Women Rock Wednesday: Woman Witness

I just finished two books, almost simultaneously. I’ve always got several (4 or so) going at any given time — 2 fiction for devouring (one with my eyes, one with my ears) and a couple non-fiction on a slow simmer in the background for when the mood is right. Because my eyes are so much faster than my ears, it’s unusual that I’ll finish two up around the same time, but this time I did. And this was one of those times where an interesting theme emerged and made me think.

I spent the entire day on Saturday (very literally) finishing up the sixth installment of the Green Rider series. My friend Jess got me hooked in grad school, which was all good because there were already three books out at the time and I got to read them in rapid succession. I’ve had to wait years between each of the others though, so when I finally get my hands on the next one, I basically have to check out of life for a bit to soak it all in.

The Green Rider Series by Kristen Britain… I’m obsessed.

I’ll spare you the details… ok, actually, I’ll spare me the details because it’s pretty much hardcore fantasy and a description would likely scream NERD… but suffice it to say that a major theme of this most recent book was a journey that required a witness.

I didn’t really think much of that theme until this afternoon when it appeared once again. The book I finished on my post-work, full-sun (!!!) run was the third in a series recommended to me by a fellow audiobook lover — the Pendergast series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. I’m still early in the series (there are 17 books!), but I fell in love with the bizarre yet brilliant Special Agent Pendergast right away and love that the books bring back some, but not all, characters and settings from the previous book each time. It’s super fun and they’re a great listen for my runs. I was hoofing it up a big hill (Mount McMillan as my friend Amy would say) this afternoon listening to the epilogue of The Cabinet of Curiosities when Pendergast brought this book’s (surviving) sidekicks to a barely marked grave in a public cemetery north of New York City to burn the secret to prolonged life… an event of historical import so great that it couldn’t be done alone, it needed a witness.

The book ended shortly thereafter, but that word — witness — stuck with me. It tickled something in the back of my mind and fueled my thoughts for the rest of my (blessedly downhill) run home.

I wrote about another book and its use of the phrase “benevolent witness” a couple years ago the first time Seth and I went through IVF. It was something of an explanation for why I am like I am with all the words. And I liked, and still agree with, that post upon re-reading. But it didn’t quite capture what I thought about this afternoon. In that moment, I knew I needed a benevolent witness — someone to really see me and be kind anyway. But it wasn’t so much about kindness today.

So what?

I came home and did what any hard-hitting writer-type would do: research.

Google search: can i get a witness

Seriously. Research.

Done and done.

So, it was Marvin Gaye all those years ago who, with a kick ass song (with so-bad-they’re-good dance moves from the crowd, at least in this video), coined the phrase.

Mistreated by a lady love, Marvin Gaye wanted a witness to the unfairness of it all. For someone else to see the truth.

BINGO!

 

There’s something inherently comforting about knowing that someone else has really seen you in any given situation. Served as witness to joy or pain, bravery or fear, success or unfairness. Regardless of the role a witness ultimately plays in a situation, to know that someone was there validates us in a way nothing else can. Our minds can play tricks, our emotions can wreak havoc, but a witness is stolid — a witness stands by you and says this is real, you are real, you matter, you experienced…

 

But why on Women Rock Wednesday?

Because Women have so often born witness to the biggest and smallest moments of my life. They still do.

The more I mull it over, the more I find myself believing that there’s something experiential about being a woman in the world that lends itself well to women serving as witnesses for each other. Even when we didn’t share a physical or temporal moment, there are so many familiar stories that, when recounted, end with a common refrain: “I can’t believe I thought it was just me!!”

Most of us have bled through our shorts/pants/pajamas at some point in our lives. Most of us have felt badly about our bodies. We’ve been patronized. We’ve struggled with sexuality, fertility, family planning, femininity (too fast, too slow, too much, not enough). We’ve all spent our lives walking a line between being nice and being firm. These are things that, at least in the culture I know, are nearly universal. And we can serve as witnesses for each other in these ways and so many others.

 

It can be tempting to isolate, particularly in moments of shame or pain. But to have a witness is to receive validation (or maybe even a dose of reality should we have contorted something painful into something worse than it really is), to share the burden, to recognize the universality of our experiences in a way that removes our ability to truly isolate ourselves from the world. Women can do that for each other. Should and do do that for each other. And for that, I’m so grateful.

Can I get a witness?

Mental Health Monday: The BEDO.

As a military-naive civilian, I’m generally opposed to the concept of carpet bombing. Too much potential for collateral damage. Though I suppose that’s the point — to throw everything you’ve got at the problem, unintended consequences be damned.

Again, generally speaking, I’d prefer a more targeted solution. Something focused on the problem at hand and, most importantly, guaranteed to work. But not every problem can be solved that way. In fact, many can’t. And I’m growing a bit fonder of carpet bombing as the best solution to one particularly big problem.

 

I’ve struggled with binge eating disorder (BED) for a very, very long time. Some years are better than others, but one thing is for certain: the older I get the worse it gets. Worse and worse and worse. Every period of binge eating so much more difficult to squelch than the last. When I spoke recently of wanting to give up, accepting that this is who I am, it was the binge eating in particular that I meant. I have fought for so long — 20 years at least. Probably closer to 25. I have tried a million different solutions. Books, diets, courses, websites, psychotherapy, psychiatric care. And I’m tired.

