Sunday, 1 April 2018

The Skeleton Tree

I spent a lot of my childhood with my Dad in the bush.  His favourite place to be.  Mine... not so much.  I am a beach girl.  Give me sand and waves and salty air any day.  My parents own a 500 acre bush block that I have honestly avoided going to as much as possible.  It has no phone reception, is in the middle-of-nowhere and is just not a place I love to be with the bugs and snakes and no flushing toilet.  The last two times I have been, however, the pure joy that Isaac has experienced, has helped me to see it in a different light.  No reception is actually really freeing.  It forces me away from my phone (other than to take photos here and there) and seeing my little boy running and laughing and leading his Poppy around in his very bossy two-year-old manner has made me realise that it's actually a pretty relaxing place to be.  It definitely helps that there is a shack-like building there now with chairs and beds and running water.  I'm planning on going there more often to really stop and enjoy the fresh air, the fact that I can't access Facebook or Instagram, the fact that my Dad and Isaac (particularly) are SO happy there.  Reid loves it too and even my Mum is forced to slow down (marginally) and just... be.

I have somehow rambled on about something that's not overly relevant to this post, although I guess somehow it all ties together in the end.  These thoughts comes from a pretty raw, emotional place with an analogy that my brain can't let go of lately.  Here it goes...  

I have always been fascinated with skeleton trees.  They are kind of scary.  They have always represented something strong and dark to me.  As we were driving home from the bush block yesterday, I was thinking about the corners of the mind, and how sinister some parts are.  Skeleton trees can be surrounded by green grass, fresh growth, trees with endless leaves and peeling, brown bark - yet there they stand; grey, gnarled branches reaching to the sky, encroaching on what could be seen as a perfect landscape.  To me, anxiety and depression is a lot like a skeleton tree.  New growth and positive things can grow and blossom and be at the forefront, but the reality is, the skeleton tree remains.  Sometimes it lurks in the background but its branches can easily puncture a positive memory, moment or even weeks of time.

When I was first diagnosed with postnatal depression, the entire landscape of my mind was like a desert.  I spent all day, every day, fighting inwardly with myself.  I tried desperately to grow new trees, or even some new grass, but all I could see was an endless expanse of those white tree trunks, their spindly branches seeming to grow more and more as grief took over.  I find that grief is a really appropriate way to describe my experience with PND.  It's the whole reason I still talk about it, because I continue to grieve so many things I lost.  The loss of breastfeeding, the loss of certainty around having more children, the loss of being there for Isaac overnight for over 6 weeks of his new life, the loss of positive associations to do with pregnancy, birth and beyond.  It hits me with such force sometimes that I honestly can't breathe (cue panic attack).  It's not something I will get over.  It is something I am still learning to live with.  I have pushed and fought and persevered against those dead branches that threatened to completely take over at some points.  I planted new trees with every ounce of energy I had.  Some days I literally sat in a chair all day; staring at my baby, sobbing my heart out, holding him close and begging myself to feel something positive.  It is not something I will move on from.  Those memories will always be there.  The branches will always encroach when I think about expanding our family, when I look back at photos of Isaac as a newborn, when I remember that I didn't want to exist.  That I wanted it to end.  Being that low and afraid is something that haunts me.  I write about it and talk about it because I won't "move on" from it.  It is my journey and to be able to see how far I have come, I need to be able to look back even though it hurts.  It's not something I can control.  I also know that I am not alone in this fight and that talking isn't only healing for me, it opens up so many conversations about the importance of maternal mental health.  Mums need to be emotionally cared for better post-birth.  My concerns were brushed aside during and after labour.  I knew I didn't feel right, that what I was experiencing wasn't "normal", but nobody took me seriously which made me feel ashamed and even more depressed.  I should never have left hospital feeling the way I did.  Talking about it is the only way we will ever create change.  So, I will always keep talking.

I am so glad that a lot of new trees have grown in my mind since then.  I am able to marvel at the recovery I have made, although clearly I haven't made peace with everything that has happened.  The skeleton trees are there, they always will be, but maybe I can come to appreciate them one day and realise that I didn't let them win.  They are part of the landscape but they aren't the defining part.  Their branches might reach out at times and they can win momentarily; but there is much more green than desert.  The new trees are tall and strong, and the wind they blow bends the skeleton trees away from being my constant focus.  The focus is my beautiful boy.  My resilient, sweet, amazing little boy.  He runs through the trees and doesn't even see the skeletons, he's much more interested in the green grass and the trees that thrive and grow because of him.  Every new memory we make is a new tree to plant.  The skeleton trees will remain, but the new trees are beautiful, solid and still growing.  They grow alongside you, Isaac.  You are the reason I fight.  You have taught me that skeleton trees can be beautiful too.  You have taught me that new trees will always grow with you holding my hand and leading the way.  You have changed my life so indescribably.  You are everything to me and more little one; I only hope that you will always see our journey as constantly having new growth, despite the skeleton trees that remain.

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