I was so sick of everything the other day, that I just told myself that I would end my life upon reaching 40 years old, if I did not use the roughly four and a half years between now and then to get my life in order. That was it – things were either going to change, or I’d just be dead.
It was kind of funny, but kind of not really funny at all. Actually, after the thought went through my head, I felt my stomach turn and my breathing grow shallow. In my mind, I was making this extreme statement as a way to motivate me to lead a healthier, more productive, and more meaningful life. But my body knew better than my mind what was really going on; what should have been an inspiring moment was really just the most awful feeling. I tried to laugh it off as something too stupid for me to actually follow through on, but in reality, I was afraid that I meant it. And that I wouldn’t meet the terms of my bargain with myself, and that unfortunately I would end up pulling the trigger on the whole deal—literally.
“Let’s talk about you for a minute,” said my boss the other day, at some point following the day I made my Dead at Forty™ promise. “You present as highly anxious,” he said, with the flair of any armchair psychologist. He then handed me his therapist’s business card.
“Uh, don’t you think it would be weird if we went to the same therapist? What if I want to talk about work?”
“Nah, confidentiality and all, it will be fine,” he replied. He then noted that, in his experience, post partum depression is not nearly as prevalent as the unique form of depression that seems to haunt the parents of young children, past the post partum stage.
“So you think I’m depressed too?”
Then he told me this: We are depressed about the past, and anxious about the future.
I’m not even really sure what triggered my Dead at Forty™ deal. It doesn’t really matter, because no matter what brings it to the surface, the latent pain is the same. I do remember being at a four-way stop one morning, and just thinking about accelerating rather than braking. It sounds odd and creepy to say it now, but at the time, it was posited by my brain as just … something that could happen. Not necessarily something I wanted to do, not now, just a thing, that I could do. Perhaps at 40.
The idea of making an agreement with myself to be dead by 40 years old if I don’t do … whatever it is that I feel I need to do so badly … hit me when I was driving the kids home from school one afternoon. Like I said, I now can’t recall exactly why or how it hit me. It just did. The girls were probably tantrumming, someone was crying (was it me? Was it one of them?), and I was feeling generally uncomfortable, and of course, sad. And hopeless.
I read recently that people who want to kill themselves don’t actually want to die. Rather, they want to escape from life as it is right now. They want out, and sometimes, death seems like the only way. I think the deal I made with myself is a little better than that. It’s saying, ok, you can’t conceive of a way out right now, but give it a few years, and maybe you will figure out. But if you can’t, and you’re still desperate and hopeless at that point, take comfort in knowing it will at least be over.
It made sense at the time. Now, I’m not really sure it makes any sense at all.
That night, I laid down in bed next to my 3-year-old as she tried to get to sleep. She’s getting better and better, but she still needs one of us to be near her, at least for a little while, when she goes to bed. We have been trying to leave earlier and earlier, gradually minimizing the amount of time we lie down with her. She is aware of this, and will usually try to bargain with us about it. For example, we’ll read an extra story if she goes right to bed afterward. Or, we can skip a story altogether, and go right to lights out, but we need to stay for a bit longer than usual.
Eerily enough, on this particular night, her request was somewhat different.
“Mommy? You’re staying right here next to me, right?”
Before I could respond to her, I started to think. Then I closed my eyes, and abruptly stopped thinking.
And finally, shaking, I managed a few breathless and uneasy words:
“Yes baby . . . Mommy will stay right here, with you.”
[image via Google]