Harry Potter, the Black Dog, and Literary Chocolate

harry potter

[photo courtesy of google image search]

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.

harry-potter-quote-poster-yawn-sane

[photo courtesy of google image search]

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.

CacU2CLWwAAO4Rz

[photo courtesy of google image search]

Despite all the Bell Let’s Talk and CAMH initiatives, despite the countless celebrities and high-profile people who have opened up about their postpartum difficulties (and mental health struggles in general), it’s still so incredibly hard for me to talk about.

No matter how many hashtags and coloured shirt days there are, year after year, the stigma remains. If the stigma was truly gone, perhaps I wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable and vulnerable right now, like I’ve been wearing an invisibility cloak and have just now decided it’s time to take it off.

So there it is.

The invisibility cloak is off.

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[photo courtesy of google image search]

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.

stories

[photo courtesy of google image search]

Full disclosure: I’ve never read the series before.

Despite being 11 and the target audience when the first book was published, many Christians were leery of the series based on their “glorification of witchcraft and magic” … even though the author herself is a professed Christian.

As I grew up, what prevented me from reading the books was my natural distaste for anything with hype and desire to go against the grain.

Flash forward 20 years and I can say with all sincerity: Harry Potter has saved me. 

kafka

[photo courtesy of google image search]

Now I can see why everyone has been trying to get me to read the series for 20 years. Now I understand why, when I told a coworker my intention to read the series on my maternity leave, she said, “Oh Alison … enjoy getting lost in the magic.” 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.

lupin chocolate

[photo courtesy of google image search]

In Prisoner of Azkaban (my favourite 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 favourite 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.

not weak

[photo courtesy of google image search]

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.

magical

[photo courtesy of google image search]

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, that reveal God’s love to you, however small … be it chocolate, tea, friends, therapy, nature, or the power of a good story.

You’ll find your way home.

Always. 

home

[photo courtesy of google image search]

If you’re struggling with postpartum depression, don’t be afraid to get help! There’s some great resources through Life with a Baby (if you’re in Ontario) and Postpartum Progress.

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after the rain, the sun

QUOTE it is well

Waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question

– Elisabeth Elliot 

It’s hard to accept that you are in control, that you have a plan that’s good.

It’s hard to trust in a story I haven’t written myself.

I wish I could skip ahead a few chapters and see what’s next.

Then I’d be able to trust you. Then I’d be able to relax and enjoy my life and not get bogged down by the what ifs.

Then I could say with confidence that your promises are good.

But it doesn’t work like that, does it? It’s not that easy.

I guess there’s purpose in the process.

Your will is in the waiting.

If I knew all the answers to my deepest questions, I’d only trust myself–my efforts. My abilities.

I wouldn’t cling to you so desperately, the bleeding woman with nothing else but hope.

If I knew it all I wouldn’t need you. You’d be a benevolent benefactor I’d acknowledge on occasion–“thanks for everything!” and our relationship would dissolve into YOU GIVE and I TAKE.

I would miss the unexpected joy of a miracle, the tiny ray of sun struggling through the clouds when it’s rained and rained and rained without stopping.

I would learn nothing in the dark times, the hungry times, the wandering, the wondering in the wilderness.

I wouldn’t see the beauty in the brokenness, the way you whisper in the wind:

I’ve got this.

So I relent.

I relinquish control to the one who orders the storm to still.

I silence my soul to the rhythm of waves on the shore.

It is well.

Art

"A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us" - Franz Kafka

“A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us” – Franz Kafka

I know that life is busy and hard, and that there’s crushing pressure to just settle down and get a real job and khaki pants and a haircut. But don’t. Please don’t. Please keep believing that life can be better, brighter, broader, because of the art that you make. Please keep demonstrating the courage that it takes to swim upstream in a world that prefers putting away for retirement to putting pen to paper, that chooses practicality over poetry, that values you more for going to the gym that going to the deepest places in your soul. Please keep making art for people ilk me, people who need the magic and imagination and honesty of great art to make the day-to-day world a little more bearable.

