Underneath It All

If you, like me, have battled, are still living and expect to keep dealing with depression, and if you, like me, have children who also have anxiety and depression as a constant illness, then you, like me, should not listen to “Dear Evan Hansen” music alone in an office at the end of a long week.

If you don’t know the story of Evan Hansen, you can find the full run down on the Wikipedia page. Warning: I’m likely to give away at least some of the story here.

Until recently, I didn’t know of it either, but my daughter started to share the music and I noticed a theme running through the lyrics. Although the story is not scene for scene the story of my family, too many of the lyrics ring true. Here’s the parts of the first song, sung by two very different mothers, both trying to negotiate normal families, social anxieties and, unknown as yet, suicide attempts.

****

Can we try to have an optimistic outlook, huh?

Can we buck up just enough to see the world won’t fall apart?
Maybe this year, we decide
We’re not giving up before we’ve tried
This year, we make a new start
Another stellar conversation for the scrapbook
Another stumble as I’m reaching for the right thing to say
I’m kinda coming up empty
Can’t find my way to you
Does anybody have a map?
Anybody maybe happen to know how the hell to do this?
I don’t know if you can tell
But this is me just pretending to know
So where’s the map?
I need a clue
‘Cause the scary truth is
I’m flying blind
And I’m making this up as I go
Another masterful attempt ends with disaster
Pour another cup of coffee
And watch it all crash and burn
It’s a puzzle, it’s a maze
I tried to steer through it a million ways
But each day’s another wrong turn
-happen to know how the hell to do this?
I don’t know if you can tell
But this is me just pretending to know
So where’s the map?
I need a clue
‘Cause the scary truth is
I’m flying blind
And I’m making this up as I go
As I go

****

Now I am aware of the normalities, anxieties and ideations of my family, I think, and I am flattened once again, knowing that I have still not been successful in ‘fixing’ those. So, alone in the office, I cry. And sing along.

Were this anyone else’s post, I would be hitting the comments button and assuring them that no one’s mental health difficulties are my responsibility, but parents and significant others in my situation will testify that it isn’t as easy as telling yourself that. That’s my baby, despite the age; that’s my responsibility.

I used to be able to kiss it all better and now I cannot even slightly improve your outlook with a million hugs and kisses; ongoing psychiatric or psychologist appointments or 20 iterations of medical prescriptions. I hear you. I see you. I love you. And yet, that isn’t enough. God formed you, I carried you; and I would carry you in my arms again if that would mend your broken heart/soul/feelings/brain/self-worth/mental health…….but it doesn’t and I can’t.

I feel responsible because of the statistics that I have seen. Approximately 1 in 7 young people experience an affective depressive disorder (beyondblue.org.au) in Australia. Children whose parents have experienced the same are 4 times more likely, and children who have one or more grandparent who have experienced mental health issues are apparently 20 times more likely to experience some sort of mental health concern than others. How could I not feel responsible? This has been my story. And now it’s an inheritance.

Mostly, mostly, I don’t get stuck in this state. I don’t know why today is different. Perhaps because I feel alone when I’m surrounded. Perhaps because I am tired and need a good sleep (for a few weeks). Perhaps it is musically induced melancholia. Perhaps, and not so surprisingly, perhaps it is my depression coming to the fore in response to all of the above. Whatever.

Mostly, mostly, I live a Nike slogan and JUST DO IT. Whatever it is on the agenda for that day and planning for the next few. Just the same as people everywhere ad infinitum. I’m not alone in it, for which I am grateful and neither are you, for which I am exceptionally grateful.

So, what now?

Now I pack up my today; pick up another child and go home. Now I buy bread and milk and ice cream, because they are the essentials tonight. Now I wipe my face, put on different music (duh) and then cry by myself in the car, wipe my face again and smile hello as I greet my family. I’m going to be ok and, God help me, they will, too.

