When I was about 13, my best friend at the time and I memorized every word of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence.” We wrote down the words by playing, pausing and rewinding a cassette tape, which we had recorded by placing the tape deck beside the radio. Yes, I’m that old.
“Sound of Silence” became “our” song and to this day I remember every word of it. The haunting words appealed to our dramatic teenage angst and supported our growing realization that life could be sad simply from living. We had lots of big questions with no answers but it didn’t matter because delving into the questions made us feel mature and acutely aware that we were no longer kids. The song comforted us as we transitioned from childhood into no man’s land of pre-adulthood. At that time I never thought about the lyricist’s life experience that lay beneath the words of the song. Today I think particularly about the first verse:
“Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again”
I have lived with depression for most of my life and through the crests and valleys I understand how I must face this disease. This past year, I took on too much, got sick with a month long virus and together with the start of fall, I had the perfect storm for depression to pay me a visit. Depression, as reliable as ever, didn’t disappoint. At some point, when I was able, I shared with a new acquaintance the reason I had not responded to her email promptly – I called depression “my old friend.” With the best of intentions, because she is a lovely lady, she told me to never call depression my friend and that it is no part of me.
I have never felt the need to defend my perspective of my disease but here’s what I believe. Depression is a part of me – a big part. It has shaped the way I think about life, my family and my friends. I choose friends who accept me for all that I am, not for the best of me. It has made me a more empathetic person towards anyone suffering with anything, mental or physical. It has broadened my perspective of people, understanding that there is a place for everyone at life’s table. It has helped me be a better wife and parent (I hope) because I have become a good listener and kinder person.
I must make depression my friend or it will be my enemy and the more we hate something, the greater its power.
Depression is my old friend and I accept that it is a big part of me. It is not all of me, in the same way that people with other illnesses, mental or physical, don’t become their disease, so I don’t become mine. Acceptance, however, is key. Acceptance diminishes the impact of this disease immensely. With acceptance I lose shame. As a result, I can open up to new ideas and different ways to help myself. Most importantly, I can love myself.
So, depression, I will tend to you when you need me and when you are quiet I will keep you by my side in my warm, protective embrace, so that you can feel safe. I will not abandon you, my old friend.
At his wedding, my youngest son stood up to give his much anticipated speech. His reputation as a public speaker is well known and he didn’t disappoint. His two older brothers had spoken about his eccentricity and how, as much as they love him, he is the weirdest guy they know. Half way through his, on point, hilariously funny speech, he calmly addressed his brothers’ comments by walking to the centre of the dance floor, pulling down his pants and slowly mooning everyone, possibly performing the first ever groom-moon.
Along with many others, I gasped and I held my mouth, muffling the words – OMG. I can only describe what happened next as a piece of my life flashing before my eyes. I realized many things in a matter of seconds. Here they are:
I raised my kids to follow their truth, so put my money where my mouth is.
Just because I wouldn’t do it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.
This kind of humour makes him uniquely him and I love all of him.
Who cares what other people think.
My perception went from horrifying to hilarious in seconds and I laughed harder than anyone. Turned out the “moon” was hilarious to most and to those who weren’t amused – tough! I felt incredibly proud that I had raised a kid who could step away from the expected and be so okay with it. And seriously, is this any more risqué than string bikinis?
My quirky son is a paediatric resident and appreciates fully the frequent tragedy of life. He has more than his fair share of anxiety and holds onto a strong moral code, heading, each year, a Movember team – in great humorous spirit as his moustache growth is puny at best. His ability to find the fun in a life that so often feels overwhelmingly heavy is completely necessary so that when he has to, he can be his best.
Unlike others, I am privy to my son’s back-story. I don’t feel I have to explain to anyone why I am so proud of his “mooning” but I am doing so, as I believe the lesson to us all is to judge the actions of others less quickly and less harshly. My son would laugh at this last statement as one of the things he is fond of saying is “I judge people quickly and harshly with very little information!” Did I mention he’s hilarious?
