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Non-exhaustive catalogue of things I’ve felt while parenting with a mental illness
You asked me once, when I thought I was hiding it well, if I was sad. You got me, kid. I do not feel the cheer I deploy. Do you hear the hollow ring of my laughter, the empty in my eyes as we play?
It is not true that I do not enjoy you. I enjoy you and your earnestness, your undiluted joy, your play, your gifts of art. You are a large part of my meaning, but because this void dines on meaning, it is true that I do not enjoy these as much as I would have, through my veil of grey.
I want, more than anything, for this cup to pass you over. As much as there’s a genetic part to this illness, I will not bequeath the trauma that nurtures it.
I take my capsule daily. I give you your vitamin gummies at the same time. You have not asked me what is in mine. You are smart. You know what my vitamin gummies look like. I’ve been wondering how to tell you about my broken brain, when you ask.
Sometimes, all I want to do is sleep. Sometimes, my nervous system is a vat of rippling mercury. My short term memory is destroyed; concentration is a battle; the sounds of domestic life jar me; the world is too much and I am too frozen. I feel I am never fully present anywhere: a memory of a shadow. But I want to be real for you. I strive to be attentive. I want to look beyond my preoccupation with doom, and deal you the warmth that you deserve.
Thank you for the random iloveyous and hugs. I want to deserve them. You find me when I’m hiding, catching my breath; you invite me to play, paint, and dance. I may groan, but I’m always glad it happened.
Normal parents probably want to take walks and leave the house. I would be fine if I never left the house again. This is hard to explain to a 5 year-old, so I don’t. I muster the energy for short trips to the park when I can. You deserve better.
Someone said, “you’d die for your family, but would you live for them?” What would that look like? An exercise regimen, complex carbs to regulate my energy levels, cutting out caffeine, meditation, adding even more to my cocktail of meds, brain transplant, reverse neurotransmitter pump, gene therapy, midlife crisis? I don’t have the energy for anything. It is all I can do to rise in the morning from my nightmares to meet your chipper and ready fire. I am a rabble of woodchips in your blaze. Mercy.
I am irritable when I’m anxious. Know that I will not dump that on you. Know that I am forever sanding myself down, blunting myself before presenting myself.
Parenting with this disability, combined with the fear that I will impair you, leaves me in a permanent state of terror. You deserve, I think, a me that can create beautiful memories with you. There is a beauty in my sliver of life, of course, but only so much.
I am unbelievably grateful for your mother, fabulous parent and partner that she is. You know little of the dance we execute daily, to keep things whole.
You asked me for folk / bedtime stories from my childhood. They are locked away with the rest of my memories. The ones I remember, I only remember conceptually.
You should have seen me when I believed I could do anything, and often tried. “Tried” and “tired” have the same letters, as does “tiered” which is what I do with my ambitions; the extra “e” for endurance. My highest ambition is to give you a wholesome and healthy life, next is to ensure a good future for you (as good as can be hoped in a collapsing biosphere).
Something has been sticking a meat thermometer into the children, spoiling them for joy. I want to find it, and end it. Kaveh Akbar said “the womb is a clammy pulp // of shredded tongues where we choose our obsessions.” Does it find us there, or later on?
On the first day of kindergarten, you stood in line with the other kids, one of whom you’d already made friends with. I was like that once, AllSpark undimmed. You were fearless, without contagion; un-self-conscious and non-bashful; your eyes were two brights. I know you must grow, but I wanted to document you in this innocent and possible state. I am the demyelinated nerve, the worm under the salt, but I want you to know: this place could be beautiful.