Rock bottom

Photo: Unsplash
Photo: Unsplash

It has been over a year since I’ve written here, and I’d like to explain where I’ve been.

It’s not a quaint tourist trap or a place I’d ever want you to visit, though I know many of you will or have, for one reason or another.

Severe depression led me to rock bottom this year, and I’ve been stuck there a long time. It’s hard to say how long, exactly, because time takes on an elastic quality. It stretches and bends so that each minute is a marathon that leaves you breathless. Hours are viscous and vicious, hanging onto your clothes with a leaden grip, pulling down on your limbs until all you want to do is sleep.

I wish I could write a funny piece about how an episode of severe depression is the perfect time to break in a pair of raw denim jeans, because you’re going to wear the same pair of pants for months on end anyway.

I wish I could write satire about depression’s social benefits. Rather than needing to cull one’s friend list consciously, depression does the work for you, wrecking all but your very closest relationships (and even many of those) by rendering you unable to return a phone call, email, or text.

Some day I will be far enough from rock bottom to laugh at it, but not yet. For now I am grateful. Grateful that my marriage survived, though fully conscious that Mark deserves all the credit for it, not me. Grateful that my children are healthy and happy, and that we have not hidden my depression from them. We shielded them from the worst, but they are aware that I have been sick, and with what. My daughter can tell when I’m having a hard time, and she mothers me. She sits and brushes my hair. My son, always empathetic, has become even more so. These kids will be two of the most compassionate people on the planet.

Depression is not a new experience for me, yet this episode was absolutely traumatic. It was, by far, the worst depression I have ever experienced, including my postpartum depression.

So I need to talk about it, to write about it. It’s my attempt to make something good come from the inexplicable horror that afflicts every aspect of my life. And yes, I’m using the present tense “afflicts,” because though I’m feeling better, I cannot take for granted that I will continue to do so. Depression has proved a persistent enemy, ready to ooze from the shadows and envelop me in its iron tentacles without warning.

Talking about depression means acknowledging my pain, bringing validity to an illness that we don’t usually acknowledge with casseroles. Depression is as devastating as cancer, and can be more so. I say this with authority. In our marriage we have experienced both my depression and Mark’s cancer, and without question it is my depression that has produced more painful and far-reaching consequences for our family. Mark went through cancer treatment and wanted to live. I was depressed and wanted to die.

I need to talk about it because depression and cancer are treated so very differently. There’s a script for cancer. Calls, cards, compassion. Depression is usually hidden, and in the unusual event it is not, the scenario is all the more confusing for its novelty. Usually there is no community for depression, no carpool discussion of the mental illness that has as profound an effect on a family as any heart attack. Mental illness isn’t something we discuss as a matter of course.

Let’s change that.

Just a mom

“You look tired.”

Before I can respond, he continues. “How’s your week going? Do you want chicken or beef?” The quesadilla crafter’s questions shell-shock me into confused silence.

How can I look tired when I’ve got on roughly triple my normal amount of concealer? My week … uh, what day is it? It must be Wednesday because the kids are finally back in school for a full day and the first two days of the week they had delays because of the polar vortex. So technically it’s The Day After Tomorrow.

I snort-laugh.

“Ma’am? Chicken or beef?”

“Oh! Neither. Just cheese. Sorry, I’m kind of out of it.”

“I can tell. You look so tired.”

Please stop saying that. I look tired on the days when there is no effort. Today, I’ve got on mascara, dude. This. is. my. effort.

“Oh, well, you know, it’s been a long week already, what with school starting late the last couple of days. The kids have been crazy. They need to get back into a routine.”

“Yeah, they didn’t do this stuff about letting kids out of school just because it was cold back in the day. My mama put coats on us and we went.”

“I think there’s a concern about kids waiting at the bus stops in below freezing temperatures,” I said, pointing to cilantro and black olives.

