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.
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.
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.
The next day, we put on our AMAZING matching shirts (in red, we saved blue for Vanuatu) and boarded the Voyager of the Seas.
Where we spent 12 amazing days wining and dining, reading and relaxing…
… and seeing some of the most amazing sites in the South Pacific.
Also, Seth smiled. And smiled. And smiled.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve got to admit, I’m at something of a low point. Until now, things always seemed to work out according to some sort of natural order… and if they didn’t, it was removed enough from my day-to-day life that I was able to deal and keep going.
Losing the infertility battle, though… it feels like I’ve been cut in half, scooped and scraped clean, and refilled with something unfamiliar and painful before being put back together. I don’t know how to move forward. I can’t figure out what comes next.
Though far more painful than the last, it’s not the first time I felt adrift…
On Friday, we celebrated our sixth Belvedersary. Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, we mark the fateful day in 2010 on which a weird series of events led to our next big step. I was in grad school at the time and had spent nearly six years being trained for a career in academia… a career that I knew I didn’t want. But a girl needs a job and I was desperately searching for an better-than-nothing position as a post-doc after graduation. Until that day we celebrate year after year.
On the day after Thanksgiving in 2010, and please forgive me for repeating myself (it’s been a while), Seth and I were in Wisconsin for the holiday when my in-laws suggested we head to Marshfield for a fish fry at the Belvedere Supper Club, a quick stop at Festival Foods for a couple bottles of Captain’s Walk White to bring back to Maryland, and a tour of the Marshfield Rotary Winter Wonderland at Wildwood Park and Zoo. On the way through Marshfield, I noticed the big clinic anchoring the town… and the rest is history.
My future as a Scientific Research Writer was literally triggered by a million tiny light bulbs.
It doesn’t get much more obvious than that.
So yesterday, my amazing-at-humoring-me in-laws came to Marshfield to join Seth and me in celebrating our sixth Belvedersary.
First, a fish fry at the Belvedere.
Then, the lights at Wildwood.
It was so much fun. It’s always fun. And it’s such a good reminder of how things can work out, even if it’s in a way I couldn’t in a million years have anticipated.
And last night, celebrating our Belvedersary with people I love very, very much, my ucky new insides didn’t feel quite as painful as they did the day before. I don’t know if the future will be as clear as the million lights at Wildwood this time, and I know that I’m going to hurt for a while, but there will be a future. Somehow, some way. Just not the one I imagined.
It’s been a long five years, but the journey is over and it’s time for me to reflect on what that journey has been like for you. Miserable, right? And oh my gosh, am I ever sorry.
Five years ago, we started trying to get pregnant. It was fun at first (wink), until a couple of months had gone by and we had to get a little more serious. So I watched you like a hawk. Just tracking at first. Then predicting ovulation, a basal body temperature first thing in the morning, peeing on ovulation predictor sticks. The doctor refused to see us in that first year, that’s how it works — nothing for 12 months. And month after month, the fear grew, the frustration built, I hated you.
So, I started to subject you to ever more invasive interventions. It was just pills at first — the clomid with it’s bloating, headaches, and artificially elongated cycles that led to unrealized hopes month after month. Then came the intravaginal ultrasounds… and those wouldn’t stop for the next four years. Probes and clamps and ultrasounds and ultrasounds and ultrasounds. Six months later, the clomid had failed too.
So we traveled to Madison. Three rounds of IUI, four of IVF. Pills, injections (so many needles — bruising, bleeding, nerve damage), sticky patches and adhesive burns, another hysteroscopy, with a camera this time, so… many… ultrasounds… and every time, failure. Except the one time, when for 10 weeks when we thought otherwise, only to result in a stopped heart, a nearly unbearable surgery, and the worst months of my life.
It was awful, really. But it was impossible for me to let go of the hope, nor the anger at you. Until now.
Because, Body… you endured. The sticks, pokes, clamps, ultrasounds, surgery, heartbreak. You endured all of that, plus the physical symptoms of grief, anxiety, depression, and extreme stress. You may not have made me the baby I had so desperately hoped for, but you did every other thing I asked. Even ran that marathon. And for that, I am grateful.
So, Body, I’m done now. And you’ve certainly earned the kindness coming your way. At least 5 years-worth, probably more. I promise to give that to you. Of course, there will continue to be physical consequences for a while yet… you’ve been through a lot and I can’t make it all go away in an instant, particularly the physical manifestations of the anxiety and depression as I work to figure out a new way forward.
We’re in this together, and you’ve hung in there through some seriously tough stuff these past five years. I’m sorry for what I put you through, I appreciate how hard you let me try, how long you let me hold on to what was an impossible hope. Thank you for that. I’ll do better for you from now on.
