When it all goes to seed..
The photo above is of a spearmint plant flowering whilst preparing to drop seeds. I've grown different variations of mint throughout the years and had yet to see them flower; most likely due to the fact that I was harvesting it on the regular because, mules. If I am honest my mint shortage may have also had something to do with my affinity for tabbouleh. Mules and Middle Eastern food: two of my favorite things.
I was in the middle of my nightly ritual to walk around and harvest in the garden when I noticed the delicate purple flower. It was a lone ranger, just hanging out providing me pause and a sprinkle of beauty in the moment. The weather had been wildly up-and-down and all-around temperature and moisture wise (welcome to Oregon), and the mint in my herb ladder was confused. While everything else was flourishing, it began preparing to seed to die back and conserve energy until the next season.
I couldn't help but see myself in this flowering mint.
In the transition from 2019 to 2020 amidst apparent societal normalcy and the warmth of the holidays being advertised and celebrated, I found myself a brand new mama to a baby boy.
When I was preparing for his birth, I studied and researched and obsessed about the type of birth I had wanted if all was to go well (Enneagram 5, nice to meet you). I was motivated only by the fact that I wanted this birth to be entirely different than the birth of my first born, which was mildly traumatic. The all around upcoming experience of birthing a child, living with a newborn... and parenthood thus forth I had the stance of " I've got this.. I've done it before."
Except I didn't. Have it, that is. I most certainly had a 12 year old young woman's eyes to look into for proof that I had previously birthed and raised a child.
The first month flew by as it does when you are living sleep deprivation amidst being a full time milk machine. It's amazing what our bodies can take on in certain seasons. My son was born on Halloween (which just happens to be my own birthday), and when I look back, Thanksgiving is when our newfound joy and elation wore off and I began to struggle. This was evidenced by the fact we decided to host our family Thanksgiving at our home, so that baby and mama would be more comfortable (bold, I know.. but our families were rockstars who showed up to help). Naturally, this was the day that our normally chill 1 month old decided to lose his shit all day long, cluster feeding and only pausing to cry and cry and cry. I sat back in our bedroom while our family had Thanksgiving dinner and felt so alone. So lost in this new purpose and transition. I didn't talk to anybody about it and cognitively acknowledged that this was adjustment; its hard.. but.. it will even out.
Next up came the Christmas season.. and while I enjoy the holidays, I live amongst a Christmas-crazed family and found myself trying to save face to show I was excited for the prep and decorating, etc. but really I was just soul level exhausted. It came time to go hunt down our tree to put in our first home together. We loaded up as a family, and as soon as we got there baby wanted/needed to nurse again. I stayed in the car to do so, and without thinking waved my family off to go find the tree to save time, stating that the baby and I would catch up. When they returned a couple minutes later exclaiming the had already found the tree AND cut it down I became a puddle of tears, confusing the hell out of everyone. I was so overcome with grief that I wasn't there for the moment the tree was cut; nor apart of the decision making itself. I know now this was an indicator that I was feeling deeply left out of my own life. After having a good cry, and my superhusband demanding a do-over from the tree farm we picked out another tree, and commenced all Christmas traditions... all the while I stuffed the leftover emotions to ensure I wasn't a burden to my family and kept telling myself to just make it through the holidays.
The New Year came and so did my downward spiral. As the month of January wore on I was becoming deeply depressed and extremely anxious- experiencing scary intrusive thoughts and constantly on edge. I kept telling myself I could handle it on my own and continued not talking about it much, except the occasional brief mention to my husband. Speaking of marriage, ours was becoming really shaky. Sleep deprivation and wavering mental health does not mix well, ya'll. We just figured it was simply that we were still in our "newlywed" period.. and well that certainly didn't lighten the load. We weren't coping well at all, which just added to the pressure cooker of life.
I coasted for a bit, still feeling awful, while remaining committed to keeping it under wraps. Then came COVID. And my home suddenly being full of my people, with no breaks and no silence. More cooking, and more cleaning which just distracted even more from what was breaking down within me. The week students were pulled from school was the same week my oldest turned 13. We had planned a big party that came crashing down and she herself, with all the other changes happening in her life began to struggle. I stuffed my issues even deeper to be there for her and began telling myself to just "get over" myself for the sake of my family.
As our norm somersaulted once again throughout Spring, adjusting to a pandemic infused life, I was dealing with full fledged postpartum depression and severe postpartum anxiety. Alcohol quickly and clearly became the thing to avoid to cope, I simply didn't have the means to handle it responsibly. There seemed to be no outlet. No way to escape my thoughts.
What I know now that I didn't then, is that like the downy mold that hit my garden late in summer, things that are sitting in moist, unfavorable conditions with no tending to treatment, or simply the light to aide in drying out-will begin to take over. Things became dark. Looking back I can say honestly ... they became REALLY dark, REALLY quickly... and yet I still hesitated reaching out to my therapist in full transparency, or my doctor.
I felt like that flowering mint in the sense that I was confused by my season and was preparing to die back. I felt so much that I *should* be full of joy and sunshine because life had so much goodness- so many aspects of my life involved things that I had hoped/prayed/dreamed of for years on end. It should have been flavorful and robust, like mint in its prime growing season.
That wasn't what was happening in my mind. So I quickly pretended, covered up, and ignored the reality that my body and mind was going through so much hormonally, and well, in every way.
I suffered for 7-8 months before coming clean of my struggle to family and my therapist. Then my doctor. I was prescribed medication and had to walk myself through the insurmountable self-inflicted guilt of knowing that my breastfed baby would get a small amount of what I was taking. I had known enough about mental health medications from my career and knew things wouldn't instantly get better. Slowly, but surely, though.. they did. I found myself asking the question of "WHY did I wait so long?" Shame. The shame of feeling weak and inadequate for not having it all together with a smile, doing it all without being exhausted, yada yada yada. Every mother feels this, I know. And yet; knowing that it's a universal experience on some level doesn't help because we rarely talk about this shame. So here I am, talking.
We so often revel in admiration of the adorable babies born (rightly so), and forget about the human vessel who not only grew and birthed them, but undergoes body and identity changes and chemical shifts and sleepless nights.. and whew if that's not the perfect storm I don't know what is. Don't be fooled by the smiles of a new mom (many of them are authentic, yes) and walk away. Stay longer. Dig deeper. Look into her eyes and let her know its ok to not be ok. That it is more normal than we talk about, and perhaps, offer to be a listening ear or even better, vulnerably share your own darkness. While you are at it, check on the partners too.. they are (hopefully) supporting mamas going through the depths, and potentially going through it themselves (shout out to my saint of a husband who stayed and held my hand through it all).
I am several months out from those dark days, my son has turned one, and looking back I see the utter confusion of the season, but I also see the small, delicate flowers that sprang up during that time. I see the stem of fortified strength that wants to live and live fully. I see the buds of resiliency and wisdom that I will carry with me into the next storm or uncertain time (Lord knows 2020 seems to bring plenty of them.) I understand now, that no matter how dark some seasons of life may get; enough light continues to seep in to cause germination, growth and beauty. The surprise of this discovery has changed my life for the better, and for that I am grateful for the thorn of my postpartum darkness. It did not steal from me, it became an addition to the garden of my life, one that I hope to invite others wholly in to walk through and know they aren't alone.