It happened in the span of an hour. My husband had disappeared into the bedroom for his drawn-out morning of preparation which included a long shower, slowly drinking coffee, and whatever else men do to be ready for the day. I had two urgent emails (one a virtual scolding and the other a desperate plea), a sippy cup of milk pooling around my heels, a muddy dog barging through the back door, and a three-year-old walloping his 1-year-old brother from behind with an unusually heavy sofa pillow. With his swift blow, the baby in his cross-hairs managed to take down with him two towers of freshly folded clothes he had only been toying at before.
And I screamed.
From the sound of my scream, you’d probably say that I was falling apart. I screamed because I needed the massive feeling of pressure to be released somehow. So, like a piping tea kettle reaching full boil, I screamed. A wave of self-reflection washes over me. As someone who has struggled with crippling depression and anxiety my whole life, I can recognize the signs of my descent. I can see the steps of behavioral management like fast-moving flash cards in my brain. Sometimes the depression wins the smaller battles, but it hasn’t yet won the war.
I stopped keeping count of what day of the stay-at-home order it is. I go most days not even knowing what day of the week it is. This wasn’t the first time in this weird time that I’ve screamed in the middle of the kitchen, and it probably won’t be the last. I didn’t feel better. I felt worse. My children saw my scream as a challenge, my husband scoffed in haste for breaking up his serene morning routine, and my dog came to my rescue by dragging his dirty paws on my clothes.
But what no one sees after they’ve brushed my outburst off as being overly dramatic is that not even a minute later, everyone went back to needing me for different reasons. The baby needed immediate coddling from the pillow, the dog needed to be shooed out of the door, the milk needed to be cleaned up, the husband needed to finish getting dressed, and the toddler needed redirection before he latched on to a new target for his destruction. More emails. More work-from-home time divvied up in ten-minute increments and book-ended with fighting toddlers.
From the looks of my house, you’d say that I was falling apart. Toys pepper the living room floor like plastic landmines without rhyme or reason to their placement. The titular toy cabinet is bare because all of its contents were rummaged through by my vagrant offspring. My kitchen has lost all measure of organization. I don’t know what sippy cups are old or new, so I hand wash dozens of colorful dishware three times a day. And I’m not even sure where the outside toys are coming from. It’s like they are resurrecting from the ground like weeds after a rainstorm.
But what you don’t know is how I’m desperately trying to drive my children’s memory of this time to the positive. We clean when we do. We pick up along the way. But all traces of chores have been thrown out of the window. The mess sometimes becomes a point of stress, but only because it’s compounded with so many other things.
From my personal appearance, you’d probably say that I was falling apart. Yes, I use the dog as an excuse leave my house and cry. I hate the person I am seemingly becoming sometimes. I miss my family so much. I feel sorry for myself because the responsibility load in my house is not shared fairly. Admittedly, I sometimes take it out on people in close proximity to me. The thing that takes the worst beating from my self-pity is my appearance. My eyes are more swollen and darkened on the bottoms than they have ever been. My eyebrows are overrun like revenge of the Bert. I’ve worn the same baseball cap for more days in a row than I’d like to admit.
What you don’t see is the struggle it takes to get out of bed in the first place and do this over and over. The isolation, the guilt, the overwhelming fear, the inequity – I can’t find a reason to be kind to myself, so rolling over and admitting defeat is becoming a better option day by day. But I close my eyes and see all of the medical professionals, wage workers, and service workers who spring out of bed into danger right now. It gives me the slight motivation to pop out of bed and reach for the nearest things that makes me feel functional – a pair of Nike shorts, an oversized tank top, and my LSU Baseball hat.
There’s so much fighting going on outside of my door. Outside of my neighborhood. Outside of my small corner of town. But as a person who struggles with crippling depression, I am also fighting as though every personal padlock my illness puts before me. While the true heroes are fighting the real enemy, my enemy and I are fighting too. In my baggy clothes, runny nose, and drippy kitchen, I must fight on. Because when we all collectively exit the tunnel, I want to share in the joy our heroes have sacrificed so much to give us.
So, if you see someone struggling, be slow to judge. Rest assured we understand there are those who have it worse than us, and we wouldn’t want to trade places with them. Tell us to hang on and be strong, because we’re all fighting harder than anyone realizes.