I had postpartum depression after the births of my three children. It was the worst after my second child, because I am an only child and had no clue how to manage the needs of two children. When I had two-year old Eleanor wanting me to draw with her and newborn Dietrich needing to be held, I felt overwhelmed. I was convinced that regardless of what I did, I would be letting one of them down. I was terrified that I would be teaching my children that their needs would not be met, and even worse, that their needs didn’t matter.
I have always had a problematic relationship with needs. I didn’t like needing. Or wanting. Anything. All it did was open me up for disappointment. So I tried not to want, and admired strong, independent, single and thin and beautiful women, like Wonder Woman, Gloria Steinem, Barbra Walters, Maya Angelou and yes Madonna. I tried to erase all my needy, sticky, passionate, confusing parts so I could be like them.
But, that was not sustainable. As Melissa Febos writes, “Erasure is never simple. Whack the mole and another one pops up behind you. Scrub the page or the skin or the senses, draw the curtain and you don’t disappear. You only replace yourself with darkness. Hide a body and the harder it will fight to remind you what it feels. The longer you starve it, the hungrier it gets.” We can’t erase our needs for food or shelter or human connection. Our needs tell us what needs tending to.
And we’re not meant to meet our needs alone! We need safe people who honor our needs, help us make sense of ourselves, and help us heal.
As psychologist Stan Tatkin writes, “This longing for a safe zone is one reason we pair up. However, partners, whether in a romantic relationship or committed friendship, often fail to use each other as advocates and allies against all hostile forces. They don’t see the opportunities to make a home for one another; to create a safe place in which to relax and feel accepted, wanted, protected, and cared for.”
But it’s also possible to care for another so much that they never learn how to care for themselves. And this can create a very unhealthy and unsafe codependent dynamic; think Edward and Bella in “Twilight”.
Things started to change for me when I stopped judging my needs so much. I just named them, like a shopping list—milk, sugar, bread, time with a friend, more sleep, a hug from my husband, more time to write, maybe a piece of dark chocolate, and coffee, always coffee. And after many dysfunctional codependent relationships, I worked hard to find the right people to need—people who see me, love me, make me feel safe, don’t judge me, help me hold my pain, laugh with me, help me get back on my feet, because they want me to be my best most vibrant self.
Life is sticky and confusing at times. Some days are better than others. On days when I struggle, feel complicated and too much for the world or even myself, I step back and ask myself what my priorities are for that moment, what I really need and I call up a friend or cuddle with my husband and remind myself of my favorite Ram Dass quote, that we are all “just walking each other home”.