Tag Archives: therapy

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.

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?


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.


Loudly, Clearly, Always

Bad news bears: my knee SUPER hurts. Turns out, it’s very much more difficult to recover from a fall at the age of 31 than it was at the age of 26. Very much. I better quit this falling thing before I get too much older or I’m going to end up needing new joints way before my time.

BUT… good news bears: my new shoes came today and despite my extreme crotchitiness (uh huh– it’s a word), I went out for a quick (quick is a relative term, remember… and what I really mean by “quick” is, in fact, short… right) 2-mile run and they were super sweet. They’re just so bright and while appearance isn’t the most important thing about running shoes, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

BAM! So bright!!
BAM! So bright!!

Also, my heels weren’t bloody at the end. Sigh. I really needed new shoes. I always let it go way too long.

But anyway. What does Joan suggest we mediate on today?  Let’s see, shall we?

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” –Romans 12:2

Renewal of the mind…

And Joan?

“Exactly how does a person go about not being ‘conformed to this world’? We live in the belly of the beast. It is our politicians, our banks our business that cheat poor laborers, make the dirty military alliances, sell the weapons, hike up the interest rates. And we are the ones who buy from them, and elect them, and collect their dividends. Is there any hope for our own purity of soul in such a world as this? Is there any hope for mine? Well, Paul seems to think so. He says, ‘Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.’ Change the way you think, in other words. And say so. That’s what I must do. Whatever the ridicule, whatever the criticism, I must say so. Loudly, clearly, always. Then maybe someday I will find myself lost in a chorus of voices all shouting ‘no’ together. And then the world will change.” –Joan Chittister

I think Joan is talking about how our mind interacts with the external. And I don’t disagree. But for me, the thing that provides the ridicule and the criticism (frequently and loudly and constantly) is my second track.

Remember that bad boy? It’s been a while, eh?!

But it’s still there. And it’s been louder than loud as of late. I didn’t really recognize it until today– thank goodness for therapy. It’s like I pay someone to keep notes on my life and remind me of what’s what once a month. Good deal. So what do Dr. C and I think that I can do about it?

Four things:

1. Focus on helping other people;
2. Take my own advice after I spend time talking other people up;
3. Talk about the bad feelings;
4. And don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

In other words, change the way I think.

So, here’s what I have decided to think. I think that I just endured a nasty storm and that, despite some minor damage, I’ve come through to the other side. I think that IVF is scary and that receiving my packet of info with all that crazy, crazy, crazy set me up for some major anxiety and that my husband heading out of town and working round the clock on a big, important grant made it harder to deal than usual. I think I dealt with all that by eating. By crashing. By dealing in the best way I could deal– not perfect, but good enough. Good. I’m good.

I think I am good.

Renewal of the mind.

I know it’s not that simple, really. But if feels alright right now. And I will keep saying that I am good — loudly, clearly, always.

Radio Silence

Remember that time, a couple weeks ago, when I was all “ha ha ha! I made up a funny song about winter and I love the Muppets and Lambchop and stuff…” Remember? To be perfectly honest with you, that was kind of like a desperate attempt at keeping my head above water.

One last gasp before I went down.

And down I went. Into depression, like quicksand.

Too many metaphors, Cho (that’s what my brother used to call me, pacifier hanging out of his mouth, and sometimes I call myself that in my head). Water, sand, sinking, it’s all too much. But none of it’s clear to me either. Because depression is like that.

Suddenly, or perhaps not so suddenly, but eventually, I was unable to muster up the energy necessary to do even basic daily things… forget about writing (for fun– I didn’t want to get fired after all, but even writing at work was hard). I mostly just sat around, laid around, moped around. For quite a while.

Things are back on the up and up, the sun is shining a bit more often, some of my flowers are blooming (some— it is Wisconsin, after all), and I feel like my mood is making some progress.

Crocuses are done… now I’ve got blooming hyacinth, but only one daffodil so far. Enough rain, need more sun!

I had a therapy appointment today and it was pretty good. He helped me to realize that it wasn’t an all of the sudden thing, but rather a series of relatively big stressors in rapid succession (as an example, I had to cancel my last therapy appointment because I had to go to the dermatologist to have my crazy hands taken care of and I had to take Curls to the vet because her pin sites were oozing… so there’s that) and I have a plan for continuing forward (you know, time spent outdoors, learning to (gulp) meditate, and blogging).

Ultimately, I know that my life is a good life and I have a million and four reasons to be really, really happy. But I also know that sometimes my neurons don’t fire quite right and even getting out of bed in the morning (or off the couch or floor in the afternoon or evening) is unreasonably difficult. I don’t know why it happens, but I know that it will probably always happen, off and on. So I have to baby step my way out of it.

