A little while ago I was looking after a toddler that had some separation anxiety. Everything seemed to be going well until about half an hour in when he started to slowly and despondently creep towards the door. He was looking for his mommy and I could tell that he was on the brink of a meltdown. I did my best to gently distract him with a fun game or toy, but he was not interested! All of a sudden, tears were flying and the sound of this little boy’s wailing permeated the room.
Immediately I scooped him up into my arms to offer him some comfort. Sitting down with him on my lap, I held him close as he continued to sob. After a few minutes, when it seemed like he was starting to calm down, I gently pulled him away just enough to look at his face and ask him if he would like to read a book or play with some toys. Instead of responding, he just grabbed onto my shoulders and pulled me back in for another snuggle.
We went through this same routine a few times before it became completely clear to me that this little boy just needed some love. He didn’t want to play, he didn’t want to read, he didn’t want to look at anything fun. He just wanted comfort. And so we just sat. Sometimes he would cry and I would rock him. Sometimes he would fall silent for a few minutes and we would just sit there. But no matter what, he wouldn’t let go.
A few days later I was on my treadmill, recounting this event in my mind. Suddenly it hit me. I was exactly like that little boy. My anxiety and PTSD symptoms had been completely incapacitating me for the past six months, to the point that I had barely been able to function. I didn’t want to do anything but curl up in a safe, comforting place and hide from the world. Nothing could distract me from it, and I didn’t want to deal with it. Like the little boy, I just wanted to cry and be held.
But then I remembered that something special had happened for this child after we had been sitting together for about an hour. He had slowly started to switch positions. At first I wondered if he had a tummy ache, because he had slouched his way down until he was laying on his stomach across my lap with his legs hanging off the chair and his feet nearly touching the floor. But a few minutes later, to my surprise, he stood up.
He didn’t run off and he didn’t start to cry. He just stood there for a moment, almost in a daze, looking around the room. A few moments later, he took a step. And then another one. I got up and started to walk slowly with him towards some of the nearby toys. It was almost as if we were moving in slow motion—every step was so cautious and calculated.
Reflecting on this, I realized how this little boy’s experience was a perfect picture of recovery. It can’t be rushed. It takes time, energy, and effort. It requires intentionality and a whole lot of patience. And in the same way that my little friend went through a slow process of crawling down off my lap and onto the floor, I would have to navigate my own process of getting back onto my feet so that I could stand on my own again.
Eventually, this sweet little boy went back to playing with the toys, almost as if a meltdown had never happened. And I know that eventually I will get back to living a healthy, balanced life, and the events of the recent past will become a distant memory. But it will take time. And I need to be okay with that. Even though things have been going really well lately, I still need to be patient. I need to pace myself. I need to make sure that I don’t overdo it and push myself into another breakdown.
This is really hard for me to do. Because of the extremely high expectations I hold for myself, I am naturally predisposed to just do all the things, all the time. I look at the successes of the past few weeks and think, “I am on the up and up. I should be able to just go back to doing everything I was doing before things fell apart.” But I can’t. I need to recognize that my heart still needs to heal, and I need to be patient with it.
I have said no to some things over the past half a year out of utter necessity. Now, while it no longer feels like a necessity, I am learning to say no to some things out of vigilance. I want to be ever so careful with this new hope that I have found. I want to protect it at all costs. And while I don’t want to baby myself or find myself becoming lazy, I do want to give myself the space I need to start moving around the world again as I rediscover my footing beneath me.
Maybe you are on the road to recovery today too. I don’t know what you are recovering from—maybe an addiction, depression, anxiety, a bad relationship, a traumatic experience, a sports injury, or something else entirely. But I do know this. You can get back on your feet if you are willing to give yourself some time. I couldn’t push the little boy to get off my lap and go back to having fun before he was ready. And you will have to come to a place of readiness too. But don’t push yourself (or let anyone else push you) to do this at any pace other than your own. Get to know yourself, and respect the process. In the end, when you are loving life again, you’ll be glad you did.