So much love, for real,
PS: Next time someone tells you to “relax,” permission granted to take swing.
I answered the question by sharing my story, by putting my words out there, and engaging (with the internet) in an honest and authentic way.
It’s been stilted lately, though, this little blog-o-mine. And I’ve struggled to figure out why.
Last week, I enjoyed my first two days at Leadership Marshfield, a training program put on through the Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MACCI) focused on enhancing the ability of potential community leaders to function effectively. It was an amazing experience and I’m really excited to continue with the program over the next 7 months… but it’s already had an impact.
On the second day of the two day retreat, we were instructed to prepare to share our personal leadership hero(es) with the group… with a prop. Naturally, on my way home from day one, I stopped at the (brand spanking new and beautiful) Everett Roehl Marshfield Public Library to check out a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. (Don’t get me wrong, I own it, of course… but a Kindle just doesn’t make a terribly effective prop, in my opinion.) It was actually on the cart behind the circulation desk to be reshelved, which made my heart happy knowing someone else had recently had their hands on it, and I brought it with me the next day.
The next morning, I stood up in front of the group and talked about my two leadership heroes:
(1) Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, who changed my entire perspective about what it really means to engage in my life, my workplace, and my community. She taught me not to be ashamed or afraid of what and who I am, to value myself for my talents and my passions, and to move forward, with gusto, whenever I’m able.
(2) Ronda Kopelke, Director of the Marshfield Clinic Center for Community Outreach, who showed me what an amazing manager and leader should look like, up close and in practice. She continues to teach me (literally daily) what it means to really care about the people around you and to help them understand that you do. She’s also shown me how to be solution-oriented and engage with people in a positive, respectful, relationship-focused manner.
I sat back down, and then Shelley from Roehl popped up (sharing at Leadership Marshfield is popcorn-style… mmmmm… popcorn) and was mad/glad that I stole her thunder/had the same leadership role model as her. Again, my heart, so glad!
I thought a lot about Sheryl Sandberg that day, chatted with Shelley about her and about Lean In at the ROPES course (yes, I did the mother effing high ropes!! impressed? I am! go me!) and thought about what it was that reading that book had done for me and how it had changed my trajectory in the first place.
Sheryl Sandberg was the one who had asked me (and the millions and millions of other readers of Lean In) that question that started it all: what would you do if you weren’t afraid?
And I did those things. A lot of them. The blog three years ago. The ROPES course three days ago.
But I had never thought about the converse question:
What does it look like when you’re living in fear?
I know the answer now. Not on purpose. Not because I want to. But I look back on the last year and I can see, so clearly, what it looks like when I am afraid and I choose to live there.
I run. Literally, metaphorically. All of the above. I ran from my life and from everything that hurt and was scary. I ran and ran and ran. A marathon. Until I broke my foot (not literally, I just pulled a ligament, but it hurts like a b, so there’s that). I ate my way through Festival Foods to run from feelings and stopped vacuuming my floors. I ran from real life. I said yes to everything and anything at work to run from free time and I have ensured that I’ve had none over these past several months. No time to think or dwell, only run. From one assignment to the next. One workout to the next. One bag of chips (or box of candy, carton of ice cream, etc) to the next.
I even ran from writing and sharing and speaking and connecting. So much of me was just so tender and everything and anything could be salt in the wound without warning.
I have been afraid.
Of what, though, really? Grief after a miscarriage is one thing, but fear? I mean, fear that it would happen again would be rational… but you have to get pregnant first for that to be a possibility… getting pregnant is even less my strong suit than staying pregnant, so what then?
The what, I have to assume, is failure. That infertility wins and this is it. And “it” is failure. A life of settling because I can’t do the thing I want to do. That I felt so strongly I was supposed to do. Meant to do even. Family is the next step — love, (schoooooool), marriage… baby carriage. Even my childhood rhymes said so!
It hurts to fail. And I can do physical pain, but emotional? Nope. I hate it. It feels bad to be jealous, too. And I felt like I had replaced my rose-colored glasses with green ones, everywhere I looked ultrasounds and bumps and even literal baby carriages that weren’t mine. Might very well never be. I don’t like those feelings. I don’t like to fail. So I ran, cowered, stopped vacuuming.
This September, the anniversary of all the bad stuff came and went. The missing heartbeat on September 11th. The surgery on the 16th. The black days immediately after when I felt like I couldn’t breath… and didn’t want to. A year later, I’m still here. Still moving. And slowly recognizing a haze of fear. Recognition.
