Category Archives: health

Bipolar Is A Football Game

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It’s been nearly three months since I began treatment for Bipolar Disorder.  Three months.  Which is …. a long time and also no time at all.  Most people, even those who were remarkably supportive in the beginning, have pretty much gone silent in my life by now.   And it’s not that I blame them.  I don’t.  I think that a general lack of understanding just makes them believe that I’d be “better” by now.  That I’d take a couple pills, go to a few therapy sessions, and voila.  All cured.  Or maybe it’s not that at all, and it’s the fact that life just goes on.  We’re all busy, we’re all involved in our own stuff.   We all have our own problems.  Truth be told, I think I’m a little jealous of those who’ve essentially stopped talking to me.  I wish that I could live in the oblivion, if even temporarily, of not having to think about it.  But I don’t get to take a break.  Bipolar is a cheap polyester Christmas sweater, permanently woven into every fiber of my being.

But I’m still here, still working this all out, still finding my way through a mysterious world that is revealing more and more to me as I go.

About a week ago, I started getting sick.  And then I got really sick… with something I’m pretty sure is the plague.  Or at the very least, dysentery.  So, so sick.  Sickness of any sort, of any duration, tends to throw me completely off my game.  My mind immediately bends toward what my therapist calls, “Catastrophic thinking.”  I’ll never feel well again.  I’ll never catch up on the housework.  I’ll never be able to do anything fun again.  I’ll lose all the momentum I’ve gained with exercise.

This time though, the thing that most plagued me was the fact that I missed a concert (and meet & greet) that I was, so, SO looking forward.  The concert was A Great Big World and Matt Nathanson, two of my absolute all time favorites, but the part that I was looking forward to the  most was meeting Chad and Ian from GBW, so that I could see them in person, and put a face with my “won’t stop running” story.  (If you’re wondering what the heck that means, skim this post) I was looking forward to it so, so much.  So much.  The day of the concert, I woke up nauseous and light-headed, as I had for the last week.  I prayed I’d rally though, and for a little while I did.  I took a shower, got dressed, put on some makeup, started doing my hair…. and just the act of being up and about made me feel sicker and sicker as I went.  In hindsight, I could have made it through the concert – probably – and just felt 0ff while I was there.  But in the end, I couldn’t in good conscience risk having to leave early and ruining it for Tegan, (who’s eight at the time of this writing, rivals me as their biggest fan, and was looking forward to it every bit as much as I was)  So I stayed home, sent her off on a Daddy/daughter date, and nursed both my sickness and my bitter disappointment, curled up in a ball on the couch.

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Do you see how freaking HAPPY she is?? I couldn’t forgive myself if I was the cause of her missing this. I’m so thrilled she got to meet them. And hearing her and Mike’s story of what they were like in person…. I just love them. I’ve never met them, but I love them.

The next day, Sunday, saw me sliding, or SLAMMING as the case may be, into a deep depression.  The combination of being sick for a week; the forced and abrupt halt of the momentum I’d gathered with exercise, sleeping right, and faithfully taking my supplements; the house arrest; me being me; and the final nail of missing the concert just smashed me right into a Very Bad Place.    I knew I was feeling better physically – not good by any stretch, but better – while mentally I was withering.  Seeing this, Mike (mostly gently) made me get up, get out and go to the store with him.  After that he (again, mostly gently) convinced me to go the arena football game with him and the kids.   He would tell me later that what he was seeing in me scared him, and he didn’t want me to be alone.  Which scared me too.   Ordinarily I love Rattlers games, and look forward to going every week…. but yesterday, I didn’t want to be there.  Didn’t want to be here.  Didn’t want to be anywhere.  But I made myself do it, and I put on my blinged-out Rattlers shirt and my Mardi Gras beads, took a bunch of ibuprofen for my headache, and steeled myself for the trip.

Now, a lot of people compare bipolar to a roller coaster.  And I mean, sure, it’s an apt enough (if grossly overused) description.  Ups, downs, twists, turns.  Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Last night I realized that what it really is is a football game, one that starts before you even get there.

We usually take the light rail when we’re going to any sort of sporting event downtown.  I hate the light rail.  It’s crowded, it smells funny, and it always makes me nauseous.  Which is apropos in its own right, but it’s not the way we traveled last night.  Last night we drove in and parked in the parking garage.

And that’s where I first realized it, the moment I stepped out of the car.

The parking garage is the depression.  It’s dark and spooky.  It’s the depths of hell, or at the very least, it’s Satan’s armpit.  It’s hot.  It’s steamy.  Like the light rail, it too smells funny.   But not ha-ha funny.  More like car exhaust and Mexican food farts and death.  It’s dirty, but not regular dirty.  There are stains on the floors (and the walls and in the corners and on all of civilization that managed to survive) that make you wonder if someone was recently murdered.  The stairwell seemingly takes you up and up and up, but its oppression is so heavy, so stifling, that it makes you doubt if you’re ever going to see the light of day again.

Then suddenly you’re out, and there’s the burst of sun, so strong it takes your eyes a minute to adjust. You’re in the real world.  Those are the days in between the mania and depression, the days when you get a feeling for what it must be like to be a “normal” person.  They’re not particularly exciting, but they’re not particularly depressing either.  You exist in a state of sort of homeostasis.  A state of just being for a few minutes.  It’s a nice place to visit, but it’s a very short walk to the stadium.  Those days of normal are short lived.  Soon you’re at your destination.