So despite ‘evidence’ seen from outside, we will keep doing what we think is right. We won’t push for employment and we will ignore or face down detractors who believe we are enabling millennial entitlement. We will smile, a little stiffly perhaps, at those who believe, “If you just….(insert your values here)” it’ll all be ok.

And maybe every now and then I will cry with and for my family and make all the plans, suggestions and appointments (even with bloody Centrelink) that I think will help in any small way. And I will write my fears and feelings – and lyrics that I think 5 Seconds of Summer should record. And despite my best efforts to the contrary, I will listen to musical soundtracks like “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Be More Chill” (don’t ask, the trend is actually alarming me). And I will keep going. And I will be ok. And that’s what it is to be honest, and live and love. And that’s good.

**An hour later**

I have travelled the gamut of emotions in the past 60 minutes.

I picked up the recently employed child who offered to buy me dinner – win! We had a wonderful time and I felt a bit better, which was nice tonight. However, as I have explained, I am exposed to new music via my children, and tonight was no exception.

“Mum, I really like this song and I don’t really know why. Can I play it to you?”

“Sure.”

I’ve linked the song he played below. Your job now is to decide whether my reaction was:

A) understand immediately why he liked the song and proceed to have discussion on the merits of music genres followed by singing along to John Denver and The Proclaimers (separately, ’cause that’d be weird). This interspersed with buying previously mentioned milk, bread and ice cream.

B) crying silently with my face tilted slightly away from the passenger seat because the song describes and repeats what my eldest has tried to describe and repeat, underlined by minor chords. This interspersed with buying previously mentioned milk, bread and ice cream.

C) both A and B and wanting to vomit and gripping the steering wheel tightly in an attempt to distract one pain with another.

THE SONG

The ice cream was mediocre btw.

Not my story, obviously.

I can see why some people aren’t sure if Sam’s story is real or not. I mean, I’m a 41 year old woman, not a 16 year old boy. I don’t have the requisite parts to have testicular cancer. This is true. And so is Sam’s story.

“Nuts, A Ball and other 4-letter Words.”

He’s a real person. Not his real name for the sake of privacy. This is his journey for a short/horrifically long period of his life so far. This is the story, too, of anyone who has been dealt the punch to the face (knee to the groin?) that cancer is. It’s also the story of winning. Of not spelling cancer with a capital C. Of making it. Of living life anyway, of growth and regrowth. Of sharing instead of hiding. Of kissing and sex. Of separation and belonging. Just Life. It’s the story of family and yet it isn’t.

I spoke to most of Sam’s family while his personal story bubbled in my head and came flowing out in words both his and mine.

I spoke to his big brother who, although uncomfortable in some ways talking to a relative stranger, made his love love for his family, even an annoying younger brother, very clear.

I spoke with his little sister, who thought I was a little crazy and made a rude comment about my shoe choices….fair call, though. The two of us forged a friendship that was close, for a while, and sang the real lyrics to Mumford and Sons’ ‘Little Lion Man’ really, really loudly, just because we could. Now she’s not a ‘little’ sister any more, but a beautiful, engaged young woman with whom a coffee date seems elusive. And I spoke with Mum.

I wondered if she thought I was odd, a teacher and mother of children of my own, befriending her kids. Apparently not, thankfully. And I loved them. Hearing their stories; getting a little into their lives.

Weird, isn’t it, how quickly that depth of feeling can come? And go. Not the feeling, just the actual spending time. It just drifts off sometimes. I don’t really know why. Happens far more often than I’d like, that sort of fading. Anyway, I’m getting morose.

So Mum let me hang out. And talk to her kids. And to her. She told me all of her experiences of Sam’s diagnosis, treatment, surgery and eventual recovery. I think I expected more tears, more drama. But you’ve already read that’s not her style. So it was fact and explanation of both circumstances and emotions.

I always meant to write the whole story. The whole truth for the whole family, but I couldn’t write Mum’s perspective. When I voiced her, my pen stopped. I, who had children of my own and knew how mums felt when their children hurt. I, who could scrawl out the story of a teenager’s masturbation and fantasy, couldn’t find the words to share this mother’s battle for her boy.

