I arrived at this life well-versed in emotional pain. My empathy was strong from the very beginning, as was my exasperation at injustice. We aren’t all this way. Even when empathy is well in-tact and appropriate, we simply don’t all respond to emotional stimuli with the same amount of intensity.
I write to share empathy, compassion, and a sprinkling of wisdom. At best, some half-baked humor. When I was in grade school, as shy as I was, I loved the theater. I don’t mean the watching of it; I mean the doing of it. I loved throwing on a character and living their experience. I hoped this would lead me to Hollywood but instead it led me to being a therapist. Being a therapist was a tremendously valuable shared experience. But somewhere along the line, I lost track of the creative loves I fell for at first.
I am a dreamer trapped in an underachiever’s body. A try-hard, do-good, walk-the-line, child of two boomers. I was born hard of hearing, which is genetic in my family, and a bit wild and hard to handle. That’s how they describe my early years, anyway.
“Big hair, big feelings, lots of crying.” If I’m being honest, they’re not wrong about these things; they were facts. From the time I was a toddler, up through grade school, I took up space. I was loud when I was happy, loud when I was upset, and laughing pretty much the rest of the time. But then, I hit grade school. Grade school had soul-crushing rules, clear expectations, and maximum friend potential. That’s when I pulled in.
It had become too dangerous to be loud, to take social risks by bouncing off the seat. As undiagnosed girls with ADHD often do, I took cues from my peers, and I shrunk myself down in an effort to fit. That’s when I lost her. No, not a dear friend or a parent, I lost myself. I made her unrecognizable, shy, timid, straight-laced. The more I was viewed as “different” by my peers, the more I masked and the more I stood on my cape.
I was trapped inside so long I didn’t know I was surrounded by a cave. I had forgotten who I was, I attributed any change I did notice to maturity. I continually underperformed academically and socially, but I stayed out of trouble and tried hard. Every adult can recognize the child who tries hard, and has a place in their heart for them. I drifted through, subject by subject, year by year, until it was time for college.
I got through college and graduate school in a blink, again, not with honors or rewards, as my parents might have hoped, but, well enough. Passable. Sufficient. Completed.
It would take another fifteen years before I would see the walls around me, and notice the cape under my feet. It happened when my daughter was born. As I watched her become herself, I recognized everything. Every tendency, every bold decision, every need for reassurance. I watched her take up space.
It was magnificent. It was daring, honest, brazen, beautiful. I envied it for just a moment, but quickly stopped myself. I looked down at the cape underneath my shoes, dirty and tattered, aged and torn, and I picked it up. I tossed it right back over my shoulders and announced to myself that I Was Back. I was to be loud and risk being annoying, again. I was to be outspoken, and risk being wrong. I was to tell the truth, and risk others not liking me. I would feel my energy again,and remember how to be that version of myself.
Where does the child inside of us go when that sense of self and self-worth we fell in love with early on doesn’t win awards and allocates and praise? We certainly witnessed our peers getting blue ribbons placed on their artwork and poetry, collecting plaques and smiling for photographs, but what happens to the creative talents that don’t get noticed?
We receive so many messages from the world, starting when we are young, about our worth and the value of what we produce. We launch into adulthood with these lessons instilled deeply within us, among many others, and we push forward to thrive and “find happiness.” Find yourself
But so much of what “happiness” really ends up being is linked to those simple wonders we first witnessed in our youth- the texture of the paper, the smell of the art room, the satisfaction of two phrases that both rhymed and made our friends laugh.
What can we do? We can give people back to themselves. We can see them and honor who they are. We can pause before asking each other to be different, and instead honor the person that is standing before us. That person, no matter how it looks, has gotten themselves here, to this moment, following and in spite of all of the experiences they had before. We can love them for this, because they have walked as many miles in the darkness as we have and continue on. Find yourself
After 20 years as a child therapist, I have come to deeply value the relationship that each of us has with the younger version of ourselves. There is healing to be done, that can be done, to repair trauma and losses long after the fact. Getting back in touch with your inner joys to find yourself is just one way to go about doing this. And, how wonderful it would be to never let these coping skills go to begin with.
“What if I Try? A Book About Creating Yourself,” to be released Summer, 2021, seeks to remind us of those creative passions, by way of speaking to the children, as if to say, “you don’t need to be the best, or even know what you’re doing. If it brings you joy, just keep doing it.”
While you wait, check out the chapter, “Things I Want to Tell You,” in the anthology, “Ordinary Oneness” for insight into the mind of the elementary school student, struggling to hold on tight.