Tomorrow, I’m taking my eldest child to therapy. She’s five. And it feels like failure.
Now, I’m the first person to tell you that therapy is a wonderful gift to give yourself. It’s one of the best and hardest things I’ve ever done – it broke me and healed me simultaneously and gave me the gifts of introspection and self-acceptance. I’m eternally grateful to the tailspin that was PPD for forcing me into a shrink’s office. (Side note: Anybody else remember that cartoon, Talespin? I loved that show as a kid!)
So why do I feel fractured? Why was the phone call to the counseling center about my child almost as hard as when I called about my own issues so many years ago? Introspection to the rescue.
“Her fears of children’s television shows and the wind, her anxieties about crowds and friendships, and her rage-filled temper tantrums – how are these not my fault? How can a child spend the first two years of her life with an depression-consumed mother and not have the yelling and the emotional barriers affect her personality?”
My inner-monologue screams at me as I write the appointment time and date on my calendar, adding it to my phone and my weekly to-do list. And to add insult to injury, I find I’ve written the appointment on the incorrect date and must write it again, the hurtful rhetoric echoing with every letter and number.
I break down in tears and sob while both daughters smack their mouths on gooey peanut butter sandwiches.
I’ve written about my experiences as a new mother with postpartum depression and anxiety before. I’ve made a practice of not hiding how devastating that time was – of not allowing shame to dominate my life now. I thought I was over it. But the guilt monster, it seems, has a thirst that can never be quenched. She sneaks back in and reminds me of all the time I missed and of all the damage I must have caused. When will I be able revisit those days without anguish and without all the sights and sounds torturing my memory?
Facing that my little girl needs some help with what we call her “big feelings” is forcing me to reflect on my own struggles with mental health. It’s making me step out of the present and reside temporarily in her past… my past. And in looking back, I remember that I’m angry for what the PPD took from me and for what it gave to my child.
“What a gift you are giving her. The chance to learn to be introspective and to ask for help. I wish it had been alright to not be okay when I was a kid.”
My friends talk me down from a shame spiral, the depths of which only a peer would know. They tell me I am a good mom for allowing myself to go back to the pain and recognize that it gives me the power to help my baby. They speak of courage. And I try not to feel like a fraud.
The truth is that even though I know that I did not cause my child’s dramatic and spirited personality – even though I recognize that I am doing everything I can to help her grow into who she is and to care for her needs with respect and love – I don’t feel worthy of her.
And there it is. This therapy appointment feels like evidence that she deserved better.
And yet I’m exactly the momma she needs.
We stand in front of the white door and she notices the meditation medallion hanging from the door knocker. Nervously, she reaches out for my hand. Together, we take a deep breath and step, through our fears and hesitations, into help and hope.