And if, for whatever reason, you’ve stopped–stopped believing in your voice, stopped fighting to find the time–start today.

–Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines 

 

God in the Fall

photo courtesy of google image search

photo courtesy of google image search

Hello, September!

Something about the transitory seasons turns me into a little kid.

They make me think of new beginnings, even more so than the New Year which is unfortunately placed in the dead of winter. September has always signified to me the turning over of a new leaf, if you’ll pardon the terrible pun. Despite the fact that I haven’t technically been “back-to-school” since 2008 (or perhaps because of it), I look forward to the advent of autumn with the enthusiasm of a kid waiting for Christmas.

Summer is too hot and winter is too cold. Spring and autumn are my happy places.

photo courtesy of www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

One of the reasons why I love fall is because I associate it with this one memory of my childhood. For the life of me I can’t remember how old I was, but I don’t think that detail is important.

I think it was around Thanksgiving, and it was a warm, crisp, radiant autumn. We had just gone on a family hike. Afterward, true to family form, we went for a long, relaxing drive through the countryside. We were listening to a Darrell Evans worship tape (so this must have been the late 90s – a brief look at Wikipedia tells me this album, Let the River Flow, was released in 1997).

As the glorious fall foliage – pumpkin patches, trees in their full splendour – streamed past the van windows, both the worship songs and the beautiful scenery spoke to my child’s heart and inspired a gratitude for God’s creation and the expression of music, as well as the cozy, heart-warming feeling that results from special time spent with family.

photo courtesy of pinterest.com

photo courtesy of http://www.pinterest.com

Whenever the leaves start to turn colour and the air begins to cool in the mornings and at night, I find myself filled with nostalgia for that time. Thanksgiving, leaves, sweaters, pumpkins, the whole family staring out the window in quiet reflection as the van ambles along the country road with no destination in mind, Darrell Evans … it’s all inexorably linked in my mind.

photo courtesy of www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

I gave into the craving today (or was it God’s gentle prompting?) and started listening to Darrell Evans songs in my headphones at work. Without going into too much detail, I’ve been stressed lately, and working through some things, and despite my excitement for fall, I’ve been coming home at the end of the day feeling exhausted.

These words had a way of reaching into my heart, soothing it, and reminding me of the futility of worry:

I will seek you Lord

While I am in my youth

I will serve you Lord

And I’ll proclaim your truth

For you search and found me while I was far away

In my troubled times you always keep me safe

 

The Lord is my light and my salvation

Whom shall I fear

The Lord the stronghold of my life

Whom shall I fear

 

Cause I will seek you Lord

While I am in my youth

I will serve you lord and I’ll proclaim your truth

For you search and found me while I was far away

And in my troubled times you always keep me safe.

 

Exactly what I needed to hear this morning.

 

I will seek you Lord

While I am in my youth

 

photo courtesy of www.pinterest.com

photo courtesy of http://www.pinterest.com

That special time, forever etched in my memory, of simply listening to music and existing in silence with each other as a family, had more of a profound effect on my spiritual journey as a child than Sunday School, Christian education, or any sermon I’d heard in a church pew. I don’t remember those, I remember that. 

It is my hope and prayer that I’d be able to create these memories with my family someday, too.

photo courtesy of www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

 

Here are the links to a few of the Darrell Evans songs from my youth:

 

 

 

The Tao of Tea

Me and my cup of Irish Breakfast. Is there any pleasure greater?

Tea … is there anything better than the assured pleasure of a good cup of tea? Bernard-Paul Heroux said, “there is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be diminished by a nice cup of tea,” and I tend to agree.

Tea is the sacred elixir of secrets. It’s steeped inspiration. In a dainty teacup or a hearty mug (such as I prefer), it holds sips of bliss, energy, repose, whatever is needed to greet each day. When tea is shared amongst friends, the tiniest details become soothing ritual and contain hidden gems. Waiting for the water to boil, waiting for the tea to steep to perfection … in a world of instant gratification, the simple act of making tea draws us gently back to simplicity, to an art practised in ancient times.

