The other week I suspended for the 10th time - five years after I did if for the first time. One would think I’d be used to it by now, but I was just as nervous as ever. I’m fairly certain it will be like this the next time I suspend too!
Before I get too carried away detailing my latest body suspension, I guess a little explanation is in order. I haven’t written about it on this website before, and a lot of people, especially here in the UK, have never heard of the practice. When I tell them that it involves suspending from hooks that are inserted through the skin, it’s fair to say that most people are quite shocked! Back home in Norway, body suspension is a little more well known - probably because Oslo is home to one of the most experienced body suspension crews in the world - Wings of Desire. Their leader, Håvve Fjell, has done a lot to demystify the practice, and he has for many years been an important cultural figure in Norway. I like to think that I’ve done my small part in terms of “mainstreaming” body suspension too, as I wrote a novel about body suspension in 2015, which got quite a lot of press. (I even suspended on a morning talkshow, which thoroughly angered some viewers who had turned on the telly mainly to check the weather forecast.)
It was my book research that brought me in contact with Håvve and Wings of Desire. The first time I suspended, I did it to simply “get the info” I needed to be able to write convincingly about the experience. I never expected to enjoy it as much as I did! But here I am, several later, with fresh scars from my latest suspension. Body suspension has become an important part of me.
However - ahead of each suspension, there’s always a moment when I ask myself why I even do this. Because it really is a challenge every time. I’m nervous because I know what I’m in for! I know that the pain from the piercings is a lot to take, and that this pain always makes me feel vulnerable in a way that is almost overwhelming. However, what I tend to forget from time to time - which is always a nice surprise! - is that I enjoy the pain too. It gives me clarity, it brings a sense of calm, and I find I’m able to surrender to what lies ahead. Besides, I get a very pleasant rush of endorphins.
I’ve realised that this last part is something I tend to focus on when people quiz me about body suspension. “But doesn’t it hurt?” is the most common question. I usually say something along the lines of yes, of course it hurts, but only initially, and the pain goes away after a while. I explain how endorphins work, and I emphasise the euphoric and peaceful feeling I get when I’m in the air. And I am being truthful when I talk about it in this way - but lately I’ve realised that I’m only presenting a partial picture. I’m not sure it matters that I don’t tend to go into details about my anxiety and fear of pain, but I think I could get better at pointing out that I’m only talking about my experience when I describe feelings of bliss. I think there’s a risk that some people can come to their first suspension expecting to feel amazing - “like being on MDMA”, as a friend of mine put it when he recently suspended for the first time - and then feeling let down because it actually turns out to be quite painful and hard. Or maybe they don’t feel very much, and end up questioning why they didn’t have the intense experience that “everybody” seems to be talking about.
I think that the euphoric side of suspension tends to be focused on a lot more than other aspects, since some people may be vary about being upfront to skeptical “outsiders” about experiences that may sound very unpleasant. I know I easily get caught up in reassuring other people that what we are doing as a community is OK! But I’ve recently become more mindful of how this can lead to people feeling like they're having a less “valid” experience, so I will try to get better at making space for all sorts of suspension stories!
Watching my husband, Kurt, suspend for the first time the other week, was among the things that made me question my own tendency to talk about suspension in almost exclusively glowing terms. Ahead of the event, I had described feelings of ecstacy and painlessness, and I had predicted that he would take to it very easily. I was certain he would be just fine. And he was fine - but it wasn’t blissful for him. In fact, he went into what he describes as a shock. However, he got past it, and ended up having a very meaningful experience. He then wrote a very insightful blog entry about body suspension.
And my own suspension? It was blissful. I got off the ground very easily - this is the thing that has changed a lot since my first suspensions. I no longer feel scared when I’m about to go up - I feel in control. I feel like this is something I know how to do. I also know from experience that it’s only a matter of minutes, or less, before the pain subsides.
Or maybe it’s just that the pain becomes secondary, or less important? This is how Håvve often describes it when people ask the age-old question but doesn’t it hurt? And maybe this is actually a better way to define the feeling that sets in a minute or so after I leave the ground? I’m not sure. It really does feel like genuine painlessness sometimes. I tried paying attention to it this time, but it quickly felt futile to try to analyse the situation I was in! This is another side of body suspension that I enjoy - it gives me a break from my busy mind.
I did a pose called Crucifixion for my latest suspension. I had done this pose twice before, and I spent some time beating myself up over not choosing a new pose, but then I decided that there was no reason why I shouldn’t just go with something I knew I enjoyed! Also - the event took place during Easter, so this pose was really quite fitting!
(Below - a video of my suspension. Håvve is to the left, monitoring the ascent, and Kurt is to the right, taking part in something he probably never had envisioned doing before he met me! )