“Honey, you’re blinking again,” Dad says. “Grandma asked me about it.”
“Oh,” I look at my feet, face flushed with shame. I am 10 years old.
“Why don’t you try tapping your foot instead? Every time you feel like blinking, tap your foot instead,” Dad has already suggested this before. I hear his desire to be gentle, to be sensitive, coupled with an urgency to get me to stop being so noticeably weird. I get it. I have been plagued in recent months with an overwhelming need to blink my eyes in rapid succession. I don’t really understand why I do this, only that it begins one morning when one eye feels sort of dry while the other feels sort of watery, so I blink the dry one to get it to water a bit to match the other one. That doesn’t work, so I blink many times. Now the eye that was dry is still dry, but it hurts, while the watery eye is still watery but doesn’t hurt so I have to blink the watery eye until it hurts to get it to match the dry eye. It’s never enough and it never evens out so I spend most of the day going about my business with squinting, blinking, irritated eyes. Dad initially asked the month prior if my allergies were bothering me. I said yes, because I don’t know how to explain why I’m doing this. Now we’re both acknowledging that it’s not organic, it’s in me, it’s in my mind, and I can control it. And yet…I can’t.
As a child, I was easily stressed and always worried. I fretted about small things–being made to try out for the third grade talent show, losing my house keys for the tenth time–and bigger, scarier, more out-of-my-league things–being kidnapped by a stranger, being molested by a neighbor, dying young of an incurable disease. I absorbed the ills of the world around me and made them my reality, regardless of how unlikely they were of occurring in my actual life.
I spent many of those years surfing an undercurrent of doom that I never really understood. Besides the blinking tick, I performed counting rituals to make the space I inhabited safer; I created an elaborate system of synesthesia, where I assigned colors and temperatures to letters and numbers. I went through periods of restricting the type of food I ate. In the midst of these manifestations, I was not aware of why I was behaving this way, only that it seemed to temporarily keep the fear at bay.
Later on, these behaviors were given names: OCD, anxiety, depression. With the help of therapy, I identified what had previously been unknowable: what my fears were, why I had them, and what I could do to deal with them in a productive manner. Therapy isn’t for everyone, but it was for me. It was the compass pointing me towards wellness.
Since trying to get pregnant, nearly five years ago, I’ve often felt that turn back toward the therapist’s office, the impulse to sit in a chair and tell someone what this feels like, and have them tell me why. But infertility feels different to me. It’s not like counting my steps when I cross the street or blinking my eyes to “fix” the moisture. The inability to have a child with the person you love is exactly what it sounds like. Frustrating. Painful. It doesn’t hide in a mask of facial ticks. It is the most basic of impulses, to have children, to create family, to feel a new level of bond and commitment with your partner. Infertility is the barrier to all that. It is visible. It is honest. It is infinitely knowable.
I think about the 10 year old who couldn’t stop blinking, who wanted to know why and didn’t have an answer, and her suffering was all the more vivid in its cloudiness. Although I am not grateful, necessarily, for the years of infertility, it has been a sort of gift for this pain to be transparent. To be open. To be knowable.