“Well, at least there’s people like you trying to educate them,” he said, sliding my quesadilla onto the grill.


“I try, but I’ve only got two,” I said.

“Wait, I thought you were a teacher.”

“No,” I answered, looking down as he cut the quesadilla into neat sections. “No, I’m just a mom.”

Whoa. Where did that bit of self-belittlement come from? Just a mom. Is that really how you’re going to self-identify now? What will that teach the kids about women? Will they respect you and your role if you can’t even tell the guy making your lunch what you do without sounding ashamed?

I’m a mom.

Why do I want to qualify that with “just”? Perhaps because when I fill out insurance forms and list “occupation” as “stay-at-home-mom,” they come back to me reading “unemployed.”

No, the mothering gig doesn’t bring in millions, but what is more important than the work of a mother? Perhaps the most valuable commodity in our society is not oil or natural gas, but rather well-adjusted, educated, polite, kind, and generally good people.

You know, the kind that mothers toil to produce.

So many of us lose our identities to “mom,” and it’s easy to see how it happens. The minute you move from Labor and Delivery to the postpartum ward, all the nurses who walk in your room greet you with smile and a cheery, “Hi, Mom!”

Your de-personalization has begun.

Because who you are isn’t important anymore. It’s only about who you are in relation to someone else. Even now, nurses and assistants at my kids’ doctor’s offices call me “Mom.” How much trouble would it be to look down and see our children’s names and add a Ms. to the front?

There are as many different “mom” stereotypes as there are “woman” stereotypes, and perhaps some of us want to qualify our job descriptions rather than risk being lumped into one group or another. Of course, the idea that anyone could ever capture the essence of a woman, any woman, in a job description, in a box, is ludicrous. We’re multi-faceted, no matter what we choose to do.

So I’m a mom. On any given day I might be functioning as a teacher, cook, driver, medic, comforter, disciplinarian, advocate, mediator, hostage negotiator, storyteller, swim instructor, drill sergeant, or child psychologist. That kind of job needs no qualification.


The bells of St. Brigit’s are calling tonight

pealing, appealing,

across the sea.

I cannot go; I am not free

bound here in ministry.


Silence and sanctuary are calling tonight

softly, in stage whispers my soul cannot snub.

Slumbering amidst the restless din

I dream of holy hush and polished pews.


I yearn for my holy Father tonight

His presence palpable in the nave

I pine for Bibles with broken spines

spaces where I know God to be.


I rest, cradled in faith tonight

for the bells call but do not toll.

Grace covers; my debts are paid.

All is well with my soul.

This was a surprise prompt from Write on Edge:  Add 100 words of fiction (any genre) to the following first line:

“The bells of St. Brigit’s are calling tonight.”


Her steps echo on the slate walk.

She turns; searching, but cannot see the others;

the veritable ghost-army keeping pace.

A whisper of perfume

The familiar oak a skeleton in the yard.

Smells of the past and of a storm yet to come.


Memories hits with the open door

and she



a rabbit hole,

through the glass of the grandfather clock

its hands spinning backward.

She’s caught – captive in a sandstorm.

There is no shielding herself from the barrage:

– should’ve

– could’ve

– what if?

– why?


Flayed raw by the storm, old scars tear open.

She reaches for an anchor, but finds only the hard curves of an hourglass

nipping, shaping, crushing.

No! she thinks. Not here. I don’t fit here anymore!

The glass is strong, unyielding beneath her fists.


She weeps, trapped, until she remembers.

Let it go.

Her hands are clenched,

crushing sand to her raw palms.

Let it go.

Slowly, painfully, she uncurls each finger and lets the sand blow away.


Standing on the porch, she turns her back on the open door,

clatters down the stairs

suddenly clear;

lighter than when she came up the walk.

She’s remembered: the past is a foreign country:

she cannot live there.


Poetry inspired by the Write on Edge prompt: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” ~ L. P. Hartley: The Go-Between (1953).