I told Celeste, my lovely Celeste, so at my last appointment. That I was done. That I was giving up.

She told me no. One more solution… one single thing left to try: medication.

Celeste and I have gone round and round about the idea of medication for several years. Incompatibility of the medication with a potential pregnancy has always been a concern though, and I wasn’t willing to put the brakes on that for any amount of time to give meds a shot.

So a few years later — pregnancy’s a no-go and the binge eating is at full force, so we’re doing it. I’m going to try the medication.

 

When I think back on all the years of wishing for a magic bullet, a quick cure, it’s remarkable to think how reluctant I’ve been to try what may very well be just that. However, in the interim, I’ve learned a whole lot about the treatment of substance use disorders (substance abuse, addiction) and, in particular, a lot about the concept of medication assisted treatment (MAT). What I’ve learned has been exceptionally pertinent to the way I think about medication for myself in the context of BED now.

MAT itself is somewhat controversial, for a number of reasons not worth discussing here… but what the group I work with has essentially settled on as a guiding principle is that MAT is somewhat of a misnomer as it implies that medication alone can solve what is a very complex problem. We prefer the idea of TAM — treatment assisted with medication. In the case of addiction, it’s using medication to beat back the cravings to such a point that the mind can get to a place capable of recovery. And what that entails, in addition to taking the medication carefully and as prescribed, is a LOT of work, a lot of different kinds of work, and a desperate hope that some bit of that work sticks. Carpet bombing.

 

Perhaps my situation is not so different. I don’t mean to suggest that BED is on par with or the same as addiction in the traditional sense (although arguments can be made for crossover of elements of BED with elements of substance use disorders as well as obsessive compulsive disorder), but perhaps the treatment paradigm ought to be similar. I don’t want to hang all my hopes on medication and forget about the rest of it. I feel so close to giving up, so tired of trying, if this is to be it — it needs to be it. All in.

Since Celeste wrote my prescription, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about (and researching) what it would mean for me to be all in. Outcomes for BED treatment are variable and relatively poor — so what to choose? Medication is now on the table, but what else? What else is there that I haven’t tried? The answer, as far as I can tell, is nothing… at least on its own.

So: carpet bombing.

I’m pulling out all the stops and trying it all at once, hoping against hope that something… anything… sticks. My medication finally arrived at noon today and I took my first dose at 12:01, right on time. I’ve ordered an UpToDate-recommended cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) workbook that I’ll use in conjunction with my routine psychotherapy appointments. And I joined a healthy lifestyles coaching program to focus on the intensive behavioral therapy (IBT) principles espoused by the US Preventive Services Task Force…

The Binge Eating Disorder Offensive (BEDO).

If you drop enough bombs, you’re bound to hit something.

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If you’re new around here… or just don’t remember clearly every word I’ve ever written (gasp!) and you’re interested in learning a little bit more about my historical battle with BED and body image, you might consider reading these:

October 17, 2013: Gratitude for a Gentle Reminder

November 5, 2013: Mind, Body, Prison

Fertility Friday: Story beads… or the power of catha-art-this.

As anyone whose ever gone to grade school knows, there are a lot of times in our lives that we are expected to do stupid things that someone else thinks will be good for us.

When I was younger, I was always right. The stupid thing was exactly as stupid as I thought it would be and it never did me any good.

What can I say, I was born knowing everything.

Until I was approximately 17 at which point I distinctly remember the first ever stupid thing that was actually good for me.

My first ever therapist made me do lots of stupid things. I was on the struggle bus and I just really didn’t understand how doing coloring pages in her office and making collages of magazine pictures in my dorm room was going to do anything to help with the fact that I was sad, down, miserable ALL. OF. THE. TIME.

But I (my parents, and their insurance) was paying for this lady, so I jumped through her hoops. I did her stupid things.

Every so often, I’d sit in what’s-her-name’s office with a coloring page and a big box of colored pencils, I’d scritch and scratch on the paper and answer her questions. Talk about my stuffs. Without fear… very open… about things I vowed not to talk about…

Damnit — the coloring! She tricked me into spilling my guts!

And her mind tricks only got more tricksy with the collage business. We talked about a little photo of a martini glass filled with milk for such a ridiculously long time. Why did it attract me? Was it the juxtaposition that I related to? And so on. It had seemed so silly until she really made me think about it. Not to mention the sort of mindful mindlessness of clipping the pictures on the floor of my room night after night.

Art projects, journaling, nerdy ice breakers, flipping through pictures, doing yoga, forced show and tell, filling my body up with sunshine, repeating tiny positive phrases…

Over the years, the stupid things have actually been so effective, that I have even stopped thinking of them as stupid. Actively pursuing things I once-upon-a-time would have immediately, and vehemently, poo-pooed.

 

And that’s the me of today. I like to try things — stupid things. Weird things. Out of the box things. Recently, through some of the hardest struggles and biggest hurts, I’ve found various artistic endeavors to be particularly helpful, healing, grounding, calming, enjoyable. I’ve pressed flowers and experimented with water colors. Hosted a painting party and DIY decorated my home.

