I write so much about everyone else, and whether I have the right to share their story, and whether I am being respectful, and whether, and whether, and whether… It seems that all this circling is an avoidance at times of sharing the one story that I own completely, and that is mine.
There are parts of my story that I share willingly and without qualms. I will tell you within the first day of meeting you, if it comes up, that my father was an alcoholic and a drug addict. I might tell you that I was physically abused or that I grew up in domestic violence, though usually after we’ve known each other a few weeks. I’ll talk about the time we could have called the police, but my mom left the decision up to me (I was seven). I’ll passionately defend reunification and families sticking together, because I know that I would have fallen apart, had I ever ended up in care. I’ll give thanks for the unconditional love of my mother and my grandparents, the light that brought me through some dark times.
I don’t really talk about the fear. I share it all in a matter-of-fact tone, as something that is past and gone and over. It is, and it isn’t. There is a primal fear that settles into your gut when you live in an uncertain world, never knowing which parent is going to show up after dinner. There’s this way of living in the world, this way of waiting for the unhappy ending, the twist, the turn, the bottom dropping out. There’s an ache of tears that are unshed. I have so few memories of my childhood, some sort of protective amnesia, but the few that show up are of sirens, alcohol, being called a slut, or my mom gathering us up to run away in the night. Even those, I share.
Yet, there is another layer that rarely comes out. I have anxiety. I am driven by compulsions to have things “just so”, as if it will be the medicine that prevents that terrible turn in life. I spent high school afternoons on the floor of my bathroom, locked in, tears streaming down my face, wondering if or when the pain would ever disappear. I remember praying, repeatedly, “God, just help me. Help me. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how.” That’s still sometimes my go-to prayer, a prayer of anguish, fear, uncertainty, and numbness. It is a pain so deep, a fear so wide that the only answer can be an empty despair. It is a pain that I answer by re-arranging the furniture. I make lists, and check them off, and if my cross outs are not perfectly parallel, I will make my list anew.
I don’t talk about this. I don’t acknowledge it. At best, I make jokes about being a Monica, or not liking to drive. I cling to what is good — I am a great teacher. I am an organized working mama home-maker case manager woman. I make deadlines, always. I am constantly analyzing, seeking patterns, piecing together information. Synthesizing. I think of the small details that lead to beautiful weddings, designer haircuts, and students who are calm for the first time in their lives. I can score a 178 on the LSAT, and ace my classes without even showing up. I remember things better. My house looks well-kept, and I am the best at the never-ending battle to get rid of ALL THE THINGS for charity. These are the things that I claim. And I should. I should claim them. Neurodiversity is beautiful and amazing. It brings us art, music, physics, and more. It is integral to our thriving as a species, to our never-ending evolution towards love and justice and peace.
I cannot sit here and write about the struggles of my family without acknowledging my own. I frustrate my husband, my blind cat, and my daughter each time I insist on moving around furniture, repeatedly, and often, and for no reason except that I must do it right now or I will explode inside. LM and Husband both could strangle me over the things that have disappeared without permission. Even as I write this, there is an itch inside — what else can I eliminate? What else needs to be done? There are times when I still feel numb, when I have to take an afternoon nap, when I have to retreat into my pile of books, books, and more books. I wake my husband up at 2AM because I am sure the smoke detector is not working, or the squirrels are in the roof, or the cracks on the walls have grown 0.5mm (because I have them measured). There are other times when I must get everything just right. The books must be at right angles. The cups must be evenly spaced. The furniture must be perpendicular. Little Man and I once had a 20 minute argument because I need the chairs to go blue-yellow-blue-yellow, and he needed them to go blue-blue-yellow-yellow. I can’t even begin to do the dishes or empty the dishwasher without having a panic attack of being overwhelmed. I obsess about death to the point where my Husband now just rolls his eyes.
I am both cheerful and despairing. I am creative and funky and fun, while also being neurotic and compulsive and needy. I am sassy and smart and also so scared that I ask if I have a brain tumor every time I get a migraine. I am not either/or. I am an amazing teacher, because I have anxiety and OCD. I can create the environments that my students need. I can give my son the time that he needs to line up his cars before we leave the house. I know that feeling. I know that ache. It is not despite of these things that I am me. I am me because of these things, just as Husband would not be the same without his distracted attention, LM would not be the same without his joyful flapping, and Diva would not be the same without her altered vision or wild dance moves. We all are, just as we are, including me.
I couldn’t see it until I parented Little Man. I’ve been teaching for ten years, and I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t love myself. I couldn’t admit this. It’s all the love, the pouring out of devotion, for every part of Little Man that teaches me to accept every part of me. It’s realizing that I am stronger for what others would label as mental illness or disability. It’s realizing that I cannot tell my son to stand tall without also standing tall beside him. This is not just his story, or her story, or my story. It is our story. We are writing it together.