One night after I exploded at one of the boys for a completely ridiculous and uncalled for reason, Erin told me that the family felt like they had to walk on eggshells around me. Her words were the most painful and eye-opening she has ever spoken to me. In that moment, I felt like a complete and utter failure to my family. In no way did I deserve all the love and support they had given me and I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. To add to my self-flagellation, this occurred near the end of my time at the Mood and Anxiety Clinic at the University. With months of group and one-on-one therapy behind me, I should have my act together, I told myself.
There was a time when being told that I made my family walk on eggshells would have caused me to become defensive, blame others and then turn on myself, convinced that I really was the selfish monster I assumed people believed I was. Guilt and remorse still wash over me at times for the way I have acted over the last ten years and in that moment I feel broken and ashamed for what I have put my family through. Not that I set out to act this way; malicious and vindictive behaviors are not something that live inside me. Until Erin said something, I had thought I was doing much better, but that is the thing with depression, you can’t see the forest for the trees.
When I looked back through my notebooks and journal in preparation for this essay, extremely dark and scary feelings bubbled to the surface. I can’t describe what it feels like to know, unequivocally, that you’ve caused your family pain. I chose not to dwell on the darkness though. Instead, I looked for what could be learned and how I could better myself. For the first time I felt I was on stable ground and thus able to accept responsibility for my actions without berating myself for days on end. I am working hard to keep an open dialogue as to how I am feeling and not climb into my shell and shut down. These are important steps to repairing the trust and other damage that has happened because of my depression.
As painful as it was to hear, I am thankful that Erin said something. It never occurred to me that my family could feel that way, though looking back it is pretty clear as to why they would. Communication is key in all relationships, but especially with those who have depression, or a loved one with depression. If we don’t talk and conversely don’t listen then no progress will be made towards a better life.
After nearly two months of sheltering at home and being a quasi-home school teacher, I’ve begun to wear out. Being at home is not new for me, I have been a stay-at-home-dad the entirety of the boys’ lives. Two months ago, I embraced this new pace of life, but now I feel Depression breathing on the back of my neck as it jostles for the chance to take over the lead of this dance that we do. As the trees begin to bud out I begin to feel more trapped. I am yearning to wander, and not just into the woods and meadows behind our home, but farther. I find myself more and more dependent on Instagram and short films. I’m dreaming not doing. Just as I did when I was in my twenties, dreaming and drinking because drinking was more important than doing back then. I’m not drinking now, but it’s harder somehow, not because of anything other than this pandemic.
Though I cherish and am grateful for this slower pace of life, for it suits me better, I still feel hopelessly trapped–as if it is the middle of winter and Depression is completely leading the tango and I am feeling as if there is no end in sight.
This is a change. For much of the past two months I’ve been able to focus on the day–the moment. But that is all slipping away now, or seems to be. The never-ending feeling is stronger than ever before. As the state begins to open back up, the fear of unknowing steadily grows. What-if scenarios are buzzing around like the black gnats of spring. I want school to be over, I am no teacher, and on the few sunny and warm days we’ve had this spring, I have wanted nothing more than to escape outside to a river with the boys. Despite wanting school to be done the prospect of summer and all of our plans falling apart leaves me anxiety riddled. It does not matter that I’ve been home for ten summers and made it work; this year just seems different.
The grass always seems greener on the other side, the saying goes. But the grass is never greener on the other side or down the road. The quest is to see how beautiful the grass is where you are standing in the moment. In our culture that is something we tend to balk at. We are constantly told to look for more, but looking and seeing are two different things and in times like these, seeing the moment is what must be done.
I don’t know what is to come and when the what-if’s swirl around and depression tries to take the lead, I hold fast to hope. I hold fast to the moment and the joy of discovering a new bird at the feeder or the excitement in the boys’ eyes over some simple pleasure. When we hold onto these moments and each other, then the hope will grow and maybe, just maybe, we will begin to see the beauty of this time that is right in front of us.
When my father was dying and we were home for our last Christmas with him, I wondered how my mother would survive after he was gone. I wondered if she would be one of those survivors that passed away shortly after their spouse.
I knew my mother was an incredibly strong and capable woman but I worried that she would be ok. They were a team, but my dad had taken care of a lot, not only around the house but also things like their travel, the bills and his beloved fish tank. My mom was of course horrified of losing the man who had been her constant cheerleader for so many years. She also worried aloud about little things too, like where the birdseed was. My internal worst-case-scenario voice, which was very active then, was running through all kinds of deplorable scenarios that I had no idea how to resolve from two-thousand miles away in Utah, where we were living at the time.
Hawaii Snorkeling Adventure
After Dad passed away Mom continued to run her law practice. When we moved back to Vermont, she came up and helped me unpack and set up our entire rental house in two days so that Erin and the boys had a home to walk into. When she retired she joined the Selectboard and did that for a handful of years until it was no longer fun. She has harnessed the power of YouTube to figure out various ways to get things done and learn techniques, including, a way to siphon the water out of the fish tank in half the time and with half the mess which makes cleaning it easier. She has made improvements and changes around the house and set things up so it is easier for her. She travels well and often; by herself or with friends. Hawaii had always been on her bucket list and after a few years of talking about it, Erin put her travel planning skills to work and in 2019 Mom, the four of us and my brother traveled there, where, at the age of 77, Mom snorkeled for the first time and loved it.
Since my father passed away, Mom has battled breast cancer and had both her knees replaced. Through it all she has found solutions and remained strong in the face of adversity. She stopped drinking, as we all have in our family, but she did it on her own, alone in the house that she and my dad built a life in and around raising two boys and watching five grandchildren and one great-grandchild pass through the door. She still lives in the house. Still has beautiful gardens.
I am in awe of my mom. I don’t think if I were in her shoes I could stay in a house so full of memories and thrive as she has–a house that is not huge but is not small either. She is an amazing woman and an inspiration in perseverance, determination and strong will. I’m not sure she even realizes how strong she is or how much of an inspiration she is to me and countless others.
The siding is gone above the
narrow roof that
barely protects the doorway
A doorway flanked by clotheslines
holding pink boxers, bandanas and a washcloth
Beside the steps, a defunct water heater,
a peeling stack of windows,
two chairs and a broken red wagon
A black-haired, barefooted women
leans into a yellow-shirted smiling blond man
We are all one in sin
We are all one in redemption
The question of your unbelief
Is not yours to ask
True faith puts you in the middle
of true evil
Often the evil is you and me
Step out of the boat
For the Great Spirit is your anchor