Day 6 ~ Colors through the Gray
Before I had a twirling wonder of a child, my world was gray. I was mostly-sunk, like a tired swimmer treading water with the waves pulling me under, my upturned face the only thing still above water to gulp in enough air to stay alive. At that time, everything I did was chosen entirely for its function, not for beauty, and even now, I struggle to truly delight and savor things because the muscle memory of trauma skips joy for the substance of whatever is feels certain. I hold to things that feel permanent, even if the thing itself is of no value or consequence, because of the comfort that comes with things not changing.
I locked out joy, and could see only what was necessary for the next breath or the next terrifying step toward healing which often involved learning to trust, learning to love, or letting go of stuff, none of which are particularly easy for a sensitive, wounded soul.
In the seven-year period I regard as my depression years (age 15-22), I never did see a counselor or therapist to work through my issues. (Please note this is not my recommendation, just my reality). At the time, I honestly didn’t know that counseling was available or that it might be able to help someone like me. I feel dumb acknowledging that now because it sounds so silly that I would struggle and struggle for years without help, but on this side of it, I know that this happens far more than people realize. I wonder if my healing journey might not have been quite as drawn out, or quite as painful as it was if I had more proactively sought out help. It has only been in the past few years have I read about symptoms of depression and realize, that was me for so many years. Those are the years I lamented, cried, became numb, robotic, developed a serious co-dependency problem that I’m still recovering from, and found it incredibly difficult to find anything at all to smile about. Every ounce of my energy was put toward staying on the rails and not falling apart.
Never really landed in a singular friend group during high school or college because I was preoccupied trying to not die of sorrow and didn’t have it in me to do the fun things all my friends and acquaintances did. It sounds dramatic, but I’m not exaggerating. My cares weighed heavy on me for so long, I forgot how to enjoy anything, I forgot how to notice, or dance or twirl. I forgot how to let my lungs be deeply filled and let out a satisfied sigh. I couldn’t see anything past the fog in my face.
This child twirled her way through the gray and brought with her bright colors I had long forgotten. When she was still in utero, my mother-in-law offered to make some things for the nursery, a crib skirt, and blanket, with my choice of fabric. I didn’t think about it long before I chose bright, bold, nearly neon colors. I can’t say why they especially appealed to me (other than I am truly no decorator), but I think something in me was desperate to cut through the gray of my life with the promise of this sweet girl coming. The first year of her life was something akin to a black and white world that slowly turned into color whenever she touched something.
From her earliest days, she wanted to experience the fullness of everything. If we visited a friend’s house with a new playroom full of toys, instead of finding something interesting to play with for a while, she would search out every bin/drawer/basket that could be moved, and would dump out the entire contents of each one, and look over, touch, feel, and love every last thing in them, without exception.
With her there are no barriers, there is no moderation, there is no dainty or cautious or waiting for permission to love or enjoy something. There is only chocolate smeared across her two, seven, and eleven-year-old face—still the messiest eater in the family to this day because of her delight in the food she consumes. There is a constant smile of possibility on her face when she’s come up with an idea of something she wants to make or something she has imagined to be. There is an undying commitment to stop, smell every flower, and savor its heavenly greeting in the form of a satisfied smile. There is close-the-eyes and spill-the-music-from-her-bones in untrained, unrestrained motion along with the sounds from our speakers. There is, “Twirl with me, mama. Let’s dance,” and I let her lead me on the ever-continuing journey to discover beauty and cherish the small things that make life sweet.
For years, life was all gray for me. Then she burst in—all rainbow sun-shiny and wide-eyed—determined to squeeze the very best out of life from her earliest years forward, and determined to help me do the same. When she was three, a friend asked her to come and join in on a complimentary dance class, and we leaped at the chance because, at the time, we didn’t have the means to enroll her in an ongoing dance program. We borrowed some little dance shoes and slipped a leotard and tutu on her, and she joined a dozen little girls in a fairly small studio for a half hour of bliss. She followed exactly zero directions from the teacher but she loved the music and the opportunity to twirl around, chubby hands and awkward toddler body with no grace or form, but all the joy in the world. Pure delight.
She has changed me in ways that are hard to describe because I’m still not able to find all the words to tell our private mother-daughter story in all its layers. It has been a slow, beautiful process of learning from my sweet daughter that soul survival is not primarily about guarding against pain, but wholeheartedly inviting beauty into the gray places to do the healing.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1-3