Depression is rage spread thin. ~George Santayana
I hate everyone and everything. Even the coffee I brought with me to my desk is all wrong. I hate flavored coffee, and I hate the person who used up all the regular coffee and didn’t go buy more.
I hate that the person who did that was me. Today me hates yesterday me.
I can’t be the only person who has days like this, right?
I hope not, but honestly? Maintaining my emotional equilibrium isn’t easy for me in the best of times, and this is far from the best of times.
When Carter was busy screaming through his second year of life and I had just begun the process of accepting that he was somehow different, and potentially very different, in ways that weren’t going to magically disappear, I had something of an existential crisis. I asked everyone I knew, “Why me? Why is this child, with his huge and relentless need, mine?”
I didn’t ask that question because I felt like I drew a short straw. It wasn’t the question of a woman who thinks the universe is unfair, but the statement of one who knows the universe has made a mistake.
Everyone has a baseline level of functioning. Some people are always on top of things. They have energy, optimism, and resiliency to spare. They live to their emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical potential most of the time. When life brings these people a crisis or tragedy, they feel their painful feelings and, in time, return to their baseline. I call these people one hundred percenters. Most of us function somewhere less than 100%, all the way to people who are completely non-functional.
Any factor you can think of, internal and external, impacts a person’s level of functioning. For a thousand reasons large and small, I’m not a high functioner.
Someday, I will tell you about some of my limits, but for now? You need to take my word for it.
So when I looked at Carter during that second year, screaming day after day and gathering new symptoms like a snowball rolling downhill, I asked, “Why me?” because I thought God had fucked up, and fucked up big. To send me, a barely adequate parent to the children I already had, this bundle of bottomless need and mystery, seemed like a cosmic mistake of the first order.
People often make comments to me about how much stronger I must be since I became Carter’s mother, that I must be more compassionate and patient than ever before. All of that is true, but equally true is this: Carter has showed me my own considerable capacity for anger, pessimism, and fear-fueled bitterness.
Hence the hate.
Brian and I, in the moments in which we are capable of counting our blessings, are grateful that we rarely descend into the dark and angry places simultaneously. Most of the time, one of us is present enough to keep our lives moving forward while the other claws his or her way back to the light. Most of the time.
This afternoon, when Brian called me from work and heard me struggling against the surface of things, flailing away, over-reacting, and failing miserably in my every attempt to restore order to my internal reality, he came home to take over. First order of business: take Carter to his afternoon appointments.
Let the weeping commence. The shock of this change in routine was more than Carter could bear quietly and he wailed, “No, Mommy! You always take me to my appointments! Daddy won’t know what to do! Please, Mommy! Pleeeaaase!”
Carter’s great well of need, always present but not always visible, opened wide in front of me. That need it limitless, bottomless, and forever hungry.
Me and my stupid limits.
When I was asking my question of everyone I knew, “Why me? Why didn’t this child go to a different kind of mother? A one hundred percenter?” people offered one of two answers: a shake of the head, or an unhelpful platitude.
Propelled by desperation, I continued to ask my question, not really expecting to hear an answer but compelled nevertheless. Finally, a friend said, “Maybe he’s yours because you know that feelings matter. Maybe he needed someone who would try to understand his feelings more than he needed someone who could stay calm and optimistic all the time.”
A drowning person will grab hold of any floating thing, no matter how small and feeble. That little chunk of driftwood, the knowledge that, more than anything else in the world, Carter needs me to really see him, has been just enough to keep me afloat on lots of days.
I don’t know if there’s a reason for everything. I don’t know if Brian and I needed Carter, of if he needed us, or if Carter’s issues are just a fluke, what we call “The Double Jones Effect.”* Thankfully, my spiritual beliefs don’t require me to find an answer, nor does my religion (at least my tiny corner of it) force an answer on me. There is no platitude that can wrap around and neutralize the experience of raising a child like Carter.
No matter how often people paint me as an exceptional or heroic mother, it won’t be true. I’m only me, unexceptional. Ordinary. Clinging to my driftwood because there’s nothing else to do.
*I didn’t take Brian’s name when we married; we already had the same name. Virtually everyone to whom I am related, except Jacob and Abbie, is named Jones.