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How My Trauma Has Propelled Me to Change the World One Whiff at a Time

When I describe the dark period that has encompassed much of my initial postpartum years, a good word to use is “bleak.” In 2009, I gave birth to my first child, a boy. Just five weeks later, I remember looking at him lying asleep in his bassinet, his little body only taking up a small […]

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When I describe the dark period that has encompassed much of my initial postpartum years, a good word to use is “bleak.” In 2009, I gave birth to my first child, a boy. Just five weeks later, I remember looking at him lying asleep in his bassinet, his little body only taking up a small corner of his not-so-big bed, with his teeny little red face ever-so-slightly sticking out of this swaddle. The room was lit with a small lamp and I smiled as I stared at his peaceful motionless body, savoring the quiet and his tiny figure. At that moment, I felt that I truly enjoyed parenthood, and I wanted to have more children.

What I hadn’t realized is that was perhaps the last time I was happy in a very long time.

Little did I realize shortly thereafter that postpartum depression was slowly creeping in and would gradually overtake my psyche. I hadn’t really had a sense of awareness that I wasn’t my vibrant self. Yet looking back now, over a decade later, it is evident that I wasn’t happy. I was functional, but I did not feel joy. I did not have moments of ecstasy or of extreme happiness. I derived a sense of enjoyment from many things, but the experience was fleeting, and the joy was merely a basic satisfaction. Being that I could wake up and still look forward to my day while mostly going through the motions was enough for me, not knowing any better.

When I married my husband, Brian, in 2005, our agreement was that we were going to be parents. We discussed it together. I certainly wanted to be a mother myself. Truthfully, I’ve always wanted to tell my mother and father how I wanted to be just like them. I wanted to get married at 24 just like mom! I wanted to have a child at 26 just like she did! But the reality was that I wasn’t ready to have kids two years later. Really, who is ever ready to be a parent (especially in their twenties)? I caved at three and a half years later only because Brian reminded me that this was the agreement.

I worried about becoming a parent, but not for the same reasons most people do, which is usually rooted in financial and career motivated decisions. My career aspirations certainly did categorize me to some degree; I was at the height of writing for Lifehacker and working behind the scenes at Mashable, and these were two of the most well-known online publications of their time. I was in the middle of writing a book on social media marketing, having successfully worked to help many businesses gain their footing in a rapidly changing online landscape. I felt like I was peaking at my career and I wanted to continue climbing while I could.

But more importantly, I loved being with my husband. I loved being his only. We were in the honeymoon phase for the entire four years from marriage until our first child was born. Knowing that I’d give that up when our son arrived in the world was difficult for me to grasp. I felt like I didn’t have a place in the world until I met him, and then he arrived. Losing the possibility of having his unconditional love terrified me.

But I was also a most respectful wife, because I loved him unconditionally too. And so we got ready to have children. While David arrived six weeks earlier than we expected, I’d have to cut the honeymoon phase even shorter. Initially, I was ecstatic.

But not for long. A psychiatrist would call these cloudy times a mild depression. Not realizing the depression persisted as David grew older, I continued to have children. A daughter. Another daughter. A son. All came in a seven year span. If I can reflect on the big defining happy moments that categorize the 9 years I was depressed, I can only appreciate the births of my children, but the feeling of true bliss was missing entirely. In fact, it’s incredibly difficult to look back on the last decade and remember much else.

I recognized something felt off after the birth of my daughter in 2012. I was fortunate to have someone help me during the earlier weeks of her life, and something the woman said or did made me cry. I’m pretty tough when all’s well with my mental state, so I chalked it up to hormones. But with what I know now, it was more than that. I was completely blind and oblivious to the pain then, and especially oblivious to the continued persistence of that discomfort as my children grew. As a parent, in reflecting back on my children’s earlier years and realizing that there are so many gaping holes, that’s something that I will have to live with for the rest of my life.