I take you back to the scene in Love Actually when Mark confesses his completely unrequited love to Juliet (yes, I’ve literally already said this) and then walks away, saying to himself, “Enough. Enough now.” It’s like that. Just like that.
Time to move on. To stop being afraid. Or, at the very least, to stop running from it. To face fear head on. Like Brene Brown and FDR’s man in the arena (highly recommend Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly). But also like Shana Niequist in Present Over Perfect (my newest and truest literary love affair) — sitting with it, even when it’s uncomfortable. Letting myself feel it and living my life anyway.
We have a lot of moments in life that are before and after type moments. Things that define us. But sometimes the moment is longer than a moment. Sometimes the moment is more like a year. For me, it was a year of fear. A year spent running, but getting nowhere. Except back to life. And that’s ok.
“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” – Your Mom
Or maybe not your mom. Maybe it was your dad or a great auntie. Maybe a principal or a well-meaning member of the safety patrol. Whoever it was — someone said it to you at some point. And you got the point. Unless you’re trying to fix the problem, you are the problem. We’ve all internalized it. And since no one ever ever wants to be the problem, our natural inclination is to offer solutions, to fix it.
And then we all grew up a bit. If you’re anything like me, you became even nerdier. Maybe you even got into the chem scene (which makes chemistry sound cool, don’t you think?). If that’s the case, you may have latched onto this alternative adage — my personal favorite:
“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.” – All the Nerds
It made you laugh and laugh (not as much as the ether bunny or the ferrous wheel, of course), but you knew deep down that it was only a chem joke. Not a real life lesson.
Or is it?
I posit that it’s a better saying, really. More accurate for particularly complex problems, like infertility. Because to extend the chemistry metaphor a bit further — in the case of infertility, there are only two solutes in solution. My partner and myself. Anyone else can really only be part of the precipitate. A precipitate can’t fix anything, it just hangs out in the tube, separate. But that doesn’t make it part of the problem.
In the wake of our most recent crappy news, we’ve been offered a lot of love, a ton of support, and so very many ideas for next steps — ranging from “just relax” to offers of surrogacy and referrals to adoption case workers. These fixes come from a place of love, good intentions, and probably also a subconscious devotion to the first quote above. Unfortunately, it’s no one’s problem to solve. Instead, it’s Seth and my path to walk and because I know it’s hard to understand, hard not to want to fix, I thought it might be nice to share some aspects of infertility from my own perspective.
But you ain’t got no eggs!
Infertility happens for a million and one different reasons. Or even for no discernable reason at all. There’s male factor and female factor infertility. One or both partners can be affected. There can be no eggs, poor eggs, an inability to release eggs. Similarly, no sperm, poor sperm, immobile sperm. It can be mechanical — related to the shape or size or functional ability of the uterus, the shape or size of the vas deferens. It can be scar tissue, the result of surgeries, childhood radiation treatments. Genetic, chromosomal, hormonal issues. All of the above, none of the above, anything in between, or something else altogether.
We started out with “unexplained” infertility (i.e. everything seemed to be just fine). While it’s good to have nothing obviously wrong, lack of diagnosis makes treatment much more difficult — everything is just a guess at that point. However, after lots of tries (see below), we ultimately ended up with a diagnosis of diminished ovarian reserve. That means that despite being just 32 (and only 27 when we started trying to conceive), my eggs are just about out. The tank is approaching E and the few eggs I do have left are poor in quality — hence the miscarriage late last year. That’s our reason. And ultimately, it has the greatest impact on our potential solutions. So while I appreciate the offers of uteri for rent and the like, that’s not actually going to help me one bit. My body is technically quite capable of carrying a healthy pregnancy, we’re just missing half of the equation.
Grieving the loss of imaginary piggies.
Miscarrying last September was really hard. It was the most difficult experience of my life to date and the grief still comes so fiercely sometimes that all I can do is hold on and ride the wave for a while. I still had hope though, I thought that pregnancy would be followed by another. That we would have our own children. As it turns out, though, the lack of eggs means that the thing I’m really grieving is an imaginary future — one that was never going to exist, but always felt real to me in my mind. I’ve spent years wondering about the curly blonde babes Seth and I would someday bring into this world. I’ve always imagined us like Piggy and Kermit — all the girls would be pigs, all the boys would be frogs. Would they have my green eyes or Seth’s blue? My ready, beaming smile or Seth’s slower, more mischievous, lopsided grin?
And then just like that — I’ve been removed from the equation. No piggies at all. I can’t pass on the Vonck mouth. My genes won’t ever go anywhere, no matter what we decide to do next. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Something I have to wrap my mind around. Another loss to grieve, but how? There’s no memorial in the cemetery for this loss and it’s hard to know how to let it go.
