To my dear toddler,
You’re 19 months old now. You’re running everywhere, climbing everything, and saying all you can.
Sometimes I think ahead to when you’ll be 19 years old. It doesn’t seem so distant to me anymore, though for you it will feel like all the time that’s ever passed.
I wonder what you’ll be like; what you’ll hope to become. I wonder what strengths you’ll refine; what passions you’ll pursue. Which legacies of your mother and I will be liberating; which will be burdens.
One legacy I hope will pass you over is my battle with depression and anxiety.
A thicket of fissures, painful streams of feeling, cuts through my brain. I learned not to ignore these fissures in my nineteenth year, though didn’t learn to climb out of them until much later.
Since then, I’ve built scaffolds over and across the fissures, thanks to the love of friends and family, medication, and the cognitive-behavioral techniques I’ve practiced. I live a good life up in the air, above the rushing waters below, careful to catch hold of the scaffold if I feel myself slipping.
I do not wish this burden for you. But you were formed partially from me, so I know the possibilities. I will try to be a wise dad, alert to warning signs of trouble ahead. But I’ll also need to respect your privacy, and allow you to wield the tools you’re given. No one can do it for you.
If this burden does come for you, I hope you’ll learn more quickly than I did that there’s no good in it. Your suffering will proclaim its virtue. It will promise great art, perhaps, or another difficult day to prove your strength.
But there is no virtue in this kind of pain. There is only the noise of unreason, flooding the places left empty by isolation.
If it’s good you seek, you’ll find it only by reaching out to others.
I find the good by taking my meds and keeping my cognitive techniques ready to hand. I read a book with you. Play with our dog. Smile when I see your mother’s dimples. Have lunch with friends regularly enough. Go to the rock gym. Be kind in the face of others’ troubles. Try not to guard myself so much around people I love.
These things are scaffolds above rushing waters: from which you may swing in good times; to which you may cling in bad times.
I do not wish this burden for you. I hope you’ll be luckier than me. But if not, I’ll be here.
This reflection was originally delivered as a speech at Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto on Sunday, June 1, 2014.