Reclaiming My 2017

2017 has been a tough year.

I feel like I’ve been saying that every year since…2013, which…sucks. It makes me feel bad. It worries me, along the lines of, Is this my life now? (meaning: life=tough)

I want to talk about my challenges here, partly so I can continue to process them, and also so I can let people know about what’s been going on in my internal world all this time. I’d like to be able to talk about the hard stuff with people I see in person on a regular basis, but having screaming kids running around is not the easiest way to begin the conversation.

I’ve always been a fairly anxious person. I’ve inherited it, I’ve found ways to cope with it, I’ve found ways to power through it, and I’ve accepted it as a part of my life (but not who I am).

But.

This year, I’ve been the most anxious (and occasionally depressed) I’ve ever been and it’s been largely unbearable.

As I look back through pictures that were taken of me over the past year, many of my smiles have been pasted on over massive amounts of anxiety, worry, and irritability. A general inability to calm the fuck down and enjoy any moment of what is happening in front of me.

The tulip festival. A Mother’s Day tea. Playdates. Storytimes. Trips to California.

I remember talking to a friend in early summer and telling her how I had experienced some depression after having my first kid, but that it started to get better after about six months (as did the weather). At that point, it was passed the six month mark (which I realize is totally arbitrary) after having my second kid, and I told her that my symptoms weren’t going away- they were getting worse. It worried me. Actually, it scared the hell outta me.

I remember coming home from a Mother’s Day tea, where my kids were just in the other room from me, being cared for by teenagers I had just met. I sat there rigid, sweating, mind racing. I ate and drank and made conversation and tried SO HARD to enjoy the kid-free time. But it was too much (what was it, I ask myself). I burst into uncontrollable sobs to my husband when I got home. It was all just too hard. Everything felt wrong.

I knew I needed to get back into therapy, but I felt so overwhelmed on a daily basis that I didn’t have the time or the energy to start looking for a therapist. I emailed one of my therapist friends who lives clear across the country late one night to confess to her exactly how much of a shit time I was having. She did an amazing thing and researched therapists in my area and sent me a list of three to check out. It was a godsend.

I started therapy in June, and it was slow-going at first. Of course, therapists make THE WORST clients and I imagine I’m no exception. I want therapy to work and I want it to work YESTERDAY. I overthink everything. I start critiquing her choice of decor and start mentally taking notes for when I eventually go back to work. Mainly, I just wanted to dive in and get to the hard stuff asap so I could feel some freaking relief.

Since then, my anxiety has ebbed and flowed. For a few weeks in September, right after my oldest started going to school for the first time, I thought I had this beat. And then it came back full force for no apparent reason and it’s interfering with my sleep, which has been devastating. For the longest time, I blamed it on the cat and her early morning howling. Everyone around me heard about it. Well, we worked around the cat issue, and wouldn’t you know, it’s not the damn cat. It’s just plain irrational, raging-fire-in-my-chest anxiety. How mortifying.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me, at least recently, was that I had a panic attack. And it was in front of my kids. It scared me to death and I just can’t live like that. I won’t have my kids growing up being worried about their mom falling apart like that. What a horribly embarrassing and terrifying experience, as any of you who have had one surely knows.

I have held out this long against trying medication as an option, but after that, I swallowed what little pride I had left and called my health insurance and made an appointment for a med eval for January. I surrender.

I read some research that said if people are given some sort of escape button that promises a bad experience will immediately end if pushed, they are more likely and able to endure said experience. Case in point, I’ve had clients before who got anti-anxiety meds only to carry them around in their purses and never actually take them. Maybe an escape button is all I need? We’ll see…

I feel held captive by this monster, this thing. I’m desperately trying not to be in constant fear of it, nor constantly battling it. I’m exhausted. I don’t have time for this shit. What saddens me most – THE MOST – is the thought that I’m so incredibly preoccupied, terrified, irritable, utterly exhausted, that I’ll look back on my kids’ young lives and realize…I missed it.

Somehow, I must reclaim my life. (Ugh, that sounds so dramatic, written with tears rolling down my face.) Because this isn’t me, and this isn’t how I want to live. It’s not the mother I want to be, or the wife, or the friend, etc. This motherfucker is trying to rob me blind and I won’t let him. Kicking and screaming.

Me writing this, and putting this out there for people to read, is partly how I fight. Because anxiety wants me to stay silent. Anxiety wants me to shut myself in and cower in fear. Anxiety doesn’t want me to feel joy.

