I seeeeeee myself!
~ Brooke every time she sees her reflection
Saturday night, six months ago
Luau and I are chatting about the evening’s plans. Our sitter is coming over in an hour, but we have no idea what we’re going to do with the free time. I grab a gift certificate off the bulletin board and present it to Luau. “How about this?” I ask. “I won it at the Flutie Bowl auction, remember?”
It’s an evening of F1 car racing.
Luau considers it thoughtfully. He turns it over and reads it, then looks at me. “It’s been a long day, babe. You sure you’re up for something like this?”
I look back at him and shrug.
“I’m not sure it’s such a good idea,” he says. “It’s likely to be pretty loud. Might be a little overwhelming for you tonight. Just think about it.”
I stand in the kitchen dumbstruck. The conversation is hauntingly familiar.
Can she handle it?
Too much noise?
Too much input?
Will she get overwhelmed?
Is it too much after a long day?
But we’re not talking about Brooke. We’re talking about me. And he’s right. It’s more than I can handle.
We don’t go.
Two weeks ago
I’m in the dressing room at a local department store. I’m thanking God no one can see me as I’m making a complete ass of myself. I’m hopping around in a circle with my jeans half on and half off trying to figure out what size they are. I want to grab a similar pair from the same designer but I’m loathe to take my boots off and start actually trying anything on.
Thing is, I won’t figure out what size the jeans are.
They have no tags.
Tags don’t live long in my world. Tiny little devices of torture, they have to go.
I can’t tell you how many of my shirts have what look like vampire bites at the back of the neck – two or four small (and sometimes not so small) holes where overzealous scissors did permanent damage. Luau does the laundry. He has chided me for years that nothing I own contains laundering instructions.
I am in my doctor’s office. I am not sure what to say when he asks what brought me in. I’m guessing it won’t be particularly illuminating if I answer, “Because I promised my husband I’d come.”
I do my best to explain.
“I’m worried about my health,” I tell him. “Overall.”
I pause. He watches me expectantly. I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I run through a couple of specific physical concerns, but I’m stalling.
After an awkward silence I find myself saying, “My youngest daughter has autism. And one of her biggest challenges is anxiety. We recently switched her medications and it was relatively disastrous. Anyway, there’s a lot to it, but I guess the thing is this – the thing that she needs most from me is calm. There’s nothing more important than me keeping it together when she loses it. And I’ve grown pretty good at it over the years. As she escalates, I de-escalate. But well, it’s not natural. In fact, it takes a hell of a lot of energy to fight every impulse I have and stay calm when I feel anything but.”
I’m gaining steam now. The doctor is listening intently.
“So I guess what I’m saying is that the stress of that situation has to come out somewhere. I keep it together for her, but I think it’s taking a toll.”
He looks at me and says, “Of course it is.” His tone suggests that we’ve both agreed that it’s a Tuesday. He might as well have answered, ‘Duh.”
We talk a bit more and he makes a suggestion.
“I’d like you to consider taking something to help manage the anxiety in the near term,” he says.
Wait. I didn’t say ‘anxiety.’ I said ‘stress.’ I almost interrupt him to tell him he’s made a mistake, then realize the difference is semantic. One is what I call hers. One is the name for mine.
He ticks off the attributes of some SSRIs and ultimately recommends one.
The room goes eerily quiet. I can hear the blood pounding in my ears. I laugh. It’s an awkward, pained laugh. Nothing’s funny.
“That’s the same med my daughter’s been on since she was five,” I say.
I agree to think about it.
I’m having trouble taking a deep breath.
The parking lot, half an hour later
I am sitting in the car. I am angry.
No, not angry. What?
I watch scenes fly by as in a movie trailer.
The F1 racing.
Sitting across from a friend in college, aware – so aware – of needing to make eye contact, wondering where to look. What does that mean, ‘eye contact?’ Does it literally mean staring at her eyes? I do. It feels wrong, aggressive. I look at the bridge of her nose. This can’t be right. For years I will think about it, play with it, try to make it feel natural.
Walking with a neighbor last year. Talking without looking at each other. Relishing the ease of watching the ground while talking.
The Halloween party at the local elementary school. I’ve got to get the hell out of the gym. I can’t do this.
So many places. Too much. I have to get out of here.
A party. My party. At my house. I’m in the powder room. I needed a break. I wait the amount of time I assume it would take one to use the bathroom, take a deep breath and walk back into the fray.
Trying not to ask Luau to change the radio station as he happily drums along with the music, then finally losing it when I simply can’t take it anymore. The music, it’s just too much. “Too what?” he asks, trying to understand. “I don’t know,” I say. “just too much.”
The movie comes to a halt. I am crying.
I write to my friends, stopping to wipe the tears as the words blur.
I just feel this overwhelming sense of guilt. For so many of Brooke’s issues looking so God-damn much like my own, for not being able to handle this, for sucking the life out of my family, for f%&@ing global warming. Just guilt.
I know it’s not rational or remotely productive. I just had to say it.
In Welcome to the Club I wrote, “You will recognize some of your child’s challenges as your own.”
“You will get to know yourself as you get to know your child.”
“You will look to the tools you have used to mitigate your own challenges. You will share them. You will both be better for it.”
I look at my girl.
I see myself.