GUEST POST BY MOLLY O'RILEY
The light beams from the morning sun were streaming down onto his little head, as he slept peacefully: little particles of dust hanging suspended in the golden glow. I kissed his sweet, plump baby cheek, before stroking its smooth curve.
I wanted so badly to be able to be thankful for this moment. I just couldn’t. There was a heaviness on my chest that I couldn’t shake, and it had kept me couch bound for weeks.
When I had my second baby, I didn’t know what to expect. After the traumatic elements of my first birth -- where almost everything that could go wrong did, resulting in a C-section and painful recovery process -- I was afraid to put any expectations at all on the outcome of this one. The only thing I wanted was a healthy baby boy, and to try not to have another C-section. To my delight, both of my dreams came true, and my son was born in early October of 2015 with no complications.
What I hadn’t really prepared for, was what would follow in the coming weeks and months after returning home.
I had experienced postpartum depression (PPD) to a small degree with my daughter, and knew of its familiar dulling pain. I knew that there was a possibility of it coming again with my son, but I was not prepared for the severity or cunning of it’s arrival.
The first few days home were lovely and calm, but a little over a week later, I woke up to the feeling of hands around my throat and the inability to breathe.
I didn’t recognize this as PPD, as I thought that depression looked more like lethargy, not intense panic. In the weeks that followed, I spiraled down further and further into a place of constant anxiety, fear, and heaviness. I felt trapped in my own body - like I was inside a house, and everyone else was outside. I was banging on the glass door, but no one saw me. No one heard me. I began to worry that motherhood meant that I would forevermore be trapped on the inside and unable to speak. That my life would be decided for me. This thought both terrified me, and made me ashamed. Why wouldn’t I be happy to take care of these beautiful little miracles? Why would that task make me want to run away?
What kind of a mother was I?
All of these thoughts and feelings swirled around me as I sat on the couch for weeks. Finally, I got to the point where I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Have you ever gotten so sick of your circumstances and that toxic inner dialogue that you just HAD to do something about it? I don’t know what it was, but I couldn’t stand it anymore, I needed a release. I found a small sketchbook in one of our drawers, along with some simple watercolor paints and pens. I started to doodle.
I had always secretly considered myself an artist, but it had been years since I’d created much of anything.
Visual art had been my favorite form of expression: it made me feel like myself.
I couldn’t remember the last time I put pencil to paper, much less paint to canvas. I was losing myself, and I desperately needed to come back. For the next month, I drew or painted in my tiny 3x5in sketchbook for 5-10 minutes a day. That was all the time I could muster.
Slowly, I began to feel a spark of life inside me again.
I decided to start posting my work on Instagram, as a way of keeping myself accountable - I knew that by the end of the day I needed to have something new to post, if only a small doodle.
A sliver of hope began to form as I created, and kept this small social media ritual.My daily creative practice became the lifeline I clung to, and a powerful way of processing my feelings.
I CALLED IT MY "PROCESS IN COLOR", AND IT WAS THE BEGINNING OF A NEW CHAPTER OF SELF-DISCOVERY IN MY LIFE.
Doodling, painting, drawing… all without expectation of outcome. This was absolutely freeing for me. I learned to allow myself to just make what I wanted to make. Some days the colors were harsh, the lines jagged with utter frustration. Other days, I was able to convey a sense of peace and calm as it was beginning to be birthed in my soul.
Over the course of two years, I’ve only missed several days of my creative practice. It has become the catalyst that helped me survive postpartum depression, has since transitioned into a business that is growing, and has led me to find my strong creative voice again at a time when I could barely whisper.
Motherhood and art-making truly came together to recreate me as a new woman. I will spend the rest of my life bringing the message of freedom through creativity to the women who need it most.
Five Tips for Starting a Creative Practice /
1. JUST START / over thinking and analysis paralysis are the enemies of true creativity. Take what you have, and use it where you are.
2. DON'T WORRY ABOUT THE OUTCOME / ever since we all were in middle school, we’ve had this mean inner critic inside our heads, telling us that everything we do is ugly… and why try? Ignore that voice. Make something anyways.
3. PLAY / have fun… seriously. Experiment, ask yourself “what if…” and just follow your curiosity. If this is hard for you (as it is for most) pretend that you’re three years old again. Visualize yourself as a child, and do what a child would do, unfettered by “adult” opinions.
4. KEEP IT SIMPLE / use something you already have sitting around - like a notebook and crayons. If you want, go out and buy a new sketchbook and some watercolors. Sometimes, treating yourself is just what you need - BUT do not let a perceived lack of materials be an excuse that keeps you from starting.
5. JOIN A COMMUNITY / give yourself some accountability - there are so many fantastic corners of the internet that are packed with loving and like-minded people… just waiting to encourage you. It can be vulnerable to build relationships, but you need to know that you are so not alone. If posting online is too much, or what you’re doing feels too private - that is totally okay. Just find some other women (like, the Belong community!!) who you can talk to when things get rough.
You’re not alone. You’re going to be okay. You have all the permission, and all you need to start creating.
Molly O’Riley is the artist, creativity coach, and color cheerleader behind Darling Rage
Creations. She lives and plays in Bloomfield, NY with her husband and two kiddos: Penelope
and Jacob. When she’s not momming, she’s probably painting, chugging coffee, and/or
encouraging other women to unleash their inner awesome.