When my husband pulled away from the doctor’s office with the three kids, I had a brief flash of them all n dead on the highway, but not bad. They were just traveling through town. I went inside and did all the morning doctor’s office things: filled out paperwork, got weighed (I didn’t look, because I’d start fat-shaming myself and obsessing over food), and led to a white room with a chair and a paper-covered bed. My phone rang. My mom. I’d butt-dialed her earlier in the day.
“Hi! I think I butt-dialed you earlier today,” I said.
“Well, you don’t need to talk to me if you don’t want to,” she shot back.
“No, no, I want to talk,” I said.
This was not going to go well.
I began to complain about our vacation regime, which had us in the mountains one week, my husband Bear’s parents’ the week after, then a five-day break before the beach. My mother started in, my mother who lives five hours – seven with kids – past Bear’s parents, and had not mentioned us coming up until two days before, at which point the kids had been traveling too much. “You know, it really hurts that you make the time to go up to Virginia and never come up here. It’s hurtful. I feel ignored.”
I offered multiple, valid excuses, including small children in a car for days at a time, drunk relatives we’d have to expose them to, sheer time constraints. It didn’t help. She was hurt, we never came up there. Undercurrent: you like your in-laws better, probably because they give you money. You’re ungrateful. You’re a terrible child.
The doctor came in, providing a convenient excuse to hang up. We did all the doctor things you do when you have a low thyroid, my hands clenched one in the other, my classic anxiety pose, until my husband picked me up. I told him about my mom.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry your family is a mess right now. And I’m sorry you see my family and it reminds you what a mess yours is right now.”
I nodded. I cradled one hand in the other. There wasn’t much else to say. He handed me my medication, short my Vyvanse, which we couldn’t get because my psychiatrist had left town. I was already out. I worried about withdrawals – they’d make me sleepy. Would they make me nasty? Would they make me mean? Probably. Withdrawals suck. Now I had that to worry about. Would I yell at the kids tonight?
We went to our favorite taco place for lunch, but I couldn’t shake the misery from talking to my mom. “Are you okay?” Bear asked. I shook my head almost imperceptibly, so the kids wouldn’t know. “I know you must be sad,” he said, “because that is the saddest face I’ve ever seen someone make when fajitas are placed in front of them.” He tries to make me laugh. I smiled a little.
We went to Goodwill afterwards, where I bought too much stuff because shopping always makes me feel less depressed. But out of all the dresses and shoes, I was happiest about the 50 cent Pooh bear I found for my youngest son. He has a newfound love for Winnie-the-Pooh and adores stuffed animals. But once we got home, my mood returned. My mom hated me. My mom has always hated me. I’ve never been adequate. And she’s going to needle me, and tell me about it, and not care how it makes me feel. This is the family dynamic we have. Maybe I shouldn’t pick up when she calls. Maybe I would be better off without a family at all. Maybe I am just a terrible person.
I went to bed when I got home. I laid there for a while, but I kept thinking of the apocalypse, and my sons dying or living in a cannibalistic wasteland. Or I thought of them dying in a car crash on the way to the beach. I have these certain images that tread along well-worn paths: lying by a fire, cuddling a child after the end of the world; Star Wars shoes scattered on the side of the highway. I imagine the crash killing my husband but not my kids, and what I would do; or killing a kid and maiming the rest, including my husband. If I had to pick, would I go to my husband or my kids, and if my husband died because I went to the kids, could I live with that? Which kid would I go to? The fear whirls round and round, weaves terrible dreams.
I got up and took two Klonopin.
I woke up late, at 5 or 6. My mother still bothered me, but I was able to power through as I sat down to write an essay – about my estranged sister. This was a poor decision. The kids were making me crazy, crawling on me and demanding attention. I didn’t have any attention to give. They had made a giant mess: dinosaurs everywhere, plastic swords, random child detritus scattered all through the living room and the playroom, the two rooms in the house that were actually clean. I wanted to cry every time I looked at the floor. I tried to ignore it; I tried to tell myself that they were only playing, but mess in the living room is a major anxiety trigger and I couldn’t help reminding them, over and over, that they were going to clean it before bed.
I let them watch TV while my husband went out to get dinner. He came home with my favorite Thai, which did nothing to perk me up. I kept dropping rice on my boobs. I felt like such a slob. I read a book my father-in-law had lent me, mostly because I knew he’d ask me about it, but it felt good to read something vaguely academic. I stressed out about the baby, however: he’d taken a mammoth nap and would be awake way past his bedtime. That meant I would have to watch him while my husband put the other two kids to bed. I didn’t know what the hell to do with him. Luckily, Bear put on Daniel Tiger. The kids cleaned up. I made myself thank them.
I yelled at them to go to bed about six times only to find my husband wasn’t doing it. So I was the jerk.
The baby watched Daniel Tiger while I finally worked up the nerve (the Klonopin) to wrap packages for the post office. It had taken me medication just to look up and write down the addresses; now I addressed the packages and stuffed them with their respective contents.This was possibly the bravest thing I’ve done in weeks. I felt accomplished.
Then I went to bed. I knew I’d have to put the baby to bed later, and he’d probably grab my nipple and make me crazy. I hoped he wouldn’t. He’s so pleasant to nurse when he does it nicely. So I said my prayers, which I kept falling asleep through, and I hoped I still got credit for them, because I’ve been slack lately and I don’t want to go to hell. I think about that a lot.
I finally drifted off to sleep. The baby woke up at 4 am. After a cup of coffee, I felt decent enough to fold laundry. Some days, that’s all you can ask for.