Well…fuck you.

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A Year Ago Today

A year ago today, we went shopping for shoes.

I took Dylan and you, of course, and we went because I had a refund giftcard thingy to use up before it expired. I got shoes for Dylan, and also cute pink shoes for you.

I had been having a few contractions for a while now, but nothing really serious. I knew it could be any day now.

We went home and went about our day. That outing was the last thing on my to-do list before Christmas, and before you (it was also the last time I left the house before you were born). The presents were all wrapped, the cookies all baked, everything all decorated. Baby things all washed and set up. We. were. ready.

A year ago today, I went to bed only to wake up several hours later with contractions. Excited to get to use my app, I started tracking them. They were quite tolerable but became increasingly regular. Textbook. I woke your daddy and we called Labor and Delivery.

The nurse wasn’t convinced it was in real labor, because I didn’t sound like I was in enough pain. (All too true…) We called my friend to come over to watch Dylan just in case everything quickly ramped up. Were you ready?

Not yet.

A year ago today wasn’t your day.

Almost, though. Almost.

Like Nothing Had Ever Happened

This post was after a particularly shitty day, told in the third person. I’m sure many parents can relate.


NaBloPoMo Day 25

Psychobabble

It started like any ordinary day.

And that’s the thing – these days, most days were just that – ordinary.  Sure, some moments stuck out for better or for worse, but they were mostly spent in the monotony of keeping her kid safe, clothed, fed, occupied.

As she lied in bed, she could hear her son happily babbling over the baby monitor.  He rarely woke up in a bad mood.  She got up and started her usual routine of making the bed, getting dressed, dragging a brush through her hair, and then she went to go get her son.

As soon as she opened his bedroom door, the stale odor of his poopy diaper floated out to greet her.  And then she could see, under her smiling, blond baby boy, that his crib sheet was quite soiled.

She sighed.

First things first, she thought, Diaper change, then strip the…

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Cancer, Yoga, and Becoming a Parent

I wrote this guest post on a friend’s blog in 2014 when I was pregnant with my first kiddo. It serves as a good reminder about how mindfulness and physical activity remain crucial elements of my mental health and self-care regimen.


NaBloPoMo Day 24

Crazy Good Parent

yoga

I started practicing yoga soon after I had surgery to treat ovarian cancer. The surgery was my only treatment, as my kind of cancer wouldn’t respond to chemo or radiation. The cancer had fully engulfed my left ovary, which they removed, and my right ovary remained, although my surgeon said they scraped cancerous growths off its surface.

“We can’t promise anything,” was the answer I got when I asked about my fertility status. Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a mom, in this passive way of knowing – I didn’t have to think about it, I just knew. Well, nothing made me realize just how badly I wanted to be a mom until there was a distinct possibility that I couldn’t.

That was 11 years ago; I was 20 years old.

Now, at age 31, I am happily pregnant with my first child, and I am counting…

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Welcome to 5am

This moment-turned-short-story was a flash forward for me. My pre-mama self got just a little taste of wee-hours-of-the-morning one-handed trying-to care-for-everyone-at-once. Just a taste.
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NaBloPoMo Day 22

Psychobabble

I was up again.

My right hip was on fire, so I slowly rolled over onto my left side, trying not to use my sore, cranky, stretched abdominal muscles.

I stretched my legs out, my feet searching for cooler pockets in the sheets.

Tap, tap.

Aw, crap.  I woke you.

I rubbed my belly just under and to the right of my belly button.

Hey, Little Duck.  I love you.  Now go back to sleep.

I glanced at the clock.  About 5am.  I had already been up twice to pee, and Brian gets up for work in an hour.

Tap, tap.

I probably dozed for a bit before realizing that my bladder was too full to permit sleep.  To the bathroom I shuffled, after slowly tipping myself out of bed with my arms.  I kicked the cat out of the way.  Twice.

I came back, laid back down on my…

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Reminders

Here is a post that took courage for me to write and post almost four years ago. I still think about it when going through bouts of depression from time to time.
(Please excuse the first attempt to reblog this today; my phone was not cooperating with me.)
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NaBloPoMo Day 21

Psychobabble

I wrote the following post several weeks ago, shortly after moving to the Portland area.  I hesitated in posting it, mainly because of the reaction I was afraid it might get.  But after reading Charlotte’s brave post on her blog Momaste about her own depression, I figured I should go ahead and post, too, regardless of what others thought.

