This apartment we are in – this 900 square foot apartment – has taught me quite a lot about my sleeping children. I wake up in the mornings and sit on the couch in the living room with my laptop. My daughter is 10 feet away sleeping in the “Dining Room” and my son is not much further – but behind a door – in one of the two bedrooms. I sit here and go over the news from the night and check social media and I hear their sleepy noises. My daughter tends to be anxious even in her sleep, and my son evidently thinks he’s just as hilarious in the dream world as he thinks he is while awake. I sit on the couch and hear the stress sounds as Nikki panics in her slumber and the laughter as Wes entertains whatever dreamworld he’s in. It’s a strange dichotomy, one I always feel when I think about the differing personalities of my two children. Wes wants to be the entertainer, although he hasn’t quite figured out how to do it sans jokes about bodily functions. Nikki wants to plan every moment of every day down to the second and her inability to do that creates extreme tension in her spirit.
Two very different souls, even in their subconscious.
I see myself in both my of children’s mental health struggles. And many days I’m grateful for my own struggles in that it helps me, help them, but I also find that by helping them…I am helping myself. I’ve learned more about coping with my own anxieties in the last few years by helping them with theirs, than I ever learned in the decades before. Nikki’s anxieties manifest in many of the same ways mine do, so we really often help each other. But Wesley’s manifest in entirely different ways which give me an incredible insight into how anxieties can shape our behavior. His make him want to make people laugh, but if that goes the wrong direction, he hides in a ball of uncontrollable anger.
I think having the language helps. I just assumed I was broken when I was a child. That I was strange and different. That I would never fit in with the world so my only choice was to put on some sort of facade to survive in the crowd. I knew the “popular” type of kids would never accept me so I aimed for the outer circles. I tried to do this in a very practical sense once I left the confines of a high school uniform and just tried to dress like the people around me. I found myself torn because I liked the hippies and I liked the grunge kids. So I alternated between flowing skirts and Birkenstocks and baggy jeans and doc martens. And I made very real very true friends, but I was also so deeply insecure with my “real” self that I shat on those friends as the years went on, as I was just always trying to find validation somewhere. Anywhere. Everywhere but inside myself.
I had to learn the very VERY hard way that looking for validation outside yourself is a never ending journey. No one can give that to you, so you just keep moving on and leaving friends who loved you behind in your destructive wake.
I hope my ability to define some of the things now, that made me feel like such an outsider then, will help my children avoid the same mistakes I made. That maybe now they can know themselves and not hate themselves because they can see the beauty in understanding their mental health. I am often trying to explain to my daughter about how I truly believe the anxieties also give me some amazing characteristics that I would never choose to be without. I hope both of them will see the beauty in their true selves, instead of running from it and trying to hide it like I did for so many years.
But for now, I’ll just listen to them sleep and hope that they find truths in their dreams that I can’t show them.