Home > Health, Mental Health, parenting > Two Sides of the Same Coin

Two Sides of the Same Coin

I am back  from this unplanned hiatus.  While “away” from the blog, I wrestled with the concept and the reality of that overwhelming busyness that pushes you from one thing to the next thing to the one hundredth thing without ever giving you a chance a stop. I realized that this state of busyness might never stop on its own, that it might be me who has to stop it.  It was only I couldn’t stop it because I couldn’t decide on what exactly  to eliminate from my life. After all, I wanted to keep every single particle so, consequently, I kept being busy. I neglected this blog, but I knew that neglect was temporary.  And, of course, I am back…

In the meantime, I turned forty. My son turned three three days after I turned forty. We celebrated and blew candles and realized nothing really changed. We kept living the same life we were living before.

In the time I was away, a few things caught my attention.  One of them was a Time magazine article titled “Should Depressed People Avoid Having Children?“.  In the article, Sarah Silverman said she opted not to have biological children in order to avoid passing her mental problems on her kids.

I understand this point of view so well and I absolutely respect it. But I feel compelled to talk about mine, slightly different, point of view and my choice to still have a kid.

No, I don’t suffer from depression. Only twice in my life had I suffered from a several-months-long bout of depression. The first time I truly believed in the power of the depression monster. I didn’t connect it to the circumstances in my life, such as inability to get out of and get rid of the monstrous institution of the University of Belgrade with or without a diploma, or my father’s death. At some point, my depression and I became one. I became incapable of seeing myself separate from my depression. Then, suddenly, I saw a way out of the University of Belgrade. I reconciled with my father’s death and continued to grieve for him in a way that was not destructive. My depression was  gone within a day. I was myself again, sad at times, but definitely not in the claws of depression.

The second time I suffered from depression I was already familiar with the term “situational depression.” I felt stuck in a bad relationship, and I knew that once I got myself out of the situation, I would be just fine. This understanding made a big difference. I felt possessed by the same monster most of the time in those few months, but I had moments of lucidity when I knew that I only needed to find enough energy to change my situation in order to bounce back to my normal self.

Today I believe I am just not the depressive type. But I also know that the chemistry of my brain is peculiar, and that like Sarah Silverman, I probably carry the genes that are not ideal (or may be good to have only if you are blessed to grow up in a healthy and nurturing environment, as the Time magazine article explains). I am heavily ADD, and I suffer from anxiety.

The first twenty-five years of my life I doubt I had even heard of either one of these conditions. They were not part of my “knowledge base,” they were not part of my language. I was deeply aware of the fact that there was something different, something peculiar about how my mind worked, but, I always thought, that was just me, the difficult me, the persistent and overall  extremely responsible  me who was severely late all my life (but somehow managed to get away with severe lateness all through high school, college, employment), messy (but extremely bothered by it and ready to invest incredible amounts of time in ineffective tidy-up efforts and systems of organizations that always failed), with the extreme inability to focus on so many things out there and obsessive focus on certain things of interest…I could go on and on.

Once I added ADD and anxiety to my vocabulary,  things became easier. At least a little bit. Knowledge gives us this ability to step into the shoes of an outsider when we are at our worst and let our mind guide us and calm our seemingly uncontrollable emotions. Oh, this is my ADD, I frequently say to myself, or, OK, I am anxious, and I am babbling, maybe I just need to shut up and take a breath, or step outside, or think about this later. Whatever words  of comfort I offer to myself in those moments when I am feeling my world is falling apart, they make me feel more calm than I would be if I were blindly stumbling through the dark.

Have I significantly changed since the labels, such as ADD and anxiety, entered my vocabulary? Not really.  Yeah, years ago I tried to change some of my annoying habits, failing to see how closely these “simple” habits were related to the workings of my brain. For example, I tried so hard to train myself to put my keys, my coat, and my purse to their designated places the moment I came back to my apartment. I was hoping that if I did this consistently for several weeks I would develop a new habit of putting at least some stuff away as I go instead of leaving everything everywhere and then having to look for things or spending hours putting stuff away when the mess I created became intolerable. Did I manage to change my habits? Not really. Once I stopped concentrating so hard on these “simple” tasks, I immediately reverted to the old habits.