The stadium is the mania.  There is just So. Much. Going. On.  Your senses are all heightened, by sixty jillion percent.  There are the people, and the sounds, and the smells, and the relentlessly constantly whirling, swirling energy.  It’s exciting.  It’s exhilarating.  Unfortunately, what starts off as exciting and exhilarating eventually descends into overwhelming and scary.  You look for a corner to hide in, but no such corner exists.  The only option – if you can really call it that, since you have no other options – is to keep walking, right through the fray.

The food is the mania and the depression. Sometimes, those over priced, fast food, ball park chicken tenders are the most juicy, succulent morsels of food you could ever put in your mouth, better than any meal you’d choose to order at a 5 star restaurant.  Other times, those very same chicken tenders taste like fried moist cardboard, sit like a rock in your stomach, and make you spend the rest of the game praying you’re not going to suddenly and violently have to vomit and have diarrhea.

I never know which one I’m going to get.

Your family and friends sitting beside you, they’re (and I kind of hesitate to say this, because I feel like it minimizes the huge role they actually play), but they’re the mood stabilizers.  They’re the right diet.  They’re regular exercise.  They’re 8 hours of sleep.  In other words, they don’t cure you.  They don’t make the ups and downs go away.  But they soften them.  They make them less intense.  They smooth out the edges.  They remind you to breathe when you’re anxious.  They hold your hand when you’re scared.  They give you light on the journey, and they make you laugh along the way.  Your friends and your family are the safe spot in the middle of the chaos around you.

The game itself is the actual work of reaching, and maintaining, wellness.  It’s the therapy.  It’s the day-to-day changes you make to control your illness instead of letting it control you.  Of course you’re not actually watching the game… you’re playing, in every position.  Sometimes you’re the quarter back, calling the plays.  Sometimes you’re a receiver.  Sometimes you’re on defense.   And you’ve got a whole team of people ready to back you up.  There’s a defined set of plays, but you have to be able to read what’s going on, and adjust and tweak as you go.  You have to stay flexible, and think on your feet.  (And just as a football game often – usually, always – veers off from its best laid plans, so do medication, therapy, and all other aspects related to treatment.  You have to roll with it)  Sometimes the game is exciting.  It’s not just the touchdowns, but it’s the little moments – that are really big moments – along the way.  The thrill of an interception.  A sacked quarterback.  A recovered fumble.

Sometimes it’s frustrating.  The missed PAT.   The tackles and fumbles and penalties…  sometimes a lot of penalties.    Sometimes there are fist fights (although if you’ve got good, classy teammates, they gently pull you away from the fight, use their bodies to block you from the heat, and make sure everyone stays safe).  Sometimes there are injuries.   Sometimes you need to call a time out.   Sometimes the game makes you sublimely happy, but half the time it just pisses you right the heck off.   Sometimes you’re down by 4 touchdowns, and you’re really discouraged and demoralized.  You can hear the taunts from the crowd.

But wait.

Sometimes there are cheers from the crowd too.  Sometimes the stadium is just FILLED with cheers.  Sometimes there’s an opening, and you manage to perfectly execute a really long pass, resulting in an epically beautiful touchdown.  It’s those kind of plays that make the entire game worth it.

Win or lose, it is all So.  Much. Work.  At the end of the game you are spent, you are sweaty, and you are exhausted.  But no matter the final score, you learned something.  You gained something.  You got better, and stronger, and more experienced. You took another step toward the Arena Bowl.

As for me, personally?  I’m still in the first quarter.  I have a lot of work ahead of me.  I’m continually trying to find that balance of giving 100% without burning myself out before I even get to half-time.

And then, it’s over.  That brief visit to the land of normalcy, then you’re once again in the pits of hell.  AKA the parking garage.  AKA depression.

Lather.

Rinse.

Repeat.

On an endless loop, every day, forever.

And the thing is, just like me on Sunday night, you don’t necessarily choose to go the football game.  But since you have to be there, you learn not to just make the most of it, but to embrace it.   You learn to squeeze every bit of enjoyment out of every little moment that you can.  You learn to appreciate the color and the joy and beauty that exist both in the middle of the game, and in the stillness between the plays.

You learn to grab that football game by its balls (see what I did there?), you hold on for all you’re worth, and you tell your teammates, and you tell the crowd, and you tell the WORLD:

“My game.  My rules.  And dammit, I’m gonna play to win.”


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Why I’m A Natural Health Dropout

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I used to be very adamantly against pharmaceuticals.  I remember after the birth of my first son – 19 years ago – they offered me Tylenol with codeine and I declined.   Then they wanted me to take a stool softener, and I declined that too.   I was kind of obnoxious about it too, now that I think about it.  I didn’t need that stuff.  I had my supplements and my herbs (and if essential oils were as big a thing back then as they are now, I’m sure I would have used those too). I had my ideals.  I had my self-righteous resolve.

Over the next several years, I would spend a lot of time studying, reading about, and learning about natural health and nutrition.  I took several courses, and I earned a handful of certificates.  I was passionate and motivated and… have I mentioned obnoxious yet?

And then I got gall stones… in a gall bladder that eventually got inflamed and infected.  Then I got gall stones lodged in my bile duct.  Then I got pancreatitis.  Then I needed surgery.  Next was kidney stones, followed by hydronephrosis and a stent.  A couple of years later, it was two rather painful shoulder surgeries in as many years, one involving detaching my bicep and reattaching it on a different spot on my bone, held in place with a permanent metal screw.

