Today’s post is going to be about my mother. Normally that wouldn’t merit a disclaimer, but my mother died a rather horrible and slow death. She was finally released from her pain in December of 2018. Everyone who has been in my shoes knows the marathon of suffering endured by all parties both during and after. Asking you to walk into that blind is more than I am willing to tolerate.
So, be ye therefore warned.
I recently went through a rather chilling depressive episode. I was able to pull through, finally, but it took nearly three days and no small amount of effort to find my way to the other side. Part of the reason it took so long is because I no longer have my mother. Surviving depression is more than just therapy and medication; it’s building a network of support that you can rely on when those aren’t enough.
My mother is… my mother was the biggest part of my support network because she carried me, emotionally and occasionally bodily, through an extremely rough childhood which revolved around my physical and mental health. Mostly the lack thereof.
There are those among us who have had idyllic childhoods. Their memories of early life thru their high school days are generally positive. While I sincerely doubt it was all cupcakes and rainbows, they have fond memories of friends made, battles fought with bravery regardless of their outcome, or a singular moment of victory which lights their way on the darkest hours of their lives.
Some people, however, are not so lucky. I was one such soul. From the fourth grade to the time I dropped out of high-school my sophomore year, childhood was an endless series of doctor’s offices, hospitals, and near-constant bullying at school.
A nasty twice-broken arm, treatment of asthma in the early 90’s, and the tragic dumpster-fire that was, is, and always will be my nasal passages are what my classmates were so quick to point out in the rudest ways imaginable.
Please do not misinterpret my sharing: I’m not attempting to fish for your sympathy. I managed to come out of high school, drop 115 pounds, and proceed to crush everything about adult life in much the same fashion as I had my excess poundage.
I simply have to set the stage so that you can fully appreciate how much my mother and her loving tenacity meant to me.
The weight I would lose in later life arrived once I started treatment for my asthma. Spending an hour a day sitting at a machine pumping me full of life-saving steroidal medications then having everyone from my doctor to my mother barring me point-blank from any strenuous physical activity caused me to swell in grotesque fashion.
At a time in my life when I should be forming healthy habits, I was instead going through a non-stop series of surgeries, emergency room visits, and hospital stays that would have been frightful if they hadn’t long-since become routine.
For example: There was a stretch of three months where I had an IV tube constantly in my right hand. The older I get, the more pronounced the veins on that hand have become.
After the second nasal surgery, I lost a huge chunk of my sense of smell. It has led to some… rather interesting culinary decisions from time to time.
The other children at school didn’t understand why I was the way I was. I mean, how can they? By their very nature, most children lack an understanding of second-and-third order consequences. All my fellow students saw was an extremely overweight, socially awkward bookworm who was more than happy to sit at the back of the class and read whatever novel was propped between him and the world at large. I was the other; the one who stood out despite attempting to be invisible. I suffered accordingly.
I spent a lot of time in one psychiatrist’s office after the next. None of them seemed to be doing much. For a time, I was prescribed an antidepressant. Due to my age and the severity of my depression, I was taken off them shortly after the first few doses led to suicidal ideation. This was (and to my understanding, still is) a huge hurdle for young children with severe depression.
Through all of this, at every appointment, there for every dejected car ride home, making sure I took one handful after the next of the horse-pills that plagued my childhood was my mother.
My wonderful, stubborn, headstrong, loving mother.
There was never, for a single moment of her entire blessed existence, a time where she did not believe I was fully capable of surmounting the obstacles life had set before me. Even if she had to drag me kicking and screaming through the worst of it, she knew that I was good enough and smart enough and kind enough to have a life worth the struggle.
During those times when I wasn’t able to be strong enough for myself, she was strong enough for me.
I’m not trying to say my mother is a candidate for canonization; she was a chain-smoker who swore and yelled and spanked way too much. Despite everything life could and did throw at her, however, she loved her family with a singular, unbroken strength that shone like a lighthouse to guide us safely home.
From the moment of my birth to the final day of her life, I never once had to doubt if my mother loved me. I never once had to guess if she cared for me. Every action, every conversation; each interaction was an affirmation of her deep and abiding love. Even when she was yelling at me for being just as stubborn and intractable as she was.
We yelled at each other a lot, in case you harbored any doubts. It got better once I got older and the fat from my youth began to melt away. Once I began to achieve the personal, professional, and scholastic success my mother had long foreseen, I got my pride out of the way and apologized on bended knee.
To my everlasting joy, she forgave me.
Once my mother was no longer forced to body-block me 24/7 from giving in to my depression, we became thick as thieves. My mother morphed from unwelcome taskmaster into a friend and confidant. We talked about everything. What I wanted in my life, what she wanted out of the rest of hers. We were both reaping the rewards of her perseverance.
Then life forced me to watch my mother wither and die.
Her death was lessened by the extremity of her suffering, but I’m still trying to write her obituary a year from her death. I’m hoping to have it finished by the time the second anniversary rolls around, but putting in the time and research is almost more than I can bear.
For now, it suffices to say that she died of COPD and all that implies.
Fast-forward to today, then rewind things a bit to two weeks ago. My depression hit, and it hit hard. It is ignoring everything tremendous that I’ve accomplished over the last year, from the profesional accolades to the seventy-two pounds I’ve lost. I am nothing and I shall always be nothing, no matter how hard I work at it.
My depression seeks to blind me from seeing anything except my mistakes.
This was a classic ‘Mom Moment’. I would call my mother, who could instantly scent danger and wasted no time launching into the Amanda Gay-Barton-Bigley Wallace version of Patton. There would be rousing speeches, faux-yelling, and furious gestures with a cigarette. In that phone call, I would’ve found the peace of our ritual. I would have found her.
Instead, I had to juggle the jagged shards of her illness and death along with the rest.
In one of my favorite books, The Aeronauts Windlass by Jim Butcher, the magical system used by their wizards causes cracks in a person’s psyche. At times, the magic-users enter a state of ‘falling’, where their mind has slipped between the cracks and is bound in an endless loop of paralytic inaction. To prevent this, they gather odds and ends which serve to plug the gaps. Because each plug must match each gap, and humans are insufferably weird, the items are a grab-bag of outlandish things.
It is only in her absence that I see how much I had come to depend upon her support.
Without her, the moments of my depression feel as though I am falling through my own mind, desperately seeking for those things which had once kept me safe. I know that my wife and my friends are on my side, but my mother was there with me in each and every trench. I miss that shared sense of struggle and the knowledge that we had overcome so much together.
My mother’s shouts made it impossible to hear the hissing demons of my illness.
I found my way back to myself two weeks ago. It cost me, but nothing worthwhile is ever free. It feels a lot like learning how to walk again. I know how it’s supposed to go, and it was once something that I did without really having to think about it. Now I can’t make half my toes work and I’m hunched over all the time without knowing why.
My mother believed that I was strong enough to be better than my circumstances. She believed it with all the steely strength of her indomitable spirit. I don’t know that I will ever manage to duplicate that belief.
What I do know is that no matter how sloppy it looks while I’m teaching myself the basics, my mother would’ve never let me quit until I had it right.
The Unsheathed Quill