I’ll let you in on a little secret, because I’m enjoying a steaming mug of Earl Grey in the warmth of this spring afternoon and the birds are chirping and it’s quiet and I’m feeling candid: one of the things that endeared someone to me was the way they made me a thermos of tea to take on the road one morning, and they looped the teabag string around the thermos handle to prevent the bag from falling in. Perhaps they didn’t think anything of it, but that tiny gesture, to me, spoke volumes of sweet thoughtfulness.

When I see people gathered over pots of tea, I feel like I’m witnessing the true connection of souls. My thoughts on tea could possibly be labeled as romantic and sentimental, but I believe there’s pure poetry in the way we prepare our tea, magic in the warmth it spreads to our bodies and our hearts. I believe that the way each individual takes their tea reveals multitudes about the person themselves. I like my tea extra strong and of the black variety (think: English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Orange Pekoe, or Earl Grey), sweetened with milk and sugar, teabag in to maintain its strength. What does this say about me? Courage and resilience, tempered with just the right amount of sweetness? It’s possible …

How do you prefer your tea? What does it reveal about you?

Tea is medicinal, to the body and the soul, and an important cultural activity, from the ancient Chinese and Japanese to the United Kingdom. Clearly I’m not the only one who has waxed poetic over the wonders of tea:

The Philosophy of Tea is not mere aestheticism … for it expresses conjointly with ethics and religion our whole point of view about man and nature. It is hygiene, for it enforces cleanliness; it is economics, for it shows comfort in simplicity rather than in the complex and costly; it is moral geometry, inasmuch as it defines our sense of proportion to the universe — Kakuzo Okakura, Book of Tea

Tea is more than an idealization of the form of drinking, it is a religion of the art of life — Kakuzo Okakura, Book of Tea 

The mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose — George Gissing

If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty — Japanese proverb

Find yourself a cup of tea; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things — Saki

All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — George Orwell

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves–slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future — Thich Nhat Hanh

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me — C.S. Lewis

While there’s tea, there’s hope — Sir Arthur W. Pinero

There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea — Henry James

A cup of Awake tea and Elizabeth Gaskell

 And now my friends, it’s just about lunchtime. After that, a cup of tea. So goes the day …

A Pearl of Wisdom

pearls are a girl's best friend

 I admit it’s tempting to wish for the perfect boss, the perfect parent, or the perfect outfit. But maybe the best any of us can do is not quit, play the hand we’ve been dealt, and accessorize what we’ve got

–Carrie Bradshaw

Hopelessly in Love with Spring

It’s April 18 and it looks like Christmas outside. Mother Nature, why must you have PMS? I just took Sammy for a walk and the poor thing was shivering once we got inside so I had to wrap him in a towel. I wore my winter coat and my mittens and I am going to be dusting off my winter boots for when I meet with a friend for lunch. I put away all my winter clothes weeks ago to make room in my closet for my spring/summer wardrobe.

All of those disjointed thoughts are just proof that I’m desperate, anxious, and craving spring! April showers are all well and good and make me feel cozy and British, but April snow is a slap in the face.

Anyway, I need some spring quotes and pretty pictures to chase these “post-winter blahs” away!

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome” — Anne Bradstreet

“Every spring is the only spring–a perpetual astonishment” — Ellis Peters

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems” — Rainer Maria Rilke

“To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with the spring” — George Santayana

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

“If you’ve never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom” — Terry Guillemets

“Let all thy joys be as the month of May” — Francis Quarles

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything” — William Shakespeare

But also …

“April is the cruelest month” — T.S. Eliot in “The Wasteland”

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

“The day the Lord created hope was probably the day He created Spring” — Bern Williams

“If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall” — Nadine Stair

photo courtesy of http://www.wehearit.com

“Spring in verses, verses in spring” — Violet Gartenlicht

“The seasons are what a symphony ought to be: four perfect movements in harmony with each other” — Arthur Rubenstein

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com