breaking the silence

I write this because if you had told me 15 years ago, that despite my relentlessly debilitating depression and (on an infinitely lesser scale) the many peculiarties of my OCD, I would one day have a healthy marriage, two beautiful children, and a successful career, I would have thought you were mocking me. When I was a teenager and at rock-bottom, I could not see any direction my future could possibly take that would lead me out of my darkness. That would lead to here.

Darkness. Mental illness. Depression. Suicide.

It all sounds so dramatic. Over-exaggerated. Cliche. Straight out of a really shitty Lifetime movie. An enormous taboo to put out there into the world, so vulnerably and in a forum that is open to anyone to read and criticize and judge. And that is the reason that I feel so strongly that I need to share it.

Because battling depression in our society is so unjustly associated with failure, with weakness, and with shame.

Because as I write this post, I am feeling such discomfort about anyone actually reading this, even so very many years later, that my hands are shaking, making it difficult to type.

Because of mid-nineties me, hanging by a thread and drowning in the tidal-wave of a devastating chemical imbalance.

Mid-nineties me who needed any proof at all that it could possibly get better. That surviving was worth it.

During those years, I felt so undeserving of love. Too broken to ever punish a hypothetical child, years down the road, by becoming her parent. I want the young, the isolated, the empty, and the hopeless to know that it does get better. That it will. I promise it will. I wish I were creative and original enough to not rip-off the message of critical importance that is the lifeline happy and whole gay grown-ups extend to isolated and heartbroken gay youths, but I am not… and adolescents who suffer from mental illness and depression, as I did (and despite the very many blessings in my adult life, occasionally still do), need so urgently to hear this too.

I wish that in 1996, and again in 2002, when I bottomed-out… that I could have had access to stories similar to mine. Stories from utterly and hopelessly flawed – hopelessly flawed, but no longer hopeless – adults who endured the demons of self-hatred and suicide, and later started families, progressed professionally, and most importantly and seemingly impossibly, found joy.

“There is a brokenness out of which comes the unbroken,

A shatteredness out of which blooms the unshatterable.

There is a sorrow beyond all grief which leads to joy and a fragility out of whose depths emerges strength.

There is a hollow space too vast for words through which we pass with each loss, out of whose darkness we are sanctioned into being.

There is a cry deeper than all sound whose serrated edges cut the heart as we break open to the place inside which is unbreakable and whole, while learning to sing.”

~Rashani

It gets better. It is worth it. Life is worth it. You are worth it.

Would that I could reach through this computer screen and grab you by the shoulders and tell you this over and over and over again until you believed it. The way that I wish someone could have done for mid-nineties me.

You are worth it.

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“Men are cruel, but Man is kind.”

I was chatting with an old friend today who also has small children about the immense responsibility of raising children who are kind. I was a very awkward little kid and was picked on somewhat relentlessly in elementary and middle school. I had very little self-awareness, and spoke my mind with no real filter (apparently not much has changed on that front), and this did not do me any favors early in life.

Fortunately, my coping mechanisms were never at all related to violence, and were not particularly self-destructive. Around the time I turned 13, I just started trying to teach myself to model and conform to others around me; and to act like, and therefore blend in with, everyone else. I enjoyed being more or less invisible in high school, and then as soon as I moved out for college, became completely bored with my bland self. For the past 12 years I have embraced the weird, surrounding myself with people who at least tolerate the weird and pretend to find it mildly endearing (like, for example, anyone who ever stumbles upon this blog once, and then makes the decision to at some point return to read again), and in the last several years have become more-or-less, as the saying goes, comfortable in my own skin.

This methodical practiced conformity though that defined my years in high school, is probably one of the single most useful life skills that I have ever acquired. I can turn the “normal and generic” version of me on and off as necessary, which is primarily in professional situations. (And for anyone I work with who happens to be reading this, thinking “Normal? Like hell you are, freak.” – I mean normal in interviews, and meetings, and stuff. As soon as I walk out of the conference room and back into my office, I settle right back into the weird. And since several of you recently bought me my very own beef pizzle, I venture to say you are inifinitely weirder than me. Which is probably why I love working with all of you so much :) I am so thankful for those years of practicing “normal” because who I was up until that point would have been very restricted and limited in the real world.

Now that I have two small children of my own, tiny clean slates of snow-white innocence, I have a lot of anxiety about how their personalities will define them socially. In a world where being teased mercilessly leads to devastating self-harm and horrific acts of violence, it makes my years of calculated practice at simply being unawkward and invisible seem like a much simpler time.

Recently at a large children’s get-together, my sweet little four year old Stumps sat down to eat lunch with two six year old girls. After about five minutes, the older girls started whispering to eachother, got up from the table, and moved across the room, leaving my precious preschooler sitting all alone. She picked up her plate, came over to my table, climbed into the chair beside me, and said “They don’t want to sit with me.”

After piecing back together the fragments of my shattered mommy heart, I have been turning this over in my mind for days. How should my little Stumps have addressed this? How should I have addressed this to protect Stumps’ sweet little soul without helicoptering, or worse, getting directly involved. How do I raise my little girls to not ever be the ringleader “mean girls” who conspire to get up and abandon another child at an empty table? To be kind, understanding, and genuine to everyone – even the weird, the awkward, the outcasts. And yet how do I raise them to be strong, to not be cluelessly easy targets like I was so many years ago, to not be the victims? To be neither the bully, nor the bullied?

It hurt me deeply to see Stumps left out like that, even though she is only barely old enough to even be self-aware enough to at all internalize it and take it personally. Other parents, please chime in. I just don’t even know where to begin. How are you developing your child’s social and emotional intelligence? How does this change as they age? What suggestions do you have? I want to protect both of my girls from the harshness of the post-pre-school world, and though this world will inevitably and unfairly be cruel to them at times, I want to preserve the purity of their kind, unblemished souls.

Interment

Today we are attending the interment of my grandpa’s ashes at the state veteran’s cemetery in Salisbury. In the past two days, Stumps has said “I want to die because I love God and He loves me and I can go live with Him and big papa in heaven” and “when we go to ‘say goodbye’ to big papa tomorrow, will he say bye to us and then we will watch him die?” Oh dear. (Grandpa died two months ago and this is just the memorial.) How do you explain the death of a loved one to a three year old because apparently I am not doing it very well.

</3

Today, somewhere in heaven, there is a brilliant, chess-playing, golfing, Redskins-supporting, ill-tempered, wise-cracking, WWII-fighting, great-grandchild-adoring retired nuclear physicist asking where they are broadcasting the Yankees game and, let’s be honest… He’s probably complaining about the service up there too. Be patient with him God. He’s brand new in town and his family misses him terribly. If it wouldn’t be too much to ask, he would love an NES in his mansion and the cartridge for the original video Jeopardy. And his favorite food is steak. I love you grandpa

mishmash

Celebrating 30 this evening with pizza and beer (for everyone else. Apple juice for the under 5 crowd… and me). Just saw the weather report and apparently I’m dreaming of a white birthday.

 

In other news, “the Judds’ “Love Can Build a Bridge” is making me weep while I clean our house. I blame pregnancy hormones. And an embarassingly obsessive love of 90s country music.

Shelly

Today my home is a little less happy and my world is a little less stripey. I hope in kitty heaven they have lots of fleece blankets to shed on, unattended dinner plates to sample, sofas to claw up, and laps to settle in. Of your nearly sixteen years on this earth Shelly, I am so glad you spent the last five of them with us. I will miss you terribly and hope that the beloved pets of my childhood gave you lots of shreds of chicken and a wonderful welcome to the paradise you deserve.