I am not sure that I’ve ever talked, here, about exactly how bad it was, mostly because I couldn’t talk about it while I was living through it and then because when things would improve I needed to not think about how bad they had been. But that was legitimately the hardest thing I’ve ever done, the worst thing I’ve ever lived through, and I know that makes me lucky, but I am also here to tell you that if it were not for my children, if it were not for the fact that I KNOW that my Eli needs me, if it were not for the fact that I would never do that to my children, I wouldn’t be here today. My children were my tether to the earth, and the only thing worse than the feeling of wanting it all to end was knowing that I would have to continue on in the hell of my existence forever, and visualizing, every day, turning, accidentally, into traffic, so that it would all end anyway and it wouldn’t be my fault.
I never understood what The Bloggess meant when she said “depression lies” and then I said it every day, every hour, every second, like a mantra. It got me through.
And then it got better. It started to get better. I found a wonderful doctor, who made me go back on anti depressants when my idea to just white knuckle it through on my own turned out to be a super bad one, and he made me go to therapy when anti depressants turned out to not be enough on their own. And I found a great therapist. I’ve been going to therapy for about nine months and I went from slow breathing so I wouldn’t vomit on my way in the door to feeling like I have one more person who is really really on my side, rooting for me hard.
And don’t get me wrong. She has a lot of company. While I don’t recommend depression and anxiety and total mental breakdowns as marriage enhancements, per se, I do recommend having Erik by your side if you have one, because I never doubted for one minute that he was right there, doing his part of the old “in sickness” bit day in and day out. He worked a full day and then came home and did EVERYTHING for a year, I’d say. He was the most exceptional human. He IS the most exceptional human. And my BFF Sara drove for hours and took my children back to her house for FIVE days at a moment’s notice, and then drove for hours again and brought them home, and Maggie Cheung came and sat with Katie in my backyard while I slept off a bad medication hangover, and it was supposed to be her VACATION. And Jennie and Kristie and Emily propped me up through at least one and a half Blatherings, and Christina emailed me every day to see how it was going, and Amy sent me text messages and listened and understood and now I’m worried that I am leaving someone out because my friends are extraordinary, my in laws took Eli for practically an entire summer and my mother paid for therapy when I couldn’t afford it and my insurance wouldn’t cover it and Caitlin threw me a Justin Bieber birthday party and I canceled on Elisabeth and Sarah a million times and my neighbors were my village and the internet sent me care packages and gift cards and postcards and notes and I waded through a river of shit, but I was not alone. I was never alone.
Everyone said that eighteen months was when things would really start to get better, and I couldn’t even think about that because 18 months of the worst experience of my life sounded like something I just could not do, but just as with all the other things I knew I couldn’t do, one day at a time, one foot in the front of the other, one frozen pizza at a time, I did it, and here we are. And I wasn’t even counting, I haven’t been counting at all, but just the other day I realized that I was finally starting to feel like myself again, and I took a quick minute to tick months off on my fingers (what am I, a mathlete?) and sure enough, here we are. 18.
I still have lots of anxiety. I still am working so hard on so many things, but one of the things I am doing in therapy, which is really not a big deal, is reworking my entire values system, because the one I learned as a child was all kinds of screwed up. That shouldn’t be too hard, to learn a whole new way of thinking, right?
I hesitate, a bit, to write about this here, because it makes me sound like a tremendous asshole, and I don’t think I am a tremendous asshole, just someone who had the wool pulled over her eyes about life by someone for some formative years. Because while it turns out that hopefully, I am not a tremendous asshole, I do have some very very flawed ideas about what makes a good person.
Last week, my therapist told me: “Lots of people with good taste are AWFUL people.” and I DISAGREED WITH HER. I disagreed with her, in fancy roundabout ways, for almost an entire overpriced 50 minute session, and she said it over and over again, and finally a light bulb went off with that one simple sentence that is actually SO EFFING TRUE, and then I spent the next week with a list running through my head of what things, what actual things, make me a good person, and the list, unfortunately, was very short.
I think I am a good friend. I try hard to be a good friend. And if you get sick or have a baby I will make you several grocery bags full of food, and I will bring you wine and cookies AND home made bread. But that’s about all I’ve got, and that? That’s just not how I want to live my life. That’s not the sum total of what I want on the list at the end of the day.
And I cycled through a lot of other things. Things most of you would scoff at. I searched for good in a long list of really stupid things. I have well dressed children. I am smart, I am funny, I read The New Yorker. I am dressed better than 80% of the other moms at school 80% of the time. I have an expensive purse and Frye boots! I have an Iphone! People tell me all the time I have great hair on Instagram! I think I’m a good writer. Our Christmas card was so cute! I read 150 books a year! I am beating everyone in the world who only read 149 books! I WIN AT THAT! I picked a perfect paint color for the dining room! People have pinned shit I have made on Pinterest! LOTS OF TIMES! I HAVE EXCELLENT TASTE.
And none of that shit goes on the good person list. None of that actually counts, when it comes to that list.
The good news is, I have big dreams. When it comes to things I care about, when it comes to ways I would like to work to make the world a better place? That list is long. (Childhood hunger, women’s reproductive rights, gun control, the right for every person to get married to whoever they want to get to married to, the Democratic party, literacy, my kids school, outlawing the playing of “Manic Monday” on the radio on any day but Monday, you get the idea.)
But the list of things I am actually doing? It is SHORT. It is almost nothing.
The bad news is that I am also working on lots of other things, and one of those things is to be careful not to do too much, and the other things are just totally simple things like mourning the childhood I wanted but didn’t get, rewriting my inner voice, learning to be selfish and also unselfish, more effective parenting of my high maintenance child, more communication and emotional intimacy in my marriage, learning to establish healthy boundaries instead of letting people walk all over me and then getting mad at them behind their backs, letting go of perfectionism, getting more cardio, failing to lose ten pounds, finally going to the dentist and the eye doctor and the gynecologist, working on my social anxiety, doing more self care, and buying more shoes. (I made that last one up, maybe.)
But here is the thing. In the last six months or so, every single time I have stopped at a red light by a homeless person standing in the intersection or by the side of the road, and I have averted my eyes until I could start driving again? Well. I can remember every one of those moments like they happened this morning. I HATE those moments. I HATE THEM. I am not saying this to brag, but because I am ashamed, because those moments are burned on my soul, and yet, I have done nothing. Nothing.
But words without sacrifice? They are just words. And so I am going to do something. I am going to take some of the money I would normally spend on crap at Target or blush or more dresses I don’t need and I am going to buy some socks and some toothpaste and some energy bars and anything that anyone else would like to suggest in the comments, and I am going to make six bags of stuff and I am going to keep them in my car, and I am not going to Instagram it, I am not going to write about it again, I am not going to tweet about how great it makes me, I am not going to tell anyone about it, but the next time I see someone down on their luck, standing there needing help, holding a sign, I am going to hand them a bag, and then in my head I am going to write one more thing on that list of “Good Things I Do”, and while I thank you from the bottom of my cold black heart for telling me I have pretty hair on Instagram, I am hopeful that someday I could shave my head, and I would still have a long long list of things that make me a good person, almost all of them totally non hair related.
Here’s to the next 18 months, internet. And thank you.