Peppermint tea, tunnels, tears

“I need you better.”
Say what you will about the somewhat universally detested word “moist”, this phrase kills me. The irony being that I’ve used it in speaking to someone with depression too. We are not immune from the helpless feeling just because we understand deeply what depression feels like. “I need you better” has more desperate weight to it when coming from a person who also suffers. Depression for the depressed is like cold germs and easily passed to each other. The mood volley in this house has been relentless. I don’t remember what it’s like to live in a happy home.

This isn’t to sound melodramatic; it is the truth. I’m sat in bed with my laptop trying desperately to get out some thoughts. I have been struggling particularly hard with depression all week. This morning, I showered, but without any ability to stand in the cubicle. I washed myself slowly, huddled in the corner, feeling numb. After emerging, I dried, and went to lay down, feeling unwell in my stomach. I was unable to think.

Pete sat next to me. I was naked, on my stomach, being asked what’s wrong, talk to me, and me only able to say “I don’t know” before tears. Gentle words “take the day off” and “I need you better” soon followed.

I need me better, too. It’s just not very straightforward. It’s almost like being in a tunnel and you know there’s going to be an end, but the tunnel is still under construction and length keeps getting added to it. I was thinking about pedestrian walkways in tunnels in Spain and how there’s a sign with the distance in metres to the end. For me, the number doesn’t seem to be decreasing as I move forward. I have countless hundreds of metres to go before I reach better.

I have lived with depression and depressed persons all my life. My mother, my former husbands, Pete. There must be something that draws us to one another, perhaps out of a need for understanding, perhaps an unconscious want to help someone else cope with a thing you know well, I don’t know, but there is an attraction.

It can be a difficult relationship, living and loving when there is depression in both individuals. Depression becomes cyclical between co-habiting people, like passing a yawn, but at least both parties understand where the other is coming from. In this situation, unlike – I imagine – what it’s like to live with someone without depression, “I need you better” is not so much a pep talk but a plea. Like asking to put pressure on a bleeding wound for the greater good. I need you better, because we need to stop the bleeding for us both. It is not selfish to not want to be next; it’s wanting to reach the end of the tunnel and emerge in sunlight.

After crying a bit, I was still laying on my bed unable to move. I thought about writing to hopefully purge some of the darkness, get my brain working. I gathered the strength to ask for a pair of panties from the clean laundry basket across the room, my laptop, and a peppermint tea (for my queasy belly). Now, I’m dressed, warm, and typing. I am still hurting.

But it’s a start.

Life isn’t an IKEA catalogue

Oh, but wouldn’t it be nice. The drawers, the natural light pouring in from large windows, house plants, the scattered cushions, the just-right level of mismatched-but-perfectly-quirky patterns and colours… No clutter, except for the photogenic kind. Adore it all as I do, I realise I will never have an IKEA catalogue home, and I’ve just become OK with it. I even recently used my collection of IKEA catalogues as stove fuel. I had around fifteen years of those on my bookshelf like they were precious yearbooks of design. Not anymore.

A friend “liked” a post on Facebook by a mum who nearly but didn’t send an apology to a friend for the state of her house before that friend was due over for a coffee. She realised that having the clutter, chaos, stains, yesterday’s makeup on, and a funky smelling house was part of life itself. She decided to be unapologetic for living. I find myself in the same boat at times, living in a too-small house, where two people with lots of stuff work and live.

Life at Penwarren is tricky. Our kitchen is a terrible design and difficult to keep clean on the best of days. We have no living room because it was sacrificed to become my studio. The office is a small, cluttered space of computers, a couple comfy chairs (in lieu of a sofa) facing gaming TVs, and a bunch of necessary hardware and toolboxes for Pete’s occupation as a tech wizard. The junk of life spills into every available space here like water through a cracked cup. And you know what?
It’s OK.

