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50/50: Even video games don’t help when you’re depressed

Susie Ekberg Risher

"Bye-bye, Mommy." 

My then 5½-year-old and 4-year-old ran into my arms for one last hug. As I watched them drive away with their father, I felt my heart start to hurt. For exactly one-and-a-half days I had a crazy amount of energy. I cleaned all of the kitchen cupboards, organized their toys and clothes, even alphabetized their videos and my spices.

Then it hit me. My brain went blank. My arms wouldn’t move. I couldn’t get dressed in the morning.

I opened a big box of Rain-Blo bubble gum, started a game of Super Buster Bros., and that’s all I remember. When the kids got home six weeks later, they were impressed that I had won the game (on the intermediate level, even), and even though it’s a funny story to tell now, I even knew at the time that something was horribly wrong with me.

“Bye Mom.”

Fast forward to last week and my almost-15-year-old is headed out the door with my son-in-law to do some canoeing in the Boundary Waters.

He’s leaving me. He may get sunburned. Or get poison ivy. Or get eaten by a bear. Or a spider. He may get hungry or too tired. There’s no cell phone service. I can’t call him every ten minutes to make sure he’s all right.

I can feel my heart beating faster just typing this, remembering. Before you think I’m the most pathetic mother that’s ever over-mothered their children, let me explain something. I WANT my children to be independent, responsible, caring adults. I want them to travel (without me) and have their own lives – but. Apparently I don’t really believe they can function without me. Or maybe vice versa.

I started out that first evening last week (without our youngest) in a hopeful way. With three glasses of wine. At midnight I woke up with a horrible headache and felt queasy. Hangover? Dehydrated? I don’t know. The headache got worse over the course of the next three days until I couldn’t take it anymore. I almost took an ibuprofen.

I made a plan. Read one book every day until he came home again. I’ve found that making concrete plans seems to help when I can feel that depression descend. But I didn’t count on my mind taking the suggestion so seriously as I watched myself fly through one book every day, reading for approximately 10 hours a day, doing little else.

I remembered my Rain-Blo/Super Buster Bros. days and connected the dots. So I decided to get interested in changing my mindset, because frankly, my youngest is going to be leaving home in four years, and I’d better get something figured out before that.

I took some deep breaths, sitting in my oversized chair on our porch at the lake and looking out at my favorite birch. Just sat with myself. I didn’t chastise myself for being a wimp or for being weak, I just pretended I was being a friend to myself, supportive and loving and understanding.

I could feel my chest tighten and felt myself start to cry. I’m not afraid of much anymore except for the health and well-being of my husband and children. I want to protect them. I want them always to be safe. Is that possible? No, it’s not.

Do I trust them to take good care of themselves? Sure. Do I trust the universe to take good care of them? Sure. Then can I release my mommy grip a little and give them (and me) a much-deserved break? Sure.

Bill got back to St. Paul on Sunday, so I drove down there to pick him up. When I walked into my daughter’s house, I saw him and did a quick once-over to check for lacerations and burns.

I only saw two big scratches and some bruises (“he only bled twice,” my son-in-law’s text read), and no visible signs of a sunburn. No poison ivy. No bears. No spiders. No drowning. He made it back in once piece. And so did I.

It’s a process, this letting go. It’s trusting and praying and involves a lot of self-care and support. But I believe it CAN be done. Super mommy can hang up her cape and go back to kayaking on the lake, sipping ice water and enjoying the beautiful sunset. Rain-Blo and Super Buster Bros. are no longer necessary.