Can we talk?

Her bouncy blonde curls hang wildly down to a soft, mustard-colored sweatshirt. She is smiling, and her blue-green eyes, the light of her face, squint ever so slightly.

We lean close, trying hard to fill the space between us with all the things which have happened since we last sat here, our favorite table in the corner, drinking matching diet cokes and sharing popcorn from a red and white bag.

This is love.

The feeling is big, and yet so simple; connection, familiarity, safety.

Our friendship was forged years ago as young girls trying hard to be seen and heard in a sea of middle schoolers. Something drew us close then, but we seem to have forgotten it, or maybe it lay buried under all the things.

Nearly a year ago, while dodging post-hurricane waves in Florida, our hearts opened up and spilled out to one another. Forged in the powerful surf. Tougher than the wind. We remembered.

We used to borrow each other’s clothes, sing loudly in the car, skip arm and arm down the halls, stay up all night talking about everything and nothing.

I want more.

More of her. More of us. More of the space between women which is sacred and holy and fucking amazing. More time to see her fully, all her complexities and contradictions, hopes and fears, everything.

I want more.

A week ago, I left for a writing retreat to this hippie camp near the ocean and the redwoods. I wanted something to happen, sure, but I feared nothing would. Anxiety, like the proverbial devil on my shoulder, whispering all the ways I would fuck it up.

But I didn’t.

I couldn’t.

Magic became not only attainable, but real; with a fairy path leading to a yurt, a unicorn chef who cooked concoctions worthy of the Gods, and a bonfire where truth was spilled out and passed around from one to the other.

The whispers of the ancients, things I know to be true in my bones, rocked me as I stood every morning on the damp redwood deck in my wool socks, the cool wetness seeping in, a hot cup of coffee clutched tightly in my hands.

The breezes would carry bits of conversation from the women inside, voices of strength and of hope, gathered around a fireplace adorned with candles and trinkets from those who came before. A sense of divine connection filled my soul.

I want more.

Since my return, I’ve dealt with rotten jack-o-lanterns, sick kids spewing mucus and whining loudly, piles of laundry, seven million voices in the carpool van all talking at once; the layers of responsibility trying desperately to bury the ancient truth again under all the shit.

I’m terrified another five, ten, twenty years will pass in a blur before I have another moment of remembering.

I want more.

So, my friends, as I stare at you too long, hold you too tight, forgive me. I’m lost in the redwoods still.

I just want to talk.

 

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The Magical Place

 

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Running toward the meadow: One definition of depression and anxiety

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Sometimes it is a small shuddering mouse, shaking in the darkness, afraid to come out for fear of death. It darts quickly around, hiding, sneaking, and trying desperately to be unseen. Twitching, sniffing and cowering, it is convinced danger is lurking behind everything and everyone. So it keeps to the shadowy, dark corners and doesn’t let anyone in.

Sometimes it is a hungry tiger, twisting primal urges forcing it to seek some kind of satisfaction. It lurks large, but not without stealth and a need to be sneaky and calculating. Forever unable to quench the desires deep inside, it hunts and roams with a desperation swelling with each passing second. Moments of boldness are followed by a deeper need to hoard away the spoils for fear they will be taken or lost.

Sometimes it is a black hole, feeding on the memories of past disappointments and the future failures lurking just ahead. Self-loathing bubbling always at the edges, it eats through everything else until there is only black and nothingness. It is a great expanse of darkness perfect for hiding in, safe from the colorful world of choices and chaos.

Dreams bring me images of running in a meadow that is free of gnawing animals and hidden dark holes waiting to swallow me. I can almost see the expanse of waving stalks blowing in the gentle breeze. I can almost smell the sweet lavender and honey-scented air filling my lungs. I can almost feel the soft wispy flowers brushing against my bare legs and the squishy earth beneath my toes.

Almost.

I read a bedtime story to my daughter and she puts her hand on my chest, feeling around and pressing into the skin. She finds comfort in the squishy warmth and her body relaxes preparing for rest and renewal. I kiss her. She embraces me and whispers her love into my ear. It floods me and takes me to the very edge of the meadow where I sit longingly and yearn.

I look at the stack of paper; the manuscript I finally wrote after years of letting the relentless pursuit of perfection slap me and kick me into the ditch of you can’t do it. When I let it go, the words spilled out in a tumble of excitement mixed with promise and joy. I giggled and typed until my neck ached and my family drew me back to them.