They say children grow up fast. Try realizing that your child has grown up and you can’t account for months of their growth at a time. Thankfully, there are digital photos to help me reconstruct some of those memories to some degree, but these are moments devoid of a describable memory and emotion. They were indeed bleak times.

In 2016, I gave birth to my fourth child. By then, I made myself vulnerable to external relationships that would then tear me apart both from within and from without. Two years later, I hit my rock bottom, having been beaten and battered in a way that I had never before believed to be possible thanks to an unhealthy dependency on a “friend”; I had my blinders on because I had already veered so many years ago on a path of self-destruction and I was unaware that it had led me down this slippery slope.

Depression, however way you spin it, eventually goes in one or two ways: it either takes you down or it is acknowledged and you’re brought up. On the other side, though, what’s down must come up. That rock bottom encompassed some of the darkest moments of my life. By then, I was seeing a psychiatrist twice a week and was on a cocktail of all the medications you’d give to someone with moderate to severe depression and anxiety. Sleep would be my preferred outlet, but getting to sleep required me to medicate. I’d wake up just to show up to my remote office holed up in my upstairs bedroom. I’d be semi-present for my children, but whenever I could, I’d hide in my room and not face my reality. It felt too grim. My next few months were cloudy, and I even tried (without avail) for months to fix the mess I was thrust in. I wanted inner and outer peace! When that seemed fruitless, I almost wanted to give up entirely.

During these darker moments of my life, I was not invested at all in my appearance. Had I known what I knew now, I’d have approached my earlier self and yelled at her to stop wearing loose fitting (and ripped) yoga pants, oversized sweatshirts, and socks with pink Crocs. But I simply didn’t care. This was my uniform. Day in, day out, I dressed exactly the same way, wearing the same thing to bed. When you’re depressed, you could care less what people think about you. On one hand, I was overly invested in what people thought about me, because I was particularly sensitive to anything and everything that was critical about my being, and that fed into my poor mental state. On the other hand, I had no desire to change anything about myself.

In reality, I was an utter complete and broken mess. Inside and outside, I felt like I had nothing to live for, though perhaps I was still needed for my husband and my children.

A few weeks later, I decided to show up. With Brian and I planning for a family day, I pulled myself out of my room and readied myself to go outside. I opened a cabinet and was compelled to try on a tiny little sample of perfume that I found stuffed in a corner. It was something I’d worn at least twice before, and I enjoyed its scent. But where my head was at that summer day was different from the previous times I’d worn perfume, which is how most of us wear it. We do it for others, not for ourselves.

If you’re not invested in what you look like, well, it goes without saying that you’re probably not at all invested in what you smell like. And that perspective was everything. I put on perfume for myself, not even to be happy at that moment. Truthfully, I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, what I’d experience, or why I even bothered to put it on that day. I suspect my motives were selfish; I was still wallowing in pain and disappointment of living through my personal hell, having a husband who up to that point was toying with divorce and really young children who barely knew their mother all while alienating all of my friends because I truly lost myself during the height of my depression.

Yet this was new territory for me, and it was a different perspective than doing something because I wanted the social acceptance. I was curious and I wanted to explore.

And so I did. I put on perfume for no reason but for myself.

I hadn’t anticipated the reaction that I had. That day, the scent woke me up in a way that I couldn’t ever see possible. As humans, our sense of smell is omnipotent, yet it’s dormant and mostly ignored. We don’t realize how important it is in our lives. My five senses were already dulled down and ravaged by feeling depressed and pained and hurt. I couldn’t see light. Everything felt uncomfortable to the touch. Even music, where I’d derive solace, wasn’t something I had any interest in listening to. Food was bland. I was not one to leverage my five senses the way a normal person does. But perhaps that’s because I wasn’t using all of them together.

See, that experience with perfume transformed my life. I’d say from that first whiff, I felt something that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

I felt alive.

