Link to original publication: Breathe With Me
We sat avoiding eye contact, throwing sharp edged words across the room at each other. Accusations spoken with voices hardened by frustration as the things we said began creating more and more distance between us, when all we really wanted from each other was comfort and love.
Me and my child. My first born, my daughter. The one whose birth had catapulted me from a life without meaning into a life where everything meant too much. Changed me from a little girl lost into a young woman who began to find herself in the sense of fulfilment that being a mother can bring.
I sat and listened to her words as she spat them out, thinking how much they were starting to sound like clichés. Wishing that she would stop, that she would shove all this nonsense back into her mouth so we could pretend it had never happened. How I longed to pause this sad scene and press the rewind button, to go back to the days when she was still happy to be my little girl. The child that I would scoop up in my arms and swing around and around as her laughter filled the air around us, her big green eyes sparkling excitedly with mischief and joy. So confident and secure in the knowledge that I was keeping her safe. That I would always keep her safe.
I knew of course that it wouldn’t always be that way. I knew that adolescence would slowly sneak and creep its way in, bringing with it rumours that there was much more to life than what I could show her. Encouraging her to push me out of the way so that she could reach for bigger and bigger handfuls of a world that existed beyond me—beyond all of the places that I had the power to protect her.
I knew it would happen eventually, but I was ok with that because it would happen to a future me. A me that was wise and worldly and ready for that kind of thing. What I didn’t realise was that time would go so very fast and that the future me wouldn’t be ready at all. What I didn’t realise was how much it would hurt.
So there we were just the two of us, playing out these predefined roles with all of our possible futures stretched out before us. I sat there rolling my eyes moodily as she told me that I didn’t “get her” and thinking how wrong she was. Knowing that I got her better than anyone else ever would because once upon a time, I was her. Long before I was this apparently self-righteous version of me.
Gradually though, her pre-teen facade started to crack, the attitude dropping away as she began to tell me what was really going on. Stories of monsters that haunted her thoughts and of fears that found her when she was alone at night. Dark tales of unwanted emotions that left her troubled and scared.
I listened but I didn’t want to hear it. These words that once were mine.
For a moment I closed my heart and pushed her further away, as if by doing so I could stop what she was saying from being true. Thinking that if I rejected her then perhaps I could stop her from being mine. From becoming me. I wanted to rant and rage at the world, clench my teeth and scream that I wouldn’t let this happen. That I refused to let mental illness find her as it had found me. Refused to let depression and anxiety become her story, as they had mine.
And then I realised that I wouldn’t have that many chances to get this right.
I opened my arms and she came to find her refuge in me. I opened my arms and folded her into me as though we could start over, as if I could take back all of the faulty genes that I’d given her. I held her close as her anger gave way to sadness, feeling her body shake as whole rivers of pent up emotion flowed through her and from her in the form of short desperate sobs which left her gasping for air.
Realising that we were in danger of losing ourselves to our fear, I took her face in my hands and asked her to breathe with me. Feeling colour begin to return to our world as we took long deep breaths together, the power of oxygen filling us up, slowing the whirling of anxious thoughts and bringing with it a sense of quiet and calm.
Gradually we emerged from our darkness together, fragile and shaken but closer to each other than we had been before.
As my panic started to pass I realised that my story will never be her story. That she won’t have to go through what I have been through for the very reason that I have already been through it. I have survived it and come out the other side with the strength and the knowledge that I need to keep myself safe.
If I can keep myself safe then I know that I must also have the ability to teach her how to keep herself safe. It’s not always going to be easy but together we can learn to navigate the waves of any depression and anxiety that may find her as she grows and transitions from this beautiful little girl into a woman with her own mind. Her own story.
Because I won’t let my story be her story. I simply refuse.