Did the shadow of what was coming cast its darkness over the light of a moment?

Reading A Double Life reminded me vividly the weeks and months after Grace’s birth, which were the darkest of my life.  As she recounts it in her memoir, Lisa Catherine Harper’s depression seems considered, thoughtful.  I plunged back into my own, remembering how inelegant my complete and utter collapse was, how inchoate the roaring of desperation in my ears.  I had no idea what was happening to me, but I knew firmly that I’d made the biggest and most permanent mistake of my life.

For years I’ve wondered if I could have somehow known what was coming.  As I’ve mentioned, I think the seeds of my depression were sown in my surprise pregnancy, and in how out of control I felt of the endeavor from the absolute beginning (fair question: is there ever a way to feel in control of such a fundamentally uncontrollable enterprise?).  There are two places I go to look for clues, wondering if with the wisdom of perspective I can see the shadow of what was coming casting its darkness over the light of a moment?

One is in my photographs.  It’s no secret that I take pictures of everything.  These photos do not become a silent, untouched mausoleum on my hard drive.  No, they are a living, breathing record: I return to the photos over and over, revisiting experiences, remembering moments.  I’ve done that a lot with the pictures of the days surrounding Grace’s arrival.  I can see a certain tentativeness in myself, but other than that I don’t think I see any concrete evidence of what hovered ahead of me.  I’ve looked at the pictures of her first weeks on earth an awful lot too, and those make me mostly sad.  I see a shell-shocked woman, overcome with a numbness so complete I don’t remember very much from that time.  I realize how that that numbness was sheer survival instinct – I was so deeply wounded that I think experiencing the raw feelings all at once would have swamped me utterly.  The picture above, moments after I delivered Grace with my own two hands, is the last one where I think I look like myself until many months later.

The other place I can pick up crumbs that show me the path I was on at a given time is my quote book.  In the specific quotes that moved me enough to hand-write them into my books I can decode something of where I was emotionally at a specific time.  In these books I see more clues than I do in the photographs, a deeper, subconscious anticipation of what lay ahead.  One week to the day before Grace’s birth I entered the James Baldwin quote that has come to be so incredibly important to me: “Trust life and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know.”

Two days before her birth, I added these lines from William James: “I am done with great things and great plans, great institutions and great successes.  I am for those tiny, invisible, loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets…”  It’s as though I knew I was moving to a world whose focus was small acts, deep individual love, and a power beyond sight.

And then, three days after Grace was born, the day after we brought her home from the hospital (incidentally, those photographs terrify me – my eyes are both blank and blazing, full of what I recognize now as abject terror), I wrote this: “One word frees us of all the weight and pain in life … and that word is love.” (Sophocles).

It took me many, many long months to learn what I can see now so brightly in these specific quotations and in their chronology.  I’m grateful that I now understand how the path unfolded, though I remain bruised by the experience of walking it.  In some strange way being able to revisit the woman I was then, through words and photographs, allows me to extend compassion to her, to attempt to heal in some out-of-time way the wounds I still carry from those days.

Do you have places – written, photographic, filmed, or otherwise – that you can return to, looking for a record of who you were at a specific moment in your life?  Places where you can see threads of your life glinting through, even when you weren’t aware of them at the time?

21 thoughts on “Did the shadow of what was coming cast its darkness over the light of a moment?”

  1. I am with Aidan – thank you for this incredibly stirring entry. I’ll be noodling it for days.

    The answer is yes. And in some ways, no. Sometimes it amazes me, the mask I wore so well, when I had crumbled so completely internally. No wonder it took so long to rebuild – no one could have known how deep my volcano was – I kept up the facade so well.

    As do you, my friend. Blessing and a curse, I think.

    Love to you.

  2. Yes. I do this very thing. To be honest, there are periods of time that are still so difficult to look over that I can’t look for long. I do it, because I for me, it’s healing…but in small doses. I am compelled to walk back through those days and really consider it all, like you’ve so beautifully described. I truly believe in the healing power of it. Because I realize it wouldn’t be so painful if I were not doing some good hard work on growing through it.