Why?

I’m sorry that I couldn’t find your voice with my pen. I’m sorry that I couldn’t express your fear, or the knowledge that you just had to do what you had to do. I’m sorry ’cause I wanted to tell of your courage, your love. I wanted to write more. I don’t think I could go there, you know, because it would have been bloody hard. I haven’t looked at my notes in years, but I have one thing that I’ve always remembered.

When mums hug their children, we often put our hands on their heads, ruffle their hair up a bit. And it’s a sign of affection, of casual ‘love ya, mate’ warmth. But for you it became more. Discreetly, under the guise of casual, you’d check your not-so-little boy’s scalp and neck for the telltale heat of fever and bumps of possible infection. I already knew how I felt when I held my ‘babies’ and I think I couldn’t find your voice cause I didn’t want to even imagine having to watch them so closely, so scared. I knew I didn’t know, couldn’t even guess and I didn’t want to do you or your feelings injustice.

So there it is. Honesty. I’ve finally made myself look at it as more than just writer’s block.

If you haven’t read Sam’s story yet, you could start here.

Love,

Mandy. 🐛<<
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House Sitting – Rules & Contradictions

As a house sitter, I’ve mopped more floors in someone else’s home than I will EVER do in my own! I’m a much better house sitter that I am house keeper and, because of that, I’ve learned a few things that I thought I’d share with you.

If you’re a house sitter, always be a better house keeper than the owner. Not ALL the time, just when you’re in their home…or at least on the day you leave.

If you’re a house owner, realise that your home won’t really look the way you left it. If you’re lucky, they might be a better house keeper than you, but…….probably not.

Communicate. This is so important for both sides. Ask questions! Lots and lots of them.

Do you want something done, or not done, while you’re away? Write it down. Write everything down. Where is the vacuum cleaner? Where on Earth is that tiny white on white button that turns on the dishwasher? What does the dog eat? Write it down.

Uh oh. Broken something during your stay? A cup? Plate? Door knob? Write it down. Text if necessary, but at the very least leave a note and an apology.

Be honest. Before during and after the experience, be honest.

I’m bringing 4 kids under 10 and our own inside Dalmatian. We were hoping to have just one person stay with our anxious Shi Tzu.

I’ll be out every day from dusk til dawn. Our pets need someone all day, everyday.

Be realistic.

If your house owner says, “Help yourself to whatever you’d like,” they don’t actually mean that you should eat them out of house and home. Sure, have at the pantry…in moderation. Perhaps don’t eat all of their chocolate stash and drink all of their boutique beer or feed yourself for the week on everything they own. If you had to shop and replace it all before you left, would the grocery bill frighten you? Hmmmm.

If you say, “Help yourself to whatever you’d like,” don’t be surprised if you come home to no milk, bread or chocolate. Say it, mean it.

Be prepared for weird.

It doesn’t seem like much to mind someone’s house and maybe pets, does it? And most times, it’s not. But sometimes…..

Last night, the little old terrier I’m hanging out with this week had a bad night. She’s been fine for the rest of the time, but last night she couldn’t sleep for some reason. Her insomnia and dementia had her pacing her garage bedroom, yipping. Loudly. She’d been fed, watered, taken outside for the necessities, but nothing was working.

So, what to do? It’s now 10pm. Let’s try it all again. Is she too warm? Too cold? Needs to go out? Needs to come in? Water, check. Food….bit more, check.

30 minutes later, it hasn’t worked.

So, what else might work?

I’d turn on the light, but she’s blind.

I’d turn on some music or white noise, but she’s deaf, too.

What to do? What to do?

I’m a mum of 4, I’ve got this.

So now it’s a little past 1am and I’m sitting by the dog’s bed, patting her tiny little self as she circles and pads and sniffles and, finally, falls asleep.

They say there are rules for this house sitting business. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some. What do you think? Tell me what I need to know for next time.