I have had no desire to take care of myself.

abstract watercolor illustration of an empty forlorn coffee cup on a table
Image created via Midjourney

I have been drawing into myself lately. A few people have noticed and even commented on my quiet, to which I say, vaguely, "It's personal."

This is not the first time. I can pinpoint notches in the past 14 months when I preferred only myself. I give any energy I have to necessary work during the day, and my family that needs me, leaving me with almost nothing for myself.

I found energy over the summer for creativity, writing, yoga, friends… much of that seems dim right now.

Another habit that has fallen by the wayside is eating breakfast. While pregnant, I diligently ate a bowl of oatmeal with cranberries, cream, and a hint of brown sugar.  After giving birth and not bringing a baby home, I have had no desire to take care of myself in this way and only drink a cup of coffee, sometimes taking so long to finish that the second half of my cup is cold.

When I am anxious, heart pounding, I turn to baths to soothe me. Sometimes in the middle of the day. The running water and hot steam calm my thoughts. But this only lasts as long as the bath and then I am thrust into chilly reality again.

Yesterday, I was at Target and the espresso machine at the Starbucks within the store was not working. Desperate for a peppermint mocha, I searched my brain for the closest alternative. There was one over by the kids' old daycare, the one that we used to attend before we moved.

As I pulled into the drive-thru and heard a male voice quickly spit out, "Welcome to Starbucks, what can I get for you?" I thought of the woman who used to be there, every morning. Her name was Nancy. I would usually have the kids with me, and she would wave to them as she handed me my mocha, and would always cheerfully say "There you go, dear!"

She knew when I was pregnant with Quentin before I said anything, because I switched to decaf. She never knew of my pregnancies with Nelle, or Iris. We switched schools (therefore, switched Starbucks locations) when I was newly pregnant with Nelle and I never got to that point in our 30-second morning correspondence.

As I pulled up to the window to retrieve my drink, there she was, smiling face. It had been more than a year and a half, but she said "Oh! I am so happy to see you! How have you been? Is everything going good for you?" My response was automatic: "Yes, I'm doing well." She vanished into the store to grab my mocha, and when her face reappeared, she said "I'm so happy to hear that everything is good! You have a wonderful day!"

The encounter caught me off balance again. Here was a person, who never knew I was pregnant. Never knew I had two losses. Never saw the mornings when I went through the Starbucks drive-thru near my own house in tears. She only saw the same person she had seen for all of those mornings of repeat caffeination. Knowing nothing about my desire to draw only into myself, she thrust me into the sunshine of her energy, blinking and a bit unsure of how to respond, if only for a moment. I drove away smiling though.

Later, someone I do not know well asked me the ever-anguishing question: "So you only have two children?"  I could not compose myself fast enough to give the answer that I always want to give, so I responded "Yes. Just two." I withdrew a little more.

Last night, I retreated into myself further. I added the thick, down comforter to the bed in preparation for nights getting colder, and drew the blankets over my head. I wanted only the darkness and quiet of the room, using my own warmth to fight off the ever-increasing cold of the night air.