The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Derek Walcott, Love After Love
It’s that last line I think about at 11pm. However hard I try, it’s never earlier than that. I load up her night’s bottles onto a tray, take off my day’s sick-spattered clothes and sit down in front of the mirror. I find the skincare pots and tubes I’ve been using since Imogen arrived, and line them up carefully in front of me. Cleanser. Toner pads. Hydrating serum. Moisturiser. You’re supposed to cleanse twice and I only do that sometimes, in the mornings, when it’s been a rough night. Even so, this routine is about seven light years away from Take Off Makeup Most Nights; Use Cream When Feeling Fancy, which has been my go-to for oh, the past fifteen years.
I sit, I exhale, I rub fresh-smelling things into my exhausted face, and I think: sit. Feast on your life.
It is entirely possible that when you have a small baby – say, less than six months old – that you will feel close to madness at times. Your other children, if you have them, still need feeding and clothing and relationshipping; your spouse would probably like a conversation every now and again; your baby thinks any moment not being held is a moment wasted. And partly you crave those connections, and partly you want very much to run away to sea, where you might have to climb rigging but at least it will be quiet.
I have felt it, tickling away at the edges of my consciousness: the growing suspicion that a padded room would be a nice place to spend a long weekend, provided they gave you a book.
I have to remind myself all the time, so I’m reminding you too: this. is. totally. normal.
Since the padded room isn’t a serious option, I’ve tried hard to be exaggeratedly gentle with myself over the past few weeks. There are things that fill me up, and I’ve tried to do them whenever I can. You will find me opening the fridge and cupboards on food shopping day, because looking at our shelves crammed with fresh food – that I will use to feed them, that will do them good – makes me feel competent and satisfied.
At lunchtime I set the table for one, fussily, folding a single napkin under my knife and fork.
I write tick lists on my phone every morning, and include things like ‘Shower’ and ‘Dry hair’ so I have lots of easy wins.
I’m making huge efforts to exercise. I buy only my favourite ice cream. I downloaded a meditation app. I spent a little money on clothes that fit better.
I signed up for a creative writing course I didn’t have time for, and insisted on making the time. I write at the desk once a week, with the door closed, gently turning away all comers, and Tim brings my dinner on a tray. It feels odd, and good. I think maybe I haven’t taken myself seriously for a while, but I’d like to, now.
Give back your heart to itself. Sit. Feast on your life.
Save the rigging for another day.