Sleepless Nights and Protective Shells

I’m having another bout with insomnia. Must say insomnia is winning and is pretty much kicking my butt. I haven’t had more than two or three hours sleep a night in a month. Three is generous. Very generous. Like most ADD’rs know, and those with Anxiety too…night time is for thinking. And thinking and thinking and thinking…What I wouldn’t give right now to shut off my mind and drift into that deep, dreamless sleep that leaves you waking up in awe of how long you slept. Sigh. Tonight I’m thinking of protective shells. You know, the shells we build around ourselves like a bubble so that nothing or no one can get in and hurt us. My daughter has built one heck of a thick one around herself. I don’t blame her, but… When A was born, she was special. Yeah, I know…ALL our kids are special. To us. The rest of the world remains blissfully unaware of how special our kids are. The world just keeps on spinning with mere mortals having no clue that they are among greatness. We all feel that way. And rightfully so. A was the child I never thought I’d have. A was the child I was afraid of losing before she ever got here. A was the two year old that could converse in complete thoughts about the mysteries of life, death and the universe. She told me stories about Heaven, about life, about evil and goodness. She was an old soul, and yet a fragile one. A hypersensitive bundle of raw nerves. At three and four years old, she could look at strangers and it was like she sucked up their emotions like a sponge. I had to leave stores on many occasions because she would take one look at someone and burst into tears, inconsolable because that person was “sad” or else she would shrink in fear, telling me someone was “all dark.” In kindergarten she told me that she was sorry, that she would miss me when it was time for her to go, but she wasn’t meant to be in this world for long. Sometimes I look at her sleeping 12 1/2 year old self and fear that it might be true. Above all things, A was kind. She had a good soul and a kind heart. She was giving, and good. She felt emotions deeply and strongly, and was one of the most amazing human beings I had ever met. A is still amazing. As the years have gone by, she has had her share of troubles. She never fit in at school, For the first five years of school she felt like she had no real friends. Picked on by the other girls for her quirky nature, she had one girl friend. She had her share of personal struggles in her home life too. Struggles that changed her. She began hiding her kind heart. She began to withdraw into herself, pretending to feel things she didn’t, pretending to enjoy things she did not. She got good at the pretending. By pretending to be like the other girls, in sixth grade she had “friends.” The girls that had picked on her all the years before, for the most part, suddenly seemed to accept her. She still wasn’t invited to slumber parties or birthdays or things like that, but at school she had become part of the group. That would have been fine, except that she wasn’t being true to herself. She was trying to hide. It wasn’t that she cared so much about fitting in with the popular crowd, she was just tired of being picked on and judged for things that the other kids didn’t know about, and wouldn’t have understood if they had. Pretending helped her get along better at other times too, with a personal struggle she couldn’t get out of, and couldn’t control.  Soon, she was using sarcasm to hide her pain. Trying so hard to outrun the sensitive, kind soul that she was born to be, she grew hot tempered, sarcastic and defiant. NOT defiant to adults, or to the rules, but to well, the world. She just seemed to enter a room with her jaw set and a look in her eyes that dared you to mess with her. With me, she was still the sensitive, sweet child that I knew…but she began to loathe that child because she felt she was vulnerable and weak. She saw being weak as a trait she could not tolerate. And when pushed, a veil seemed to fall over her eyes, and she would say, “it doesn’t matter.” That was her phrase for anything or anyone that hurt her. It didn’t matter. I’ve watched her over the past year perfect the pretending. I’ve watched her pull that “it doesn’t matter” cloak around herself like a second skin. Since she couldn’t fight back with what was going on in her personal life, she became mouthy with those that picked on her at school. She became known for her acidic come backs. It didn’t stop people from messing with her, but she never could just let a comment go. She always had to answer it..always had to have the last word. This year she got tired of the pretending at school, and soon, all the “friends” she had were gone. But there was something different. She still had her one girl friend. And there was a boy that she had always been casual friends with all along and they started to talk more and more. He became the best friend she ever had during this year. For some reason, she saw something in him when all the other kids called him awkward. She told him her secrets. She told him about all the things in her personal life that she had never told anyone, not even her girl friend. He accepted her as she was, encouraged her, and was there for her through many ups and downs this year. He was the one that even managed to talk her off the ledge, so to speak, when she wanted to die. He was the one she turned to when the thoughts of self harming started. His friendship was good for her, and it seemed solid. Then something happened. Doesn’t matter what it was. Let’s just say an incident occurred which they handled badly. She tried to apologize for her part in the argument, but she had to text it to him and he never responded. At school, he wouldn’t even look her in the eye. She was hurt. She was angry. The first week after the sudden and fiery crash of this friendship, I watched her try to hide how hurt she was. She acted like she didn’t care. She acted like it didn’t bother her one little bit, that he wasn’t that important. Then finally one day she told me every time she thought of him she felt like she was going to throw up. She had lost her best friend and it didn’t have to happen. If they could have talked things through, they could still be friends. Then the sadness was replaced by sheer bitterness. Suddenly, he