Just a few years ago, I had a prestigious job title, I was making more money than I ever thought I’d make, I had recently purchased a new house in a popular part of Atlanta, I was making use of my PhD on a daily basis, and because of where I worked, I had an excellent place to send my kids to school. I was fulfilling my purpose as an American, adult head of the house – I was taking care of my family, and even if I wasn’t always in the best frame of mental or emotional health, in a tangible sense, I was a success.
Then I got unceremoniously fucked by a cosmic elephant.
Sorry, was that crass? Well, I’m not sorry actually. That’s what it’s felt like. Correction…feels like.
I no longer have a prestigious job: I pressure wash and stain decks. That’s about all I have the mental and emotional energy for most days. And I’m trying to start a non-profit but don’t have much to show for it yet. My PhD is useless. No one, when choosing a stain color, has asked to see my diploma. I don’t even make enough money to even support myself, meaning that a lot more pressure is on my wife, who has never had to work until recently. This week, my kids started school at a place that is, well, the sort of school that most snobby, upper-middle-class people like us move away from when it comes time for kids to start school. Sad, but true.
And with all this “failure” in my life, I have spent a lot of time feeling like such a waste of human flesh. Like so many mentally ill people, I tell myself that my family and friends would be better off without me. I don’t just say this to myself; I genuinely believe it, no matter how hard they try to convince me otherwise. The brutal truth is that everything I’ve been taught to believe should give me my self-worth has been taken away.
Lately, though, I’ve decided, for giggles, to actually try and implement something a therapist recently told me: “Think about what you can do, not what you can’t do. Start from scratch, Tim.”
I argued: “There’s nothing I can do! All I want to do is lay in bed. When I get out of bed, I’m angry and sad. I’m useless!”
Still, I tried.
For me, a lot of my negative mental energy focuses on how much better I’d like to do as a father and husband. Being in my house is the cause of tremendous anxiety and depression because I feel like everywhere I look is a sign of my failure – a to do list item I still haven’t done; a dishwasher that a better husband would empty; a kid’s game that a better father would play for hours on end.
But lately, when one of those failures rears its head, I try to just remind myself of this: “I’m still here.” Meaning…I’m not dead; I haven’t done the unthinkable thing that would wound my wife and children irreparably.
I’m still here, meaning my wife still has a partner, and whether I am ever able to help her as much as I want to or not, she assures me that she’s glad I’m still here. Rather than tell her she’s wrong for wanting me around, perhaps I will try to take her at her word that she wants me to stay put.
I’m still here, meaning my kids, who can’t even cognitively grasp that things might be otherwise, see my face every day and get a good morning and goodnight hug and kiss. My own father traveled for weeks at a time, and I remember how comforted I was when he came home, for no other reason than that it was another adult in the house. That’s all I needed or wanted. I may never be Ward Cleaver, but maybe it’s enough just to be a staple in their lives. Maybe I don’t have to coach the baseball team or stay up all night for the sleepover. Perhaps just continuing to exist is a good-enough start.
And that’s it. That’s the big aha for this post: I’m still here. It doesn’t feel like enough…for the post or for daily life. But the more I remind myself that this is all I have for now, and that nobody gets to tell me that I have to be something more or something else, the more it feels like a good starting-over point.
Friends, TKWANA is officially a 501(c)(3) organization! Its aims are to 1. encourage 2. educate and 3. connect people with mental illnesses and their supporters. Beyond blogging, podcasting, and speaking, I ultimately hope to develop a small-group model for those with mental illnesses – something not too different from what AA is for alcoholics. If you see the value in this endeavor, please consider sharing TKWANA with your Facebook friends or with someone in particular who might need it. Also, in the weeks to come, I will be starting to accept donations that will further the reach of TKWANA. I hope you’ll consider contributing in due time. Thank you!
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