When I was younger I was scared of a nameless, faceless man. I would have dreams where he would come into my window at night and chase me across the city. My fears lately haven’t been that specific or simple. I recently learned that while my father’s tumors in his jaw are responding to the chemotherapy, his lung tumors are growing. I’ve been having flashbacks about my brother passing away from an infection and his struggle with hepatitis C. The election makes me cringe and afraid to live in this country as a queer woman if a certain person gets elected. And, my depression has been rearing its head and I am having a hard time just doing the things that I need to do. Monsters grow in complexity as we get older but the fear still feels the same.
As a kid, I would get my parents to stay in my room while I fell asleep when I was afraid. They had the answers and would protect me if the man came. Things are not that simple now. Both of my parents are trying their hardest to fight cancer, but they are mostly powerless. I feel like I can see my Dad changing in front of my eyes. He is losing weight, having a hard time eating, tired by walking across the kitchen and off balance. There are moments that I can see the spark of the storyteller and pun-creator that I used to know. Then there are moments when I can see his fear and anger at the situation. These emotions come out in spurts and seem like disproportionate responses to smaller problems. I float between trying to be supportive but not nagging. I go visit him once a week and ignore some of the hurtful comments. I paint him canvases of support and try not to let him see that I am sad and scared. I connect with Mom and let her know that she can take breaks too. I hope that I will have more time with my Dad and not the angry version.
There is a song called, “Sarah Said” by Death Cab for Cutie. There is a line in it that haunts me, “Love is watching someone die.” Watching Paul die was my biggest fear for the longest time. I can still see him give his “dying breath” and hear my mom exclaim, “Oh Pauly!” Watching him fade under machines and eventually stop responding comes back in flashes more than I care to admit. It is almost like I am watching the same type of thing with my father. It isn’t quite as dramatic, but I can see him fighting and the days when it is too much to bear. I feel his excitement when he gets good news and despair at his new unwelcome news about the new cancer cells. When he tells me that this is the hardest thing he has ever done, I believe him. And this man was drafted into the Vietnam war.
I keep getting up every morning because my sense of responsibility will not let me sleep through the days, but sometimes it is really hard. I have a hard time taking petty complaining seriously because it feels minuscule compared to my father’s misery. I have been self-soothing through eating, but that just feels like avoidance. My depression is not a lack of feeling, but a small voice that keeps telling me that I will never do enough. I am not succeeding in my work or as a teacher. I shouldn’t even get out of bed because it isn’t worth it. I will never lose weight and I am a failure because of it. What is the point of everything you are doing? You will always feel bad. Why are you doing Zumba? You are the fattest one here and it doesn’t matter.
I am encouraged by the people who have recently admitted to depression publicly (Kid Cudi, Kristen Bell, etc) because I am the face of depression. I take medicine because I don’t think I could function without it. It is just a tool in my toolbox, though. I hate the stigma of mental illness. I appear to be happy to the outside world all the time. That is a mask that has been carefully cultivated through many years of knowing that the immense pain and anger inside of me is scary. I am scared of my own anger. It explodes out of me sometimes and I am always amazed. I am getting better at letting it out in more healthy ways than yelling, but it still terrifies me. I don’t know how to wield it in a productive manner. I am currently working on taking a series of self-portraits with black paint. I am hoping that this will be a way of letting out the pain that I have carried for a long time. I wonder how much I have actually let go throughout my life. I’m tired of carrying all of this baggage.
Please have patience with the people around you that are struggling. You never know what they are really feeling.