Dear Lily June,
I am tempted not to tell you about days like today.
Is there a way to say there are days my heart feels exposed and every nerve inside achingly raw without being frightening? And, my darling little one, don’t I have to confess in hushed tones that on days like today–when it feels as if I am drowning inside a sea of myself, that I, too, am frightened?
Can there be anything more frightening to a child than knowing your own mother is afraid? Can there be anything more frightening to a mother than knowing your fear might scare your no-matter-their-age baby?
And yet, someday, you could be here, and if I never told you “here” was “there” as a place you could someday be, what then? Will you believe you invented depression, and that you are trapped, alive and alone, in your own invention?
I cannot let this be. I have to tell you, even if it scares us both, I’ve been there. I’m there presently.
For me, when the depression gets B-A-D, as it is right as I write this, it hooks my ear by its bony finger and pours such poison in as, “These days, life holds more pain than it doesn’t.”
There is a rational part of my mind–just like there is a skeleton inside of my body–that holds my sanity upright, that says, “How can this be? Your daughter does a dance we call the ‘noodle’ that looks makes her look like a hula dancer made of rubber. In a world with something so adorably unique, can there but anything but joy?”
And, you, dear, who wrap your arms around me as tightly as I might wrap my fingers around a doorknob–you almost open the door of pain in me to let me escape myself. To let the darker waters come pouring from my heartbeat.
But then I don’t sleep and then I don’t sleep and then I eat badly and I eat even more badly and I stop being diligent with taking my medication and I stop following my routines and the story I tell myself inside my head about who I am changes.
I become not your mother, but your captor, the one who ties steel rods to the balloons of your childhood to keep them from floating off into eternity.
I become not your father’s wife, but a backpack of bricks he slings over his shoulder and has to carry the memory around of all day.
And when I believe those things about myself, I get heavier and heavier until it’s harder to lift any part of my body. I start to fill up with an ocean, and I start to throw stones inside of it, only I am the ocean and I am the stones and I am the room filled with both, and I can’t get out of me.
For a long time, I’ve sat along the shoreline looking into the water. The ocean never recedes entirely, but it ebbs and flows continuously.
From a safe distance, if you can watch the waters move in and out of your life, the waves become less frightening, and you’re provided with views that are spectacular–like the sun setting over the water until it seems as if each pain you’ve felt, from the tiniest prick to the deepest heartbreak–has been set on fire. And each wave is another color, part of a moving painting aflame. And life feels meaningfully alive, and lovely.
Sometimes, you’re able to wade in a little, just to experience the memory of times that were darker. Like the invitation on sosadtoday’s Twitter, “meet you at the corner of insomnia and difficulty living in the world,” it feels sad but temporary. The trouble is, you have to remind yourself you’re in the water.
If you forget, you stop being vigilant, and you wade so far into yourself you forget there ever was a shore, or loved ones waiting for you there. If you don’t acknowledge the water is filling in the spaces where your eyes should be open, that you’re blinking blind and flailing wetly, you could drown without ever letting yourself admit you were in the water.
Lily June, there is no easy way to say this, but I am going under. I can hear the good things all around me–like love, your beauty, our family–but with a foggy echo that feels unreal. The really-real things feel like our debts and the fight your dad and I had and the way my job is shifting out from under me and the way my pain has cracked me back into a frail shell of myself.
I sat in an office bathroom stall and cried today. I went for a walk on my lunch break and tried to reach out to various people by phone to tell them I’m forgetting what the sand feels like under my feet, but no one answered. Some people I couldn’t bother because they are at their own jobs, and others are in their own pain, but the ones I could reach out to, I did, and they weren’t there.
And when you’re both alone and lonely, the latter cuts even deeper. I’m telling you this now because if you’re ever here, you need to remember this, right here right now in the middle of the moment of your darkest darkness.
I’m there, even if I’m not there there.
I’m there with you like this letter were a message in a bottle I cast from the past into your present where you keep an ocean in the room inside of yourself that you’re throwing stones into, only, you are the ocean, and you are the stones, and you are the bottle, too.
But Lily June, I am the love inside it.
I am terrified I will teach you to drown by drowning around you, but sometimes the pain gets too big for me to deny it.
I’m there, dear, but some part of me is on the shoreline, too, with you, watching me go down again and again, rooting for me to resurface this time and stay up, to be able to take a large, freeing gasp of air. To keep breathing.
- By uncredited – The Works of Shakspere, with notes by Charles Knight, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10378434