All magic comes with a price, dearie.
After more than a year of trying to conceive on our own, we sought medical care for infertility and decided early on that we wanted to exhaust our possibilities to have biological children. And exhaust them we did. We’ve spent many, many, many thousands of dollars on diagnostic testing and assisted reproductive technology ranging from simple clomid and timed intercourse to intrauterine insemination (IUI) and finally two rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) over the course of 4+ years. Side-effects, needles, injections, ultrasounds, surgeries, procedures, tears and snot and stress and rage and bloating and month after month after month of disappointment. We did it all for a chance — all at great cost.
None of it worked for us. Now we know why. And because we’re quite certain that we do indeed want to be parents, we’re left looking at the next set of alternatives.
Egg donation, adoption, fostering. And even those options have sub-options — fresh or frozen, international or domestic, public or private. And those sub-options have sub-sub-options — how do you pick a donor? Physical characteristics? Genetics? Occupation? Personality? Psych profile? And if you adopt — are you prepared to wait for an eternity? Are you willing to let a birth parent pick you? What if they change their minds? What if you fall in love with a foster child and then they get sent back to their biological parents (Wisconsin focuses on reunification whenever possible)? Can you bare that? Can you bare any of it?
It’s a lot to think about. So much to process. And all of it — every last option — comes at great cost. Physically, emotionally, financially. On top of everything we’ve already been through, every time we hear “at least” (e.g., at least you know you did everything you could, at least you can afford it) or “just” (e.g., why don’t you just adopt?) it’s like salt in the wound — minimization of everything we’ve done so far and the difficult road ahead to family. Yes, we are fortunate that we can consider options, but that doesn’t make the necessity of considering them any easier.
It’s not you, it’s me.
The ugliest truth about infertility is that it colors everything. Over these last four years, infertility has become increasingly woven into my being and I have a hard time separating who I am from this thing I can’t do. I’m not proud to admit it, but in the face of cutesy pregnancy announcements, #blessed ultrasound pictures, and bow-decked baby bumps, happiness for those that I love and a sense of jealousy and bitterness are always there in equal measure. Of course, I wouldn’t wish infertility on my worst enemy, but that doesn’t mean I handle fertility with any kind of grace and I’m issuing a blanket apology for my poor reactions. It’s not you, honestly, it’s me. And presumably, someday it will get better, easier, to just be happy.
But here’s the most important thing: the announcements, photos, bumps, hashtags, motherhood memes — none of them have anything at all to do with me. So you shouldn’t stop doing them. It’s all worth celebrating and my scroogey attitude shouldn’t take away from that.
Conversely, radical self-care and self-preservation means that some Facebook friends are hidden and I won’t be RSVPing yes to a baby shower or making any more baby blankets for the foreseeable future. It’s too painful. I don’t ask for forgiveness or even understanding, just patience.
All roads lead to Rome.
Ultimately, there are a lot of different paths to parenthood. At present, I struggle because I don’t like any of the choices. Or, more accurately, I don’t want to have to make a choice. I will come around though. I always do, but as I said above, there’s no “just” about any of the paths. Once pregnancy via sex and waiting is off the table, nothing feels simple anymore.
In my present state of mind, egg donation proves that Seth really should have married someone else and fostering/adoption is unlikely to work out considering that even God wouldn’t choose me to raise a child — why would anyone else? Thankfully, Seth is much more capable of rational thought at the moment and I’m slowly starting to wrap my mind around some of the options. One foot in front of the other, all the way to Rome.
Not everybody wants to go to Rome.
But then again — Rome isn’t for everyone in the end. And there’s nothing wrong with making that decision for yourself. Families come in all shapes and sizes, Seth and I are a family all on our own and puppy makes three. Ultimately, though, the societal assumption is that if you’re infertile, you want to have children in any way possible and there’s the tendency to push couples struggling with infertility to pick a road and get to parenthood, one way or another.
Right now, Seth and I are pretty certain that we want to find a path to parenthood, but I think it’s really important that people accept any choices we do decide to make from the perspective of the precipitate. These things are incredibly personal and based only a little on biology, medicine, and rational thought. More than anything, we have to trust our emotions, our hearts, and each other to make the right choices for us moving forward. We both have to be on board with something 100%, no judgement if not.
