I sit here listening to the lyrics of a song my daughter wrote when she was 15, and it brings me right back:

I’m floating away, seems my mind just won’t stay in my brain.
It’s all just a haze and the ghosts overtake me, no escape … no escape.

I’m going in circles … what happened to “everything’s okay?”
I’m stumbling through it all,
I’ll get there some day.

Circles … stumbling … no escape.

I think back to my own writing and the angst that filled the pages of my journal. Here are some re-discovered excerpts, just to give you a little window:

I am being overtaken,
my mind is being invaded …

It has gone far beyond not understanding,
I am in the depths of despair …

Looking for a clearing,
an escape,
a fire exit,
a bathtub plug.
Anything to drain the undesired pandemonium
from my consciousness …

What is it about the uncomfortable space between? No longer a child, and yet yearning for the innocence and simplicity of childhood. Not yet an adult, and yet glimpsing the seeming freedoms of adulthood that are just out of reach. Not there yet. And not able to hold on.

I recall the complete overwhelm as my inner world expanded with new ideas and possibilities, and with it the pain of unrealized dreams (albeit unrealistic ones, but realism and adolescence aren’t on speaking terms yet). And with it, also a surge of hormones and emotions that I didn’t understand or embrace as my own – at least not yet. I felt too big and too much – like I didn’t fit so I had to leave parts out. But what parts should I keep? What parts should I hide? What parts were really me? Where did I belong? And was there anything or anybody I could really trust? So many questions and very few answers.

It was too much. It was all too much.

And so my heart stayed “safely” armoured away for many years in order to avoid feeling anything at all. Years passed, and ironically, I began working with adolescents more armoured than I was. It was partly though this process that my heart began to soften, as I struggled to find my way to their side.

More years passed, and I had children of my own. Eventually, it came time for them to navigate their own adolescent journey. And as much as I desperately want to make it better somehow, there was a wiser part of me (who graces me with her presence less often than I would like) who knew that this was a necessary journey – the angst, the despair, the loss of simplicity and innocence. The temptation to escape, to run away, or to hide is palpable. I felt it; I feel it now just remembering; and I see my children feel it too.

But as strange as it sounds, I wouldn’t wish those feelings away. For I know so much more now than I did then, at least when it comes to understanding that avoidance is NOT the way through to anything, least of all maturity and independence. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that my daughter doesn’t need me. But she needs to go through it herself; that is, I can’t protect her from the disappointments or the heartache – nor would it help if I did. And when I look at her world right now, which is full of angst in itself, with so many things we don’t have control over even as adults, I know she needs me now more than ever.

And so I sit with her, and try to make it as safe as possible:

            … to feel the angst and the other vulnerable feelings that make us human;

            … to normalize the overwhelm, without being overtaken by it;

            … to stumble through it all, feeling the bumps and bruises, without hardening her heart.

And, to find ways to get things out and keep things moving – which for her was and is through poetry and music and art and being alone in nature.

It’s awkward. It’s messy. It’s prickly. And sometimes it’s not pretty at all.

But something beautiful can be born in the process, if we make room for it.

Tamara will be speaking on the topic of Preserving Emotional Health in Adolescence in our upcoming Saturday seminar on November 21, 2020. Click here to register by November 19, 2020.

To see Tamara’s poem captured as it was originally written, dramatic flair and all, click HERE.

For more of Sinead Ocean’s music, you can find her on Spotify or YouTube.

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