Inside the Box Marked "Crazy"
We had a family vacation at Raystown Lake, my mom and the kids and I.
On our drive to Trough Creek State Park, Mom said, “It’s interesting to see you work through your issues as a mother. It makes me wonder how different my own mother might have been if she’d gotten treatment for her anxiety.”
Grandma took an anti-anxiety drug for decades. But she always found herself needing more. By the time Grandma reached old age, she was taking a dose high enough to kill most normal people.
“The more I think about it,” Mom said, “the more I think she had a lot of the same mental health problems you did.”
A light clicked on in my head. I’d never taken much of an interest in Grandma’s story. I’d long ago sealed her story into a box marked “crazy” and shoved it under the eaves of my mind.
“Crazy” was tidy. “Crazy” was easy to explain. “Crazy” was far removed from the diagnoses I’d received as a teenager: generalized depression, anxiety disorder, OCD.
What if Grandma hadn’t been crazy?
What if she was struggling with the same problems I did, only without modern medication or cognitive behavioral therapy?
“My dad took my sister to work on the construction site swaddled in a toolbox when she was a newborn," Mom said. “I think Grandma had bad postpartum depression. It must have been bad, if Dad thought a construction site was a safer place for a newborn than at home with her mother.”
My own husband rarely left the house during my maternity leave. I spent the first month of my son’s life crying. The tears would come out of nowhere, from nothing. It felt like the birth process had torn some barrier that had previously separated me from all the sadness of the world. And when I wasn’t crying I was trying to breathe, because breathing too had become difficult. Anxiety hummed like tinnitus, a constant buzzing that would not stop, would not go away.
I could feel my perception of reality cloud and darken like an oncoming storm. I knew how easily I could come unhinged, sleep-deprived and stuck with a screaming newborn. And I know, I know how badly I wanted to be a good mother despite it all.
Maybe Grandma had wanted to be a good mother, too.
That was the only time Mom and I got to talk about family history on our trip. We spent the rest of the time bouncing the baby, swimming and snapping photos and getting too much sun. We tossed bread crumbs to the ducklings that arrived at our porch each morning.
“They’re talking,” my toddler said. “And there’s the mommy duck!”
“She’s being a good mommy,” my Mom said. “She’s taking care of her babies.”
And me? I’m trying. I'm trying really hard. Only time will tell how well I do.