Fuck it. I’m just going to write about it.
I alluded to it in passing when I said I was taking a break from the blog, but I wasn’t ready to write about it in any detail then. I am now. Here’s what’s been going on, and why I’ve been taking a break.
Regular long-time readers of this blog may remember that my father has been in poor health for some time. Many years, actually. A little over five years ago, he had a pretty big stroke, and he never really recovered from it. His language was permanently damaged, as was some other brain function. His health has been in gradual decline ever since, and we’ve had a number of crises and sharp declines, where it seemed possible — likely, even — that he would die soon. But he always stabilized. I was going to say “recovered,” but that’s the wrong word: after each crisis, he would stabilize at a lower level of health and functioning, with less ability to communicate and get around and take care of himself. We’ve been in a state where my father could very likely die any day… or not die for weeks… or months… or years. Every time he had another sharp decline, we went into crisis mode, thinking the end was now finally close. And then he would stabilize, and settle into the new low.
We’ve been in this state for years.
A couple of weeks ago, my brother called to tell me that our dad had another decline, and has now been put into home hospice care. He’s stable, but his functioning is very low indeed. He has a hospital bed set up in his living room, and he hasn’t left it for any significant amount of time for over two weeks. His language abilities, seriously impaired ever since his first stroke, are now almost gone.
When your brother calls you tell you that your dad is in home hospice care, you brace yourself, and get into “impending death” mode. Except the reality is that we are now, once again, in a state where my father could very likely die any day now… or not die for weeks… or months… or years. Closer to the end then he was, probably. And with significantly worse quality of life. But we still don’t know.
This, as you may have gathered, is unbelievably hard to deal with.
The best phrase I can come up with to describe it is “proto-grief.” I feel like my dad has been dying by degrees, for years. I feel like grief has been dripping into my life, one little drip at a time. And since this latest news about him being in home hospice care, the drip has turned up to a trickle.
I can’t even really grieve properly, since he’s not actually dead. What I want to do is stop my life for a few weeks and just fucking scream and howl and let myself fall apart… and then pick up the pieces and start to move on. But he’s not actually dead. So I can’t do that. “My dad is sick: still sick, sick again, more or less as sick he’s been for over five years now, probably somewhat closer to death now but who the fuck knows”… that seems like a pathetic excuse to cancel appointments and blow off deadlines. And I really can’t just stop my life just because my dad has taken yet another turn for the worse. If I’d done that every time this happened in the past, if I’d done that every time we thought he was at death’s door, my life would have stopped completely, for years.
So I just have to function. Somehow. I have to make plans… knowing that I might have to break them, at any time, days or weeks or months from now, with no notice. I have to meet deadlines, show up at speaking gigs, see friends and buy groceries and go to the gym…with this constant drip, drip, drip of proto-grief filtering into my brain, all the time. Sometimes just a little, and I feel more or less like myself, more or less able to work, more or less able to experience pleasure and joy. Sometimes a little more, and I feel like I’m buried in a vat of cotton: scrambling to climb out, struggling even just to keep my head out and get a breath of clean air. Wishing desperately for some rest… and knowing that “rest” right now just means “sinking back even deeper into the vat.”
One of the hardest things about depression is the vicious circles. Being buried in a vat of cotton is itself exhausting, debilitating, makes it harder to find the energy and indeed the will to try to climb out. The cotton seeps into your nose and your mouth, gets into your lungs and your bloodstream, wears you down. I know there are things I need to do to take care of my mental health — exercise, time outside, socializing — but I’m often finding it hard to muster the energy to do them. If I felt good enough to do them, they’d make me feel better… but I often don’t. I can’t even really get much rest or escape or distraction: the things I normally find comforting and soothing aren’t working like they usually do. And mental and emotional rest are being very hard to come by: the moment I sit still and let my brain stop with the distractions and the noise, everything starts piling in. Sleep doesn’t make me feel rested, even though all I want to do is sleep.
All of this is complicated, by the way, by the fact that my dad and I didn’t have a great relationship. I don’t want to get into that right now in a huge amount of detail, although I may at some point. No, he wasn’t abusive, nothing like that — but it’s been a difficult relationship, with a lot of anger and sadness and increasing distance. So I don’t even have the comfort of “yes, he’s dying, but he had a good life, and I have all those good memories and all those good years together.” He didn’t, and I don’t.
Then add to all that the background radiation of my life in the last year. Add to all that the reality that, when I open my mouth to talk about anything more controversial than Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster recipes or Six More Atheists Who Are Totally Awesome, I can expect a barrage of hatred, abuse, humiliation, death threats, rape threats, and more. I’ve been wanting to blog about this thing with my dad for a little while now (since I first found out about it, actually): writing is often how I process the traumas of my life and deal with them. But the thought of what the people who hate me and have been targeting me will do with this information has been making me hold back. “Hey, her dad’s dying, and she’s really depressed about it! WEAKNESS! How can we use that to fuck with her?”
None of that is connected to my dad’s health. But it adds significantly to my stress levels. Normally I can cope with that stuff reasonably well: shrug it off, laugh it off, use it to fuel my rage and passion for the fight. But my usual reserves of inner resources are pretty well drained right now. The situation with my dad is making it harder for me to find the energy to combat misogynist assholes in the atheist community… and the misogynist assholes in the atheist community are making it harder for me to find the energy to deal with my dad’s illness.
And add to all of this the fact that, when my father does die, he will be the first person I’ve been close to who’s died since I became a full-fledged atheist and let go of my belief in any sort of afterlife. This will be the first person I’ve been close to whose death will mean saying goodbye, forever.
So there’s that.
I know that when I put this piece into my blogging software and hit Publish, lots of people will be asking what they can do to help. Thanks for that. I wish I had a good answer; I wish I knew what to ask for. Patience, mostly. The understanding that my blogging may be sporadic for a while, and that when I do blog I may not want to wrestle with heavy topics and controversies for a while. Support and positive feedback, obviously. Input and counsel on managing depression, for people who have experienced it or otherwise know what they’re talking about. Reminders that it gets better. Reminders of why I thought it would be a good idea to be a professional freelance writer and political activist, instead of doing something easy like firefighting or nuclear physics. And if other people feel like yelling at the Flying Monkeys of Misogyny for a while, that would be awesome. I don’t have it in me right now, but I feel like I’m letting down the side. Thanks. And thanks for listening. Mostly I’m writing this just to write it and get it out into the world. Thanks for being on the other end of that line.