Using my nose in this way, manifesting the powers of my fifth sense, the sense most of us really take for granted, added a vigor to my life that was lacking. I cannot say my transformation from trauma was immediate, but it imbued a vitality within my soul that I decided to use to maximize my potential. I felt a sense of warmth from within, and wanted to optimize my life from that point forward to stop stumbling in a depressed mindset. I decided to stand up straight, see how I can become a better version of myself for my family and for my children, and I continued showing up.

This experience of scent made me realize that I need to experience life again. Scent clearly showed me that there’s more beauty in the world to appreciate. Slowly, I climbed out of the shell that I had built around myself during my darkest moments but especially the one that had closed in on me since the birth of my firstborn. I started by going to stores and experimenting with various perfumes, learning about notes and the three layers of perfume (top, middle, and base notes; perfumes tell their own stories). I read books. I watched documentaries. I joined online communities. I bought products and samples and asked my local freecycles for their old perfumes. Besides the many gems, I got many old, expired, and rancid perfumes too! I learned that there’s so much to appreciate through the nose, and yet, how was I to share this message with the world?

Perfume is a product that is generally sexualized. Made commercially available for a general population only about 100 years ago, perfume advertising is all about being sensual. Sexual. Irresistible. But that was not my experience. In fact, the marketing of perfume is something that I find off-putting, which is also why, to some degree, I never cared much for it myself (even if I enjoyed the scent). In an era where people are seen as objectified commodities, especially women, watching as this marketing message permeates throughout our global economy saddens me. It’s why many people leave their perfumes to sit on their dressers and collect dust (and then give it to me through freecycle, already way past their shelf life) — but perfume is a lot more than dressing up for work and a date. It is a personal experience that begins from within.

This is true especially now in the height of a pandemic. I’m keenly aware that perfume marketing is faltering and failing during this moment in time. You’ve got no one to sniff you, no one to experience your signature scent. It does not motivate people to wake up in the morning and spray it on.

In the beginning of 2019, however, I was already motivated to heal the world through scent, and as such, I created TAMAR. The brand name celebrates my personal rebirth from zero to hero. I know that’s how I feel now with my life, seeing as where I had been before. After letting scent in, I took charge on all facets of my life, from relationships to be present for my family and then to my friends, to starting to speak (and sing) more, which I hadn’t done at all for years because I was afraid to have my voice heard, to my health by losing more than 90 pounds, to a focus on fitness where I decided to commit myself to run (or walk long distances) every single day, to learning a new language every single day (current status: working on Spanish after polishing up my Hebrew), and to a daily practice of reading a physical book. I decided that self-care is an embodiment and extension of what we as humans (not just women) need to understand and embrace. With the late 2019 launch of The Common Scents Podcast, I speak to people from all walks of life who have overcome adversity and today embrace self care and make it a central part of their existence.

TAMAR is a mission-driven high end unisex perfume brand that reminds everyone to love who they are. It is about appreciating the gifts we are given and to embrace our authenticity, to be real and human and not change ourselves because we want outward acceptance. With names like Quirky and Intense, my goal is to remind each other that we don’t need to be perfect; we need to be happy. We can embrace our intensity and our quirks to be, well, human.

My goal is to further a mission of self-love and self-acceptance through the experience of our noses. It sounds like it should be more complicated than that, but it’s really not so hard at all. Fragrance can be an anchor to the present, and this intention is something that I believe everyone can revisit throughout the day simply by holding your wrist up to your nose and taking a split second to breathe in.

Right now more than ever, we’re doing the socially responsible thing by staying indoors. But that feeling of being indoors is rather isolating. More importantly, the pain of being distant from our social circles and loved ones is difficult for us as humans to sustain for these prolonged periods. We don’t feel beautiful and don’t love ourselves the way we should. Yet, that was my mission even before COVID-19 shook the planet. Now, more than ever, this message needs to be heard, felt, and smelled.

Listen to the audio version of this post here.

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