So next time someone comes over, I’m not apologising for the state of the house. It’s not a biohazard, it usually smells nice (we love incense), and I’ll clear a spot for coffee cups. This is a working environment and a living home. Life is not tidy, and I’d get nothing done if it was. Not to say I wouldn’t like a bigger house, but I’m grateful for what I have right now and all the creative thought it takes to work *with* my environment, not against it.

Who needs a sofa anyway.

Papaw used to sit for hours

It’s days like today when I think I know what my Papaw went through. He was my grandpa, my mom’s dad, and though never diagnosed professionally, had serious depression. He would sit at the kitchen table for hours – most of the day, most days – and not speak to anyone. He could go days without more than briefly grunted answers to my cheery grandma’s questions regarding meals. He’d sit and sit and sit.

I used to stay with my grandparents often. Weekends, stretches of days, or week-long visits during summer. When I was very young, grandma (a decade younger than Papaw), was still working and so I was left with my papaw till she got home from the factory. Papaw mostly just let me go play and do whatever I wanted; they lived in a converted one room schoolhouse, surrounded by fields and approached by a gravel road that was oil sprayed once or twice every year to keep down the dust.

Growing up an only child kept me imaginative. I loved staying at Grandma and Papaw’s. I made Hot Wheels roads in their gravel drive, found toads to play with, and always had time to draw. There were two rules: No going up the ladder in their small barn, and no going on the disused front porch for fear I’d fall through the rotten boards. I, of course, would creep around both when I was sure I wouldn’t get caught; what kid wouldn’t?

Papaw had his better times. When those lighter moods would strike, we’d sit and have Etch-a-Sketch drawing competitions (which often started with complicated brick walls and moving to the challenge of circle drawings), solve Rubik’s Cubes (he was so good at those!), and do jigsaw puzzles. We’d also read, do crosswords and word searches, and occasionally listen to baseball games on the radio. Sometimes, if he was feeling particularly good, we’d get in his old pickup truck and go grocery shopping.

We always got along perfectly; I knew when to leave him alone, and he me. We had nicknames too: I was Sharkey, and he was Murph. I can’t recall where Murph came from, but mine was because I was on a Myrtle Beach vacation with my mom and dad, merrily building a sand castle, when the whole rest of the beach rushed to the water’s edge shouting about a shark. No matter how loudly I was summoned to have a look at the nearly beached creature, I was deeply hyper-focusing on my castle building task. I missed the whole thing. (I now know this was an early instance of ADHD.) So, Papaw called me Shark(e)y – which he spelled with an ‘e’ and that’s fine by me.

Papaw – born: Silas Garfield Clapp – never saw a doctor or dentist in his life until his deathbed in a hospital. He was born at home, and I wish he’d had the option to die there too. No psychiatrist had ever had a crack at him, and so it’s only my family that knows how deeply depressed he was. My mother had it as bipolar. I have it as bipolar tendencies with dominant ADHD. Every generation evolved a little. Every generation suffering.

It’s no secret that I’ve struggled with depression for decades, but even more acutely after the death of my mom in 2010. I come up for air when I can, but I am sitting here typing this because I don’t know what else to do today. I’ve done some work, I’ve cried, and I’ve sat still just like Papaw.

I take medication for my ADHD but not for depression. In the past (in the US) I was on a different medication and my Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and that management kept depression away, mostly. The available medicine here in the UK is less effective, but still helps the ADHD. The difference, however, means that fighting depression is much more difficult. Add that to mourning, a divorce, and trying to make a living as an artist and you can perhaps see why I struggle.

But I’m not writing this to ask for understanding, pity, or advice. Not in this post, and typically, I’m not that kind of person anyway. I’m writing because I wanted to tell you a little about my Papaw, whom I still miss fiercely though he died in the 90s. I miss his daughter, Virginia, too, though I haven’t written a Letters to Mom in a long time.

Papaw, I understand. And I know that just sitting for awhile is ok.

sharing too much since 2003