The same goes for any other couple, any other family, and if you find yourself interested in learning more, I highly recommend perusing CNN’s recent infertility awareness week series. I shared this article on Facebook this morning and got a great response to it:
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with the writing of Brene Brown and Anne Lamott and Jenny Lawson. Brave women who share their stories in an honest and beautiful way — they’ve opened me up to a whole new level of comfort in the idea of vulnerability and struggle and story telling and I think that for me, infertility is another avenue for that. The ranks of the infertile… not a tribe I’d have chosen to join, had it been a choice at all, but it’s a fierce one and I’m in good company. Someday, I’ll have a very intentional family and Seth by my side and I’ll be in good company then too. Thanks so much for being here through it all <3
Guys, I am struggling. All the hormones, all the waiting. The exhaustion — mental and physical. The guilt and negative thoughts. I’m really struggling.
But after an hour of tears in my therapist’s office and the ugly sobbing of so many incredibly unkind words toward myself, Dr. C suggested a thought exercise.
While I can’t quite wrap my mind around self-kindness, to treat myself as though I were a good friend, I can invent a friend and do pretty much the same. (I’m excellent at make believe, which is the nice way of saying lying.) I can invent a friend with a new diagnosis of, say, MS. (She was infertile at first, but Dr. C though maybe that would be a bit too much. So MS it is.) A debilitating and life-altering disease. A diagnosis that affects an individual and his or her partner. Sort of like infertility…
What would I say to that friend?
To my fictional friend, recently diagnosed with MS.
Your life is different now and will always be different. But your life is most definitely not over.
In fact, nothing has actually changed. Instead, you have an answer. It’s a terrible, horrible, no good and unwanted answer. But it’s an answer. And the answer doesn’t actually change a single thing about you.
The MS was always there. It’s a cruel trick of genetics, fate, chance. A cruel trick of whatever it is you believe controls the uncertainty in life.
It’s not a punishment or a judgement on your moral fiber, the being that is you. It’s a circumstance. And you are not a victim of circumstance.
You are brave. You are resilient. You are head strong and heart sure. You love and are loved. None of those things will change. They are, like you, unshakable at their core. Because they make up your core.
Yes, there will be bad days. Days when MS feels like the only thing. When it feels suffocating and dark and all encompassing. Those days will pass. And there will be good days, days when you forget MS exists at all. Those days will pass too. Each is only a day. A day inhabited by the same brave and beautiful you, capable of anything and everything. Even surviving, living, thriving.
No one who loved you before loved you because you didn’t have MS. And there’s no reason to expect that anyone will love you less because of it. You are loved for something much deeper than your external circumstances, including what your body can or can’t do — by your spouse, your family, your friends, your dog. Like you, those loves will not change.
But the MS may, and likely will, change your mind and work some magic on your heart. It may increase your capacity for empathy and understanding. Maybe it has done these things already. Yes, it may also sometimes make you feel jealous and ragey and bitter about the able-bodied, unaffected folks around you. But a small price to pay for the beauty and appreciation and opening of heart you get to experience, don’t you think?
It’s not so much that MS itself is a blessing. More so that it’s not a curse or a punishment. It’s not out to get you. It’s not your fault. And because you are who you are, you can take what MS gave you, the cliched lemons, and make some cliched lemonade. Maybe some lemon bars too. Because you’re talented in that way and always go beyond the cliche to find something a little deeper and a little more dusted in powdered sugar.
Yes, MS is forever and it is yours to live with for all that time. But you will. Live. And love. And be happy and sad. Joyful and sorrowful. Grateful and jealous. Brave and scared. Just like everyone else, but also a little bit different than most.
I can’t necessarily understand, but I’m here for you, as your friend, as someone who loves you. And I’ll always be here for you, as someone who tries to understand and never stops loving you. No matter what.
Meant to be a mom or not, I can be a pretty stellar friend. Certainly a better friend than internal monologue-ist (which is not a real thing, I just invented it to make the point that I’m a total jerk to myself). And now, when my own verdict arrives in the near future, I can read the letter above. I can sub out the MS and sub in a state of infertility no longer changeable. And most importantly, I won’t have to go to my crappy internal monologue-ist for her thoughts on the matter. In fact, I may even have to let her go and re-post for the position.
We’ve decided to go in another direction…
Help Wanted — Qualifications: eloquent, Harry Potter fan with good sense of humor. No jerks need apply.
And with that, I suspect I may be trying to hire Mindy Kaling as my internal monologue-ist. She’s even had appropriate experience. This could be excellent.
According to Salon.com, the old “definition of insanity” adage is “the most overused cliche of all time,” which makes me laugh, because I’m about to do it again.
