Wednesday, October 16, 2019

October 16: Don't Talk to Me About Life, Pessimist, My Son/My Hero

"Sorry, did I say something wrong?" said Marvin, dragging himself on regardless.  "Pardon me for breathing, which I never do anyway so I don't know why I bother to say it, oh God, I'm so depressed.  Here's another of those self-satisfied doors.  Life!  Don't talk to me about life."

Marvin is one of my favorite characters in Hitchhiker's.  A robot programmed to be clinically depressed.  He is everyone on their worst days, when life comes along and keeps kicking dirt in your face over and over and over.  Of course, we can laugh at Marvin for the hyperbole of his state of mind.  Yet, behind that laughter, there's also a little bit of self-recognition.  We all have a part of Marvin in us, all the time.

For the last half year or so, I have been swinging in between peace of mind and piece of Marvin.  I reach moments when I resolve some inner conflict, and then I'm good for a day or two.  Yet, my Marvin always pushes himself forward, claiming control of my head.  Then, I will experience days, sometimes weeks, of self-pity and self-loathing.  To quote Marvin, "Life!  Don't talk to me about life."

My problems are mostly first-world.  I'm not living through a drought or famine.  Bombs aren't exploding around me on a daily basis.  I don't fear for my life every second.  I pay a mortgage on a house.  I have a car.  My kids are healthy.  Blah, blah, blah.  I'm doing better than about 97% of the rest of the people inhabiting this little rock of a planet.  Yet, I sometimes find myself uncontrollably unhappy.

Now, before you scroll away from this post because you don't want to be dragged down into Marvin Land, I am going to ask you to stick with me.  My goal is to end on a happy, uplifting note this evening.  That is because I'm going to talk about my eleven-year-old son, and his struggles with negativity and pessimism.

Since a very young age, my son has been seeing a psychiatrist, off and on, to deal with his anger impulse issues.  These issues are tied pretty closely with his ADHD, and medication has helped him quite a bit.  Yet, my son also deals with moments of what I can only call extreme disappointment.  Life doesn't go the way he expects, and my son struggles with that.  One day, after an appointment with his psychiatrist, he came to visit me at work, and the first words out of his mouth were, "Daddy, I'm a pessimist, just like you!"  He said this with a huge smile, throwing his arms around my waist.

For some reason, he appreciated this explanation of his state of mind.  It was something he could understand, as if pessimism is something passed down genetically (and it sort of is--if you term it depression or mental illness).  And he was proud of the fact that he was taking after me.  Me?  That moment was not one of my better parenting days.  It was like my son holding a mirror up to my face, forcing me to look at some really horrible defect in my features.

Now, my wife suffers from bipolar disorder and addiction.  I, to use my son's words, am a pessimist.  That means my son and daughter have a few strikes against them in the mental health department.  I am constantly on the lookout for signs of trouble in my kids, hoping to catch bumps in the mental illness road before they turn into Grand Canyons of depression or mania.  So far, so good.

I am much more mindful of how I act around my son these days.  I try not to be Marvin around him.  It's difficult for me at times.  Yet, I can see that my son has matured.  He hasn't had any trips to the principal's office so far this year.  He stops his temper before it turns into a tantrum.  And he's much more aware of people's feelings around him.  He does small things, like sharing his French fries or giving his sister unexpected hugs, that surprise me.

My little pessimist has become my hero and teacher.  He is trying to change his outlook on the world, and he's succeeding.  That amazes me and instructs me.  For such a young person, my son is emotionally smarter than me on many levels, and he will call me out on my Marvin days:  "Daddy, you need to play a game of Notable Novelists with me to be happier."  He's right.

When Saint Marty grows up, he wants to be more like his son.

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