This past weekend, I tried something new yet again. My friend Marie (my spiritual guuuu-ru) hosted a retreat at St. Anthony Spirituality Center in Marathon, about an hour north of me, focused on the use of beads in prayer — Pray One, Bead Two. Sounded neat… and the weekend did not disappoint.

Marie taught us the millennia-long history of the use of beads in various spiritual practices across geography and time. She told us stories about her innate attraction to the repetitive, tactile nature of the use of beads in her own life and the way that translated into a robust spiritual practice in her life today. Marie shared her stories, her knowledge, and her beads with us — oodles of beads — and we built things that meant something to us from the things that she shared.

My beaded creations from the retreat this weekend.

I made a mental health focused prayer bracelet – a soft, sea green, with beads in sets of three, and a St. Dymphna medal; the patron saint of mental illness.

I made an earth amulet – one big clay circle representing God, the Earth, the universe, the totality, and a single wooden bead above it, representing myself and my place in the whole.

I made a beaded prayer shawl focused on healing – a heavy, long string of lovely beads with colors representing the bodily chakras from head-to-toe, toe-to-head, and back again.

And finally — the story beads.

The second Marie mentioned story beads, the idea of creating a story or party of a story from your life in a strand of beads, I was enamored with the idea. It was the last thing we did, but the first place my mind went as I started sifting through the different colors, shapes, and sizes of beads. As I made every other piece, I set aside the beads I knew I’d use to represent different pieces of the story I wanted to tell. And in the end, putting together my journey through expectation, infertility, miscarriage, depression, and to the place I am now was incredibly cathartic.

Want to see?

It started when we got married. We’d been together FOR-EV-ER. We were both crazy cute kids. We knew we wanted to make some more. We wished for a family all our own.

A year went by. It can take time. We knew that. We saw the doctor, did the tests – probes in unpleasant places, awkward samples in tiny containers. Nothing was wrong. So we stepped it up a touch, another 6+ months of clomid. So hopeful still, it was just a matter of time. It was going to happen. The wish was unchanged. It still had not been granted.

So we went to a fertility clinic in Madison. If anyone could make us pregnant, grant us our wish, it was Generations. Still so hopeful. We started with intrauterine insemination (IUI). Three crystal beads for those three whole-hearted attempts. We had a 30% chance of success each time… if it was going to work. It didn’t work. So we stepped up our game, we went with in vitro fetilization (IVF). Three more crystal beads for our three fertilized eggs — my little maybe babies. Hundreds of pills, injections, patches, swabs, ultrasounds, trips represented by six shiny beads. All the hope in the world in that tiny little section.

And one of those little embryos, the one that survived to implantation, she took root. My body knew her early. My heart fell in love immediately. It felt so uncertain at first. I was nervous and wary. And then one morning, I was in the garage, getting into my car to go to work and had to run quickly back inside to throw up and… it was so real. Who’d have thought vomit could be represented by a big pink bead covered in butterflies? But there it is.

I didn’t know it was a girl, but I felt so certain. I dreamt of of her future, of the uber feminist mom I was going to be. She was going to always feel beautiful and brilliant and bright. Worthy of all the love in the world, all good things, always. I was in love with her. The dream was real for a minute. So real.

Until it was, just like that, over. A picture perfect baby on the screen, but no blip of life. And all of it was over. Forever an angel baby.

We tried three more times. That’s these three beads. One round of IVF with my own eggs and two with donor eggs. But it was harder — harder on my mind, my heart, and my body. And we experienced unexpected and inexplicable failures. Things that weren’t supposed to happen, things that never happen, happened. We got discounts to “make up for it,” but I didn’t want a discount… I wanted a baby. Our baby. The baby we lost. The baby we’d tried so hard to have.

We had to give up. We had to stop. And things were black. My world was so dark for so long. And I still struggle with the darkness. It makes up a really big part of this story, of my story — it’s easy to see, easy to feel, hard to ignore.

But with letting go also comes some sort of acceptance. And we did some big things for ourselves to facilitate a reset — a shift in mindset, expectations. This bit represents the amazing trip we took, across the ocean and back again, the incredible treat we gave ourselves. The incredible joy I felt watching dolphins play in the water far below us. The profound groundedness and acceptance I felt spending those amazing 12 days with my husband and our two best friends in this world.

The two of us came home fresh and refreshed. Ready to do life together. Knowing that our family is just as real as any other family, regardless of whether we end up with human children someday or not. We’re so lucky to have each other.

And so we come to the last segment on the string. This one is me — big and imperfect. I’ve been through a lot, but now that’s behind me. It’s just my story, the tale of how I came to be this big, imperfect rock. And in front of me — 11 beads. 11 for a new beginning. 10, a number of completion, plus 1 to keep going. (Except you know I love Joe Dirt, so I’m going to say it… plus 1 to keep on keepin’ on!)

Finally, the one big special bead that I made myself, molded out of clay. It’s a heart. My heart. With a tiny heart missing — the piece of my heart my girl took with her when she left us. But she also left something behind, an imprint that won’t ever go away. My heart is changed.

 

It’s been 18 months since we saw our little baby on the screen… only to learn that her heart no longer beat. 18 months since the D&C, the blackest of black, and I’m still grieving. But over the course of those 18 months, I’ve moved from the constant brink of tears to a place where talking about it — walking through the story, remembering what could have been — is something I actually want to do. When someone (anyone) asks about whether/how many kids we have, I don’t want to just say “no” or “none,” I want to say, “Unfortunately, no. We do not have children. We tried for a long time, did everything we could, and even lost one baby, but we don’t have any kids. And we might not ever. It’s been hard, but we have each other and our sweet pup and that’s ok.”