didn’t DESERVE her friendship. If he wanted to act like a jerk that couldn’t even talk to her, then it was his problem. What had she been thinking all these years anyway, to be friends with him. He’s probably been talking bad about her the whole time. I tried to tell her she wasn’t really being fair. But the truth was, he DID handle this incident badly. She knew it was out of embarrassment, but that didn’t change the fact that two people who had been so close, were now just awkwardly avoiding each other. And her bitterness and anger were growing. For two weeks I’ve heard how they passed in the hall and he looked the other way, or how he looked at her like she was crazy when she said hello to him. Of how suddenly, he’s hanging out with the popular boys and she seems to be the butt of endless jokes. She hears rumors that he is talking bad about her. She wondered if he had even bothered to read her apology. It wasn’t a complete apology, but she thought he would read it, and then they could discuss it. She thought maybe, just maybe, he would apologize to her too, and they could try to move past the incident, but that didn’t happen. So, my kind, sweet child retreated back into the shell, back into a place where the lie of “it doesn’t matter” is her mantra.  She tries not to cry when she has something she wants to tell someone and he is still the first person she thinks of. He came up to her at school today. Told her he’d seen her at band yesterday. (well, she knew he had, she said he was staring at her the whole time.) What did my daughter do? Afraid that he was going to say something mean, she got defensive. She tried to pick a fight. She’s been dreaming of an apology for nearly three weeks, and the first time he tries to talk to her she pretty much spits in his face. She said she does not believe he was coming to offer an apology. She says it was the smug, satisfied look on his face when he approached her that made her defensive because she knew he was going to say something mean. I told her did she know that for a fact, or was she so afraid that it was so that she didn’t wait to find out? I sat A down tonight and I told her I wanted to talk to her. I told her I didn’t want her to think I was angry with her, or upset with her in any way. But…I told her that she had the kindest heart of anyone I’d ever known. I told her that I’ve watched her try to deny that part of her, watched her try to separate herself from who she really is so that she can’t be hurt. I asked her how that was working out for her. I told her that I’ve watched her sarcasm take over to the point where that is almost all she speaks. I told her I miss the girl that was gentle and kind, caring and compassionate. She was still there, but she tried to hide her. I told her that yes, she is wickedly funny, but that didn’t mean she had to use her humor as part of her defense mechanism. I told her that she can’t keep living in that shell of hers. She can’t keep hiding herself away, layer upon layer, so that nothing will hurt her. I told her that yes, being vulnerable and putting yourself out there with others can leave you hurt, but so could pushing people away. If I’m going to be hurt, I’d rather it be because I was kind and trusting, than because I tried to shelter myself from pain by pushing everyone away. She has a few real friends that have stuck by her this year. It’s more than she’s ever had. I told her that yes, it felt good when your friends stood up for you, and one or two of them have in fact said something to this boy, but I told her that above all, I did not raise her to be petty or spiteful. I did not raise her to want to hurt someone because they had hurt her. I told her I know how hard losing this friendship was to her, and for all her talk of wishing he could apologize and they could talk, when he approached her today she pushed him away. Now, I have no idea why he approached her. I told her she could have been right, he could have come up to her to say something mean, but she would never know. I told her she had to learn to not react until she knew what she was reacting to. Protective shells. Barriers. Walls. We all build them. They are like scar tissue that just grows stronger every time we are hurt. We see vulnerability as the ultimate weakness, when in fact, it is one of the most beautiful gifts of being human. It can take years to put up these walls and a lifetime to tear them down. I know. I’ve built my share. It’s only natural to want to shield ourselves from pain. If we don’t let people in, then they can’t hurt us. If we don’t let people in then we hurt ourselves. I know that the person A is becoming is somewhere in the middle of that big hearted, wide eyed child, and the wary, defensive person she is right now. I don’t know if I can get her to tone down the sarcasm and practice her more gentle side or not. It isn’t up to me who she becomes. It’s her choice. She remains such a kind, good soul. She remains one of the strongest people I know. Right now, she is holding tight to the shell but I hope, as things in her personal life get better that she will start to break it down just a bit. I hope she knows that I only care about her well being, and even though I can’t live her life for her, and even though the choices she makes can be vastly different than the ones I would make, I want her to be her own person. I want her to find her own way. As a mother that knows the person she is, I just hate to see her try so hard to deny her soft, good nature and bury it with sarcasm and a harshness that just isn’t her. (sure, sarcasm and that inner fire have their place…they just shouldn’t be relied on so heavily.) Even if I know why she does it, it doesn’t make it any easier to watch. I want her to be the person she was born to be, whoever that is. I want her to know that she is loved either way. I want her to know that while I know she IS sarcastic, fiery, and mouthy, I also know that she is gentle, kind, compassionate and sensitive and that it is OKAY to be those things too – that she doesn’t have to rely on one because the others make her feel weak and vulnerable. It’s OKAY to put all the pieces together to be the person you were meant to be all along. I have an amazing daughter, I can’t wait until she figures that out for herself. I also can’t wait to get some sleep.

