She sits in the corner of the room, leaning back in her chair, smoking a dirty cigarette.
I didn’t know who she was when I was growing up. She was always there, in the corner of my eye, in the back of my mind. An itch that I couldn’t reach. A bad feeling I couldn’t shake. A sticky feeling I couldn’t wash off my hands.
I tell myself I will be strong. You are weak and always will be. I tell myself I will be productive. No, you’re lazy. You never get anything done. I tell myself I will be patient. It doesn’t matter how patient you are, you’re still a terrible mother. I tell myself I will be successful. Hah. As if.
She watches me with a faint expression of amusement in her dark eyes.
She sat there, in the back of my mind, watching me. Telling me I wasn’t good enough. Reminding me of my failings. Pointing out my mistakes, dredging up all the stupid embarrassing moments of my youth. Asking me what this person or that person thought of me. Every now and then I would stand up and say no, and she would lash out and sink her nails into my skin. “I will always be here,” she hissed in my ear. “I will always be here to drag you down when you try to get up.”
She was familiar. It was like sinking into your favourite chair at the end of the day, putting on a well-worn pair of shoes. She was always there with open arms, always ready to welcome me back. This is who you are. This is where you belong. It’s always been this way, and it always will be. Why do you keep fighting? Aren’t you tired? And what good has it ever done you yet?
I didn’t really know who she was. I just thought of her as the part of me that made me angry and guilty and put myself down. I thought that was normal. Maybe it was slightly worse for me. Maybe I just found it a little easier to be negative than positive. Other people were naturally positive, and I wasn’t. It wasn’t until my doctor looked at me and said, “I think you’re right, I think you do have postnatal depression”, that I knew who she was.
When I was young I remember going to a friend’s house and using their swimming pool during the summer. One time I was climbing out of the pool with a hula hoop around my waist and one of my brothers grabbed it. I sank underwater, and every time I tried to catch a breath, I was pulled back under.
That’s what it feels like now. I’m drowning, trying to reach the surface. If I fill my lungs with air I can go back under for a few more minutes, and I’ll be fine. But I can’t break the surface. I can’t catch a breath. I’m drowning, gasping for air. I’m being strangled. I’m starving for something and I don’t know what it is. And she’s there to pull me back under every time I swim for the surface.
She isn’t sitting in the background anymore. But that’s better, in a way. She’s sitting across from me. We’re face to face, and I’m looking her in the eye. She tells me I’m worthless, a terrible mother, lazy, unmotivated, useless, a failure. But I know who she is. I can look her in the eye and tell her she’s lying to me.
My feet have to hit the bottom before I can push off for the surface.