Suffice it to say, I made my peace with allopathic medicine.

Over that tricky six year period, there were narcotics, there were muscle relaxants, there were antibiotics, there were anti-emetics, there were sleep aids.  Last year I tried, and eventually rejected, a medication prescribed for suspected fibromyalgia.  It’s not that I’m proud to say I took all of that… but I’m not ashamed of it either.  I made informed decisions, I took what I needed, and I took it all responsibly. At the time of this writing, I’m taking a mood stabilizer (which is making a world of difference for me) and am in the process of carefully weaning myself off of a benzodiazepine, prescribed during an acute time of crisis when I began treatment for bipolar disorder.  I’m not ashamed of that either.

And the thing is, I never abandoned anything I learned when I studied natural health.  In fact, having bipolar and wanting to get well has necessitated my paying more attention to it than ever before.  I absolutely understand the importance of nutrition.  I know how inextricably our stress levels are tied to our health.  I’m exercising, six days a week.  I’m taking a careful supplement regimen, designed with the help of my doctor.  I’m meditating daily.  I’m not drinking any alcohol.  I’m using essential oils, for all kinds of things.   I’m working hard to develop better sleep patterns (even giving up watching TV in bed, one of my favorite things, in an effort to create healthier habits).  Self-care and natural health are wonderful things indeed.

But there’s a balance.

I don’t think I truly understood that balance until I went through my own health crises, and to an even greater extent until I was met with my former self, again and again, in the form of people whose version of “help” included chastising me for my choices.  There was the one who messaged me after my second shoulder surgery, not to offer up a “get well soon” but to lecture me about the dangers of prescription painkillers.   There was the one who, after I’d already had my gall bladder removed, told me why I should never have done it, and how I should have just healed it naturally instead.  There were the countless others, who no matter what the issue, were convinced that I just needed to take more supplements/get better sleep/eat more whole foods/take more walks in the sunshine.  I saw in real time the black and white thinking to which I myself had once subscribed.   I saw the danger of, and felt the sting of, polarity.  I saw how many people tried to shame me (and who continue to try to shame me) for not taking a solely natural approach.

I saw judgment – So. Much. Judgment. – from family members to friends to strangers alike.

That’s the natural health movement that leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth.  That’s the natural health movement that I no longer want to be a part of.

I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we just trusted one another to make informed decisions.  To learn not just about treating disease but about maintaining health.  To weigh the pros and cons of all our options.  To educate ourselves about natural remedies and pharmaceuticals both.  To learn about risks of side effects versus possible benefits.  To respect that my path to health is different from your path is different to your best friend’s neighbor’s path.  To completely remove shame from the equation. 

And if you ever have to have your bicep drilled back into your humerus, I hope that your recovery goes as smoothly as possible.  I hope that you’re given all your options to control the pain, and that you make the choice that best works for you…. whether it’s a steady regimen of Vicodin or a thrice-daily walking meditation session in a sunny meadow.

I promise not to judge you either way.


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Today, I Climbed A Mountain

*Full disclosure* I actually climbed the mountain yesterday, but today flowed better. Also, it wasn’t really a “mountain” mountain. It was more like a hill.  Okay, technically it was rocks. I climbed a pile of rocks.

Now that we have that out of the way…

I climbed a mountain yesterday, and it was a long time coming.  May 3rd is just a few weeks away, and it marks the one year anniversary of when I finally went to the ER when the symptoms I’d been experiencing for months reached the point of unbearable, and thus began a year of the worst health (both mental and physical) I think I’ve ever experienced.  It was chest pains, lower back pain, and nausea that finally made me act, but it was crazy relentless unexplained bruising, swollen lymph nodes in my clavicle – and eventually in a whole bunch of other places, – chronic flu-like symptoms, exhaustion, dizziness, and a racing heart that would confound my doctor and send me all over the city to no less than a dozen specialists.

In hindsight, it was most likely a panic attack that I had had that night we went to the ER (the first of MANY such panic attacks over the past year).  We’d gone out that evening to watch an arena football game, and I already wasn’t feeling well when we left the house.   The fear of any sort of medical event happening in public prompts my anxiety to kick in, and anxiety prompts my body to freak out, and a freaked out body does bad, bad things.  The worst part of the evening, besides the fact that it took the EMTS five tries to get the IV placed, was that my then 7 year old asked Mike if I was going to die.   I feel guilty about that, while simultaneously telling myself that it wasn’t my fault.  Could I have willed myself better if I’d tried hard enough?  I don’t know.

Chronic illness and pain (most of which is still unexplained, though some can finally be attributed to disc issues) is exhausting.  And when I say, “exhausting”, I don’t mean very tiring.  I mean it sucks the actual life out of you, to the point that you’re a shell.  A human shell that can intellectually understand that things could be worse and that there is much to be thankful for…. but who is too lost in the muck and the mire to acknowledge it.

What I’ve realized over the past few months though – again, through the magic of hindsight – is that it isn’t the physical symptoms that have been my undoing.   The much greater burden, beyond a shadow of doubt, is the depression and anxiety.  I’m not a stranger to either one, but the past year has seen them both reach heights that I didn’t know were possible.  Depression made me not care, about anything.  Anxiety made me care too much, about everything.  Too much, and not enough, all at the same time.  One made me unable to get out of bed, the other made me too afraid of being alone with my own thoughts not to.  In the past 12 months, I’ve gained and lost and gained again the same 30ish pounds, partly because eating/not eating helped with some of my physical symptoms, but mostly because I’m still that damaged 16 year old who believed that food – either restrictive, careful monitoring like a wrestler trying to make a weight class, OR eating ALL the things, all the time – was the answer.  To everything.

