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.

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37 thoughts on “Driftwood

  1. Adrienne,

    Yet again … thank you.

    It may be driftwood. But it still floats. And it will still keep you breathing.

    Some nights that’s plenty.

    I wish blessings on you and yours, tonight. As many as you can hold. As many as you need.


  2. There is magic in the ordinary work of getting through another day. Beauty in being there for your child. And heroism in the recognition of your own limitations.

    You are a mother fully committed to the job of mothering.

    And the mothering required of you? Is extraordinary.

    So you are ordinary and yet not . . . because ordinary you is asked to do what so many of us are never asked to do. What we don’t think we could do. But which we would do. If we were in your shoes.

    Which, of course, we are not.

    Much love at the end of this shitty day.

    I hope tomorrow dawns brighter.

    1. Yes, today the curtain has lifted. Something in the combination of Brian’s TLC, writing about it all, the love of my online friends, and cupcakes – somewhere in there is magic! Love you, and thank you.

  3. Kris’ comment above mine is pretty much what I wanted to say except that I would fuck it up by trying to be funny which I’m not good at either. We all have our off days. Even if you didn’t have a child like Carter you’d still have days like that.

    1. Yes, I’m always grateful that I had 8 1/2 years of parenting experience behind me before I had Carter. Without that, I think my own self-doubt would destroy me.

  4. oh man do i feel your pain. not the mothering of carter pain but the “i hate everyone” pain. sending prayers your way…

  5. I’m just offering hugs and good thoughts. That feels like the least I can do when I don’t have words to say that would be even remotely as elegant as Kris’.

  6. I am continuously amazed at how you put into words the feelings I have in my own situation. Driftwood? Somedays I wish for 2-3 to hang on to…

    Your words, have such tremendous impact, on me. And for that, I adore you and thank you for being so much better at describing them.

    May today, be a day in which you can float on your back and stare at the sky in peace as it passes by…


    1. Thank you. Adore you right back because really? How often do we “meet” people who somehow get it, even w/o matching experiences? It’s a rare thing.

  7. I think the person who told you your lack of 100%-ness was a blessing is right. My mom never had it all together; she STILL apologizes that she never had it all together; but I don’t think she realizes (even though I’ve told her) that I needed to know she wasn’t all-powerful and perfect. Her very weakness taught me that I had the power to hurt others and helped me stop doing it (sadly, after I’d hurt her many, many times). You might be exactly the mother Carter needs.

    (Besides, most “100 percenters” are actually slacking off in one area or another … you dedicate your 70% or whatever wholeheartedly to the things that matter … so it might come out even anyway.)

    1. Thank you. The best days are the ones where I just choose that belief – that right or wrong, I’m the right mom for this kid. It’s the days when I pull back and really think about things that get kind of dicey!

  8. I think everyone comes to a breaking point…even those hundred percenters. You’ve got to keep in mind, most of the time we don’t have an audience for our breaking points. Everyone runs out at some point.

    Sometimes you just need to recharge – to take care of yourself so you have the reserves to be there when he needs you again. I wish you strength & a restful reprieve.

    1. Thank you. Yes, that’s part of the trouble – I rarely get the time and space I need to regroup, but today things are quieter in my head.

  9. I am the mother of a special needs child. My daughter has reactive attachment disorder. For years before her diagnosis I always wondered what was wrong with me. Why did I hate being a mother when everyone else I knew loved it. We have a diagnosis now and she is in therapy. Things are getting better, but the first 10 years of my motherhood still colors my motherhood future. It changes you as a person. I’ve often asked, “Why me?” Haven’t I been through enough already. Friends tell me I got Elliott because I was strong enough to handle her. Maybe so…but it is still hard some days.

    In RAD therapy…we are called advanced parents.

    1. Advanced parents! Love that!

      Yeah, lots of days? I’m fine. It is what it is and I embrace the joy where I find it and the hard parts are just the hard parts. In fact, I’m getting better and better all the time at being OK, and even happy, in the midst of it all. Sometimes, though, it falls in on me.

      And yes, it absolutely changes you – for better and for worse.

  10. Damn that Kris and saying things way better than I could ever hope too. I was GOING to say that even though we are all pretty damn ordinary, there is something extraordinary in knowing we are ordinary, accepting it, and doing it all anyway. Other than that, I don’t have much. But I do think you are great and I bet Carter does too. Hugs to you and your family. And hopes and dreams of days that aren’t always shitty, but extraordinary.

    1. Thank you. And yes, there are many days that aren’t shitty. More and more all the time, in fact, as I learn to be OK in spite of everything. I think of it as getting my sea legs; I’m not knocked off balance as often as I used to be.

      I guess in some ways we’ve all become bipolar around here; the lows are lower, and because of the contrast, the highs are higher.

  11. I never know what to say when people make comments about “strength” when things get bad. I never feel extraordinary or strong. Just like a person who has been thrown into shit creek without a paddle and has somehow managed to dog-paddle (or cling to driftwood, in your case) my way out. A characteristic that I think most people possess, but the lucky ones never need to draw on. We “unlucky” ones climb out all exhausted and covered in shit, but we climb out – sometimes again and again!

    You will climb out. Let yourself have limits, needs, and allow yourself space. Do these things and try not to feel guilt. Your health (physically, mentally, emotionally) is as important to Carter’s world as his own. Take the time to care for you. You deserve it.

    Hugs to you! Take care…

    1. Thank you for putting such perfect words to it all! People call me strong, or extraordinary, or whatever, and it makes me feel, somehow, like a fraud. I want to say, “But don’t you see me struggling? Don’t you see that I’m doing all this in such a messy, ungraceful way?”

      Today is brighter. Brian’s coming home early and taking over for a few hours made all the difference. Love you!

      1. Yes! Thank you! A fraud… That is the word I was lacking. Those comments make me feel like a fraud as well. I am happy that today is better day for you… Cheesy I know, but my mantra has always been “This too shall pass”… So far, its been true for me.

        Love and positive thoughts headed your way for the weekend!

  12. How to comment without the unhelpful platitudes…

    Even if you think you’re ordinary and unexceptional, you’re wrong. You survive, which to me, considering what you and your family deal with, whether you have good days or bad days, makes you a 100 percenter. Just the fact that you continue makes you exceptional. The ordinary people would be the ones who would give up.

    You are not alone with your “I hate everyone and everything days.” I can’t say I know how you feel, because I don’t have a Carter, but I have those days, too. They suck. Period. Warm vibes to you and yours.

    1. Thank you. I forget who said it…Woody Allen, I think? “Eighty percent of life is showing up.” On better days, I know that any time I get out of bed and try is a succesful day.

  13. I just wrote a post earlier this week about my struggles with depression. I’m SO at my limit of being able to handle the day-in-day-out crap that comes with being a mom. I am having more “I hate everyone and everything days” than I should be having, so back on the meds I go.

    Hugs and understanding to you!

    1. Thank you. Yes, people tell me sometimes that it would be damn easy for me to use alcohol or drugs or some other destructive way to deal.

  14. I call those 100percenters…Pollyanna’s… there are days and times I can be a pollyanna but most of the time I am just plain, old, average, tired of the shit ME!

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