Bertha

I'm not entirely sure why I feel the need to admit this here, to a literal and figurative world of virtual strangers. It could be that I need to acknowledge this season of life so that I can move closer to accepting it for what it is. Mostly though, I am a inherent over-sharer possessing no ability whatsoever to not talk through my shit. Also, holding it in any longer feels akin to slow and steady emotional strangulation. 

 

I am, once again, navigating the trenches of depression and it is just as terrifying, isolating, unpredictable, and volatile as I remember it. 

 

As you may remember, this is not unfamiliar territory. I have traveled down this road before. However, the landscape of depression rarely resembles the trip that preceded it and even though the territory feels somewhat familiar, it also feels as though I'm walking down a winding path while blindfolded, unaware of what twists and turns may lie ahead. 

 

There is a lot of varying information and differently held beliefs surrounding depression and mental health/illness and, with the recent influx of celebrity suicides, a more honest and transparent dialogue about mental health and the stigma surrounding mental illness has been initiated. While everyone's experience is different, here is what I want to say:

 

Depression is real. 

 

Depression is a disease. 

 

Depression is not a choice nor does it come with an on/off switch.

 

Depression does not discriminate. 

 

Depression doesn't give a shit if my life looks perfect on paper. Depression doesn't care that I don't have anything to be sad about and, compared to so many in the world, have absolutely nothing notably worthy of complaint. Depression couldn't give a single fuck if I have a husband who loves me deeply, three healthy and beautiful children, a warm and safe home, and every reason in the world to be happy. 

 

Depression is an invisible cloak of muddy grey, hovering over every single aspect of my daily life. Depression feels like a hollow emptiness, tainting and often robbing every ounce of joy that, rationally, I know my life carries in abundance. It's the process of enduring crippling mental isolation and claustrophobia, simultaneously. When I'm depressed, I exist in a persistent desire to crawl out of my own skin if it would somehow allow me to escape my own head for a single minute. Depression sucks the life out of me and, yet, ironically, it is life itself-- and the four souls who complete mine-- to which I desperately cling as I attempt to inch my way out of this darkness. 

 

It's a common (and easily made) misconception that a depressed person is sad, perpetually miserable, or constantly crying. While I'll admit that crying has long been a default form of expression for me, to say that depression is a person simply being sad is a grave and dangerous over-simplification. For me, it's more accurate to say that I feel homesick, numb, and experience what can only be described as an unrelenting existential crisis over. I often feel paralyzed by an incessant emptiness which then makes me sad. I begin to grieve the happiness I know exists yet am unable to believe I deserve.

 

Ever since my experience with postpartum depression after Marlo was born (which, I'd like to add, I wasn't even aware I was experiencing until I was no longer experiencing it), I've learned and put into practice coping techniques and ways of staying on top of my mental health. I have found that managing my depression like an alcoholic might manage their alcoholism and the painstaking efforts one might go to in order to remain sober is what works best for me. Just as alcoholism does not define the alcoholic, depression does not define me. I am not merely a depressed person; I am suffering from depression. Previously, I thought depression was something you could fix. After traveling down this path many times, I now possess the wherewithal to understand and accept that depression is a permanent part of my life and will continue to influence every single aspect of my life.

 

The fact is, everyone has a battle they will have to fight; depression is one of mine.  

 

As part of my defense against relapse, let's just say that I do the fucking work. But that work is anything but simple. It's not just changing a few bad habits or popping a pill every morning or avoiding a few triggers; I've had to form a new way of life, a new way of thinking, and I've had to embrace the reality of my circumstances.

 

I have gone to therapy off-and-on for years. I have successfully medicated under the care of a physician at different times over the years (including my entire pregnancy with Knox when I experienced perinatal depression). I have self-medicated in the form of over-exercise, excessive alcohol, and ignoring my depression as if it didn't exist (all unsuccessful, by the way). I now avoid all forms of social media (in case you were wondering why I'm no longer on Instagram). I don't allow the negative voice in my head to speak more loudly than the one that tells it to shut the fuck up. I try to not dwell on negative thoughts. I don't compare one season of my life to another. I aim for wholeness, not happiness. I set realistic expectations for myself and, for the most part, try to not place expectations on others at all. I am open and honest about my feelings to those who know me and my baseline-- people who I know care tremendously about my health and wellbeing. I try (and don't always succeed) to leave my ego out of the equation because assuming that I'm smarter than my depression is setting myself up for failure. I do deep and frequent purging of negativity and negative thoughts. I do my best to avoid obvious triggers (people who make me feel bad about myself or putting myself in situations that make me anxious). I work out for a mental release. I am no longer careless with my life and take precious life seriously. I don't watch the news. I force myself to sit with uncomfortableness instead of avoiding pain. I go to great lengths to be my own advocate and hero. I do what I find necessary to avoid depression but, the bottom line is that I'm not always successful. No matter what efforts I put forth, depression is a vicious, unforgiving bitch and, when the bitch rears it' ugly head, I stand up against the familiar weight of shame, fear, and darkness once again.

