Monthly Archives: May 2016

The invisible agony*

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The invisible agony*

Hilarious beast, this depression. Like so many things in my life, I’d assumed it’s like the movies. You lay in bed, in the dark after some devastating loss. A partner dies, a divorce, a lost job. And your best friend comes in after some period of a time, a week, two weeks, and throws open the curtains and says, “That’s it! You’re getting up.” Followed by a montage of you reluctantly going for a walk in the park, thoughtfully sipping tea while wearing sunglasses and a head scarf, you toss a frisbee and laugh accidentally, eventually you play a board game with friends or travel to Italy, you write a meaningful song, or start a blog. There’s a crescendo you ride that steadily increases your mood until one day you are just–better, well.
But in real life there’s no steady path that leads you to better. There are good days relentlessly followed by terrible days. There is distinct pleasure pursued by devastating and unexpected pain. And that pain lives right next to the intense pleasure. Next door neighbors, like the kind of neighbor that you’d borrow sugar from. You’re enjoying that perfect day, the simple joy of the air temperature and the smell of flowers and the very next molecule that holds the very next thought contains a darkness so dire that you once again feel that deep ache, the deepest a heart can know without shattering into a million pieces from the weight of it. The spaces are all so fragile that they’d surely break from the lightest brush of a dandelion parachute. And you feel the black hole of depression opening up, ready to swallow you whole, but you access some hidden resource tucked away, you step forward and back into the light of the sun.
Depression doesn’t get to be the protagonist of that cinematic fairy tale, it’s messier, some days a lot more boring and,essentially, always present. Depression makes you tired, the kind of tired that napping doesn’t alleviate. You ache and not the type of ache that is removed with painkillers. You live with it, it’s a scar, it’s an unpaid debt, it’s taxes, it’s death. It follows you, it lives with you. Periodically it goes into hibernation, you medicate it, or meditate it, or get it drunk, but it comes back. It sits on your chest like an unkempt, uninvited Flemish Rabbit, it pursues you, it waits for you to be too tired to fight it off and hopes you will pull it over you like a dangerous and comfortable blanket.
Most of the time, you manage it. You go about your day. You throw frisbees and accidentally laugh, you sip tea and wear headscarves, you play Jenga, you vacation. Some days you pass so joyfully, you wonder if it’s just gone–taken up residence in some other vessel. Some days it moves in with such authority and violence that you are sure there is no more of you. You sleep lengthy naps in darkened rooms. You wonder what the point is, you cry and fret and ache. But just as the molecules of pleasure are bumped out of the way to make room for despair, the opposite is true as well.
The melody of life with depression is packed with crescendos and decrescendos, swells of beautiful music and discordant cacophonous noise, and hours and hours of background music. You struggle with it, you survive with it, you fight it and acquiesce to it. You treat it, you coddle it, you feed it and starve it, but you never get rid of it. Because you live with it. And that is ok. Or at least, that is.

The title is credited to David Foster Wallace

Mother’s Day Lament

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Mother’s Day Lament

There is little that compares to the emptiness I feel on Mother’s Day morning. My children remember me and bring coffee and love notes. Friends and family send kind words. And yet, it is one of the hardest days of the year because of what feels like it is missing: The expectation of what I thought motherhood would be.
I thought I would be a better mother, more organized, more nurturing, better at caring for the little darlings that I brought into the world. I thought I’d make more chore charts and handmade yarn mittens, I thought I’d coach more after school sports, or at least bring more orange slices. I thought I’d plan more Harry Potter themed birthday parties complete with talking sorting hats and brooms strung from the ceiling with fishing line. I thought I’d be tired less and self evolved less. I thought I’d kill fewer indoor plants, outdoor herbs and tropical fish. I thought I’d rescue more kites from trees and find more lost cats and shoes and important papers. I thought I’d do more, do it more smoothly and with less shouting. I’d kiss more and yell less.
I once believed it was my destiny to be a wife and mother. I’d be the best at both, a natural by virtue of the sheer quantity of good mothers and wives that I observed in fiction and reality alike. I saw and read about great mothers, doing mother things with ease and delight. But, I didn’t hear much about the loneliness of motherhood, the bone shaking doubt, the crippling fear of utter incompetence that accompanies caring for other human beings. The ache a mother feels at caring so deeply for her children. The feeling that I am simultaneously the most influential and the least competent person to tend to the needs of these tiny humans.
The list of hurts a mom is faced with managing is long. There are bees and nighttime terrors that coincide with an overwhelming need for sleep or just to be alone with my own thoughts. There are skinned knees and, worse, the pains that you can’t see, that you can’t measure because they are invisible and indeed so much more insidious. Heartbreaks, stomach aches, late night fears that keep you awake wondering if you’ve made a huge mistake. Sure I try my best, even in the tired moments, but it seldom feels adequate. And there are no real breaks.
There are good times, to be sure. They are frequently more plentiful than the trying times. There’s laughter and joy. And there are mundane, average Tuesdays where everyone just floats along, lunches get made in peace and dogs sleep quietly and dishes get put away without nagging. There are moments that reach in and grab your soul because you could just burst with pride and elation over the beautiful human being you contributed to creating and raising. Sometimes I feel as though my heart will break with delight because I see in my daughters a reflection of the parts of me that are decent and pure. And the special bond we get because of what we have been through together. The pains and triumphs that are ours alone to understand, glue us tightly together.
But the real kick you in the teeth pain bee sting in your ear slap in the face of Mother’s Day is that I thought it would be a partnership. This day is a reminder that I thought I was standing in one line, signing up for a specific class, agreeing to a particular arrangement, and I was not. Like so many women, in so many circumstances, we are left alone on the heavy end of the see saw. We stopped playing man to man defense, or even zone defense and realized the rest of the team had already left on the bus.
I admit, there is a village around my daughters and I. People who care for us in amazing and selfless ways, people without whom the ship would sink for sure. And that makes me more fortunate than some. It offers an advantage which I cannot fathom being without. Because even with help, it is the hardest challenge I have ever endured. Because in the deepest part of the night, when I am weary from the days and weeks, when one of my daughters comes to me with a broken heart and I reach deep down and try to find an answer that will satisfy her, will heal up her wound and at the same time allow me to go back to my own tumultuous mind. Because no one else can be there for that or can even really assure me that I’ve done the best I can. Because it is the loneliest job I will ever both love and doubt. For these reasons, I wish there was no yearly reminder that I am a mother.
It’s the loneliness that kills me. And the self doubt. It’s the quiet, though disgruntled, inner voice that suggests that the universe has made a terrible error in allowing me to be the sole caretaker for the minds, bodies and souls of these tremendous human beings. Most days, I feel like barely more than an adolescent myself. And the sheer irony that I’m managing all of this alone, is the cherry on top of a macabre sundae. Just because I planned on doing this as a team is not a way out.
As always, I’m thankful for the little things, the little victories, and the big support we get from our community. I’m thankful for inside jokes and love notes, and unsolicited thank yous. I thankful for an understanding partner who walks home in the early morning hours to make room for sleepy interlopers. I am thankful to friends who send lovely supportive words. But mostly, I am thankful that tomorrow there are 364 days until Mother’s Day.