I was going to buy a copy of ‘The Power of Positive Thinking,’ and then I thought: what the hell good would that do?
– Ronnie Shakes
All of the weight I struggled to gain before the concussion is gone. I have not stopped eating, but apparently the weight of grief is enough. My body feels heavier as I move against the current, and yet, it is all in my mind. Though I know that scientifically, this cannot be possible, it seems as if the forces of the universe said to each other, I don’t think she knows what grief is. Divorce and losing a close friend just feel like it. Perhaps we should show her real loss to put things in perspective.
My response to that so far has been screw you guys. I’m goin’ home.
Things are looking up, because even if they aren’t, I have to believe it. I’ve gotten involved in choir and youth group again. I’ve tried to create action to beget inertia, and because of deep loss, I tire quickly. Perhaps I’ll just get a job at a store for a while. Autonomic responses are everything, and the “lather, rinse, repeat” approach might be what I need.
The hard part is not knowing what I need, knowing that there’s not a damn thing in the world that’ll help. My mother and I, for all practical intents and purposes, were not extremely close for a lot of my life. When she wasn’t concerned about me, she was still enmeshed in what I believe was at times dysthymic behavior. I am not a psychiatrist, so I cannot make that leap all by myself, and I won’t. I can just tell you what I observed. Many people would have noticed this right after she and my father divorced, but the plain truth is that it surfaced long before.
I think that beginning her life over and starting her career again as a teacher, along with getting remarried, helped immensely. But at the same time, her raincloud multiplied mine. I was often reticent to just buy a damn umbrella. I could not live with someone else in depression, so I didn’t. I have carried an enormous amount of guilt for many years at the way I only visited sporadically, leaving Lindsay to make sure that they were daily fed and dressed. I could never decide if it was self-care or selfishness. I forgive myself because I was only 17 at the time, but if I had my life to do over knowing what I know now, it would have been a much different outcome. I would have engaged in that fight instead of running away from it.
I wish I had been brave enough to say out loud, I think you might be depressed and you should call a doctor. I said it internally all the time, biting my lip. But my mother, like many women of her time, did not believe in going to a psychiatrist because that meant you were crazy. She could have had a much more full life had her smiles been more genuine instead of a brave face against adversity.
If you couldn’t just tell she was depressed, it’s because she went to great lengths to hide it. Because of her views on mental illness, I again felt alienated. One of the reasons she was so proud of me is that I’d done something she could not, which was admit all my flaws and failures and seek treatment… but I don’t think she saw it that way until I gave her my URL. She never read Clever Title Goes Here, unless someone else e-mailed her the link and she just never told me. But I’ve always been up front about needing medication to keep my brain chemicals stable, and how even then, it is a constant uphill battle. I have been stable on the same protocol since my diagnosis was changed from unipolar to bipolar, but in the unipolar days, I went through med change after change, never feeling right enough. Perhaps that went into her decision-making as well. I was getting medication, and it didn’t really help, so why put the effort into seeking her own treatment?
I am glad that during the last three years, she got to see that medication did indeed help, but it wasn’t until I got psychological (as opposed to psychiatric) treatment that I really began to blossom. I have no doubt that this latest onslaught is just a response to deep grief, and that my medication being altered in any way would only make me feel more numbed out as opposed to being effective… and it’s hard to tell the difference. Am I resolving pain, or avoiding it?
Avoiding pain has been a theme of both our lives, both going to extraordinary lengths to hide it… as evidenced by my mother sitting with me in the psych ward at Methodist absolutely not knowing what to do, but knowing that if it would make me better, she would have slit her own wrists. That’s just the kind of mom she was- absolutely no sense of self-preservation where Lindsay and I were concerned. She lived my father’s axiom of “if I have it, and you need it, it’s yours.” He said it out loud, but my mother didn’t. She just carried it out, in all things, really, but especially hearing the distress call of her children. She loved me more than herself, and in a lot of ways, I blew it. I could see her pouring from an empty cup and never suggested ways to fill it.
She would never say that about me, and it is no less true. However, in thinking about recent days, I cannot mistake the part for the whole. We generally spent long hours on the phone, mostly because once my mother started talking about teaching, it was impossible to extricate yourself. She also had this habit (a very funny one) of believing that since I worked in technology, if it plugged into the wall, I knew how to fix it. She once asked me to fix her cable box while I was living in Portland, and I told her to hold it up to the phone.
She also loved ritual. Every time a new iPhone came out, she’d call me and say, I wish you were here so we could go and sit to wait for it like we did when I visited you. It’s kind of our thing, isn’t it? It was the same at Christmas, where she liked things to be done the same way every year, because it was our thing.
Part of the reason grief (in all its many forms) is so difficult is not that the person is lost to you- it’s also the piece of you that belonged to them. If I thought I’d lost both my right and left hands, now I’m walking without legs.
I try not to go into that space of giving up positive thinking, because I want to create beauty out of pain… spirit, as David Ashley White says, moving over chaos.
However, I can only try so hard. All I can really do is remember. That comes autonomically as well. I can only hope that as time goes by, it is negative on the inhale, positive on the exhale. Letting it go one breath at a time.
I will never be able to let go of my mother’s death, but not to try is more devastating than creating a new world around me. I see her sadness at me coming to Houston and not sticking around very long before I was off on another new adventure. I can’t ease her pain, but I am trying to soothe myself that great things will come of wanderlust, because I’ve found a place to set down real roots… calling forth shoots of green as the winter eases.