What if you're more?
“I can’t do it!” She said with tears streaming down her face. Her brightly colored, rainbow hair, which usually made her look like a gorgeous manga character, instead made her look like a sad clown. It was a week before we were to leave for Idaho to meet her best friend. Her best friend whom she’d never actually met in-person; they’d met at an online Minecraft school.
“But I’ve tried to do sleepovers before and I can’t do it. I don’t like to be away from you.” She said. I could feel my daughter’s desperation. She already felt dumb because all the other tween girls were easily able to stay the night at each other’s houses. She’d been too afraid and past attempts had just resulted in her calling me in the middle of the night for a ride home.
“Sweetie, can I tell you something that might help?” She nodded slightly.
“The anxious thoughts and feelings that you get... those aren’t you. You feel them and it’s upsetting, but that’s not who you are. You’re so much more than that.”
She scoffed. “What do you mean? I am anxious.”
“No, you’re not. Sometimes you get anxious feelings, but that’s not who you are. If I take a mug and pour coffee into it, does that turn the mug into coffee?” I said.
“No.” She said.
“Right. It’s still a mug and I can put anything I want into it. Tea, juice, even shampoo, but it doesn’t change the mug. It’s still a mug. If I pour something hot into it then the mug gets hot. If I pour something cold into it, then the mug gets cold. But it doesn’t turn the mug into something different.
That’s how you are. You get anxious thoughts and feelings, and you don’t feel good. You get happy thoughts and feelings, and you do feel good. But neither change who you are. You are much more than the feelings that go through you.”
She looked up with a little bit of hope, so I went on.
“The difference between you and a mug is that we choose what we pour into the mug. Unfortunately, you don’t get to pick what thoughts and feelings come to you, but you feel them all the same. Right? You’re not choosing to feel anxious when you go for sleepovers?”
She gave me a look that said, “Well, duh, of course not.”
“The good news is that they pass, so even if you’re filled with anxious feelings, they’re not permanent. You might feel anxious when you go for your sleepover, but if you wait a little bit, there’s a good chance they’ll pass by.”
I could tell she was dubious. It still looked like the only way for those feelings to go away was to come home. But she also wanted to believe me. She wanted to be able to do the sleepover, she wanted to be brave. She wanted to be the mug, not the vinegar being poured into the mug.
“How about an experiment? What if you try the sleepover and see if what I’m saying is true. You can see if the anxious feelings come and go. Like when you’re having fun playing games and laughing, I bet you won’t feel anxious.”
She agreed to the experiment. We left the next week for Idaho. The sleepover had been planned for the second night of our stay, but the girls were so excited when they saw each other, they begged to move it to the first night. I agreed.
After dinner with her friend’s family I was ready to go to my hotel. I gave my daughter a hug, “Bye mom,” she said.
Without waiting for a reply she ran off to play. “Bye Babe,” I said to the back of her disappearing form. I didn’t hear from her until lunch the next day when she asked if I could come late to pick her up.
Does she sometimes still forget that she’s the mug? That she’s solid and capable of holding a lot, that she can feel all sorts of different things without losing herself? Yes, of course... but I know that she’s always just one thought away from seeing it again.