Not Depressed

The Big Guy has been fasting after lunch each day, so I text him early in the day to see if he wanted to break his fast to go to hibachi for dinner to celebrate two kids with honor roll and a full week of no hospital visits. He texted back ‘Zes’, in the mangled affirmative that had emerged with Thing1’s first words 16 years ago.

It was my last day off during the kids’ spring break (the term Spring is used very loosely in Vermont to describe a mythical concept based on the absence of snow). While the Big Guy got done with work, I played Monopoly with Thing2 so Thing1 could drive himself for the first time since his anemia was diagnosed and treated over a week ago to see SuperGal.

The morning felt normal, but normal doesn’t mean permanent.

I was still recovering from a bad property trade with Thing2 when Thing1 got home. He was pale and weak and complaining of pain that had all the hallmarks of a resurgent flare up. The Big Guy had arrived, and we debated staying home, but Thing1 insisted we carry on with our dinner plans.

“I have to eat,” he said. It was true, but his earlier excitement for a meal of celebration had devolved into determination to not surrender a favorite meal to his condition. The Big Guy and I voiced our concerns about his endurance, but he answered, “I just don’t care anymore.”

I have no doubt that’s true on a lot of recent days, and when he’s too tired to care, we know it’s our job to account for the deficit to get him through. As we packed everyone into the car and headed to the restaurant, however, in the rear-view mirror I could see his eyes close as he rested his head against the top of the door frame.

A worried crease appeared between his eyebrows, and I knew I was seeing a kid that is losing hope. I’ve seen that expression before. Usually I promise him we’ll keep searching until we find the right drug, but last night, as we drove, all I could do is promise him a delicious meal where we would all have fun.

We did have fun, and, for two hours it was a good drug.

When we got home, Thing1 had enough energy to crawl into bed. I went to the bottom of the stairs to his room several times during the night to make sure his breathing was normal, wishing I could give him my healthy organ.

It’s 6am as I write this, and we’ll head down to the hospital shortly for blood draws and more phone calls.

A lot of days I look for the silver lining. Thing1 has grown wise beyond his years. We have all gained empathy for people with long-term illnesses and appreciation for the privilege we enjoy in being able to seek out treatment option. This morning, however, I am focused on the lessons.

I’ve written a number of times about my own issues with mental illness and about the depression that invades life independent of any events, but what I’m feeling — what Thing1 has expressed he is feeling — is not that. There is an ongoing event.

This is not depression. This is understanding the new normal and its impact now and on the future. This is sadness. Last night, even when we were celebrating, it was grief.

There have been many times over the years when the only things keeping me from literally throwing away my life were Thing1 and Thing2. You can convince yourself that the adults in your life would survive and even thrive if you died, but no one can honestly tell themselves that a child would be better off with the knowledge that a mother willingly abandoned them.

So I’ve picked my battles with life, even when I didn’t really want to, and, even when life was awash with depression, it was worth it.

As I’m learning to understand the gulf between sadness and depression, I’m also learning that even if Thing1’s battle has to be fought indefinitely, I will fight it for him for as long he needs us to because he gives my life meaning.

So much is written about happiness these days. There are the happiest countries and the best paths to happiness. Life doesn’t have to be filled with happiness all the time to be worthwhile, however. As I’m slowly learning, filling it with meaning may be more sustaining in the long term.

Smelling the Roses


“When are they due?” I texted, knowing exactly what the answer would be.

“Today,” he texted back.

I had tons of baby pictures, but we hadn’t snapped many pic of Thing1 or Thing2 since Christmas and none that were remotely yearbook-worthy. So that’s how the Big Guy, Thing1 & 2 and I found ourselves packed into my Jetta, zipping toward the mall portrait studio after I got done with work.

The ball-drop was my fault. I had messaged a friend about senior portraits a few weeks earlier and then forgotten about it when round 3 of this year’s flu started up. Thing2’s classroom has been a petrie dish that would make a bacteriologist green with envy and gangrene, repeatedly recycling flu and strep that caught Thing1 in an especially vicious spin of the cycle.

Thing1, understandably, has had to work to remind himself of the good things that have happened to him this year — getting into most of the schools he applied to, a job he loves with people he likes, and miraculously managing to be in the hospital mainly on days he’s not scheduled.

Still, he’s been out of school a lot. Normal bodily functions require planning. A fitness buff, he struggles to remember the healthy version of himself, and it has definitely affected his mental health.

“I just wish he’d get a break,” the Big Guy says every so often.

The entire family has learned that breaks are rare, brief and never scheduled. So, even though it was our first family outing in months that didn’t include a hospital, none of us was ready to let our guard down Saturday night as we sped toward the mall for the last minute appointment I’d booked.

The Big Guy, however, quickly started doing what dads do best, using his special talent for turning innocuous road signs into the finest eighth grade humor, and Thing1 and Thing2 were, as always, an appreciative audience. They segued into fart jokes, and we all started bawling. I focused on trying to drive as I surrendered any pretense of trying to minimize the inappropriate humor.

