I’ve been struggling lately with how to adequately answer the question, “How are you?” which is lobbed my way frequently. Because I know the hopeful look in people’s eyes. What they mean is: “It’s been three months now since your dad died. Are you better yet?”
Am I better yet?
And the real truth – although I feel insanely vulnerable writing about it – is that no. No, I am not better yet. In fact, in many ways, I have entered into a deeper level of grief and sadness than in the first couple months after he died.
But, as a whole, society doesn’t want you to to do that. It wants you to be comfortable. It wants to be comfortable. It doesn’t like sadness and it certainly doesn’t know what the hell to do with clinical depression, even if it’s situational. Even if it’s how you’re supposed to feel.
I’m not a stranger to depression. My first experience came when I was an adolescent and it descended upon me throughout my teens and into my early twenties. At those times, though, my depression was characterized more by a sense of hopelessness, of deep loneliness, of apathy.
Whatever this is, whatever I’m going through now, is a different animal. I don’t feel hopeless. I’m still able to feel gratitude for good things in my life. But am I sad on a level I did not know existed. And I can’t sleep. That last part’s important, because I have no idea what this would look like if I could get some sleep. I’m usually awake until 3 or 4 in the morning and when I am worn out enough to fall asleep, I have awful, terrible dreams and waken frequently.
Being perpetually sleep-deprived means I feel defenseless against the sadness and grief, this smothering sense of loss. Not just for my father, but also for my mother too, who died ten years ago. I feel it for our whole family, for who we were and for whatever we're supposed to turn into now. I wake up with it weighing me down, making it hard to get out of bed. Some days I don’t bother.
And the crying. Oh, the crying. If I can get through hours, it’s a miracle. But it always comes. Sometimes it's just mild weepiness and sometimes it is seemingly inconsolable sobbing. It is not as simple as this: I think of my dad, then I cry - although that’s sometimes the case. It is more like I go through my day pretending not to see the sadness and grief that has attached itself to me and as soon as I give it a sideways glance, I’m a goner.
I’m crying now as I write this.
Socializing - especially in groups - is the hardest. I can’t sit at a dinner and pretend to be okay, or pretend that the conversation matters to me. I’m exhausted. I don’t have the energy to interact. For now.
And people, god love ‘em, are dying to fix you. They want to offer solutions, they want to put a swift end to this dark aspect of being human.
I don’t want to be fixed. I want to be heard. I want to be understood.
I am, in case you were wondering, doing all the right things. Or most of them anyway. I’m seeing my therapist, getting to meetings, taking medication, meditating occasionally. I could get to more meetings. I could eat better. As for my lack of sleep, I promise you I’ve tried it all. I know you mean well with your suggestions. But you have to trust me. You have to trust that I’m doing everything I can.
And I need to let go of all my worrying that people in the outside world won’t understand or I’ll offend someone with my silence.
I’m trying to survive over here. I’m trying to get through the biggest, widest sadness I’ve ever known.
So that’s it. You know, in case you were wondering how I am. This is how I am. For now, at this moment, at this place in time, this is where I live. But I know the real answer is just time. That I have to keep walking through this. Or crawling through it as the case may be.
I am telling you all this because, despite it all, if you ask me how I'm doing, habit and people-pleasing behavior and vulnerability will likely make me say, "I'm fine." And that's just not true right now.