It’s been a while. I’ve been sort of lost. The whole deal where I lock things inside until I can’t feel anything anymore got way out of control the last couple of weeks. My fiance, Justin, would ask me what was wrong, why was I sad, and I couldn’t give him an answer. I wasn’t sad, not exactly. I was nothing. Numb, emotionless, just going through the motions of each day. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt this way, but I think it’s much worse than the sadness.
This issue stems from my childhood, where I was too busy protecting my mom and my sister from their own demons to add my own sufferings to their plate. My step-dad was not kind, and when he drank (which was often, in my teen years), he was downright mean. I learned to fly under the radar, to not cause trouble or make a scene of things because everyone else in my home was already at constant battle. How could I burden my mama with my broken heart when her own heart was already cracked enough? I learned early to become self-sufficient, to depend on nobody to take care of me but myself.
I want to take a minute here to explain that my parents did take care of my sister and me by providing us a home, food in the house, school supplies, clothing, gas money. We didn’t go without. Which is why it took me so long to realize that they hadn’t given me all that I needed. When I first began seeing my therapist, Joy, just over two years ago, she brought up my childhood often, and I pushed her away, assuring her it wasn’t relevant to my depression and anxiety. It was in the past, it didn’t matter. But it did. It does. My mom did everything she could to be there for my sister and me, but she isn’t perfect. And she wasn’t able to give me everything I needed. When I was 10 years old, riding along in her car as she searched for houses for rent, it was me listening to her anxieties, her concerns, her sadness about her marriage and her life. She wanted out, but it would be many years before she was brave enough to make that jump, and all the while, I was by her side, her rock when nothing else felt stable.
I love my mom more than just about anything. Even now, when I feel that sad tug at my heart, all I want is to fly home and curl up in her lap and cry while she pats my hair and assures me everything will be okay. But that isn’t our relationship. That isn’t what would happen. I feel this constant need to protect her, and that includes guarding her from my own pain.
Since I couldn’t trust anybody else to take care of me (emotionally speaking), I built up walls. The people I loved most in the world got close to me, but still, they were at arms-length, never close enough to see my pain. It’s so lonely behind those walls. You feel like nobody knows who you are really, so any proclamations of love or admiration are rendered void; if they knew about the darkness constantly hovering over you, they wouldn’t love you then. So you put on a show to the world. You wear a mask, so often, that sometimes you almost lose yourself in it. You act fine so often, burying all your true feelings, that the numbness just becomes who you are. And it’s terrifying and awful and it’s like drowning or suffocating and being too afraid to scream for help.
These days, I try really really hard to feel my feelings. Ha- not really something you would expect to take effort, but God, some days it takes everything I’ve got. Going to weekly therapy helps because Joy doesn’t put up with my “I’m fine,” shit, and she somehow barrels through every wall I build. I know that a lot of people have had bad experiences with therapists, but I do encourage you to find one that you click with if you’re feeling anxious or depressed. Mine has saved me from myself on many occasions.
Joy had some family things going on and was out of town for two weeks. And, try as I might, I was too tired and too scared to feel everything, and soon I wasn’t feeling anything. I was in my old rut and I had no idea how I got there or how to begin digging my way out. When we met last week, she could instantly tell something was wrong. I was jittery, tapping my foot and fidgeting with the rings on my fingers, spinning the straw in my water cup. I told her, “I’m so anxious and I don’t feel good, and I don’t know why.” And we got out two shovels and we dug.
I’ve been really upset about my step-dad lately. I’ve never felt close with him, and always disapproved the way he treated my mom and sister, but he isn’t a huge part of my life and I generally just ignore the resentment, forcing myself to 2 or 3 breakfast dates a year when I’m in town visiting. But, now I’m getting married next spring and the thing he said to me, the thing that really digs in was, “I sure hope I get to walk you down the aisle. That’s every daddy’s dream.” Which doesn’t seem like a big deal, probably, to most people. But, to me, it was like a slap in my face. He wasn’t there for me, ever. He didn’t give me support, financially or emotionally. Now that I’m in a different state, he doesn’t even call, text, or email. Our only contact is instigated by me, out of guilt and a feeling of obligation. My fiance put it best when he said, “He shouldn’t get to pick and choose when he gets to be your dad.” And that’s it. He didn’t earn this right, he doesn’t deserve to stand beside me on this day. He has let me down, countless times, and it hurts. I never realized it until now. It hurts. Why would he want to hurt me, to lie to me, to abandon me? Why does he feel the need to judge, to criticize? He should love me no matter what, and he doesn’t. His love is conditional.
Joy helped me find this anger and she helped me release it. She pulled up a chair where my imaginary step-dad was sitting, and she gave me rubber balls to throw at him. “Yell at him,” she told me. So I did. I cried and I yelled, “You should love me no matter what,” over and over. And somehow, my stream of sentences led me to my uncle. My late uncle Mikey, who passed away two years ago after suffering several years with a disease called Progressive Supernuclear Palsy (PSP). PSP progressively deteriorates your body and brain until you can no longer function without assistance. My family watched as my vital, lively uncle slowly deteriorated, losing the ability to walk, then move his body on his own at all, requiring assistance with eating, drinking, bathing, and going to the bathroom. He kept his warm heart and his sarcastic sense of humor as long as possible, but eventually, the medication took that from us as well. He slept a lot, and when he was awake, he usually wasn’t coherent and was often confused. It is an awful way to watch somebody you love die.
Before the disease, Mikey was known as my “dunkle”- my dad-uncle. He took me to breakfast every weekend, helped pay for my first car and my college, asked about my life. He loved me so much and he was proud then, and I think he would be so proud of me now. And that is who should be walking me down the aisle on my wedding day. He was the real dad in my life, one of the few people I could always count on, and he doesn’t get to be there. He was there for every important event of my life, but he doesn’t get to be here for this and it hurts so much. I miss him so much.
Mikey died two years ago. I flew home for two days to attend his funeral. I hugged my mom and my aunt, I patted their hair as they cried. I was strong for everybody else. And I didn’t cry until I got on the plane to go home. I sat in my window seat and silently the tears finally came. I am ashamed to admit, I never fully mourned this loss. I buried it so deep inside of me, and all of a sudden, sitting in Joy’s office on her familiar squishy couch, the grief erupted from my heart. All of this hidden pain finally surfaced and I let it and I cried and it hurt then and it hurts now. But it is so much better than the numb emptiness I had grown accustomed to.
Leaving Joy’s office that day felt like such a relief. I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt like I had myself back. Like I had been missing and finally, there I was, hiding in plain sight all along. People say a lot of things about depression, but one of its ugliest qualities is the way it robs you of yourself. Because when you lose your feelings, you lose your self.
So, this is another day, and right now I’m sad because I miss somebody that I love a lot. But I’m also happy because I’m sharing a couch with my two lovely canine children, listening to their soft snores. I’m anxious-excited because school is starting soon and I’m anxious-nervous because I have an interview for a job that I don’t think I want to take. I’ll be sad and mad and happy and scared and a million other emotions every day of my life, hopefully. It’s not easy, this rollercoaster, but I’ll take it over the alternative any day.
Wishing you all an emotional day.