Here’s a fact. Humans are capable of a full spectrum of feelings. So when we avoid the less comfortable ones or minimize their importance, we in essence understand less of ourselves.
Babies exhibit mostly negative feelings, intuitively understanding that these are the ones that will get the attention they need. Not to distract us from attending to their needs, babies hold back on smiling for four or more weeks. And a cry is not a cry. Parents, in particular mothers, can identify the reason their baby is crying by subtle changes in pitch, intensity etc. almost from birth. Crying can be from physical reasons like hunger, pain or a wet diaper or from emotional reasons like loneliness and needing a hug.
When our baby smiles for the first time, we do everything we can, short of standing on our heads, to get them to smile again. This is the moment when many parents, unintentionally, begin to focus on positive displays of emotion in an effort to keep their baby happy. Now when their baby cries they will do things to make them smile, rather than focus directly on the crying. This change is subtle but important as it sets us on a path where we focus less on negative emotions and more on positive ones. Many might ask, “Why is this a problem?”
There is a generally held belief that when we focus on our child’s negative emotions, we encourage negativity and pessimism. This is simply not true. When we teach our child to accept and deal with a negative emotion we help them understand what they are feeling and why. Children (and adults) need this information to resolve problems and to learn how to deal with similar situations in their future. When children (and adults) identify their negative feelings, face them and deal with them, they will be able to put them aside and embrace their happier emotions. Ignoring, avoiding or minimizing negative feelings, gives them a power that they neither need nor deserve.
When we focus on all of our child’s feelings, we see them as whole, and they will learn to see themselves in this way too. Life provides us with challenges and adversity with high predictability. Our child’s ultimate success and happiness depends not on the challenges that she faces, but on how she faces them. When we teach our child to give negative emotions equal status to their positive counterparts, we raise their emotional intelligence and give them the tools to reach their full potential.
When my oldest son was about eleven, fear of his mortality hit him like a ton of bricks. I did what I believed any loving parent should or could do. I lay under those bricks with him, barely able to breathe. For weeks my husband and I tried to console him but to very little avail. I would hear his running feet as they charged from his room to ours and my heart would lurch at the anticipation of what lay ahead. The tears streaming down his face would mimic my own internal ones coursing through my veins.
Through the clouded vision of my racing heart, I would tell him that he was too young to worry about death and that it was a long, long way away. I assured him that we too were healthy and would live long lives. In summary, in trying to fix his feelings of anxiety, I lovingly lied.
Unable to cope, we turned to a psychologist for help who, after interviewing my son, my husband and I, told me quite bluntly that my son would be fine but that I had a problem. These words were unwelcome but needed. I understood for the first time that my children were truly separate from me. My son’s demons were not mine to have or deal with. I would like to say that I became a better parent there and then but I didn’t. However, a seed had been planted and slowly my thinking and the way I approached parenting, changed.
Eighteen years later, my daughter faces a similar anxiety but I am happy to say that she is dealing with a different parent. I no longer give placatory untruths but instead allow her to feel what she wants to. Sometimes, she cries for a long time and I give her my time, my love and my arms. With every sob, I feel her strength grow and prepare her to face other adversities that life will most surely provide her.
I let her know that I understand how fearful she is and I sometimes share my own fears and tell her about her brother’s. I don’t take away her feelings as these are the very tools she needs to grow into a healthy adult. When we listen to our feelings, especially the uncomfortable ones, they become our emotional compass. We learn that we can steer our way through life by making our feelings work for us and not against us. When we understand what we feel even in the most adverse situations, we can choose courage, persistence and acceptance over helplessness and its close partner in crime, free-floating anxiety.
Hi, I'm Marsha, mother of four, grandmother of one (soon to be three). If anyone could be called an expert on my children it would be me, but I am certainly not an expert on your's. Parenting is a relationship, one that requires us to connect our unique personality with our child’s so that we can create the best possible environment for healthy development. This website offers ways to help parents make the most of this special relationship so that they can raise happy, emotionally intelligent and successful children.