I Love You When You Are Mad


A picture of an 8 month old yellow lab dog, laughing for the camera
No such thing as a bad puppy. Picture by Tessa.

The other day, I overheard my son Aaron saying to our puppy Abby, "I love you no matter what." I do believe that Abby was being a turd at the time, as puppies are apt to do.


This was a relief to hear him say that after this terrible year of guilt-ridden parenting. Maybe I've done something right.


Aaron and I were recently interviewed for a documentary about mental health by the folks at the Down Syndrome Resource Foundation. It will be released in the fall. A perk of being interviewed is that it gives me the opportunity to think deeply about a topic. I had to ponder mental health and I realized that I do not like being asked questions about my own mental health. Not one bit. I was pacing around like a caged animal before the crew arrived, despite having the questions beforehand and feeling supported and prepped.


I often say that I'm an open book, but I'm really not. I can talk about my mental health if I'm holding the pen or the microphone and am in control of the conversation. I get anxious when my hands aren't on the steering wheel. There is a lot I don't want to talk about. I'm not sure it is just stigma. I feel a lot of pressure to be strong all the time. It has to do with not quite understanding myself fully too.


I won't give spoilers about the video, but I will say that it helped me reflect on the most useful thing I've realized as Aaron's mom.


I have learned that one must be overt about unconditional love. Aaron has had angry spells since the pandemic began - for good reason - how many losses has he experienced? So many. As he advised our dog, I also say to Aaron when he's feeling big emotions:


I love you when you are mad.

I love you when you are sad.

I love you when you are upset.

I love you when you are happy.


I want him to feel deeply that I love him no matter what.


My mistake with my two other children is that I wanted them to not experience any pain. I sheltered them as much as I could, but of course when they got older, they did bump up against pain. Nobody is guaranteed a pain-free life. I didn't teach them how to deal with the crappy emotions because I just wanted them to be happy all the time. They had to figure that out themselves. I hope I improve as a mother with each child, with apologies to Isaac and Ella.


Of course, I have lots of reasons I parent the way I do, and much of it is about how I grew up long ago. This is the part of my mental health I don't want to talk about, so I'll only say: If you were pressured to be a good girl or to stop feeling sorry for yourself, you might struggle with handling the big ugly emotions like rage as I do. Sadly, this means that I grapple with feeling the big emotion of joy too.


There is no fixing this, but there is understanding this, so I see a therapist once a month. I have been going to her for four years and I trust her implicitly, so I tell her things I don't say to anybody else. How I wish everybody had access to someone non-judgmental like that in their lives.


I'm wandering in this essay. I saw the movie Roadrunner, the documentary about Anthony Bourdain and it reminded me that you can never know the pain that someone carries. A few quotes stood out that I scribbled in my notebook as I watched the film:


You aren't going to outsmart pain.

We don't get to know. We don't get to understand.

Open-ended ambiguity is where the answers lie.


I have been thinking about Erin Gilmer, who also died by suicide recently and have no commentary except I am sad that she is gone.


If you want to learn more about loving children unconditionally, watch Andrew Solomon's TED Talk called Love No Matter What.


It is challenging to write a tidy story about mental health and put a neat bow on it. So I'm going to end here. I'm 53 years old and I am a work in progress. I'm trying to love myself no matter what too, but I've realized that this is the hardest kind of love of all.



Are you interested in keeping in touch and receiving occasional emails direct from Sue? Subscribe to her email list today!


192 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All