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.

Life Wellbeing and Family

Once and Future Blog

More than 365 days have passed since I last posted to this site. There is no catching up. So let’s just begin from now.

I sit in my father’s comfy chair. The gentle clink of dominoes carries the prattle from two tables of moon players. They tease. They banter. They plead with the dots to change formation and number. Every so often a gale of laughter leads a lively melody.

I’m where I adore being: nearby my people with words on my fingertips and chatter rising like mists. My head holding above the water line.

Lately, I have felt very out of my depth. This phrase means “in water too deep to stand” and “beyond one’s knowledge or ability to cope.” [Oxford Dictionary online] I’d like to propose a slightly more complicated definition: a situational influx that overwhelms one’s present knowledge and engulf’s their ability to cope using the previously gained skills.

Four-and-one-half years ago, it occurred to me on an airplane over the Gulf of Mexico that out of my depth is precisely where I’m meant to be. It was an important moment in a whelming flood of needs and expectations attendant to moving across the country. The flash of truth pulled me out of self-pity and into a plan. Or at least a kernel of a plan. I needed new knowledge, new skills, new abilities.

Several times since that initial realization, the words have flowed through my mind and prompted a renewal.

As discussed on this blog in the past, I have dealt with mental illness and a sleeping disorder for years. At the very end of 2019, I finally got the right treatment for oversleeping. Twenty-twenty started strong with a joy-inducing plan. That the pandemic shortly consumed in whole.

I found myself working full-time for the first time in years. While my sleep was less than it had been, I still found naps during most lunches and between work and dinner. Throughout last year and pretty deeply into 2021, I worked with medical providers to adjust medication, I faithfully participated in therapy, and I discovered a consequence of mental illness that caught me completely unawares.

Naively, I had believed that when I “fixed” myself, I would rejoin a family and world that functioned well. Spoiler: Both my family and the world fell into disrepair while I was “gone”. I’ve spent the better part of 2021 trying to understand the trauma my kids experienced due to my mental illness and all the restless threads trailing behind us.

Every single time I am standing in the water, a new deluge hits and I find myself out of my depth so completely that I am lost. For a moment. Then I remember that out of my depth is precisely where I am meant to be. To level up. To stand in the water again. In other words of metaphor: it’s the cycle of growth.

And it’s so easy to envision the flood as devastating and the growth of a plant as renewal. They are, I think, largely the same. A flood is initially devastating but washes nutrient-rich silt onto land, enabling new life. A seed must shed the hard outer coat that protected it for months, years, even centuries; otherwise, it will not grow. Imagine the intensity of losing that outer shell, unfurling in the dark earth, and still finding the sun.

Seeds await a signal to shed their outer coats. The signal for me is being knocked off my feet by the swelling waters. That’s the moment I go deep, shed the hard protective shell of complacency, and summon all my resources to find the sun, to stand in the water, to be more rich than I was before.

This year has tired me. It’s been an almost constant cycle: swept off my feet, dragged deep, and standing again. I’m not naive enough to think the new year won’t bring more floods. Nor to think I will be ready when they do come.

I only hope to skip the panic more often as I remember that out of my depth is precisely where I am meant to be.

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