It happens at bedtime. Wild-eyed and almost vibrating with anxious energy, Jack zooms through the house. He sweeps down the hall and into his bedroom, from which I hear frantic murmurs. Moments later he zooms out again and I catch him up in my arms to steady him. I feel his heart beating rapidly in his chest.
I ask him what’s wrong.
“I don’t know. I don’t feel right. Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in a dream? Do you ever look in the mirror and feel like it’s not you looking back?”
Yes, I say. Many times.
He doesn’t really hear me. He disengages from my arms and zooms around the room again, first toward the kitchen, next toward the door. “Doors,” he mutters and reaches for the knob. I say no and he turns on his heel and makes a beeline for his bedroom again.
I follow. He sits in his desk chair and taps his fingers on the desk. His brown eyes fill with tears and dart around the room.
“My brain doesn’t feel right. I think I’m broken.”
He goes on to tell me that everything is boring. He says that fairytales are lies that are written to cope with the fact that there is no real magic in the world. He reads them and he feels hope and then reality returns: there is no magic, there are only lies. He will never have adventures. He will get up in the morning and eat his boring toast at the boring table and then go to boring school…it is all so awful.
His eyes meet mine and he pleads, “Is there something that can fix this?”
He says he worries about taking pills. He worries he is not meant to take pills, that he is meant for something that the pills will suppress.
Where did he get this idea, I wonder… How can a 10-year-old even possess this level of critical thinking?
“I don’t know how to fix this, Son, but I have ideas for what to do to help right now. You don’t have to figure it out on your own.”
First I give him headache medicine for the pounding in his head. Then we find a music station on his iPad, a soothing station of instrumental lullabies.
Draw, I tell him. Draw the monsters that are in your head right now. Draw and listen to the music and breathe while I make a cup of tea.
I come back with a steaming cup of minty tea and hold it under his nose, telling him to take a whiff. He does and then continues drawing.
He sketches twisted faces, pairs of eyes, a vortex, a banana tree. An instrumental version of “Hey Jude” plays while he draws. A calm settles over him.
“I’m feeling better,” he says. “I’m starting to forget the thoughts. I just need to draw this one last thing.”
He draws a door. “I kept seeing doors,” he explains as he puts his sketch pad aside.
We climb into his loft bed together, where he sips tea while I read to him. He is mostly back to his easy-going self by the time I tuck him in and say goodnight.
I breathe a deep sigh as I walk away from his bedroom door. I am bewildered. I don’t know what happened to my son this evening or why it happened, but we got through it together.
It is behind him, for now. It is my turn to cry.