I remember seeing “The Little Mermaid” in a movie theater when it was re-released in 1997.
This time around, I was 16 and with a group of friends – both boys and girls. We were absolutely giddy to re-visit this film of our childhoods, and then we planned to hit the Randolph Diner for disco fries after the movie. This was New Jersey, after all.
Before the movie started and on this cool, black night, I felt..odd. I couldn’t even put my finger on it as anxiety, but I knew something was off. It was like that feeling I used to get after telling ghost stories around a campfire, or in a car on a road trip at night. It was like that feeling I used to get after seeing a scary and/or disturbing movie, and being haunted and imprinted by it for the rest of the night. It’s when something dark and heavy stays with you. The atmosphere has changed. You are looking up, and trying to break through the surface to the light. You are stuck, at least until the next bright & sunny morning dawns on you.
I used to have a secret weapon and just knowing I had it back then was enough. I could call my mom if the anxiety and heavy darkness stayed with me too long. There is always a light switch, somehow, somewhere, and it can be nearly impossible to find it. I didn’t call my mom that night. I watched the movie, ate the french fries and had a great time. The beginning of the night had seemed marked and haunted, but the veil actually lifted. There was another time, in Las Vegas, where I did have to call my mom. We were out to dinner with my brother, in town for a bachelor party for Cassidy’s friend. I felt panicked and I told my brother and Cassidy that I had a headache and/or stomachache and had to be excused. I sat next to a fountain in the heat, ran my fingers through my hair, and called my mom to see if she could help me swallow down my rising panic. It was growing stronger in those days, but she helped. Then I went back to the table and asked if we could order our dinner to go. There are times in which I can’t break the surface, no matter what. Anxiety at its strongest. Luckily those nights are few and far between.
What is it and where does it come from? Why are there long bouts of dark nights, and ones of lightness? Why does the darkness sometimes linger for days, weeks, or even months? Why does the lightness last for years, not even to let in ONE dark night? I may never have all of the answers but through adulthood, parenting, counseling, and a whole lot of exploration, I’ve started to attach words to it. It’s growing pains. It’s empathy and being a highly sensitive person. It’s atmosphere. It’s perspective. It’s a smidge of mental illness too, I’m sure, or maybe just a mental virus? A sometimes cold? A situational something? It’s all about global changes and how they relate to me. It’s all about personal changes and how they relate to me. It’s about the triangle of me, changes within my immediate world, and changes within the entire world. Sometimes I feel a more concrete foundation.
I didn’t actually suffer from debilitating anxiety as a kid, despite my early tragedy. I used to get homesick, sure, and I hated loud noises for a long time after his death. I remember some bad stomachaches, but I remember them so well because there were only a few in my life. I used to get nervous butterflies before holidays and vacations, and sometimes, for no reason at all. I was nearly sick with nerves before my Bat Mitzvah, and even before I got braces, but who wouldn’t be?? I remember it happening, but it wasn’t debilitating. I could always find my safe space. I could always ground myself. I could always lift the veil of darkness and reach into the light. I imagine to some degree, I may always be able to do that. I do find that it gets more challenging, and sometimes I have to be more innovative. And then new ideas can last for years, until I reach for more.
After a very emotional trip to Canada when I was 16, everything seemed bigger and brighter on the other side of getting through some very tough, and depressed, growing pains of turning 16 and having a sister about to leave for college, and a boy I couldn’t seem to reach. After that trip, I started to really feel high on life, and often nervous, for nearly everything. It was like I felt so much that I couldn’t contain it anymore. I was learning to split my heart open, I guess, and it hurt. I think the experience gave my anxiety permission to come out in weird ways. I had been dealt an emotional blow, and it took years to learn to express that.
And then to let it go, or keep it close, and learn ways to exist with it.
These life snippets of dark and haunted nights. It’s hard to explain them, really. I was too young and emotionally immature to learn it was all ok. Maybe I still am. I’ve gotten flash floods of situational depression, and I’ve gotten long storms of situational anxiety (nothing general about it) and I’ve learned to recognize it as my reactions to the changing world and the changing me.
At my own wedding, I was mired in the darkness and I couldn’t claw my way out of it. The anxiety was just too thick and too big. At other times in life, I’m so strong, I’m in the light for years on end. I worry about times in which I’ll need to be in the light spaces, but I’ll be stuck in the dark spaces. In June, I’m going to the BlogU Conference and of course I worry that the anxiety will be too much and I won’t be able to connect the way I know I can. What if my stress about the weeks that follow BlogU, with their dentist appointments and kid birthdays and preschool graduation, and more..what if it’s too much and I’m too nervous to be..what I can be and what I mostly am? Which is fumbling for and in the light, and even confidently at that.
Maybe the dark nights will always come. Probably they will. You can’t outgrow it. You can only grow with it.
It’s just my way. It’s not even alarming. It’s just my sometimes dramatic, always sensitive way of going through easy times, middle times and hard times. Maybe the next time the darkness comes, I’ll be more ready for it. I’ll be waiting.
Right now for perhaps the first time in my life, I’m in both light and dark spaces. It can change by the hour, rather than just by the day, week, month and year. Some days, I’m not given a reprieve. It’s all just too big and too much. And other times, I’m thinking, “This. I can work with this.”
And I’d like to believe I can always return to this feeling. That I can work with this darkness, the way I work with this light.
Did something or anything I say resonate with you? I’ve been trying to write about anxiety, no matter how minor, for years now. And it feels so good to be giving it new words and new meanings. I feel like my understanding of it grows through writing and photography.