I keep writing these eight minute memoirs.
After almost a decade of terrible/decent/cute/okay short hair I stopped getting haircuts, (which was actually really hard, because haircuts are sort of my love language,) and let my hair grow long enough to tie up in a really messy knot. It was just easier, especially after Marie was born, to just keep my hair out of my eyes and off my face.
A few months ago I noticed that despite months of neglect, my hair was long. Weird how that works.
Then one day I (my friend Kate) dyed my naturally light brown (but often fake blonde) hair dark brown and cut a straight line of bangs across my forehead.
This was an unintentionally great choice, for some confusing reasons. My favorite thing?
People leave me alone.
At the risk of sounding vain and self-absorbed, I'm going to tell you something: If you are blondish with the face of a cherubic Relief Society President, people are going to want to talk to you. Because you look trustworthy af and even though you hate 99% of humanity, your dimple and curly hair tells people HEY I CAN GIVE YOU THE DIRECTIONS YOU NEED, I CAN TUTOR YOUR CHILD FOR FREE, I CAN LISTEN TO YOUR DUMB MALE BRAIN TELL ME DUMB MAN THOUGHTS ALL DAY, I CAN DO YOU THAT FAVOR, LET'S TALK IN LINE AT THE GROCERY STORE. THANKS FOR FLIRTING WITH ME, I AM SO HONORED.
Suddenly morph into a vaguely goth looking mommy who probably steals her kid's ADHD medication*? Welcome to scrolling through your phone in peace for the rest of your life. People leave you alone.
It is amazing.
For the record, I actually like how I look with dark hair and sexy murderer bangs. Kate is a badass hair stylist and I think my hair looks great. I really, really do. But I also like the increased invisibility, and I don't know what that says about the world.
I do know that in so many ways, women's bodies are considered public property based on how we dress (asking for it) based on how, when, if we reproduce (let's defund Planned Parenthood, make abortion inaccessible, and criminalize women who chose not to become mothers!) and based on what we do with our bodies after the kids are here (Work! Don't be too successful! Bad mom! Stay Home! Lazy Welfare Queen!)
I also know that a combination of pregnancy/having a damn baby/nursing/mental illness took my body away for a really long time.
So anything that lets me pretend, even for five minutes in line at the store, that this body is actually mine and not a walking advertisement for human interaction? I'll take it.
*not that I need to, I have my own, thanks.
All the disclaimers: I wrote this months ago, when I knew things were getting better and that I was (most likely) going to be all right. I wanted to remember what happened. So if you're reading this, I made it.
This is what it's like:
It's not like I was unfamiliar with depression or anxiety or simply being aware that life is incredibly painful sometimes, before.
I was unfamiliar with this.
This feeling of sadness so deep and heavy I stopped breathing sometimes. Remember falling off the monkey bars in elementary school? Hitting the pavement so hard, so hard that for a moment your brain forgets to tell your lungs how to inhale exhale inhale exhale inhale exhale inhale exhale
Sometimes you'll be holding a baby or pulling the chicken out of the oven or washing your hair, and this will make you stop in terror, because once again you've forgotten how to breathe.
This started a few weeks after she was born. A grenade went off in my head—shrapnel rattling around—taking the place of reasonable thoughts, co-opting the work of synapses, sending the kind of messages that turn into news stories. Friends and relatives whispering I had no idea conspiratorially.
And the ones that have exactly an idea stay quiet. Mostly because we're/they're afraid of what happens if we talk too much, try to explain too much, try to name the black hole that's suddenly and inexplicably devouring us from the inside out. I still see its eyes in the dark.
Everyday I went to work. Taught history. Made my students laugh. Came home. Made dinner. Nursed the baby, sang songs with the toddler, answered the phone, met deadlines, earned money, got help.
Everyone tells you to get "help." So you ask your spouse who tells you to call your midwife, who tells you to contact a therapist, who refers you to a psychiatrist, who tells you they aren't taking any openings for three more months. Get help. Start again.
The nurse on the other end of the phone tells you to try and sleep. Get some rest. Take care of yourself. Everyone is very worried about you.
Meanwhile, your body is carrying on. Making milk, keeping you alive, keeping the baby alive, completely oblivious to the fact that at any moment the marching orders might change.
Sometimes, all you can do is keep perfectly still. Focus every single atom on pushing back against this.
It feels like being on fire and bones breaking. No one tells you that this, that mental illness, that post-partum depression, anxiety, insanity, that whatever the hell is happening feels like scraped knees and drowning and fractured bones and fire.
I don't love David Foster Wallace the way his intended audience does, but yes, he is right. It does feel like the choice between staying in a burning building and jumping out the window.
Stay in the building. Don't move. Every minute you stay whole and don't shatter a fire dies down, turns into softly burning embers that you can walk on, your body carried by scarred and calloused feet— all while holding the baby, making dinner, nursing, meeting deadlines, reading stories, trying to take care of yourself, and yes, getting all the help—your medicine cabinet becomes exciting and your schedule devoted to appointments.
More than anything, you want to feel joy. You remember what it tastes like (chocolate) and what it feels like (drying off after a swim on warm cement) and what it looks like (all your friends sitting around your table or draped over your couch, laughing)
You'd also like to sleep.
I don't have an answer. I didn't drive into a lake, drown anyone in a bathtub, or run head-on into traffic. I got better until I didn't, and then got better again. New gray matter grew over the bright shards of metal lodged in my brain. It's still there. I work around it.