For as long as I could remember there were two things that defined my waking moments. The first was a disappointment that I had. Life was intense and filled with drama much of which orbited around my parents’ adjustment to Canada. The result was a home filled with arguments, recriminations, and unrelenting themes of powerlessness folded in with the normal stuff of being a family. We laughed, cried, played, yelled, teased, ranted, proclaimed, and blamed. It seemed normal but the growing hole inside me said differently. And it was the suffocating silence from this empty space that gave rise to the disappointment each morning of having to deal with another day, another futile attempt to sew together the split between one culture and the other, one parent and the other, one way of life and another.
Very few people who show up in my office describing being burned out have had an unremarkable childhood. Somewhere in the lineage of their experiences, there has been some form of trying and trying to adapt. And often we do. We find ways to meet the demands and find the resources to navigate around the obstacles. And just as often, it takes decades of doing this before the demands outstrip the resources and we crash. But not before we lose the wholeness of our life.
The second thing that defined my waking moments was that growing hole inside me. There was a scene in the movie “Death Becomes Her” where the character gets shot but instead of dying she has a huge hole in the middle of her body. The humour aside, it summed up my daily experience of “self.” It felt as though all the efforts to be what was needed in the moment (which is different from discerning what is needed) had slowly eroded away the core of my being. I’d say it was a teenage angst but it lasted well into adulthood and was resilient to most forms of therapy. In fact, I think I scared off a few therapists unwittingly by talking about it.
At some point I learned that I had to safeguard who I (somehow) knew I was and who everyone else needed me to be. In the early stages, I understood that this was just a strategy to keep the external forces from becoming chaotic. But, just as children forget about magic, I forgot. The two worlds seemed very separate, even disparate, and in my mind that was reality. I served in one and tried my best to recuperate in the other. My passions for photography, art, and writing became secret arts I practiced in the dark. My love of reading “heady” books became something I hid between Gothic Romances and historical fiction (read: bodice rippers poorly disguised as history).
Mostly, I came to believe that there were two of me: the one who performed and one who loved. And that split was the most dangerous of all.