I have to say this so that it’s on the record. My life is not sad. Our family life isn’t dark and pervaded by doom and gloom. I don’t think that our life is really that different from yours. We all have dragons to slay. Some are behemoth fire-breathing drakes, majestic and awe-inspiring in their ability to infuse us with paralyzing fear. They’ve lived in the territory of our family lines for generations, just over the hills, demanding that pound of flesh from our ancestors, grandparents, parents, and now us, and we’ve had enough. It’s up to us to do something different if that monstrous beast of oppression is to be killed once and for all. Some dragons are smaller and more annoying, stealing joy, resources, and time. Some people might even keep one or two little ones as pets giving them cute names like “social drinking” and “cutting”, but, in the end, they’re vampiric. Underneath our clothes, we’re all wearing armor, and we’re all beat up somewhere. I suppose it’s just a matter of who has dropped their swords and who has not.
Happiness is a choice, isn’t it, because those dragons are everywhere. It’s black and white, and, if you know me, I will rarely say that. I love grey. I live in the grey. In this case, however, it’s black and white. We are either engaged in our lives, or we are not. We are either willing to take up our swords and fight for our happiness and the capacity for happiness for those in our lives, or we are not willing to do that. If we can’t, if we ourselves are hindered because of one of those dragons, then it’s up to us to ask for help from another intrepid fighter. Sometimes it means going low, facing darkness, feeling things we’ve not wanted to feel, engaging in a proper grief work, letting go of resentments, forgiving people who really don’t deserve it, and taking an inventory of our inner lives. To some, this seems wasteful, but what do you think invites the dragons in the first place? What might they feed upon? Us.
I was once in a place in life where I was too weak to even stand up much less wear armor or fight for myself, but I found that it all started with one choice. “What do you want?” It starts with knowing what you want. “I want to be well. I want to be empowered. I want to be happy.” And, step by step, army crawling my way through the mud until I could stand, I progressed…until I could not only fight for myself but for those around me who were still too weak to advocate for themselves.
You’ve read my thoughts here as we enter into new territory with a child diagnosed with a lifelong illness. I’ve written it here because it helps me organize my thoughts, and it’s cathartic. Better to let it go than stuff it down and swallow the bitter pills. I don’t, however, want to be misunderstood. I have not made my dwelling place in grief. I do not live in a place ruled by sadness and mourning. These emotions are a necessary part of dealing with a child’s mental illness diagnosis as well as the subsequent loss of friendships, and, if a parent is to properly advocate for and raise their children, then they must attend to their own grief process. That is a vital part of self-care and modeling mental health to one’s family. American society does not “do grief” well. Loss is part of life, and loss doesn’t just mean ‘death’. Loss in all its forms from the loss of health, relationships, jobs, and financial resources to death and the loss of dreams and hopes deferred are all a part of the human experience; and, loss is a dragon that every one of us will face. How we face it is what determines the course of our futures.
I know people whose lives have been taken prisoner by the Dragon of Loss much like Smaug the Terrible invading Dale and laying claim to Erebor in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Feeling overwhelmed and kicked out of their own lives, they become impotent, rootless nomads, wandering around in a state of constant mourning overcome by what I can only describe as a ‘spirit of victimization’. They are transformed into the Professional Victim, perpetually complaining about how difficult their lives are, how horrible their children are, and how much they hate their children’s problems, disease, and circumstances. They have become blinded to their own abilities, talents, and capacity for strength and resiliency. They perpetually look back at what used to be, yearning for what was, hating what is, fearing what is to come. This paralysis is the result of avoiding working the grief process. The Dragon of Loss is demanding their pound of flesh, and they are giving it up willingly whether they know it or not.
I have lived as both people–victimized and empowered. Sometimes I’m battling both narratives at the same time. “Who are you? Are you resilient and strong, or are you fearful, paralyzed, and unable to ask for help? What will you choose right now?” Sometimes people release their own dragons into our lives leaving us little choice but to deal with our own dragons and theirs as well. What’s the most common dragon you’ll deal with? The Dragon of Judgment. The interesting thing about this dragon is that he never travels alone. He always has his partners in crime–shame and discouragement. When we’re judged we seem to either want to lash out and unleash our own dragons or cower, run and hide, and agree with the booming voices coming at us from the Triumvirate of Terror flying overhead. What’s more terrifying and provocative? When the Great Terribles aim for our vulnerable children, and they will. Society as a whole does not understand mental illness and developmental disorders so they fear it. People judge what they fear and do not understand. Slay the Dragon of Ignorance and watch the skies slowly clear.
Believe it or not, empathy is the antidote. It is the sure and straight arrow that will find its way into the singular chink in almost any dragon’s armor. It is not a matter of screaming, “I will not stand for that!” It is a matter of stating what you stand FOR. It is not a matter of harnessing anger and using it. The Dragon of Anger will always overpower us in the end. It’s a matter of collaborating and not bearing a grudge no matter how much you’d like to, finding common ground, and working towards a common purpose. Finally, it’s a matter of being in the present and looking to the future with hope because while there will be dragons in the skies, you will have a quiver, too. And, with every step you take, you will fill it with more and more arrows because you might have fallen a time or two or three. But, it doesn’t matter, does it? It only matters that you get up again so that you can help the vulnerable, special person next to you get up, too.
To Get You Started or Just Help You Keep Going: