In the past six years my identity has been completely knocked off the wobbly legs that it teetered on.
My sense of self has always been somewhat unstable. I was dependant upon extended periods of time alone to help me present only my best self to others. My sense of self was deeply dependant on my sex appeal, my intelligence, my mother, and my place in the Jewish community.
Having a child and postpartum depression changed me profoundly. In the months and years that followed, each of these tenants of my identity fell away (crashed and burned).
I no longer had any time alone (because I was afraid to “abandon” my daughter for even a moment). My body became something that belonged to and served my relationship with my baby and not my husband (or even me).
And my mother… well…I could no longer base my sense of self on the feedback I received from her. I had to disentangle and became disillusioned with her and everything that she taught me. Including the central place that the Jewish community was supposed to have in my life. It just didn’t make sense to care about interacting with people I didn’t know or like. that I had to choose my friends from such a small pool or
The other element of my identity as a writer and reader, as someone who had impeccable grammar and a strong basis of literary and cultural references.
Beyond ‘mommy brain’, the postpartum depression that I experienced made it hard for me to read or recall what I’d read. As my friends graduated from professional school and got high paying jobs, I also began to realize that maybe I wasn’t as smart as I had imagined I was.
So, the external elements by which I defined myself began to fall away and the only thing I could lean on was my husband (lucky me) and my inner voice.
The trouble was, my inner voice was not very nice to me. It was depressed, riddled with anxiety and misinterpreting everything. It whispered mean things in my ear and loved to tell me exactly why I was a complete waste of space.
Experiencing postpartum depression and a complete nervous breakdown was enough to shock my soul. But to add a cherry on top, I experienced severe symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Once diagnosed, I looked back and realized how much my memories of my entire life were tainted with effects of my disordered moods. From my behaviour at school and work, and the decisions I made, to my social relationships and my daily interactions.
The trauma that I feel from the experiences of realizing that I am ultimately not entirely control of my own mind is intense. My perception of reality is perpetually skewed. I literally cannot trust my senses or ideas.
In her famous poem Lady Lazerus, Sylvia Plath writes:
Dying is an art, like everything else.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical comeback in broad day to the same place, the same face, the same brute amused shout: ‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.
I hope that you understand what I’m saying here. The falling apart hurts like hell but it’s like rolling down a hill. There is momentum to it- it is painful but almost effortless. The putting back together, on the other hand, is brutal.
First you must decide to try to survive the war against yourself (which never completely ends), then there is finding the strength to continue fighting and try to build a new life with the people you love.
But then, and this is the kicker, you must address the fact that you can’t actually figure out how to be the person that they used to love- the person that you wanted to be and thought you were and only vaguely remember anyway. Because, she doesn’t exist anymore.
Rejoining the living is hard. Who am I? What do I want? Am I being the person that I want to be? Am I actually even acting the way that I think I am. Can I trust my own self perception? (I can’t). It’s just hard.
And now my battery is running out. Both emotionally and technologically.
I came this far- I know I can figure this out. I’m just not quite sure how right now.