What follows is the story of my last few months. It is not my favorite story, because they’ve been hard months. I was depressed and grieving, so was my husband. Mostly because our son was struggling. The other kids weren’t having happy, sunny times either. That is common in families. Everyone affects everyone else. I’m not giving many specific details of the causes of the struggles, because some of the bits aren’t entirely mine to tell. I may figure out how to tell other bits at a future date. I wanted to skip this story entirely, just move onward, blog other things. But this story appears to be sitting in the middle of my blogging brain so that I am required to tell it first before I have space to think and write other stories. I also think it is a somewhat useful corollary to my Married to Depression post. That part where I said that people with depressed loved ones are at risk for depression? It came true for me big time in the past several months.
In November and December I was overwhelmed, stressed, sad, depleted. It was as if all of my ability to care about things had been siphoned out of me and poured into the black holes of need that were my children. They were going through some emotionally challenging things. So was I. Some of those challenges resulted in automated messages from the school notifying me of things.
Your son missed some classes today.
Your son has been absent from this class so often, he will not get credit unless he does some make up hours.
Please talk to your child about his poor choices.
Each notification told me something I already knew. Each poked me—hard— in a place where things hurt. Choice didn’t have much to do with the things my son was struggling to manage, and I felt completely powerless to change the downward spiral. I’d already done all the logical things, adjusted his schedule, gotten medical appointments, signed him up for therapy. None of it had had enough time to work yet. I had to wait, and hope. And get emails and phone calls that reminded me how bad things had become. The emails from teachers were both better, and worse. Automated messages I could delete. People needed answers. So I emailed back, explained, negotiated. There was so much negotiation and decision making.
All of this was occurring right across the busiest part of the holiday season. Customers needed their packages. Some of them where quite stressed that those packages had not yet arrived. I’d made mistakes while packing some orders, so replacements had to be sent. My inbox filled with small tasks, things to which I owed attention. My house was full of small tasks too. There were presents to be wrapped, events to be planned, gifts to purchase. I pared it down to a minimum, but we all suffer when routine house tasks go undone for long periods of time. They were things I usually accomplish without effort or thought. It had never occurred to any of us to share around these tasks, until we realized that I’d become a failure point for many things. When I am exerting all my strength to keep everything together, it is very difficult for me to let tasks go. It feels as If loosening my grip, even for one little thing, will cause everything to fall apart.
And then there was my online life, the social media existence which provides important contacts with friends and is a critical vehicle for our business. Yet every tweet, every post, demanded a sliver of my attention. Each re-tweet asked me to care about the link, or event, or joke. There were hundreds of tweets and posts per day. Hundreds of slivers of caring that taxed my already depleted heart. So just before Christmas, I shut it off. I closed my social media tabs and apps, then did not open them again for more than a week. Business things also slowed down during that week. The hurting places in my heart still wept, but I could finally begin to identify where all the pain was coming from. I spent that space listening to my own thoughts and being with the people in my house. It wasn’t peaceful inside my head, but I could tell that it was a path toward healing rather than further depletion.
I did peek at social media twice during my self-enforced exile. Both times I read a single post and knew that reading more would ask for emotion that I didn’t have to spare. It made me realize that while social media is a blessing when I’m in a place of emotional abundance, when I’m depleted, social media drains me further and I’m better off if I step away for a while. In abundance I have extra thoughts burbling around in my head, I can release them and let them go. When I am interested and ready to have my head filled with new thoughts, the links and comments of my friends can guide me to new places. The key is to recognize my state of being and to adjust accordingly.
I viewed the onset of the new year with caution, because the largest causes of my emotional depletion were still unresolved. I’m aware that the depletion has as much to do with how I’m thinking and managing the things than with the existence of the things. In fact, I had a clear inspiration on that topic once the inside of my head was quiet enough to hear it. The inspired thought was this: I have to find ways to feel happy in my life even if my loved ones are never okay. That’s hard. Really hard. It requires a significant rearrangement of my thinking. It is going to take time and emotional space to sort it all. I’m working on that. I’m fighting my way through the enshrouding emotions and depression. Several times in the week following my break I found my way to where I felt happy. Each time some small event tipped me back into emotional depletion. It didn’t take much. I had so many fears and pockets of grief floating around in my brain. They got bumped all the time, and it hurt in the same way that bumping raw skin hurts.
The good news is that my loved ones are almost certainly going to find their way into better places. They have already begun and this week I’ve seen my son come home from school happy two days in a row. It made me cry, because I realized how long it has been since that happened. Also because I know that two days is not enough to qualify as a pattern. It is a window into how things could be, but definitely have not been lately. I have no illusions that it is all smooth sailing ahead. In fact part of me remains emotionally braced for the opposite. Plans falling apart feels far more normal right now. I can’t control all of the things which affect my life, but I can work on managing my own emotions, fully grieving for things and letting them go so that they’ll stop putting me off balance constantly. I need to react to each thing that happens only as a thing to handle, instead of bringing to it a huge load of emotional baggage. That is where over-reactions come from. I’ve done a lot of over-reacting in the past months.
On New Year’s Day I felt very reluctant to face the coming year. Today I can see ahead to good things that are coming. I’m still attempting to not impose expectation on the year. It will be whatever it is. But I think it will be a better place for me than the past few months have been.