Wellbeing and Family

The Nurse, the Window, and Me

Inhale. Exhale. Let go.

The day Third was born, I ended my pregnancy depression and began my postpartum depression. Most of what I remember from those leading months is the color black. Not faded from use but pure and deep.

The day after Third was born, we were alone in a hospital full of people. Everyone who might otherwise have been present was working or minding Eldest and Middling. This was also the day I learned that our longtime sitter had been suddenly diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery.

I recall a bench of some sort by a large window where I stared out and sobbed. I recall a nurse demanding, “what’s wrong with you!?” I recall wondering whether tears ever ran dry.

The nurse in this recollection became a central figure, a corporeal third-party affirmation that something was wrong with me. I remember hearing her disgust and annoyance. I felt the same: disgusted, annoyed, and asking what was wrong with me.

Months later when I thought the storm had mostly passed, the nurse became the turning point in my mind—the person, place, and time that could have changed everything. If only the nurse had brought in a mental health professional, I could have had the storm be less stormy for less time.

That missed opportunity, embodied in the nurse, became my bitter rue. As mental illness continued to plague me (albeit in a less obvious way), I threw all my anger and fear and pain at the nurse.

When I finally entered a new phase of recovery, I forgave the nurse. But now as I wander in memory I’m not sure who she was. I believe an interaction occurred, but I cannot tell you a single feature of the nurse aside from gender. Did it happen? If yes, was her tone as annoyed and disgusted as I had remembered?

The nurse has been lost to time, overwritten by experience. In truth, I had needed someone outside myself to blame for the hard months that followed Third’s birth. In truth, the nurse ebbed away as I let her go. As I let no one be to blame. As I found I hadn’t even needed to forgive her, because she had not wronged me.

Because the truth is that I’d experienced mental illness for years before Third’s birth. That day after was not the linchpin. Nothing is. Days are good or bad, easier or harder. Treatment works on a sliding scale of effectiveness. But there was never the chance I’d miss my window for mental health stability. Because the whole thing—good, bad, easier, harder, effects, causes—the whole of life is the window.

Every today is a potential linchpin as I keep moving forward in my great, big, wonderful window. Every day is a new chance to heal. Every day I get a little bit wiser, a little broader perspective, a little reminder to keep my window open.


A Slippery Fish

Time is a slippery fish. Perhaps the most slippery of them all. Just when you think you’ve got a good hold, time gets away again.

But memory is a map made entirely of landmarks. As you move through year after year, your mind and body turn the corners of those landmark days, often without your conscious notice.

My niece begins her trek to college today. I will give her air hugs from my porch this evening so as not to transmit the in-house COVID case to her. So sweet. A little bitter. A new landmark growing up entwined with an older one.

Today is also the day my nephew died a dozen years ago. The last time he spoke to me was the evening his family ate pizza at my house before he set off for basic combat training. That night was so sweet and a little bitter. Today twelve years ago was swallowed in bitterness.

My niece was almost six then.

Time is a slippery fish.

I cannot tell you the fullness of this family’s story. We are all threads of variegation woven into a tapestry without fully appreciating our unique necessity to the design. I can tell you that no thread ever ends. Every thread is carried forward by connection to the others.

For one brief day, two threads hold the space. They are beautiful. All the more because they share a landmark in our family’s tapestry and our individual memories.

The advantage of age is that you’ve moved through more of the tapestry. You become more aware of the rhythms of the weaving. Years begin to glide by as one landmark after another has its turn.

Time is a slippery fish.

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