Oh, tiny baby Chels was clutching those hands together SO hard.
When I was around 8, my parents sent me to my first psychologist. Over time my memories of my time with Dr. Barbara have faded a bit but the distinct image that sticks in my brain is a room that was too big. There were corners I couldn't see into and shelves too high for me to reach and the couch was swallowing my tiny frame. I remember sitting in that too big room with a stranger staring at me as I stuffed my hands deep between the sofa cushions, begging them not to move.
"Why do you think you're here?"
"Because of my hands."
"What about your hands?"
"I can't control them."
For as long as I can remember my hands have been out of my control. In elementary school, my fingers would tangle together up under my nose, creating shapes and patterns that only meant something to them. At first I did it without even realizing, until I would notice the touch of a calloused finger, rubbed raw with constant pressure, up against my lip. Eventually I became too aware of them. I would stare at them, entranced by the game they were playing, and wondering why I couldn't just STOP stopstopstop just stop.
I would miss entire class periods, lost in my corner, staring at my hands, begging them to stop. My teachers would walk by and tap me on the shoulder, popping me out of my trance for a short time period. One teacher, Mrs. Walsh, eventually went to my parents. I wasn't taking quizzes or doing my reading. I was staring at my hands, my mind blank.
Then, I auditioned for a dance recital at my dance studio and got a special part. I spent most of my time onstage, with a lot of that time sitting in the background or watching other dancers. (I was a cat. I was brilliant. I was adorable. It was my crowning achievement.) When I wasn't dancing, I was in the background... and you can probably guess what I was up to.
Cue Dr. Barbara.
"Why do you think you can't control your hands?"
"They don't listen to me. I want to stop but I don't want to stop. I can't stop."
Dr. Barbara and I never really talked about my hands after that. We talked about plenty of other things: my baby sister who stole all my mom's attention, my dad who had started working a bit more, my other sister who got to pick the movies we watched every time, my closet I would crawl into and just sit in for a bit when things got too loud or too bright, my new house that was too big and the nightmares that snuck up on me in the night.
Over time, through the years that I spent with Dr. Barbara, my sessions became less about my hands and more about the camera I threw at the wall and the book I ripped to pieces and the keyboard I slammed my fists into.
In the end, it wasn't my hands I couldn't control... it was my pain.
Pain and Chelsea do. not. mix. When I say do not mix... I mean I run as far away from the first sign of Pain as I can get. I pack up Pain in a suitcase and put it on the first plane out of RDU. I stuff it into drawers and pray I forgot where I left it. I swallow it and let it sit in my gut until my blood goes septic. But Pain demands to be felt. And I always end up feeling it.
Over the years, my relationship with my hands has ebbed and flowed. I never gained full control of them, but we've developed a bit of a compromise, a healthy relationship with each other. If I don't keep them moving, my heart beat rises and my eyes blink faster and my tongue gets dry. but my hands don't distract me anymore. I don't stare at them or beg them to stop.
I rub my fingernails against my lips incessantly. I touch my hair. I can't read a book without flipping the pages constantly. But I live on, letting my hands do their thing and allowing my brain to let them go. However, in the past year, a familiar friend has shown up again.
I noticed it one day when I was in the bathroom getting ready to brush my teeth. Somewhere in the process of getting my toothbrush out of the cabinet and setting it down to reach for the toothpaste, I got lost. If I hadn't been in front of the mirror, I never would have noticed the familiar tangle of fingers stuck like glue against my face. The water was overflowing in the sink. I had no idea how much time had passed.
Enter my current psychologist and a familiar conversation.
"I'm worried about my hands."
"What about them?"
"I think I'm losing control of them again."
Through a lot of chit chat and reliving my elementary school days, we eventually determined that my hands held my Pain. They still do. And in the past few years, I have been through a shit ton of Pain. And I have been trying to hide it. Stuffing it into the corners of my room, letting it mix with the tumbleweeds of dog hair. Pushing it under my pillow, pretending like I can't see it hovering in the corners of my vision at all times. Making myself numb. Constantly trying to STOP stopstopstop just stop feeling.
I have always been told to lean into Pain. Embrace it. Let it move you. Let it push you. And, finally, I've decided to give it a try.
There are a lot of emotions pent up in these hands. And while my body has been trying to expel it all through them, bit by bit, they can't handle all that this body contains. There are nasty breakups, and unhealthy relationships, and deaths, and friends leaving, and identity crises, and communities that you don't feel like you belong in anymore, and people showing up to your door to tell you they are waltzing out of your life, and friendships becoming relationships and relationships becoming friendships, and an empty house you have no money to fill, and a dog that barks at nothing and everything, and nightmares on nightmares on nightmares, and a bunch of clocks that are never going to be set to the right time no matter how hard you try to fix them. And, honestly, dudes, there's just a bunch of shit.
But there are sidewalks that are begging for you to beat your anger into them. And showers that can soak up your tears. And there are songs that are longing to be scream-sung in the car. And friends that will sit and let you talk for hours on end, whether its in person or through phone waves stretching from this coast to the other. And there are sunsets that you can stare at, because the beautiful things should be felt too. And, perhaps, most importantly there are words to be written.
Around the time my hands began their transition from uncontrollable to... "easier to live with," we'll say, Dr. Barbara started me on a new project. We started to write a book. It was a short book. I was twelve. But I wrote my first book about a hurricane and how I had to save myself from rising flood waters. Looking back on it now... holy hell, how more obvious could it get. By the time we finished it, my hands had calmed down and were becoming easier to control.
So, maybe its time to put these hands to good use again. I've written over the years, of course: stories I can't finish, books I don't feel inspired by, blog posts that are dripping with a bitter sense of false emotions. How about we just get super real? Let's lean into the Pain, write about it and see where that takes us.
Pain demands to be felt. So, let's start feeling it.
Written by Chelsea P. Poole
These are not my hands but it is a picture of me and hands...