The depression and anxiety are getting worse this week. I’m starting to clench my jaw more, and have more trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep. Everything feels urgent, but I’m not motivated to do much. It’s clear the cocktail of medications I’m on is not working out for me.
I’m feeling unproductive. I have little tangible output (except for what I’ve learned to call procrastibaking). Often, I play video games to avoid the tangle of emotions flowing through me.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m not used to depression that doesn’t result directly from grief. For the first time I’m feeling something different about my mother. I’m feeling pissed at her that she didn’t stick around and help me figure out these things that I’m going through: starting perimenopause and raising a seven-year-old.
But she didn’t have experience with either. She died at the age of 38, and now I’m 45. And for most of my seventh year, she was not my legal guardian. I turned seven in the second grade, the year that I lived with my uncles and grandmother. In the middle of summer, my cousin drove me back up to Rochester to live with Mama in her new house. But I only stayed with her there three months before she ended her own life.
How could she leave me to figure out this stuff by herself? Part of me feels like she was a coward for running away from this crap I am stuck with. Perimenopause is not for wimps. It’s weird and confusing and may be partly responsible for my depression. And raising seven-year-olds is not for wimps, either. My son has been accused, with his best friend, of bullying two separate kids. He is mystified by this, because he likes both of these kids. I suspect that it has to do with him and his best friend being bullied themselves by an older kid, and testing out new bad words they learned from that experience, and not knowing when teasing becomes hurtful, and not realizing that he and his best friend are so tall that they can appear intimidating to smaller boys.
But now that I’m the mother of a seven-year-old, I also realize that I have sunk a lot more energy and love into raising this kid than I ever understood when I was a kid. As my memories of my mother faded after her death, I wondered how much she was really responsible for who I was. How well did she know me? And how much could she love me, choosing to leave me the way she did? The answer, now that I’m a mother, is a lot. I have poured so much into raising this kid, knowing him inside and out, seeing how even his experiences in my womb still play out in his life now. (He still stretches all the time, and he still loves to hear me sing!) And I have to tell you, I am head over heels in love with him. As a friend tried to explain to me once before I became a mother, your feelings for your children are like a crush. I see him and my heart beats a little faster. I just want to scoop him up and hug him and kiss his still-soft cheeks over and over again. I will listen to him endlessly talk about dinosaurs or rocks or rocket blasters, just to revel in his enthusiasm and energy. I would do anything for him, anything to make him a better person, give him a better life. I would even leave him if I felt it would be the best thing for him, rip myself away and never see him again–and that’s what my mother, in the depths of her depression and anxiety and delusion, believed was the best thing she could do for me.
And then I also need to remind myself of the other side of that perspective. When I am under the delusion that my son would be better off without me, that my husband is really a much better parent than I am and that anything I do would just ruin things, or that maybe my son doesn’t really love or need me that much anyway–then I remember how I felt about Mama when I was six and seven. She was a hot mess and I knew it. I tried to take care of her and I couldn’t, and I was scared. But I still desperately craved her. She was my responsibility, and I did not take kindly to people treating me like an ordinary child who shouldn’t be filled in on the details of Mama’s life. And I always, always wanted her. I loved her so much. I was hurt and lonely when she pulled away from me (even if she did it to protect me from her own demons), and I was so happy when she was back in my life. And my heart broke when she died.
My son takes me for granted. My relationship with him is stable, and he knows I’ll be there for him. It means he doesn’t always act like I’m that important to him, and sometimes that delusion still woos me: “He would never even notice you were gone.” But it’s not true. I’m the air he breathes and the food he eats. Right now, he needs me to know himself.
Losing my mother unmoored me. It took me years to find my feet again, and I am still figuring out who I am. I’m older than she ever was. My early identity as her caretaker, which I then tried to recreate with several dysfunctional friendships and jobs, is not what I am really for. So what am I for?
My first five years of motherhood, I worried that I would somehow mysteriously die like my mother had (although I had no intention of ending my life like she did). Now I finally believe that’s not going to happen–and I have no roadmap for how to be a mother from this point. If I’m not in a mental institution, recovering from a major suicide attempt that put me in a coma, or drinking to overcome my insomnia, how do I do this motherhood thing?
And yes, I know many mothers who are raising children, some of them the same age as my son, and others who have raised children well past his age. Yet some voice inside me whispers that I am not like these other women. Something is wrong inside me, twisted, strange. There are things about me that no one would understand or accept. What they are doing won’t work for me, and I need to stay alone and ashamed.
I am sharing my past in a public blog post because I know I have no reason to be ashamed of these things that happened to me. Even though there has been a stigma about suicide in the past, and perhaps still in the present in some places, I don’t care. The damage of many of the things that happened to me came from the secrecy about them just as much as the events themselves.
The unspoken messages I lived by were: Your house is not like other houses. Your parents are not like other parents. When you tell adults about things you know, they get silent and uncomfortable. When you tell children about things you know, they stare at you or make fun of you. The things those other people do won’t work for you. The rules those other people follow don’t apply to you. You are alone in your grief, in your weirdness, in your specialness. No one can help you. And there is something noble about how you must suffer alone.
Even just writing these messages helps me see how messed up they are. But the hook that keeps me believing them is the idea that I’m special and noble for suffering this way. Look how complicated and intricate my problems are. Ordinary people don’t have problems this complicated!
What I love about the women in my moms group is that they skewer some of these ideas. “Yep, he’s seven,” they say when I describe some behavior that has me in an anxious mess. “Well, of course you feel that way,” they respond. “Every mom feels that way.” Oh… really? You mean I’m not alone? I’m normal? I’m not… special?
So it’s time for me to admit that this depression and anxiety, although partly derived from a childhood with some significant traumas, are stemming from a good old midlife crisis. I am middle-aged. I am questioning who I am and what my purpose is. I’m watching my father approach the end of his life, and I’m wondering what I want to accomplish with the years I have left. And I’m struggling with wacky hormones that are yanking my mood around like a toddler yanks the leash of a toy dog. Yep. It’s all very ORDINARY.
It’s humbling. And a relief. Congratulations! You’re not crazy. You’re just on the same crappy path everyone gets to sooner or later. You’re having a midlife crisis.