Tonight my daughter happily emptied three baskets of toys onto the floor. Before her bath, we asked her to clean them up. But she didn’t want to clean up–she was busy drawing. I gently took the marker out of her hand. The tantrum started.
This was her second day of preschool and, for the second day in a row, she was fragile and exhausted on the ride home. I was reminded of days that I spend walking through busy city streets or ploughing through projects at work. Those days when my physical exertion is minimal, but I finish the day unable to move, my brain putting all its energy into processing the stimuli to which I was subjected.
Which is to say, this tantrum was a landmark on a very clear map.
Before I found a good treatment plan, I had days so bad that I cried my throat raw. I had days so bad that I hurt myself just to relieve the pressure. I had days so bad that I wanted to tear myself out of my own head. This is what depression and anxiety feel like. I lost weeks, months, to the lowest periods.
By the time she was in the bath, my daughter was jerking and catching her breath from crying so hard. She screamed and screamed, her voice hoarse. “Are you all done with the bath?” my husband asked. “NO!” she shrieked. “Do you want to stay in longer?” I asked. “NO!” she wailed. In a tantrum, a toddler no longer knows what she wants. She’s a slave to her most primal self, the part of the brain that squirt cortisol into her blood and make her writhe with rage. My daughter flailed her arms and screamed piercing, staccato screams.
In her agony, I saw myself. I saw those days before I found the right medication, when anxiety would send me over the edge and I would curl up on the floor and grab my hair, wanting anything in the world except to be conscious. I saw those days when I really, truly believed things would never get better. I saw the hell my brain created for me.
I felt such sharp compassion for my screaming girl.
While my husband toweled her off, I went downstairs to get a binky. By the time I got back up, the tantrum had subsided, and glassy-eyed, she opened her mouth to let me pop it in. “Medicine,” I whispered.
Then I knelt in front of her and stroked her hair. “I’ve been there,” I said. “I know how it feels to be sad and mad. I know, sweetie. I’ve been there. I know.” She watched me wordlessly. “Do you want to go put on your nightgown?” I asked. She nodded and when I held out my hand, she took it.
I thought of my own mother, brushing me off when I was upset, snapping at me when I was suicidal. If I hadn’t had my own experiences with emotional horror–and if I had never learned to navigate through it and come out the other side–I would have never been able to give my daughter what she needed at that moment.
“Dismemberment…is a universal shamanic symbol of initiation,” writes Peter Grey in Apocalyptic Witchcraft. “The initiate is often seized by a flying creature and torn by talons and beak.” One might be tempted to believe that a Witch can only achieve this kind of initiation through deep trance or flying ointment or a carefully rehearsed ritual. Those initiations absolutely have their place in our practice, but to chase after them will only ever make it brittle and shallow. If you live a life of any meaning at all, you will be destroyed more times than you can count.
I made my daughter’s nightgown do a dance and she laughed. I asked her if she wanted a hug and she said yes. Then, when we took her downstairs for her snack, she cleaned up her toys.
I recognized in her the deep, wrung-out peace that comes after the catharsis of weeping. I saw in her that good soreness that comes when you realize you made it through the dark tunnel.
Hail to Badb, the dismantler. Hail to Nemain, who brings chaos. Hail to the Morrigan, dark lady of the deepest self. When I hold my little daughter, I know why you chose me.