Apparently, the root canal worked, as it’s now been almost 48 hours and the pain that I’ve felt has been minimal. I wouldn’t even call it pain – more like periodic discomfort. Dentist #4 told me that I’d feel better once he was finished, and boy, was he right. And the funny thing to me in all of this is that I never did take any pain medication. I just rode it out. I don’t know if that makes me smart, brave, stupid, or lazy, but I’m sure it’s one of those.
The darkness of recent days comes and goes. There are moments – hours, even – where I feel at peace with the world, my health, my previous bad decisions, and life itself. Moments where I feel like, “That was then, but this is now,” have me believing that I’ll live for this moment, make plans for a future, and just embrace myself, faults and all. But then there are moments wherein that darkness is just so overpowering that it’s damn near impossible to fight it.
And two conversations yesterday may have shown me why.
In the first, I had a conversation with a Jessica, a friend who’s going through a hard time right now. Jess has been exhibiting a number of self-destructive behaviors, including cutting (and I suspect burning), and while she’s currently getting help, I’m obviously still concerned. Anyway, we met up yesterday, and I asked her how she was doing. This led to a tear-filled discussion where she said that things were improving, but they were still incredibly hard.
I’ve learned recently (I’ve been learning a lot, it seems) that many of my students and friends seem to think that they’re living in some isolationist bubble, wherein they are the only person to have experienced some sort of event or episode. And these are fairly common experiences – how to deal with the death of a beloved pet, for example. Or fears about what happens the “day after” graduation when one hasn’t really planned for it. Or how to hold your head up after an unexpected break-up. These aren’t new events; the happen every day. They’re speed bumps, to be honest, but I’ve run into so many people whose immediate assessment of their situation is, “You wouldn’t understand.”
In Jess’ case, I tossed out subtle hints that, yes, I know what depression is like. I didn’t declare myself because this wasn’t about me; it was about her. And after a few minutes, she seemed to catch on. We talked, and ultimately, I think that’s what Jess really wanted. But then she asked me what I did to dig myself out of those dark days.
And that’s when I became a total hypocrite.
I told her to find ways to find peace within herself. Take a walk. Ride a bike with her fiancé. Go to Starbucks and just take in the atmosphere (but to make sure you buy something or . . . ). Jess is a shy person with a very limited circle of friends, including a fiancé. I told her to remember that she was special, unique, and that she needed to believe that she was worthy of what she had. I told her about the importance of friendship, and how rare it is to have that one friend with whom you can be yourself, even when you’re in a dark place. I told her a lot more, but most of it was “friend” stuff; I’m not a psychologist, and I wasn’t trying to analyze her or her problems. I just wanted her to know that I’d be there for her, and that the world was a far better place with her in it.
Jess seemed happy; she told me that the reason she sought me out was because she knew that I’d know what to say. And I said it all-knowing damn good and well that none of this works for me. As melodramatic as it sounds, it was like the two of us bobbing up and down in the middle of the ocean, with only one life-preserver, and I pushed it towards her and declared, “Good luck!”
In the second conversation, I was talking with another friend and mentioned my earlier conversation with Jess, and how I fell like a phony by offering her “solutions” that have had little effect on me.
Complicating things was the fact that yesterday was the anniversary of my father’s passing. It hadn’t popped into my head when I awoke, yet I knew that there was something special about the day. When I remembered what it was – about an hour after waking – I debated with the idea of visiting his grave site or acknowledging the anniversary at any point in my day. I’ve only put up one Facebook acknowledgment of my parents (on their respective birthdays), but my siblings post something annually. Of particular offense is my brother, who will – at least three times a year – post some self-serving maudlin note about how much he misses them. That would bother me less if I didn’t know how he treated them when they were alive, but that’s another story.
So, with my father occupying one part of my mind, and Jess in the other, I asked my other friend a simple question:
“Do you go to your parents for life advice?”
The answer was short, sweet, and a bit shocking.
“Nope. Not once.”
This totally blew my mind – and it answered so many questions for me.
I was a frightened, shy child, who became a frightened, shy young adult. I’ve changed somewhat since then, but I question that now. I could be loud and obnoxious if I knew you, but if not, I lived in a state of perpetual fear. I grew up relying on others – specifically my parents – for advice and counsel, so much so that it’s had an adverse affect on my life: While I’m not completely indecisive, it does take me a while to reach a decision. I lack that swiftness of action that some have, and I like to hear from as many viewpoints as possible. I can literally count the number of major decisions I’ve ever made where I didn’t go to my parents first for their opinions.
What I miss most – and I was reminded of this during my conversation with Jess – is how much I really want to hear my parents say one thing:
“It’ll be alright. The problems you have? The pain you feel? It’ll be alright.”
A thousand people could tell me that right now, and they’ll never be as convincing to me as Mom and Dad.
So as you can imagine, the last two decades without them has been kind of rough. And until my conversation with Jess and the later conversation with another friend, I didn’t realize how much I relied on others to help stabilize me. I mean, I’ve always considered myself to be this stand-alone kind of person, but I’m not. I didn’t know how much fear I still have inside. I pray a lot, but sometimes I wonder if some of my issues are nothing more than God trying to toughen me up.
This is likely why it’s been so hard for me to get out of that dark pit – I’m wanting someone else to send a ladder. . . .