Last week I picked Jesse up from school, as usual.
As usual, she was emotional wreckage. That’s just how it goes for Jesse these days. She works as hard as she possibly can all day long to control urges and impulses, and to tuck away all those intrusive thoughts that get in the way of learning and fun, and to dial back her emotional outbursts. By 3:00 p.m., she’s done. Stick a fork in her.
So last week, yeah, as usual, she was whiny and unhappy. As usual, she unraveled into her miserable self-reporting cadence. I did not know (until I knew) that constant negative self-reporting is a form of “checking” behavior associated with OCD. Almost every weekday, Jesse starts her after-school conversation with me by generating a microscopic run down of all the shitty things she did that day.
If I believed her self-reporting and self-assessment, I would conclude that she’s like the girl from The Exorcist, head-spinning, vomiting, and demon-talking her way through each school day, with tiny flames shooting out her butt. There’s probably a little of that, but not as much as Jesse would have me believe.
I’ve tried and tried to get Jesse to tell me about good things first, but it just doesn’t roll that way. She can’t stop it yet. She can’t see herself as something good. Yet.
I hate it so much. I hate her negative self-reporting and her self-loathing and the miserable exhaustion in her face at 3:00 on every school day. It breaks my heart a little every time, because I wish there was some way, finally and finally and finally, to break through.
But also, it just wears on me. I get bleak and blank, and on many days I find myself unresponsive. I really don’t know what to do. Usually we just drive grimly over to the elementary school to pick up Nick. Sometimes we natter, sometimes we yell, and sometimes I make Jesse get out of the car and walk because she’s kicking the back of my seat so hard.
So anyway, last week, as usual, I walked into the school house and found my miserable child. This time she was in the hallway, sitting on the floor next to her locker, mewling about I-don’t-know-what. A school administrator was hanging out with her, in a really good-natured way. But Jesse wasn’t having it. She looked up at me from the floor and almost yelled at me (as usual). But for some reason she went a step further on this particular day. She stuck the emotional knife between my ribs. “This is just the way I feel at the end of the day, mom, because I’m tired, okay?? This is how I am after school because I’ve worked hard all day! And DON’T DO THAT THING AND GET ALL DEPRESSED LIKE YOU DO EVERY DAY.”
* * * * *
The timing couldn’t have been more uncanny. I stared down at her and nodded. I chatted a bit with the administrator. We picked up the pieces of Jesse that we could reach and pushed her back together, and got her stuff in her backpack, and then she and I walked out together.
I put my arm around her shoulders and stuck in my own knife. You’re right, I told her. I’ve been depressed. I do let you down every day when I pick you up. I need help.
In fact, I had just been to the doctor that very morning and gotten a prescription for an antidepressant. So I told Jesse about that and assured her I would start taking it, and maybe I’d finally be able to get past the gloom, get some energy back, be a fun mom again. Be the patient, supportive mom Jesse needs, which I really haven’t been lately.
“Noooo Mom,” Jesse countered. “You have been patient! You’re always there when I need you. You never let me down!”
Nope. She didn’t say that.
What actually happened is this: she nodded with a look on her face that was somewhere in the zone between “about time” and “good luck.”
I told Nick too, that evening. Mommy’s going to take some medicine, the way Jesse does, so that I can be less moody, and maybe I’ll have more energy to do things like fold your laundry and clean the house and exercise and play, because my mood has been really messed up lately.
Nick didn’t protest either.
* * * * *
I’ve never taken an antidepressant before. I’m scared, but I know it’s the right thing to do. All the signs are there.
I’ve been going through the motions for a long time now. I’m good at it, for sure — I do volunteer advocacy and school volunteering, I take my kids here and there, I laugh and make jokes, I work on positive self-talk, la la la la. But I can’t maintain it except in short stretches. I rarely feel deep joy anymore, that feeling that blossoms in your bones and gut for no particular reason. Everything’s flat and mushy, like a wet fog. I rarely even feel especially sad. I don’t have tears except when I’m utterly full of despair. I feel occasional moments of pride and hope for my kids, but I can’t sustain it. My self-care has suffered. I can barely motivate myself to get exercise, when it used to be a daily refuge. I rarely look in the mirror. I forget to comb my hair. I drink too much.
I don’t think I’m very funny anymore either.
The thing is, I have no excuses. I have nothing but blessings around me. I have a financially secure life. My family is in pretty good physical health. I’m supported by a man who apparently has an unfathomable love for me. Since I’ve been in this funk, he’s pretty much taken over the laundry and housekeeping. I couldn’t be more spoiled. I have two beautiful children who, despite their issues, are surviving and thriving. I have friends and community. I even have self-awareness and intelligence.
It’s an easy out to say that having a kid with unique mental health challenges makes for extra stress and can lead to depression and emotional exhaustion. But I can’t put this one on Jesse. The truth is, everything would be easier for her — and therefore for me — if I wasn’t such a Debbie Downer these days. I am still the parent, and she is still the child, for many years to come. She needs me well, and it’s my job to make me well.
And right now, the truth is that I need a jump start to get there. I need some real pharmaceutical help to get me over the hump so that I can rediscover some of the fundamental joy and humor in life that used to sustain me.
I took my first pill last night and sat in the living room by myself. Anthony and the kids had fallen asleep. I waited for something magical to happen, and suddenly it did! I looked out the window and saw the moon, shining silver down upon me like a messenger. An owl hooted in the back yard and I ran outside in my bare feet, the wet grass clinging to my toes. I looked up at the moon and stars, and a feeling welled up in my heart that hasn’t been there for months, and I raised my arms in a primal dance as I turned in a circle with my eyes closed, feeling the mix of winter chill and warm air that defines a Wisconsin spring. I howled like a coyote and reconnected with Mother Earth, and I knew all would be well.
* * * * *
No. I sat on the dirty living room sofa and mostly I felt kind of extra gassy, but that might have been from the gelato.
Still, who knows? Give me four to six weeks, and I’ll let you know how I’m doing.