 

Ever since Knox was born, I've chalked up how I've been feeling to that all-too-common postpartum rut. You know the one where you just feel blah? The one that makes you impulsively chop nine inches of your hair off or buy an outfit that you will immediately regret after you get home and try it on in softer lighting. The only problem is that, here I am, ten months later, still feeling those same feelings, only they've taken on a darker, more serious tone. So, yesterday morning as I sat between Joe and Knox on our playroom floor, I burst into tears and the words poured out of me. I couldn't stop the tears because saying those words out loud-- "Joe, I'm depressed and I'm hurting"-- made me realize just how long and how exhaustive my efforts at fighting the truth had been going on. Today, after speaking my truth and giving it a voice, I do feel lighter. There is freedom in honesty though the lightness isn't enough to replace the dread I feel because, unfortunately, I know the bitch I'm up against intimately.

 

I want so badly to pinpoint how I got back to this place after working so damn hard to get out of the goddamn hole to begin with. I'm not sure how I let it intensify to the degree it has without recognizing (and swallowing my pride and admitting) that I'm in the thick of something bigger than what I am capable of handling on my own. The only thing I'm certain of is that Bertha, as I lovingly refer to her, is back and I no longer possess the luxury of avoidance. I have three perfect little souls who need me and a husband who deserves to have his P.I.C back.

 

Also. I deserve to have myself back. 

 

Depression brings up many feelings but the dominating one I experience is guilt. I feel overwhelming shame for not being the version of myself who is capable of being my best for my family and, obviously, for falling so very short of that person. As forgiving and supportive and loving as my entire family is, feeling as though I'm letting them down is what I find most devastating. The last thing I ever want to be is a burden nor do I ever want to be seen as a victim because a victim I am not. Being seen as a victim or broken is why, I think, so many people who are amidst struggle don't or won't disclose their suffering to their loved ones. Hell, my own mother-- who I am extremely close to and spoke on the phone with almost daily while we lived in NYC-- was completely unaware of just how dark of a time those eighteen months following Marlo's birth were because I didn't want her to worry or-- even worse-- feel sorry for me. The truth is, neither she nor Joe knew until years later, when the pain of the entire experience wasn't quite so raw and I had a better perspective of what I had just gone through. No one ever knew that at the height of my postpartum depression, I once looked out of our fourteenth story window and, for a single split second, told myself that everyone would be better off without me, that my daughter deserved a mother who was worthy of her, that my husband deserved a wife who smiled when he would walk through the door after work, and that if I didn't exist, everyone would be happier. 

 

Today, of course, I know just how irrational, twisted, and untrue those thoughts were and I'm grateful that my thoughts never took darker turns and I did something I couldn't take back. But that's the thing: the voice of depression is an almighty, convincing one and when it is in control of your perspective, it's not always possible to ignore. But, even now, I still hear Bertha's whispers when I allow the voice to creep it. My kids are so very important to me and the last thing I ever want my babies to remember about me or their childhood are the times when I struggle to get out of bed or the times they catch me standing at the kitchen sink, staring blankly out the window with tears streaming down my face for no reason I can explain to them or when I'm not at a family gatherings because I simply don't have the energy to plaster a smile on my face and fake it that particular day. The last thing I will allow their childhood to be unfairly tainted by is my disease. It may rob me but I will not allow it to rob them. 

 

Even though my rational brain knows better, I can still convince myself that Joe deserves better. As Bertha's voice gets louder and the dark darker, I can become convinced that he got the short end of the stick all those years ago when he decided to commit to spending a lifetime with me and my baggage. I become, as my best friend Allie calls it, an emotional cutter and slide down the rabbit hole of self-sabotage, asking impossible and unfair questions of myself like, "If he knew that he'd have to deal with me, like this, would he have still chosen to spend his life with me?" I find it difficult to explain to someone who has never dealt with depression or anxiety what depression and anxiety feels like and that it's not as simple as "choosing to be happy." When he asks me how he can help and the simple, honest answer is that he can't-- he can't do the work for me nor can he fix this-- it feels like an impasse neither of us know how to begin to reckon. If depression has had a silver lining, it's that it has forced Joe to be a more open-minded partner who desperately and lovingly wants to listen and empathize with what he may not understand and be my constant advocate. 

 

 

As one of my favorite writers, Augusten Burroughs, once said, "Your mind is like an unsafe neighborhood; don't go there alone." Which is exactly what I'm doing. I haven't always been this person-- this less than ideal version of myself-- and, with the power and grace of hindsight in my corner, I know that I won't be this person forever. But this is where I'm at right now and right now it's time to face this beastly bitch head-on. Life is fucking hard, guys. Life is also heavy. But life is so achingly beautiful. 

 

 

Like I always say, the only way out is through.

 

So through it, I shall go and out of it, I shall come....

