The Alchemy of Iron Overload

Within the last couple of weeks, I found out I have some sort of blood disorder that makes my body collect iron. It’s something I’ve never heard of before now but is apparently an incredibly dangerous condition since the excess iron gets stored in organs and muscles, potentially causing damage if not treated.

I got that much information, plus a list of things that I’m not supposed to do for the time being, and now I wait…for a month…to see a specialist who can hopefully tell me more.

Yes, I’m scared.

After exhausting my own ability to research iron overload and the underlying condition, causes, treatments, etc., I’ve turned to my spirituality to help me understand the purpose for my body’s sudden affinity for this heavy metal.

I’m not the type of person that believes all medical conditions are rooted in the spiritual and that if you just clear your chakras then all physical ailments will disappear. Not at all. I’d give anything right now to be working on an herbal supplement, taking a medication, donating blood, or something to make me feel better right now.

However, I have a fucking month to sit around on my hands, and finding symbolic meaning for my current predicament seems like the least that I can do in my waiting period.

So iron…

Alchemically, iron is associated with physical strength, energy, masculinity, and Mars, which makes sense considering that iron was one of the first metals used for weapons of war and has often been a display of power.

It also makes sense given that too little iron in our blood causes fatigue and weakness—anemia.

The ironic part comes when I consider how my current symptoms of iron overload (primarily pain, fatigue, and weakness) resemble iron deficiency, so much so that when I initially went in to see my doctor for those symptoms, she was pretty convinced I was anemic. Had she not drawn blood to test my iron levels before telling me to take iron supplements, there’s a good chance I’d be dead by now.

So in certain amounts, iron is good. It adds strength and energy to the body. It’s necessary for blood oxygenation.

Too little iron, and the body becomes vulnerable and weak.

Too much, and the body becomes vulnerable and weak.

The symbolism is a little mind-blowing to me. Do you see it yet?

Let’s think about it in terms of outward iron as well.

Italian suit of armour in the Walters Art Museum. Public domain.

Italian suit of armour in the Walters Art Museum. Public domain.

In certain amounts, iron as a material could be useful, weather as a tool, weapon, or suit of armor. It adds strength and power to an ordinary human motion.

Too little iron, and the tool, weapon, or body becomes vulnerable and weak.

Too much, and the tool, weapon, or body becomes useless or weak because it’s too heavy.

Is there a psychological version of iron?

I can’t help but think of the way that hypervigilance affected me in the early stages of my healing and can still affect me to some extent now.

It’s not unreasonable for abuse survivors to want to protect themselves, and it’s not abnormal for them to develop extremely sensitive warning systems in social interactions.

The reasoning makes sense. “I was hurt by someone I deeply trusted in the past. I don’t want to be hurt again; therefore, I need to be on my guard constantly against those I deeply trust now.”

Okay, the reasoning doesn’t entirely make sense, but the motivation itself makes sense.

And for a while I thought that my hypervigilance was helping me, even though it also overwhelmed me. It wasn’t until someone pointed out to me that a guard dog who barked all the time at shadows wasn’t really a very good guard dog that I realized my hypervigilance may not actually be serving me in the way that I thought.

Constantly being on guard was exhausting, sapping the energy I would have needed in a truly dangerous situation, and constant warnings going off in my head made it immensely difficult to discern between a legitimate warning and a false one.

It’s taken a while for my heart to understand that calming my hypervigilance didn’t mean getting rid of my vigilance altogether. It merely meant that I trusted myself enough to recognize a legitimate threat when it appeared, and I didn’t need to constantly be on the hunt for where the non-existent threats were hiding.

That was my outer psychological iron—the weapons and armor against the outside world. Now I’m looking inward. In what ways psychologically has my mind collected too much “iron” against itself? In what ways have I depleted my spiritual energy by holding onto something heavy?

Iron is also the metal used to make fences for graveyards because it is believed to keep the ghosts inside.

Batavia Cemetery surrounded by iron fence. Public domain.

Batavia Cemetery surrounded by iron fence. Public domain.

As an abuse survivor, I know I’ve also built up protections against myself. I’ve put fences around certain memories to keep their ghosts inside. I’ve shut pain up behind iron doors and hung a mobile of iron knives and sheers above the cradle of my childhood.

These were defenses I set up long ago, and though I’ve been on a healing journey that has led me to lowering defenses, facing truth, unlocking doors, and freeing memories, there are still many that remain bound behind the iron of my psyche.

At the solstice, I had the feeling I was emotionally menstruating, shedding the old layer of work that was complete and beginning a new cycle into a deeper layer of my healing. Now, as I wait more or less patiently for my body to be able to shed its literal iron (I seriously cannot wait to bleed it out!), I consider the ways that I can release the psychological iron of an over-protective and somewhat weary soul.