I stepped over to my manager’s cube and announced my depression. It occurred to me yesterday morning before heading into work, all slumped against my pillow with TODAY and a mug of coffee, that this persistent weight of sadness even Hoda can’t cheer away is simple, unmistakable, good ole fashioned “feeling depressed.”
And searching for a substitute for that word to avoid repetition I realize how perfectly descriptive that word is, depressed: I’m a tongue and the thin wooden paddle of life is squishing me, causing me to gag and my eyes to water. My spirit, the lever of me, is being pushed into submission. I am dispirited. I’m pressed. Down.
I’ll be fine. I’ve felt worse. It’s just that one of those normal life passages that pass for loss looms. My sweet little bird—my second and final—is about to fly from the nest. I realize that this is not a tragedy, but I am more than sad. “You’ve done this before, with your boy,” you say, and you’re right. But that was different. Due to a host of challenges, poor lad, the weeks and months leading up to his departure knotted me up in worry more than sadness.
He was the first, and I ached for him and still miss him when he’s gone, but this one’s so final. This one marks the empty nest milestone and all that comes with it. (When Mayo Clinic offers coping tips, it’s real.) I feel downright depressed, though mildly enough to have energy to seek ways to fight it, thank goodness.
So since my boss, whose only child has been away at college in another state for two years, seems not to be suicidal, I decided to confide in her. “I’m depressed,” I said beneath the office glare, “because Grace is leaving for college in less than three weeks.” I went to her thirsty for some sage perspective, which she offered freely. She gently reminded me of a well-tested device. “Make a list,” she said, “of what you have to be thankful for. Try to focus on all the good things about the situation.” This experienced mama bird was prescribing gratitude.
A List of Good Things About Now, or My Attempt at Gratitude
- I have the luxury of dreading my little girl’s departure purely because I will miss her and not because I am worried. I feel assured that she is in a good place, every indication that she is ready to launch.
- She was accepted into the honors program and will be living in a spankin’ new residence hall (with AC!) with other honors students at a well respected institution of higher learning. This is a very good thing.
- She likes her assigned roommate.
- My girl will “only be an hour away” by car. But here’s the thing: she could be a two-hour plane ride away, and the everyday reality of my house is the same—she will not be in her room cuddling our cat, on the couch beside me watching TCM, playing her guitar on the screened porch. No more impromptu “belly walks” around the block or binge-watching Nashville (poor Deacon). But the point of this list is to practice gratitude—so okay, I can get there or she get can get home within an hour if she needs anything (or if I need her). I am thankful for that.
- My daughter and I have a relationship that is sweet enough to miss. She and I have a kinship it never even occurred to me to wish for. I didn’t know this quality of mother-daughter closeness could exist. She’s a dear friend, my most fun pal. Her presence is sunshine and light. I want to be more like her when I grow up. If I say more now, I will cry and not stop.
- Sadness impelled me to write this blog post, the first in two years.
- Technology. My sage supervisor recently used FaceTime to coach her daughter through cleaning a room fan. With the magic of a video phone, separated by 800 miles they conquered a household task together. When I was three states away in college, I had to rely on handwritten letters and long-distance calls on a wall phone. Grace’s and my smart phones will easily connect us. I will still have access to that sweet face and can hear daily details of her life as often as she allows, and will also be available to her when she needs me.
- She seems excited to go. In two months she has gone through her own stages of grief—from bummed about not getting into her top choice, to confusion over the leftovers, to defeatist about where she decided to go, to ambivalence, to acceptance, to enthusiasm enough to design and construct her own tassel-embellished bedspread. This is huge and it all has been a wonder to watch.
- I have a daughter at all. God let me be her mom, to live 18 years with this girl. She is a miracle, a dream, and everything good my heart ever longed for. She’s healthy, happy, sweet, kind, smart, and motivated to go forth and fulfill her potential. This is the best case scenario of parenting.
- My boss. She is pretty cool, and she is a friend.
I’m still a wee bit depressed, and I probably will be for the next few months at least. But if smiling can fool a brain into thinking it’s happy, then listing the good things about my baby bird leaving the nest may well fool me into acceptance. (Or at least get me to Thanksgiving.)