My dear Sweatpants & Coffee tribe,
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been making small spaces for myself where I can feel safe and cozy.
In my childhood bedroom, with its pink and white checkered bedspread and hanging love bead curtains, I’d line the narrow space between my bed and the wall with pillows. Then I’d take a sheet and tuck it under the Margaret Keane painting on my wall. (Remember those ubiquitous paintings of big-headed children with preternaturally large doe-eyes that used to hang in every doctor’s and dentist’s office back in the day? Why did everyone like those? This was before those photos of babies dressed up like flowers and posed in giant terra cotta pots came on the scene. Those would have been much less creepy. Anyway.) I’d take the other end of the sheet and wedge it between the mattress and the box spring and ta-dah! I had a fort.
I made hideaways, usually furnished with shoeboxes of books, maybe a small lamp, blankets, and toilet-paper roll binoculars, in my closet, my favorite corner of the living room (the one next to the stereo so I could play music), and even our seldom-used storage room where my dad kept the broken lawnmower and plastic tubs of Christmas ornaments. I was constantly burrowing and nesting. I had my own room, but it felt too big.
When you are a child with anxiety, life feels too big.
You have to shrink it down to manageable proportions. This book, this stuffed lion, this stack of peanut butter and jelly saltine sandwiches, this tiny, flannel-covered world with rosy light coming in through the fabric of your favorite quilt. Everything within arm’s reach.
I still have anxiety (and clinical depression and PTSD) and one of the ways I cope when life is too big is to focus on what is small and manageable. This next breath. This cup of coffee. This one thing my smart friend said. Getting through this particular moment is hard, but it will pass. The next moment may also be hard, but it’ll be a different moment, and I can worry about that when it comes.
My blanket fort is always about simplifying and staying in this finite, contained space of now. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. When I was a kid, I just thought they were cool and they made me feel better. Now that I’m an adult, I have more context and bigger words, but the function is the same.
It’s a profound thing to realize that wherever you are and whatever you are coping with, you can always put up boundaries. Maybe they are quilt-like, stitched together from all the lessons you’ve learned. You can always make a place for yourself, away from the noise and nonsense, and fill it with bits of meaning and comfort.
And when you’re ready, you can poke your head back out and get on with the sacred, ordinary business of life, rested and recharged.