    Great post, lady.

  3. Like Aiden said– absolutely beautiful and raw.
    Don’t ever let yourself doubt whether you have something worthy to say to the world. Everything you write here serves as proof that you do. Keep writing, friend.

  4. Thank you again for writing such wonderful words. My days (and months!) after Caroline’s birth were also very dark- I just haven’t been quite brave enough to ‘go there’ yet. Perhaps you have inspired me…

  5. This is a beautiful post, Lindsey. I wish that I had been more diligent over my life in keeping records, journals, photos, so that I could piece myself together more. I’m working hard to engage in that process now and going forward–photographing and journaling. xoxo

  6. In some strange way being able to revisit the woman I was then, through words and photographs, allows me to extend compassion to her, to attempt to heal in some out-of-time way the wounds I still carry from those days.

    So true and beautiful. My 2011 resolution was to extend compassion and forgiveness to myself. This post reminds me to be kind to me! Thanks L!

  7. I am obsessed with reading over my old journals. And in the months since Abra was born I’ve read my own crumbling baby book a lot since my mom is no longer alive to provide her perspective of what I was like so that I have something to compare Abra to. I am always looking for clues about myself in her, to be honest. I relate to your feelings of unease and uncertainty during this period. I was on a dairy farm last week, and I saw a newborn calf that reminded me of myself: shaky and trying to find her legs.

  8. Oh Lindsey. Such an insightful, compassionate look back at your moments, which do, as you and I both believe, form us. The way you articulate and conjugate these experiences, the words you find in your reflections…breath-taking. xo

  9. Gorgeous post. It’s so real for me. Just last night, I was looking through old baby photos of my son and remarking to myself how perfect my hair and make-up was though I was completely falling apart inside. It’s hard to look at them. Thank you for putting this into words for me. xo K

  10. Oh, Lindsey. This is so raw and beautiful. As you know, I’ve done a lot of research on this subject of postpartum depression, though I haven’t experienced it myself. But one of my characters does create a labyrinth of photos on the floor to try to come to a better understanding of what she and her family have experienced, of what led them to where they are…And I, too, find myself at times turning to old journals and photos, seeing how they all fit into a bigger picture, my pieces to a puzzle. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  11. I think you’ve just struck to the core of why I find ALL photos somewhat haunting: in them I see more than I could have seen at the time. It makes me feel as though I have some sort of future-telling in reverse ability. It’s frightening.

    Wonderful post.

  12. The majority of my pictures are either stuffed in a drawer or digital byte somewhere on storage. I am not in most of them. There have been times when I’ve looked back but I don’t enjoy it. The past is just the past, a part of my life. But in some ways I think I am broken and reflection can make some cracks reappear (or simply remember they exist).

  13. You make a great point here. I’ve written before about how I’m not in lots of photos and that’s true (I take them instead). Weirdly that makes the ones of me that do exist more powerful. Good point.

  14. Hi Lindsey, To the extent that the depression was also a trauma, the construction of coherent narrative, through photos and words, is integral to the healing process. Your honesty, and through it your deepening connection with others, is lovely in that it serves your kids (as integrated trauma poses no real harm, while unconscious trauma has a way of passing generation to generation) and others who happen across your words and can relate all too well. Always Sending Good Wishes.

  15. I like the idea that we cling to ideas (or quotes) that might not be true for us yet, but that contain the wisdom we know we need. Beautiful post–it makes me want to comb through old pictures and study them, to see what was true, as opposed to merely relying upon the memories I have, the stories my mind has created, which are often incomplete.

  16. I’ve experienced similar moments which took many years to observe myself in those steps – the wounds are still vulnerable and have left a scar that may not heal. They have become less painful of a memory but still fresh when I walk in the same steps remembering those moments. I hope one day, the vulnerability is much more minimal. I know the feeling.

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