Self-Care for My Inner Child and Me

On Gossip Girl, Growing Up, and Hope for the Future

Stephanie Phillips / 7.27.20

Not to rub it in, but we’re in better shape over here in Australia than you are in America (pandemic-wise). But I’m still smarting from the effects of lockdown and, in particular, homeschooling — although I know that both could re-emerge at any moment. When the lockdown walls first began closing in, I knew that I would need to remain vigilant about my mental health, if there was to be any hope of coming out whole on the other side, and to that end I scheduled regular sessions with my therapist, practiced the liturgy and meditation, and read for pleasure and education. Also: coffee, chocolate, and wine. 

One of the many insights gleaned from diving deep into both isolation and my psyche was the discovery (first by my therapist, then by me) that the period of lockdown, with its absence of social engagements and other distractions, made space for some latent anxiety to float to the surface. I wasn’t alone in this — some friends have attested to their own problems, ones they thought had been more or less resolved, vaulting into the forefront of their minds to reveal their unfinished status. And a lot of our stuff had its origins in childhood.

Which means that, in addition to raising and homeschooling my children, I was, in a strange sense, confronting my own inner child and raising her. I was recognizing my older son’s anxiety and remembering its presence in my early life; I was picking up on my younger son’s thirst for approval and recalling my own thirst intensifying through my formative years. 

It was some heavy stuff. 

In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion writes, “Grief, when it comes, is nothing like we expect it to be.” How right she has proven to be during this moment. Much has been written about the grief we’re enduring, often without knowing it, during the pandemic: the “first-world” losses of companionship and experiences that cut more deeply than we consciously acknowledge. These losses can agitate old wounds, which cry out to be recognized and soothed.

This recognition and soothing can occur in unusual ways for some of us.

I started taking advantage of our children’s recent return to school (yes, we’re still doing that here) to perform some self-care in the form of Netflix viewing, and my latest obsession has actually been an old one: Gossip Girl, that late-aughts/early teens East Coast heir to The OC’s viewership, and a show I watched religiously (for the first three seasons, at least) from my couch in New York City, blocks away from where the series was filmed. 

“It’s so bad!” I squealed from the couch to my husband in the kitchen a few feet away. “But it’s so GOOD.”

I’ve returned to shows before — for example, I would often feed my first son in his highchair while we both tuned in to ABC Family’s reruns of Dawson’s Creek — and I’ve cringed just as mightily at the heavy-handed plot twists and clunky dialogue, but this revisit feels different. And the reason for that was revealed by a simple question my husband asked me. I was actually expecting to be shamed, but instead he wondered, “Does it make you miss New York?”

Pandemic life is heavy. But you know what’s not heavy? Watching old episodes of Gossip Girl. And you know what else wasn’t heavy (though you wouldn’t know it from my angst and drama-mongering at the time)? Spending my late 20s and early 30s in New York while single and childless. So this virtual escape to a world (my former world, plus a few embellishments and millions of dollars) where rich teens had seemingly unfettered access to each others’ penthouses has been an immersion in the comfortable and familiar. I know how every storyline will end — melodramatically and fashionably.

Not so in my present life, which all the meditation books encourage me to be present for. I don’t know when/if COVID-19 will go away, when/if it will be replaced by another virus, or when I’ll get to see family back in the States (fingers crossed for this Christmas!). I don’t know who will win the election and how that person will fail us once in office. I don’t know if my older son’s anxiety will follow a less intense path than my own, or whether my younger son will lose his tendency to be pulled along by the crowd. I don’t know when we’ll all get on a plane again, or when I’ll visit the Opera House with friends to see a live ballet. 

All of these questions tap into some uncertainties that lie deep within us, where unresolved problems from our youth remain ingrained in our adult selves. Unfortunately, our past problems never remain in the past. Therapists talk about this as the domain of the inner child, and mine … well, she’s got some ish.

For example, abandonment ish. And to my inner child I can say, one day you will be with a man who constantly shows up for you even after he’s seen you at your worst, and with children who constantly forgive you for that worst (and will definitely never, ever leave you alone).

And to my inner child’s fear that she’ll never belong: You will be a vital part of a family of four and this will be your landing, the home on this earth that you’ve always waited and longed for. And to her fear that she’s not really safe: You will enter a part of your life, and of the world, in which you feel hedged in and protected on all sides.

Of course, the point remains that I need to hear all of these assurances now, and from my present vantage point I can’t see the future. But what I can tell myself, and what I can tell my children, is this: We will never be left or forsaken. We belong to a greater love from which we can never be separated.

We have every reason to be discouraged, and it often looks like things are falling apart on us, but on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.