Tag Archives: Depression

We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
And mouth with myriad subtleties,

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but oh great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile,
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

~~~Paul Laurence Dunbar

I used to have this poem hanging in my office as a reminder to visitors that sometimes we hide our feelings to just get through. As a diversity professional, I am constantly, intentionally exposing myself to emotional ish in order to help people move to the next level of inclusion. Consequently, I wear a mask.

A lot.

This poem kept me up really late one night this week. I couldn’t get it off my mind because of something Hope said to me. Essentially, my daughter wears a mask.

She wears a mask to get through every day, and it exhausts her.

Hope is an amazing young woman, and there are days when I simply marvel at her. There are other days when I see the turmoil on her face, but the reality is that on most days, she’s really, really good at hiding it.

Having been a long-time depression sufferer, my own mask is worn as much as to protect me as it is to motivate me. My own intrinsic motivation wills me to get through things and wills me to just fake it and it will get better.

I recognize that most people wear their masks for everyone else’s benefit. Who wants to be around a person who is wearing their suffering? The self-protection mechanism is such that if you desperately want to be around people, you just try to keep it together and conform so that they won’t be put off by you. You drag out your mask and hide all the ish behind it.

I feel like Hope and I are in a battle for her life right now. I see her; I see her working so hard to keep it together. I see her fighting so hard to get to a place that doesn’t hurt so much. She does take her mask off with me; sometimes not all the way, but enough for me to know what’s lurking underneath.

On the one hand, I’m so relieved that Hope trusts me enough to lower her defenses, her shields, but on the real…I feel helpless. I feel like I’m doing everything I can, everything I can think of to help shepherd her to a healthier place, but it isn’t helping the way we need it to.

That helplessness has got me feeling like I must wear a mask too. I mean, who goes around sharing that their kid is just struggling to keep it together, which means that you’re struggling to keep it together too. Who wants to see your eyes after you’ve sat in the bathroom sobbing and urgently praying for 10 minutes because you know the path this could all go down? Who do you trust, besides other parents walking in these shoes, with this kinda thing because most folks Just. Don’t. Get. It.

So, you both put on your oxygen masks in the morning and try to make it through another day.

I try to model authenticity for Hope. I try to use ‘good’ communication skills; I try to ask for what I need. I coach her to take care of herself. I encourage her to emote, to build solid friendships so that she has some peer support. I email the health professionals and the guidance counselors, even after Hope and I have decided on a course of action. I need allies to step into the gap to help her help herself.

This week has been a huge turning point for me. I have fought the good fight on trying to make sure that the homework has been done and that school stuff was a priority. School is such a core value for me; it’s social currency, especially for black folks. But, I’m done. It’s just not worth it. Hope doesn’t need the extra pressure, and neither do I. I’m fighting for my kid’s survival. School, while still important, can’t be central to that paradigm. Healing must be the sole focus. It has to be; our future depends on it.

And so, we’ll start this week differently. We’ll go back to basics. I’ll prioritize quality time. I’ll focus on more family care, not just self-care. I’ll ask about school, but not about the work. I’ll find another doctor who can help me chase down the right pharma-combo for her. I’ll lower my mask so I can always have a clear view of Hope and her mask.

Hopefully this will be the beginning of the end for Hope’s mask.

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The House is Quiet

The house is quiet tonight. Hope has been asleep since I got home from work. I kind of anticipated that; things around here are becoming increasingly predictable.

Saturday, I did my best to get my own emotional train back on the tracks. Sunday was devoted to doing what I do best and what really brings me out of the darkness: problem-solving. As I got up yesterday morning, I resolved to help Hope put together a success plan for the day and the week. I resolved to develop a boss-level meal plan for the week. I thought I might get through some of the accident related paperwork since I finally hired an attorney this week (I could write a whole post on how awful that experience was, how personal injury lawyers have earned their ambulance chasing cred and how I just figured that the slime factor was what made them good at what they do, but well, that’s the gist of it). I thought I would organize my things to do list at work so well that I would be able to blow throw the week with a lot less emotional labor than last week.

I had such big hopes and dreams. I knew there was a high probability that the most important ones (about Hope) would end in emotional drama, but I just wanted to believe I could will it to go smoothly for one day.

Yeah, my will ain’t that strong.

I focused on researching ADHD and trauma friendly study strategies. I watched a lot of videos, read some articles and came up with a plan. Hope woke up already anxious about all she had to accomplish for school in one day. #11thgradeishard I pitched my plan to help her get organized with a few changes to the way she did things. I came prepared for resistance and didn’t meet much. I helped her create a plan for the day. I told her that I would check her planner during the week to see how she’s coming along. We made an agreement; we shook on it, we smiled.

I headed off to conquer the rest of my things to do, already feeling like I was climbing out of my hole of depression and anxiety. Those were some good moments, couple of hours even…and things went to hell.

Despite finding success in the new approach to time management for a couple of tasks, Hope decided that her approach was better suited to achieve overall success. We’ve been using her approach for a couple of years now, and I have far more gray hair to show for it and well academic performance would suggest that a different approach is worth considering. Sunday slid away with very little productivity, but increasing levels of anxiety, you know, just to balance things out. By day’s end, all the homework had not been completed and I was considering biting my nails.

I made a hard decision to give away our tickets to tonight’s Katy Perry concert. It wasn’t decision about punishment; it was a decision about protecting my emotional health and weekly capacity levels. Knowing that we were already behind on school work meant it was already going to be a rough week. A break in the routine meant that another night would be loss in potential productivity. I thought about the morning meltdowns of last week with crying and late trips to school and leaving work to go pick Hope up because she just tapped out by noon. I didn’t know if I could do another week like that so soon.

So, I gave away the tickets to just take the concert out of the equation.

And a darkness fell over the household, and nothing improved. This morning Hope overslept, and apparently came home from school and just went to bed.

And me? I took Yappy to the park (our happy place). Fixed myself a healthy dinner, poured a glass of Malbec and realized that I couldn’t do any of the work I brought home from the office. Today is just a wrap.

Seriously

This is what depression and anxiety looks like for us.

For the second day my daughter is overwhelmed and ground to a halt, and the one thing I rely on to pull myself out of the darkness felt like an epic fail. Oh and we didn’t see Katy Perry in concert. I’m not mad, I’m just sad that it’s so hard to find our groove.

I have never ever hated school, never. On the roughest days of going to school, there was still something I loved about the academic stimulation. I love that I found a career in education, my work is incredibly fulfilling. But seeing school through Hope’s eyes is incredibly painful. It’s so many things that are hard about it that it feels like it’s too many to list. One of the hardest things is seeing the wheels spin on the school bus and feeling like we’ll never make the progress we fight so hard for. The other hard thing? Feeling like I can’t do enough to help Hope acquire some educational privilege to help her journey through this life as a black woman. There seems to be nothing I can do to make this easier for her, nothing.

It hurts because I want so much for her, but also because so much of my personal identity is wrapped up on being a fixer. I’m constantly reminded on this journey that I can’t *fix* Hope’s life. It’s feels really barren, useless. And while I intellectually know that that isn’t quite the reality, that’s the thing about depression. It will spin its own narrative that isn’t based in any kind of reality.

And so, the house is quiet. I have no idea if we will bounce back to our version of normal tomorrow. I know it’s late on Monday and I’m already over this week. I know that there are key dates on the immediate horizon that are major triggers for Hope. All I can do is take a deep breath, try to get enough rest, exercise and healthy food and keep pressing forward with my daughter.

I actually wish the house wasn’t this quiet.


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