Wading out

Like so many other things, mental health sneaks up on you.

In June, you can’t breathe. You wonder if this torment that calls itself life is ever going to end.

In July, through sheer effort and lots of time to yourself, you can begin to exist within yourself again.

In August, hope is on the horizon, although the pain is still very much present.

In September, the tears are starting to melt down the pain.

In October, you face the facts.

In November, you decide to care for yourself.

And December? In December, your energy comes back.

As my faculties return, I marvel: is this the level of mental energy humans have at their disposal when they’re not overwhelmed and obsessed and running two parallel processes on the single processor that’s in our heads? How can I describe this transition from the absolute brain dullness–too long my companion–to the lucid state of my mind now? It feels like wading out of the sea. First, the water is up to your neck, and it’s such an effort to take a single step. You think you’ll never make it. Then the water is up to your chest, and you have to keep your arms raised to reduce resistance, and it’s slow going, and you’re panting, but your determination carries you on. By the time you’re knee-deep, it’s child’s play. It can’t get easier, can it?

But then you hit the shore and you run like the wind. This is easy!

Was life ever so easy?

In the past weeks, I’ve even started entertaining thoughts of going back to work. I have no clue what kind of job I can do or will be able to get, and it’s not going to happen soon anyway since my family needs me to care for them right now. But, oh–my–God, is this possible? The mere thought of it doesn’t exhaust or terrify me anymore. I occasionally clean the house. I keep my family fed and clothed in clean clothes. I kind of sleep. I sleep. I can cope with everyday things.

And why did all this happen? Because I gave myself license to feel.

Feelings tucked inside eat you up from the inside. I say, let them out. Okay, maybe you don’t want to write a 65-thousand-word memoir about them and share them with everyone in the English-speaking world–I am, after all, an extreme case, the eternal over-sharer. But don’t let feelings fester. They can become malignant.

Oh, man, it’s so good to be able to run on dry ground.

18. When he cries

<< 17. Confirmation, contradiction, confusion / 19. Discovering you matter >>

“Did you find a therapist?” the family counselor asked Urban.

My husband hasn’t found a therapist. I understand his inhibition. It took me years to pinpoint and accept my issues and finally ask for help. God knows it’s not easy. You need some time for the idea to settle inside you, for it to stop feeling intrusive, disruptive. He needs to reconcile himself with how things are. I can’t begrudge him that.

“Why didn’t you?” the counselor asked.

 “There’s always so much to do, with work and the kids… I didn’t have any free time…”

The psychologist, calm as always, explained that, in all probability, there’ll never be time, so Urban will just have to bite the bullet and do it. I contributed my insights: he’d have to, 1. Pick up the phone, 2. Talk to someone he doesn’t know, 3. Explain the situation and 4. Impart its seriousness (he’s always lukewarm in his expressions, things are “not bad” or “fine,” mostly accompanied by a shrug). It is a huge feat of willpower, and he’d have to overcome his rather strong inertia. And therapists are busy, they don’t take on patients who don’t have serious problems.

The counselor wanted to help, and so he asked Urban to repeat a sentence which, in his opinion, imparts the seriousness of the situation in a concise way:

“I must learn to deal with my anger, which threatens to destroy my family.”

Oh, boy, that was hard. Getting out of the car, Urban fell in my arms, crying. It doesn’t help that our daughter—increasingly sensitive to his slightest change of inflection, just like her mother—keeps breaking down in sobs at the slightest provocations, shows physical symptoms of stress, and insists that “papa doesn’t understand me.”

“I made it all so bad,” he kept saying as he melted down in my arms. On the next morning, out of the blue, he started crying again. I hugged and soothed him. I’ve only seen him cry three times, all of them in the past five weeks.

I don’t know if he’s just now realizing it. I’ve been telling him for months that I wouldn’t last long in this situation, there were signs, my stress became overwhelming, my fatigue unsurmountable. Still, he just wouldn’t register my words, weird though it seems now. I think he’s one of those people who need to feel the effect various situations have on you. He doesn’t lack empathy, he just can’t access it through academic disquisitions.

I’ve been resting for six weeks now, and he’s been working, taking care of the kids at least half the time, cleaning a little now and then. I know it’s already exhausting—duh, I did this and more for years—but I let him do it, at the same time doing my best to suppress my feelings of guilt for not helping enough (he says I do more than enough, but I suppose this is not easily measurable). I figure, he has to come closer to his kids, so that the daughter doesn’t feel that “papa doesn’t get it,” so that the son bonds with him a little more. They’re so cute, the three of them together. There’s lots of love to go around. I think we’ll make it, but it will take lots of effort, and time.

Yesterday, I heard him saying to our daughter, “I haven’t had a minute to myself the whole day.” He gets cranky in the evening, he wants the kids to go to bed so that he can sit down and relax for a little while. I understand it all, but still, there were months, sometimes years in a row when I didn’t have single minutes to myself the whole day, nearly every day. Is this a strange, new occurrence to him? Was the distribution of mental labor in our family so skewed?

I think it was, and my guilt is probably misplaced. I should take time to heal—I still get tired, although not as much as three weeks ago—and I should do my best to sleep more and spend more quality time with the kids. I’m still the emotional pillar of this family, after all. This takes effort, it sucks so much energy out of you. It’s no wonder I find myself so often exhausted.

And I have other plans for taking care of my mind and soul. I’ve decided to do something I’ve always wanted: learn how to play the violin. But more on this in the next post.