We are all walking each other home

benjamin-voros-phIFdC6lA4E-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

Despite how this story may sound in the beginning, this is a story of gratitude.

It is mid-summer and I am, for the first time in my 18 years of living with a mental illness, having a severe anxiety attack in front of my colleagues.  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 robotics camp.  I’ve watched them compete to catch soap bubbles on plastic wands, laughed at the funny things they’ve said, and 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.

But now I am on the floor shaking, attempting to catch my breath–a weight on my chest expelling every bit of air I attempt to take in.  I am drowning in secrets that have decided to make themselves known and I am angrily telling them to stop, to stay inside.  I am thinking of how hard I have worked to act like the type of girl I wanted to be, someone intelligent, reliable, resilient, kind, caring, someone who has it together.  Over the last two years, since beginning to work on the sexual abuse I experienced, 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 these smiles were me trying to pretend so that people wouldn’t worry, so that they’d continue to believe the story I had been handing out.  But I didn’t have it together.  They were witnessing an unraveling.

Facing the abuse threw me into an inner world that was all consuming.  I began to isolate myself.  I neglected to do what brought me joy. It took a tremendous amount of willpower to do basic things like cooking, and eating, and going to work.  I felt like something had been turned off inside. A few months before this incident, I began to wake up angry–angry that I had woken up.  I couldn’t understand why I was still here.  What more could I possibly contribute? What’s more, the deeply saddened person I had become felt incredibly foreign to me.  I felt as though I was up high on the rafters watching her orchestrate something that would take so much energy to put back together and I was out of energy.  So I did nothing. I watched and 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 shook vulnerably.  It recognized my own stubborn decision to do this on my own and sought help. And so it shook. I sat there and shook ……angry, and tired, embarrassed  and frustrated, it took over. As our school nurse guided me to slow down my breathing, as my worried friends 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 sincerely cared about me. They didn’t know it but they were my secret support group. I did the bulk of trauma therapy during the summers. Their smiling faces, this group of caring people who had also made a decision to be present for children, were who I saw after sleepless nights of reliving, and thinking, and writing.

This may, dear reader, not be the ending you hoped for, I’ll admit.  I haven’t told them how important they are yet.  I haven’t shared how much being a part of this team meant to me, haven’t shared my story….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 for me.

This is a story of gratitude.  Something greater than myself took over that day.  It reminded me that, in the beautiful words of the late Ram Dass, “we are all just walking each other home.”

I don’t have to do this on my own anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

The most beautiful thing

wil-stewart-zIyOXejmdWY-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Wil Stewart on Unsplash

“Will you tell me what you see?”

The slender woman in a red flower-print dress is standing before a painting that I unfortunately cannot recall.  Its artist and the work has become a backdrop to something even more beautiful unfolding before it.  Her son, an energetic boy of around 8, and her husband are navigating the museum lovingly armed with words to vividly describe each art piece.  The woman inquisitively asks questions in her quest to refine the mental image.  She asks of colors, lines. boldness, position.

She is poised, confidently moving across the wooden floors, white cane before her.

I came to the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art to escape the dusty book stacks and endless note taking in preparation for my master’s thesis.  I was not expecting to behold a personal act of love on this visit.  I was not expecting to witness the most beautiful thing–the way in which expressions of love take many forms. This moment will etch itself deeply within, I think to myself.  And it did. It is a memory of which I call upon when fears regarding my own sight consume me.

An awareness of sight, or the lack there of it, has been a personal theme in my life. As a child I recall making my mother cry as I attempted to navigate our home with my eyes closed. I was determined to memorize steps between furniture, to learn to run my hand against walls to find my way, all in preparation for the loss of sight I knew would one day come. I was born with myopic degeneration and was monocular at a very young age. My mother blamed herself in those moments, her border-crossing while pregnant. I assured her then that if loss of sight happened, I was going to be just fine.

Standing watching the family out of the corner of my eye, I am taken back to those days– a little girl determined to find her way.  I am also reminded of gratitude for things others take for granted, of love as an act for the happiness of others, and of human resilience.

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“Beneath varying skies: Vignettes on living” is a personal writing project deeply tied to my mental health journey. It is a private exploration of identity, love, loss, healing, mysticism, and gratitude.

Home can be a person

greg-rakozy-oMpAz-DN-9I-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

I am standing among the symphony of accents aware of only the way my breath visibly pirouettes before me as the warmth collides with the cold night air. I feel the wool against my fingers nestled in gray pockets, the chill on my petaled cheeks, and of the rest I choose an oblivious awareness.

I am transfixed on the people: their big smiles, their foreign tongues, our unified awe of a place that has managed to bring us together. I’ve lost sight of my parents who are somewhere adding to the lights that fill Times Square, their photographs sending a flash of photons into an already-luminous space. I look to the left and smile. I have identified my people among the masses, those contemplative souls sitting, cold yet inspired, sporadically spread out among the red staircase, are watchers like me.  We have each chosen a family, a person, a billboard to draw inspiration from, to remind us of life, beauty, and joy. The whole world is here, I think.

My contemplation intertwines with a feeling that I too am being observed, that someone is watching me. A man my age in a white knit sweater and pale blue jeans appears beside me. He leans forward as if to tell me he is just passing through, that his approach is safe. In an accent I cannot place on a map, he tells me that I “am very beautiful.” His blue eyes are illuminated against a backdrop of white store lights filled with trinkets for travelers. His eyes house a rare, familiar warmth that I know he feels from me as well.

I’ve been here before. I’ve looked into eyes and felt a mutual recognition, a powerful knowing that a stranger can feel familiar, that someone you’ve never met feels like home. There is a pull in that moment, a soul recognizing another in time and place, some celestial connection.

As I watch him walk away, I am reminded of a Chinese proverb about red strings connecting those who are destined to meet and imagine the strings attached from my pinky to others in this lifetime.  I am walking towards the red staircase, my mind reviewing the short rolodex of people this has happened with before.

Years later, as I sit here writing, I see images of people this pull has happened with since that day: a woman in a waiting room, a friend on social media I’ve never met in person, a boy from Switzerland, my husband, a co-worker.

What is it about these moments? How many people have looked at us, have seen us at the market, singing in our car, tired in a meeting, and felt a pull but said nothing? What would happen if every time we felt this way we did something–we tugged at the red string, we boldly said unto another: “Although I don’t know you, I feel as if I do.  You feel familiar.”

What might happen if we let our intuition speak to the souls we recognize?

…..something remarkable, I think.

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“Beneath varying skies: Vignettes on living” is a personal writing project deeply tied to my mental health journey. It is a private exploration of identity, love, loss, healing, mysticism, and gratitude.