With Intersection, her monthly column, celebrated poet Chelsea Dingman enters a place of questions left hanging—of lyric understanding, of addiction, and womanhood, and politics, and death.
The Law of Reflection
The sun, brilliant against snow today. In physics, the ray of light approaching a mirror is the incident ray. The ray of light leaving the mirror is the reflected ray. The angle of reflection equals the angle of incidence.
I imagine the snow as a mirror. An angle as the space between light & the icy sidewalk where my body interrupts light. This interruption means I’m alive, means I’m not momentary.
But what value do I represent in opposition to the light? Is it only that I exist to broker it?
In an article about postpartum depression, the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is cited as a tool for self-assessment. It is a ten-item questionnaire.
The three most important questions:
- I have blamed myself unnecessarily when things went wrong.
- I have been anxious or worried for no reason.
- I have felt scared or panicky for no very good reason.
If one answers yes to these questions, among the other seven, one is considered at high risk for postpartum depression and should seek medical attention.
I answered yes to seven of ten markers. In the year since I gave birth, the world shut down due to a global pandemic, I had my second book come out, I have homeschooled my two school-aged children, I have worked full-time outside the home in a very small business fraught with money issues & stress, & I have been so anxious that I barely sleep.
Who is to say where postpartum depression might have begun, and where the state of the world has left me—anxious, scared, isolated?
One thing I have to admit: I’ve never had anxiety like this. Unsure of the source, it is as constant as weather. Tightness in my chest. Night terrors. Awake half the night. Exhausted all of the time. Could hormones be to blame as much as anything else?
What is the incident & what is the reflection?
The snow melts casually off of the driveway & deck. The sun shrieks from all surfaces.
I dream I’m dying. I dream I’m pregnant. I dream my children are drowning as a hurricane rages around us. I dream the world is at war & we try to fly away but the plane is shot down over the ocean & we all drown. I dream the snow is a killer that disappears our bodies.
I wake & watch Dateline. There is a murder in Tampa, where I lived for seventeen years. I fall asleep & dream that someone is breaking in through the lanai. My kids, asleep across the house from me. I dream all is metaphor & cliché. I dream of water & its tenses.
I wake & dream & wake.
Tampa, September 2007:
Gunshots. A man on a neighboring street shoots his wife after a college football game. A reverse 911 call: we are not allowed to leave our houses. There is a SWAT team on the scene. My husband is traveling. I stay inside with my son until the news claims that the man has killed himself. Police locate the couple’s children at sleepovers. The couple had been living together, though separated.
In January of 2015, John Jonchuck throws his 5 year-old daughter off of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge after telling a policeman, “You have no free will.” She fell to her death. He was sentenced to death.
On January, 28th 2011, Julie Scheneker shoots & kills her two children in a quiet neighbourhood down the street, claiming that they were “mouthy.” In 2015, she tells People Magazine that she doesn’t regret her actions. That she “saved them.”
Many cases such as this made the national news while my kids slept & ate & grew nearby. Mental issues are often claimed to be a factor, yet it is never clear what access the perpetrators had to treatment.
According to the American Psychological Association, there is a link between childhood trauma & anxiety in adults.
My father died in a car accident in a snowstorm just north of Vancouver when I was nine.
I refused to drive anywhere in the winter with my mother that year.
Yesterday, I drove my son to hockey in a blizzard. We crawled all of the way there. I sweated through my clothes. I couldn’t stop seeing my daughter in her car seat in the rearview mirror. Every pull of the tires ate at my nerves. My need for control. My lack thereof.
I wake and realize I’m listening to the wind. Not someone breaking in. Not human chaos. Not yet—.
The wind is ferocious. It tears through houses as though it means us harm.
Work has been stressful to the point that I find myself overwhelmed & angry. Bending to weakness that I never allow myself to bend to. Being hurt by the treatment of others seems commonplace enough, but it has been daily since the pandemic began, & I am exhausted.
& yet, sometimes I feel nothing to the point where I want to throw myself in the frozen lake.
Numbness, again, the sought-after feeling. The prescription & the panic. All at once.
I haven’t slept again. I can’t think. Post-election coverage makes my anxiety worse. I want my kids to be able to go home again. They were born in Tampa. I want them to be able to travel & live anywhere. I want them to be safe anywhere. I want this for everyone.
The sun lays itself across the lake near our house. I keep walking. I have lost all desire for beauty. I have lost all desire.
Symptoms of anxiety/apathy:
Work stress. People fighting online. The divide between hate & less hate. The pandemic divide about what constitutes harm. This disconnection between the self & the body that I can’t reconcile no matter the time or distance from pregnancy.
I have been thinking about death. How much fear I’m carrying. Why? Where can I put it down?
Winter arrives to remind me that the world can be pulled away in a second.
The light across my daughter’s face, both arriving & leaving.
The sources of light: enough & not enough. Not nearly enough some days.