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It’s time to get up, Melissa.

…..what?

You need to get up now.

Not yet.  I don’t think I can.

Take off the covers, swing your legs over the side of the bed and sit up.

…O-Okay.

Now take some deep breaths.  One thing at a time.

I am doing my best to listen to the voice inside my head.  The good voice.  That voice who can see the other side.  That therapist voice who always knows that things are going to be ok, even when I seriously doubt it.

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All the hot girls wear glasses

I recently got glasses.

And not just new glasses, but glasses that I have to wear all the time now. People have asked me if I just wore contacts before, and the answer is no, before I was just blind and didn’t really know it.

To be fair, I’ve had glasses for driving and movies – distance stuff – for about 12 years now, but the problem was just that – they were 12 years old.

And it turns out that my second pregnancy really did a number on my body in many ways (another blog post entirely), and one of those was further killing my eyes.

It’s so wonderful to be able to SEE, you guys! I’ve never had this experience before. I drove to a friend’s house and was elated to tell her that I could see the individual leaves on trees and I could see the sharp outlines of the clouds against the bright blue sky. I even saw music, but I think that was just the LSD. It’s been glorious!

…except that wearing glasses kinda sucks when you’re a mom. I was planning to write this whole post on the many, many ways it sucks to wear specs while wrangling kids, but the list ended up looking like this:

  1. They’re constantly dirty.
    • Finger prints, boogers, sweet potato puree spat in my face. I mean, I’m supposed to wear these things to be able to see, and I’m still seeing the world through a gloopy mess. All. The. Time.
  2. Children like to rip them from my face.
    • All. The. Time.

/end list.

In closing, I’d like to point out that the addition of glasses is furthering my integration into life in Portlandia. Here’s how I look:

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And here’s how I think I look, right at the 1:20ish mark:

 

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….yeeeaahh!


NaBloPoMo Day 12

Happy Blogiversary to Me

I don’t know what to write today.

Usually when that happens, I write a poem. I scrape together some stream of consciousness and parse it into lines of prose.

WordPress reminded me that today is my blogiversary. I’ve been blogging since 2011. Six whole years. That’s nuts.

I am a very different person now than I was then. That was before I became a licensed therapist. Before getting engaged, promoted to running the therapy department at my old job, married, quit job, moved, pregnant, house, baby, then one more baby. I wonder if all that is reflected in my writing? It’s hard for me to tell.

But I’m still here and I’m still me.

I’m proud that I’ve kept this up for so long, and through everything that’s happened. It’s sad that the vast majority of the little blogging community I was a part of when I first started has disappeared. I miss them. I miss reading other blogs and getting comments and feedback from them. I felt like I knew them. I wish them well, wherever they are and whatever they’re doing. I wonder how long the average blogger lasts?

Here’s a pic of yours truly from 2013, in California, post licensure, promotion, and engagement, but pre-wedding and everything else. I was reminded of this pic when I wrote my poem from yesterday (except it’s totally not raining, I know, but the way I felt was the same), but in my haste to post I forgot to search for the picture to accompany. Enjoy.

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aaaaand now it took me so long to find the picture on my computer that it’s after midnight so I technically missed posting for Day 11. FML.


NaBloPoMo Day 11 because I say so, dammit.

Best Present Ever

Today is my birthday, which means I usually: 1) get a massage, 2) go to Starbucks, and 3) write a blog post.  Today is no exception.

So far, today has been fabulous.  My little girl started sleeping through the night about 3 days ago, which has been a godsend because everyone in the family (including her, poor thing) is sick.  Today, my babies let me sleep in til 9am.  NINE. In the MORNING.  Best birthday present ever.

We snuggled and breastfed and ate breakfast and danced and sang.  I tried on my pre-pregnancy jeans (always a gamble) AND THEY (just barely) FIT.  Let’s just take a moment to glow in that last sentence.  Aah.  As if that weren’t enough, I saw a rainbow on the drive here.  Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw a leprechaun today.  Or maybe Bigfoot.

So.  Since last year I blogged about my own birth, and since then I’ve given birth, so let’s talk about that one.

The two times I’ve given birth were extremely different.  For my first, I was induced, labor took 32 hours (including 2.5 hours of pushing), and ended in a vaginal birth aided by an epidural.

The short version of my second L&D is as follows: labor was so fast that it only took 3 hours and ended with me giving birth on my bathroom floor while my baby was delivered by firefighters.  It was the most physically painful and intense experience of my entire life.