I started by googling “crazy is doing the same thing” to find out who actually said it and quickly learned that it wasn’t crazy that I meant, but rather insanity. So I started over again… “insanity is doing the same thing” and found that in that respect, the Internet went wild re: attribution. As the Internet is wont to do. Maybe it was Einstein who said it. Maybe not. But as Salon suggests, lots and lots and lots of people have repeated it, myself included.
They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
They who? I don’t know. The all powerful, ever present “they,” I suppose.
But are they right? And should I discuss it with you? These are the questions on my mind at present.
I’ve told you my infertility story. Dramatically recounted it in excruciating (to you, I’m sure) detail. So as I sit here, at the cusp of doing it all again (where “it all” = IVF)… I’m left wondering what to do about the words.
A while ago, there was a Twitter campaign associated with the hashtag #WhyIWrite. My response:
To let the words out. Some people really liked my response. Liked it enough to reach out to me personally, and that was really cool.
Honestly, it didn’t seem that profound when I put it out there. It was just my truth, but I can see why it resonated with other writers. They must, like me, at times get so over-stuffed with words that the release of writing is the only way forward. I’m not sure that this was ever truer than when I went through IVF the last time. The wild swings and crazy ups and downs filled me to the brim and blogging through it was incredibly cathartic for me. The release was exactly what I needed, the words on the page helped me to shape the thoughts in my head and explore the feelings wrapped around my heart, and the support I had through all of it from you, my dear readers, was phenomenal. It was so important to me, so valuable, and I feel so fortunate that writing, sharing, connecting in this way is a part of my life.
BUT. The definition of insanity…
We have decided to do IVF again. Just one more time. As I mentioned previously, for reasons beyond the blog-o-sphere, our chances of success are… what’s the right word?… low doesn’t quite do it justice… unlikely seems too bouncy… dismal seems a bit over dramatic… I’m not sure what the perfect turn of phrase is here, so I’ll borrow from our mutual frenemy Effie Trinket — the odds are not in our favor. Not now and definitely not in the future, so if we’re to have any chance at all of doing the baby making thing in this way, this is our shot. And we’re taking it. One more time, and only one more time. Given the poor odds and our previous experience, however, I have to wonder whether this is truly me bordering on the brink of proverbial insanity. And as such, what right do I have to run wild and free through Internet land talking and whining and ruminating again on something that may be just as insane (stupid/silly/dumb/wasteful/pathetic) as my inner mean girl (and the maybe-Einstein quote) would have me believe?
So… by way of long and twisty explanation (always)… I’ve been really back and forth about whether or not I should write about any of this again. Lots of self-deprecating cons (e.g., this is insanity, right? do people really want to read more about any of this? how much more could I possibly have to say? won’t it get repetitive?), but then the single, most important pro came to mind and it changed my mean, mean, mean mind: infertility is a big part of my life and IVF is where my head and heart, and by extension my words, are going to be for the next couple of months. That’s where I will be, where I am, and where I am is the only place from which I can truly connect with people, with you. So that’s where my words need to come from.
Ultimately, the point of my writing, and therefore Under the Tapestry, is to connect. And connections is, as I recently identified, one of my three core values. One of the things that really drives me, gives me purpose. Connection, grace, and humor. So, here we go again — pull the lever, Kronk!
But seriously — maybe you would hate to read even one more single infertility related word? If so, tell me now! Uterus? Did I lose you? Granted, I have a feeling that I’m going to be gushing about a certain marathon in the very near future too… so there’ll be other thingzzz. I just think I’m probably going to say some things about my uterus too. Cool?
Confession #1: It started with yoga. All the other girls were wearing leggings and it seemed like they were a bit more comfortable than me.
So I bought some.
And then it got real cold, so I wore them under my running pants too. Until it got a bit warmer. And I lost the top layer. Leggings for running too.
And then, little by little, leggings on a random snowy Wednesday. I told myself it’s because it’s so much easier to slip on my boots this way, but… but it’s not… it’s…
I WEAR LEGGINGS AS PANTS!!!
I’m one of those people. Leggings as pants people. Do you hate me?
Confession #2: I flew down to Florida the day after my birthday from Central Wisconsin to Ft. Lauderdale via Detroit. That wasn’t the original plan, but a delay resulted in a rebooking and a re-routing and I had a couple hours to kill in Detroit. I hung out at the far end of the A terminal for a couple hours, reading and texting and Facebooking, like I do, until 30 minutes before my flight when I super responsibly got up to use the restroom one final time before boarding. As I walked in the door of the restroom I suddenly noticed the “men” sign on the door and quickly backed out — that was almost awkward! — and I ducked in the next. Crisis averted.
