Monday, September 2, 2013

When Depression Forces a Re-Evaluation of Life's Priorities

            So you might be wondering how my first week of empty nesting went. Actually it’s hard to say. When I was empty nesting, it was actually great! I was surprised at just how much the energy level dropped in the house, minus the teenage hormones to ratchet it up. It was awfully quiet, but I felt more relaxed, especially since there was one less person around whom I needed to plan my schedule. I’m already cooking and eating less—a good thing—and going to bed earlier, and spending more time talking with Chris. I also did a lot of freelance work.
            But I didn’t really experience a full week of empty nesthood because Cory hasn’t given me an opportunity to do so. He seems to be testing the separation waters with his big toe rather than jumping headfirst into it like his older brother, who was determined to go it alone to prove his independence.
            Cory called me on Tuesday to tell me he broke a brace, so I picked him up on Wednesday afternoon to have it fixed by his orthodontist. Then he took me up on my offer to replenish his dorm room snacks: I dropped him off at his dorm with two bags of groceries. He texted yesterday to ask me if I could make an appointment for him to get his hair cut, even though they have a haircut place at the student union on campus. (He’s terrified they’ll butcher his wavy locks, and he’ll have to live with the embarrassing results until it grows out. Ah, masculine, teenage vanity!) And he called his dad yesterday morning to find out what day this week the two of them are going to meet for breakfast. (They did that this last week, too.) I guess I won't be remodeling his bedroom any time in the near future!
            So, who knows what full empty nesting is really like. My older son came over and raided our garage for camping supplies on Friday night, so he and his friends could spend the weekend in the White Mountains of Arizona. He seems to have found a happy medium between independence and attachment, which—I admit—I kind of like.
            I guess being an empty nester doesn’t mean you automatically stop being Mom or Dad.
            Just like God never stops being our Father, no matter how old—or wayfaring—we get…       

And my story continues…

            As the summer wore on, the stress intensified and the abdominal pain I’d experienced during my pregnancy resurfaced with a vengeance. As the college class workload increased in the fall, so did the pain. While battling stress of a demanding professor and the class material, as well as a volatile job situation following a changing of the management guard, and the grief process I’d hung temporarily on a hook, I sank into debilitating depression.
            The signs were classic: Difficulty concentrating, nothing able to hold my attention, my body and mind bankrupt. I languished in a constant state of fatigue, too tired to be angry and too exhausted to care. I lived in sadness and melancholy, without emotion for life. Standing in my classroom teaching for four hours every night became a practice in beating down despondency. I was forgetful; my teaching seemed ineffective.
            And I began to dread the two-hour round-trip job commute. To compound the problem, the new manager appeared to regard us instructors with disdain. Since it was no longer a financial necessity for me to work, I wondered if I could emotionally afford to weather the political storms suspended over the school.
            The mental strain became unbearable, but I kept telling myself, “Tomorrow. Tomorrow it’ll be better.” Daily pep talks that failed to change anything. My brain had been overloaded; my body was spent. Both flipped into shutdown mode.   
            I found myself back in Dr. Gordon’s office—for the fifth time in five months—to finally acquiesce to his encouragement to take disability leave. It had taken me almost seven months to psychologically prepare for the moment when I ‘d depart from my career. I knew in my heart that when the disability began—and I stepped across my classroom’s threshold to pursue it—that I’d probably not be returning. I didn’t see how I could. It might well be my last time to stand in front of a classroom full of eager students, and I was reluctant to say goodbye, to give that up.
            I’d come of age in the 70’s and early 80’s, a time when women were being force-fed the notion that we could do it all and have it all—all at the same time! But nobody bothered to mention that we’d have to burn the candle at both ends, and possibly shorten our lives and drive ourselves—and everyone else nuts—to do it; and—if anyone had been really honest—told us that we really wouldn’t be doing all of it well. We’d just be doing it! Nobody pointed out that while, yes, we had more options, we needed to honestly assess the seasons of our lives to discern which one we were in so we could do each season as well as we possibly could.
            I was slowly beginning to comprehend, appreciate and embrace my present season. It had taken a disaster to force a decision.
            I had to gather the windblown pieces of my life and rearrange the strewn puzzle, making it all fit, and fit well. Making the puzzle fit well, I knew, meant staying home to address and work out the priorities of being a wife and mother—and to honestly confront my pain, and heal.
            Life was going to change dramatically for me, for all of us.
            Physical, emotional and spiritual healing became my first priorities.


NEXT WEEK: Entertaining Jehovah’s Witnesses, who unwittingly force me to reclaim my faith…

Thanks for joining me.

Until next week!