One summer evening as I sat in my bedroom eyeing my jar full of fireflies and too excited to sleep, my mother entered. I was seven years old and the prospect of going to an amusement park the next morning was so riveting that I could not put my mind to rest. Over and over again I had nagged her all day, “Tell me one more time about the roller coaster”. My poor mother had had enough. She brushed my hair out of my face, kissed my forehead, and then her lovingly-intended words pierced my young psyche like an ice cycle. “Honey”, she said, “when you’re an adult, you won’t feel excited like this anymore.” My heart dropped. The words were poisonous, and for years they lurked in my mind as an impending and unavoidable prophecy. I would do everything in my power to escape such an awful fate: an adulthood totally devoid of excitement.
As an adult I would occasionally reflect on her words, always relieved that I could still experience excitement that kept me awake at night. I believed that the ability to experience excitement and wonder and awe was so fragile that I must actively cultivated it. Use it or loose it. My husband has since endured endless hours of chatter about going to see some amazing synchronized fireflies, nights laying awake before going on trips and even the occasional, spontaneous game of tag in our kitchen.
After I enrolled in graduate school studying clinical psychology, I began to understand more about my mother. Though she died when I was a teen, her words and memories are in my mind. As I sat with many debilitatingly depressed clients and listened to what they had to say, it dawned on me that they felt the way my mother did. There was no excitement. Life’s joy had slowly drained away like water through cupped hands.
It’s interesting that I would finally come to understand my mother through the voice of strangers, but also in that striving to outrun my mother’s own demon my entire life, I had cultivated the strength and resilience to weather emotional storms with my clients. At the end of the day, despite whatever atrocities I may have vicariously experienced through their stories, I can go home and find excitement in something as trivial as my rubber duck, or the new flowers I’ll plant that weekend. In holding on to excitement, I’ve cultivated the essential belief needed to survive my profession. The belief that no matter how old I may get or how dark circumstances may become, there is always some excitement left to be found.
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