That’s my story. The story the beads tell. And the story I get to share.

Women Rock Wednesday: Road trips!

Thursday morning, I sat next to my coworker Tammy at a long table in a bland conference room at the Great Wolf Lodge in Wisconsin Dells. It was the start of day 2 of a grueling grantee meeting hosted by the State. State with a capital S. Tammy started to speak.

“You know… I feel like I should say. Actually…” and she stopped abruptly, turning toward me. “No, this is important, this requires eye contact.”

I turned toward her. She started to speak again. “I feel I need to say…” and it was my turn to stop her.

“Hang on,” I said. “This is going to need more than just eye contact.” And I folded my  hands over the top of hers.

Tammy spoke again, “I’ve really enjoy traveling with you. It needed to be said.”

I responded in kind, “Same!” Plus some, “I really think you need some lotion.”

And we giggled like school girls until the presenter got things going. In Tammy’s words, the meeting had been a “fresh hell” and after several good and several bad trips, this had been our friendship forging battle — Tammy and I are travel buddies, through and through.

On Monday, I brought Tammy four travel sized bottles of lotion. She brought me three quarts of homegrown raspberries for pi(es). I absolutely adore Tammy…

Yet, a year ago I could not have imagined this closeness. Not that I had any real evidence to the contrary. Only imaginary. It’s sad that I let that stop me from road tripping for as long as I did. Let me explain…

 

Long before I started my new job in the Center for Community Outreach I was already working with my newly beloved crew. Believe it or not, a big part of community engagement involves actually going out into the communities. In cars. Even when the community is kind of far away.

So naturally, for the first year or so of all this traveling, I drove myself. Audiobook all the way. Completely on my own dime. Because… what on God’s green earth was I going to be able to talk about with strangers on a car trip for hours on end??? Nothing. That’s what. So I couldn’t do it. Wouldn’t, anyway.

The emails always came out about carpooling and ridesharing, time tables, and rental reservations, but I never jumped in the pool. I just couldn’t take the plunge. The thought alone made me uncomfortable and panicky. So I begged off, out, or around in whatever way I could. Always some reason or another.

But then came last summer and our first ever “Roadshow” — just me and Sheila making visits to all of our HOPE Consortium partners scattered across five counties and three tribes in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. There was no out. And I was nervous.

I tried to think up topics. What would this brilliant, experienced addictions nurse and director of numerous programs want to talk about with her awkward, sweaty driver? I couldn’t even think straight. I sweat some more. Eyes on the road. Hands at 10 and 2.

And because anxiety is pretty much always the same – pointless – our summer 2016 HOPE Consortium Roadshow was a BLAST. Sheila is incredible and I quickly grew to look forward to our long conversations in the car. It was disappointing when we had to go north up Highway 13 and I had to spend the first 30 minutes alone, stopping to pick Sheila up only once I got to Abbotsford.

After a few trips with Sheila, I thought maybe I’d give it a shot with the rest of the crew on the way north for HOPE Consortium Steering Committee meetings. Nerves struck, of course, before the big day — and each time someone different and relatively unfamiliar was going to be in the car — but each time, my anxiety was all for naught. Every trip has been a great time, a chance to get to know some amazing women just a little bit better.

Sheila was first; she is my mother earth and spirit animal. Then came Kayleigh, Leila, Tammy, Becky, and JoAnna. We’re basically a club of enthusiastic chicken eaters and one vegetarian (seriously – if you ever get the chance to have Reuland’s chicken in Minocqua, you’ll want in the club too). Never a dull moment, never a boring trip. I’ve actually even almost shaken the nerves at this point. Tammy and I went to and from Minneapolis a few weeks ago and had our beautiful (and ridiculous) heart-to-heart in the Dells just last week. Leila and I have been cruising all around the state. Every time is a little bit more awesome.

Shortly before Christmas, Becky and I headed up to Minocqua together – she is brilliant AND drives rather efficiently, it’s lovely to ride with her!

 

I suck in big social situations — small talk is so hard for me. Weather, Wisconsin, Wisconsin weather… it’s awkward and uncomfortable. But something about the car makes you instantly deeper. Maybe it’s the movement, lack of direct eye contact, road noise. Whatever it is, it lets you go deeper faster, be more genuine, and those are my favorite kinds of conversation. We talk about our families and our relationships. Our work and the communities we serve. We share stories, make jokes, laugh, and eat good food. The car, the long trips, the early starts, and coordinated gas stops and key drops when we get home – it helps us bond. We get more personal and it makes work really, really good.

We especially love the food. the rhino crunch from Lola’s Luncbox in Phillips is probably the best thing of all… besides Reuland’s chicken, as noted above 🙂

When I think back to a year ago and my fear of those long trips, I really feel like I should have known better. I work with amazing women. And everywhere we go together — every county, every tribe, there are more amazing women doing good work. (And men too, but honestly – it’s probably 80% women in this line of work.) I’m always scared, but I’m always wrong. And I’d like to really learn that lesson this time.

