Neutral Buoyancy (Hello Mental Health Week 2015)

I drafted this post in January this year, but didn’t feel it was the right time to share. This week was national Mental Health Week, and marks a year since I came out of the mental health closet. I still consider myself recovered, however, I do have scars. I hope this explains the longer term implications of mental illness, because it’s important to understand that while I am a stronger person in some ways, I am much more brittle in others. Thank you to everyone for the ongoing support xxx

There’s this term in hydrodynamics called Neutral Buoyancy. According to Wikipedia, Neutral buoyancy is a condition in which a physical body’s average density is equal to the density of the fluid in which it is immersed. Basically, when underwater, a neutrally buoyant object doesn’t sink or float, it just stays at the same level it started. Stay with me, I promise this does have something to do with mental health.

Even though I consider myself recovered from PTSD, I still have moments where I am very aware of the scars it has left behind. When I was well in its grips, I felt like I was sinking, and vividly/painfully remember the moment I literally/figuratively hit the floor of what felt like the Mariana Trench. During Clara’s birth and beyond, I felt the opposite – I was floating higher and higher, a wonderful lightness of being. While the massive high I was on after Clara’s birth was a mixture of endorphins and the joy of mental recovery, it wasn’t sustainable, but that’s ok. These days, 90% of the time, I feel pretty happy, 9% of the time I think I have the normal parent exhaustion/frustration/anxiety, and 1% of the time I feel the scars.

Before Christmas, I got in contact with my birth photographer. I still hadn’t seen the proofs of my birth photos, so I contacted her just to remind her that I was still waiting. The photos captured the most important moment of my life thus far, and as well as having a tangible record of that, I was looking forward to seeing Clara’s birth from another perspective, adding to the beautiful narrative I already had in my mind. I didn’t want to miss a thing. The return email wasn’t good. She’d had a virus on her computer, and couldn’t find any images at all.

I was shattered, heart broken, inconsolable. It was a PTSD reaction. It snowballed into irrational territory. It wasn’t just bad luck or poor data management that left my images deleted, it was a personal attack. I wasn’t worthy of being taken care of. A person I trusted to be in my birth space, the most sacred and protected place, had betrayed me and I deserved it. All of that horrible self talk came back in torrents, with the new fear that I had regressed, that I was back where I was 12 months ago, that this illness had me in its grips again, that I’d lost the war.

Of course, I got that email when I was home alone. Not long after, Brett and Alby came home, and as soon as Brett walked in the door, I broke down in tears again. Then Alby came in. It was the first time he had ever seen my cry, and the seconds following felt like they were in slow motion. He saw me, and I instantly saw fear reflected in his eyes. He burst into tears, and needed me to console him. Everything I was feeling was instantly but consciously put in a box and pushed away, because above all else, I am his mother.

Alby was happy again within minutes, and I got on with the usual dinner/bath/bed routine that dictates every evening from 5-7.

Over the next few days, that box stayed in use. Every moment I thought about what happened, I just put it straight back into the box. I didn’t want to feel those emotions, didn’t want the consequences of those emotions. I was too busy, I was too scared. I didn’t want to sink, venture into the depths that thinking about the situation would lead me. I did it pretty well too. My mother in law asked if I’d seen the photos, and I briefly explained what happened. The photographer posted on Facebook that she’d lost the images and was very upset. I just put it in the box and shut the lid.

Giving myself time and space meant that when I felt ready to think about the issue, I was able to do so a with a little more control. I’m still very sad that we don’t have those photos. I don’t need to explain what a huge loss it is. What I have done though, is gained neutral buoyancy, and I can take comfort from that. I might not have been floating upwards while I was putting thoughts in the box, but I wasn’t sinking. That’s powerful, and maybe it’s a sign of scars fading.

28Even though the photographer contracted a data retrieval company to try and find the images, they were irretrievable. Instead, we did a family photo session, and those photos make my heart sing. My rational head knows that I am just unlucky that this happened to me, and that I am just as worthy as the next person. Obviously I’m incredibly disappointed to lose those images, that promised to be so beautiful, but I still have my memories.

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