I was hurt by friends who seemed to vanish when I needed them most, and pissed off at friends (and strangers) who offered solutions. Partly because unsolicited advice and people telling me what do make me crazy, but also because – and I’m not proud of it – I was pissed off at everyone.  And everything.

Yes, I’ve been tested for Lyme disease.   Yes, I take vitamins.  Yes, they ruled out lupus.  NO, it’s not all in my head.  Yes, I do meditate. Yes, I understand the importance of sleep and nutrition.  Yes, I’ve tried an elimination diet.  Yes, I use essential oils.  Yes, I’ve looked into non-pharmaceutical solutions.  NO, I am not interested in your naturopathic doctor, or your liver flush, or the special drink that changed the life of your sister’s best friend’s coworker’s cousin’s ex-girlfriend. Leave me alone, leave me alone, LEAVE ME ALONE!    Wait, I can’t do this alone.  I take it back.  I need someone.  Please listen. Don’t leave me alone.  Come back!!!

There was no winning with me.  If they didn’t keep their distance because they didn’t know how to deal with me, I just pushed ’em away myself.  Really, it’s a wonder if I have any friends left at all.

I think one of the most painful paradoxes of depression (really, of mental illness in general)  is that it is excruciatingly difficult to interact with, to talk to, to be physically touched by others, at least in an authentic way …. and yet in equal measure lonely and terrifying to live in its self-created world of isolation.

I don’t believe that my depression and anxiety caused my physical symptoms, and I don’t believe that my physical symptoms caused my depression and anxiety. But mental health and physical health are of course irrevocably yolked together, and as such I know that any attempts to address either one need to be multi-pronged.

Which brings me (finally) back to my mountain.

I have a friend who posts lots of pictures of her hikes… these amazing day-long adventures up in to the mountains (mountains-mountains) all over Phoenix and its surrounding cities.  I keep telling her – in my double-life, put-a-smile-on-my-face-and-pretend-I’m-not-falling-apart-inside alternate reality – that we should go hiking together sometime.  But in reality, I am not able to do that right now. Side note:  In yoga teacher training, which now feels like a lifetime ago, we had to give our teacher 25 cents every time she caught us saying, “I can’t”  After losing a few dollars each, most of us broke the habit.  Instead, we were told to say, and think, “Not today.”  It’s not that we CAN’T do it, it’s just that we can’t YET do it.   That stuck with me in a major way.  Lengthy mountain hikes are not my reality today.   Both because of my physical state (simple walks around the block render me out of commission for a day or days afterward), and because of the real possibility of a sudden mountainside panic attack that would leave me begging her to just go on without me.

But I really do want to start hiking again.  The desert is my happy place.  I can breathe easier there than anywhere else.  The solitude and the wide open spaces feel healing, not oppressive.  In fact I’ve pretty much convinced myself if I ever moved back to New Hampshire (or anywhere else surrounded by trees), that I would effectively suffocate.   My mental health thanks me whenever I venture out into the desert.  Plus, I miss my old butt  regaining a higher level of physical fitness is good not just for my body, but also for every other area of my life.  I know this.  I do.

And still, it took me a month of pep-talks to do it.  There’s a nature preserve that’s a five minute walk from my house, and I decided that I would start there. I’d gone for walks on its trails a few times in the past several weeks, but it had been years since I’d climbed to the top of its not-quite-a-mountain.  It suddenly became really important that I do so, as a literal AND symbolic first step.  But first I had to get there.

It’s way too hot.

It might hurt.

I don’t have anything appropriate to wear.

What if I trip on the loose rocks and fall and hit my head and knock myself unconscious?

What if I’m not knocked unconscious, and think I’m fine, but later suffer a brain bleed?

What if I’m near a drop-off and  get light-headed and can’t sit down fast enough to keep from toppling over the edge?

What if I forget to pay attention to where I’m walking and I startle a rattle-snake who thinks he needs to bite me?  (In my defense, of the three live rattlesnakes we’ve come across in the ten years that we’ve lived in Phoenix, one of them was at that very park)

What if I don’t bring enough water and I get dehydrated and can’t go on?  We like to joke about it because of the quote in The Breakfast Club, but I really do have a low tolerance for dehydration.

What if I lose my cell service at the top, and have a medical emergency and can’t call anyone for help?

Etc.

There were a million reasons not to go, and two really really good ones to suck it up and make myself do it.  I deserve to practice self-care.  My kids deserve a healthy mother.  All the people who’ve suffered the collateral damage of my unintentionally treating them like shit for the past year deserve some atonement.  (I guess that’s three reasons.)

Hiking to the top of that ridge wouldn’t cure me.  But it would be something.

So I made myself go, and with each step I repeated a mantra that was more feelings than words.  If it had had words, they wouldn’t have been sweet and flowery, but more like:

Screw you, depression.  Screw you, anxiety.  Screw you, bad discs and chronic migraines and muscle pain and achy joints.  Screw you fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome or whatever the hell else they want to call my mystery ailment this week.  You don’t get to make the decisions for me.   Not today.  All the way to the top, and all the way back down again.

I wish that I could conclude this post with a mountaintop epiphany, or a defining moment of catharsis.  But, you know… sometimes life is epiphanies and defining moments, and sometimes life is just a red-faced, slightly overweight, sweaty middle-aged mom scrambling her way to the top of a rocky hill in Northern Phoenix on a random Wednesday in April.  A girl who felt okay for a moment, but who knows she still has a lot of work ahead of her.