Allow me to back up.  Because I was induced last time at 41 weeks, I was determined to do everything in my power to try and go into labor naturally.  I asked my OB to sweep my membranes on Tuesday, December 20 when I was 39 weeks +1.  Initially I had some cramping, but nothing major.  At 2am Thursday morning, I woke up with contractions.  They were mild, but strong enough to wake me up, and I found that they were coming at regular intervals once I started tracking them.

I woke my husband and we called L&D.  The nurse asked me a bunch of questions but she wasn’t convinced I was in labor because the intensity of my contractions just wasn’t there.  She advised to call my childcare person to come over but to wait another 30 minutes and see if the contractions ramped up at all.  Her guess was that this was false labor and they’d go away and she was right.  I felt horrible for getting my friend (who was also pregnant) out of bed for a false alarm, but we all went back to sleep.

That day I took it easy and had a few wimpy contractions here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary.  We went to bed.  I woke up at 3am Friday morning with contractions again.  This time, as I tracked them, their intensity increased but their frequency was all over the place.  Around 5am Brian woke up and I told him what was going on and we talked about what to do between contractions.  At 5:20 we decided to call L&D, so I said I’d get up to pee and then we’d call.

I stood up and quickly discovered that I couldn’t walk as the intensity of my contractions rapidly increased.  I turned around, grabbed the side of the bed and instinctively swayed and moaned to get through the waves of pain.  Brian was still quite groggy and wasn’t grasping onto what was happening so I finally barked at him to get up and help me walk to the toilet.  As we moved I started to panic because my body no longer felt like it belonged to me; some force had just taken over.

As soon as I sat down on the toilet, my water broke.  I turned to my husband and told him (screamed at him) to call L&D.  Immediately, my body was rocked to the core by a contraction that started pushing my baby out of me.  I couldn’t believe what was happening.  My instinct was to try to suppress the urge to push because there was no way my baby was coming so early.  In hindsight, this probably made things all the more painful.

My husband couldn’t hear what the nurse was saying over my screams, but she could most definitely hear me scream that I needed to push, I need to push!  She told him to hang up and call 911.  By this time it was 5:40am…and my baby was born at 5:57am.  It took the firefighters 9 minutes to get to our house, and Audrey was born 8 minutes after that.

The dispatcher told my husband to get me flat on my back and to get some towels.  It was only then that it dawned on me that they were getting me ready to have the baby right there on the bathroom floor.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so terrified in my entire life.

My husband started grabbing our good towels we got as wedding presents and, in true form, I was still able to scream, NO!  NOT THE GOOD TOWELS!  GET THE OLD ONES! because I’m a freak.  And bless him, he got the old towels for me.  The dispatcher continued to ask questions, one of which was, Do you see the head?  He looked once, no.  He looked again, and yes, yes he could.  YOU CAN SEE THE HEAD?!  I screamed in reply.  I was still in shock and denial about what was happening.  Contractions were back to back at this point and  I was screaming pretty much the whole time.  In case you’re wondering, my two-year-old was down the hall and slept through the whole thing.  Like I said, my kids (angels) are sleepers.

We could hear the firetruck arrive and B ran downstairs (still in only his boxers) to let them in.  They had trouble finding me at first but I think they just followed the screams.  I immediately asked them for pain meds – ANYTHING! – and they sadly shook their heads and said they couldn’t.  I was devastated.

Pretty soon her head was born (worst pain of my entire life) and they told me to keep pushing to get the rest of her body out, and I remember thinking that I just couldn’t.  I needed that 15 second rest between contractions.  I pushed again and she was out.  She wasn’t crying right away and I held out my arms for her, but it felt like an eternity while he rubbed her back, suctioned her mouth and got her properly breathing.  Once it was apparent that we were both just fine, the 6 firefighters who were crammed into my bathroom were overjoyed.  They proudly announced the time of birth and her Apgar score.

They had B cut the cord and gave us the shears to keep, joking that they make great cigar cutters.  One firefighter asked for our phones and started snapping pictures.  She was here.  My little girl was in the world.  I couldn’t believe it.

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We were carried downstairs and into the ambulance and taken to the hospital.  A few firefighters even stayed behind at the house to wait for my childcare person to get there.  Later that day, she brought my son to the hospital so he could meet Audrey.  We came back home the next day – Christmas Eve – to start our lives as a family of four.

