Photo 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.