I didn’t know I was drowning until the air finally hit my lungs for the first time in a decade.
I broke down today and wept. The heartache, grief, and suffering that lead up to that moment took years, a decade in fact, of deliberate step-by-step, day-by-day construction to achieve its heinous, ominous reality. One of my favorite monologues is one I call, “Men are Made up of Boxes,” the one that’s read toward the end of the movie, “Act of Valor,” where the SEAL team chief’s writing a letter to a deceased teammate’s infant son. I love it because it’s true, and I’ve long taken honor and prestige in sharing that with other men. The toughest of us keep our traumas on lock-down and control our emotions. Suck it up. Drive on. Embrace The Suck.
My wife and I found out two years ago that we can’t have kids. Neither of us. We learned about ten years ago that we’d have trouble getting pregnant, as I was the cheapest and easiest problem to identify. That’s the day I started blaming myself. Time passes. Life happens. We started approaching midlife, which I affectionally prefer to call “half-dead.” More fun for me and my self-deprecation. We revisited the issue, spent a lot of money, borrowed more, and finally took the problem head-on. Surgeries, hormones, injections became the norm. Hoping, spending, waiting, crushing disappointment. Hoping, spending, waiting, crushing disappointment.
“None of the eggs took. They don’t seem viable. I’m sorry.”
My wife’s only dream in life was to be a mom. I knew that, a LONG time ago. Still, we let years pass, and I didn’t press the issue until we’d robbed her of that possibility. She even told me, when we got serious about going down the fertility rabbit hole, that I had to be damned sure I wanted to do it. She’d already buried her aspiration and didn’t want to conduct another funeral for it. I assured her. Within reasonable boundaries, I was in. Whatever it took…almost. One of my favorite cousins was even kind enough to offer to carry for us, if it came to that.
Then, the news came that we had no options left but resignation or obsession and bankruptcy.
I did what I was programmed by nature and nurture to do. I put all that shit in its box, shut the goddamned lid, and sealed that fucker up tight. I doubled-down on work. Stay busy, stay occupied. Suck it up. Drive on. Once in a while, it started leaking out, poking through the tape, enter your preferred “faulty box analogy” here. The one I like best is actually that of a pressurized gas cylinder. You see, PV=nRT. The Ideal Gas Law demands that pressure, volume, capacity, and temperature are inter-related. Put more gas into the same volume, the pressure and temp both increase. Keep it up, and you’ll eventually surpass the integrity of the container. Then the whole thing blows in spectacularly horrific fashion. That’s what almost happened today. Thank God for guiding my wife to find the BLEVE valve. That’s a pressure relief system to bleed off pressure as liquids like propane are made to boil inside a container. Seriously impressive. Google that in about one minute.
There’s a number of other factors that conspired to ruin my morning. This no-kid thing had simmered in the background so long that I rarely ever thought about it. I’m working on a book right now that involves a family. The deadline’s coming up, so the draft needed some attention. I wrote a scene about the father and his teenaged daughter (Read it here). They start out arguing, but she ends up breaking down and calling him papa, which she hadn’t done in years. He tears up at the name, and I teared up with him. No one’s ever gonna call me papa. I don’t even like the name! I finished the scene, walked away for a bit, and hugged my wife. Because she’s smarter than me, she sensed something amiss and convinced me to talk to her.
Through a shaky voice and what I proclaimed were silly tears, both unusually beyond my absolute control, I explained the scene and my reaction. We talked. I cried while explaining that I’d spent the last decade blaming myself for failing her, for preventing her from having her only lifelong dream come true. Even the fact that her eggs weren’t viable, that shit was my fault. Mine, all mine. In addition to explaining how she’s processed and accepted our reality, she offered truly magical words:
“I don’t blame you for us not having kids. It’s not your fault and it never has been.”
I teared up again but, then, that statement allowed me to unburden grief I didn’t fully appreciate I had. I don’t know how long she held me while I absolutely sobbed, but the gratitude I felt truly lifted my heart, my shoulders, and calmed my mind. Elation. Relief. Joy. Release. I had no idea how terrible and heavy that burden had become. I’d simply lifted it for so long that it escaped all conscious notice. A silent partner who sometimes required a little more tape to silence. How is it that the emotions holding us hostage are the ones wearing the duct tape? Literally just realized that. Wow.
The high I felt today rivals the greatest days, events, and moments of my life. I want to experience that again, despite the steps that might be required to achieve it. I never have to carry that particular burden again. REPEAT FOR EFFECT: I never…have to carry that…particular…burden…ever again.
The second realization I had this morning was how bad things had gotten. I couldn’t see it until some of the burden was gone. I’m not suicidal, never have been, but it’s more than fair for me to consider that I’ve been depressed. Even DAF, perhaps… Some good days, some bad, like everyone, I think, but I wonder if my good days crest today where my bad days troughed ten or fifteen years ago? Before the no-kid news, before the cop work, even, if I’m brave enough to look back that far?
Without laying down the bulk of my grief, I would have never seen it otherwise. Again, because she’s smarter than me, Mrs Reese pointed out that people who just “snap” and hurt themselves or masses of others never set their burden down. People don’t lose touch with reality overnight. Grief does terrible damage to rational thought. Allowing for a number of other factors, her suggestion made sense to me, especially at that moment and from my new perspective.
About an hour after writing it, I forced myself to edit the scene. The emotions I held while writing it were gone. Not lessened. Gone. Mrs Reese had to confirm it wasn’t a piece of shit to begin. Those words no longer held power over me. They ceased to wield their emotional authority when I set that burden down.
Here’s the punchline. I’m publicly exposing this personal wound to ask that you consider your own troubles. Suicide and depression are far too commonplace, and especially among our veterans and first responders. The mental health of our society is something we oughta consider a National Emergency! Good guys are better at killing ourselves than the bad guys. By orders of magnitude, it seems.
I’m gonna start routinely talking to a therapist for the first time in my life. I hope you consider doing the same. Give yourself a chance to be happy again, maybe even start out shooting for unburdened. Even if my peaks never hit the epic summits of my under-25 years, I’ll take what I can get. I’m only half-dead, after all, still got a lot of life to squeeze in before the reaper comes calling. Not gonna do that SOB’s work for him. When he does come, he’s gonna find a happy, well-adjusted m—f—er, rest assured. I got time, and I’m willing to put in the work. I want that unburdened high again.
If you follow my blog, you probably know how hard I’ve worked to counter suicidal ideation over the years. Suicide remains a permanent solution to temporary problems. If you need help and have considered hurting yourself or someone else, please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255. Vets can push Option 1.
If you, too, are overburdened, if you want to experience my today for yourself, I hope you’ll take action to bring it to fruition. Elation. Relief. Joy. Release. I NEVER have to carry that burden again.
If you need me, leave a message. I’ll be unpacking all my other leaky, over-taped boxes and decompressing the cylinders. Might get messy in here for a while.
Be safe out there. Take care of yourselves and each other.
P.S.—I ran this past Mrs for her blessing to share her parts of this. She’s hopeful more people address their mental health and infertility-grief issues. For the record, I agree with her that we would’ve been “fucking amazing parents.” Love that girl!