“I’m Fine, Thank You, How Are You?”

After reading the (#1 NYT best selling) book, ‘Untamed’ by Glennon Doyle, and then watching a few children’s movies (‘The Kid’ and ‘Inside Out,’) about how the major moments/impressions of early life form us into who we are as adults, I’ve been trying to figure out what I would say to my adolescent self, if given the chance. It keeps coming up in the books I read, movies I watch, my meditations-how important it is to understand and be tender with our younger selves, to see them, forgive them, love them, so we can extend all that to ourselves now.

This quote, “I’m fine, thank you, how are you?” is how the author replied to her therapist when she was thirteen and getting treatment for bulemia. She couldn’t let herself feel enough to answer it truthfully. She knew she wasn’t ‘fine,’ but she was so far from fine, she didn’t even try. She already knew to mask-up and deflect. It’s heart-breaking. THIRTEEN! And I get it. I would have said the same at that age, fresh off the death of my sister, a move to a new fancy school full of new fancy friends(?), facing puberty in a new (WTF are these!?!) body.

I taste bile every time I try to put it into words what it would look like to sit down with my young me. I’m scared of and for her. I’m afraid of her silence, her skittishness, her suspicion and profound sadness. It would all be too LOUD, too much. And she held it all to herself, against herself. She was taking care of everyone else. She wasn’t allowed to hurt. Others hurt more. She was fine.

If I met her now at our alotted interdimensional time-traveling cubicle, she would appear a preppy goody-goody in jeans the wrong color and bras that don’t fit, with an unstylish beige haircut, a teeth-hiding smile and sad eyes. Those eyes, if I looked close enough, would reveal that she’s not certain of anything, except that she’s doing it all wrong.

Even when she tried to paint some of her confusion and pain on her outside, to be wild and dangerous, to feel fully, she never could give up control, could never stop worrying about everyone and everything. She couldn’t take a full deep breath of life, just little gulps of air. She was always putting her hand out in front of herself and her friends to catch them before they fell. She hustled, she fretted, panicked, she hated herself. She worried all the time.

She failed all the time. In her young life she had already failed to help her sister survive cancer, failed to be cool, failed to be pretty, or special or good. She was lost, wrong, such a bad fit with life. She hurt all the time but didn’t know that that was a problem she deserved to fix. She was fine. She had everything anyone could ask for in life and felt a terrible guilt for still being unhappy. She didn’t know why, but she knew she couldn’t breathe. \

Never calm, never still, always hustling harder and harder to try to be…finer. To try to be something else. She was nervous, scared, pacing all the time. She roamed from one corner of herself to the other, trying to find air. Thin breaths through a narrow straw.

I’m fine, thank you. How are you?

My young me knew better than to try to put her feelings, all of her mess, into words to dump on someone else. It was too much for anyone to have to bear. She was too much. Her shame about being so insufficient was so deep and true. Roots into the ground, that was all that was consistent. She felt bad, she was bad.

If I met her now, I would tell her that it took years, but I figured out that sharing us is actually a gift.

I’d have trouble not just grabbing her and rocking her and telling her she’s more lovely and loved and lovable than she knows, that she’s worthy, that she doesn’t need to hide or change, she just needs to let herself feel and be. She’s allowed to take up space, to make noise, to take all the air she needs to breathe deeply.

I like to think that when we met in our time portal, 13 y/o me would be impressed with how I pulled all my parts together. She would be intrigued by my writing, my honesty, my sharing, maybe even think some of my life choices are kind of rad. She would definitely adore my 6 y/o anarchist daughter who gives not one single fuck. (Not even one)

You will have pain, child, but you’re not pain. Life is hurtful and it hurts you, but you’re not just a wound. You’re allowed to experience it all and talk about it. Everything will not be ok, but you’re ok, my girl, deeply, truly, you’re ok. In those roots of yours- it’s not blackness, it’s all the colors. Get treatment for the constant sad and constant worry because it’s taking you away from yourself, but expect that the best, most healthy you is still complicated, still teetering between big feelings. It’s heavy, yes, but it’s powerful, too. Share yourself with those who deserve it. Let helpers in. You will be disappointed sometimes, but sometimes you WON’T BE. You’re a good you.

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Not thirteen, here, obviously. Too lazy to go look for one of those pics. That’s another thing I’ve gained with age, young Sarah. I’m not as much of a perfectionist and I forgive myself for my choice to rest. It’s good.

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