I’m about to go for a bike ride, but before I do, I thought I'd take a few minutes to write about joy. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been in a bit of a dark spiral for the past month or so. My anxiety’s not so extreme that I can’t leave the house, say, for five days of powder skiing in British Columbia, but it tends to rear its jittery head out of the blue, during particularly mundane moments, like when I’m driving home from an errand and I can’t stop wondering if someone I love is, right that minute, choking on a grape. Huh?
This isn't an especially relaxing way to live, so the other day I went to see a somatics coach who specializes in helping clients overcome trauma. The goal of somatics is to use body awareness to self-regulate anxiety. In my case, the birth of Maisy and diagnosis and subsequent death of my dad were stacked so closely together that I didn’t have time to digest them properly. All the joy and grief are still swirling around inside me, like a traffic jam of emotions, creating bottlenecks of pain in my body: a perpetually stiff neck, a sore wrist, and a ring finger swollen from a six-month-old tennis injury. The tingling I’ve been feeling in my fingers and toes and scalp is all that confused energy looking for an exit.
Calming the mind by quieting the body is the best way to let this pent-up trauma go. My somatics coach, Sylvie, asked me some questions about my dad, and then interrupted periodically to say, “Notice what you’re feeling in your body.” Tingly ankles and buzzing shins, a weird pinch in my neck, thoughts whirling through my brain like turkey buzzards that were always circling my dad’s Virginia farm. She taught me a few deep-breathing exercises to settle myself. Then she asked me to tell her about a moment of joy from my day. I thought and thought. I couldn’t think of anything. How could this be? I have a nine-month old baby who smiles constantly, laughs without prompting, waves at anyone who so much looks at her, and is butchering a new consonant every day. How could I not have felt joy?
I left her office determined to pay closer attention. The next morning, I sat in the playroom as the sun streaked in the windows and read to Maisy. She sat on my lap through about two pages of What Does Baby Do? and then squirmed off, eager to crawl, an inchworm nosing her way around the room. I finished the book and started Biscuit’s Walk in the Woods. Maisy steamrollered her way up my legs and launched over the other side, lingering on my lap long enough to finger the soft downy clouds on the page, the turtle’s hard shell. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d sat in a quiet room, alone with Maisy, and read to her. I picked up a New Yorker story about the Lightning Fields in southern New Mexico and kept reading aloud. She dove headfirst toward the magazine and began to clumsily gum the pages—a sure sign of approval. "This is the state of your birth," I told her. She gazed at me with saucer eyes and grinned. After a while, I stuck her on the red rocking moose for her maiden voyage. She squealed and flapped her arms. I knew she was happy. I was happy, drunk on simple joy. In the kitchen, I put on the kiddy music CD and spun her around to the music. It was so easy, I couldn’t possibly forget.