It took 45 minutes, to the top and back down.

I climbed a mountain and I lived.

Today my calves hurt, and I find it delightful because I haven’t done any sort of level of activity that would lead to sore calves for an entire year.  Delightful is good.  Delightful is rare.

And now (if you’ve gotten this far, and if you have, thank you) it’s 12:45 in the afternoon, and I haven’t yet left the couch, but I will. Later I’ll take the 12 year old to football, and the 8 year old to the playground, and I’ll smile politely at the people around me, and they won’t know my secret.  They won’t know that I hurt, in so many different ways.  But they also won’t know my other secret.  They won’t know that I decided I’m stronger than all of it.  They won’t know that I climbed a mountain, or HOW MUCH FREAKING EFFORT it took to do it.  I sometimes often tell Mike how hard it is to be me, how hard it is to live inside my brain, and over the past year inside my body as well.  But I wouldn’t want to be anyone else.  I really wouldn’t. Because the wiring that makes me prone to depression and anxiety is the same wiring that makes me passionate, and creative, and someone who loves and lives and feels deeply.  It’s the same part of me that allows me to express myself through writing! I realized a long time ago that it’s kind of a package deal.

I think there’s a sort of poetic and beautiful and bittersweet synchronicity to the fact that my least favorite part of my psyche comes inextricably linked with my favorite.  I wouldn’t take the magic pill (if such a pill existed) to take away all my problems, if the price was also taking away the very essence of who I am.

So I have to resolve – again and again and again – to do the work I need to do to be well, whatever wellness is going to ultimately look like.  I can’t WILL myself well, this much is true.  But I can take steps, both literal and figurative, towards wellness.  I can.

I CAN.

I have the sore calves to prove it.

P.S.  This article is the most apt description of depression that I’ve ever read.  He so eloquently puts into words what I’ve so often tried – and failed – to write myself.


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Temporary

Photo Credit: Ivo Ivov

Photo Credit: Ivo Ivov

I’ve been sick for the past six months.

I’ll spare you my laundry list of symptoms, both because it’s boring and because I’m so tired of thinking about it, but they concerned my doctor enough to order a CT, an ultrasound, and blood work, and eventually led her to send me to an oncologist. HE was concerned enough to order still more blood work – 12 vials in fact – and a whole-body PET scan.

None of the above gave us any answers.  On paper, I’m the healthiest sick person that ever lived.  My next step is an infectious disease doctor, not because anyone really thinks I have an infectious disease, but because they do the kind of detective work necessary to diagnose these weird and hard-to-figure-out whatever-the-heck-this-thing-is that’s been making my life miserable since last spring.

It’s frustrating feeling terrible and limited every day and not knowing why.  It’s even more frustrating to feel like you’re going through it all alone.  This summer was truly one of the loneliest summers of my life.  And that doesn’t sound right, does it?  Feeling lonely in a house full of six people?  But it’s exactly how I’ve felt. And I’ve learned that feeling alone amongst other people is a far more harrowing feeling than feeling alone when you’re actually… well, alone.  I never feel lonely when I’m by myself.  But when I’m around other people?  I’ve become an expert at it.

And I can never figure out if it’s actually real life  (Is it real?  Have I really created a life with so few people to support me when I need it?), or if it’s simply a product of manifestation….combined and created somewhere in the abyss of physical pain and the inevitable depression that comes with it.

Whatever the case, I’ve been resting there:  Holding on tightly to the simultaneous frustration and safety of my own self-pity.

I don’t recommend it.

I have missed writing so very much (just one of many things I’ve missed in the past several months) but even when I have gotten the energy to sit at my computer, I put my fingers to the keyboard…… and there’s nothing there but a wordless, guttural whine.

Then yesterday I finally heard something that helped, if only a tiny bit.  In a classic case of “the right thing at the right time,”  I was watching a movie with my groom, and what was meant to be entertainment ended up being inspiration.   Between me not feeling well, and him being exhausted from work, and the both of us spending all our spare minutes getting everything tied up for the conference, we’ve been desperately clinging to our lazy Saturday morning movie-while-we-drink-our-coffee dates whenever we can get them.  Anyway, yesterday we were watching this movie, and there was a scene where one of the characters, an angst-ridden teenager, was standing on the precipice of a cliff, contemplating ending his life.  His panicked family had all gathered around, and were literally trying to talk him down from the edge.  They were delivering a fairly standard issue, “you have so much to live for” motivational speech, and eventually told him,

“Shit’s temporary!”*

And in that moment, those words were the much-needed balm to my weary and battered soul. It’s temporary.  It’s ALL temporary.  And yes, I get that there’s nothing new or revelatory about that observation, but it was something that I’d forgotten…. and forgotten so deeply that I didn’t even remember that I’d forgotten it.  I’m always the first person to reassure new moms that their toddler’s frustrating experiments with biting or throwing or shoving things into the DVD player drawer is but a season.  It’s temporary.  Why on earth wouldn’t that apply to adults as well?

Trials are temporary.  Frustrations are temporary.  LIFE is temporary.  And I needed the reminder to sit tight, put on my galoshes, and get out there and dance in the storm.  It’s a season, bringing whatever lessons it’s going to bring.

