Some days ago, after spending some time in the pit, I wanted some maternal comfort. I hadn’t heard from my mother for a while. She lives on the other side of the continent and has never tended to call me very often. (I envy those women who have close relationships with their mothers and talk every day or two.) Instead she sends mass emails once every week or two to all her children and step-children together, listing the doctors she’s visited in the past week or mentioning a visit from a friend, nothing very deep. But it’s regular news.
I realized I hadn’t heard from her in a while and then thought, oh, maybe something is wrong. No mass email in several weeks. Maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention to her, and I should check in, instead of wishing she’d come comfort me. So I wrote her an email, saying I was worried because I hadn’t heard from her. Was she okay? Was my stepdad okay? And then I said I was more depressed than I had been in many years, but I was trying to take care of myself. That was about it.
I have children myself, and step-children, of various ages. I can honestly say if one of them let me know they were seriously depressed, I would be on it–calling, visiting, checking in to see how I could help. Wouldn’t you?
Two days after I sent my email, I got an email back from her. Oh, yes, she wrote, she had noticed that when she sent her family emails, mine had bounced back (because she had sent to an old email address that I stopped using two years ago). But she is fine, saw her primary care doctor for a check-up and attended a band concert. She was sorry to hear I was depressed. She had read an article that said that people who take a lot of Tylenol can stop having both good and bad emotions. Was that my problem, maybe? Well, she had to go make lunch for my stepdad, so…bye.
No phone call (several more days have passed). No follow-up. No expressions of concern. No bothering to even check on why her email to me had bounced back. No recognition that I have struggled with depression for over half my life (and I don’t take Tylenol). Maybe she doesn’t remember that I experienced sexual abuse as a child–though I told her. Maybe she doesn’t remember all the other that happened either, perhaps because remembering that might be unpleasant?
I feel I went knocking on a door only to find that no one’s home. And I both berate myself for looking for something that isn’t there, and feel resentful that it isn’t there. Why can’t she acknowledge what my pain? And why do I keep needing her to do something she can’t?
In the end, I know, we have to find everything we need in ourselves. But when I’m as depleted as I am these days, it doesn’t feel like there is much there. That’s when I look for comfort elsewhere, and evidently not always in the right places.
Image: The Empty House, by L.S. Lowry, 1934