By Eliza Reynolds
Are you afraid? I know that I am sometimes. There are moments when I have been so afraid of life beginning —like becoming-a-grown-up beginning—because then I might discover that I’m a failure, or a total disappointment, or maybe (whispers an especially dark part of my brain) never truly, fully lovable, except by my parents (and they have to love me).
When I was about thirteen or fourteen, something began to creep up on me—like an itch on my back that I couldn’t quite scratch—and my parents started to drive me crazy (plain bonkers, red in the face with frustration, irrationally ticked off, justifiably loony, and the like). Frankly, most of the time it was for dumb reasons (“MOM, did you have to move the pans so loudly??”) or for reasons I couldn’t understand (“DAD, I don’t want you to ask me about my day. No, I just don’t feel like talking about it!”). My reactions to them, and the way I began to judge them through every millisecond of every day, were new. And I found that after the first flush of anger or frustration passed (and I huffed out of the room or screamed in the confines of my bedroom closet), it scared me. These new changes made me feel, well, lonely.
It began to dawn on me that my parents weren’t the perfect people I had imagined them to be. I wondered: if they weren’t always consistent and on top of it, then what is consistent—always steady and reliable—in life? And if my life is beginning, like I-am-not-a-little-kid-anymore beginning, like in-a-few-years-I-will-be-leaving-home beginning, then what and who can I depend on? What won’t change? What is safe?...
Now, if you met me, walked up to me, and shook my hand for the first time (or even hugged me for the hundredth time), you couldn’t tell on the outside that I was afraid. No, you’d still see a tall, cheery nineteen-year-old, with hair twice the size of her head and feet that defy semicoordinated brain commands. But I’m telling you now what’s on the inside: the fears that line the innermost layers of my thoughts, my heart, and maybe even, if you believe in such things, my soul. These are the fears that aren’t cute enough to whisper under the blankets at a sleepover. I’m not always afraid but sometimes—often first thing in the morning, before I’ve seen anyone’s face, and the alarm is buzzing me into a new day—I feel empty, alone, like the bed is a bit too big, and yes, I feel somewhat overwhelmed by it all. Nah, I’m not an emotional train wreck or a “basket case” either, I’m just being brutally honest. I know you’ll get it, because here’s the secret I think we all know: I think, deep down, we are all afraid.
I don’t mean we are afraid all the time—not every moment. But sometimes in bed at night alone, or staring dismally at another English test, or looking around the dinner table, or scanning Facebook late at night, you and I are afraid. And I don’t think it’s a light passing fear, like that anxiety you get when you pass by that certain dodgy street in town. No, it is a deep question that seems to echo in our very soul, in the very heart of our bodies. And I know I don’t have the answers to the questions that keep bubbling up inside and you may not either (most people don’t). Questions like:
- Who am I?
- What am I going to make of my life?
- What happens when I die?
- What is the meaning of life? Why am I here, literally, on this earth? Do I matter any more than the ant on the hot pavement?
- What is love? Does marriage mean you love each other forever? Do I have a soul mate?
- Why is my mom the way she is?
- Does God exist? Or “goddess”? Or any other kinds of higher power?
- What do others think of me? Is this important? Why?
- What will make me happy? Is happiness the most important thing in life? What is the most important thing in life?...
We will, all of us, have many “dark nights” in our lives—those moments, weeks, or months when we feel utterly lost and afraid in the change, chaos, or darkness that seems to be all around…[They] help me see my lonely or scared or overwhelmed feelings as meaningful. They are there for a reason: these questions, fears, obsessions, frustrations, and the oh-so-human pain all help me grow.
Excerpted from Mothering and Daughtering: Keeping Your Bond Strong Through the Teen Years by Eliza Reynolds & Sil Reynolds, RN. Copyright © 2013 by Eliza Reynolds & Sil Reynolds. Reprinted with permission of Sounds True.
Photograph via Creative Commons