Posterboard versus hand signals

I just got Jenny Lawson’s new book in the mail A DAY EARLY – the postal service must really know what they’re doing when the tracking number tells me my beloved package will be here on Saturday, and since I am a creature whose mental health depends on expectations being met or exceeded, they, well, exceeded them because today is indeed Friday (at the time this was written), a survey of my peers confirmed – and I’ve already dived into it, even though I have a library book that’s due soon and it can’t be renewed and I don’t like to read two books at one time so now I’ve gone and fucked everything up but who cares because nothing matters anymore.

Her book inspires me to write in gauche run-on sentences that include lots of italics and all caps because her writing just speaks to me. She also inspires me to write about my own struggles with mental illness, among other things.

I hesitate to write about depression versus anxiety for a number of reasons. First is that anxiety is my main course and I usually only order a side of depression, and not all that often. Also, depression just seems scarier. More dangerous. When I write about it, I always feel the need to add that I’m not suicidal (because I’m not). Depression is so much more than that, anyway. And it’s different for everyone.

Lately, I’ve been struggling to decide to go to social events because things I try to say come out wrong because my depression manifests as extreme irritability. While I want human connection and know that it will be good for me, my worry is that my depression will say something horribly rude and piss off my friends and I’d like to keep my friends. But, if I stay away from my friends for their sake and express myself only with one liners and emojis via text, I fear they’ll think I’m trying to ghost them and I swear I’m not.

My depression also manifests as a profound lack of energy. If you’re seeing me outside my house wearing pants lately, be sure I’ve used up my energy just getting to that state. Another reason I worry about group events is that I’d rather not burst into tears if someone asks me how I’m doing. See, I’m a horrible liar and I don’t want to lie but I don’t necessarily want to discuss every last detail about how I’m feeling with a group of people – partially because I don’t always know what or why I’m feeling. BUT- I do appreciate people asking. I do. Even if I suck at answering. And if I did burst into tears, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. I also don’t want people to be afraid to ask – again, because I suck at answering – mainly because I don’t want my depression to become this huge, ugly elephant in the room (but not indoors in any room, because covid. the proverbial room). Lastly, I’m extremely cognizant of the fact that I don’t want the topic of my mental health to hijack the festivities. I don’t want to be that sick person who sucks all the fun out of the [metaphorical non-covid-filled] room, but I don’t want to ignore the obvious, either. I’d love to strike a balance between totally ignoring the huge elephant I’m riding in on versus bursting into tears and becoming the focus of an impromptu group therapy session.

Nobody, firstly me, wants to have to tiptoe around the issue of how I might be feeling on any given day. I’ve often thought about how I might cut straight to the chase. I’ll arrive at the please-wear-pants garden party and loudly shout I’M AT A 4 TODAY. I MIGHT CRY. I’M GLAD I’M HERE BUT I ALSO MIGHT LEAVE EARLY. GOOD AFTERNOON TO YOU ALL. But, to be realistic I should probably put all that on huge white posterboard and go through them one by one like the Walking Dead guy does in Love Actually when he’s totally trying to steal his best friend’s wife. (Who does that?!) Cuz if I’m actually at a 4 (out of 10), then there’s likely no way I’d be able to say all that without crying. Either posterboard or hand signals. Hand signals would be more environmentally friendly.

Hand signals it is.

A Full Day

There are some random things that tend to stick in one’s mind for whatever reason. Yesterday, I shared one of those things with my husband and it was the first time he’d heard this story even though we’ve been together for 17 years.

My family of origin is heavily into sports – mainly basketball and football. I don’t remember the context in which this came up, but my brother introduced me, directly or indirectly, to a clip from the ESPY Awards from 1993. It was an acceptance speech from the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, given to people whose contributions to society transcend sports. That year’s recipient was someone whom I’d never heard of – he was a basketball coach named Jim Valvano, or more affectionately called Jimmy V, and he was dying of cancer. I had no idea what he had done to deserve the award, but the words he said in the first part of his speech really moved me and stuck with me all these years.

He said, and I’ll paraphrase here, that if you do three things each day, you’ll have a full life. If you laugh, if you spend some time in thought, and if you find yourself being moved to tears – that’s a full day. That’s a great day. Do that everyday, he said, and it’ll equal a full life.

If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re gonna have something special.

Jimmy V, 1993

For me, it’s not everyday that I do those three things, but when I do, I take note. I mark it in my mind as a full day, a great day.

