Tag Archives: coping

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

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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.

What I’ve avoided telling you for some time now: Part 1

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What I’ve avoided telling you for some time now: Part 1

It was a Sunday, a nice sunny Sunday that was unusually warm for January. I had been living separately from Chris for about nine months. He had recognized his girlfriend was crazy and that maybe the fact that I was a good person but a terrible housekeeper wasn’t so bad. At least that was the surface story.
Earlier that week we had seen a mediator to try to sort out our goals for our future and the future of our three daughters. The separation was getting pretty real. Chris was so emotionally tired, I could see it in his face and his frighteningly thin body. He was coming untethered and I was his last remaining tie. When the mediator left the room, he laid his head on my shoulder, and I put my arm around him. He commented that people who were getting a divorce shouldn’t touch so lovingly.
Later that day he sent me a text saying all he wanted was for us to look at each other the way we had over a decade ago, to go back to being our nation of two, to lay down together and let the troubles of the world go away. But we were very far from that reality.
After a decade of struggling to make our round peg fit into the square hole of marriage, we had grown apart. Chris had had an affair, come back to me and then returned to her. He was struggling with depression, and alcoholism and for the first time in over a decade I was starting to get a clearer picture of who we were together. I loved Chris, I wanted our family to be whole, our daughters to have a nuclear family, but I could see that was my fantasy.
I am fully aware that I was not perfect, I was needy and jealous. I was bad at communicating my needs and standing my ground. I was an enabler. I wallowed in resentment sometimes and was silent when I needed to talk. I had growing to do.
I loved Chris because he was an over-achiever, with a broken heart, a good man with a drinking problem and a genius with a total inability to see himself for who he was. Chris could not come to terms with the fact that he was a flawed human, or in short, human. He had suffered with depression for most of his life and believed treating it would deny who he was. So instead he worked and he ran. He ran literally and metaphorically until he couldn’t run any more. That day was sometime in January 2012.
Three weeks earlier he had taken out a $90,000 second mortgage on the house. He took a trip to a tropical island, he closed accounts, deleted information from the hard drive of our computer, he returned broken cameras.
On that Sunday, January 29th he was recovering from a 24 hour call at the hospital. Apparently it was a fairly tolerable call and he had gotten some sleep. I worked at the Unitarian Universalist church at the time and had a meeting after. Chris offered to take the girls to a nearby park while I was in my meeting. The two younger girls accepted and M went to spend the afternoon with a friend. After the park, we all went to lunch.
The conversation was strange, and not just in retrospect. I kept seeing glimmers of something in Chris’ eyes. Something that betrayed the surface meaning of his questions. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I felt an energy coming from him. It was needy and sad. He wasn’t just asking questions, he was seeking reassurance, closure.
We walked out to the parking lot. He put on his grey motorcycle jacket. He said, ” we should talk sometime.”
“About what?” I asked
” Just talk.” He replied
“Ok. We will”.
That was the last thing I ever said to him.

Bodies in motion

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Bodies in motion

I spent some significant time this morning scrubbing a corner in my house with bleach. My house is inhabited by three children, two dogs, two and sometimes three cats and me. We could qualify as a hair and dust factory with a side classification for manufacturing dirty clothes and dishes. Granted, cleaning house was only a priority when I lived alone in my apartment in Atlanta. God, that place was so clean. And if you could ignore the gunshots and the domestic abuse, very quiet. But life is different now, different priorities and so many more hairy bodies, junk mail and old yogurt cups. And at least once a day there is an accident, of the spilling kind, the throw up kind, the fecal kind.
And it’s January, the shittiest month of the year. Sorry January, you just are. It’s after Christmas, it’s cold, it’s dark and it’s the anniversary. I really just want to hunker down like a grizzly bear and sleep, under the quilt. I do not want to make dinner, I do not want to exercise, I do not want to bleach the cat vomit out of that corner.
That’s the one, two gut punch of depression. I don’t feel like exercising, I don’t exercise, I feel less like exercising. I’m staring at my iPad, and getting plenty of high scores on puzzle forge. I want to eat gravy, on buttered cheese biscuits with a side of French fries, but I want them delivered to my bedside, getting up seems very, very difficult.
Thankfully, I have kids, they seem to need feeding everyday and I seem to be responsible for that. I made pizza last week. I turned on the oven.
So, Am i going to blob myself into February, will you find a a Jabba the hut sized greasy stain where my body should be? No. No you won’t. I’m putting one heavy foot in front of the other, taking a breath, and then putting the next heavy foot down. I am forcing, with great resistance and internal whining, myself to drink a big glass of water every morning. Im making a menu and a grocery list, those pictures of homemade granola were inspiring. I’m listening to my kid bug me to get up and do something with her (we planked together), I’m writing it all down, purging, I’m bleaching the effing corner.
I need a little nap now, cause it’s exhausting, but I’m doing it. January will pass and I will be a part of it. There’s no curse, just a moment of relative silence.