It was an odd restroom though. I needed a wastebasket in the stall (you know), but there wasn’t one. Ugh. Antiquated. No matter though, there was one near the sinks. So I washed my hands and ducked around the corner for a paper towel… at which point, a big long row of urinals came into view. My heart stopped, I whirled around, and in walked a man who looked just as confused as I felt.
Turns out… there are TWO doors to the men’s room. I backed out of the first only to walk right into the second.
Confession #3: I’m not a graceful person and falling while I run is kind of my thing. So stupid. And after something like my third fall in the last couple months, I have two seeeeriously bruised and skinned knees. I’m a 32 year old woman who is walking around Wisconsin in February with two skinned knees. For shame.
And it’s not even the ice, really. It’s tripping. Tripping over wonky sidewalks and the like. Even my pretty aqua green shoes are all nicked up at the toe. I want to be PERFECT at the marathon (since lord knows I won’t be fast), and these nicked up shoes and knocked up knees (at least my knees can get knocked up! ha!) are not going to do it for me.
And a million other confessable moments: I recently bullied (like, maybe she should tell someone about me…) a 50-year-old woman into reading the entire Harry Potter series and I don’t regret it. I fed my dog handfuls of butter after she swallowed a burr because it seemed like it might make it slide down her throat. I’ve spent way more hours than any adult should reading in the bathtub over the last couple weeks. With bubble bath. When I finally vacuumed my house last weekend, I recovered enough dog hair to make Curly a super personalized sweater and she doesn’t really even shed — that’s how long it had been. But worst of all: I let myself slip back into a dark place.
And that dark place, my darlings, is where I’ve been. I’m not sure exactly how it happened. It started the week before I traveled, I think… I got kind of busy and stopped doing the daily mindfulness practice I’d been cultivating. And then when I fell the last time, I stopped going to yoga because it really, really hurt my knees. The dark thoughts started creeping in, piling up, and I latched onto those again. I stopped writing, because I didn’t want to be a downer anymore. I spent an evening, and another, and another, even one particularly ugly weekday morning, sobbing about how much I hated myself. And I meant it.
The truth is, I’m in a bad place. A place much worse than a men’s bathroom. (Granted, it really wasn’t a terrible place to be until I realized where exactly I was.) And I’m going to have to work really stupid hard to get back out again.
Confession #4: I feel really, really tired and I’m not entirely sure that it’s worth it.
I suspect that’s the depression talking, but it feels pretty true to me right now.
Interestingly, I know for a fact that there isn’t all that much “worth it” about running a marathon. And yet, I’m absolutely desperate to do that — willing to put in mountains worth of work to get there.
So maybe I just need to print out some sort of anti-depression training plan and assume that it will be equivalently worth it. Fake it til I make it. Mile after mile.
So if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got five miles to go this evening yet — Curls spent last night puking, and I cleaning it up, so when 5:30 am rolled around this morning, I was in desperate need of a bit more sleep. But the treadmill calls and I have faith that crossing the finish line in DC in a couple of weeks will be worth it to me. Faith as well that putting in the work to climb out of the oubliette,* let the light in, and work to not be in such a dark place, will be worth it too.
*I use Audible to listen to books while I run. I’ve never read any Neil Gaiman before, but I couldn’t really ignore the legions of people I super respect who love him anymore and when I saw that American Gods was nearly 20 hours long (woo hoo! all that bang for the buck!), I jumped on it. Within the first 5 miles (I measure books now in miles rather than chapters), the main character mentions an oubliette. YES.
Once upon a time, some medieval a-hole invented the oubliette: a dungeon modeled after the mythical bottomless pit. The only entrance, a trap door in the ceiling, was so far overhead that the person banished to the depths went mad with hopelessness, knowing they were left in the dark to be forgotten. (Or something like that.)
Clearly, the aforementioned medieval a-hole was familiar with the concept of depression. And weaponized it. Genius. Mad genius.
Today, I greet you from the depths of the oubliette, depression having settled in like an old friend I never really wanted to meet in the first place. But here he is and the associated fog will likely cover the faint glint of light from the mouth of the pit for a while. It’s my job (with the help of medication) to work really, really hard to remember that it’s not actually hopeless and I do actually matter. But first, how did I get here?
Are you familiar with Jenny Lawson? Alias: The Bloggess? Author of Let’s Pretend this Never Happenedand, more recently, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things? I kind of adore her — her irreverence and frankness about mental illness is a thing of beauty and I think she’s done a lot, lot, lot of good for a lot, lot, lot of people who might otherwise feel very alone. Her point: we’re all broken, some of us more than others, and for those of us in whom that means mental illness, it is a legitimate disease worthy of medical treatment. And that is all. That and a silver ribbon to be worn with pride — I am surviving. No shame.