What then, pray tell, ought my bloggy baby steps be?

Amazing things, that’s what. Things worthy of my obsessive attention, anyway. Amazing is relative, after all.

I posted some tough stuff recently and I broke my soul or something. (Also, I’m crazy over-dramatic.) So for now, a little bit of positive. I started a list of A to Z amazing things that I’m super (read: overly) into in a way that was totally inspired by my friend Lara’s April A to Z Challenge… but very, very late. Because now it’s May and I feel like I can move my fingers again.

I can’t make promises regarding frequency or consistency, but I will do my best. So join me, will you? And soon we can discuss everything from General Lee’s surrender at the Appamatox Courthouse (also The Alligator and apple butter) to the deliciously hilarious Derrick Zoolander (what is this?! a center for ants?!!).


Most importantly, thanks for hanging around despite my recent silence. Either people still check in every once in a while or I have a LOT of bot traffic. Because I can’t tell the difference, it totally makes me feel good. So thanks, whoever you are, bot or not-bot, you’re awesome to me and I appreciate it! (For the bots out there, that’s: beep-boop-beep-beep-boop.)

Curly doesn’t seem to mind all the moping 🙂

The Thing Tim Haight Taught Me, A Long Time Ago

I was in the band starting in 6th grade. I played percussion. I could read music decently well, so I primarily played the bells (the little xylophone-looking thing made out of metal rather than wood) until high school, but also dabbled in drums and other keyed instruments of various sorts (like an actual xylophone).

Any excuse to show off my band uniform– that’s a xylophone, bells on the right. Well, it was a glockenspiel, actually, but same thing.

My freshman year of high school, I officially joined the drumline and played the snare drum when we marched. I don’t know what it’s like to be in any other section of the band because I’ve only experienced what I’ve experienced… but my impression was that drumline was a bit different.

Drumline! My senior year at a football game. See that lady quad player??? The coolest... be impressed by her. Very, very impressed.
Drumline! My senior year at a football game. See that lady quad player??? The coolest… be impressed by her. Very, very impressed.

You see, we had to play cadences (da! dig-a-dig-a-dig-a-da! go!) and keep time while everyone else was marching along between songs. It makes sense, really, since our instruments didn’t require lung capacity (only bladder capacity– those harnesses press down right on your bladder) so we could play and play and play without needing the break everyone else did. Except that meant extra practice, a special drumline coach, and a general level of rowdiness that was disconcerting for a nerdy little goodie-two-shoes like me. Which is what made Tim Haight so scary to me.

Tim was musically gifted, but alternative– to say the least. He didn’t follow the rules and didn’t care if he got in trouble for it (gasp!) and he scared me because people who don’t follow rules and don’t care about the consequences are unpredictable. I made a lot of assumptions about him.

He called me on it one day.

I don’t remember what I had said, done, or assumed or why Tim felt the need to call me on it at that moment, but he said to me, “You know what happens when you assume something, don’t you?”


“You make an ass out of and me.”

Jaw drop, heart stop.

It was a pun (a very, very clever and punny pun!) and it was crazy true.

I had never heard that adage before and I’m sure I reacted to hearing it that time very poorly, but it was a good lesson for me. I’d like to tell you I stopped making assumptions right then and there, but that would be a big fat lie and Tim would probably happen to read this one blog entry and call me on it in front of all of you… so I won’t lie. I do still think of that day from time to time though, and every time I find myself ashamed at the assumptions I continue to make.

Most recently, I’ve found myself making assumptions about other people’s intentions. My therapist called me on it this morning. (I’m not certain, but I suspect Tim may have grown up, changed his name, purchased some khakis, and moved to Marshfield to practice psychology…)

It’s never easy to hear someone else talk about your weaknesses– the things you don’t like about your character, the way you should have acted, the assumptions you shouldn’t have made. But that’s what I pay the good doctor for, so I had to choke it down. And now I’m forced to think about it. Ugh.

Self-awareness can be so obnoxious.

It was a lot easier to live in an assumption-fueled rage.

It shouldn’t be though. Because truly, I pride myself on putting my faith in other people and trusting in them to be doing the things most suitable to their own conscience. At least, I thought I did. But I think when it comes to moments why I feel personally hurt or affronted, I automatically assume that the hurt was intentional. Even though, logically and rationally, I can recognize that that’s probably not the case.

My freshman year of college, I lived in West Wadsworth Hall at Michigan Tech (West Wads!!!) in a hall called Good Intentions… as in what the road to hell is paved with.

