my adult life has taught me a whole new range of love and heartbreak I was not prepared for. There had not been a movie to help me with my next heartbreaks, and they hurt more than the romantic kind.

I became a step-mum at 23, having fallen in love with a divorced man with two young girls. I swiftly learnt that I would never be his number one priority because these two small beings pipped me to the post (and rightly so). I was naïve walking into this relationship and was regularly beaten down emotionally, with some very hard learning curves taking place what felt like every day. I spent my 20s building, creating, supporting, raising and loving this little family of mine. I don’t regret it. They are, and will remain, the best choice I ever made. But I do regret losing myself along the way. I look back at this time of my life and struggle to remember a lot of it. There was a lot of love, hugs, tantrums, pain, mistakes, hurt, and joy. Step-motherhood comes with it’s very own rule book, the rules get changed regularly and without warning, parameters and boundaries always move, you will never feel very secure, or certain of anything - - except hopefully the reasons you are a step-mum - - and you will face heartbreak in a lot of ways, one being that you are a mum and yet never one – but that is an article all of its own!

The heartbreak that comes when you look in the mirror one day and the person looking back at you is a complete stranger is profound, and extremely painful. In the space of five years I felt like I had aged at least ten! I no longer had the career I’d started. I had given up on that after struggling to find work and moving my life to be with them. Looking in that mirror I no longer knew what I really enjoyed doing, because everything I did was for someone else. Or what fashion I liked; nor did I take pride in how I looked – that took too long in a morning when there were so many other things to do before 8am and the school run. I felt lost, hidden under baggy t-shirts and greasy hair.


So again, how does love fit into this heartbreak. Well quite simply, a little bit of self-love goes a hell of a long way. I started making time to wash AND dry my hair. I started setting myself little exercise challenges to move my body (I had so missed moving it) which had grown a bit lumpier and most definitely squidgier, but hey, still moves. I applied for a new course to realign my career goals and start a fresh – in this period of my life I gave myself permission to make a bit of it all about me. And do you know what? All three of my loves surrounded me, became my cheerleaders and were my mirrors when I needed them to show me what I could not see. These three people were my four walls. They helped me piece myself back together, a new shape – a tad squidgier, but still oh so worthy, beautiful, fun and amazing.

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I then got ill. I spent a lot of time in hospital, having procedures, a lot of drugs pumped into me and was eventually told after a couple of years that my future was not what I had planned or dreamed. I was not going to be able to have my own children. This heartbreak will never leave me, it is born out of grief, and loss. Instead, it is the kind of heartbreak that we grow around, but I believe will always feel.

 

This heartbreak is jealous, angry and sorrowful. It still hits me every time a friend shares the wonderful news that they are pregnant. Warning – after 30 this happens a lot.
I watch these people I love grow. I see their hopes and dreams become reality. Their physical forms change and perform magic. I look on as they suddenly become someone else; a mum (or dad). I observe from the side lines and I cry every time. Sometimes it just blurts out other times I shuffle away hours later to hide, because I am incredibly happy and thrilled for them but at the exact same moment I am broken. In those moments I re-live the moment I lost a baby, our baby. I re-live the moment I heard the words ‘unfortunately you won’t be able to have any children’. I carry the weight of having that choice taken from me, every damn day.

I mourn the family we dreamt of, we wanted, hoped for and loved, I still mourn the family I almost had but never will.

At the same time, I am forever grateful, blessed and in love with the family I do have.

This heartbreak taught me what true love really was. It’s the hands of the man who holds mine and squeezes it a bit tighter when he feels my heart sinking. It’s the little arms that wrap around me silently, having chosen to love me back. It’s looking in the mirror and thinking I wouldn’t want to be anyone but me.


Love that is worthy of you, never requires you to change – but it will change with you.


I have better friendships because of heartbreak, full of deep love, honesty and respect. I have better relationships with my children, I love them fiercely and unconditionally. I love my person, every little bit of him, the good and the bad – I love him more than I can actually express. I have learnt through each and every heartbreak that I love me.

I love without fear, wholly, fully, and with complete abandon. The fact that I have had Heart Break, meant I felt something, and that is beautiful.

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Erin Alexander

I'm a Cumbrian lass who roams the fells, composes, photographs and creates whilst also providing a music education platform for young people.

I love making dreams over cups of coffee, observing the small things and taking life at my own pace. I think the arts are hugely important for everyone, and believe that everyone should have access to create in a way they want to no matter their circumstances. One day I hope to be running my own creative arts centre supporting young people develop who they want to become.