 

Last Thursday, after Tammy’s and my big moment… and four more hours of the lamest meeting on earth, we joined the boss lady for lunch before heading home in our monster truck (because you never know what you’re going to get when you rent and this time, we had quite the beasty, which is extra funny when tiny Tammy is behind the wheel). We were having a great time and I confessed, over Noodles (with a capital N), how nervous I’d been about carpooling for those first couple years. Ronda gaped at me… and Tammy: “Even ME?!” Yes, I was scared… even of Tammy, the newest love of my life. And I’ve still never ridden with Ronda, the best boss on earth.

But I’ll keep riding with Tammy. Someday I’ll ride with Ronda. And I won’t ever turn away from the opportunity to carpool again — not in this line of work. There’s too much to learn and to share and so many miles of road on which to do it.

Mental Health Monday: Who cares which came first when you’re sitting on a dozen eggs?

The age old question: which came first, the chicken or the egg?

{Source}

A cause and effect deal.

Technically speaking, it was the egg. But I’m trying to make a point — so we’re going to focus on the long time philosophical conundrum for the sake of today’s discussion.

 

I struggle with a lot of different mental health concerns. Perfectionism came first and came early. I was young when my parents started a daily routine — hands on shoulders, looking me in the eye, “Rachel… relax” as I stepped out the door to school.

Binge eating came next. I don’t remember my first binge, but I do remember the first time I got caught. I was maybe 9 years old and had a jar of chocolate frosting and spoon tucked away in the filing cabinet I kept in my bedroom.

Legit depression took root in high school and it’s been off and on and off an on ever since. More consistently on than off the older I get. And always a bodily focus – dissatisfaction, disgust, hate.

Anxiety became a problem only very recently — panic attacks post-miscarriage. An entirely new phenomenon, though relatively easy to tamp down in the worst moments with medication and sometimes a well-timed phone call to the just-right person.

A veritable laundry list of interwoven mental health concerns.

 

Since I started seeing a therapist in college some 15+ years ago, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to unravel the knotted mess. The perfectionism obviously led to the binge eating — but did the depression contribute as well? Or was the depression a result? And while anxiety really became a problem only in the last two years, was there always some of it there? I mean, I’m definitely an introvert and social anxiety has been a constant since I was very young — how did that factor into all of it?

The age old question.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

 

Round and round and round… for years on end. Exhausting. And more importantly, stupid.

Who cares whether it was the chicken or the egg that came first when you’re sitting on a dozen that can hatch at any given time — running and pecking and clucking and so on?! No one. That should be the answer. And when did I realize that? Last week… maybe this weekend. Either way, it wasn’t soon enough.

 

I struggle with an embarrassingly long list of things. (Honestly, I’ve never felt so embarrassed before talking about these things one egg at a time — the whole carton on display at once? Yikes. Please don’t hate me.) But it doesn’t really matter why. Why doesn’t help. The only thing that matters is what I do, how I deal, the actions I take for the purpose of self care and mental health in the now.

Looking for a cause and solving the root problem is a great plan if you’re dealing with a plumbing issue. Or even trying to do some evolutionary mapping (a la chicken and egg). But it seems that lately, with respect to my mental health, getting stuck in that which-came-first, why-why-why mentality really prevents me from moving forward at all. I get stuck in a place that’s not solution-based, but problem-focused, and I can’t get out. In other areas of my life, I despise that attitude — in work, in personal relationships, when dealing with my physical health. Solutions are where its at. It’s time I took the same tack with my mental health. Enough with the why, the psychoanalysis, the which came first. Freud and the chickens can suck it. I’ve got eggs to deal with by the dozens and I don’t have time for the rest.

 

Fertility Friday: Misery loves company. And makes me a big, green jerk.

Misery loves company.

Fact.

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And I guess that’s what makes a time-tested adage a time-tested adage. That it’s true.

When it comes to infertility, misery loves company.

Fact.

And that this particular misery loves company, like any other misery, is fraught with other complex feelings. Guilt, jealousy, self-pity, desperation and despair.

Infertility is like a club. A really crappy club with exceptionally stringent entry criteria — you’re in or you’re out. People leave, but they rarely come back. And you don’t want them to. Yet, being left behind in a club you never wanted to join is tough stuff.

Pregnancy and birth… that’s why people leave the club. And the rational, real, me-est me is happy for people when that happens. Truly. I know that it’s a good thing, and more importantly, that it has absolutely nothing to do with me — no affect on my ability to have or have not. No bearing on my worthiness.

And yet. My heart. It breaks, shatters, and explodes every time it’s someone else that leaves the club. Someone that’s not me. Again and again, left behind in my misery with no company. Broken. Pointless. Wanting.

 

We gave up on children this past fall. We had to put that dream to rest – for our mental, physical, and financial health. There was a lot of relief in that. A ton, actually. And I’m really, insanely, incredibly fortunate to have a partner for whom I, and I alone, am enough. The thing is, I thought that with that release and relief would also come a reprieve from the pain of others’ happy news.

I thought wrong.

People have long described jealousy as a “little green monster,” but… I have to imagine that if you cut me in half and actually took a good hard look at what’s inside, you’d find green through and through. Rotten, slimy, green goo from top to bottom and front to back. And I hate that about myself. I hate those feelings, that beastly green.

