Her Eyes Were Enormous
I couldn’t hold her yet. My post C-section body was still experiencing anesthesia paralysis. But as the nurse put her close to me, I could see her. I called her name quietly. She knew it. She knew me, and she turned to face me, her head right next to mine. In that moment, all I could see was those eyes – deep, dark blue, and enormous. Or so they seemed.
I didn’t expect them to be so BIG! I don’t have big eyes and neither does my husband. But hers were strikingly large. I took a closer look. It wasn’t just her eyes. It was her massive, wide-open pupils. They were the reason her blue eyes looked so dark. But why would they be so big, the scientist in me questioned. It was her first experience out of a warm, dark, womb. Shouldn’t they be drawn and constricted, limiting the foreign and harsh brightness of the hospital lights?
Those pupils continued to open wide and full throughout her life, expanding at times when normal people’s would constrict and limit the light. But, why?
It wasn’t until ten years after her birth that we learned one possible answer to this question. This beautiful, wide-eyed, off-the-charts-brilliant child lived in panic, tormented by the unrelenting demands and anxiety of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Her dilated pupils were her body and mind, constantly preparing to fight.
To me the OCD was a monster – constantly demanding to be fed. It was insatiable. And the more she gave it, the bigger it grew and the hungrier it became, until it caged her like an animal and made her its slave. Breighlin performed her rituals over and over with single-minded exactness, to the point that her hands bled and her body cramped.
We told her the only way to weaken the monster was to starve it. A weak monster would be easier to beat in the anxious battle of obsession and compulsion. But that was easier said than done. Breighlin was brilliant with an off-the-charts IQ. This all made sense to her logically. But in her rapid-firing mind, this was not an intellectual or logical problem. Outwitting an opponent that you really don’t understand borders on impossible.
But she did.
Over the years, Breighlin found the resources she needed. She learned coping skills, learned to live in discomfort. And slowly, the panic lessened, the anxiety calmed. She still fights the battle, but from a position of power. She’s no one’s slave.
And those eyes? The magnificent big, blue eyes that open wide, they’ve become her strength. They’re filled with empathy. They see into others and understand their pain. She’s become the best kind of mentor: one who understands.
And now she’s giving me the opportunity to share her experience and that hard-won strength. To the one who suffers, to the parent who anguishes, struggling to figure out how to help their child: there is hope.