Sarah and Anxiety
In Finding Home on Lilac Hill, Sarah suffers from anxiety and depression. She manages her condition with a prescription at first, weans herself off the meds and experiences the expected trough period of anxiousness before she begins real management for life. Her management of the condition mirrors the struggles I've battled and observed.
Sarah's model might physically be my Aunt Helen, but the pattern of depression is Helen's sister and my paternal grandmother, Mary Margaret Drescher. Gran was a vital, opinionated intellectual who taught me how to cook, play poker, tell a story, but also how to withdraw from life. The same woman who crushed ice with a hand grinder for snowballs on demand or put on lavish banquets of home cooked chow mien, roasted turkey with all the trimmings, or the best oyster stew on the planet, often sat on the patio for the entire weekend staring.
Glassy, fixed eyes, mouth slightly open, she would stare into the backyard and barely breathe. I sometimes worried that she'd frozen or died and asked my parents why. My mother explained that she was sad or needed a rest. My father and grandfather ignored her behavior and attributed it to a grand pout.
I figured out that it was an illness before I turned five. I remember holding her hand and waiting for her to return from wherever her mind had gone and look me in the eyes. She would sometimes blink and say my name. Then she might be gone again, or just as shocking, get up and make a meal, organize a poker game or take me for a walk.
When Sarah Monroe falls into her grand silence in the Lambert kitchen, she has done more than withdraw into a turtle shell of hurt feelings. She is mulling over ways to manage the stress of her new life with her sister, the children, a demanding job, and an overwhelming sense of failure. She absorbs her sister's stress, the intense dislike that she interprets from Jason's treatment, and the exhausting energy of the three children. For a woman filled with anxiety, the pressure is too much, so she withdraws in a haphazard, Jekyll and Hyde manner.
Observers like my father and grandfather are often irritated by the manic part of depression. On a good day, the bright, funny person feels comfortable and emerges. Sometimes she doesn't stay long. Just like Sarah's more carefree persona with the children, my grandmother would have months where she organized some birthday fete or worked in the garden and let her happier person take over.
My grandmother was often apprehensive, and she was fearful of strangers. Though my grandfather thrived on friendships from work, my grandmother had her sister Helen, my mother, and her three grandchildren for companions. I believe now that decades of her home life were spent in silence while my grandfather came and went at will.
Sarah's management of stress is a work in progress; from experience, she knows what works for her and tries a routine of sleep, breakfast of water and yogurt, daily walks and chores, and finally, running. This plan comes out of experience and lots of research. When depression hits, look for a project that is physically exhausting. Sarah takes on the children, the house, a demanding job, and also needs the release of running on Worries Track to unwind her emotions.