Recently, Olive took a tumble down the last part of our stairs. I waited for her to pop back up and continue on to wherever she was headed in such a hurry (which is her usual MO) but instead, she stayed curled up in a ball on the floor. And even though I know my kid well enough to note that her ego was probably far more bruised than she was, I of course went over to check on her and stroke her disheveled hair. She made no sound at all for a few minutes, and when she finally raised up, her eyes were misty, but her jaw was set defiantly in her characteristically Olive Adele way.
It’s those moments when she reminds me so much of myself, it’s almost as if she tore a page out of my own childhood (this is slightly terrifying to me on a few levels). I think back to 6 year-old me and that time I practically bit a hole in my bottom lip just to keep from crying after wrecking my bike and tearing off a chunk of flesh on my leg. And my parents used to remind me of the time I cracked my head open while skating on a friend’s patio, and the fact that I continued to skate while a stream of blood was trailing behind me on the concrete. I mean, WHAT BLOOD?? Even as a kid, I remember wanting to be perceived as strong. No one came right out and said it, but crying was something you did alone, so I interpreted it to be a sign of weakness. I was also a tomboy, a daredevil, and a notorious prankster (hailing from a long line of them), and I prided myself on being able to run as fast as any boy in my class up through the 6th grade. Hell, if there were as many Girl Power slogans on T-shirts back in 1988 as there are now, I would have had a closet full of them. But, to my own eventual detriment, I was also a people pleaser- a trait that, quite thankfully, Olive didn’t inherit. As an only child, I spent a majority of my time around adults and was acutely aware of the goings-on around me, always observing and then internalizing, assuming responsibilities that weren’t mine, and often holding myself to near-impossible standards.
Not shockingly, at 24- and just a few months shy of marrying Jake- the panic attacks started, and then continued relentlessly. Eventually the black hole of anxiety all but swallowed me up, but instead of taking it on the chin like I used to, I crumbled beneath the weight of years of expectations I could never have met (most of which were self-imposed). Of course, it was that much more terrifying for me to allow anyone to see me wrestle with my own vulnerability in that way, so even as the pounds kept dropping and I was shuttled back and forth from one appointment to another, one waiting room to the next, I was still trying to perfect my poker face. I was fine. Everything was fine. Kinda like that time when I was skating on the patio with a head contusion, but of course, this isn’t one of those stories that gets re-counted around the dinner table... “Hey, remember the time you had that breakdown, but you kept going like you were okay? That’s our girl!”
If ever there was an adequate portrayal of the years between 24 and 29 for me, it might just be the sight of my 3 ½ year-old at the bottom of our stairs last week. One minute you’re okay, and the next- you’re lying in a heap on the floor and not entirely sure how you got there. Often, we rush the people we love to heal, mostly because it makes us feel better. We don’t always know what to do with pain- whether it belongs to us or someone else- and it’s surely a steep learning curve. There’s no “right” timeframe to get back on your feet, but from someone who’s been at rock bottom, just about the only thing that can make it worse is the expectation that you shouldn’t be there anymore. Because that’s the way it goes with healing, unfortunately: It’s two steps forward, one step back. Something or someone will come around when we least expect it, and all of the sudden, we’re back down on the floor applying tourniquets, cradling our grief, summoning whatever strength we have to face the very demons we thought we’d slayed for good.
This is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about capturing hope. Because for years, I knew what hopelessness felt like. And it truly sucks that healing isn’t a “one and done” thing. The last few weeks for me have felt a lot like slogging, and clogging and scootching and saying the words, “Fuck. This again??” Even now, the expectations are unrealistic, and it takes an ordinary Thursday afternoon for me to gain perspective from my third-born. So for the record: I still don’t know how to simply be a hot mess on the floor and let that be enough (but I'm working on it). For the record, healing is hard, fucking work. But also, for the record: the cold, hard, floor can actually be a place of restoration, a place where- despite the temporary pain and uncertainty- we grow stronger in the parts that are broken. We can expect that, if nothing else.
No great expectations anymore; just grace expectations.