A long time ago, I covered my heart in thorns.
I thought it would protect me from the harshness of life. I thought it would make me better, stronger—less fragile, less breakable. I thought it would keep me safe.
The more brittle I became, the harder and colder and sharper I became, the more my thorns—my glossy, red, pointy thorns—pierced and pulled and bled under my skin, rubbing me raw, injecting opiate-like numbness into the vivid veins of my emotions, traveling straight to my heart.
I was so afraid of life hurting me—but no one hurt me more than myself. And in truth, these thorns weren’t self-protective, they were self-destructive.
Because a closed heart covered in brambles cannot love. It can cry and suffer and be lonely and ache vaguely, like an unknown wound, but it cannot love.
What a price to pay.
We always say that numbness doesn’t hurt, but it does. It hurts so badly—it burns like sweltering heat, it throbs like frostbite, it pulsates like the emptiest nights of loneliness. It’s the most isolating place in the world, like empty sidewalks during a blizzard in the bone-chilling dead of winter.
A numb heart isn’t actually without any feeling—it feels in a grey, cloudy, suppressed way—it feels with zombie eyes. It feels a vague aroma of emotion, a mysterious undercurrent of deep longing—but it’s all kept secret and smooth, smoldering wildly beneath the surface like a raging river of lava. But it’s there, hanging tensely in the air, like words unsaid—it’s there, no matter how hard we try to push it away.
A numb heart is like the shaky beginning sketches of a painting—a few stray strokes of silver pencil—but it does not understand itself. It does not understand the glorious vividness of color or shape. It cannot be art, for it cannot freely experience or express the bursting truth of life.
Numbness itself is smothering, suffocating—a thick cloud of toxic smog—smog that rolls out, a dark velvety carpet and prevents the light of the sun from warming our cheeks. It prevents love from piercing deliciously through our skin. It prevents us from feeling the blistering sweetness of kiss. It prevents us from participating productively in the world and being who we really are.
What the f*ck kind of life is that?
That’s what I began to ask myself, every day. Yet every day, I closed up—retreating like a scared animal, refusing to be honest with myself, unable to put myself out there, shriveling up a little more inside—withering away like a ghost, the once-brilliant sparkle long evaporated from my sea-blue eyes.
Finally, I got a little bit brave and a lot f*cking frustrated with the uninspired colorlessness of my anesthetic existence. I could no longer stand to live in such a suppressed way, for my heart—she was born to feel it all—and deep down, I knew it. I could no longer stand to violently strip myself of all emotion. What did I want to be—a damn robot? And my god, I could not stand to lie through beaming, toothy smiles and hide tears like they were shameful secrets.
So I did the scariest thing in the world—I sucked out my numbed thorns like poison, one by one, and gave them to the wind. I kissed the fractures of brokenness in my heart, and I was sad, but happiness danced through my bones, too.
My cells exhaled with relief, and my eyes lit up, because slowly, very slowly, I was coming alive again—brought back from the coward’s death of apathy. Soul crashed back into my body. Spirit chased me down and ignited me like a forest fire. Emotions raged inside me like beasts.
Because the truth is, opening our hearts doesn’t always feel good or nice or pretty. It’s not all rainbows and golden-dipped happy dances and euphoric epiphanies. It can feel brutal. It can just plain hurt, like lemon juice in an open wound, like sandpaper rubbing on chapped lips, like a pulsating crater opening in our chests. It can feel raw and overexposing and horrible.
And so, it hurt—but the hurt was cleansing.
It meant something profound—it meant that I was coming back to life again. It meant that I had chosen to be brave. And sure enough, all the emotions I had tried to push down—both beautiful and sad, wonderful and terrible—crashed down on me. It felt like a thousand fireworks exploding inside me at once, creating a glass mosaic of fragmented beauty.
It wasn’t pretty. It was hard and dark and lonely—but it was damn beautiful. It was beautiful in a way that I didn’t know beauty could exist; it was all-encompassing in its gritty, transformative prowess.
Because my heart could breathe again. She could kiss the sky. She could lick stardust and express herself freely in trembling lines of poetry. She could see, without her blindfold of tattered grey clouds and numbed apathy. She could spread her wings and taste the bright purples and soft pinks of wildflowers. She could feel the buzzing pulses of joy in a stranger’s smile. She could feel the depths of agony and the weight of the world, too.
It was crushing.
And I must have asked myself a thousand times—how can we bear to have open hearts in such a harsh world?
But I know now—we bear with exquisite honor, and we do the best we can. We breathe, and we break, and we offer our hearts to the world every chance we get.
Because anything else is a half-life. And I don’t know about you, but I am not on this f*cking planet to be lamely half alive. I am here to be vividly, fully, deliciously alive. So are you.
Besides, what favor are we doing ourselves—or the world—by donning a plastic façade of numbed apathy?
Do the harder thing, and open your heart.
Maybe she’s in a tight bud, right now. Maybe she’s ready to bloom, just in time for spring. Maybe she’s raw and tender, broken, bruised or ashamed.
That’s okay—it’s stunning.
Do the beautiful thing, and open your heart.
Do the bravest, most painful thing, and open your heart.
Take the risk.
Because the tender reverberations of one open heart echo around the globe, in a cacophony of sweetness and truth so raw, it smells like mud and lilacs—a call to other hearts like a song of perfume wafting through the air.
The breathtaking wonder of just one open heart is like offering a bouquet to the universe. It’s magic.
Do the best thing, and open your heart—inspire those around you to the greatest of heights.
Feel again. Feel beauty. Feel sadness and sorrow. Feel joy. Feel disappointment. Feel rejection.
Open the floodgates and swim madly through the thrashing ruby seas of your heart.
There is no other way to live.
And no, life won’t become a candied fantasy. It won’t be flawless or mistake-free. Life is brutal. It’s beautiful, but it’s also scary and strange. People will hurt us—and leave us and disappoint us—but they will also love us. They will love us so absolutely, so profoundly.
And why would we want to miss out on a single succulent second of that love?
So I sit here—my heart hemorrhaging like a spilled glass of Merlot—painting the page with the splattered truths of my story. I worry my heart is far too fragile—too soft, too open, too delicately vulnerable—but that’s just fear talking. Tears trickle from my eyes, the sweet nectar of soul running down my cheeks. I feel a stranger’s smile inside my bones. I feel a friend’s grief in my gut.
I take it in. I receive it all—the exquisite honor of being alive.
Because I can love again.
And that’s what we are meant to do isn’t it?
So let us not waste a moment.
Author: Sarah Harvey
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina