This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for a month now. I don’t know why I’m so reluctant to simply let go of it, one way or another, but I am. I want to keep it, to remember it, and I also want to get rid of it, to erase it. But I’m tired of being indecisive and I’m tired of seeing it in my drafts, so I’m posting it today, to let it finish out 2012, and tomorrow or Tuesday, I will write some nice inspiring “2013 will be all better” post to start off the New Year with a little more optimism.
I left a comment on Anne Stuart’s blog this morning and I’ve been thinking about it all day. I need to revisit it. And what better place to do that than here?
Blogging is public, obviously, but my blog is also personal. Posts on this blog go back six years or so, long before I started writing fiction again, and I’m willing to bet that I’m the only person who’s read some of the older posts. That’s fine by me. For a long time, I posted words here but I never mentioned them anywhere else. This was literally an online journal–my memories, stored in the cloud. When I self-published my books and linked the books to the blog, I accepted that people might find it but I also never really expected that people would. I’m saying all this because I’m torn between my desire to write with honesty–for myself, for what I need out of writing at the moment, for my own experience–and my awareness of the possibility of an audience. Personal versus professional, I guess. So, warning: this is intensely personal and if you’re only reading because you’re hoping to find out when A Gift of Time will be available, it is absolutely okay with me if you stop reading and go do something more fun with your time.
So here’s how the story goes.
R was unbearable last Sunday. Completely annoying. I finally snapped at him, “I’m done. Go away. I can’t handle this. I don’t want to hear it.”
He did the hurt look.
I felt guilty.
I said, “Wallow in your own room. In your space. But I am not up for this level of self-pity.”
He exited. Gracefully. I felt guilty. More than guilty. Evil. Mean. Bad mom.
Eventually, probably at least an hour later, I wandered over to his bedroom doorway. He didn’t glare at me. He gave me the stoic, “you have crushed my spirit and wounded my sensibilities” look. It’s a good look and he does it well. All his life–or at least from the time he was eight months old, which is the first time I can remember this feeling–he’s been a master at the expression that says, “you have failed me, but I forgive you anyway.” It’s a powerful look and someday I should write the story of the only time I spanked him and how quintessentially perfect it was for my parenting philosophy, but that’s not today’s story. Anyway…
I said to him, “You have a genetic predisposition to depression. It is an illness. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain, a shortage of dopamine and maybe serotonin. It can be helped with drugs. And if you think that is where you’re at, we can go to the doctor and get you medication and that’s okay.”
He shook his head.
I said, “That’s fine, too. But what I’m hearing you say is that you feel overwhelmed and if you’re overwhelmed, you still have options. I sort of think they’re obvious. If you can’t finish your English project, you tell your teacher, I can’t finish, I need to work over Christmas break. And she says, well, I’ll have to downgrade you a letter grade and you’ll get a B instead of an A. And so what? You’ll live with a B.”
I repeated, “So what? You’ll live with a B.”
He glared more. Maybe added a nostril flare.
I shook my head. “You have choices. You have options. It is not the end of the world or anywhere close if you get a B. Or worse. Nothing that you’re doing is going to affect the fate of the world.”
The glare deepened.
“Dude,” I tried, “When I was in 11th grade, everything was desperately important to me. I felt like screwing up would be…” I couldn’t come up with the words for what it would have meant to screw up in 11th grade. I shrugged helplessly. “I knew that I couldn’t screw up. But I was wrong. It wouldn’t have mattered if I did. And it doesn’t matter if you do. You’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.”
“I’m not going to screw up.” His words were tight and hostile.
I sighed. Being a mom just sucks sometimes. You want to show that you understand but it doesn’t come across that way. “I was desperately worried about disappointing people when I was your age,” I said, trying hard to keep my voice even. “But you know what? It’s okay if you disappoint me. I will love you just the same.”
His glare softened slightly. But only slightly.
And inwardly, I wanted to roll my eyes. Great, I’d told him he could disappoint me. That wasn’t really where I wanted to go with this conversation. He is–okay, I’m a little biased–the most amazing kid ever. He’s never going to disappoint me. Not because of anything he needs to do, but because he is who he is. He could fail every class, and he would still be the gentlest sixteen-year-old you have ever met. He would still be a charm magnet for six-year-olds. He would still be himself. There is nothing he has to achieve to be wonderful. He simply is.
So I persevered. “When I was your age, I felt like I had to be perfect. I thought I needed to be perfect. But that was an illness talking. That was the wrong amount of dopamine in my brain. You don’t need to live that way.”
He looked away.
“If everything is overwhelming and you can’t handle the stress and what you need to do is stay home and play video games all day for a few months, that’s fine. We can make that work. We’d figure it out.”
“I don’t,” he grumbled, still not looking at me.
“Okay.” I stood in his doorway feeling stupid. I’m not sure what I finished with. I don’t know how I ended the conversation. But I walked away frustrated and worried and uncertain.
The next day, he was sick. Sore throat, flu-ish, so I told him to stay home from school. He did the same the next day. Wednesday, he was back to himself, cheerful and positive and offering up quirkily random bits of information, like the fact that golden eagles were used as hunting birds in Mongolia. And then he said to me,
“The opposite of depression isn’t happiness, it’s hope. You know you’re depressed when you’ve lost all hope, and you know you’re getting better when you find it again.”*
I think I said something along the lines of “Feeling better?” to which he said, “Yeah,” and the conversation ended.
But I’ve been stuck on the words ever since.
My friend Suzanne asked me if I wanted to go to Belize a few months ago. I said yes. Since 1999, Belize has been number one on my list of places I wanted to visit. I still remember sitting in our dreary apartment in Walnut Creek, on the hand-me-down-down-down couch, and hearing the name of a completely unfamiliar country on a television show, probably Zoboomafoo and thinking “Where’s that?” It was a place I’d never heard of, despite three solid years of major Model United Nations activity in high school, and it sounded wonderful.
And now–I just don’t care. I want to care. I think I ought to care. I keep reminding myself that I adore Suzanne and her husband and I love going to new places and I’ve wanted to visit Belize for over a decade. But I just can’t find … anticipation.
I told R the words that I had quoted him as saying, and he said that he wasn’t nearly so poetic about it, and that he just meant that he felt like normal life included lots of looking forward to good stuff and depressed life didn’t have any looking forward.
Yes. Exactly. Depressed life has no looking forward. I am living in the absence of hope. I am trapped in the inability to believe that the future matters.
I don’t want to go to Belize. I feel as if I ought to want to. But I just don’t. And it is that way for everything in my life right now. I simply can’t make myself believe in the possibility of tomorrow. All there is, is now. And now isn’t very interesting.
I stumbled across this post the other day. I know it’s long. But the part where she talks about feeling like you’re living life through a television screen? I went to my favorite event of the year a couple of months ago with one of my favorite people in the world and that is exactly how I felt. I wasn’t really there. I am not really anywhere.
There’s a saying, “Depression lies.” Yes. It lies. But it also erases. Everything meaningful gets lost in a cloud of “so what?”
*This is the motivation post. It never really got to motivation. I am just not motivated these days.