After my son was born, I told everyone — my husband, my mother, my friends — anyone who would listen, that I was not okay. And everyone told me I was fine. That I was fine, and doing well.
Now I can recognize it as postpartum depression, but at the time it was just a long, terrifying panic attack. I was convinced my son was going to die in my care. I thought that every time I walked into his room. Every time I leaned over his crib. I would dream of a blue baby. A dead baby. My fault. He would die and it would be my fault. Every day. Every hour.
But everyone said I was fine.
I wasn’t sleeping. I was alone for nearly 20 hours of every day. Alone except for a baby. But that is a different kind of alone. I had no internal monologue. I would tell my baby what we were doing. I’m reading you a story. I’m playing guitar for you. I’m bathing you. But in my head there was just a distant sound of screaming.
But everyone said I was fine.
My hedgehog died several weeks ago. He’d been ill, and had already lived longer than most hedgehogs. But I’ve found his death difficult to process. He was the most cantankerous creature I have ever met. He bit me whenever I held him. He bristled and hissed at me when I fed him. He ran around his terrarium looking for me when he wanted more food, and then got angry with me when I gave him more. I began to think of him as my unhappy self. Always a little past knowing what’s best for it. Too hungry to eat. Too thirsty to drink. Too lonely, but bristling at all contact.
Being intuitive means that I know more than I want to know.
My hedgehog died and I looked at his opened eyes through the terrarium and I was filled with sadness for both of us. For my love for him, and his reliance on me. For the difficulty of relationships. For the well of sadness that people want to assure me doesn’t exist.
I am having a hard time.
And as is often the case, I am having that hard time on my own.
I am alone with the burden of being me. The sadness of wanting human connection and intimacy in the age of electronics. Headphones and screens and the endless hustle of busywork. Where we mistake social media for real life. I am tired and I am sad.
I realized something today and it bothers me. When people assure you that everything’s fine, they mean for them. It’s fine for them. I used to think they couldn’t see me, but what they are saying is that they can’t see our relationship as I see it. Everything’s fine from their point of view. And everything is not fine from mine. We are in a different relationship. That is so much worse.
But, Jill, you’re talking about perspectives. We all have perspectives. We all struggle sometimes and that struggle comes at each of us differently. We’re always in a different relationship. That’s why your story of what happened is different from mine.
Yes. Yes, that’s true. But in my relationship, I’m not OK. And in yours, everything is fine. And those two things are not compatible.
Not today. They aren’t compatible today. Last week everything was on fire, and today there’s rain.
My life isn’t like the climate.
It is, Jill. Your life is exactly like the climate. Temporary and lovely and unpredictable. Sometimes heartbreaking.
You’re being reductive.
I meant to comfort you. This mess is yours for a while. A while is all you get. When you woke to the sound of rain this morning you were happy, remember?
Right now you feel paralyzed with sadness. And that feels real and you are miserable. This evening you’ll walk through the black streets and the trees will stand like sentinels and you’ll love the day a little more. It’ll feel like a secret. Yours to keep.
Even your sadness is beautiful. Surely you can see that. How else would you make space for your joy?
I don’t know. I don’t know how to make space for my joy.
You are. That’s what you are doing right now. You are typing it into being. You are telling yourself a story of joy and sadness and love. Like all stories. Of the death of a small, hostile creature and the way it reminded you of your suffering and your love. You are frightened that your unhappiness is permanent, so you are telling yourself a story of impermanence. Life as climate.
And now you feel better, don’t you?
I do. I do feel better.
All these things are inside you. And they are yours and they are true.
And that is why.
That is why you feel better.