I feel like I’ve spent so much time chasing things.  Chasing answers, chasing peace, chasing rest.  And I think that sometimes you need to just stop chasing.  Stop moving.  Just stop.  Stop and remember that it’s all just…. fleeting.  I’ll feel better, or I won’t.  But either way, it’s still temporary, because it’s ALL temporary.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next for me, or this blog, or all my plans that have gotten put on hold with my health issues.  But for the first time in a long time, I’m pretty okay with not knowing.  And the next time I’m not okay (because I do know there will be a next time), the next time I give in to the stress and the fatigue and the frustration of it all, I hope I can remember that no matter what it is… whatever negative, stagnant yuck I’m feeling…

that it’s only temporary.

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*(Sorry I said shit.  Sorry I said it again)

 


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Healing

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Just over three weeks ago, I had surgery on my shoulder.  It was a revision for a previous surgery, 2 years ago this month.  The whole thing started in May of 2012, and the only reason I’ll always remember that is that it was Mother’s Day weekend, and we’d spent the weekend camping with friends.  (Here’s the original post on that) There were better days here and there, but I basically haven’t had a pain free day for 2 1/2 years.

This time around, he repaired some stuff from the first surgery – an anchor was rubbing every time I moved, so he removed that, as well as cleaned up new tears, scar tissue and arthritis that had developed.  He also did something called a biceps tenodesis, which basically means that he detached the bicep on one end, and literally moved it and reattached in a new place further down my arm to take the pressure off my shoulder.  I have a permanent metal button that’s holding it to the bone.  Crazy, right?  I know from experience that recovering from the work on the shoulder (the labrum, in this case) is no picnic, but it’s actually the bicep piece that’s going to be the most frustrating recovery, in the sense that it requires the most restriction – and patience! – to heal properly.

I spent the first two weeks after the surgery on the couch…. taking painkillers, eating comfort food, and logging more hours canoodling with Netflix and Playon than I care to admit (I knew I’d reached a particular low when I started re-watching the original Melrose Place from the very first episode.)  It’s a frustrating feeling, having to be waited on. I’m not very good at it.  And the whole thing was compounded by the fact that it only took a couple of days before I was feeling sad, lonely, and embarrassingly sorry for myself.

I was longing, literally longing, for someone to show up at the door with baked goods, or coffee, or just themselves, and sit and keep me company and give me something positive to chat about for awhile.  My sister, who scored some major good sister points, did exactly that a couple of times.  And when a dear out-of-state friend happened to be in town visiting another mutual friend, they stopped over as well, bearing cupcakes and hugs and conversation, just two days after the surgery.   And I did get one sweet card in the mail.  Other than that, it was pretty much radio silence (save for dire warnings about the addictive nature of the painkillers I was taking), from friends and family alike, and it made me…. mopey.   How hard is it to pick up a phone, I’d think, and send a get-well text?  Or ask if I needed anything?  

I know;  self-pity is an undeniably unattractive thing, but it’s exactly what I felt.   I was a spectacle.  Moping around in my sweatpants and my sling, wearing the same shirt for days because it was just too much painful work to change it, hopped up on drugs (that I’ve since stopped taking, but at the time genuinely needed and got chastised like a unruly dog for taking). I was a zombie from not sleeping, so I tried the Ambien my doctor prescribed, which only caused a horrible reaction that kept me up all night  (I got chastised for taking that too.)  I was literally starting to gain weight – over the course of just two weeks! – because of my inactivity and the general volume of non-nutritive food I was eating.  My upper arm had a really weird, creepy looking new shape to it that I feared was permanent.   And to top it all off, I felt like I had no friends.

(Ha.  I just re-read that last paragraph, and is it any wonder no one came to visit?  🙂 Who’d want to spend time with that miserable person? God bless my crazy sister.)

Last Monday, I started physical therapy, which even though I knew it would be painful, was a huge positive step in my recovery.  For a lot of people, going to physical therapy reduces their pain…. but when you go to re-gain strength and range of motion after a surgery, it actually causes pain, at least in the beginning.  On a side note, it amazes me the movements we take for granted until we can’t do them anymore, like straightening out your elbow, or raising your arm up over your head.   Anyway, I decided on that first day that I would use that pain as a reminder of the healing that’s going on.  It’s truly amazing when you think about it…  tendons and muscles and bone, all slowly slowly knitting themselves back together.  Every day getting just a little bit stronger, every day getting just a little more flexible.  I never properly healed from the first surgery (or, I guess more accurately, I never had a break in between healing from the first one, and dealing with the subsequent problems it caused) but I know I can’t let that allow me to think I won’t properly heal from this one.   Being a revision, by its very nature it’s going to be “messier” than the first one.  In other words, I shouldn’t be expecting to reach 100%.  But 80% sounds wonderful right now.  And I’ll get there.  I will.

Slowly, painfully, I’ll heal.

And so it goes with my shoulder and my sorry, sad-sack attitude.  I’ll heal.  It’s funny how something as simple as a surgery and its accompanying rehab can suddenly propel a person (again) into full-fledged mid-life crisis mode, but that’s exactly what it’s done.   And it’s a good thing!  It’s time once again to look at my life, evaluate what’s important, what’s not, and work to eliminate the latter.   So as my shoulder and arm heal, so will the rest of me.  I guarantee it’ll be painful at times, just like with physical therapy, but the pain will eventually reveal something brighter, clearer, and stronger.  With each appointment, each ice pack, each Advil, each good night’s sleep, I’ll heal.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s but a blip.  I indulged myself for two weeks, and now it’s time to move on.

