Invictus by William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
As a young teenager, I was charged with the job of memorizing this poem. At the time, I sensed that it had meaning that would give me strength as an adult. But I didn’t know how it would. The last two lines have been my friends at difficult times in my life and the whole poem inspired perseverance.
I didn’t know, at the time, that it was written by William as a young man from his hospital bed after he recovered from loosing a foot to TB. I wonder if it was the left or right foot.
I can’t sleep in. I have tried different strategies. If I go to bed early, I wake up really early. If I go to bed late I always wake up after 6 to 7 hrs. It’s a good sleep, especially after writing in the journal. I sleep right through the night and my body feels rested in the morning, but I wake up every morning to thoughts of you popping into my head. I can turn off the thoughts for the 6 to 7 hours but no longer.
Reality creeps past my wall of dreams and tears it down, leaving my exposed raw feelings to the elements.
I was up for a couple of hours when you called at eight. I was doing mindless household chores, trying to put my mind in neutral when you called. You were sobbing. You are depressed. I really feel you are depressed. This knowledge brings up many bad feelings for me that I don’t seem to have much control over.
Growing up with a depressed parent was difficult. In my early life, I thought sad Mummies were normal. As a teenager, when I found ‘Invictus’, I realized that it wasn’t normal but it scared me. I knew there was nothing I could do that would help her so I defaulted to avoiding her. I did the things that needed to be done for myself and my sisters and brother. Holding Mum and pep talking her would never help… so I didn’t.
I can’t let this default happen with you. I am a different person now with many other life experiences to draw on. I know that I can hold your hand, hug you and try to give you inspiring pep talks. Although my head is bloody but not unbowed, I am still the master of my fate and captain of my soul. Our family depends on me. I will not let them down.
I made arrangements to take the children over to Juanita’s once they are up, fed and dressed. While I wait for them, I have a shower. During the early days after your stroke, I had a lot of showers. The shower is my safe place. I could cry in the shower and the children won’t hear my sobs. My tears were washed away as fast as they came. At the end of the shower, I felt relieved and somewhat restored.
I needed my safe place today. I needed to cry and reach past my old hurts from my childhood and find the strength that I acquired as an adult. I needed to do this for you, for us. After that shower, not only was I very clean, but I was charged up to be by your side. If this pattern continues, I see some very dry skin in my future.
When I received your call, Quinn was with me. He hear my side of the conversation. When I hung up, he asked how you were. “Daddy is very sad today Quinny. He is like this.” I said as I pulled his ear lobe.
“I am going to eat my breakfast right away so that you can go to him.” Quinn says with concern.
You are sad. You ask me about euthanol, a euthanasia drug that we use in veterinary medicine. I think you are mostly exaggerating your feelings but I do think that a small part of you is serious about wanting to die. I try to change the subject and get you to play the memory game. You aren’t interested. You want me to read emails. I don’t blame you, the four hundred or so emails inspire a lot of strength. This is the right medicine for you today.
We talk to the doctor, who is on-call this weekend, she thinks that the antidepressant dose you are on is low and can be increased. The problem is that it takes some time before a dose change will have an obvious effect. Time is a precious commodity.
We talk about you coming home for the holidays. This helps you rally your feelings. I warn you that you may still be sad even if you come home. The sadness isn’t due to your location, it is due to your injury. We still have six weeks to get through before you get to rehab. I want to ask Dr. Feltmate about a psychiatric consult on Monday. We need to stay ahead of your depression. You say that you can’t even explain to the doctor why you cry. I told you that observation, in itself, is a telling symptom of your depression.
“I don’t want to cry in front of a doctor.” You said.
“I don’t think crying in front of a person makes you less of a person. It makes you more human.” I reply
“It is a sign of weakness.”
“It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It’s a sign that you are trying to overcome the hurt in your body. Letting out the pain is a good thing to do.”
Your tears make me cry in front of you. I tell you that I was just thinking this morning that if you had died, this would have been the worst Christmas of my life. But you lived and you are coming home for Christmas. Now it’s the best Christmas of my life. Between my gasps for breath, you comfort me.
You comfort me! For a moment, you abandon your sorrow and comfort me. Gosh, you strength is amazing. This is when I realized that you are the master of your fate and captain of your soul.
To help us get out of our dark hole, we talk about our life together in a few years when the children are grown and we are ‘empty nesters’. “I’ll teach you how to sail and kayak and you can teach me how to work with wood. We will live in our little house by the sea in Cape Breton.” These images help you calm and focus your thoughts.
After lunch, I get you to read the newspaper. An article written by Jason Malloy about provincial over budget health care costs due to poor planning for the costs of H1N1. Out of 60 odd lines of texts, you only missed the left-hand margin about 4 times. By my math, that’s about a 93%. Much better then a few weeks ago. I am happy with this progress.
Today is 105 days. It’s been 105 days of riding the peaks and valleys on this marathon course. I still haven’t figured out how to do it. The momentum of the downhills seems to help us over the peaks. I have been doing this for 105 days and I still don’t understand it. But we are the masters of our fates and the captains of our souls.