4 thoughts on “Sleepless Nights and Protective Shells

    1. She is very bright, but she has dyscalculia as well as the worst spelling in the universe. Her comprehension and reading level are extremely high, yet she can’t spell. In math, she can intuit the answer to complicated problems, but she can’t do the steps to get answers. Her disorganization due to the ADHD is a challenge at school – so it is always and up and down affair with school. Most of the time I do believe that the work simply does not stimulate her mind and she is bored. Yet she has other issues that seem to hold her back sometimes as far as making “grades.” In my opinion the ADHD meds dull her mind. I don’t give her high dosage, but unfortunately without the medicine she can’t function through the school day at all and there are no options here for “special” schools that would meet her needs but challenge her intellectually. It’s always a huge game of compromise. She is a deep thinker and a bit of a philosopher. We have some EXTREMELY interesting conversations! 😉

      1. My oldest son is that way. He didn’t have ADHD to deal with, but the deep questions about the universe and the meaning of life were frustrating to him. He had few friends and even they annoyed them because he always felt humans are delusional. I noticed that he was acting pretty depressed when he reached 9th grade. I wanted to have him talk to a therapist, but he wouldn’t have it. I know I should have force him? He tells me now that it wouldn’t have helped.

        I came across an article called existential depression. It explained so much to me but unfortunately it is a hind sight type of thing. He has been trying to get help but can’t find a therapist who understands what he can’t seem to articulate.

        He told me that school—all the way through college was boring and taught him nothing about life. We have had some pretty interesting conversations as well.

        I’m no expert, but if a child is bored in school it could be an attention problem, or maybe their minds aren’t stimulated enough. Not all kids learn the same way yet teachers teach the same way—to the average, compliant student. I hope she finds her way to happiness. My son found some sort of peace from music. He isn’t a rock star but he seriously enjoys playing the guitar and the trombone.

        1. April, thank you so much for that! I do hate that the only way my daughter can halfway “conform” to traditional mainstream education is to medicate her. I wish I had another option but right now I just don’t. She is turning into more of a loner every day because other kids don’t understand her, and she tries so desperately to hide any character trait that she sees as a weakness that she often comes across as argumentative and strange to her peers. Adults and small children adore her.
          She does have a counselor she loves so that helps. And she loves music, listens constantly to all forms of it and plays clarinet. It’s been a good outlet, and she also loves to draw and write poetry. In the past year she has really been exploring with drawing her emotions and the abstract things she sees in her mind. It helps.
          I will have to look up articles about the type of depression you mentioned. The worst thing is that even though she is very bright she perceives herself as stupid. She has the false idea that if she can’t make straight A’s then she is dumb, instead of understanding that her brain simply does not work in that conformist manner.
          Hugs to you, thank you for reading and taking the time to share your experiences.

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