Fireworks in the Distance, Blues on the Brain

Usually I like the Fourth of July. I’m particularly fond of fireworks, mostly because I liked to pretend as a kid that they were the world’s secret present to myself. 

That sounds pretty self-centered, but let me explain: as a kid with a late June birthday, I never really got to celebrate my birthday with my friends. Most of them would be gone, either on vacation with their families or just kind of forgotten in the way that little kid friendships can be “out of sight, out of mind.”This always made me sad, of course. But luckily my birthday is in close proximity to Independence Day, so I would pretend the exploding “sky flowers” were for me. I would make a wish on every firework in that way that kids read omens and signs into everything. (Or maybe that was just me.) It made me feel a little more festive, and a little less sad. That’s why every year since I was a child, I’ve always looked forward to a fireworks celebration. I’m not patriotic or nationalistic by inclination; they just made me feel a little more happier and a little less lonelier in the world.

This year, though, I didn’t go. I didn’t want to bring my four-month-old baby since I wasn’t sure how he’d like the loud noises, and it would also be way past his usual sleep time. And I could’ve lined up someone to watch him but it was a logistical clusterfuck, honestly — the idea of unraveling it made me exhausted. And exhausted is honestly how I feel a lot of the time now, being a new mama and all.

But it made me sad to miss the fireworks this year. I could hear them not too far from where I live near downtown. I watched them a bit on TV, too. My town actually puts on a good show — it’s actually better than nearby Chicago or Madison, which didn’t even have fireworks this year. So it bummed me out to hear and sense them nearby and not be there. 

I actually feel really bummed out a lot lately. Beyond bummed out — a touch of the post-partum depression, maybe. (I’m not quite sure, though…it doesn’t feel chronic enough to keep me from functioning, but it sure does feel blue when it happens.) I think maybe four months of chronic severe sleep deprivation have finally caught up with me, not to mention the loss of my old identity and life, the often physically grueling changes I’ve been through, and social isolation. Sitting there missing the fireworks underscored how isolated I felt and how cloistered my life has become, and it only made me sadder — but I felt sadder than I think is normal to feel. (Or maybe this is normal? Oh, man, that would be sad.)

I’ve been trying to “fight it off” and take care of myself really well, but it’s not like a cold: it’s not something that goes away by “thinking positive” and it’s not something I can “snap out of.” I exercise, get fresh air, I see loved ones on the regular, I do all the self-care stuff they say for you to do, I try to make time for myself. 

But this isn’t just the normal difficulties of new parenthood. It’s being so overwhelmed by even the simplest things at time. It’s intense, irrational rage or sadness at things you know are small and yet somehow you’re still so fucking angry or distraught. It’s when everything — a grumpy look from your partner, a spate of fussiness with the baby — feels like the end of the world. It’s sometimes feeling so horribly sad that you feel like you will never feel joy again. 

And on top of it all, there’s tremendous guilt and fear that you’re a bad mama because you’re going to ruin your child with your inability to get over yourself and regulate emotions. Which is why no one talks about it, admits to it and why so many unhappy, harried mothers inevitably smile though their pain and say they’re perfectly “fine.” 

And well, sometimes I’m not “fine.” Some days, I really worry about myself. Some days I just don’t feel like me, and I don’t recognize the person who frets about these small things or gets irritated so easily.

Luckily, I still have a lot of good days, which save me, and I try to store up the feelings and memories to draw upon when I feel shitty. I’m lucky to have a wonderful partner, and truth be told, a happy, even-tempered baby. 

But my bad days are super, super bad sometimes. And it’s hard to wade out of the “grey mist,” as I think of it.

I’m actually wavering on publishing this because the past few weeks have been pretty good — I’ve been better at asking for what I need, especially in terms of alone time and being creative — and I’m wondering or perhaps trying to convince myself it’s not post-partum depression. 

But even if the grey mist doesn’t descend again — or it isn’t as dark or heavy as it has been — I still think these “baby blues” are important to talk about. If there’s a new mother out there reading this — and feeling like the joy has been sucked out of the world and guilty that somehow you just can’t enjoy your beautiful new baby you’re supposed to enjoy and overwhelmed and resentful at the huge transitions you’re going through — just know that you’re not alone, you’re not “crazy,” and it’s haaaaaaard being a new parent to a new human. Get help, get rest, get time for yourself, get enough peace to be able to hear what your inner self says you need. Reach out, though it feels like the last thing you want to do. It helps, it really does. 

And maybe I’m just taking to myself here — but I know that one day I’ll be able to go to the fireworks again. I’ll be able to look up in the sky, see all the lights and be able to celebrate life with a bright festive spirit again.

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