Oh cute… yeah… it’s nothing like that. {Source}

The guilt quickly follows. Because no one should be allowed to feel that jealous for that long. No one should be so pained by the joy of others. Yet I can’t seem to help it. The hurt keeps coming. And sometimes the now old and familiar grief comes along for the ride.

But most awful is the feeling of exceptional inadequacy. That I am a bad person. That there’s some inherently wrong with me, with my ability to be a parent. For the terrible things I feel and for God’s, the universe’s, biology’s unwillingness to bestow upon me the blessing that so many others enjoy.

 

I know that at some of these lowest of lows, it’s my responsibility to focus on gratitude for the many amazing things I do have in my life. To breath and let go of the one thing I do not. But, just maybe, there’s also a little bit of room for a pity party every now and again. Because feelings are what they are and I can’t beat myself up over having them. But I will have to make do with a solo pity party because no matter how much misery loves company, it’s certainly not my place, nor my desire, to wish misery on anyone else.

 

Though not an adage, another fact is this: infertility is still a really big part of my life… at the same time that fertility is a big part of life for others. And I need to make a space for that contradiction and the feelings that come with it.

I can let go of the dream and still feel the hurt. I can put to rest the future I had imagined and also make room for the pain to ebb and flow. I can be genuinely happy for others, but still allow a place for sadness in my own heart. I can.

Women Rock Wednesday: The why.

I’ve heard far too many times in my life another woman say to me some version of, “I’m not really friends with other women. They’re too: ______” with a variety of choice words to fill in the blank… catty, bitchy, high drama, mean, jealous, and so on. The plot of Mean Girls in real life.

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There are a lot of women that are distrustful and unsure of other women, for a variety of reasons. Most likely experiential and painful. The fear of closeness, the lack of trust, the unwillingness to try again is almost always founded in some sort of reality.  I’ve experienced, and admittedly even perpetrated, episodes of pain myself and I’ve read Queen Bees and Wannabes – the real life psychological analysis of the numerous difficulties girls and women face. But it makes me so sad, because female friendships can be unbelievably rewarding, life affirming, positive, strengthening, and beautiful.

Female friendships not only can be all of those things, but should be all of those things. And they are completely worth pursuing.

In every phase of my life, from early childhood to present, I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have such relationships and it’s so important to me to show women who feel that honest-to-goodness female friendships aren’t possible that they really are. In addition, its important that men see the value of what women can give to each other; something different than what comes from romantic relationships– unconditional support, sisterhood, it’s unique. That’s what this little segment, Women Rock Wednesdays, is all about. Of friends who become like sisters. Of intergenerational relationships that inspire and calm. Of growing up to find aunts as peers. Of women finding something in other women that is healthy, fulfilling, and rewarding. Because it’s always possible.

 

This past January, I planned a big birthday party for myself. I booked my cousin-in-law Megan (who I have known since she was 6 and now she’s 19 and in college and I just adore her) to come to my house and teach a painting party — paint and wine and all that jazz. I sat down at my computer on January 5th to send the email invitation. Party minimum was 10 and I knew not everyone would be able to make it, so I invited far more than that. As I made a mental list of the women I’d love to be there, I was shocked at how quickly it grew. On the day of, I ended up with 20 women in my home. 20 amazing women, packed in like sardines, having an absolute blast. My heart was full to bursting and I felt so much gratitude for all the amazing women in my life — near and far. In my kitchen that day and embedded deep down in my soul from across the globe (because I have an awesome friend in Australia and that means I get to say that).

Painting party for my 33rd birthday in January. That’s a lot of kick ass women!

 

And as I sat down to write this post, I even thought of some of the “mean girls” I knew once upon a time. The girls whose pictures on Facebook and still give me the heebie-jeebies as I think about the cruel words said to my face, behind my back… but thinking about it now, as much as it sucked for me then, seeing those girls — smiling, still together, in big situations and little — I’m glad they have each other. Every woman deserves that!

Yes, there are hundreds and thousands of amazing women that do amazing things in this world and are worthy of celebration. But that celebration is someone else’s job — Google Doodles and the like 🙂 I want to celebrate something else — the thing that happens when two women connect with one another. That’s what Women Rock Wednesday is all about.

Mental Health Monday: The monkey in my mind has thumbs.

From an evolutionary perspective, monkeys are very nearly people. Our genomes know it. And so do our brains.

For as long as I’ve been crazy (always), I’ve thought of what the Buddhists and Evolutionary Psychologists call the “monkey mind” as my second track.

My second track is that source of unceasing, never ending criticism; second guesses; should, would, and could haves. It doesn’t matter how concentrated I am on something else, something completely unrelated. The second track is always running.

Maybe I’m working on a manuscript about a community-based underage drinking prevention program. Yet my second track is likely stuck on some other common refrain – “you’re fat, so fat, gross and ugly and disgusting, get it under control, fat fat fat.” It’s unstoppable. Distracting. Painful. Damaging.

 

I first came across the monkey concept when I read Thank God for Evolution by the Revered Michael Dowd, a once-upon-a-time strict evangelical and biblical literalist who fought vehemently against evolutionary principles, but later came to embrace and even promote evolution as part of what he calls the Great Story. Although Dowd’s discussion of the  evolution of the human brain is somewhat simplistic and over-emphatic, he puts it into a really interesting perspective by diagramming it out using the different animals that have brains as evolved as the different sections of our own… including that monkey.

