“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
My first step was recognition. Recognizing the fact that something was not right. Then stepping through the door of my therapist, nearly two years ago to the day. Accepting the fact that I suffered from postpartum depression. Asking for help to make things right.
And with her help, I did begin to make things right. I began to relish those Tuesday evenings when I would give Angela her nighttime feeding and hand her off to Daddy, kiss the other two on top of their heads, and head out the door. In the waiting room, sometimes I’d get fifteen minutes to myself to collect my thoughts, jot down ideas in the notebook I’d all but deserted in the bottom of my bag, or – gasp – read a mindless magazine. She even joked with me once about how early I’d arrived: “Need some quiet time?” I told my mom that it was nice to just have someone to listen. “How sad is it that I have to pay someone to do that?” I quipped.
But my mother completely understood. I’d put her in the selfsame shoes thirty years earlier. A mother, a woman, most times comes last on her list of obligations. Doing laundry, changing diapers, wiping noses, reading stories, making lunches, making love – there is no time to even think about what would please you, let alone do it. So an hour of sitting still and talking someone’s ear off about my problems – that was well worth the $35 co-pay.
And unlike other pursuits outside the home, say ladies’ night or a yoga class, there was no guilt attached to this. I was not choosing time away from my children. I had to do this or I would go out of my head. I needed healing and she was my practitioner. So for someone who was already feeling like a bad mother, this was the perfect escape.
In fact, I even called my car the escape vehicle. When I had an appointment, I got to drive my sedan, not the RV-like vehicle that fit all the kids. The car I used to commute in to work each day. The first new car I ever owned. The car that, when it sat idle in the driveway, represented all about my old way of life that was dead.
Then the most miraculous thing happened. As I became a less stressed woman, I became a better mother. And as I began to achieve some sort of equilibrium, I actually began to think about what would make me happy. Let me rephrase that. I began to formulate ways to make me happy. Because as a depressed person, all I thought about was why I wasn’t happy. Why was this happening to me?
I do not believe God is vengeful. Or spiteful. So even though I was by no means a saint, I figured there was no way He would wish something like postpartum on me. And so I searched for a ray of light in the darkness. I had a recurring thought. There had to be some way to help other women realize that the horrible, terrible feelings of worthlessness that come with postpartum are not theirs to bear alone.
That thought led into a brainstorm that still has me swirling. Its development has led to a change in course for my career, even my life’s calling. And right alongside it has developed a better and stronger me. Through it all, my therapist has been right beside me.
So on a January night not unlike the first that I walked through her door, I was heading to my therapist’s office. And not unlike that first night, I was nervous. In fact, I almost dreaded going. Because, not unlike other things she’d waited patiently for me to figure out, I suspected this might be my last visit. On some level, I’d known on my most recent visit that I was becoming strong enough to continue on my own, but like any human who is her own worst enemy, I ignored the niggling sensation of knowing and scheduled my next appointment. In the back of my head, I heard my friend say that she’d stopped going to see her therapist regularly when they’d run out of things to talk about. Not yet, I thought.
At the appointment, I updated her on all the items ticked off my to-do list and how I planned to accomplish the others. I shared successes; the resolution of sticky situations I’d been dealing with. As the clock wore down on our hour, it sounded very much like a debrief. An after-report. The niggling knowledge bubbled just below the surface.
“What do you want to do?” she asked at the end of the session.
I knew what she meant. “I don’t think I need to schedule,” I said hesitantly.
“No, you don’t,” she agreed. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t call whenever you need to come in.”
I knew she meant this, too. But I couldn’t help feeling a little like the kid whose Dad says he’ll hang onto the bike seat, but lets go as soon as the pedals start spinning down the street for the first time without training wheels.
She was not deserting me. She was giving me a more literal translation of Lao Tzu’s quote, “The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.”
She helped me find my feet again, but now it’s time I stood on my own.