A Vigilant Childhood


I made a huge realization in therapy last week that, I think partially, caused my sad spells to virtually disappear this week.  It's a wonder just how powerful self- awareness really is.

My whole life I've had to stay vigilant.  I was never asked to, but yet I was never a kid who could just sit back and be a kid.  I had to plan my life around when my mom would potentially need help and I was constantly aware of her state on any given day.  I remember when I was little I would have to plan playdates so that I could be home when she needed to get in or out of her chair in case she fell.  I had to make sure she did not sit outside for too long in the summertime to the point where she overheated and couldn't see or move because that's just what heat does to someone with MS.  I remember sending her texts during breaks in my drivers ed class saying "love you momo," hoping for a response to mean the pneumonia she was fighting wasn't getting the best of her.  

We watched Invasion together one summer, and there's nothing more terrifying than to watch a movie in which the premise is you turn into an alien if you fall asleep, when my mom would fall asleep at the drop of a hat just because that's how sick she was.  I would nudge her every once in a while or talk to her just to make sure she was still with me.  It's one of the single most terrifying memories of my life.

I was trained from birth to be vigilant in these matters.  

We were always a team, my parents and I.  At least that's the way I saw it.  Maybe they didn't see me as part of the team fighting against my mom's disease because I was their kid.  That wasn't my nominal role.  But that's the role that I felt I had to fulfill.  

I was part of the team, working hard to keep my mom as healthy an functioning my whole life as possible.  I made sure I was always there to give her a hug during her weekly shot.  I put her wheelchair in the car when we would go places together.  I would stand on her lap to get the beans from the top shelf of the grocery store.  I would push her up the ramp to the university registration office so she could figure out her schedule going back for her bachelor's degree.  

There was never a moment to relax, especially as her disease got worse and worse as I got older.  It felt like the responsibilities grew with me.  

Now, no one explicitly asked me to help out.  I never got in trouble when I had my angsty teen days and didn't want to wake up early to put my mom's chair in the trunk of the car for her.  My parents were always very understanding of that.  They told me many times that they didn't have me because they needed someone else to help out; they had me because they wanted a child to love.

I always felt treasured by my parents.  I really only have amazing memories from childhood.

But that being said, it's no wonder that I have such control issues now; that planes and roller coasters terrify me.  It's no surprise that it doesn't feel natural for me to sit back and enjoy a relationship of any sort.  That I feel like I have to be vigilant all over again.  That if let go or slip up for one second that everything will fall to pieces.  Because, in a way, that's how a part of me interprets what ultimately happened.  The one day I was more preoccupied with the show I was in and my life that I don't know if I even told my mom goodbye that morning....that's the day she died.  

But those events aren't the slightest bit related.  I know that, but it's hard to divest myself from a lifetime of learning--a lifetime of being taught that a loving relationship requires constant checking in and vigilance, or else it will slip through your fingers.  

But that's an exhausting way to love.  That's an exhausting way to interact.  It's an exhausting way to live.  

And parsing all of this out in therapy last week was the biggest AHA! moment I think I have ever had.  Because where there's nothing to keep a constant eye on, no disease to fight against, then this vigilance is detrimental to a relationship.  I always focused on the ubiquitous phrase that "relationships are hard work," but I never was really taught that there are many times that relationships are good and happy.  I was never taught that love can be just sitting back and soaking up all of the wonderful feelings.  

Something clicked.  Suddenly I understood.  And suddenly I could fully appreciate all the amazingness in my life without having to look for a catch or wait for the other shoe to drop.  

I'm not saying it's an easy transition to make, but it's certainly less exhausting and it's paying off big time.  

One week down, a whole lifetime to go.  

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Meet The Author

I'm Madysen, born and raised in Nebraska but now living out my dreams in New York City. I moved here to go to Columbia, but living in New York has become so much more to me. This blog is a space where I can share my experiences of reconciling my midwestern upbringing with the life I live in the city. But even bigger than that, this blog serves as a space where I can try to understand where I fit into the larger social world, where I want to go in life, and how I want to go about pursuing all of these endeavors.

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