To healing, even when it hurts.

 


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I’m a Better Mom When My Kids Are Sick

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I had an uncomfortable realization yesterday.

Spencer spent most of the day in the ER with a dislocated shoulder.  He is home now, put back together and sleeping comfortably, but yesterday was a long miserable day for him.   Mike brought him to the ER while I stayed home with the others feeling anxious and useless, unsure of what to do with myself.  As I’d imagine any parent would tell you, there are few things worse than knowing your children are in pain or sick or hurt in any way.  It was with great relief that I finally met him at the front door, smiling, whole (if a bit drugged up), and home where I could dote on him.

So glad to have something to do after a day of waiting, I made sure he was comfortable on the couch and that he had the remotes controls he needed.  I fixed him some toast and put water on for tea.  I kept him company while he watched one of his favorite shows, I brought him ibuprofen when it was time, and I even helped him with his belt buckle when he admitted with a laugh that while he managed to get it UNdone with one hand to use the restroom, he couldn’t get it done again.   I was attentive, and I was patient, and I did it all gladly.  It made me happy to be able to do something, anything, to help him stay as comfortable as possible.

In short, I was the kind of mom I should be striving to be all the time.

It occurred to me on my third or fourth trip out of the living room to get him something that didn’t I have it backwards?  Not that we shouldn’t be so vigilant when there is an extra need, but shouldn’t that same level of patience, of compassion, and willingness to give be present when the kids are well?  Especially with kids like mine who are almost never sick?  And it’s not that I don’t think I’m a good mom.  It’s just that crises tend to make me a BETTER mom.  A more aware mom.  A more patient mom.  And if I can choose to bring that “extra” to my parenting when someone is sick or hurt, can’t I choose to do it all the time?  It’s not even a choice now that I think about it…. it’s just the default.  Someone is hurt, and out comes that “other” mom.  The one who isn’t irritable because she hasn’t been sleeping enough, the one who isn’t distracted with silly things like Facebook and housework and outstanding bills, the one who has all the love in the world and all the time in the world to give it.

Yes, I’ve had it backwards, and I can change that.

I don’t really do resolutions, but if I did, my new resolution would be this:   For this year… this week… this day… to make more of an effort to treat my kids – all my kids – as well as I’d treat them if they’d just spent the day in the ER.


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Desert Therapy

I had a week. I was feeling tired and run-down, sick from the medication I was taking, and grumpy from the heat. I was sleeping even less than normal (which is minimal to begin with), and badly in need of an outing and some good old-fashioned head clearing.

We had an off-roading trip scheduled yesterday, and I was so feeling so badly that we were wondering if we’d have to cancel. In the end though, staying home was just not an option. I HAD to get out, and the desert was the perfect place to be. Breathing in the wide, open, desert air is far and away my preferred therapy (better even than Alanis Morissette) It’s one place I can always relax. One place I can always be me. It was exactly what I needed, and it restored me in both body and soul.

This video is under two minutes, and is just something I quickly shot as we were driving through a little canyon. What I love about it is Tegan squealing happily in the back seat… the sound of which is of course better for the soul than the desert and Alanis combined.

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Sick Kids, and Being a Mom

Recouping

Last night, I went to bed at midnight.  I was still awake an hour later, when Tegan (who’d been sleeping fitfully) suddenly threw up all over me, herself, and the bed.  Mike and I were instantly put into that familiar parental hyper-drive, wordlessly teaming up to comfort, clean, and soothe the girl… gather towels and a trash can and new pajamas… strip and wash the bedding, and my clothes, and her clothes…

For the next few hours, we laid awake, doting on the girl while she got sick again and again.  She felt undeniably lousy, but handled and understood it so much better than she did a year ago at age two.  And in typical Tegan fashion, she still managed to keep things upbeat and interesting with her questions about farts, ceiling fans, and venetian blinds.   I do so love that girl.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition….. There are few things that make me sadder than seeing my kids feel miserably sick (especially when it’s of the tummy bug variety), but there’s something… sweet… about it too.  Such a chance to really reconnect, to love on them 150%, to strip away the distractions of the day, to get back down to the core of what we’re supposed to be doing here, and to be a parent.  I don’t love it when my babies are sick.  But I do love an opportunity to take care of them in what’s somehow both a more basic and profound way than normal.  I love knowing that I’m able to help them feel better, if even a little bit, simply by my being there.  I love being their mom.

Before I went to bed last night, I spent a long time reading a forum thread devoted to, well, attacking me as a parent.  While I can’t pretend to understand what would make a person so angry inside that they need to call me – a complete stranger – an idiot, and call my kids future “murderers, drunk drivers, and wife-beaters” I do know without a doubt that it isn’t about me. How can it be? They don’t know me.   They don’t know my kids.  Their words say something about them, not me. 

And at the end of the day, the only people I have to answer to in terms of my parenting are my children.  Not family, not friends, and certainly not random strangers on the internet.  My kids are the ones who get the vote, my kids are the ones who get heard.  

Do my kids feel loved?
Do my kids feel safe?
Do my kids feel respected?

If I can answer yes to those questions on any given day, I know I’m doing alright by them.

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Note to Self: Maybe you don’t like it for a reason.

I don’t like shellfish. I’m really not a fan of seafood in general, but shellfish brings up the rear. I’m kind of the family weirdo in that regard, because Mike and all four kids LOVE it – all of it – and could eat it every day of their lives and never get sick of it. But as much as I’d like to like it (it seems like such a fun and fancy food) the texture grosses me out, the smell puts me off, and truth be told I’m not really keen on even looking at them…. all those little piles of shells and legs and eyeballs and bits on the plate when they’re done. Ick.

