About a year ago, I made a couple of trips to Knoxville from Charlotte with Annablair and Nora Beth for my sister’s wedding and subsequent shower. I always had a plan to leave at just the right time after wearing them out just the right amount so that they stayed awake until Asheville, where we would stop for lunch and a nursing session, get back in the car, and they would sleep all the way to Knoxville. It worked out pretty well, ultimately. But that one trip.
We decided not to go over until Saturday. I had discovered a character breakfast taking place at Barnes & Noble in the morning and decided it would be the perfect pre-roadtrip activity, and had carefully curated a visit, driving separately from David, so he could go directly to work afterward, and I could head over the mountains to Tennessee. Everything was going according to plan as I cruised down Providence Road (a major road in Charlotte) at 9:00 on a sunny, summer Saturday. Out of nowhere, and a few blinks too late, I spotted a deer heading right toward my blindspot.
It collided with the car, but I was able to keep driving the remaining mile until we reached Barnes & Noble. My phone rang immediately after the crash. Behind me, David had witnessed the entire scene.
“Did you just hit a deer??” he asked incredulously.
“Um, I really don’t know.” I stammered. Not fully aware of what had happened.
When we pulled into the parking lot, I threw my car into Park and started sobbing. There was fur from the deer still stuck in the window, and a huge dent along the back quarter panel of my car, but none of it felt real. As David filled in the details, including that the deer had flown straight up in the air, landed on the road, then gotten up and run away, I felt like I was underwater. Nothing felt real. The physical evidence of the impact was the only thing that convinced me I hadn’t imagined the entire episode.
Annablair was 6 months old, and those months had felt similar. I kept being hit in the most surprising ways, and only the dents I was sustaining were proof that I wasn’t imagining it all.
I had always assumed that postpartum mental health issues meant a general detachment from your child. Wild fantasies of not being a parent anymore. A resentment pointed at your current reality.
By contrast, I was more obsessed than ever with my two girls. Nora Beth was flourishing in toddlerhood, and Annablair was an angel. The perfect, cherubic baby to add to our mix. I delighted in nearly every moment with them. I had hurtled headlong back into work… taking really only the 8 minutes it took to push Annablair into the world as a maternity leave. David returned to the kitchen about 36 hours after arriving home from the hospital.
And it felt like we were in a sweet spot. Sure, sobriety wasn’t really a reality with David. And sure, postpartum recovery isn’t always ideal. But look at what we were accomplishing! Two careers. Two beautiful daughters. Two seemingly fully functional adults.
At night I would check on Annablair 16 times in an 18 minute stretch. Convinced that something had happened to her in the microseconds between visits to her room. When I did sleep, it was filled with horribly graphic nightmares of things happening to the girls. I was sure that the man working on a neighbor’s siding for weeks had learned our routines of the day and would snatch the girls from my sight.
I would lie awake, my eyes fixed open, terrified of another dream, but willing myself not to hover over the crib again, silently pleading “Jesus,” over and over or whispering lyrics to worship songs, hoping to ease my anaerobic breathing.
In daylight, I felt like I was watching myself operate. I was finding true joy in the moments with the girls, but in my times without them, my hands were dumb, my limbs were heavy, and I was functioning outside of my own body, with adrenaline pulsing in my ears. I became hyper-focused on things that didn’t matter.
I am by no means a housekeeper, but during those surging times, I became a manic-doer, honing in on any and everything that hadn’t been done – or had been done, but not correctly. I would drive myself to and from work in tears. My thoughts too dark to give words to. Everything felt like effort. Everything felt like overwhelm. Everything felt like too much.
Except the girls. They felt like life. And breath. And ease. And beauty. And oasis. And paradise. They felt so real.
I sat in my therapy sessions, and each would begin the same way:
“So, what’s been going on?”
“Not too much. I’m working about 50 hours a week. Nora Beth has hand, foot and mouth again. I’m still grieving a miscarriage. I don’t understand my relationship with my dad since he betrayed and abandoned us. David is trying out AA. Oh, yeah, he’s abusing alcohol. I have a newborn. But you know, not much. It’s fine. Everything is so great. Did I send you this picture of the girls?”
I was comparing my life to those that were so much worse than my current situation, convincing myself that I was just being realistic. I would often tell my counselor, “I can’t complain about this sprained ankle, when I know that someone else just lost their leg.”
Meanwhile, I walked around too afraid to sleep, too dysfunctional to stay awake. A mess.
When the deer crashed against my car that June morning, I truly wasn’t sure if it had happened, or if in my anxiety-addled mind I had created the entire event. I was my own blindspot.
With the encouragement of my therapist, my mom, and David, I started a low level of medication, which began to right my upside down world. My postpartum time with Jane Ellis has served only to underline just how dire those months after Annablair were. My concern, love and affection for my children was overshadowing the very real danger I was in, as I suffered silently from postpartum anxiety. To anyone else, my symptoms were textbook. To me, because they were hyper focused on just how much I would to prevent harm to my children, it was easy to overlook as “a symptom of my diligent personality.”
What I know now, on the other side (for the most part) of those foggiest of days is this:
The deer that collided with my car wasn’t my fault.
But if every Saturday at 9:00 a.m. on a road that shouldn’t have deer on it, I found myself careening into one, the fault would be mine. The deer showed up with consistency. I just refused to look for them.
Similarly, when crushing anxiety crashed through my windshield during my happiest days, I shouldn’t have expected it. It was okay for me to be shocked and disoriented.
But if I continue to allow myself to run headlong into episodes of crippling anxiety without addressing the root issue, it wouldn’t take long to point the responsibility on me.
I was my own blindspot. I am my own blindspot. I have to start checking my damn blindspot.
The last few weeks I’ve felt it breathing down my neck. This week, I spotted its shadow hovering over my shoulder. Yesterday afternoon I let myself dissolve into it. Last night I found myself starting to choke up, as I watched a fly drowning in a dish of water I’d set out for the sole purpose of catching the fly. I’d let myself drift into my blindspot. I let the fly go. I’m still mad that I did that. I was letting myself casually brush against the deer, wondering what sort of marks it would leave this time.
BUT NOT THIS TIME. I’m taking back my blindspot. I’m giving myself the margin to throw on a blinker, check behind me, and cry. Or not. Or check on the girls for the millionth time. Or not. To give voice to my fears. Or not. To linger on the “what ifs” a little too long. Or not. This time it’s different because I know how to look now. My eyes are searching for the deer, so I can admire its beauty, not be shocked by its impact.