We went on our first family vacation this summer. The drive was 1000 miles, almost exactly. If you have ever been in a car with a two and four year-old for more than three hours, you may be laughing about our desire to spend 16 hours in a car with our children. There were times when I wondered if we would still be a family when it was all over.
Honestly, I don’t think we would have made it without a DVD player. I’d love to say that our children happily rode the entire time enjoying looking out the windows, reading books (i.e. looking at the pictures), and playing silly games between them. The truth is that they gorged themselves on movies and favorite shows when they weren’t sleeping. Sometimes the DVDs paused so that they could use their magic marker books and play with B. Pop-Arty Beads. We even read a few books. Mostly we just survived.
When we got in the car to head to the beach at 2:30 a.m., we knew there were two days of driving ahead of us. What made it more manageable was breaking it up into shorter pieces. Literally mile markers on the drive that helped us recognize the progress we were making.
In some ways my recovery from postpartum depression was like our trip to the beach, except that it moved at a glacial pace counted in weeks and months, not an average speed of 62 MPH in hours and days. There were many difficult lessons in my postpartum depression recovery, but maybe the hardest was resetting my expectations. (At some point I’ll probably attest to asking for help being the hardest, but let’s just call it a tie for the time being.)
I would look around and see other mothers competently momming and doing normal things like leaving the house, eating, and caring for their families. I struggled on all those fronts. I wanted to do all of those things… desperately, but couldn’t will myself to do any of them.
My doctor convinced me that seeing a therapist was the only way I would get better, so I mustered the energy to make it to her office for my first appointment. Every week I would walk out with homework and I vividly remember week 1: get out of bed, get dressed, & feed my baby. That was it! It took me mastering those three tasks to move on to the next week where feeding myself one meal per day was included.
It took thousands of small (insignificant to most) victories for me to recover. On my worst days during the torturously slow moving process, I would crawl into a ball on the couch next to my best friend and sob about how I wanted to be better and my old self. I would think about all the things that needed to happen for that to come to fruition and my world would come crashing down as I was overwhelmed with the magnitude of that goal.
For me, I’ve always had to focus on the small tasks at hand, not the big hairy audacious goals I have in life. I have to celebrate the near insignificant steps, because it sustains me and fortifies me in the face of set backs. There were many steps forward and lots back too. In the midst of the steps back, I would go to my to do list and look at all of the checked boxes. Sometimes I would even go back to previous weeks to see the things that I could do that didn’t even need a box to check off anymore.
I had no idea how close I was to recovery until I strung together a few good days and then a few more. Then there was a day where I almost felt normal. It was followed by thoughts of not needing medication any more. I had spent a year yearning for that day and suddenly it was before me. The only way I knew I was getting closer was that I had the perspective from where I had come.
We made it to the beach. As we pulled in, the parking lot was flooded from Tropical Storm Bertha. My son squealed from the back seat, “Look at how big the ocean is!” (He could only see the parking lot.) We slogged through the water to get to our condo and carry in all the crap I thought we most certainly would need. Then we walked the boardwalk over the sand dunes and he saw the beach.
Some things are so big and awesome that they are worth the wait. They are worth the 1766th asking of “Are we there yet?” or “How much longer?” They are worth all the angst over whether we will ever really make it.