Growing up one of my favorite shows was Road to Avonlea. It was on cable, which meant that watching it was a rarity in my house. We only got cable during special promotional times when the neighborhood got it for free. I remember asking for those channels and hoping that the free promotions would come back because I was convinced that I was Felicity King. I was the oldest child, I had a younger brother that annoyed me to death, and I was always right. It was meant to be. I'm convinced that I asked my mom to get my hair permed when I was about five for the sole purpose of looking like Felicity.
Of course I completely missed the part of the show where they let you know that Felicity is a jerk. I remember one episode, for example, where the parents leave overnight for an anniversary trip leaving the 13 year old Felicity in charge of her siblings and cousins. Whoops. While the rest of the world felt bad for poor Felix and his nasty sister who made him do chores when he wanted to fish, I sympathized with Felicity for having a brother that was hard to punish because he always looked so dang pleased with himself.
So when the younger of my two brothers was born, I was determined to "train him up in the way he should go" by indoctrinating him with a love of sarcasm, British humor, and a healthy dose of cultural sophistication/snobbery.
I lucked out on siblings. Andy (the Felix in my life) and I learned to get along as we got older (and I moved out of the house). Although he still claims that I "made" him watch Avonlea related media (you could have left the room!) we get along great now. Jared and I are great friends and always have been. I don't remember ever arguing with Jared. (Minus, I suppose, the time when I determined that I wanted my own room and pushed him, in his crib, out the door. Or as out the door as I could. It got stuck. Whoops.)
Yesterday, Jared got a mission call. In my church, boys and girls have the opportunity to go out into the world and serve their fellow men. Only they don't get to choose where they go. Most people find out via. letter from the presidency of the church. Families and friends gather around in the living room or Skype from long distances, people post videos of their call-opening on the internet - it's a pretty big deal. But in true quirky Jared fashion, things didn't go quite as planned. His call was accidentally sent to a girl's apartment and then lost. Desperate to get his call, he contacted the mission office and was, after a series of strange events, emailed his assignment. So instead of gathering around the fireplace with video cameras, my family called in from the most random places you can think of. Dad was at work. Mom was in the office at school surrounded by her co-workers. Alli was pulled out of class to go to the office of her school and surrounded by a different set of secretaries. I was holed away in the office next to my classroom. Andy was, of all places, locked out of his apartment. And Jared, best of all, was sitting in one of the buildings at BYU by a vending machine and random people that had no idea he was about to open an email that would change his life.
I love when the universe throws comedic irony into otherwise important moments of our lives.
So very calmly, without pomp or circumstance or tears my family gathered around a phone fireplace to hear that Jared was going to Brazil, like he'd hoped for. We were happy. And then we hung up and went about the rest of our day.
Sometimes I wish that I had sisters closer to my age. Poor Alli is so much younger than I am that neither of us really knows what it is to grow up with girls around. But even though growing up with brothers brought arguing and being dragged to t-ball and scouting events and other unholy smelling things, I am glad that I have the brothers I do. For the patience they teach me, for the men they've become, and for knowing that they've always got my back.
(Seriously, though. They still tackle me.)
04 March 2013
"Day after day
Give me clouds, and rain, and grey,
Give me pain if that's what's real,
It's the price we pay to feel.
The price of love is loss,
But still we pay, we love anyway."
"Light", Next to Normal
It was like I was watching fragmented parts of my own life swirl together into recognizable shapes through a kaleidoscope. The story of a family torn apart by the unexpected and sudden loss of a loved one, a daughter that put huge amounts of pressure upon herself to succeed, a daughter overshadowed by her problem causing brother, a mother caught in the throws of depression but unable to find a good way out of it. . . I went to the musical that night expecting to hear music I loved and to hear it performed well. What I didn't expect was for it to be so personal.
It was like the first time I'd seen The Glass Menagerie. Stunned at how whiplashed I felt as I saw myself and those I loved echoing through the bodies of fictional characters with lives confined to less than a hundred pages of text.
It started, I think, when my uncle died. I was twelve and came home to a house so empty and cold and silent. I remember the silence being particularly dreadful. It wasn't the silence of a house asleep but the silence of a house stunned. I remember my mother at the top of the stairs looking exactly as the house seemed to feel, and my father. . . my father had aged a hundred years or more as he told me that his younger brother had killed himself. I cried because I was scared to see my dad so upset more than for my uncle. I'd barely known his brother.
Uncle Bob had manic depression. Later I would find what that meant. And it was scary at first, but then it made sense. Scary when I read through sections of his journals and saw the shift in his emotions so rapidly. One day on top of the world, the next in the depths of despair. Over and over again. It must have been utterly exhausting and so, so horribly lonely a life.
But after the initial fear, I started to see it. I saw it in the way that my father would respond when he was discouraged or frustrated. The way he would react quickly in anger and just as quickly in sorrow for having lost control.
I saw it in the way that I did the same thing he did. Lash out. Say things I didn't mean. Use words and glares with full intent of injuring the person opposite me until half a second later I realized what I was doing, and who I was doing it to, and I hated myself for it.
But a name for it. A name for "it". That helped. Depression. Not manic. No, I was too level for that. Not wild enough. Too practical by nature. But it made sense. It helped me to understand why I so often didn't make sense to myself. That on a perfectly lovely day in which nothing all that bad had happened I could want nothing more than to curl up alone. It helped me to understand why it was such a perpetual battle to be happy with myself and to understand why I was the way I was. If I had a name for it, I could beat it. Right?
I live in a part of the world where happiness is passed around like a drug everyone is expected to take, or at least pretend to take. (If you aren't happy, then clearly the solution is that you need to pray more and go to church more.)
Except for me, faith so often works more like what Tennyson describes best in his poem collection In Memorium, where he describes feet that "falter where (they) firmly trod" and "lame hands of faith" that grope for understanding that is out there, but is not here. Never, never in the middle of my emotional challenges have I doubted that God is there and loves me. It's not my style. I have too many evidences to the contrary to doubt that love.
What I learned in that evening performance of Next to Normal was that I may never ever be rid of that depression. It's part of my genetic makeup, after all, passed to me from one generation to the next and no solution yet. Temporary remedies, perhaps, through therapy or medication or, in my case at least, downright stubborn will to keep moving forward - but no solution. Watching Next to Normal I saw a family that fought so hard to keep together it hurt, and when it ended, the solution was not the "normal" happy life they had always dreamed of. Normal, says the daughter, is "way too far away." Next to normal. That was the goal. If killing the depressive beast entirely wasn't an option, then containing it and harnessing it would be sufficient.
This year, this quarter century year, has been one of intense pressure. I set high goals for myself. Goals that are worthy and respectable and good, but goals that are lofty and difficult to reach in the impatient amounts of time I would prefer to give myself. Perhaps, then, this depression I battle is my kryptonite. My extraterrestrial reminder that I am, after all, only human. My reminder of the lesson taught so eloquently by Eve, who learned that the value of love was only as great as the potential loss it was tied to.
No. I don't need to kill the depression beast. Chain it down and tell it who is boss now and then - but if the laws of nature or genetics won't let me ever be rid of that awful monkey, I'll get by. I can't wait for life to be perfect or entirely happy. "Some ghosts", the mother sings, "are never gone. But we go on [. . .] and you find out you don't have to be happy at all to be happy you're alive." And I am happy, so happy, to be alive.