Best Christmas present ever.

Swirling Hot Mess of Emotions

My heart is just so bursting full…of everything.  Love, gratitude, depression, exhaustion, sadness, grief, body image issues, joy.

My mood swings are controlling me.  I feel like my whole life is out of control, and rightly so…because was it ever within my control to begin with?  Like when my son was born, this out of control feeling lit a fire under my usually only moderately crazy OCD tendencies.  I go nuke if something goes missing.  I clean even when I’m supposed to be doing something else.  I try and control the things in my house because I can’t control any. thing. else.

Being alone with my two kids often terrifies me.

The things my body is capable of continue to astound me.

Breastfeeding is a beast.  I’m having PTSD flashbacks around what it was like to breastfeed my son two years ago.  I hate how my entire outlook on life depends on how well our last breastfeeding session went. And they are hit or miss.  At least she’s latching better than my son did and I am very thankful to report that, for whatever reason, I am actually making more milk than I did after my first pregnancy.  Huzzzzzzah.

I hate talking to lactation consultants. They mean well, but man they hit me squarely on my breastfeeding shame trigger. On one hand, it’s my fault that I can’t feed my kid. The simplest thing ever, just feeding her so she doesn’t die. I’m not doing the right position, or I’m not making enough milk, or I’m not pumping enough, not getting enough sleep.  Take your pick.  On the other, it’s her behavior that’s getting in the way because she pushes and claws and bites and thrashes around and screams.  And I resent her for it. Damnit. Either way, horrible mother. And in suggesting I try something different, like massage the breast, use a hot compress, nipple shield, football hold, pump, pump, PUMP – the lactation consultants just seem to highlight the fact that IT’S NOT WORKING and somehow it’s all my fault. You see the spiral.

In order to get through days without falling apart, I’ve had to work hard to disconnect myself from my feelings. It feels so yucky to just numb out like that, but the alternative is to burst into tears while listening to a voice in my head that is wailing, “It’s noon and we just finished breakfast! We can’t do this! How are we supposed to be able to get outside today? Or brush your teeth? Or put on pants?!”

Instead, I have to force myself to listen to the other voice, the emotionally sterile voice saying, “Hey. Now we need to feed the baby. Your toddler can wait to eat, but she’s screaming. Go on now, first things first.”  It’s a constant struggle, but it works.  And some days are easier than others.

When I look back, I realize that 2015 was the year when nothing happened.  I know I blogged about how it was the year a grew into being a mom, and I am so glad that I had that time with my son.  That year, we didn’t change marital status.  We didn’t move.  We didn’t change jobs.  We didn’t get pregnant or have any babies.  Things were stable and boring.  Yay for boring!

My hope is that 2017 is like that, too.  I’d like the time and space to develop a routine with my kids, a relationship with my daughter, and a new relationship with myself as a mom of two.  As for 2016…that was the year when things got progressively harder.  I got pregnant, I got tired, then I got huge and tired.  I slowed down while my toddler sped the fuck up.  I had daily pain for a while and I could barely bend over to pick up things my toddler had dropped…or thrown.  We still managed to have a lot of fun in 2016, though.  We went camping and (barely) survived.  I applied for a job I didn’t end up taking, but it was nice to put on professional clothes again.  We took our son trick-or-treating and he loved it.  We took him to the snow and had mixed results.  We took a trip to California and had fun seeing family.  We took our first family road trip and D danced at his first wedding.  We successfully became DAYTIME POTTY TRAINED, people!  We went to the zoo and hunted for Easter eggs and went on a train and picked strawberries and saw a parade and ate ice cream and played in the water features and went to the planetarium and went to the pumpkin patch and toured a cheese factory.  Whew.

I’m glad I just typed all of that out because, according to that list, 2016 wasn’t all that bad.  We were a family!  We really got to enjoy my son being a fun age.  My hope for 2017 is that things just get better from here on out.

Even though my current days are often dark, I can totally see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Part of it is because I’ve been through this once before.  I know a little better what to expect, and we’ve already adjusted how we’re dealing with raising a newborn since the first time.  Another part is that I’m done making babies.  This is it; this is my family, and it’s beautiful!  I’ve gotten everything I’ve ever wanted, and I feel so amazingly (hashtag) blessed, as cliche as that sounds.  But it’s true.

And with that, this blog post has come full circle.  It’s a swirling hot mess of emotions: welcome to my life.  My beautiful, imperfect, perfect life.