“Is this what adulthood is?” I asked my husband the other night. “Just wanting to sleep and eat ice cream all the time?”
“No,” he replied, not looking up. “That’s depression.”
“And not being motivated to do anything because you’re like, ehh, it just doesn’t matter?”
I thought for a minute and replied, “Nope. That can’t be it. I’m on the highest dose of Zoloft you can give a person. I mean, if I was a horse, I could probably take more. I don’t know if horses can take Zoloft. I’m kind of like a horse. I spook easily. Also, I really like oats. I know we don’t talk about this much, because the occasion never seems to come up, but I really like oats. Anyway, I can’t possibly be depressed on all that medication. And I’m not willing to entertain the idea that it’s not working, because I’m not going through weaning and trying new meds. Fuck that noise.”
“Easy, Biscuit,” he said, using my horse name.
I’ve written about this depression stage before. When I’m in it, I always have some awareness that things aren’t right. For one thing, I’m angry all the time, at everything and everyone. I’m not motivated to write. I can’t see the point in anything. I can’t feel anything. I can feel love for my son, but not for anyone else. I know intellectually that I love them, but I can’t feel it. And then I realize that Pete Yorn’s cover of “Splendid Isolation” has been playing on a loop for several days. It’s the only song I want to hear. I don’t want to see their faces; I don’t want to hear their screams.
Most people with mood disorders struggle in the fall and winter. I’m more likely to struggle in the spring and summer. The tendency, I think, is in no small part related to the academic year. I’m worn out. The kids and I have been together for months, and we’re all grating on each other. And yet, at the same time, I’m preparing myself for the inevitable loss the end of each school year brings.
Once I sat down to write about why I got separation anxiety in all my relationships, why I’d dissolve into tears watching a lover drive away. I wrote, The little endings are rehearsals for the big endings.
It doesn’t matter that my kids will be in the same school next year, or that technology keeps us all so well-connected now. Because when the school year ends, something vital ends as well. Each of my classes has its own culture. I may see a student here and there, but we will never be together exactly this way again. Next year, A. won’t wander by at lunchtime, looking for food; B. won’t sit at the back desk and sing Disney songs while he works; no one will write sentences about the ice cream man abducting little Jimmy. I will stop putting my hand on J.’s head to calm him down, as if he were an agitated bird; L’s smile will not greet me reliably at 8:42.
It’s time. We’re growing tired of one another. But the thought of it leaves me teary. They’ll walk—no, run—out on the last day and I’ll realize I haven’t said the hard things, the things I’ve wanted to say. How will they know I loved them?
Some years I cry; other years I don’t cry at all. This will be a crying year. I will want to be alone. I will probably skip the faculty whoop-de-doo and instead, wander about the house feeling extremely sad.
No doubt my end-of-year sadness is heightened by this bout of depression I’ve been having lately. But I can’t imagine how teachers don’t feel a little lost and despondent on the last day of school. I used to think it was much worse for me before I had a family. I knew I’d be spending most of the coming weeks alone, and even though I was looking forward to the rest and renewal, I’d miss the daily interaction with my kids. Now that I do have a family, I can’t say it’s much different. My students have their own place, and saying goodbye to them is its own loss, not really mitigated by the presence of other relationships.
This week, my blogiversary and teacher evaluation happened on the same day, and as I left my conference floating on words of praise, I thought of my first post three years ago. I thought of “Most Likely to Succeed,” and how much shame and angst I’ve always felt that I never lived up to the title. If this isn’t success, I thought—this being a part of a community, loving and being loved, helping to make other people’s lives better—then what is?
But that isn’t what people meant when they expected you to “succeed,” said the meany inner critic.
Another voice countered: How do you know it isn’t?
I always felt hopelessly disconnected from everyone in high school, and yet maybe those near-strangers saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.
My writing goals are still pretty fuzzy, but as I type, I feel that teary relief welling up: I exist. I have a voice. The rest is just details.