Carol is a beloved former neighbor of my parents. She moved in next to them after I was long gone, and for years I heard about the joy she brought to that little corner of my old neighborhood–the laughter, the flowers and the friendship. It wasn’t until after she was planning her move back to Massachusetts that she heard about my project and a thread of recognition formed between us. A year later we were drinking tea in her new livingroom in Westborough and she told me this story:
I am more than my depression and anxiety. I am a mother, grandmother, sister, friend, and TCK (Third Culture Kid). I am definitely more than a kid at 72 years old and I struggle with the aging process. I am a retired clinical social worker, fitness teacher, caterer and French teacher. I loved each one of these careers because they all involved helping, giving and exchanging with people.
I was born in nearby Rhode Island but never really lived there. It’s where my parents grew up: my dad who was alcoholic and my mom who was anxious. They died a few years ago and I find that I can love them more freely and deeply than I did when they were alive. They really did do their best as parents as we all try to as parents. My parents inherited the alcoholism (father) and anxiety (mother) and I and my siblings did too. I can only hope that my beloved daughters and my grandchildren do not suffer from those mental health illnesses. Perhaps at least with each generation these illnesses will become easier to manage.
I would guess that my depression arose when I was a tween. My family moved from Portugal, then Belgium and Brazil, England, Switzerland and Italy thus making me and my siblings “Third Culture Kids.” My father worked for an international company which moved us as my father was promoted. We all had to learn new cultures and adapt to new friends, houses, churches, schools and more. There were many benefits to this lifestyle, much to see and learn but many losses too. We were in England when I started to share my father’s propensity for self-medication with alcohol–my first sip was miraculous. I felt normal, relaxed, social at 13 years old. Neither Dad nor I knew that there was depression underlying the misuse of alcohol and that both would grow. I slowly became as angry, dismissive, cruel and sentimental as he was. The anxiety in the house was palpable and my mother absorbed it and tried to make up for it with kindness mixed with fear.
I came back to the US for college at 17 and met my husband-to-be in my junior year. We married after graduation and our first beautiful child arrived the following year. We also moved from Boston to Washington D.C. that year. I loved being in a city where I could use my international knowledge including culture and languages. It was there that our second beautiful child was born and where the depression deepened. Finally I began therapy so that all of our family lives could improve. Of course the children were too young to understand my mood swings and my impatience with them. My husband remained apart from the fray and was immersed in supporting our family financially. I continued to drink and manage my hangovers so I could teach fitness. Along the way, my therapist diagnosed me with depression and offered to prescribe new medicines that were being developed to fight depression. The offer came with a hook–I had to stop drinking. I admitted to myself and my husband that I was an alcoholic and was prepared to stop drinking. There was no acknowledgement from my husband. Eventually after several trials of different medications, l started on Prozac which had just been passed by the FDA. That was the beginning of a different life for me–the healthy “miracle.”
There was a cartoon in the 50s and 60s called ‘Lil Abner’ and a character within in it called Joe Bfstplk–the world’s worst jinx! He always walked around with a dark cloud over his head. I had that dark cloud 24/7 and Prozac made the cloud lighten and even sometimes disappear. What a relief at 40 years old! I was able to find out who I was (I am more than: …), to enjoy my daughters and friends and three years later to decide to leave my marriage. The last was very difficult and challenged me on every level. Support from continued therapy and friends allowed me to take the leap after twenty years.
Now after 33 years of reinvention, I enjoy time with my daughters and grandchildren. When we sleep in the same house there is a peace that is irreplaceable, as is hugging my daughters and cuddling my grandkids. I love to hike, adore gardening meditation which continues to teach me about growth and appreciation for the process of aging, death and rebirth. Here I am – I am More!
If you would like to share how you are more than your depression, grief, bipolar disorder, addiction, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorder or OCD please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a Writing Guide.
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