The Good Intentions broomball team 2002... cleverly named Cruel Intentions. Because it's the opposite. And opposites are... clever?
The Good Intentions broomball team 2002… cleverly named Cruel Intentions. Because it’s the opposite. And opposites are… clever?

And it’s true. Because despite our best intentions, we still end up inflicting hurt on other people, and no one is immune to that. Myself included. (Waaaahhh!! I’m not perfect!!!!) I have a much easier time forgiving myself for hurting someone with my best intentions, though, than I do forgiving someone else for hurting me– based largely on the assumption that I know their intentions to be malevolent.

(Btw, I really like the words malevolent and benevolent. They’re good words.)

I’d probably be a happier person if I assumed the reverse. If I could think “wow. That hurt. But I trust that to hurt was not the intent, and I can move on” instead.

It’s not nearly as satisfying, of course, because very little feels more satisfying in the short term than self-righteous anger. But it’s probably a lot healthier, emotionally speaking, in the long run. Dang.

I’m certainly not there yet, but having had my assumptions pointed out to me, I can feel something inside me breaking. It makes me feel like I understand why people hold on to power and anger and resentment so desperately though, because it’s painful to let forgiveness and understanding and patience take their place. It’s painful to admit that you were wrong. And nobody likes to be in pain, no matter how temporary.

Tim was older than me and different from me and our paths crossed only briefly, but he was fascinating and he left a mark on my life that I’ll never forget. At 14, I never would have expected his silly words (and a swear word even!) to be so profound, and yet here we are… amazing, isn’t it?

Advent for Thirty: Making Peace and a Hug from the Number 30

The good thing about turning 30 is that you have plenty of warning– you know it’s coming for a good long time. And let me tell you, if you don’t have babies yet, lots and lots of people spend time and energy reminding you it’s coming, just in case you’ve forgotten. So that’s nice.

Despite the long period of fair warning, I’ve only really thought a lot about turning 30 over the last year. Twenty-nine suddenly made it feel really close and all those baby warnings seemed real and important and I got kind of freaked out.

Ok. I got really freaked out.

But I got to be 29 for 12 whole months. And that’s a lot of time to get over it. Lots of things helped:

Under the Tapestry was a big one. Every time I air a Festivus-style grievance you guys are SO CRAZY supportive and it doesn’t feel so bad. I scream, “Can I get a witness?!” and you scream, “but of course!” and it’s awesome! (I talked to my therapist about it– he pinpointed validation and shared experience as the types of reassurance and support I totally crave. Thank you, therapy!)

Friends, friends, friends! Friends help– big time! And here in Marshfield I have really, really good friends ranging in age from 24 (she was 23 until the end of December… your birthday is throwing off my impressive range, Em!) to over 50 (at which point it would be unkind to share the specifics, but you must know how much I love you, M!) and everything in between. They’re all awesome. All of their lives are different. And I don’t care one iota how close or how far any single one of them is from the age of 30. I imagine the same ought to apply to me. (Side note: if I extend coverage of my friends by age range to the entire country, I can include my friend Emily who is 8. EIGHT. Oh. And she has her own blog now! It’s something else, you should totally check it out! You will be seriously impressed. She’s 8. Good grief. Can you imagine how incredible she’ll be by 30?!)

The Jeff and Kari plan. I love the way I met my friend’s Kari and Jeff. Kari’s sister is married to one of Seth’s best friends (at least so far, but a major falling out is anticipated). I adore Seth’s friend’s wife (regardless of any falling out– we’re staying friends!) and over the years I have gotten to know and adore more and more of their lovely families. Jeff and Kari didn’t start their adventure, or their rapidly growing family, until after the age of 30 and Kari is so crazy positive about it– and encouraging of me! Can’t tell you how much I appreciate that kind of support!

Time and the number 30 itself. Given all the time I’ve had to make peace with 30, I can say without a doubt that I have made it. Plus, the more I thought about it, the nicer the number 30 sounded. It’s a nice round number. Kind of seems like it wants to give me a hug… and I suspect that it will. I’m not generally much of a hugger, but I can certainly appreciate the sentiment and take comfort in the fact that the hug is only metaphorical– no actual touching necessary 😉

Did you watch Sesame Street when you were younger? I did, and I loved it. (I suspect it fueled my extreme love of all things Muppet even today…) One of my favorite little skits ever was when a guy sang “U Really Got a Hold on Me” while a big letter U hugged him over and over again (the link is to the actual skit on You Tube– it’s totally worth the watch). That’s how I’m imagining this big hug from 30– not only have I made peace with it, but I’m to the point where I think it might just be awesome.