Last night, my husband and I were getting ready for bed, brushing our teeth in our bathroom. I looked at him in the mirror, my eyes still a little puffy from crying all the way through Kamala’s speech and even during part of Biden’s. “Today was a full day.” I said. He looked at my quizzically, probably because we hadn’t even left the house that day. I told him how much it meant to me to see a woman up there on that stage, especially four years after a devastating loss. I can barely put it into words. I also told him the story of the Jimmy V speech, and how it had stuck with me through all these years.

“…so today I laughed, and I spent some time in thought, and I was just moved to tears.” My eyes welled up as I said the words.

“And so today was a full day.”


Day 8

Like Nothing Had Ever Happened

This post was after a particularly shitty day, told in the third person. I’m sure many parents can relate.


NaBloPoMo Day 25

Psychobabble

It started like any ordinary day.

And that’s the thing – these days, most days were just that – ordinary.  Sure, some moments stuck out for better or for worse, but they were mostly spent in the monotony of keeping her kid safe, clothed, fed, occupied.

As she lied in bed, she could hear her son happily babbling over the baby monitor.  He rarely woke up in a bad mood.  She got up and started her usual routine of making the bed, getting dressed, dragging a brush through her hair, and then she went to go get her son.

As soon as she opened his bedroom door, the stale odor of his poopy diaper floated out to greet her.  And then she could see, under her smiling, blond baby boy, that his crib sheet was quite soiled.

She sighed.

First things first, she thought, Diaper change, then strip the…

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Don’t Tell My Kid Not To Cry

Parents are supposed to work super hard to keep their kids happy, like, all the time.  If your kid is crying in the grocery store, then something’s wrong.  If your teenager is depressed, then you’ve failed as a parent.  If your child is angry and frustrated, you’d better punish fe because that’s just unacceptable.

Okay, so I exaggerated to make a point, but I think all the above is complete crap.

Popular rhetoric often says “I just want my kid to be happy,” and I think that’s a horrible goal – because you’ll fail.  We all will.  It’s also just not the point of life.

Unfortunately, I hear this (or read it) all the time.  What’s even worse is that I hear the negative side of this message (“Don’t worry!”  “Don’t feel sad!” and “Ooh, don’t you cry!”) to which most of us don’t give a second thought.  I suppose it makes sense to me that we would wish someone happiness, but I hate it that in the process, we too often demonize sadness and the expression of more so-called vulnerable feelings.

Like everyone else, I want the best for my kid.  I want him to have it all (whatever that means).  I want my kid to have a normal, rich life and that means experiencing the full range of emotions on a regular basis.

All this essentially boils down to: Don’t tell my kid not to cry.

You may think this message [being told not to cry] is harmless, but I assure you, it’s not.  By telling my kid not to cry, you’re telling him that his feelings are invalid.  You’re telling him that sadness is bad…or weak…or embarrassing.  If he internalizes the message as he gets older, he may interpret that he is bad or weak for feeling such things.

As for right now, he’s a baby.  Crying is normal.  (It’s also normal for humans of all ages, for that matter.)  Crying is how he communicates that he needs to be cared for.  As a parent, it is not my job to stop my baby from crying; it is my job to develop a tolerance for it.  And I suggest you do, too.

There’s a diaper commercial that I saw recently that promises that if you use their product, your baby will “always be comfortable.”  And I was like, “Are you kidding?!  Babies are hardly ever comfortable!  They sit in their own pee and poop and they get horrible gas and colic and they have huge teeth shoving their way through their hard gums…no one would be comfortable with all that going on!”  But the implication is that, as parents, it is our job to make sure that our kids are always comfortable.

The Princess Bride had it right: “Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone who says differently is selling something.”  Like diapers.

But back to that commercial.  What crazy high standards!  Nye, impossible standards!  And dare I say it – unhealthy.  As humans, we are meant to feel emotions – all of them – so we can bond with each other and learn from our mistakes and protect ourselves and live full lives.  I desperately don’t want my kid to feel self-conscious about living an authentic life just because other people may be squeamish around tears.

The other layer that plays into this issue is gender.  Although my son can’t express his gender yet, chances are he’ll identify as male, and little boys get the “don’t cry” message far more than girls.  This double standard scares me, and I hope to give my son the much more powerful message that he should be able to feel sad for any reason and express his sadness at any time.

I also want my son to know that whenever someone tells him not to cry (or whenever someone invalidates any of his feelings) that it says more about that person’s discomfort around authentic displays of emotion than it does about him.  Because as long as he’s being authentic, and as long as the way he chooses to express himself doesn’t hurt someone else, then he’s one brave little man.