I still spend at least an hour a week looking for my keys (my son’s obsession with keys doesn’t help). At least once a week I lock myself out and ask my dear neighbor who has a copy of the key to my house to let me in. When I can’t find a single comb in the house, I just don’t comb my hair or Andrei ‘s hair (Michael is trying to accept the fact that things in our house move, but he is really having difficulty accepting the fact that at least twice a week he won’t be able to find a single comb in the house). Things in the kitchen migrate daily, and I rarely notice that they do, but Michael says he’s given up on looking for things and his new strategy is to simply call me to come find whatever is missing while being resigned to the fact that some things may be temporarily or permanently gone.

Now, on a brighter side, I have been doing  work that requires exceptionally high levels of organization for years, and I have been pretty good at it (I have also  been pretty lucky to work for employers who didn’t mind the fact that I could rarely show up for work before ten o’clock as they knew that I would never work less than eight hours and that I would always be willing to stay longer if needed) But, I guess, my work will never be as large and intricate as my everyday life. Managing my everyday life, not planning to do in three hours what might take three days, finding my comb and my keys, not forgetting my backpack somewhere when I am out, managing to stop whatever I am doing ON TIME so I can get ready to get to some other place ON TIME – these are the things that tend to make my life difficult.

My husband is ADD as well, but he seems to be strong in the areas where I am at my worst and vice versa. He will never leave a comb or toothpaste at a place different from the designated one, but his mess of a desk can definitely not compare to my neatly organized work folders.  He rarely has to look for his keys, but I ‘d definitely never count on him to pay the bills on time, which I actually do.

We have a three-year-old son. At this point, we try not to analyze too much. Andrei is very impulsive (how many three-year-olds aren’t?) and is either very focused on whatever he is doing (God forbid you don’t allow him to finish what he is intent on finishing) or he is absolutely incapable of focusing on the activity at hand even if he likes it. He was not very happy in the strictly structured environment of his music class, and we have yet to see how he will like his preschool.

So many of these traits we attribute to his age. Oh, the short attention span, and his wonderful imagination, the multitude of his imaginary friends, and the possibilities he sees – we just like to keep in mind that he is only three. His sensitivity, I believe, is there to  stay. As is his impulsivity. The rest, we will see.

Sometimes I joke with my husband, What are Andrei’s chances of being “normal”? Of not having these “orchid” genes (as the Time magazine article refers to them), this imperfect brain chemistry that both my husband and I have, this strange state of neurotransmitters, a fragile brain, an impulsive mind, however you want to call it…I don’t really know.

I want to believe that my son will be OK either way. Yeah, he might end up spending forty-five minutes three times a week looking for his keys. He might at times hit that point that I hit every once in awhile after searching for something for a long time, when I say, Oh, I so want to be different. Then, I either find what I was looking for, or I just give up, sit down, and realize I don’t want to be different.  I really don’t. I like my messy brain. I like my dreamy mind. I am entertained by the continuous influx of ideas (good and bad) in my mind, and who cares that due to my inability to fully focus on my tidying-up efforts, the salt and the phone ended up in the refrigerator? I really feel like the best and the worst of me come from the same place. Sometimes the impulses of my brain are exciting story ideas, at other times they are anxiety-provoking fears that make me feel crazy. Getting rid of the ones would mean getting rid of the others. And I would never opt for that.

I hope my son, if he ever has to deal with these “imperfections” of his brain, feels the same way. I hope he learns how to deal with the bad and celebrate and enjoy the good. I hope he has compassion for others and for himself.

I understand where Sarah Silverman is coming from. I understand her choice, but I made a different choice. Fully blown depression and other mood disorders may be more debilitating than ADD or anxiety is. I don’t know.

There are always two components here. Firstly, the genetic transmission of our disorders on our children, and secondly, our ability to manage our disorder so we are capable of caring for our child. The latter definitely figured in my husband’s and my decision not to have a second child, but the imperfect chemistry of our brains didn’t prevent us from having the first child.

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