This post is a project of a sort. A path through the first five years of my life. If someone had asked me if I would ever post pictures of myself as an infant on the internet, my answer would have been a quite vehement no. I’m not even sure why it occurred to me to do this–maybe thinking about my inner child started the process, I don’t know. Because really, who else would your inner child look like other than how you did when you were young? I don’t think it morphs into another person. It’s just a smaller, less experienced you, learning more every year.
There aren’t many people in these pictures other than me–my middle sister figures predominately. She was in a lot of the pictures I found–I was actually looking for a picture I have a vague memory of to compare to one of her two-year old daughter’s expressions, which I remember as distinctly looking like a look she used. I got sidetracked–that’s how this happened. I think the only adults are my Great-Grandparents, not through any intentional neglect toward excluding anyone, I just remember them a lot from when I was this age. Not a lot of kids I knew had Great-Grandparents, so I thought that was pretty special.
These photos are fuzzy. Some worse than others. I used scanning software on my phone to take pictures of them, so they’ve been through a lot. I thought that was appropriate as well, once I saw them on my computer. My memories aren’t clear, either. These are from loose photos I received after the death of my paternal Grandmother–I have albums, but I found these more interesting, and who really wants to see baby pictures of me attempting to eat my stroller? There’s one of me attempting to eat my hand. That’s good enough.
The first few are in the Philippines. Maybe my parents were right about me being born talking, since it looks like I’m about to in the first one. Fang, the ginormous dog, is labeled as my protector on the back on that picture. The next ones are either at my dad’s parents or at my Great-Grandparent’s house, in San Diego. I’m confusing myself a little, because I know at some point we moved to Oklahoma for various reasons–my Great-Grandparents had also moved back to Oklahoma from California. I believe I attended kindergarten in Durant, Oklahoma.
While I couldn’t find the one I was looking for of my sister, she really developed a thing for sticking her tongue out at the camera later on. I don’t know if I’ve seen my niece do that. The funny thing is that my sister in these pictures and her daughter now are roughly the same age. My Great-Grandmother and mom made my clothes–my grandmother? I don’t know. She’s the only grandparent I have who’s still alive.
Whatever the purpose I originally had of putting these together, my mind has finally gelled on something. At 44, I am full of issues, both physical and mental. My five year-old self is happy, has an uninhibited smile (okay, except for where I look serious and my sister is sticking her tongue out–it’s the tummy shot–my future pop star self), and is genuinely in the moment. She’s cuter than I remembered. I was even beating up the appearance of my inner child.
For those of us struggling with mental illness, maybe it is pointless to try to narrow out lives down to that one moment–and how can it possibly have been one moment? It must be more than that. We have a tendency to beat ourselves up, too, and are more than willing to give a long-winded self-deprecating spiel. We have a hard enough time with the illness itself, why can’t we give ourselves a break? Because it’s not just depression lurking in that Gordion knot–it’s anxiety, worry, fear, anger, resentment, blame, paranoia, sadness, hurt, betrayal, loss, grief, mistrust, and any other self-loathing behaviors we can think of tossing into the maelstrom. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to cut the damn know open until of it unraveling? The knots get looser, but they cling together for dear life because they’re the patterns we’re used to living. The ones that refuse to let us be kind to ourselves. Now, looking at all these pictures of myself that I spent so much time putting together, I see something in them. I didn’t know why I did this to start, now I do. This little person, this child, is me. If I saw that child on the playground, would I treat her the way I treat myself? No. Never. It would be hurtful, cruel, and compassionless. So why do I treat myself that way? I don’t deserve it. I can’t help the fact that I’m mentally ill; no one can.
We need to treat ourselves the way we’d treat that inner child. If it helps to get out pictures and look at them and remember, see for ourselves that yes, we really were that child once. It’s easy to think of our inner child in an abstract, invisible way. But looking at these pictures of myself, I know I really do need to be kinder to myself. Have compassion for myself. So many of us can do that for others but not for ourselves, and we need to try, because we are valuable, important, worthy, deserving people who should have kindness and love in our lives, and the first people we should get that from is ourselves. We need to give ourselves forgiveness and absolution, or we won’t heal. It’s easy for me to say all these things, because I have just as hard a time doing what I say for myself. It’s easy for me to tell other people and encourage them, but loving myself?
Maybe a start is remembering that little girl, and that she deserves love and kindness. She’s still in here, she hasn’t gone anywhere. I have a bumper sticker on my car: “Listen to Children.” I need to start listening and remembering that this little girl is here with me. Inner children don’t disappear, they just become silent. She’s just waiting for me to catch up and listen for a change.