Last month, we invited readers to share their response to a writing prompt inspired by Kathye Fetsko Petrie’s essay, “On Depression and the Drive to Write.” We asked readers to tell us how writing is a gift, a story in itself. Below is Zoe Reyes’ response.
She doesn’t literally climb the walls, but the expression isn’t far off. She climbs the couches, along the windowsills, over and under the tables. Her mouth turns canine: chewing the ends off pencils, the corners off books, holes in her clothes, and chunks out of plastic. Ribs and watermelon are good food during times like this, when my daughter’s anxiety starts to swell. Described like this, her behavior sounds animalistic, but its verbal component confirms her humanity. She cannot stop talking. Sound and story spew out of her mouth like water breaking through a dam.
It is challenging for my husband and me to love and care for this electric little person when she’s in this state. It’s like handling a live wire with slippery wet hands. With her body and mouth putting her in constant danger and our brains desperate for quiet, our patience wears thin. If we can pause, acknowledge what we’re witnessing, and discuss the anxiety we see, we can get our adult selves under control, we can breathe. But discussion rarely calms the storm for our little one.
Children don’t process through adult conversation; children process through play. Just as adults have different communication styles, children have different play styles. For my daughter, playing with toys inside is fun. Playing outside in the fresh air provides refreshed equilibrium to her turbulent interior. But these activities are not the languages she uses to digest the challenging moments of her life. They distract her, but only for so long. Then the tide begins to swell again. I know only one foolproof cure: writing.
I know that true writers have to write. They are people bursting at the seams with words to express on a page. So when my daughter grew old enough to tell her own stories, we started to write them down together. I noticed that when we did, she could finally breathe.
It turns out it is even harder to find time for a five year old to “write” than it is for myself, as it is dependent on my help, and therefore, dependent on both of our availabilities to focus. But I’ve learned that it is necessary. And so we find a way. We sit down together, we write, and she breathes. The desperation drains from her chatter. Her teeth lose their need to tear. Her body can be still. Her eyes come into focus. The live wire is grounded because now it is plugged in. When I can let her be who she was meant to be, we all function together like a well-oiled machine. We can live and breathe together as a family. I get to pause and witness. She gets to write. Together, we breathe deep.
Zoe Reyes seeks to find and catalyze life through her writing, photography, mothering, and community development work. With roots in Texas, and a decade long stay in California, she now lives in Maine with her husband and two children. She is the author of Grow In, and her essays have appeared in the Westmount Convergence and other places online.