Yet pride and accomplishment are glued to qualifiers that I feel I must give you. Don’t think because I wrote all those words, they are something worth reading. The story is nothing remarkable, nothing amazing, nothing life changing for anyone but me. I feel you must know the fear of having my words read is almost greater than actually writing them.

You speak words of encouragement and love to me. I eat them. I crave them more than I should ever admit and even as I swallow them my focus is on all the words you didn’t say. The unspoken truths hidden just behind the door that I am certain I can hear knocking and rattling the handle.

The words ride on the backs of the beasts as they trample me down, sharp teeth tearing into my soft flesh and erasing the kindness you shared. I hear only what isn’t there and twist it into the perverted truth I insist on believing.

I long to have skin built tough and strong, an impenetrable fortress fortified with self-confidence and loving thoughts. Meditation. Affirmations. Love. It is never enough. My skin stays thin and fragile. A small look of disappointment, an intake of breath, an awkward moment of silence; all punch holes that fill quickly and relentlessly with emptying darkness.

Those of you who suffer like I do, we know the truth. We do not choose this path. We don’t consciously run away from the meadow and dive head first into the dark pit that surrounds us.

No.

We are driven there every single day by forces we can’t control and minds that betray the real us. The moat is deep and everywhere we turn it surrounds us. We can try to jump over it and sometimes we almost do.

Almost.

As I write these words I’m aware my attempt to convey my feelings falls short and might be taken as excessive and trying too hard. I’m so desperate to somehow find the right words to be profound and make you understand. I want it so badly.

If I can reach you then maybe you can reach me. Maybe if we both lean across and stretch our arms and fingers out we can connect and find a moment of solace and peace together.

I am scared and terrified at what you think of me. I feel the judgment before I even hit the publish button, yet some part of me knows I will do it. I will take the leap and let it fall where it may.

I keep doing hard things.

I keep crawling back out of the dark, even with the knowledge I will forever be pursued by it.

I keep running toward the meadow.

I just keep running.

Fear, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing

She is screaming in terror again. Afraid to walk into her own bedroom, she cowers and shakes her legs. As I push her to go through the door, face her fear, her anger turns on me.

“You just don’t understand me,” she screams.

I know she believes that with every ounce of her little body.

Yet, I do get it, my darling daughter.

Fear is something I understand intimately.

This week I had a car accident. I escaped with a few injuries, but my car did not. The events are on a loop in my brain, robbing me of sleep and keeping me quite tightly wound in fear.

Driving down a country road at 40 mph, a white van tried to cross right in front of me. I had no time to stop. I screamed and slammed on my brakes, but it wasn’t good enough. I hit the side of the van, the airbag opened and I just sat there in a cloud of smoke. I had been talking on my hands-free to a friend. I was on my way to deliver chocolate milk to his sick child. He heard it all.

Fear.

I stumbled out of the car and sat on the curb. Police officers were everywhere and I was very confused. Someone put a blanket on my shoulders and my hand hurt bad enough for me to scream and cry. I looked down and it was burned. Some chemical from the airbag was burning my skin.

Fear.

My friend arrives and so does an ambulance. The driver of the van was a parole officer and that’s why there are police everywhere. I sign forms, answer questions and do what I am told. It’s all a blur. My hand throbs whenever ice is removed and all I keep thinking about is my children, my friends and my family.

Fear.

It could have been so much worse. That morning could have been the last time my children saw me. My friend could have heard my death while on the phone with me. My husband, mother and brother would be left with nothing but memories of me. Someday my children would read the journals I’d left behind and wonder at this mother that was so consumed with pain, anger and depression.

I would be leaving a legacy of fear.

That is not what I want.

I sit on my daughter’s floor and we are looking at each other. She is shaking again as she retells the story she heard at school that has been the cause of her anxiety and fear for about three weeks now.

A mother and daughter are playing a game in their house. The daughter’s eyes are blindfolded and she reaches her arms out in front of her. The mother claps and the girl follows it. At some point the mother goes into the kitchen to cook, but the girl is still playing. Clapping comes from the closet. The girl walks toward it, thinking it is her mother. Red eyes and hands appear and grab her. She disappears.

Tears stream down her face again at the retelling. I hold her and let her cry. I’m out of tricks and I’m so tried.

Stupid fear.

