As I sit down to write my Mother’s Day post, I am filled with both tears and goose bumps.
Yesterday at the park I talked to a fellow preschool mom in length about her father, who left for a loaf of bread when she was one year old, and never came back. He had many breakdowns, was hospitalized about 20 times, and was eventually treated for bipolar disorder. The family has never discussed it. She only knows all this because as a young child she found the divorce papers and read them. Now she worries about the genes that predispose not only herself and her siblings to mental illness, but also her children.
I hugged her, feeling a piece of her pain, and trying to keep from tearing up (it’s been awhile since I’ve cried at the park!), as I looked at David climbing the ladder to the big slide. How I wish I could protect this little boy of mine from the torment of mental illness. I am so afraid for him because he (more than Katherine who luckily got Eric’s brain) seems to have inherited my fragile chemistry and acute sensitivity. I want him to be happy more than I want just about anything else in my life.
Then, just a minute ago, I read the very moving message from reader Elemgee on the “If You Can Dream” post, about growing up with a mother who suffered from a severe, clinical depression, but was undiagnosed at the time–and about how she and her siblings would sit in their living room next to the stereo speakers, singing along to the refrain “you are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here!” based on the poem “Desiderata” I posted a few days ago.
“We kids were isolated from many of our next-door-neighbor peers,” Elemgee wrote, “mostly because their own mothers kept them from playing with us. They got together and talked about our mom, making fun of our house being so messy, her occasional alcoholic episodes during the day, her late night suicide attempts and subsequent hospitalizations. Then the kids would get on the school bus with us and repeat their insults, taunting us in public, humiliating and shaming us for something over which we had no control.
“The truth was, we were often terrified when our mother acted out, and sometimes we even hated her for being so different, but when others picked on her, it was one of the most painful things in our lives, because we knew that deep down inside, she loved us and was trying to be a good mom.”
Now that I reread it, I am in full-blown tears.
So much suffering. In the midst of so much love.
I cry because I’ve been the scared child, wanting more than anything to stop my mom’s tears and pain…and I’ve been the mother sitting on a little boy’s bed, bawling my eyes out, not being able to stop, and hearing him say (as he plays with his toy cars) that I am in the back of his little police car, because that’s where they put the bad guys.
“Why am I bad?” I asked him.
“Because you cry so much.”
But what? How can you possibly explain severe, clinical depression to a three-year-old boy who wants a stable, cheery mommy–one that can take him to the park without breaking into tears behind a tree, or miss his great karate achievement because she had to bolt to the restroom and let her body shake with anxiety like a woman with severe Parkinson’s.
How I wish I could take back that time–the two years between his third and fifth birthday–and replace it with nothing but happy memories of my son and me at the park playing, shooting basketballs, coloring Spider Man coloring books, filling the driveway with colored-chalk drawings.
But I can’t go back, I can only go forward–and work at this sanity thing as best I can with all the tools provided to me (medication, therapy, cognitive-behavioral techniques, plenty of light, exercise, a healthy diet, regular sleep, supportive friends, helping other depressives, writing Beyond Blue, knowing my limitations).
I have to stay well. For myself. For Eric. For Katherine. But especially for little David.