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Several years later, Dr. C explained it to me in the more zen sense — the Buddhist monkey mind being responsible for the incessant chatter many, most, probably all, of us experience. For over 5 years, Dr. C and I have worked and worked and worked on strategies to calm the monkey… quiet down the second track.

We’ve tried modifying or replacing the message. We’ve tried mindfulness practices, dissociating/separating from the chatter. We’ve tried finding and addressing the root issues (the perfectionism, weight concerns, anxiety, and so on). We’ve tried and tried and tried.

But seriously. The monkey in my mind seems to be a bit more advanced. I honestly think it might have thumbs. And it’s using those thumbs to hang on for dear life — refuses to be ejected, refuses to be quieted, refuses to leave me be.

It exhausts me and after so many years of incessant trying and failing to put the second track, the thumb-y monkey, to rest, I’ve reached a point where maybe I’ll have to accept that this is just how I am.

I said so to my psychiatric nurse practitioner a week or two ago – she tends to disagree. I suspect Dr. C will as well. And I guess that’s the best I can do for now; trust in my team of professionals. That’s got to be better than giving into the monkey, no matter how highly evolved he is.

The Big Reset: Home Again

G’day mates! We’ve been back from down under for nearly three full weeks and I think I’m finally fully un-jetlagged. As much as every bit of me really, really dug the amazing vacation, my body certainly did not love returning to real life… worth it!

So, of course you’re dying to know how it went… because who doesn’t love hearing about other people vacations in agonizing detail???

I kid, of course! I’ll be quick.

We flew to Sydney, Australia, where we stayed in a fancy hotel on Sydney Harbour and hung with Nemo and Dory.

Sigh — that’s just the view from the massive balcony! I’m sure there were Dory and Nemos down below, but we visited them in the aquarium.

The next day, we put on our AMAZING matching shirts (in red, we saved blue for Vanuatu) and boarded the Voyager of the Seas.

Chris got these shirts made because of my last blog post — the big reset, come to life!

Where we spent 12 amazing days wining and dining, reading and relaxing…

My taste for wine got totally classed up. My taste for cupcakes? Totally pupped up. PS: that delicious looking plate of local Fijian goodness was cooked underground on white hot rocks. AMAZING.

… and seeing some of the most amazing sites in the South Pacific.

From left to right: almost sunset over the South Pacific; Noumea, New Caledonia; spice garden in a valley on Fiji; Sydney Opera House early in the morning

Also, Seth smiled. And smiled. And smiled.

Australia to Fiji cruise? Now that’s something worth smiling about!

Finally, on my way home — I saw my friend Sarah (originally from Hoboken, NJ… now a resident of Melbourne) after more than 15 years AND my friend Jessi (who lived two doors down from me in the dorms at Michigan Tech and was my very first college friend) after more than 10. Insane.

On the left, the lovely Sarah who flew from Melbourne to Sydney to spend the day with us. On the right, Jessi waited for us at gate A-something in LAX so we could hang for a minute after our arrival from Sydney and before her flight to Japan.

It was incredible. Every second of every day. The experience of a lifetime.

 

But really, that’s not what I want to talk about. Or rather, what I think you want me to talk about. Because the last time we talked, it was all about the reset… the big reset. The new job, big vacation, letting go of the infertility battle.

I’m in love with my new job, the vacation was amazing, I felt legitimate relief to let go of motherhood.

And then last night. It all caught up with me. The truth came out in an explosion. Tear-filled and snot-soaked.

I can’t stop saying yes at work and I’m completely overwhelmed. As amazing as the vacation was, I felt immediately un-relaxed the second I stepped off the plane in Wisconsin. And “letting go” is a process that doesn’t happen quite that quickly — my heart is still broken and I need a lot more time and space to let it heal than I thought I would.

Damnit. I really thought I’d be fixed. And somehow, I am legitimately surprised that I am not. Yes, I am ridiculous as I sound.

BUT.

New story.

One night on the cruise, while having drinks in a super fancy lounge on the tippy top of the ship, I got a *free* blog consultation with the one and only Chris Lema. I’ve never priced him out, but I’m pretty sure he charges regular people like $7,918 an hour. Approximately.

The gist of the consultation: (1) Blogging is good for you. Do it. (2) Consistently. (3) And use consistent themes.

Except Chris always tells a story, so the message was a lot longer, funnier, more interesting. You know. Lema-ish.

So here’s the deal. I can’t guarantee that I’ll be super consistent (I’m very busy and important), but I’m going to be a heck of a lot more focused. Coming soon — a legit About Me page including “best of” and all that jazz PLUS Mental Health Monday, Women Rock Wednesday, and Fertility Friday. What do you think? Are you excited? I kind of am.

Actually, I am. And not just because I have lots of post ideas, but mostly because blogging… sharing stories… is probably the single healthiest thing I do on a regular basis. When I don’t do it on a regular basis, I have nights like last night. Tears and snot. It’s good for the makers of Kleenex and producers of alprazolam… but no one else.

I love to hear other people’s stories and I love to share my own. It’s healthy, it’s healing… it’s cathartic, fun, and relaxing. It’s who I am. Maybe I didn’t change my life, really reset it like I expected, but Chris did point me home. To where I belong. Even better than starting over. Thanks, Chris.