I have tried everything in my mommy arsenal to combat this for her. I have rubbed her back, let her follow me around like a shadow, slept with her, used natural calming oils, woken up all hours of the night to comfort her and talked endlessly about fear.

Nothing is working. She is jumpy, quick to tears and still as scared as ever.

“You just don’t understand me,” she says again in an exasperated tone. “You have never been this afraid.”

As I hold her, all the stupid fears that I live with daily swirl around me. They are all so limiting, debilitating and so ridiculously boring.

Suddenly I am angry.

Stop acting like your mother.

Be stronger.

Be tougher.

Be more.

She is looking at me and I see so much of myself reflected back. All my imperfections and insecurity just mirrored back at me in this little concentrated form.

I do understand you, my love, and I am sorry.

“I can’t fight your fears for you,” I say while I stroke her cheek with my injured hand. “You have to do it. You have the power.”

“I can’t mommy,” she says. “I just can’t.”

“You can, my love. You will. There is no other option. You are tougher than you think.”

We lock eyes and she smiles a teeny bit.

Brother walks over. He has been fighting his fear too, but he has found a way to conquer it. No longer is he shadowing me or refusing to sleep in his room.

“Pretend you are a puppy,” he tells his sister. “You are learning and you might not always get it the first time, but you keep trying.”

He barks and licks her hand.

They both laugh.

Yes, my boy, we are puppies.

Sometimes we bark and chase our tail in the pure joy of the moment. Sometimes we chew up the couch and sit back and wonder at the destruction we caused.

We deserve instant forgiveness, endless chances and boundless love.

We all do.

Sometimes things are as beautiful as a rose

RoseAs we walk around the blacktop, her little hand in mine, I can feel her body tense up.

She was fine all morning, but the reality is here.

We stop and she looks at me. Her new haircut frames her face in the light perfectly and it hits me how completely I know her, how intimate we are without words.

Her eyes tell me all the fears she carries right below the surface.

“I’m scared.”

“Nobody will be my friend.”

“I’ll miss you.”

“I don’t like this.”

I smile at her and then squeeze her hand gently three times in mine.

“I love you.”

She squeezes back four.

“I love you too.”

We walk more. Both of us look forward, lost in our own thoughts and emotions.

Does she know how I feel, I wonder? Are my eyes telling her all the fears I carry close?

“I’m scared.”

“I don’t want to be alone all day.”

“I’m going to miss you.”

“I don’t like this.”

Before I know it, her teacher is playing a harmonica and signaling it is time to lineup. I stand back with all the other parents.

She stares at me from the line and I ask if she wants a kiss. She makes fishy lips and we both laugh.

I walk over, give her a quick hug and kiss, and then stand back to watch her walk to her new classroom.

I follow her like a lost puppy and then I’m temporarily struck.

My little sidekick is going away.

She won’t be with me most of the day anymore.

I’m going to be alone.

I really, really don’t like this.

When we get to the door, I watch her teacher. He stands on his knees so he is at eye level, he takes her hand into his and he welcomes her with so much kindness and genuine love.

His words from an e-mail the night before pop into my head: “I will do my best to take good care of your hearts, and then you will come and pick them up at the end of day.”

Yes.

I take a deep breath and I let it go slowly.

I don’t cry. I don’t even feel sad anymore.

Before I have time to really examine my feelings, this wonderful teacher invites all the parents to walk in and see the children at their desks.

My girl is in the front row, paying attention to him talking and she is perfectly at home there. The classroom is warm, inviting and feels so right.

This is good.

If you’re unfamiliar with Waldorf school, entering first grade is huge. This class will be together until they leave the school in eighth grade. I really couldn’t have asked for a better environment for my sweet, sensitive girl.

This is going to be wonderful.

I walk out and actually feel excited.

For us both.

She will learn to read.

I will learn to run.

She will learn to knit.

I will learn to write a book.

She will learn how to be out in the world and make friends.

I will learn how to have goals and reach for them again.

It’s going to be a good year for us both and I’m really happy.

The first day of Waldorf school includes an opening day ceremony where the eighth graders welcome the first graders with a rose. We are at a new campus this year that only goes up to fourth grade, my son’s class.

When I found out my boy would be handing his sister a rose, it was as if the universe was giving me a gigantic hug.

We all head to the tiny outdoor amphitheater. So many familiar faces, hugs and smiles. The ceremony begins with the teachers and staff singing a lovely song about harmony and unity.

