Anxiety used to stick to me like the pink popsicle goo left behind on the fingers of my children. Now it blows more easily through me like a breeze through wind chimes. At this time of year, I feel light and airy like a pretty printed sundress.
Lingering this close to the summer solstice, the sun on my back feels like a warm hand of support that says, “You can do this,” and I listen to it, instead of to the little voice inside that says, “You really should sweep the floor, it’s nasty. And by the way, so is the entire house.”
For me, self-criticism is louder in mid-winter. Take for example an average, dark Wednesday evening. The smell of roasted root vegetables lingers from the February kitchen. The laminate floor feels cold as I lower down onto it to take a self-portrait before getting ready for bed. From the other side of the room curled up in her chair, I hear the calming rhythm of the dog’s resounding snores. Flecks of pepper leave a spicy taste in my mouth from the meal. I look forward to brushing my teeth soon.
Lying with my belly on the cool floor, my head resting on my hands, it feels good in an uncomfortable kind of way, similar to the discomfort I feel inside. The constant anxiety from my day is gone for a moment.
As I look at myself in the view window of the camera, I question my marriage. The sparkle of my wedding ring surprises me, as does the symbolism of it. I am married. I wonder if I will stay that way or not. Click. I capture the shot before deciding to go to bed and try sleeping all the sadness away.
I count my husband's breaths deliberately, waiting for him to fall asleep before I do. By his fourth deep rhythmic inhalation and exhalation, I know he has drifted off. He probably fell asleep while his head was in mid-air lowering down onto the pillow.
Surprisingly, my perspective shifted and I was able to express my mood and be less afraid of my own feelings when I put myself, instead of my kids, in front of my camera lens.
An autumn wind blows gently against the south wall of our bedroom. By midnight it will pick up to be a full-blown windstorm, but right now it's just a whisper.
I miss those the most. The intimate whispers between us; the pillow talk, the sweet smell of his breath and toothpaste-flavored kisses. We haven't had any type of meaningful conversation in weeks.
The darkness of the room is strangely comforting. As the comforter hugs my shoulders and I inhale the scent of our family, I am filled with an odd sense of deep relief and simultaneous despair. Since my husband can't see my facial expression, the agony of pretending to be pleasant is alleviated. Like shaking out a folded bed sheet, my face falls flat. I don't have to hide my misery, shame or hopelessness anymore.
Whatever you want to call it — postpartum depression, chronic anxiety, seasonal affect disorder — this is what it feels like to me. Although I love being a mom and being married (which I still am, thankfully), I need help.
Depression sucks and I have tried and considered many things over the years. From natural remedies like light therapy, eating spicy food and going gluten-free to slathering my inner thighs with progesterone cream that smelled like cake. I regularly sit with my therapist and our marriage counselor. I’ve considered getting on meds. In hopes that exercise will improve my mood, I cycle more and purchase a ski pass that also allows for a dose of mountain sunshine.
Then, I signed up for a year-long self-portraiture eCourse guided by Kristin Zecchinelli and Meredith Winn at Now You Workshops. With weekly prompts and by drawing endless inspiration from these two incredible photographers, something changed for me. Surprisingly, my perspective shifted and I was able to express my mood and be less afraid of my own feelings when I put myself, instead of my kids, in front of my camera lens.
I started taking more “selfies,” which according to art critic and New York magazine columnist Jerry Saltz is a new art form in their own right. Saltz says, “[Selfies] have become a new visual genre — a type of self-portraiture formally distinct from all others in history. Although genres arise relatively rarely, it possesses it’s own formal logic, with tropes and structural wisdom, and lasts a long time, until all the problems it was invented to address have been fully addressed. This new genre isn’t dominated by artists, it’s made by amateurs … It’s possible that the selfie is the most prevalent popular genre ever.”
Okay, now that is fascinating. I’m curious what problems can be fully address by the continued use of the selfie in the life of a parent like me? If you’re willing to experiment, join me here as I introduce tips and a different theme every month. I’ll recommend some amazing self-portrait artists as well as lots of techy tips (read on below).
The art of the selfie: Bring yourself to the center
What happens when you turn the camera around on you? I often look away; sometimes I glance at the lens in a friendly way as if it were the eyes of my child; sometimes I cover up my eyes or look up in search of something.
1. This month, note the textures and patterns of what’s around you. Find a place to lie down, get to one side of the frame (not directly in the center), close your eyes and shoot.
2. Describe what you like to do, what’s in your hands or what you love about your surroundings with a selfie.
3. If you’re like me and you need to flatter your skin, play with overexposure (too much light.) Before you delete that pic, see what it looks like in black and white, or use one of the effects and filters on iPhoto, Flickr and Instagram.
4. Consider loading some apps. TimerCam is a free self-timer for your iPhone. Big Lens allows you to take very detailed and crisp shots with smartphones. (See also: 11 Pro Tips for Making Your iPhone the Only Camera You Need)
5. If you use a point-and-shoot camera, experiment with the zoom and the macro button (usually a flower icon.) This will bring objects into focus while blurring the background.
6. I encourage you to copy and give credit to those who inspire you. It’s the highest form of flattery.
Hashtag your Instagram photos #parentmapselfies @parentmap so we can all see a bit of you that you are leaving behind for them.