2016: The Year of Enough

Happy New Year! Welcome, one and all, to 2017!!

Party animals — NYE 2017. Me and Curls watched a movie and ate BBQ chips… I’m old.

I laid in bed early yesterday morning, scrolling through Facebook’s daily reminder of what I’d done that day in history… and since I started Under the Tapestry, I’ve pretty consistently spent New Year’s Eve reflecting on a big theme, a lesson learned, a summary of the year about to end. I wanted to do that again, but my head was pounding and I hadn’t slept well and I needed to be up at and ’em for reasons I’ll explain momentarily, so bliggity blogging remained on hold. Even thinking remained on hold, to be honest.

Instead, I closed Facebook down, took a deep breath, and dialed my nextdoor neighbor. To my profound relief, he picked up the phone.

I’d left Lyle in his bed the night before, honestly unsure of whether he’d still be alive in the morning. He was so weak and confused, short of breath, complaining of a back ache. But all he wanted was sleep. He hadn’t eaten all day, just a bit of water, the glass of OJ his niece and I begged him to drink. He us to leave him so he could sleep. I called the hospice nurse as soon as I got home and though somewhat reassured, I still cried a bit, thinking of what that day somewhere in the near future is going to look like… when one of us finds him in the morning, having passed on. I know that’s the point of hospice, but I also thought the point of hospice was supposed to be comfort… a good death. This doesn’t seem good. It seems hard and scary and uncomfortable. What I’m learning though is that what hospice is truly about is autonomy… about saying enough is enough and living what’s left of your life on your own terms. We don’t always choose the best terms for ourselves, but that’s the thing about choices. No one else gets to make them for us.

Just a week ago, Lyle was looking alright on Christmas day — we brought him an old fashioned and had a nice visit.

As I sat in the maroon recliner at Lyle’s house that morning after the phone call (and a quick run to Dunkin Donuts for an uneaten breakfast sandwich and undrunk cup of coffee), Lyle dozing, in and out, in the blue recliner next to me, I began pecking this post out on my phone. Vague ideas and misspelled, fat-fingered words, just a start. Because I’d realized, despite the headache and the fear, that the idea of what exactly constitutes enough is what I learned in 2016.

Most recently, I’ve worried desperately about Lyle. We’ve lived nextdoor to him since moving in o our house in the summer of 2012, and in that time, we watched Lyle care for his rapidly declining wife, Marlene, Mar, through an awful battle with Alzheimer’s disease that ultimately ended with a broken hip, brief hospitalization, and rapid death last December. In the year since, Lyle has declined even quicker. I’ve seen what a broken heart and battered psyche can do to a man’s body and all the while, I’ve worried about whether what I’m doing to help is enough. As I watch Lyle suffer loss of appetite, mobility, strength, weight, will to live… I’ve constantly wondered about whether I could have done more. I feel like I tried so hard, but had I really tried hard enough, wouldn’t this be a better process? It was yesterday, on New Year’s Eve, as I emptied out Lyle’s catheter bag that I knew suddenly, in no uncertain terms, that I had indeed done enough. Because enough, in this case, is my best… in the face of what Lyle has chosen to be enough for his life. Lyle and I, both imperfect, are both doing our best. For ourselves. For one another.

When I realized that, all the other moments of “enough” throughout this past year flooded into my mind.

After our miscarriage late last year, I needed to demonstrate that I could make my body do something I really, really wanted it to do — for that, only a marathon was enough. And it was exactly what I needed, extreme catharsis.

I desperately wanted (and still want, really) a family, but every aspect of our infertility battle has taken a lot out of us, mentally, physically, emotionally, financially, temporally We were fortunate to find a doctor that understood me, both medically and psychologically – she knew I needed to “leave it all out on the field” or I’d have questions, always wonder, and she advised me accordingly (Christine Broadwell at Generations in Madison, should anyone reading ever need such services). After the second round of IVF with donor eggs, third round of IVF this year, all with no success, we’d finally had enough. Somehow, despite the sadness, profound grief, feelings of failure… there’s also incredible relief in saying “enough!” and believing it.

Likewise, I desperately wanted to make things better for myself and those around me in my place of work and I felt like I fought the good fight for a long time. Actually, I know I did. I tried really hard. But I couldn’t keep doing it. It had become so hard to get out of bed in the morning. So I put down my sword and took a new job in a new department. Two weeks in and I am already profoundly certain that I’ve done the right thing… and I feel good knowing that I did everything I could do to try to stay before saying enough and making the choice to move on.

 

 

Enough, upon reflection, is a beautiful thing. It’s a step back from must-be-perfect to as-good-as-it-gets and I’ve-tried-my-best. To say “enough” and really mean it is a huge relief. Yes, even to give up on a baby, to say enough to infertility treatment, though sad, honestly feels like a relief. We’ve had enough.

Getting to “enough” reflects my autonomy to make a decision about what’s right for me, and to have that kind of autonomy and the wherewithal to use it is a blessing. So, hasta la vista, 2016 — I’m glad to have learned from you, but have really had enough. I suspect I’m not the only one.

Happy 2017, friends! May this year bring you the courage to say “enough” and really mean it!