Today is the anniversary of the day I left the psych ward.
It’s a big day that I’ve been waiting for for a long time.
When I arrived home from the hospital last year, I felt relieved, but also guilty. And disconnected. Feeding schedules, outfits, the layout of our baby care materials around the house had been decided without me. Or, in some cases, had been decided with another version of me. One that I no longer recognized.
Most of the changes were subtle, but they felt immense. Like I was a stranger in my own home.
Still, it was better than being a stranger in a psych ward.
My mother-in-law, who had been staying with my husband while I was in the hospital, stayed just long enough to give me a hearty welcome home, and then headed back home herself. She wanted to give my husband and I some space before my mom arrived to stay with us later that afternoon.
“There’s just one thing I have to say,” she told me before she left.
“Be careful on those stairs.”
“Those stairs” are the one thing that is not perfect about what is otherwise our dream home. They are backless, hardwood stairs- built for aesthetics, not functionality. Certainly not built for children. I worried about them the first time we saw the house, and I’ve worried about them ever since.
So I understood her concern. Even before any of the events of last year happened, I was known for klutziness, and my new medications came with all kinds of drowsiness warnings. She was right. Those stairs felt like a ticking time bomb.
What would have normally been a very simple reminder from a well-meaning family member took on grave importance for me as I integrated myself back into my home and tried desperately not to mess things up again (even though, logically, I knew that what happened wasn’t my fault).
“Be careful on those stairs,” I thought every single time I went up and down them.
I would clutch the railing with one arm, leaning my whole weight into it, with my baby nestled safely in the other. I lowered one foot onto each stair, then brought the second foot down to meet it. Like an 80-year-old woman with a bad hip.
Even months later, when it was clear that my balance was fine and I had become the primary caretaker for my daughter while my husband worked, I kept up this routine.
I love my mother-in-law. I trust her. If she said it was important to be safe on the stairs, I believed her. I was constantly putting my belief in others above my belief in myself that year.
It is really, really hard to trust your brain after it’s betrayed you. It seems easier, wiser, to let others tell you what’s important. What’s true. What’s real.
As my post-mania depression set in, the stairs became just one in a long list of routine, normal tasks that seemed insurmountable and terrifying to me.
I leaned on my husband like I leaned on that railing. I felt incapable of doing anything by myself. I remember the first time it occurred to me that I could fill my own pill organizer with my prescriptions for the week.
The person I’d been before, the person who had a full-time job, and a PhD, and a healthier-than-it-should-be ego, seemed like a distant dream.
Slowly, gradually, over the course of many trips up and down the stairs, the depression lifted. My confidence crept back in. The gravity of the stairs loomed less large.
Exactly one year later, I would have been proud to say that I barely even think about the stairs anymore.
I would have been proud to say it except that the stairs finally got me today.
I was so excited to embark on a one-year-home, celebratory walk. I went into my husband’s office, picked my daughter up from her pack-and-play, and asked my husband to grab the dog and join me. I headed down the stairs. No hand on railing. No shoes. Just gym socks.
“Oh,” I thought to myself, “She needs a sweatshirt.” I turned to head back upstairs and get it before remembering that it was, in fact, downstairs.
My feet slipped out from under me, and my worst-case scenario came to life.
I fell down the stairs, with my baby in my arms.
I could tell you how heartbroken I was. How much I cried. How it pained me to see the red bump above her left eyebrow, mocking me and telling me that I’d been right about myself. That I was incapable of doing anything. That I was a terrible mom.
But instead I’ll tell you about how I held onto her the whole time I fell and protected her the way she needed me to. About how she walked away with just one, small, bump.
I’ll tell you that I was able to wait to cry until after I’d called the pediatrician myself, heeded her instructions, and made sure that my baby was safe and comfortable.
I’ll tell you that we decided to gather ourselves up and go on our walk anyway.
I held her in her carrier, ice pack to her head, and she squealed with delight as we walked over the choppy roads that they’ve just started repaving.
She’s a funny baby.
Whenever we take her out in her stroller, ever since she was a tiny infant, she’s loved the bumpity-bumps.
She is so damn resilient.
I am so damn resilient.
I am home. And the stairs are just stairs.