Thank you for the thoughtful and kind responses to my last post. I think that the reality of depression has been so close to my life and family that it surprises me to discover the weight the word carries. I guess my reluctance to name it when I'm the one experiencing it indicates the heft it still carries in my own mind and heart. Truly, I feel that the weight has lifted/is lifting and it's a gift to know that tender people surround me and my family. An astonishing gift.
Several months ago, during a phone call with my spiritual director I frustrated myself trying to describe the physical stall I was feeling. "It's like I'm tucked up in my apartment and just going out the front door feels almost impossible." Of course (and thanks be to God!) I did go out that front door many times each week, but thinking about it and planning for it felt heavy and almost paralyzing. There's lots of factors for this difficulty - physical fatigue from moving so many times in the past 10 years, unfamiliarity with our new neighborhood, reacclimating to the cold and slushy Northeast winters, and more. Still, this sense of paralysis felt different to anything I'd experienced for a very long time. The best comparison I could offer was the feeling of post-partum heaviness.
When that memory of my post-partum experience arrived, I realized I was talking about depression. Why, oh why, do those early days of new life require from so many of us a high emotional, physical, and mental cost? I wish new life only brought youthful energy and dreamy bliss. I wished it then, and I wish it now.
This past weekend we visited my parents. My mom brought out a stack of photographs she thought I'd want to keep. Photo after photo of my beautiful children as babies and toddlers. The feeling of wanting to touch them, like literally reach into the photograph to cuddle their soft baby skin, almost overwhelmed me. The wistfulness felt almost like a physical pain. At the bottom of the stack, I discovered a few pictures from a small baby shower my aunt had thrown for us just a few weeks after Andrew was born. In one photo he's being cuddled by a great aunt and he's so small, his skin still carries that ruddy newborn complexion. In another image, my Mom is cradling his body cocooned in a baby afghan even though it's late summer. The rest of the photos feature Brian and me sitting on a couch opening presents. These photos hurt to look at, too, and not out of wistfulness. Behind the polite smiles on our faces, I can see directly into our shocked and exhausted hearts. My face is flushed with what I viscerally remember as the feverish first weeks of nursing a baby. My clothes don't fit my post-partum body very well and I can tell that I wished I could hide underneath the pile of gift wrap. Brian sits in his work uniform on one end of the couch and me on the other. In between us, there's a huge open gap of empty couch like we'd forgotten that we'd arrived together.
I'm sure at the moment, if I was aware at all of what I was feeling, I was stunned to be so uncomfortable in a moment I'd dreamed about. Our first baby, a beautiful son, a generous family, and the man I loved with my whole heart surrounding me and I felt completely lost.
In hindsight, maybe it shouldn't surprise me that the season of "emptying the nest" feels a whole lot like those post-partum days. I'm finally able to admit that it, in fact, does feel like that to me. In spite of preparing ourselves with all the best wisdom we'd heard throughout the years: tend to your own growth and interests, don't overidentify with being a mother, cultivate a strong relationship with your spouse aside from your children I seem to have still been caught off guard. To quote one of our favorite movie lines: "Oh, Eddie… If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be more surprised than I am now."
In the phone call with my spiritual director, she gently asked how much I understood about my personality. I figured I'd done the normal amount for someone like me who has a penchant for analysis and introspection. That's to say: a lot. I resisted her observation for a couple of months and have just recently been welcoming some new information and discovery about how God wired me inwardly and outwardly. One realization that struck me almost immediately is that I'm prone to get stuck in my head, the thinking part of me, and have a natural resistance to my body, the doing part of me. With this insight, I've been better able to recognize that paralysis I was describing as a separation of my ability to think a thought, feel a feeling, and then do a thing to move forward. For many days in the last year and a half, I'd keep looping through the thinking and maybe progress (on a good day) to the feeling with only an occasional forward movement to doing. For twenty-seven years I've been navigating up to six people's schedules and instead of it feeling like freedom to only have to navigate my own and Brian's now, instead, it feels like swimming around in a void. Another sort of personality might have rushed to fill in that void with activity, but my personality went inward instead.
Anyway, the insight (and several others) has been hugely helpful. Reorienting for me requires reintegrating my mind and heart with the tangible, physical world. Without the prompts of needing to do so many things to run a household, my body got lost. I keep telling my spiritual director that I'm too old to just whip myself into shape with some sort of self-help program. Most days I mean, rather, that I've gotten wiser. When I was a child I whipped myself into shape like a child, now that I'm fully grown I'm afraid of living out of an all-or-nothing state of being. I long for a healthy rhythm of thinking-feeling-doing that is led out of a desire to live as my truest self who is growing up in Christ day by day. But in the same way motherhood didn't just spring up with no pain or fear, none of this stage of life feels natural yet either.
And that's where I am today. The sun and beauty of May and June have certainly helped. A growing confirmation that my kids are going to make it in this wild and wooly world has helped. The tender people surrounding me have helped. Movement and active prayer, stillness and silent prayer, and tears and lamenting prayer have helped. Road trips, beach visits, the treadmill at Planet Fitness and the yoga mat on my bedroom floor have helped. Check-ups with my doctor and medications have helped. So have dumb episodes of Bob's Burgers and British murder mysteries. And, yes, to the extent that God-with-us doesn't abandon us in the midst of our idle pursuits, even word games on my phone have helped.
In my morning office today I was struck by the aptness of this prayer (bolding added by me):
O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration I may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
So I pray today that God, by the inspiration and energy of his Spirit might help me both think right thoughts and then to do them through the Christ in whom we live, and move, and have our being. May it be so.
Grace and peace,