Monday, June 14, 2010

SAD At The Movies (3.4.08)

My husband worked all night, the babysitter had to cancel because her car won't start, the front walk and steps need shoveling and little Nora woke me at five because she was frightened. My eyes are sore and my brain is slow with the fatigue, but here is the miracle: I'm fine.

I was fine last night when my five year old had a blow-out tantrum over, well, over everything - bath time, bathwater temperature, choice of nightgown, you name it. She slapped her sister, then burst into tears and flopped on the ground, screaming, "I didn't! I didn't slap her! You don't love me! I don't love you! I don't LIKE you! I'll NEVER LOVE YOU!"

And I was fine, calm and distant from her jabs. "That's okay, Mia, 'cause I'll always love you enough for the two of us. Now step into this jammie leg, will you?"

What's the difference between this capable mom-self and that more familiar gloomy-mommy I know so well?

I’m convinced it's the sun. Really.

Two more hours of daylight than the sky eked out and I'm revived. Seasonal Affective Disorder is common and easily treatable, I’ve learned, but it was only this year that I finally acknowledged I’ve got a case.

Remember that movie with Robin Williams about heaven? The reviews of What Dreams May Come were largely awful, but I like it because the movie was shot in Glacier National Park, where Randy surprised me by showing up, ring in hand, while I was on a backpacking trip.

In the movie, Annabella Sciorra kills herself after the death of her husband and children and is sent to hell. This afterlife isn't your typical craggy fire-filled cavern; this woman’s hell resembles her own home, transformed into a dark and haunted house, filled with cobwebs and debris. She is lost and afraid, alone and anxious. She doesn’t know she is dead; she doesn’t recognize her own husband. And shortly after he joins her, he starts to slip into the same depressive stupor.

This scene reminds me of my winters. Not that those months are hellish – oh no, far from it – there’s such joy in our snow angels and Christmas and sledding and the girls catching snowflakes on their tongues. But half of my November and parts of December and much of January can be dark and anxious around the edges. And like that lonely movie mother, I've been myopic about my own illness. I think I'm okay when I'm really not.

One sunny morning last week I held the girls’ hands as we walked to the car after gym and ballet. It had snowed the night before and I sang out to Mia and Nora how pretty the day was. The way I said it reminded me of Fargo and I suddenly understood that right now, with spring on the way, I am Officer Marge Gunderson driving in the front seat of the Prowler. My angry self is shackled in the back, silent, always silent, because he does not know why he does what he does. But now that I’m getting my daily dose of good sun, I can say, "And here ya are. And it's a beautiful day. Well. I just don't understand it."

Besides creating an indelible Marge Gunderson, the great Frances McDormand (did you see her cheering and crying in the audience as her husband accepted the Best Picture Oscar?) played another role that is the most realistic depiction of non-clinical depression I’ve seen in a fiction film. In Nicole Holofcener’s Friends with Money, McDormand’s character Jane stops washing her hair and yells as parking space thieves, but still has a thriving career and loving relationships with her child, husband and friends. I look at her and again feel twinges of recognition. Here is a woman who is angry but functioning, out of sorts but more importantly, still capable of love and tenderness and concern for others.

I’m gettin’ me a SAD lamp. Twenty minutes a day, first thing, and we'll be good to go.

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