I know it must be here somewhere. I’ve checked under the bed, in the hall closet, above the fridge…focus…think…where did I last see my peace of mind…
I suppose I could be enthralled, studying the speed in which I can fold over 180 degrees at a whisper. I could dissect each experience, analyzing how I manage to transform from cheerful woman to angry porcupine in the space of a blink. I suppose I could use it as a self-teaching opportunity. I suppose.
In reality, I am neither enthralled nor an analytic student. In reality, I get trapped while compiling brick walls with no exit key. I recognize it as its happening, the flash reaction to a challenging comment, and brick by brick, I lose myself. I feel the spikes flare on my skin, preparing for the imaginary attack, and wish I could alert you of impending trouble. Despite smiling when I walked in, despite a cheerful demeanor and easy laugh, my peace of mind has vanished and defensiveness now reigns. It might be that I am illiterate in the language of criticism, unskilled at managing frustrations and disapproval. It might be that my teenaged self screams for her chance at rebellion, and you are blocking the door. It might be that I'm tired, scared, sick, none of the above, all of the above. It might be simply my own flavor of craziness.
But as soon as I trail my fingers along the familiar stone walls, the opportunity for meaningful connection swirls away. I become my worst self, critical and whiney, getting stuck on semantics and struggling to prove my case until I'm so twisted around that gibberish flows as a defense. I get caught on your tone, the arch of a brow, or the criticism I interject in between your words. I am difficult, cranky, a mess of sharp edges jutting out in misguided protection. And even in the midst of this inner temper tantrum, I know this is all about me. I know that your tone, your brow, and your words are simply open parking spots; targets that let me pretend its not all my fault, that this steel state is justified and provoked. I get trapped in my worst self, lacking the spare key.
This teenager of mine doesn’t wound with words or scream injustices. She doesn’t punch walls or humans; plot revenge or paint imaginary victorious rallies. Instead, I slip out of the room with a magician’s wand, leaving behind the illusion of an adult. I project my wizard of oz; a terrified little girl using stubborn intellect and cold anger to loom large while wishing you could hear my unspoken directions and find me hiding behind the curtain. I stare with steel bars and cross my arms to mark my territory, confident in the absolute power of blank detachment. I sever all connections to soul, and rummage in my brainy arsenal for my next witness.
I wish I knew what the fear was. I wish I knew how to edit my settings so slight bumps didn’t active the alarm. I wish I had better zippers and snaps to keep my adult cloak secure when my teenager stages a coup. I wish I had a stronger grip on autonomy and could remember that suggestions aren’t commandments, that disapproval isn’t fatal, and that criticism is a natural result of individual choices. I wish that your innocuous statement today didn’t unhinge twenty years of pushed buttons. I wish that breathing remained automatic, that I had memorized my peace of mind, and could duck beneath fictitious waves.
Most of all, I wish for a time-out, knowing that I need to go sit in the corner and think about my behavior. I need space to grow myself up, dismantle my walls, reassemble my logic and patience, kindness, and acceptance.
I know that we all have our rubbed off places, raw aches that tear up in the breeze. I know that frustration is normal, and occasional defensiveness inevitable. But I also know that it’s time to stop seeing attacks in neutral eyes, stop stockpiling bricks at the whiff of a frown. It’s time to react slower and rebound faster. It’s time to map out my prison and keep spare keys in my purse. It’s time to reset my defaults and own my years. It’s time to find compassion for this teenager while funneling her rebellious energy toward growth. It’s time to stop communicating in codes that even I have trouble cracking. It’s time to ask for what I need and incorporate wants into my vocabulary.
It’s time to stop wishing and start speaking. It’s time to realize that I am the only one who can pull back the curtain, the only one who can come to my rescue.
And there it was, perched next to my sunglasses…my peace of mind waiting on top of my head.
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