A New Way to be Human
To look at the last decade of my superficially is to miss the miracle.
Everything flows back to my father who was addicted to a vitriolic and cruel rage and took it out on us all. His anger was cruel and it undermined what I thought of him. Though his public figure was charming and people always wanted to be around him. He was a minister to others throughout his life but at home – he was unforgivably harsh.
We were all affected differently. My three sisters in their own unique ways are each formidable women. Though we all live with the legacy of Dad’s anger, it has unlocked different things in us. For me the heartbreak of his disapproval was especially hurtful. I do not think that my spirit & soul ever fully developed.
After college I learned quickly that I had Dad’s skill for managing process and people. Creativity energized me and I soon ran my own communications department at a small non-profit. I was given more and more responsibility, promotions and opportunities for influence and I loved the constant challenge.
I was doing well, but didn’t feel any triumph. I tried working longer and harder and better, but it could not satisfy the colossal hole inside me. Instead the needy monster of insecurity grew inside me. Anxiety and dread hovered. I stayed busy and numb. Somehow unaware of my pain, because I didn’t allow myself time to think or feel.
Little by little I stopped believing in all the reasons I was doing my job. Slowly I was turning into a critical, perfectionist, and overly competitive person — I became my father, without the rage. Newly married, I brought it all home with me. I was the horrible person that I had feared and loathed growing up. Life became a difficult dance — of work and home –the thought of quitting it all began to compete in my head with the need for significance eating at me.
My spirit was troubled. Life was a constant push and pull of expectation and disappointment.
What a relief it was when I finally quit — though it was not an easy decision. My husband and I looked practically at our earning power, my extreme dissatisfaction with my job and agreed together that one of us should be home with our three kids who were under four. To his credit, he always thought I would not like being at-home. I talked to women about their experiences for more than a year. I do remember being afraid to give up personal income power. All of my life I watched my mother at-home and saw that it guaranteed she was trapped without options. I connected it to being “at-home.” So in a sense I was giving up when I quit working and stayed home.
When I left full-time work in 2001, I was bone tired. I didn’t have work to define me any longer. Suddenly I had vast stretches of undefined time. I went into autopilot at first, letting being a full-time mommy distract me. But nine months after leaving full-time work, I became pointedly aware that I hated being at home; which is dreadful to admit among certain circles. I was disappointed with who I had become both at work and at-home.
I was headed toward a major life crisis –and after years of denying how bad I felt I faced it. That was when I became clinically depressed. That was when things fell apart.
I have always been mildly melancholy in temperament. But this was different — so different it is really quite inconceivable until it happens to you.
True Depression is a sink hole – It slows time down. Hours turn into days. It fogs my brain and makes it impossible to think. The rules that I lived by all my life are swept off the table without consideration or consequence. Up is down and down is up or maybe even sideways. It hurts physically; even my skin hurts. Asking for help is insurmountable. But overwhelmingly, you need human contact. Isolation only reinforces. Those that love me can recognize it in my eyes – meaning I cannot lie and say I’m okay, which I have tried a few times. But the truth is that while I want to deny depressions’ return, health and healing come in the telling – in admitting your need. A true friend listening helped me crawl out of the trance where simply breathing hurts.
Back then, I knew nothing about depression or what was happening to me. For a while I focused on care of our children. That I did, somehow. Was it one long day—or a year—that I nursed, changed diapers, read story books, comforted and loved? I have no memory of it hoping they don’t either, but sadly my daughter sometimes—still—gets overcome by fear that she will lose me. Some inner notion tells her that she almost did. I—so—regret this… My sorrow is deep. I didn’t know or understand what was happening to me for a very long time. Eventually, I asked for help.
Service and sacrifice, along with higher degrees, are the pinnacle of success for my parents. I have always known this and been frightened that I could never meet their expectations. The voices in my head have always told me that I was worthless. Now they say I will always be a mess. But they are wrong.
That first depressive episode took months to get through and became the beginning of a new way of being. I am not the person I used to be.
I was driven to succeed out of fear of failing. Now, somehow I don’t have to look at these years as lost – though for nearly a decade I did nothing to further my career. Sometimes I do compare myself to my sisters who during those same years were very busy. One is ordained, running a parish and working on a PhD. Another adopted two Chinese children and works at her church. My youngest got her masters and worked full-time, while having three kids. (My father, who died during that time, would be ecstatic.)
And me? I have been here—
At my computer finding healing through writing;
In my garden growing a delight in the beauty all around me;
With my photography expressing my spirit and soul. And, lest you think that it has been easy, know that I have working hard on my stuff.
Depression broke me—it was an unexpected and unimaginable grief in the midst of life’s toss and tumble of a young family and work.
It taught me to stop and reconsider many things. It forced me to truly look and see myself for the first time. If forced me to stop running. Though I was not much of a drinker for most of my life, I found myself craving a glass of wine to get me through the evening which soon became two, or three, until I knew – years before I admitted it out loud – that I was addicted. Admitting that was by far harder than admitting depression. Although both are illness (this has been proven by research) alcoholism holds a stigma that is hard to get over, especially as a soccer-mom in her thirties.
It must be said that there is no way I could have gotten through clinical depression and alcoholism without health insurance. Psychological counseling, medication, a hospitalization and alcohol counseling have been integral to my health and are expensive! Without that help — and my incredibly supportive husband and precious friends, and a renewed faith — I have no doubt that I would have drunk myself to death by now. I am gratefully sober today two years later.
Life doesn’t stop because you are unwell. My father was diagnosed with cancer and died during those years. Our family has faced many trials. Although I reconciled with my father before he died, I have spent the seven years since working on forgiving him.
As I look at those years, I see what I thought was success was anything but and what was necessary – to lose so much made me strong.
These days some might say I don’t do anything. But I am very content for now to work on my physical and mental health, which are intricately woven together. I write in order to learn and sometimes it helps others.