On Offering Hope Through Silence
“Hey mom, I figured out why the bike motor was running so crappy.”
His tall frame fills the doorway, fleece hat perched on his head, covering the tips of his ears. He’s smiling at me.
“Because the piston was hitting the spark plug.”
His words hang in the air, as I search my mind for a smart reply. I can’t visualize a piston or a spark plug. Nor do I understand how they could hit each other. From the bottom of the basement stairs, all I notice is the sunlight peeking around his body and his smile.
A smile after days around a hospital bed shedding tears over a depression he doesn’t understand. Squeezing the hands of the girl he loves, then later answering my questions with a word or two followed by silence. It’s a comfortable silence we are accustomed to.
He’s always been a guy of few words. He talks about concrete facts, physical problems fixed by troubleshooting and hard work. The topics of our conversations revolve around dirt bikes and motors, not feelings. From early on it was obvious that his personality differed from mine. By five, he was pulling out wires from old toys and connecting them to batteries. All stuff that I have never, not even once in my life, considered doing. I put stuff together out of necessity, but I suck at it. I usually screw it up, and it always takes me double the time of what it would take him.
But now he’s lovestruck, and in his black and white world, I’m not sure that he understands that he can’t fix her. I’m not sure that he realizes he grew up with a mother, desperately and privately, battling her own depression.
Over the years, while he was tinkering in the garage, I’d be hiding away, crying into my journal or unable to get out of bed. Wiping my eyes and forcing a smile to acknowledge his latest creation. As stability entered my life, I thought I could protect him from the struggle of loving someone with depression. Then he fell in love.
We spend days like this, small talk and sitting together in silence. I gently remind him of our own family’s bouts of depression.
“Yeah, I know that.”
I tell him that sometimes people feel overwhelmed and they swallow pills for relief. He says, “Yeah, I don’t understand that.”
Then I’m tongue-tied. How does someone understand another’s depression? How do teens who aren’t inclined towards that disposition, view sadness, cutting, and overdoses? While I’m grateful that my son may navigate life without battling depression and anxiety, it’s hard for me to explain how it feels to him.
At his age, I was scratching all the skin off my arms. Scratching and scratching. I couldn’t stop. I saw a string of family practitioners, each visit awkward and unhelpful. The last doctor gave me a bottle of sleeping pills. A night or two went by, then I threw the entire bottle out. I knew I couldn’t have access to something like that, feeling like I did.
But I don’t tell him that. I don’t tell him that my struggle neither began or ended during my teenage years. That hormones, menstrual cycles, childbirth, and genetics caused problems and required adjustments. Adjustments that took time with uncertain outcomes. I don’t tell him that there’s no easy fix.
He rearranges his schedule to spend every moment at her hospital bed. He brushes off my attempts to talk about it. I spend a lot of time, sitting on his bed. Thinking about what I want to say or should say and asking him if he has any questions. He changes the subject and starts talking about selling his dirt bike, followed by a bunch of mechanic-like jargon, that I don’t follow.
So I say nothing.
Jessica Elliott is a freelance writer with a professional background in the restaurant and hospitality, trucking, and public housing industries. She’s a blog contributor and research associate at 816 NYC. Her parenting articles appear in Grown & Flown, Pregnant Chicken, and Scary Mommy. She writes, gardens, and enjoys life with her two teenagers, toddler, three dogs, and cats on her Midwest acre. Find tips on productivity and organization for the solo entrepreneur on her blog and connect with her on Twitter.
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