My life is nothing like this now, and hasn't been since I had Umberto. Don't get me wrong I don't think having children is some kind of cure for depression. It's not. And I've dealt with my own fair share of depression since having kids. In fact, I went on anti-depressants for the first time in my life after having kids. I am not going to belittle that depression can hit even harder in the midst of parenting. Parenting is tough and it's sadly often a very isolated experience. And in my parenting years, I have felt all these emotions, and have struggled with finding my own identity that got lost in motherhood, and all the things that people have written millions of things about before. This is my disclaimer before I continue.
For, and again I emphasize, for me, parenting has also brought a whole load of joy into my life . And this is really important. At first, I found myself a bit mistrustful of this joy. I kept waiting for someone to pull the carpet out from under me. Whenever I was sad or depressed, I leapt on that moment like it was life line. "See!" I thought smugly, "There really isn't joy for me!" Usually five minutes later, Umberto would smile or hug me. Eventually Camille would be adorablely silly. Piper would dance. Rowena would tell us some off the wall story. And Jude...oh Jude with her smile and her clever sense of humor. They would all force a smile, a tiny bit of hot joy from the cold. At some point, it occurred to me that I was afraid to be happy. I realized it a long time ago. What was wrong with me? I wrote about it. I talked about it. Why was I scared to admit that I felt joy. That I liked laughing. That being with my family made me so happy I felt delirious with it?
One day Camille told me she didn't like to smile.
I remember being wounded by that line, and how I had spent so much time not talking about being fat that I had forgotten there are other things we might not want to pass onto our children. It was clear I needed to spend some time evaluating why I was bloody terrified of being happy. And it turned out that was quite a worm hole. There were so many things. I was terrified that if I allowed myself to be happy that some great cosmic trickster was going to come and take it all away from me. Depression had been a part of my life for so long that it felt like it was the only emotion I could have. I also didn't understand how one could have joy and depression at the same time so when I felt joy I quickly killed it. No room for that here thank you very much. And part of it was that joy didn't seem to fit in to a world with so much injustice so much pain so much wrong. The real kicker was realizing that being unhappy, depressed, grumpy had become a part of my personality so much so that to not be that way felt like a betrayal of my very self.
But when I had that moment when I was pregnant with Jude, I promised her and myself that enough was enough. For Camille, for Jude, for all of my beasties, it had become vital that I learned to embrace joy. To accept those beautiful, funny, sweet moments as worth receiving. Over the last year, I have smiled more, laughed a great deal. I've cuddled with my sweet children. Marveled openly at their amazing sparklingly selves. There are so many pictures of me smiling and laughing. It was a good year. A beautiful year. A year fulled of all the normal shit that just makes happy to be in this life with these people.
And the thing is that there was crap stuff too. I yelled too much and felt like a bad mom. A certain beastie boy became a teen and well I'll just leave it at that. I didn't lose any weight and used food more than ever as a drug. I was angry a great deal. I struggled with depression. There were WEEKS where I had to force myself to leave the house. I cried because I hated myself. All this happened in between the joy.
Here's what I figured out. Being joyful, embracing what is wonderful and beautiful in your life does not negate the shit stuff. It doesn't just vanish because you're happy. Yes sometimes, perhaps most of the time, the joy does make that shit stuff bearable. I could be happy and still have to wrestle with all my demons so to speak. Being joyful didn't make me less of a writer. It doesn't diminish me as a person. it doesn't make me dumber or smarter.
More importantly being joyful doesn't make me any less outraged. And this is important. For every bit of joy I allowed myself this year, there was an equal measure of being accused of being angry all the time. I was told to lighten up, to embrace life, to love not hate, and on and on. I chuckled every time because how ironic was it that the year I opened up to joy was also the year I reawakened my passion for social justice? You see, I am utterly outraged at the state our world. The lack of compassion we have for our fellow earthlings both human and nonhuman is frankly disgusting. The killing of innocents, and even of not innocents. The wars. The way we shit up our environment. The fact that people with disabilities are treated with so scorn, pity, and injustice. The killings of young Hispanic men. I could go on but I think you get the picture. The world, my dear readers, is fucked. And that pisses me off. It makes me angry enough to write and to yell and to demand change. I'm outraged enough to call senators on the phone (major phone phobia here). To travel to Atlanta in the middle of the summer with five kids. To go stand in the cold to support a mayoral candidate who had big dreams for our little town. The joy doesn't take away from the outrage.
In fact, I think the joy fuels the outrage. Because joy is a big thing. It's something that demands to be shared. When I feel this joy welling up inside me my urge isn't to damp it down but to let it come and to let it flow to others. The fact is that we all deserve joy and when we are denied the most basic of human rights we are also denied joy. And that is wrong. Period. So much of my own fear came from feeling undeserving and that speaks to a bigger problem than just my sad low self-esteem. What does it say about our world that we feel like you have to earn or deserve joy? Be warned that I'm about to get all mystical. Joy, I suspect, is a mystery. One of the great mysteries.We do not earn joy. We accept it. It comes to us like a gift.
"Do not look for rest in any pleasure, because you were not created for pleasure: you were created for joy. And if you do not know the difference between pleasure and joy you have not begun to live." Thomas Merton