I woke up this morning feeling incredibly loved by someone. I don’t even know who. Just I felt confidence and stability and a toggle to someone without feeling constrained. I felt an underlying safety net that gave me the freedom to explore new territory.
It’s an incredibly strange feeling but not so strange given my day yesterday. Bear with me. It requires context.
When I was little, my mother worried about me a lot. I’ve discussed this in detail, but not these particulars. She sent conflicting messages. I was terrified of riding a bike but she insisted. It didn’t feel like a good thing to practice. It felt like I wasn’t good enough.
But once I got the hang of riding my white and purple cruiser with a rainbow banana seat, I wasn’t allowed to leave the driveway.
I was forced to be more than what was comfortable with and then I wasn’t allowed to use what I knew.
My mom also bought me a pair of skates that locked onto shoes and required a key. Only I was never allowed to wear them and they stayed on the floor of my bedroom closet for years.
I have sensory integration issues. Something I finally understood last year is that my perceptible field of vision is wider and my visual acuity is more precise than most people. I take a lot of information in that others don’t see. I process huge quantities of visual and audio data and, before I’ve had time to think, I just know things. It makes for good outcomes but bad anxiety. My caveman brain is looking for threats, and being in a car at a high rate of speed has lead to anxiety attacks both as a driver and a passenger. So much information zooming past me that my brain gets overwhelmed.
So it makes sense to me now why I hated my mother’s tandem bike as a kid. First, I never felt safe around her. She was the definition of unreliable to me. Second, I never learned to ride a bike with gears or brakes because who needs those things when you’re just doing donuts in the driveway? Third, I lived in Nogales. The town was hilly and the feeling I associated with speeding down hills was eminent death. And fourth, my mother’s style of teaching was yelling at me until I got something right and, until I did, I was a whole list of adjectives that approximated stupid, lazy and ridiculous. She didn’t really care that I was terrified. I was going to like bike riding, goddamn it, whether I liked it or not.
I think my whole childhood was my mom bullying me into learning something or doing something better, best, perfect and then never letting me use the skill. She wanted me to be popular, and be part of the inner circle of kids my age, but I wasn’t allowed to disgrace her by doing things like walking from Wade Carpenter to Sacred Heart. Or walking to WalMart. I got in trouble for making a spectacle by walking in Nogales. Just walking. Not because the streets were dangerous, but because I was probably up to no good.
It didn’t end when I grew up. Between sophomore and junior year we went on a gifted program trip to Boston. On the trip, we visited Harvard campus and heard Hank Aaron address the graduating class of 1995. I don’t think I can adequately express what that meant to a kid like me. Afterwards my mother bought me a Harvard sweatshirt and shorts.
What did this let me believe? That when it came time to apply to college, I could include Harvard in my applications. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities. I would have gotten in. My test scores, my grades, my extra-curriculars, my ethnicity and gender, my teacher recommendations…all of it would have assured me a place at any university in the country. I know this because my friends who wanted in got in and I had everything going for me that they did.
I excelled in school only because my mother rode my ass so hard to do well in school and be well-rounded. I thought it was all towards some greater purpose. Like getting into college. But one night she sat me down and told me I could only go to the University of Arizona an hour away in Tucson. Boom, done, throw away all those other applications.
Again, she brow beat me into learning how to excel and then she limited me to riding in circles in my own front yard. So what was the point of all that hard work she made me do? It wasn’t for me. That was what I figured out. It was for her. So she could claim the victories as her own. Not towards any goal other than to be able to brag to everyone about how smart I was.
But at my core, my sense of safety were never affirmed. It made me a really insecure adult. And any time going forward when I didn’t feel safety, I would lose my shit. Like on my honeymoon with D. We landed outside of Amsterdam and had to take a train into the city. D kinda lost it because he couldn’t work the ticket machine in Dutch. I always let him be the “man” in the relationship. And furthermore, he’d been to Amsterdam the year before. He lost his cool. And that was not part of our social contract. I had to take over while he threw a fit. I held my shit together long enough to get to our fleabag motel, but in the morning I had the biggest meltdown he’d ever witnessed. Just screaming and yelling and crying about how much I hated Amsterdam.
Now I know what that was. I felt unsafe and it carried over to the next day and then was so overwhelming I couldn’t contain it. I was like Drew Barrymore in Firestarter. Or Dark Phoenix. Everything had to burn.
Ok, there’s your context. Now two days ago, I experienced terrible anxiety. I’ve been able to take the fireworks in stride but I wasn’t doing well with them on Thursday night. I felt myself coming unglued and I was going to blow.
But I didn’t blow. I didn’t crack. I took a couple milligrams of Klonopin and worked through it. I didn’t spiral out of control. I listened to music. And when I woke up yesterday, still very emotionally conflicted about all the things I know from information gathered by my wider and more precise perception, I was still agitated. It could have gone poorly for me. I could have unleashed on anyone or myself (that’s happened–twice now I’ve ended up intubated in the ICU after drug overdoses and there have been a few other smaller overdoses).
But instead of losing my shit, I spent the day in my room and studying. Mostly James Burke and a podcast about the CIA’s potential association with the Scorpions’ hit “Winds of Change”, but just, you know, going down any place my brain wanted to go. By evening I was glowing. I was ecstatic. I actually went for a walk to tire myself out because I felt so good.
And that makes me feel so good because I didn’t think I could ever rely on myself. Turns out the person who loves me is me. I had to just have enough faith to trust me to get me here to NYC and to this point in my life where I know that the cure to my feeling out of control is just showing up and being here for me. I wish I could bottle this and give it away.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like a great accomplishment to you. But at a very fundamental level, I don’t worry. Whatever’s going on, I know it’s gonna work out. There’s no reason I should be living this life or any life right now. But the fact that I’m here means that I can handle pretty much whatever comes at me. And that is the basis of feeling free. I’ve got this! And when I feel like I don’t, I know how to navigate my way back to feeling safe and feeling loved.