October 28, 2022,
MOST PEOPLE NOW know not to ask me how I am doing because I can’t lie anymore, but also I’m doing relatively OK, all things considered, which also feels like a weird response. Am I taking care of myself? No, not really; I’m eating too much, I’m drinking too much, I don’t exercise. In other words, I am coping well, using poor coping mechanisms. How are you handling things? I’m very task-oriented as my own therapist likes to say about me. I stay focused on the task in front of me, while also attuned to and ready for the inevitable crisis, and with it a new set of tasks to focus on and complete.
I was picking up my youngest, again, from school early. “Mom, if I could just have a day where I woke up feeling meh, went to school feeling meh, and at the end of the day still just feel meh. If I had a day like that, I would be the happiest kid in the world.”
For over the past six months, there has been no ordinary meh day. There is routine, but it is a routine built around waiting to deal with whatever crisis, whatever catastrophe will inevitably happen. On a good day, it’s just picking up my youngest from school early. When it’s a bad day, it means a trip to the hospital.
An ordinary day is steeling myself to hear how much the youngest is suffering, either through first- or third-person accounts, in order to be always already OK with whatever specific brand of suffering we are dealing with that day. A constant state of vigilance to any crack in my OK-ness, but also ready to soothe, to reassure, to pick up, to listen, to accept. To be OK for the other members of our family, too, who are reeling from all of this.
I am lucky to be able to work from home most days, to be the one on call. But this means that there is little reprieve from constantly monitoring my phone and personal email account for any information, any indication that something has gone awry and requires my presence. I coordinate therapist appointments and doctor’s appointments and school meetings and refill medication while completing my work, attending Zoom meetings, trying to keep it together and get through the day. Then I try to navigate the second shift, being a mother to my other child, a wife to my husband.
I spend the evenings on my phone, scrolling through social media while binge-watching TV shows I’ve already seen, or watching hockey games. That my hometown hockey team is doing better than expected has brought me a disproportionate level of something that resembles joy these past few weeks. My husband and I don’t talk much about much of anything these days except hockey because we know if we start to talk about the things that are weighing on us we might crack in ways that can’t be repaired and we cannot crack right now. Plus, we need to sleep and to open up discussions before bed is to invite sleepless nights which spill over into horrible tomorrows.
Best that we follow the routine, with occasional outbursts from me on social media, vague as to respect my child’s privacy, but pointed in just how exhausted and burned out I am. I have been depressed before, and this is not depression as I am more determined and focused than ever on living, on being hopeful and optimistic, even if I am worn so thin that it seems that I am not, in fact, both interested in living or hopeful and optimistic. Is this the reserve that they say parents have when their children are in distress? I wasn’t prepared for things being this hard. I wasn’t prepared for how I am somehow managing all of this.
I think, though, the worst is when people tell me what a good parent I am, that I am doing a good job. But my kids never eat vegetables and I don’t police screen time and one of them never reads and I don’t snoop on their phones and maniacally surveil them and absolutely nothing right now feels like I am doing a good job at being a parent and this statement sends me into a spiral of self-doubt about every decision I have ever made as a parent. Did we move too much? Did we pick too hard of a school? Was I too lenient with them? Have I spoiled them? Did I not make them do enough chores?
I see the pictures my friends post of their kids’ smiling faces on an ordinary day let alone their achievements, and I think about how we only share the good stuff, but what if there isn’t any good stuff to share? What did they do differently than I did?
No, best to let me just focus on completing the task that is in front of me at that moment, the most urgent thing that needs to be taken care of, following whatever steps, however infuriating, frustrating, or humiliating they are, to completion.
At the end of the day, I usually fall asleep on the couch watching reality shows where people see a medical specialist for some physical ailment that is not deemed medically terrible enough to be covered by insurance, and thus are left to suffer until a TV show and celebrity doctor decide that their narrative will hold my attention and thus are worthy to be helped. The patients always leave the office feeling seen, heard, and finally fixed. It’s Pavlovian at this point, where I often don’t even stay awake past the initial patient consultation.
I fall asleep every night exhausted and spent. But every night I fall asleep last, knowing that everyone is safely asleep in their beds, under the same roof, and there will be a tomorrow much like today, and that is the best we can all do right now, but it is also more than good enough. It’s love.
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