Turn and Face the Strange

Sometimes my teenage daughter’s anxiety gets too big, and I pick her up early from school.

I know her education is important, but living through a pandemic has changed my priorities and perspective. When she calls me, I don’t hesitate and I don’t make her feel bad. I get her.

Last week I picked her up after a flurry of upsetting texts. She told me her mental health was bad again. It scared me. It scared her. She’d kept it from me for weeks because she didn’t want to make me sad. My heart broke she’d tried to protect me, and I felt I had to say the right thing.

“We face what is,” I said.

These four words felt important.

I repeated them.

“We face what is.”

This opened the door for her to share, and for me to listen. We made plans for her to get new kinds of help, and to pursue roads to healing we hadn’t considered before. I reminded her she isn’t alone, and I’m more interested in her truth than in feeling comfortable and happy.

The next day, I was sitting alone and spiraling out about my eyes.

My eye to be specific.

I’ve got one good eye and one lazy one. It’s been this way my entire life, and normally it’s not on my mind. But lately, I’ve had trouble seeing when I read, or when I’m on the phone. Things were blurry and I couldn’t read the instructions on a medicine bottle. I bought a pair of reading glasses, and it helped. This should have been the end of it.

However, my anxiety over the experience grew and grew. It became unruly, demanding more and more of my attention and emotional energy.

I’d convinced myself I must have some horrible disease, most likely brought on by my weight gain and laziness. I began to tally all the ways I’m failing at caring for myself. I don’t wear my sunglasses all the time. I spend too much time on screens. I don’t blink enough. I got bacon grease in my eye on Christmas morning, which was irresponsible and preventable if I’d paid better attention. I haven’t done enough research to see how to protect my eyesight. I don’t eat enough green leafy vegetables or omega-3 fatty acids. I’m going to lose my ability to see, and it will be my own fault.

As I sat still, berating myself, those four words I told my daughter came to me.

“We face what is.”

I looked up the number of an optometrist near me and made an appointment.

As I sat in the waiting room, all the anxiety and blame thick about me, I kept countering it with those four words. Whatever the eye doctor tells me, I will face. I have family and friends who will love and support me. I can’t face what I don’t know.

As I went through the exam, I made lots of self-deprecating jokes. I knew I had to keep the mood as light as possible, and I had to keep talking.

“Which is better? One or two? Three or four?”

Each question was scary. The letters I couldn’t see felt ominous, surely indicators of something serious. I kept trying to hear it in her voice, waiting for the bad news to drop.

It didn’t.

My eye’s fine. I’m getting older. It’s normal.

Normal.

She prescribed reading glasses, the same kind I’m already using. She told me I’m okay.

We face what is.

I have some other health things I have to face. I’ve put on too much weight. I have pains in my hips and back. I’m concerned I might be pre-diabetic, it runs in my family, or I could be putting too much strain on my heart. I’m taking steps to correct my health, which means facing things like the scale, a check-up at the doctor, and returning to the gym. All of these things feel hard, and damn, there’s a lot of judgment and guilt around them.

However, I can’t do anything without turning toward what is. I have to stop ignoring the truth for some pretend comfort. I have people who count on me, and I have a lot more I want to do with my life. There’s no reason to run from perceived scary things or to let myself build them up until they are monstrous. It’s far better to shine a light on them.

We face what is.

My reading glasses and the chair I inherited from my grandmother.

12 thoughts on “Turn and Face the Strange

  1. that old truism that you have to care for yourself if you’re going to care for others. Self compassion is critical. You’re taking the right steps and sticking it here is a great way to remain accountable to yourself. Go you. You’re always stronger than you think.

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  2. “We face what is” are great guiding words, thank you for sharing them Bridgette! I know that sinking feeling when one realizes their child with anxiety is struggling again, I hope that new paths will be helpful. I remind myself that as tough as adolescence with anxiety is, they eventually will be past that set of hormonal ups and downs so their struggles now don’t necessarily foretell their adulthood. Just like you applied “we face what is” to your symptoms with your eye, a silver lining for me has been the insights that trying to understand/help my child have given me on myself. I also just got new glasses. Going into the appointment I was convinced that not only was my near vision worsening so that I’d need to start correcting it, I thought my distance vision was getting worse because I was having some blurriness. I felt so relieved when my Dr. told me that yes, I need correction for near but that the blurriness for distance was actually because my distance vision had improved a bit. So now I am using progressives for the first time and after it being a literal headache + dizziness + nausea the first 4 days–so I needed to remember what I’d tell my child, that we can’t decide a few days into something anticipated to be a 2-3 week process that it’s all bad–today started feeling better. Thank you for letting me share my story.

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    • Thank you for sharing this with me. It’s so interesting how much comes up as we parent. I remember fondly our days of play group, where we focused on remembering our own childhoods and deciding what we want to do differently. Now, with teens, I feel like I’m being forced to focus on such harder things. I’m sorry your child also struggles with anxiety. Parenting teens was always going to be hard, but this pandemic has made it so much harder.

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      • Yes, I have so many fond memories of play group–it was such a time of growth for me as well as my kiddos!!–and I am so glad that there are some lasting connections although the format and timing has changed much. I agree the pandemic has ramped up the challenges of teen parenting in a variety of ways. A friend and I were just saying today that a certain amount of depression and anxiety unfortunately feels like the natural response, compared to denial. I wonder what our kids will be saying about this time in their lives in 20 years.

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