When I was little, I always loved going off the diving board. Even when I was a year or two too young at the start, I’d still take the test where you tread water for about 3 minutes to get the little diver’s patch, all so I can jump off the diving board. Sometimes I just love taking a flying jump off. Eventually, I’ll try to do a somersault off. Other times, I’d just do a pencil dive to get all the way down to the bottom.
Even though I loved every minute I’m at the pool, between the diving board, the ice cream man, having splash wars, that first cold plunge, those spongy pool noodles, the refreshing juice in the vending machines, to just swimming around and pretending I’m a mermaid…it was exploring that deep end of the pool that was my favorite.
I liked it down there; it was cool, quiet and very peaceful. Sometimes I would just curl up down in the corner of the pool’s deepest end, the water completely enveloping me like a blanket. I’d see swimmers above doing laps, I’d see the way the light glimmered on the floor and through the surface. I’d see and feel the warm brightness of the underwater pool lights, snuggling up next to them when I got too cold. I often hated leaving, but I always had to; air is a little too important, just important enough.
This is how I picture it when I isolate, hiding in the deep. It gets harder and harder to make myself surface, even as my lungs are aching for air, and lately, that’s been more of a problem…I’d just take a quick breather (little heart-to-heart here, tiny bit of socializing there, therapy, confession, self-care, etc.) before going back down. My breathers are growing less frequent, while my isolation-dives are growing longer…
I was never much of a fan of the Disney adaptation of The Little Mermaid, but I’m absolutely on board with that famous song “Under the Sea”: “The human world, it’s a mess!” and I sure don’t like the idea of “goin’ up dere.”
Seriously though…people frighten me. Life frightens me. Healing frightens me. Trauma and shame frightens me. Anger frightens me. My abusers, and the feelings I have for them…they frighten me so much that I can’t clearly remember their faces (nope, not even my own parents…especially not them, actually). I don’t want that stuff. I just want to stay down here where I don’t have to feel and remember, staying safe in purely intellectual knowledge of this heavy stuff.
(But I’ll drown if I stay too long.)
Some people see me “drowning” in isolation or depression. They’d reach down with kind words and gestures. Oftentimes, they don’t go deep enough to reach me, like that lady just now who exchanged pleasantries (though very nice pleasantries). Other times, usually with people who just know me more than just casual friends/acquaintances, they get close enough to grab me with those deeper things (like “What’s up? You look sad today”), and bring me to the surface.
One person did that earlier, and well…it really hurts up here. It burns, like the sun and even the air burns after a long plunge. My chest and eyes hurt (literally hurts!) as emotion fills it up. Now that I’m away from that pain, though, I want to thank the one who did kindly ask how I am, taking that one step closer.
Maybe there’s a lesson I can take from this; back then, that diver’s patch, and the test I had to do to get it, were to make sure I can handle the deep end where the diving boards are. They had to ensure that the little girl in front of them has the strength and skill to swim to the surface and to the ladder so she doesn’t drown, even if she were to make it down to the very bottom of the deep end.
Likewise, alone time can be good, restorative even, but I can’t stay there forever, especially if I am taking alone time even from myself, my own emotions.
It Wasn’t Your Fault talks about this, in the chapter “Allowing Yourself to Feel Your Pain”: Engel lists consequences for shutting emotions off. Out of those, three really caught me: “you lose the good along with the bad,” “it’s exhausting,” and “it damages your relationships“.
It’s true: when I isolate like I’ve been, I don’t get the anger too much, but I don’t get the happiness I want either. I’m always so exhausted that I often neglect things, some very important things. And as of now, I’ve let all but one or two friendships weaken to the point that I’m wondering if we’re still friends (and even those few still holding fast are starting to fray).
I have the intellectual side to these traumatic things pretty okay, but this gave more precedence to the emotional side, my own conclusions about “drowning” aside. I do want to write about that emotional side more, share them on this blog. This is much more public than I’m used to, but I do want to be more open. I’ve been afraid of words for a very long time (yes, I’m aware of the irony). I spent so much time learning all I could about every nonverbal communication out there: drawings/paintings, photos, symbolism, non-lyrical music, flower-language, gestures, dance…
About that last one, Hans Christian Andersen’s original story talked about how The Little Mermaid was a very beautiful dancer, but presents it in a very melancholy way: she dances even though it makes her tender feet bleed, even as she danced for the prince and his fiancée, which was one of the many ways her affections were very unrequited. This is where we come to one of my favorite additions the Broadway musical has to its animated counterpart: Prince Eric bonds with Ariel by teaching her how to dance.
That Little Mermaid had this moment where she was clearly sad about losing her voice (I want to say “traumatized”, from how she immediately grabbed her throat and turned away when he asked how she lost it). He catches up to apologize for bringing it up, then makes her smile again, “Who needs words anyways? A smile says just as much sometimes.” She happily skips a little ways, giving him an idea: “Well, dancing beats small-talk any day.”
He then sings the musical-only song “One Step Closer.” Just reading the lyrics, it’s a very encouraging song, as he slowly takes Ariel through the basic steps, before showing her how to “whisper, sing, or shout” with dance. Ariel just has this moment near the end, where she has this huge smile on her face, overjoyed at recovering her “voice”.
It makes me think of those people who do hear what I don’t say, sometimes way louder than I even meant/wanted for them to hear. Earlier, I was purposely keeping my distance from everyone, keeping what I felt was a poker face securely in place. When that one person noticed, and asked if I was okay, I was blindsided! I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but sometimes I forget that other people can be sensitive, and can observe those nonverbal clues and expressions, sometimes even better than I can (and I obsess over every tone, word, sound, and gesture of almost everyone and everything around me).
Well…I journaled, I did the laundry, I took time for self-care. I do feel more open with the idea of leaving my isolation again. There’s going to be a talk tonight about a lady who found peace and even forgiveness after suffering something horrible; I might glean something helpful. It’s going to be at church, so I should be okay. If not, I can always leave. Maybe a friend will be there if I do, maybe not. We’ll see.
One step at a time. One step closer.