It was recently World Maternal Mental Health Day, so what better time than the present to channel my inner Gryffindor (I’m actually a Hufflepuff, but sometimes you need a little Gryffindor courage) and admit that I’ve been struggling.
I knew I was predisposed to developing postpartum depression/anxiety after the birth of my beautiful daughter in July, but the black dog didn’t bite until this past January. After months of house hunting with a new baby, getting in bidding wars, and losing on several houses in a hot market, we finally bought our first home and moved an hour away. The stress of moving combined with sleep deprivation caused by a regressing/teething baby, and long hours of momming due to my husband’s work hours, brought the black dog out of the shadows and I finally had to admit that I wasn’t quite myself.
I’m in good company. It seems like my social media feed is full of articles written by new moms who struggle to keep their black dogs at bay.
As a hopeful romantic who always dreamed of having children, I thought motherhood would be a breeze. I envisioned blissful days tapping away at my novel with my gently cooing baby content in her bassinet beside me, and then tucking my dozing cherub into her crib at dusk and walking away, perhaps scribbling some enlightened motherly thoughts in my journal and reading a little Jane Austen before settling in for a full night’s sleep. I thought my maternal nature would enable me to interpret every cry and fulfill all of my daughter’s needs without once questioning my abilities as a mother.
Oh, how naive I was. Motherhood is miraculous, beautiful, and life changing, yes. But it’s also hard as shit. Add some sleep deprivation to the mix (which is literally torture) and some major life changes and you’ve got some dark days ahead.
Although these last few months have been difficult, there’s been some light. A local mom group, library activities and outings, meds, prayer, music, daily exercise, and the support of friends and family have all helped alleviate some of the darkness. I’ve also been learning a lot about the importance of self-care, which is particularly important as a mom when you’re constantly meeting the needs of others. I’ve learned that “me time” isn’t selfish–it’s a means of survival.
My “me time” happens every night after the baby finally goes to bed and I hand over the monitor to my husband so he can keep an eye on her for a few hours. I dive into bed, put my earplugs in, and get lost in a good book before getting some uninterrupted sleep.
Which brings me to Harry Potter.
Full disclosure: I’ve never read the series before, despite being 11 and the target audience when the first book was published. Flash forward 20 years and I can say with all sincerity: Harry Potter has saved me.
Now I can see why everyone has been trying to get me to read the series for 20 years. Now I know why it’s such an enduring series, and all the hype is well deserved. And although I wish I had read the books as a kid, I think they came to me at just the right time, when I needed them the most.
In that hour or so just before bedtime, I become completely immersed in a magical world, distracted by a story that has me unreservedly embracing full-fledged fandom. In Prisoner of Azkaban (my favorite of the series thus far, although I’m only a quarter of the way through Half-Blood Prince), Harry first encounters the Dementors, which are said to be based on Rowling’s own experiences with depression. Professor Remus Lupin (one of my favorite characters), tells Harry:
“Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.”
Harry discovers he’s more susceptible to the evil creatures—he faints when they’re near while his friends Ron and Hermione do not—much like some people struggle with their mental health while others do not. It doesn’t mean you’re broken or weak.
Lupin tells him:
“You are not weak, Harry. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
The kind professor, who is also stigmatized, gives Harry chocolate after his first experience with the Dementors—the chosen remedy to sweeten sadness. Eat, Lupin says. You’ll feel better. Chocolate won’t prevent the Dementors from coming back. It won’t completely cure Harry from being affected. But it helps.
The black dog may always be lurking in the shadows, ready to bite. The Dementors may come and go and sometimes you’ll find the strength to ward them off. Sometimes you’ll feel them drain your peace, hope, and happiness. But you’ll get up again. I promise. You’ll find the things that sweeten your day, that save you, no however small…be it chocolate, tea, friends, therapy, nature, or the power of a good story.
You’ll find your way home.
Alison Brown lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, one-year-old daughter, and a ferocious terrier. She’s an editor by day and an aspiring creative writer by night who loves tea, books, and is a new diehard Harry Potter fan. You can read more of her work at atimesnewromantic.wordpress.com.