“You sure you’re ready for this?” I asked my seven-year-old daughter, Liz.
Now we’re into May, and she felt brave enough to go down a steep hill.
“Okay then, remember to brake,” I reminded her. The last place we wanted to wind up was the emergency room.
She was ready, though.
“I know, Daddy.”
Then she began.
Going back to my early twenties, now half my life ago, I’ve suffered from depression. I’ve been on medication and in therapy since that time. I’m sure there are chemical reasons for my depression, but there are also things in my life which have contributed to or improved my state. They almost always have to do with whether I felt a sense of purpose. Becoming a lawyer didn’t do it for me, and was a big reason why I struggled with my mental health into my thirties.
When my wife, Lauren, was pregnant for the first time and we lost the baby at 18 weeks, I was devastated. It was probably the low point in my life, and my depression understandably became worse for a while.
Then Liz was born, and Matt followed soon after. I worked as a lawyer, but I spent a lot of time at home the first years of their lives. I felt a sense of purpose again, and my mental health improved greatly. Those years were the happiest of my life.
About six months ago, for the first time in years, my depression came back. It was a battle to get up each day, to make it to work, and to help my wife raise the kids. My doctor tweaked the medications, and I had some good days in January and February. For the most part, though, it was still a struggle.
I tried to make sense of it in therapy, and that word “purpose” came up again. My law career was shakier than ever. That was one reason. The other reason: my kids weren’t babies any more. They were old enough to have friends and activities after school and on weekends. While I was involved, I found myself with a lot of time on my own as they went on playdates or became immersed in their iPads talking to their friends.
Then the pandemic hit. Lauren and I both have non-essential jobs here in New Jersey, so we followed the state’s order to stay home. School was cancelled indefinitely, and homeschool began. Every day we get up, go on the computer and work on assignments given by their teachers. I usually work with Liz, while Lauren works with Matt.
I was and am anxious about what’s going on out there. When homeschool ends, Lauren listens to romance novels on her headphones while I obsess over the news. It’s why we’re a good match. We balance each other out, though I’m not sure how I ended up with this end of the pendulum.
Surprisingly though, my depression has improved. I still talk to my therapist, by phone now. Together we came to the conclusion that this stay-home-order has ironically created purpose for me again as an educator to my children, and best friend when I’m not teaching them.
Besides teaching Liz to ride a bike, Matt is getting close also. We take long walks every day as a family, watch family movies, and play games. It’s not all roses. We get on each other’s nerves. Homeschooling has its challenges, both educationally and behaviorally. But I am present and engaged for the first time in years.
This raises an interesting question. Should I feel guilty about feeling better, when it’s actually because of something that is horrific? The bike rides, the homeschooling, this newfound purpose, only exist due to the virus. COVID-19 is probably the worst thing to happen to our world in a century. Living just outside New York City, we know many people who are suffering. My first cousin is on the front lines intubating people at a city hospital. I am aware of how terrible it is out there.
Within my world here at home, though, none of that is going on.
I’m not sure where this goes afterwards. How will I handle life going back to normal? I worry about my mental health. Obviously, though, I want it to happen because it means we’re past this deadly virus. I also want my kids to go back to a normal childhood and spend time with kids their own age.
For now, though, I’m going to allow myself to be grateful for feeling okay and for getting quality time with them.
Back at the hill, Liz started down on her bike, at first carefully. Then she picked up the pace and made it down safely. I was so proud of her. Today was the sixteenth time in the last eighteen days we’ve gone for a ride together (not that I’m counting).
She turned back to me and gave me a big smile.
“I did it, Daddy.”
I started clapping.
“Daddy, tomorrow can I try my skateboard on this hill?’”
I never said it was easy.
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