Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash
This is a story of gratitude.
It is mid-summer and I am, for the first time in my 18 years of living with an anxiety disorder, having an anxiety attack in front of others. It is the last day of summer teaching. I have watched my 2nd graders joyfully pack their bags. I’ve listened as they’ve told me about future trips to zoos, about fireflies in New York City, and about robotics camp. I’ve watched them compete to catch soap bubbles on plastic wands, felt grateful for being a small part of their lives, and have been reminded once more that being a caring adult in the lives of children has been a calling of mine since the age of 7.
Despite the happy last-day-of-school events, the day has now ended with me on the floor, shaking, a weight on my chest making it difficult to catch my breath. The pressure in my head from the sever migraines I’ve been experiencing for the past few months are making it challenging to talk and walk– a physical response, I was told, to the depression I have been carrying for the past two years. I am drowning in parts of me that have decided to make themselves known and I am angrily telling them to please stay inside.
Over the last two years since beginning to work on the sexual abuse I experienced as a child, holding it together was becoming exhausting. Smiling was becoming exhausting. I wanted, more than anything, to yell out and tell people that I wasn’t ok, that most of my smiles were forced and that I felt like crying most of the time. I chose not to tell my family about the abuse or the depression and was quietly witnessing my own unraveling.
Facing the abuse threw me into an inner world that was all-consuming. I felt like something had turned off inside. I began to isolate myself from others. I purposely neglected to do what brought me joy because I felt I didn’t deserve it. It took a tremendous amount of willpower to do basic things like cook, and eat, and go to work. What scared me the most was when I began to wake up feeling angry that I had woken up. I didn’t want to be here anymore. I didn’t feel like I mattered or that I was contributing to anything greater than myself. What’s more, the deeply empty person I had become felt incredibly foreign to me. I felt as though I was up high on the rafters watching some unfamiliar person orchestrate something that would take so much energy to put back together. I had become tired of fighting alone. I had been handling the things that came with living with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder fairly well for much of my life. I managed to be my happy, optimistic, driven self. I could intellectualize those disorders. I could live with them in healthy ways. But now, fighting off the depression that came as a result of facing sexual abuse had become more than I could handle. My driven nature kept pushing me to find a resolution because I knew the abuse was at the core of the disorders I lived with. Unfortunately, getting to the central cause was creating reactions I was unprepared to face. And so, after trying to fight for so long, I resigned myself. I hoped for something outside of me to happen.
And something did happen. THIS happened. My own body took over. The body that I was trying to befriend, the body that had been used by someone else as a child took over. It recognized my own stubborn decision to do this on my own and sought help for me. I sat there and shook ……angry, and tired, embarrassed and frustrated. As our school nurse guided me to slow down my breathing, as my worried peers sat around me, I suddenly had this internal knowing that things were going to get better. If I asked for help things were going to be better. I’m so grateful for the wisdom that my body recognized that day. It knew that I was surrounded by people who cared about me and who I could trust.
They didn’t know it but they were my support group during the summers. I did the bulk of trauma therapy between May and August. Their smiling faces, this group of caring people who had also made a decision to be present for children, were who I saw after evenings with my therapist reliving, and thinking, and writing about the abuse. Mornings that were full of angry tears about why I couldn’t stop feeling the way I was feeling quickly turned when I stepped foot on campus. Being around them reminded me that I had a purpose, that this depression was temporary. I could see things from a position of clarity when I was around them. Being told I was positively contributing, hearing my students say they loved math, these little reminders connected me to others and refueled my sense of purpose. They reignited my desire to keep fighting, even if fighting simply meant staying here.
I haven’t told them how important they are. I haven’t shared how much being a part of this team meant to me….how they made those days of waking up feeling like I didn’t want to be here easier. Until the day I have the courage to share what they mean to me, I carry with me a profound knowing that they would be the kind of people who would be there if I asked.
This is a story of gratitude. Something greater than myself took over that day. The experience reminded me that you can be interconnected to people without realizing it. It reminded me that I could trust others to be there for me just as I sought to be present for those who asked for my help. We don’t have to face difficult things alone.
In the words of the late Ram Dass, “we are all just walking each other home.” This incredible group of people helped me stay here so that I could keep walking the life I’ve been given.