I stood in the living room last night.
My husband came home.
And as he tends to do, he walked into the house, looked around, and sighed.
And for the first time in as long as I can remember I didn’t infer disdain from that sigh. I didn’t take it as an affront that screamed what I already knew: You, Juliana, are a terrible person. A disappointing failure.
I saw it for what it was. A sigh from an exasperated working dad who will stay up late to put the house together again to get it to the point of “good enough” so that we can start the day at “good enough,” nothing less.
Only a few days into the past I would the sigh was a sign he hated me and I’d failed somehow, I saw Mark for what he was. Tired as hell. He stayed up late. Then he got up early and got Eli on his breathing mask and put him on his shaking Vest and worked a full day at a school where 12 and 13 year-olds dream. They dream of becoming citizens. They dream of lives in which they don’t have to work three jobs like their parents. Where they have parents. One girl admitted she dreamed of going to jail where she would have a family. They sell Xanax bars. Join gangs. Smoke weed. They get caught in bathrooms doing sex things that 12 year olds shouldn’t even really know about. Or at least I didn’t at 12. They write dark, brilliant poetry born of suffering. Or Dickensian stories that aren’t fiction. They give themselves monikers like “The Black Unicorn.” They have quirky Guatemalan names like Dulce, literally, Candy. Once a gaggle of 12-year-old girls punched him silly. He was breaking up their fight. They are hope. They are suffering. They are what the world really looks like. And he sees it every day. And he saves these children sometimes. From parents. From each other. From the world. Once a little fellow from China took the wrong bus. Everyone at the school left for the day but Mark, to help the child’s mother track him down. She didn’t speak English. Police picked that boy up wandering on a bad side of town. And they brought him back to the mother, who hugged Mark. Another girl wanted to kill herself. Her classmates bullied her. He got her schedule changed so she could escape her tormentors. He saw her suffering. He acknowledged it. He fixed it. He’s seen suffering much worse, unspeakable suffering, and he quietly helps to set it right.
I’d sigh too if I were him.
I made tacos. I sat at the dinner table with my family.
And for the first time in as long as I can remember I didn’t want to get up and go lie down, go write something, go read something, just get away, just keep moving.
I just sat. And I ate. And I listened.
“I have an announcement to make to the family,” I said. “I want to say that I’m sorry. Mommy’s been having a hard time. I’m sick. My heart needed a bandaid. I yelled too much and I said hurtful things I didn’t mean. Mommy has depression and anxiety, and it’s not anyone’s fault. I’m trying to get better,” I told my kids and my husband.
Laila leaned into me and smiled and held my hand.
“If you have any questions you can ask me now or any time,” I said.
Eli was nonplussed; he put on a robot costume I made out of a cardboard box and old vest tubes, and I laughed.
Mark said thanks, too.
And then Eli refused to sit still at dinner. A week ago I would have yelled to get him in line, instantly exasperated, but tonight I got up, walked over, leaned in, and in a calm but appropriately authoritative mom means business voice told him that he should sit down and eat his food. He was making bad choices about manners, and if I had to ask again he would need to go upstairs to his room to think about that. And he…just…did what I said.
I listened. Laila has started a gang, as it turned out. It’s called the Cool Kids Club. And we talked about the guidelines of this club. She didn’t want big kids in it. Big kids are mean and take over. So we practiced what to say if one demanded a membership. “I’m sorry, but this club is 8 and under. If you want to form a sister club for 9 and up you are free to do so.” And we discussed who could be let in the club, because I worried she was going to exclude other children, which we talked about. She said you could get in if you could dribble a ball. Or if you were really little, you only had to roll a ball. That sounded pretty solid to me.
I wasn’t annoyed, angry or exasperated by any of this. I have been annoyed, angry and exasperated and tired, so tired, for so long. Last night, I just wasn’t. And tonight, I’m not either.
The only thing that changed in this equation is me.
I acknowledged I have illnesses with names. Depression and anxiety. I acknowledged my treatment “plan” wasn’t working. I had a rollercoaster ride
getting on a new schedule of medication that addressed both the returning depression and the newer anxiety. I even had a panic attack.
I’m just 12 days in to acknowledging these illnesses as actual diseases that are a part of me but not everything. Today I took a 150 mg Wellbutrin. I took 25 mg of Zoloft. I had one BuSpar for anxiety. I meditated before work with a new app I downloaded called Headspace. And they guy has a pleasant British accent, not a dopey, unintentionally comic New Ager voice.
And all the sudden, I have peace. And energy. I’m not used to having either of those things. Only in this new, strange state have I gained enough fledgling perspective to acknowledge how far I’d slipped, without even noticing, really. An ugly inner voice had begun to call the shots. It told me I was worthless. I obligingly looked for evidence everywhere, and everywhere, I found it. Even when it didn’t exist, I found it.
That things are better doesn’t mean I’m cured.
My children unfurled an entire ball of yarn as I wrote this. I’m late doing Eli’s care an by an hour because I wrote this. Eli just dumped out a jewelry box full of Laila’s penny’s as I wrote this. “Daddy’s not making the popcorn! MOMMY!” Eli has just screamed as I wrote this. Mark is doing the dishes and annoyed because I haven’t because I’m writing this. “MOMMY THE POPCORN,” Laila screamed I wrote this. The popcorn is now being made. Eli needs out of his shaking vest to go potty. And then he will need back in.
“I GOT SALT AND BUTTER AND POPCORN COMING THROUGH” Laila yelled as I wrote this.
It’s not like things are perfect but the difference is I have the vitality to get through it.
I’d like to be the Leslie Knope of my own mental illness.