My husband and I got into a big fight two days after finally moving into our long-awaited “dream house.”
But to be honest, I would have been more surprised if we hadn’t.
Robin Williams’ laughter and smile were larger than life. They’re still painted in my memory and ringing in my ears.
But his pain was deeper than the ocean.
And parents, especially new parents, are thrust into the greatest joy, purest bliss and calmest peace of life with a precious new child…
So why do so many of them report suffering from the deepest sadness, most severe loneliness, and isolating ineptitude they’ve ever felt in their lives?*
The common thread in each of these scenarios is something that has taken me a long time to learn about life: with higher highs come lower lows.
With the house example, I’ve learned that even good stress is stress. The overwhelming work of packing your life into boxes and unpacking it piece by piece as you get to know and operate and secure each quirk and cranny of a foreign new place is unsettling, even if it’s also exciting. Add to that exhaustion, chaos and competing opinions about priorities and I’m willing to bet many a husband and wife have “gone at it” – in a way that’s far from the christening fantasy they envisioned.
Then there’s the raw, painful story of one of the world’s most beloved comedians suffering so severely he took his own life. I’m not a psychologist but I know many mental health professionals have said in the aftermath of this shocking death, that it’s often the people who smile the brightest on the surface, that are fighting the darkest demons inside. That smile is their armor; it’s certainly not their whole truth. High highs….low lows.
Finally we have the true roller coaster that is parenting. It can lift you, windswept, to breathtaking heights you never knew existed, and then drop you so fast it leaves you spinning and wanting to throw up.
So why does this happen and what can we do about it?
One more thing I’ve learned about life is there’s a hell of a lot we have very little control over. Like where our husband puts the coffee maker. Or the unbelievable number of times in a day our little one….fill-in-the-blank (Spits up! Wakes up! Cries! Makes me cry!).
What we do have control over, friends, are the expectations we set for ourselves, as parents and as people.
When we expect things to be picture perfect, easy and happy all the time – we’re setting ourselves up for a freefall into disappointment. How can anyone live up to that bar, set as high as a trapeze artist? I’m pretty sure the only thing new parents have in common with a trapeze artist is sometimes feeling like they live at the circus.
Expect yourself to be human. Expect yourself to do some things well. And forgive yourself when things don’t go as planned. Learn to be happy in your home with dishes in the sink, and a baby with spit-up on their onesie. You’ll wash them and change them eventually, but maybe right this second you really just need to pour yourself a cup of coffee or spend 5 minutes zoning out to E! News.
And that’s OK.
Hopefully once we learn to expect that life isn’t roller coaster highs all the time, the lows might even out as well, and we’ll begin to settle into something resembling – what do the trapeze artists call it?
Oh, yeah. Balance.
*PS – I recognize and respect that sometimes these “lows,” when related to mental health are beyond our control and require the help of a trained professional, and/or treatment such as medication. If you are experiencing something you suspect could be a postpartum mood disorder, please know you are not alone, and you deserve to find the support you need. Here are a couple of resources available to you:
*Postpartum Support International of Washington:
http://www.ppmdsupport.com** has info on PPMD, list of recommended resources and Support Groups
*Peer Support Phone Line (a “warm-line” not a crisis “hotline” – support from women who have recovered from PPMD – if you leave a message, someone will call back within 24 hours). 1-888-404-PPMD
This essay was originally published on the PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) blog, Highs and Lows.