“What would it look like to have compassion?”
“I mean I do for my ma-”
Maybe I have writer’s block. Maybe self-compassion is so buried it’s undetectable and I can’t bring it close enough to the surface to see. Maybe I actually have none.
What would the story be if I could give compassion to the little girl sifting black sand with her fingers, shaded by Palo Verde in the wash behind her house?
I’ve never been afraid of the desert. Scorpions and rattlesnakes bring minimal distress and only when I am caught off guard and faced with being in the direct path of one. Landing chest-first into a barrel cactus and learning the lesson not to touch the teddy bear cactus over and over as a small child desensitized me to the desert’s prickly offerings.
I learned to take refuge in the bittersweet taste of the jelly a saguaro cactus bears. In the hours before and after it rains, when creosote fills the air. In the texture of red clay found hidden under layers of dirt and woolly moss. In wide-open clear blue skies and millions of visible stars at sundown. In the Cactus Wren’s call, and the sound of a lizard’s flight as it’s approached. Nature is grounding and far from fearful. Humans, on the other hand…
Compassion for that girl? Oh, do I ever.
That girl was smart, creative, sad. My mom says she didn’t teach me anything, scholastically, before the start of school, but in Kindergarten I was reading far beyond most of my peers and was proudly the owner of the handwriting used as an example for the rest of the class. In first grade, I completed the most book reports over the course of the year winning the prize that I knew would be mine as soon as the contest was announced. And then ever so slowly, my confidence began to fade in subsequent years as I wasn’t always the best at everything.
That is when the critic entered and took a front-row seat to the rest of my life. This bright girl wasn’t taught about emotions except that having them wasn’t ok. And this girl was so full of them it was beyond overwhelming not to have safety anywhere. To actually fear expression. That fear turned so far inward I decided I wasn’t smart enough, creative enough, athletic enough, … enough of anything really. I have compassion for this little girl whose brain took all of this information and processed it into sadness.
Before 9th grade, I was never flagged by any professional (teacher, coach, doctor) as needing medical or therapeutic help. I think I just knew how to act. I viewed being discovered as sad or depressed and the need for a professional as getting in trouble. Very serious trouble.
Something changed between 2nd and 3rd grade. I went from happy to sad and I don’t know if there’s an exact reason why, but I wish that girl had compassion for her emotions. I wish she was allowed to feel them. To talk to people. To cry. To be embraced. To get validation.
I am still that girl. That little girl doesn’t deserve blame for anything that happened to her or any of the feelings she experienced. She is me, and so I can have compassion for her too. I do, have compassion for myself. At least, for the place that I am at right now. I used to think self-compassion and depression couldn’t coexist. But I frequently find myself in the depths of depression and sadness that lingers for days and weeks and sometimes months, and yet have enough love to give myself to still show up for myself. They can coexist. I’ve been doing it and showing myself love, I just haven’t been able to recognize it as such because guilt and shame flooded my vision.
I’m not ashamed of needing help anymore. I could have used it every year since I turned 9. I accept and love my elementary-school self. I can still give her what she needs now, as an adult.
It’s ok to get better.