"A friend once called this sense of being too alone "the desperate plain," the looming desolate stretch of ground, no trees to shelter you, no water, no way to escape, nowhere to hide or find comfort, strewn with rocks and a few random snake holes. You are stripped down existentially, you are naked, you are nuts."
~Anne Lamott, from Small Victories: Spotting Improbably Moments of Grace
We've all been there, haven't we? What Lamott's friend calls "the desperate plain". It's terrifying. We can't remember having ever felt safe. We can't imagine ever feeling safe again. Everywhere we look, we see threats. There is nowhere to retreat. There we are: naked, nuts.
I'm there right now. My youngest child is struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder and I feel as though I'm in enemy territory. She becomes someone I don't recognize when she's having an episode. She screams that I'm "dirty". She won't touch certain items because they're "contaminated". She rails at me for "not helping" her and won't let me hug her because I'm "filthy and "something bad will happen."
And then, when the episode is over – 10 minutes if we're lucky, an hour if we're not – she's contrite. She sobs with regret, begs my forgiveness, says she wishes she could kill herself so that she didn't have to deal with this. She's 11 years old. A baby. My baby.
It's breaking my heart.
And though it has been a long time since I was in that barren wasteland – that desperate plain – I know that so many of you are still there. I'm back.
I'm reminded just how terrifying it is. How alone you all feel.
But I know that it is then, when we look over our shoulder and beside us and – oh no, did something move over there? – all around and see nothing NOTHING that can save us, that we need to say, in a squeak or a roar:
We need to say "help". We need to say "help" to anyone in our lives who can offer it. We need to say "help" to someone who can take your kids for an hour so you can close your eyes or go for a walk or see your therapist. We need to say "help" to that therapist – who can give us a place where, for an hour a week (or more!), we can lay our heart bare to someone with compassion and experience who can help us mend it back together, stitch by stitch.
We need to say "help" to the women on this site, who've been where we are and can join us in solidarity or gently remind us that we won't always be in this place. That despite everything we feel right now, there is a place to move into that does offer safety and respite. That we'll get there if we can just hold on. If we can just trust that this desperate plain isn't a destination but a phase. A place we need to endure. A place where are not, in fact, alone.
Enduring can feel like surrender when it's actually a sign of incredible strength. And asking for help can be the most courageous thing you do today.
Right now my daughter needs my help. She needs me to remind her that she can endure. That this desperate plain isn't where she will always be. That she is brave and loved and suffering. But that she isn't alone.