I tell you this because, besides your father, you’re my closest friend. I’ll admit this is a heavy topic for a four month old. After all, you haven’t really figured out how to coo all that well yet, let alone in reply to anything. But you squeak like a chew toy and that’s just as good as any reply I’ve heard from any formal language speaking adult in my life.
Eliya, I think I’m depressed.
I think I have been for a while. I think I grew up on a steady diet of philosophies that revolve around an all-important greater good—family, loyalty, honest work—and personal happiness had no place in those philosophies. In the ethics of my father: making enough money to support your family is happiness. Content equals joy. Stability creates peace. Reliable money is the best bet to good mental health. The inundation of placating phrases that put other, intangible things above yourself equaled an entire life plan. A blueprint to making my family successful, and considering that enough to also call myself successful. And to be honest, Eliya, I still believe in those philosophies, because why abandon everything that got me so far.
But Eliya, I’m pretty sure I’m depressed.
Eliya, I pretty sure I’m depressed because in my world of “no personal happiness necessary,” where I did what I did for your father, where I moved where I did for work, where I put in the hours, but not the emotion, I think I lost something. Eliya, I lost any desire to talk to an Almighty that I spoke to my students about. Eliya, I lost my love of the novel and poetically sweet, but tragic stories. I sit on the couch and watch YouTube segments from Late Night Shows I won’t watch on TV because hashkafically I don’t—didn’t, I guess—agree with TV. I let my fairytales of being an intellectual in a metropolis wither and die because it took too much additional energy. It also took hope, and I wasn’t willing to let that myself be robbed of that again. Eliya, I lost my strength to be me because I was so caught up in being who I needed to when I needed to be, I couldn’t fathom the koach to be authentic after a full day’s work of inauthenticity.
Eliya, I’m pretty sure I’m depressed.
My depression built itself up slowly, slowly, like the mikvah that’s being built down the road. Eliya my depression snuck up on me because, between the excitement of all my life events stacked one on top of another in a neat little pile—graduation, marriage, a job, a baby—I was able to lose myself to the never-ending onslaught of events. Graduate college, get a job, get married the summer after graduation, have a baby… Do it all by 25 or risk being called an old hag.
In the modern Orthodox race of life, stacking one accomplishment on the next, it never occurred to me to be depressed. It never occurred to me to feel. It never occurred to me to resent where my life was heading until one night your father asked if I resented him. He, who represents all my responsibilities. He, who was the reason we moved here to begin with. He, who I worked so hard to make happy with gifts he never said he wanted anyway. Eliya your father asked me if I resented him. If I could resent him. I want to swear to you, Eliya, who has his face and his mild mannered temperament, that I could never resent him. I can’t. He’s given me so much joy in the face of everything. I could never resent something that beautiful, even if the beauty brought me accidental pain. And yet…
Eliya, I’m almost definitely depressed.
And I don’t want to be. There’s no inner artist archetype that thrives off my own internal tragedy. There’s no desire to rise like a phoenix from the ashes again and again. There’s no martyr complex. Eliya, I don’t want to be sad. But I am. Ima is sad. Every day, Ima has anxiety. She cries. She relies very heavily on Abba to weather ten, twenty minute storms at a time. Eliya, Ima only prays when she begs G-d and you to sleep, to smile, to be calm—to be anything but crying. And to your credit, and to the Guy Upstairs, you do. You smile at me the way your father does when I’m having one of my happy days, even when I’m not. You glow when you see me walk up, even when you’re disoriented from your nap and the tears on my face.
Eliya, you make me want to get help for my depression.
I will admit, I fell into a trap. I graduated college, left my friends in town, and moved somewhere because I thought all I needed in life was to support my family. To suck it up and do the work. I thought that surviving was living. I was wrong. My philosophies couldn’t be followed to their extremes. Eliya, I think I’m learning it’s okay to be selfish. And I’m letting myself not be okay. Because you can’t just give other people breaks, you have to give yourself them too. I want to see myself the way you and your father see me. I want to believe in myself the way you two do.
Eliya, you make me want to not be depressed.
You make me want to not be depressed because I want to be happy for you, for your father, for myself. I want to not feel crushing anxiety when I hear Abba walk out the door to go to work. I want you to grow up with a positive—in every sense—role model of a mother. I want to be in control of this dark monster that lurks around my mind, to get help to give it orders rather than it give me orders. I want that because I’d want you to get help, to have help, to continue to be helpful, if this ever arose in your life. Please Gd, it won’t. But if it does, I want you to know there are options. There are survivors. There are selfish people that still love you and would walk through fire for you.