I do still try it occasionally though. I know tastes change, and palettes mature. And like I said, I would love to be able to enjoy it.

You can imagine then, given my lifetime quest for irony, how thrilled I am to discover at 37 that

I am in fact allergic to shellfish.  My first-ever known allergy.

But I’m getting little ahead of myself. Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and we had a really lovely day at home. Mike and the boys cooked me brunch, we had Luna for a few hours, and otherwise just enjoyed a lazy family day with nowhere to be.

My favorite:  chocolate chip pancakes with whipped cream

Towards the end of the day, Everett and I were feeling a little house-bound and stir-crazy.   I suggested Chinese food.  We wanted to find someplace new, so after a little bit of searching, we decided to try a local buffet that came recommended.  Ironically, we almost didn’t go.  Tegan was having a rough afternoon (have I mentioned that she’s three, and that  being three is hard?) and was having a difficult time transitioning from playing half naked at home to getting dressed and getting in the car.  We did eventually get everyone out of the house, and we headed off – excited – for our nice dinner out.

The food I normally go for was unfortunately very mediocre, but there was a ton of seafood options, so the boys were absolutely thrilled.  They went up to the bar again and again for clams, crab legs, crawdads, cold shrimp, fried shrimp, spicy shrimp, sushi.  They loved it, and seeing them enjoy it was more than enough of a Mother’s Day gift for me.

Spencer got an S-shaped shrimp. 🙂

I tried my once-every-few-years token bite of shrimp, and a whole little clam.   Paxton gave me a small taste of his crab leg too,  so I added that to the mix.  Less than half an hour later, I started itching.  First around my face, then on my stomach, then ALL OVER.  And it was crazy itching… the kind of itching that makes you want to claw your skin off, and the kind of itching that is impolite to address in a public place.

But the time we were heading out to the car, joking about making a return visit, my lips were tingling and my throat felt weird.  We briefly talked about the Emergency Room,  but decided to try some Benadryl first.  I wasn’t having trouble breathing, and despite the insane itching, I barely had a single hive.  We stopped at CVS, Mike ran in for the pills, and we drove the rest of the few minutes home.    A half hour after the Benadryl, none of the symptoms were abating, and an hour later I was starting to feel sick to my stomach as well.    I called our insurance co’s 24-hr nurse hot line and told her what was going on.  She was very upbeat and nonchalant as she told me, “Okay, I need you to hang up and call 911.  Since you’re not getting any relief from your symptoms, and it’s now affecting your stomach, it sounds like it’s become systemic.  That could turn  serious very quickly.”

Happy Mother’s Day to me?

Five minutes later, we heard the siren.  Our little living room was suddenly filled with 4 fire fighters and all their equipment, 2 of our kids, Mike, and myself… pathetically sitting on the couch in my pajamas, uncontrollably shaking and heart beating wildly (later they’d tell me that in addition to the allergic symptoms, I’d probably also gotten “amped up” from the Benadryl.  Most people it makes sleepy, but in others it has the opposite effect.  I’m apparently one of the latter.)   And yes, I was also high on adrenaline, freaked out from the “Hang up and call 911” instruction.  Once they determined that my breathing wasn’t compromised, and that my blood pressure wasn’t too low – it was actually on the high side – things moved slowly.  They got me set up with an IV, kept reminding me to calm down and breathe, and called an ambulance to get me to the hospital to get checked out fully.

All told, I spent 4 hours at the hospital.    They pumped me with more antihistamines, anti-nausea meds, steroids, and pepcid.  They hooked me up to the monitor to watch my blood pressure, respiration, and oxygen.  I watched the little screen as everything kicked in and returned to normal.   My throat still felt weird and swollen (and still does a little bit the next morning)  but I was no longer nauseated.  I’d stopped itching, stopped tingling, stopped shaking, and my freaked out heart rate had come back down.   I took an hour long nap, which did not go unappreciated.  I finally came home at 3:00 this morning, with 3 prescriptions in hand, including one for an epi-pen that I hope to never have to use.  I have to take some medication for 5 days just to be on the safe side, and to ward off any potential rebound effects.  After that, I should be as good as new.

Lessons learned:  1) I will hereby officially avoid shellfish (and likely Chinese food in general for awhile)  and I will be unapologetic about it.  2) Life really IS all about the detours, and 3) Sometimes, you just have to laugh.

All things considered, it truly was a very nice Mother’s Day…. and it’s definitely not one I’ll be forgetting any time soon.


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Detours

My view for the day

Three days ago, I was taking Everett to Urgent Care to get his UTI diagnosed, and today – apparently – was my turn.  Only it wasn’t a UTI, and it wasn’t Urgent Care.  It was what turned out to be a ruptured ovarian cyst, and it was my old faithful Emergency Room… the same one that admitted me three years ago when I had my emergency gall bladder surgery, and two years ago when I needed a stent put in for hydronephrosis.  (But I’m healthy usually, really!)

Today was more CT scans and ultrasounds, more morphine and zofran.  Not my most favorite way to spend a Thursday – and I terribly missed the kids – but it just makes me all the more thankful to be home where I belong, surrounded by my people, and able to sleep in my own bed.   

Next week will be better, and God willing, it will be a good long time (or forever) before I have to look at this again:


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