I’ve mentioned a time or two that I struggle with depression. It’s a lifelong thing, I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t depressed. Sometimes are worse than others, but mostly, it’s basically like this: if there was a scale from -10 to 10, with -10 being superduper depressed and 10 being superduper manic, most people are at a base line of 0. My emotional grid’s baseline is, like, -2. Sometimes I dip low, sometimes I swing high, but day to day, I’m always a little depressed. Depression is my normal. My medication works as a…smoother, it bumps me to a -1 and keeps the lows brief and shallow so now I rarely get past a -3. Still, my outlook is always a little blue.
You as a 0 may ask, what’s that like? Well, let’s see. Imagine your mind is the bridge of the Enterprise from Star Trek (I’m a nerd, but my Star Trek knowledge is limited, so this isn’t going to get super out there for you non-nerds). There’s the big screen in front showing what’s going on, you are the Captain, and your emotions are manning all of the different stations and giving constant input and advice on how you go about doing things. I assume that in your mind, you as Captain, well, you stay in the big chair in the middle and you get the information you need to make decisions and your crew supports you and does as they’re told and mostly things go according to plan. And in those times that things go haywire, you and your crew work together to get back on course.
My mind, well, there’s a lot more chaos. A lot of the data I get isn’t right so I can’t make the best decisions to steer my ship. I have to get out of my chair to try and fix things, and my Spock is pretty incompetent. My crew doesn’t always speak the same language and they definitely don’t get along. There’s a lot of arguing and sabotage and laziness and things just don’t work right. There’s usually a mutiny brewing. My ship takes a lot longer to get to its destination, if it ever makes it there. Captain Me spends a lot of time and energy on keeping the ship going and so anything external can’t be dealt with properly. But, I’ve been captain of this ship for a long time, so I’ve gotten good with duct tape repairs and corralling the crew to get me where I need to go.
So, yeah, I hope that made sense. Real world, what does that mean? Well, let’s break down thought trains with a really simple situation – you spill coffee on your shirt. Normal thought train goes something like, “Shoot, now I have a big coffee stain on my shirt and I’m going to have to walk around all day like this. Luckily I don’t have a big meeting today and I can easily laugh this off. Doot-dee-doo, I will continue with my life in a completely normal way.” (I sometimes have days like this, they’re rad.) My thought train on a regular -2 day is more, “Dammit, now I have a coffee stain on my shirt and I’m going to have to walk around work all day like this. I bet everyone is going to think I’m the biggest idiot in the world. Dammit dammit dammit, I guess I’ll just be the asshole with the coffee stain today. I wonder if I could fix it…probably not, I’ll spend the rest of my life like some incompetent slob. Welp, guess that’s who I am now, surprise surprise, blergghhhhhhhh, on to the next misadventure.” But then there are the lower days, and when things are bad, the thoughts go more like, “Fuck me. Fuck. I can’t handle this. I have coffee all over my shirt, that’s going to be permanent, so this is ruined. I should crawl back in bed, I have no idea how I can deal with the rest of the day now. My boss already hates me, she’s going to see this and just fucking know I can’t do anything right. And I can’t. I can’t do anything right. God, I wish I was asleep. I wish I never had to get out of bed. Then I could just be this disgusting blob who can’t fucking drink coffee like an adult and no one will have to be bothered by my stupidity. I’m so fucking pathetic. Fuck.”
So, on those lower days, everything is so much more difficult. There’s this constant negative buzzing telling you all of the ways in which you are a failure. There’s a low level rage – mostly at yourself – that flares out at everyone and everything around you. There’s exhaustion that leaves you feeling like you’re pumping sand instead of blood through your veins. Trying to actually process any incoming information is almost pointless, like trying to have a conversation with someone while you’re underwater and they’re standing on the side of the pool. Days like that, getting out of bed and putting on clean underpants is a victory. Getting to work and doing the bare minimum to not get fired requires all of the tricks you’ve learned over the years.
But parenting on those days? It’s harder than anything I’ve ever done.
My usual defense on those days is to just stay the fuck in bed. That doesn’t really work that well with kids running around being kids. They’re loud, even when they’re trying to be quiet. I can hear my guy trying to keep them quiet and I can hear the frustration in his voice as he tells them I’m not feeling well again. So, I get up. I think, “I love my guy, I love my boys, being around them makes me happy. I will go be around them now and I will feel better.” But I don’t. I feel worse. I feel like I’m letting my guy down because I can’t be my normal happy self. Simple affection, hugs and kisses and pats, those mindless ways of saying I love you to my boys and guy, they’re off the table because being touched in any way leaves me nauseated. My jokes feel stilted or barbed. My temper is on a hair-trigger, I feel like the boys are scared of me or are deliberately provoking me. I try to get up and do something, maybe activity will help. But instead of having a good time, I’m snapping at everyone. I can feel myself losing control and I don’t know if I’m going to break a window or start crying. So. I go back to bed. And I lock my door and I’m back where I started, only deeper in now because I tried and failed. I’m angry and exhausted and guilty and disappointed and frustrated and filled with doubt. How can I do this for the rest of my life? How can I be a parent when I don’t feel like I can be a person?
For me, I’m still working it out. Each dip in the road gives me new data, new ways to solve the problem of parenting while crazy. New rule – no baking projects. I’m going to lose my temper and that fun bonding time gets ruined. New rule – apologize first. New rule – eat actual meals. New rule – watch Frozen or Lord of the Rings or read Harry Potter. New rule – give kisses even when you don’t feel like it. New rule – admit that you can’t handle something. But the main rule? The one I have to remember applies to parenting while crazy just like it applies to living while crazy? Try. Get up and just fucking do what you can. Make the effort that you think is going to kill you. You will be amazed by your strength every time.
And, with all of that said, I’m lucky in so many ways. I’m lucky that I’ve dealt with this long enough to know it’s not permanent, that I’ll bounce back, that there’s a difference between real me and crazy me. I’m lucky that I’ve talked about it enough with my guy that he knows what to expect. And I’m lucky that he’ll stick with me and pick up my slack and do what needs doing until I’m back. I’m lucky that I’ve grown out of the “get intoxicated until I’m numb” phase. I’m lucky my base is -2 and not lower, that my mood swings aren’t more severe. I’m lucky self-harm isn’t in the picture. I’m lucky that I’m out about my depression and don’t feel the need to hide it, that my friends and family know and support me. I’m lucky to know that even when I feel completely isolated in my chaos, I’m never actually alone. I’m lucky that these episodes don’t last long.
I used to never think about the long-term. I didn’t believe I had a long term. When you have a depressed mind, there’s an internal assumption that things will… end early. Now my life is full of FUTURE. I have plans that stretch on into old age. I want things that are long lasting. I want to see the boys grow up. I want to grow old with my guy. My depression isn’t going away, but I’m not going to let it win. And maybe setting that example is the best thing I can do as a parent.