Then my son’s gorgeous teacher, who I adore beyond words, strums the guitar and leads the entire school in singing:

“From you I receive

To you I give

Together we share

By this we live”

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As we all sing, my sweet boy hands his sister a beautiful white rose and they walk together across the stage. I feel giddy, silly and almost break into hysterical laughter.

My life is shifting in so many ways right now and this one moment, one rose given to another, seems to symbolize all that is good and wonderful in my life.

The ceremony is over and I get in my car. I have friends to see, errands to run and freedom to feel.

Yes, freedom.

I’m opening myself up to what might be. I’m saying yes to opportunities, allowing myself to be vulnerable and releasing all the anxieties that hold me back.

This is scary, but it is going to be amazing.

 

Fish Tank and the Fear

The first thing I noticed was this very tiny little crab inside his shell. He was moving slowly across the bottom. I could not see very much of him, just a feeler here or there.

I tracked his movement and tried to focus on matching my breath to the rhythm of the water.

“Sheila.”

The only other woman in the room left and I was alone.

My breath quickened and I stood up. My legs and arms were restless and I felt ready to bolt. Walking all around the tank I took in the variety of life contained within the glass walls.

I tracked three blue fish with yellow tails as they chased each other the distance of the tank.

A tiny clownfish skidded out from behind a rock and then disappeared into a green sea anemone.

Two red critters with a handful of long white feelers and two beady black eyes scrambled up and down the rocks. They stayed in constant motion and appeared to be eating the algae.

spikeThen I see him, a big ball of sharp spikes. Very slowly he moves out from behind a rock. He is huge compared to the other life in the tank. His spikes look hard and sharp. Nothing is messing with this guy.

I peer in closer and I’m taken aback by his one orange eye right in the middle of all the spikes. This bulging eye is surrounded by microscopic hairs with a bluish tint. As I watch, he slowly blinks.

“Bridgette.”

My turn.

“Its been a really long time since we’ve seen you.”

“I know. Four years.”

“Well, we are glad your here.”

I sit down in the chair and grip both armrests. As I’m lowered back and I open my mouth for the x-rays, I try not to think all the horrible thoughts that have been swirling in my mind.

This is going to be painful.

I’m sure I have thousands of dollars of work that needs to be done.

We can’t afford this.

What if they have to pull all my teeth out?

They are going to see how badly I have neglected myself.

Embarrassment and fear threaten to overtake me and I try to remember to breathe.

“Are you okay?”

I nod and try to stop shaking.

After the x-rays she starts cleaning my teeth.

My mouth fills with the taste of blood.

The taste of neglect.

The taste of fear.

My mind keeps returning to the Spike Ball in the tank. Is that even an eye? Are his spikes for protection or purely camouflage? Does he have a consciousness?

Scrape. Rinse. Suction. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

At some point it is over and the dentist comes in. I close my eyes as he looks in my mouth and then at my x-rays.

“You OK?”

I nod.

“I know it’s bad,” I say.

I start to say more.

Maybe I should tell him about my depression and the days that I just couldn’t do anything. Should I make excuses about being busy…or being a mother…or…

He chuckles and stands up.

“We are done here. You have no cavities. Your gums are inflamed from lack of flossing, but that’s easily fixed. Floss and they will heal. See you in 6 months.”

He smiles, pats my arm and walks out.

All that fear that I’ve carried.

Four fucking years of it.

Gone.

I’m stuck feeling lucky and unworthy of such good news.

How many hours have I spent in self-loathing and disgust about my mouth?

My body?

My everything.

I know I’m not alone in this crazy, fear-induced way of thinking. This twisted ability to take the worst case scenario and let it keep me from getting the information I need.

I can’t exercise because I’m too fat and out of shape.

I don’t want to see the doctor about that pain, because what if it’s cancer.

I’m not going to see a therapist because what if they want to medicate me.

I’m not going to finish writing my book because nobody will want to read it.

My spikes of fear grow and flourish as I feed them misinformation and lies. They grow and cover me in a grotesque shield that doesn’t protect or hide me, it just traps me.

I make a cleaning appointment for November and silently promise myself to keep it.

Walking out I stop by the tank to check out my spiky friend. I find him near a current of water. He winks his eye at me very slowly. I see that his spikes are moving gently in the water. Maybe they aren’t as hard as I thought.

“See you later friend.”