We have reached the part of our program where people who love me place a gentle hand on my arm and say things like, “What are you doing for you?” This always makes me want to laugh (inappropriately). Oh, I’m just eating bonbons and kicking back, you know. Because why not? It feels like the sky is falling, sure, but I’M WORTH IT.
Generally I stammer something about how OH I am managing, you know, and Otto always makes sure we have some ice cream in the freezer, and not to worry, I’m just fine. Or, you know, not fine at all, but it’s okay.
There’s a twisted part of my brain that feels like if my kid is suffering, it’s my job to suffer along with her. I know this. I also know that it makes no sense. But that’s one of my dysfunctional coping mechanisms that feels more comforting than the realization that there’s really nothing more I can do at this point.
Nonetheless, the next person who tells me to “put on my own oxygen mask first” is getting a zucchini to the temple. I get it. And I’m working on it.
While Monkey was off with his dad I had two weeks to wallow and indulge my inner Chicken Little, but now that he’s home I have to resume pretending that I’m comfortably in charge and confident in some semblance of order in the world. I’m not gonna lie—the last few days before he came home I was overcome with both dread and guilt. I missed him, of course, and wanted him home, but I was also worried I wasn’t going to be able to pull my mess of a self together and get off the couch and actually make dinner and such.
[Sidebar: It is not my fault, or anyone’s “fault,” that Chickadee is sick. That’s the party line and it’s true and I believe it 100%, intellectually. Emotionally, my belief in my fitness as a mother has been shaken. Do not feel compelled to assure me otherwise—I know this is an emotional, irrational reaction—but the reality is that this is a normal response to realizing that something you though you controlled (good parenting = happy kid) is actually completely out of your control. Just another bonus prize of the suckage.]
I was working on finding that loathsome metaphorical oxygen mask the entire time Monkey was gone, mind you. I have a new therapist and I like her a lot, though she’s the pragmatic sort who periodically says things like, “The reality is that your daughter might never get better” and then I fantasize about punching her in the face. But I appreciate her honesty even though it doesn’t always help me feel less hopeless. Anyway, we talk. I use a lot of tissues in her office. I trust that eventually this will be productive rather than simply gut-wrenching.
I’m back on antidepressants, because for a while there I couldn’t sleep, and also because of the aforementioned leakiness. Once insomnia and crying at the drop of the hat lay claim to me on a regular basis, I know it’s time for a little chemical assistance. And it helps—I’m sleeping a little better, and I still cry a lot, but I do not cry all the time, and this is an important distinction.
Otto and I located a support group for family members dealing with mental illness in a loved one, and I had high hopes. The good news is that the people we met at the meeting we attended were very kind. The bad news is that there were only two other people there, both of whom had never dealt with a child being the afflicted person. So we talked and they nodded sympathetically and said things like “Teenagers! My kids were hard at that age, too!” So… that was not as useful as I’d hoped it would be.
Monkey came home, and I clung to my bootstraps for dear life, and then something bizarre happened: I started to feel better.
I don’t know if I could really explain it well enough to do it justice even if I tried, but I don’t really even want to attempt to paint the picture of our household over the last six months or so. It’s… too much. All I can tell you is that when someone you love is behaving in such an irrational manner, everyone else in the family begins to warp as well, to stretch and reform in ways you don’t even realize, attempting to buffer and protect and deflect the mayhem that’s going on. And while it’s happening it seems perfectly normal, even though it so isn’t.
So Monkey came home, and things were… calm. Loving. We three smile at each other and enjoy one another’s company and share hugs and kisses and giggles and it’s just… normal.
I think I had forgotten what that was like. I think maybe we all did.
I’m still sad and worried and stressed out, but I’m also deeply appreciative of moments in time that are right and good. Monkey is an inch taller than when he left, but ever the sunny goofball he’s always been in good times. He reminds me that this can be a good time—with him, with just the three of us—even though my brain tries to insist that this is the worst of times. Chickadee is where she needs to be right now, and seeing how happy Monkey is reminds me that he, too, has suffered through this storm and deserves some peace and contentment wherever it may be found.
So I follow his lead as often as I can, and I find it, too. I find it when I push back from the computer mid-morning and tell him it’s time to go swimming. (“Just like that?” he asks, incredulous. “Right now?” “Just like that! Right now!” He laughs and runs off to change, and I realize as he pounds up the stairs that I’m laughing, too.) I find it when Otto and I are sitting out on the porch at the end of the day, marveling at what a difference a year makes, at how comfortable Monkey is in his own skin these days. I find it when he grabs Otto and me and declares “GROUP HUG!” and I breathe in my two favorite guys and know that I am still lucky, even though I ache for us to be four again.
I buy groceries and do work and make phone calls and love on the ones who let me and pray for the one who won’t. I find pockets of joy I’d forgotten about. I still cry a lot, but less than I used to.
It feels like I got my mask on, but now I can’t find hers. I’m fumbling around for it, trying not to panic. I’m breathing, which means I can keep going, no matter how scared I am or how many times I think I would happily give my mask to her if only she would take it. I hate this. But I’m still breathing.