 

 

keep the babies safe

As a rule of thumb, I keep my list of goals as a parent very simple. The reason behind this is two-fold: For one, I'm realistic. I know I'm going to really fuck it up a time or two. Plus, fewer goals equals fewer opportunities to fail and in twenty or so years, I'd like to be able to actually believe that I didn't suck more than I did. The other reason is that the things I deem goal-worthy-- meaning, the things I will allow myself to lose sleep over-- are few and far between.

 

Quite frankly, I don't give a shit if my kids drank breastmilk exclusively or formula as a baby or eat kale voluntarily or survive on nothing but Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I don't care if my kid gets straight A's or is labeled "academically gifted" or is an athletic or musical prodigy. Nor do I care about their enthusiasm to do anything other than watch another Barbie movie for the four thousandth time. I mean, I care of course. But I won't allow those things to be the measure of the kind of mother I am or the kind of humans my kids are. Those are all just minor details that, in twenty years, nobody will give a shit about, including me, their mother, the one who currently begs them to eat their god damn kale.

 

I only devote my parental energy to four things and doing them to the best of my ability with the hope that one day, maybe they'll eat more kale than they eat sugar and treat everyone equally and with love.

 

Help them stay safe. 

Encourage them to be brave. 

Remind them to have fun. 

Don't be an asshole so they won't be an asshole.

 

That's what Joe and I focus on every day, some days much more successfully than others, in the hopes that Marlo, Edie, and Knox turn into semi-decent human beings. They are reasonable, doable, and universally appropriate. They are simple to explain and easy for a child to remember. They are the foundation of our family's credo and though we don't always follow them perfectly, for the most part, they guide the way. 

 

And it used to feel like enough, like if we just remain consistent and stay true to our beliefs, we'd most likely raise well-adjusted humans who we actually like and not just because we share the same genetic make-up. But lately, for so many reasons-- which include but are not limited to the latest tragic school shooting-- it feels like nothing will ever be enough to prepare them for the cruelty of the world they're up against. This world feels brutal, more unpredictable, and full of what the fuck's that I am having a hard time explaining to an inquisitive, precocious almost-six-year-old. I don't have a simple answer for Marlo when she asks me why she has to practice lockdown drills. I don't know what to tell her when she asks me who would be sad enough to come and hurt her and her friends.

 

 

This weekend, Marlo told me that if someone were in her school and trying to hurt her friends, she wouldn't hide. Instead, she told me, she'd break the rules and try to protect her friends because "that's the right thing to do and you always tell me to do the right thing." I had to leave the room so she didn't see the silent sobs escaping from me. 

 

Marlo was recently awarded the Kindness Award from her class. So it makes complete sense to me that she would want to protect her friends. She's an empath and a natural-born advocate therefore I'd expect nothing less from her. And it's admirable, sure. It's a sign that whatever Joe and I are doing may be working towards shaping a woman who radiates goodness. That's our goal, after all. However, as far as I know, most kindergarteners still need the occasional help wiping their own ass so surely protecting each other from foreseeable death needn't be their responsibility? Hell, Marlo isn't even entirely sure what she would be protecting them from. But I do. I'm heartbreakingly aware of what to be afraid of because I spend my nights awake thinking of the children who have died over the last ten years-- children the same age as Mo-- and how their parents didn't get to hold them again at night. I wake up at night haunted with the fear they must have experienced and it shatters me. 

 

I'm livid that what once felt comforting due to its' simplicity and the inarguable applicability, now feels inadequate. It's no longer as easy as keeping them safe in parking lots and convincing them that the dentist isn't trying to kill them with the water pik or yanking them by their elbows not a second before they jump into the deep-end of the pool without their floaties. It now includes preparing them for how to not get shot at their god damned school. 

 

Clueing Mo in on just how fucked up our world is feels like an unnecessary robbing of her innocence. She is so blissfully unaware of the big bad world around her and her sweet little shoulders shouldn't bear the weight of it' reality just yet. It's my hope that the reality will morph into one that doesn't need to be feared but I can't make her any promises. As a result, I'm left wondering how I tell my oldest baby that it's okay to not be brave in that moment. I'm forced to now discourage one of the pillars I've built my parenting manifesto on. I don't know how I tell her that what I need is for her to stay alive. 

 

I've spent the last few days off and on in tears. I'm heartbroken and bitterly angry. I feel helpless knowing that no amount of conscious or intentional parenting of mine or yours will guarantee protection for my own babies because the problem is so much bigger than a few golden rules are capable of handling. I'm sure the parents of the kids who lost their lives in Florida had very similar principles. I'm sure they encouraged their kids to be kind and brave and to not be an asshole, too. But it didn't protect them and it sure as shit isn't comforting the empty arms of the parents who will be burying their children this week.  

 

I don't know where to go from here. All I know is that we have to work harder to protect our babies so future generations don't grow up accepting that school shootings are inevitable. We have to protect our babies so kids don't think that being brave and doing the right thing means jumping in front of a blaze of bullets. 

 

We have to keep our babies safe. We have to keep our babies alive. We just have to.