I like talking to my sons in the car. I control how loud the radio is. They can’t run away. We can talk without looking at each other. I don’t shy away from the difficult conversations. We’ve talked about the divorce, Dad and Mom dating other people, wet dreams, racism, abuse and homophobia. A lot of times I talk and they listen. On really good days, they ask questions and tell me their thoughts.
I was dropping them off at school when the radio station started discussing 13 Reasons Why, the Netflix series. This was one of those moments I embraced as a moment to face them in honesty and openness, hoping they would gain clarity, and started by asking what they know about it.
Kid1 knew the basic story. I admitted that I had binge watched the whole shebang over a couple of days. It draws you in, but not in a responsible way. I had to point out a few things that I felt needed to be pointed out and I’m giving you the benefit of that talk.
First we talked about our own experiences. I started with theirs. My older two sons were taken by ambulance from school after telling their teachers they wanted to kill themselves. As hard as that was, I’m grateful they talked to adults they could trust. They made the choice to verbalize their feelings and we were able to support them by getting help. It’s the kind of experience that shakes a family up. My younger kids learned from what the oldest did, but I hope to teach my kids from what I know.
Depression isn’t a life sentence. We are given coping skills by example from our parents. If I learn how to navigate depression, being self aware with self love and amazing coping skills, they could learn from me. It’s possible to break a family cycle of anything but if it’s to be done, it has to be done by me. I don’t get to sit this one out and hope they float. You don’t just survive life after the existence that I have had. You thrive, you take names with your notes, and you hold the hands of those looking for guidance.
Back to my boys . . . We talked about the series. This was a book and a work of fiction. Suicide is permanent and discussing it with my kids, it’s important for me to remember those teen years when everything was immediate and there was no real concept of permanence. For my own memories, what lasted a few weeks or months seemed to be the end of the world and lasted the rest of my life. At least until the next big thing to shake me to my core.
Suicide never gives a person as much control or power as Hannah (from the series) had. You have nothing in death. Even martyrs have no power, as the control of the movement is carried on by the living. Hannah’s revenge plot was carried out by the living.
This doesn’t negate the power of what she endured. The reality of some of that story is a reality for many teens. The takeaway I wanted my kids to understand is that should they choose to watch it, they needed to pay attention to the fact that Hannah doesn’t take ownership of her situation or her reaction. She blames everyone else for a choice she made on her own.
When I watched it, the part that didn’t fit for me was her depression. She was sad. She was alienated and targeted. Was she depressed? My depression has looked like a desire to stay in bed and be isolated. She wanted to be around others. My appetite was affected and at the end of the series, I couldn’t relate to her. The finality of her choice looked nothing like the times I debated “to be or not to be.” It looked like she stepped outside of deciding to end her life, and made her death a revenge plot. In depressed states, I rarely thought about anyone but me. I wasn’t capable of it. I wasn’t able to look outside of the immediate moment and onto a moment in the next hour, let alone 13 tapes later.
I was open and honest with my kids about my experience. I told them about the time I was hospitalized for my first suicide attempt at 14. It wasn’t about being held by the hospital so I wouldn’t hurt myself. I was hospitalized for an overdose of Tylenol and they kept me until they were able to get me stable. I told them about getting help then. I told them about getting help for the baby blues when my firstborn was a few months old. I described pushing Kid1 in a stroller to see my therapist because I needed help. I reminded them about the period when my middle son was facing severe depression the first time. I was also taking care of their Dad’s late Uncle’s affairs. To me, family means commitment and duty. I had only met this Uncle a handful of times, but when it was time to take care of his remains and spending weeks on end to clear out his apartment, I was the only family willing to do so. I was overwhelmed and unable to spend time with a therapist of my own, so I sought help with my general practitioner and she put me on antidepressants. It was what I needed until I was able to safely care for my own emotional needs. The lesson was that I got help and I kept getting help.
I also told my sons about what I’m feeling now. I told them how hard it was to lose my children in a miscarriage. I told them I’m not ready to release their ashes but it’s something we will do soon. I explained that I cry when I need to and get space when I need to. I’ve been gardening and baking and shopping because this is my version of self care. I write and cry and sing out loud because this is how I heal. I start a new position in Santa Monica tomorrow and I will be near the ocean and find peace with the sounds and smell. All this means I’m not okay, but I will be and it gets better each day. It helps to be self aware which is something I am still learning. It helps to know what is something I need to work through and what is something that comes from other people.
I explained that I don’t get to blame others for what I feel. Maybe I’m a strong person and that means others take it for granted that I can handle everything. Maybe I’m so hated that others like to kick me when I’m down. Maybe the idea of losing a child is something that makes others face that fear on their own and that makes people uncomfortable. There were three specific moments right after my miscarriage that I felt like being alone were better options.
The day after I found out I had miscarried was a Thursday. I was walking around, knowing my twins had stopped living inside of me. I felt so trapped and betrayed by my body. It felt like my heart was fractured and my belly felt heavy and burdened instead of light and filled with hope and life. I was trapped in my home and my skin. I went for a walk through Chinatown to escape my thoughts. I was called and then called out for not helping someone else through my grief. I explained that my boyfriend and I were helping each other through it all and I was told, “who is helping me?” For a moment I felt like I was wrong for focusing on healing with my boyfriend as they were our kids. I worked through the anger and realised I wasn’t wrong in doing what we needed to in order to get through what we had to get through. I wasn’t responsible for how others needed to face our loss.
The day after the abortion I didn’t want, I was called by someone else and told I was so hated that this person couldn’t find empathy for me, and somehow I was supposed to make this person feel better. I was putting him in an awkward position, somehow. I was packing away my maternity clothes that no longer fit and ultrasounds that were no longer a focus of hope. In my grief, I was preparing for my boyfriend and my sons to come home. In a rare moment I was trapped in a feeling that I hadn’t known in months or maybe a year. I was manipulated and made to feel bad by someone that no longer matters in my life. It took a while to separate what was grief and what was irrelevant so I could move on. When I felt the power of my grief removed from the pain of someone else’s expectation, I felt peace. I know I couldn’t have controlled what happened and I was dealing appropriately with what we were given. I felt peace in knowing I wasn’t being unreasonable but the call I took was.
On Monday, not yet a week from the news, I was making calls to have my babies cremated and I was expected to stop that to help someone else with everyday life. I did. I managed to function outside of my expectations and do what I was asked. I needed time to myself and to take care of my children but outside life rarely allows you the space you need. I was intentional with responding to the situation and not reacting the way my heart wanted me to.
I am accountable for how I choose to react or respond.
I am worthy of loving myself. Self love when angry, sad, or hurt. I am worthy of it.
I am not expected to take care of others, although it is nice to know I can because I’m a strong woman.
I can separate my feelings from those imposed on me.
I can ask for help.
I hope that at the end of the day my kids can learn from my experiences and know that there is help and hope and a future through depression. You get to live and in living through your pain and finding the rainbows through the storms, you get to help others. It’s a gift. I don’t hate 13 Reasons Why. I’m grateful for the conversation it started.
As of now, I’m still involved in self care and my family is loving the gluten free red velvet cakes I keep baking. My yard looks nicer than it has and in a few weeks we’ll have fresh veggies warm from the sun. And I’m still here.