The shenanigans ceased only briefly as we walked through the department store to the portrait studio, but as soon as Thing1 and then Thing2 got in front of the camera, the Big Guy went to work with his Family Guy impressions ensuring that the two of them smiled for every shot.

They smiled for their individual sessions and then together with Thing2 putting Thing1 in a headlock or grinning up at him as if to say, “I’m willing to be the bratty brother the whole way home if it would get a laugh.”

And in every shot, I can see them completely forgetting their troubles. The only thought they seem to be sharing, as every kid does at least once, is how embarrassing parents can be in public.

Trouble started back up for Thing1 the next morning as his body refused to respond to medication and fart jokes.

We had known the fun would be short, but at least for a few hours on Saturday night, we had been reminded of an important truth which was the only unspoken thing that night. You have to take the bad, but when breaks come your way with a bit of good, you positively need to enjoy them — even if someone has to tell a fart joke to get you started — because you don’t know when they’ll come around again.

The Scattered States of Thing2

Thing2 at the ER

Thing1  was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder almost 2 years ago now. We knew the diagnosis would come with big changes to his life, and this winter we really got to understand what it means to live with and care for someone with a chronic illness.

We were still somewhat prepared for it.

What we weren’t prepared for was going through very similar routine with Thing2. After several months of ER visits and tests and flu‘s, we now find ourselves between a number of diagnoses, including a possible tickborne illness.

 Thing2 has found himself and completely unfamiliar territory. My superhero whose used to jumping over tall rock piles in a single bound it’s only found himself with barely enough energy to walk from chair to bedroom.

Except during the worst of the pain, however, he still my superhero. I still see his enigmatic little smile, and he still finds ways to experiment, even if it’s only with making movies with special on the iPad (full disclosure: I could not do it) or testing theories about how your atoms are not really touching your brother that he heard on Cosmos (science hurts sometimes).

I would donate an organ if I could make him better tomorrow, by doing so, but, as Thing1 has Learned over last year, what doesn’t kill you doesn’t just make you stronger, it also makes you smarter.

Buried


“How are YOU doing,” they asked.

The right word escaped me then but has found me tonight as I listen to each inflection of Thing1’s fevered breath, afraid to sleep in case he spikes again, cataloging the drugs and doses he’s on incase we need to head to the hospital for the umpteenth time this snow-inundated winter, and feeling completely frustrated at not being able to do the one thing every mother is supposed to be able to do for her children — make them better. 
And, for the first time in weeks, mostly because I’m way beyond the “if i didn’t laugh I’d cry” stage of the winter and because I don’t have time to cry and can’t think to write or draw, I picked up a brush and started to paint, and the word found me.

Somehow we will dig out of this endless winter, but right now, I realized that the word I’d been looking for was “buried”, and it had nothing to do with the snow.

Breathing Room

At the beginning of this year, Thing1’s autoimmune disorder hospitalized him with an intense flare up and, not to be left out of the fun, promptly Thing2 contracted Influenza-A that, along with a lymph node inflammation painful enough to prompt two separate diagnoses of appendicitis earned him an overnight ticket to the pediatric ward. As a result, almost every week of our 2018 calendar has been dotted with nights in the ER, overnights at the hospital and follow-ups at various doctor’s offices. Last Thursday marked my first day off in weeks that didn’t include a rush to the ER or a four hour round trip drive across the state to a specialist, and I didn’t know what to make of the unexpected breathing room.

For weeks, the voices in my head that run an internal dialogue about art and literature and school shootings and the homeless population and, you name it have been replaced with instructions. Log when you last gave Tylenol or ibuprofen. Call for the new prescriptions. Did T1 have 32 ounces of water or 16? When did T2 poop? Check his weight. Call the insurance company. Call the doctor. Call the insurance company. I wasn’t numb, but I was a robot. Calculating but not thinking, especially if it meant engaging in worry which is all too natural for me (it could be an Olympic sport).

The robot didn’t have much extra processing power for art or writing, and February was burning away without any pictures to show for it. Even a conversation with a fellow artist about drawing in the down times at waiting rooms didn’t get my pencil or brush moving.

There was breathing room, but for some reason, I was afraid to rake that first breath.

A few nights ago, I decided out the iPad to work on a page for Dweezil’s To-Dos, a book about a little boy with too many projects (don’t ask how I get my inspiration).

Inking and coloring over the scanned drawings is methodical. Robotic. It’s not particularly creative a lot of the time. It’s basically just drawing lines – filling in the space between points.

It’s not creative, but it is meditative.

In the meditation, however, the robot slowed down. I inked and colored page 6 six different ways, and the machine started to power down. My eyelids felt heavy, and the iPad fell from my hand. The thud of the Otterbox on the floor jolted me awake again, and, rebooting, I took in a gulp of air and opened a file to start page 7.