Someone asked me how I manage to feel “okay.” This was in the context of talking about depression, feeling overwhelmed with three young kids, my husband’s extreme work schedule, and my own work with demanding deadlines. You know–just another conversation with me!
Tonight Henry had a tantrum over dinner. I insisted he remain in his room because he wouldn’t sit at the table; and we fought over this–me, holding the bedroom door closed as he wailed and tried to pull it open, then blocking him from leaving the hallway outside his room once I gave up on holding the door. Finally, he fell asleep mid-breakdown, head in my lap, curled up next to me as I leaned back on the closet door. And we stayed like that for some time. The girls were in the living room doing an art project–cutting paper into pieces so small, it is impossible to remove them from the carpet. They discussed sharing the blue scissors. Because the blue ones are the best, of course.
On any given day–at several points–I think about how I feel. I am thinking of it now. Oh, I know. How self-indulgent. But it’s reflexive at this point in my life. At almost 42–I mean, having just turned 30–I have had very dark moods for most of my adult life. And that’s half my life now. (Forget what I said about turning 30. No one believed that anyway.)
I found ways to deal with it and be okay. Sometimes I did nothing; sometimes I tried many things at once.
And then I had children, and three little persons depending on me for everything forced me to find extreme methods of coping, of getting back to gratitude. Because that is the only place where everything is indeed okay. So I use my dark nature to help do this.
When I am coming undone, screaming at the children for reasons completely beyond their or my control, when I hover on the edge of truly losing my sense of myself–in a moment or over the course of a day, I need to go to the very darkest places of my mind to come into my light.
I can describe it like this: I recall a story I’ve read about a child, the one that left me doubled over on the sofa, tears falling on my laptop, or the radio coverage of war refugees that I had to switch off because it felt like a blow to my gut; I imagine the bargaining I would do with God were anyone were taken from my life. (And I imagine with great specificity, although I will spare you that here.)
The world changes the second we have a child–its randomness is called out. Horrendous loss hovers over us in nightmares and daydreams. We have no choice but to share the vulnerability, as parents, when we hear of children sick from cancer or dying from hunger, and the irrational relief those are not our circumstances. So similarly, I purposefully call up the blackest pain in the universe to escape my own dark present–to very literally calm myself down or keep myself going, depending on the moment. Oh. How. Sick. But true.
As my three-year-old son screamed and kicked me and punched the air tonight, I was close to an edge. Maybe not the edge, but one, certainly. I was up with the girls for a couple of hours in the middle of the night; I was called again to pick up an inconsolable Molly at school; and I am so behind on one project that I am going straight to the “apologizing phase” with it. One kid refusing dinner felt like a betrayal. An edge.
And while some mothers count to ten or take a step away from the situation to gain composure and perspective, I have more success with less “prescribed” methods. How do I feel okay? I imagine the worst of the worst of the world, the events that give even the most faithful doubts of God’s goodness. And again, I can function in my own world with its limited sleep and diminished privacy. It is likely that I will never balance caring for my children with all the other things I am responsible for doing. I may never be utterly rid of depression or darkness or panic and fear. My nightly routine of dishwasher loading, making lunches, and wiping counters won’t change soon. Being thankful–looking for and working to find reasons to keep wanting to thank the universe–for my abundance of chaos, for the health, the absurdity, so many mundane tasks, the minor complaints–the relative perfection of today. That is how I do okay.
Eventually, Molly found me in the hallway, with Henry still asleep on me, and she sat down next to me. And we sat close, listening to Henry’s heavy sleeping breath and to Ellie in the living room, still cutting paper, belting out her new favorite and original song, “I Broke My Butt.”