Category: Mental Health

The Trouble With Postmortem Compassion

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear

It is not common for me to start a post by citing the United States Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, but here we are. Assuming I do this right, my choice here will make sense shortly. I hope.

S5.4.2 Each convex mirror shall have permanently and indelibly marked at the lower edge of the mirror’s reflective surface, in letters not less than 4.8 mm nor more than 6.4 mm high the words “Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear.”

eCFR :: 49 CFR Part 571 — Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards

I’m not sure when this was added to these standards. I was going to do a little more research to determine that. Then, I came to several realizations one right after the other:

  • I don’t give shit.
  • You don’t give a shit.
  • Acknowledging when this requirement was added to the standards has no bearing whatsoever on this post.
  • Given the above realizations, including the enumeration of these realizations here provides no value but I did it anyway.
  • I can be a real jackass sometimes.

There’s science behind why convex mirrors can give you the impression that whatever you see in the mirror looks further away than it is. You are more than welcome to look that up. But I’m going to continue.

A giant bag of dicks

A few years ago, I was on a leave of absence from my job due to my Depression and Anxiety being a giant bag of dicks. I should share a little background here and since it worked so well above, I’m going to use a List.

  • Depression is a dick.
  • Anxiety is a dick.
  • “Depression and Anxiety” does NOT equal “Depression + Anxiety” in the way that having “two apples and three plums” means you have (2+3=5) five pieces of fruit.
  • Rather, it is more like Depression to the power of Anxiety (or vice-versa); each one making the other “a lot worse.”
  • Whenever something is troublesome, having “a giant bag” of that something is “a lot worse.” Since having one hornet nest is bad enough, having a giant bag of hornet nests would be a total shit-show.
  • Thus, Depression (which is a dick) and Anxiety (which is a dick) yields a “giant bag of dicks” rather than “two dicks.”
  • Math, y’all.

My oldest, Paige, had her learner’s permit for driving, meaning she could legally drive with either me or my wife in the car with her. She was playing Cello at the time and took lessons from an amazingly awesome music teacher about ten minutes away. Since the giant bag of dicks (see above) made being around people REALLY HARD and uncomfortable, I went with Paige to her lessons, but instead of going into the teacher’s house with her, I sat in the car trying to read, usually with at least some success (trouble concentrating is a pretty common symptom of giant bags of dicks).

It was lovely weather at the time so I sat in the passenger seat with the windows down. The music teacher lived on a pretty quiet street so it was wonderfully peaceful. I was having trouble reading so I put my tablet down and looked out the window, my eyes drawn to the side-view mirror. I still shudder and get waves of super intense emotion and shock when I recall what I saw in the mirror that day.

Eye scream

As I have shared before (see Trauma, EMDR, and the Kobayashi Maru Test » Can’t Juggle (cantjuggle.com)), my mother suffered from Bipolar Disorder. And she struggled a lot. For decades. And when she was really having a hard time, even when she couldn’t form the words or the noises necessary to scream in aguish and exhaustion and rage and sorrow and defiance and surrender, she had this look in her eyes that I can only describe as screaming. Despite the countless times I saw my mother’s eyes scream, I didn’t realize what it was until a particular day (years after her death) when I was sitting in my car outside a music teacher’s house.

As I looked in that mirror, and saw my eyes, the rest of my face changed to be my mother’s face. But the eyes were identical. It looked just like how you might see a transformation in movie. My face faded out, except my eyes, and suddenly I was looking at my mom. My eyes were screaming in aguish and exhaustion and rage and sorrow and defiance and surrender. No. That’s not right. OUR eyes were screaming in aguish and exhaustion and rage and sorrow and defiance and surrender.

In that profound moment, I realized how much I had in common with my mom in a way I never had before. In that profound moment, I realized how alone my mom had been most of her life. How much pain she was in. How much she needed someone on her side in a way that actually felt helpful to her. In that profound moment, the decades of compassion that my mother desperately needed but was denied descended on me without mercy, pummeling me, like someone was beating me with a… well… a giant bag of dicks.

I wrote a poem. Honest.

A few days after this, I wrote a poem about this experience. I infused it with anguish. I infused it with transformation. I infused it with newfound compassion. I called it Eye Scream. And I lost it. Can’t find it anywhere. As I was writing this post today, I came to several realizations one right after the other:

  • That poem was actually pretty damned good.
  • I was proud of it.
  • I don’t need a poem to share this experience or what I took from it.
  • I don’t need to enumerate these realizations here but I did it anyway.
  • I can be a real jackass sometimes.

Assigning blame

For so many of us, when we see/hear about/experience something we deem to be “bad” or “suboptimal” or “wrong,” our reaction is to want to find someone or something to blame for it. It has to be somebody’s fault. Often, we end up pinning all this blame on some individual or group of people we seek to marginalize or exclude. There are places to pin some blame for what my mother went through, perhaps, but at the moment I feel like providing a list (lots of lists today, yeah?) of someones and somethings that were decidedly NOT at fault here in any way:

  • Vaccines
  • The Infield Fly Rule
  • People named Chet
  • My oldest brother’s hamster, Ginger, that I used to throw across our porch
    • I need to point out here that this was a thing I did several times. I was really little and kept wanting to hold Ginger and SOMEONE kept letting me hold Ginger despite the inevitable throwing of Ginger across the porch when her tiny claws tickled my palm and I was afraid she would bit me. So, there is actually some blame that comes into play here. But not related to my mom.
  • The Solid Gold Dancers (look it up)

A call to action

I try to focus my posts on my own experiences rather than trying to push anyone to take any particular action. I am going to diverge from that just a little here. I still have such regret that I didn’t give my mom the support she so desperately needed. I don’t blame myself, but I can’t help thinking about the profound impact it could have had for my mom if I had treated her with more empathy. She’s gone. I can’t change that. I found compassion for her in the end. But she wasn’t there to feel it. THIS FEELING SUCKS SO MUCH YOU GUYS.

If there is someone close you that you have trouble finding empathy for, my call to action for you is to take a moment to think about what they may be going through. Try to see the world through their eyes. Try to see what they see when they look in the mirror and how it might be affecting them. After all, as I can tell you from my own experience, you may just realize: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.