Anyway, I’m reading Furiously Happy right now and the star of the show is Rory the furiously happy raccoon (see book cover):
Rory is a taxidermied raccoon. Taxidermied to a state of permanent, furious, happiness.
I kind of dig Rory and all his maniacal excitement. And I fully understood what it meant to be a taxidermied raccoon — once upon a time he was alive, he died, his skin was removed, he was stuffed, posed, preserved, the end.
But then last weekend, this horror show took place in my backyard (not a fan of gruesomeness? scroll by real quick):
Not actually my backyard, of course, but the backyard that butts up to the edge of mine. So close enough. That’s a raccoon. Hanging from an apple tree. Having its skin removed.
An inside out raccoon.
I was disturbed on Saturday, but when it happened again on Monday morning (happened againon Monday morning because #Wisconsin), less so. I mean, that’s how you make a taxidermied raccoon, right? Even a furiously happy one was once upon a time dangling from something having its skin removed.
The premise behind the idea of being Furiously Happy, a la Jenny Lawson, is that when you suffer from severe bouts of depression, it steals the joy right out of your life. So in those moments when you can be happy — you should be furiously so. Embracing life and adventure and goodness and joy to the fullest in those moments when it is in your power to be in that place, when the fog isn’t hanging over you, when all the exclamation points haven’t mysteriously vanished from your life. Or, as is apropos here, when you’re not busy being turned inside out, be like Rory.
I liked that analogy for depression — an inside out raccoon with the potential to be happy again, given a little help from a skilled taxidermist with a good sense of humor.
But then again, once the inside out raccoon suit was off the bare raccoon body, my neighbor took the pelt (is it a pelt? is that what we call the removed skin/fur???) inside the house and left the (now naked) raccoon body hanging from that tree. It swayed there for a long time and I couldn’t look away. What do you do with a dead, naked raccoon, I thought? I mean, people don’t eat raccoon, do they? That naked raccoon isn’t going to get furiously happy — just his little suit. So… what’s his point?
My neighbor came back outside with a bucket, untied the raccoon, dropped him inside, and carried him away to who knows where. To nowhere, probably.
And I realized that I felt past the point of the little raccoon suit with the potential to be happy again. I felt a lot more like the dead, naked, slightly swaying, completely pointless raccoon left hanging on the branch. It was just grief at first. I was so sad, and with good reason, but I had moved past that point. Somewhere in my grief and brokenness, I had convinced myself that that’s all there was. That I was pointless.
I had let myself slip back into the oubliette.
The thoughts that came and went (and still sometimes come and go) are scary. I wished to not be loved — because then it would be easier to disappear, no heartache left behind. I wished for tragedy of the variety that was unquestionably not my fault yet would somehow lead me to oblivion. For an end because why was I bothering anyway. I did not matter and that the people who for some reason thought that I did would be better off without me… when they realized that there were prettier wives that were good at keeping their families healthy, children with the ability to produce grandchildren, sisters that don’t harbor ugly jealousy, writers with more talent and less baggage, friends with the ability to smile, nieces without drama, etc. I want to be all those things to all those people. I have been none of them. I had no point.
I don’t want to lie to you. I’m still there to some extent. It’s a bad neighborhood of the mind, as my aunt would say, and I wander there frequently these days. But I do have some good days too. Thanks to the people that love me, goodness knows why, and the mental health care I have sought — needed to seek. But maybe most of all this time because someone else heard what I said and shared their own story with me and I thought for a second, hey, we just connected. And maybe connection is enough of a point. Enough of a reason. Something that matters.
And connection does keep happening, when I really stop and think about it. It has for a while and it has very frequently recently. In ways that I didn’t really expect. Not just those who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy or a child, but those who have been to broken places for other reasons too. People who look so shiny and bright on the outside that there’s just no possible way for that to not be the whole story, except of course there’s more. And they said to me, “hey… me too, because this thing…” And dang. That’s powerful stuff.
On the surface, it seems a little bit like misery-loves-company, but it’s not. It’s a lot more like hey-let-me-lend-you-my-strength. Let’s-walk-together-for-a-sec. I’m-going-to-hug-you-gently-with-my-words. I’m-going-to-show-you-something-tragic-yet-beautiful-and-remind-you-that-it-is-possible-to-be-furiously-happy-again.
For those moments, for those people, and for the people that love me… that I love back… I’m going to hang on. I’m going to remember that even an inside out raccoon isn’t really pointless. That the bottom of the oubliette is temporary and that somewhere above me, no matter how far away it seems, there is light.