I was outside yesterday, enjoying some early fall weather after dinner with my son. I was pushing him on the swing, doing exaggerated “karate” moves and noises whenever I pushed him. He loved it and was giggling uncontrollably. The more he laughed, the more ridiculous I tried to make my moves. And in that moment, I realized something: I’m having fun, too.
This realization came as an immense relief to me. Since having the curtain pulled down around me towards the end of last semester (and probably earlier), I haven’t really enjoyed spending time with my kids. This sounds like a horrible admission, but it’s not that I didn’t want to spend time with them, it’s that I derived no real pleasure from it. In fact, it became a source of real anxiety; I forced the time, forced the fun, and spent the whole time worrying that I was somehow scarring my children from my lack of authentic pleasure.
But just as things got imperceptibly heavier and heavier until I could barely lift my head, things have gotten gradually lighter and lighter. The good days outnumber the bad days. My mind is clearer now, making it easier to make decisions and feel good about them. I’m not as tired, even with a heavy teaching schedule and a busy life. I am looking forward to things (like teaching), things that I had to look forward to before, but instead were sources of dread and gloom.
I have been working hard to try and get through and past and over my depression. I started eating better (ok, my body decided that eating fast food would cause me to get sick, so I stopped), I started swimming again, I got help, improved my sleep habits, took a vacation, etc. I read for pleasure again and bought music, discovering new (for me) artists that I liked. And it still took more than six months. Given that I’ve spent more than a year in phases like this, back when I was in denial about being depressed, I know that I am doing ok and progressing well. And I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to know that the hard work is finally paying off.
I worry about sustaining this effort over the course of the entire semester and academic year. Already, my Kindle sits unused, and there are more and more weeks where I only get to the pool once. Teaching a 5/4 course load of writing-intensive classes, coupled with my research agenda, does not leave much time for self-care. Right now, I am enjoying teaching again, while my research is as intellectually stimulating and fulfilling as ever. But as I pour more and more of myself into these parts of my life, I dread the day that they will once again end up being a source of darkness rather than light.
Finally, I worry about passing this to my children, genetically or otherwise. I worry that one day I will slip underneath the darkness and not be able to pull myself out (or be pulled out). On the bad days, these worries consume me with guilt and grief for my family. But if this latest bout has taught me anything, it’s that I am not alone, and neither will they ever be alone in this. If they inherited this from me, then they hopefully also inherited the strength to get through it.
I might not be able to change their genes, but I can change how we deal with them. Silence is not the answer. Their strength, our strength comes from being in this together. For those of you who were in this with me, offering me strength and support, I thank you. Someday, my kids will thank you, too.
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed