Sunday, April 23, 2017

Making Progress, A Bit At A Time

This week was better than last week. Part of it was that it was actually Spring Break, so I didn't have (much) to feel guilty about in terms of missing work. There was no work. I didn't have to do sub plans, I didn't wonder what was going on without me.

Part of it was having the medications kick in -- the one that helps me sleep and I can take if I have a panic attack, and the one that takes a couple weeks to kick in, starts with a Z, and will help me long term with my wonky brain chemistry so I don't have those panic attacks in the first place. It's been two weeks for that one and I know it's not all there, but I definitely feel more...myself. Which was one of my fears with medication all this time that I've been denying my anxiety, that I'd feel less myself if I got pharmaceutical assistance. Not true. It's nice to have the horrible buzzing and fight-or-flight feeling gone. Also, the Prednisone is down to 20 so side effects are starting to lessen. They are also weaning me off the steroid eye drops because my eye pressure was a startling 27 at my last week's check.  While that is scary I get an extra day of break because they need to check the pressure again a week after being on what may be the world's most expensive pressure-reducing eye drops, which is tomorrow, and the timing necessitates a full day absence. It is a nice bonus/consolation prize, to get a little extra day in there, although I am really dreading coming back and answering questions and walking through the care gauntlet. I am so fortunate to work in such a caring, supportive place but it is a double-edged sword because everyone wants to know how you're doing and a few people saw just how not-great I truly was. So, it will likely take me FOREVER to get from Point A to Point B, and I can likely forget about prep periods, unless I figure out how to acquire an invisibility cloak.

But, that is just an update on what is, while I'd like to share some progress that I'm making, which is pretty significant if I do say so myself.

Life Without Baby Work
I am so happy that I bought this book by Lisa Manterfield. While I am not so happy about the reason, it is really good work. Although, it is also really, really hard work. I will admit, a part of me was hoping that I would start reading it and be like, "Oh, this isn't for me. This doesn't really apply, I'm not here yet." Oh, no. It was more like, "THIS LADY IS IN MY FREAKING HEAD. HOW DOES SHE KNOW WHAT I'M THINKING???"

I started underlining things like mad that resonated with me. Things like:
- "Sometimes we're prodded toward the decision because we have no other viable options, but in many cases we're faced with choosing between a dream and our sanity." 
- "We'll look at how to know when it's time to let go and how to create an ending for a journey that could potentially go on indefinitely." (emphasis mine)
- "This pursuit is linked so intimately to who you are -- your identity as a woman, your plans for the future, your place in the world--that walking away feels like a complete reversal of who you think you are and who you planned to be." 
- "The problem with hope is that it can become a heavy weight that you carry around with you everywhere you go, and if you don't set it aside, it's going to stop you from truly moving on and healing." 
- "But what is the price of persistence? When pursing a dream affects your health, relationships, or lifestyle, it's not sustainable." 
And this one, that I struggle with as I tend to worry too much about what other people think:
"Remember, this is a very personal journey that's different for everyone, and even though others might believe that if you just keep going you'll get what you want, only you can know when you've taken all you can take." 

This book is taking me a very long time to get through, but that's okay. I am used to reading books on infertility treatments, or dealing with emotions associated with infertility, or adoption, or adoptee experiences, or memoirs about people who have done all these things, and I move pretty quickly through them. I am a fast reader. But this is not that kind of book. The journal prompts are every five paragraphs it seems, and they really require a lot of thought and emotional energy. I could read it without the prompts, but I am a rule follower and I feel it's helpful and so to do the work as prescribed is the right way to go through it. I mean, is this really the kind of thing I'd want to slam through anyway? It's just hard sometimes. I can do at most three journal entries in a day, and then I need a day's space to recoup my emotional energies. The last one I did was, "What have you lost?" and that one was very, very hard especially because we are not quite done yet. We just have a date where we will be. And that date is soon.

Someone asked me if this was the kind of hard emotional work I should be doing at this time. The answer is yes. So much of my breakdown (or meltdown as my new therapist prefers to call it) centered on feeling like I CAN'T DO THIS ANYMORE, I AM NOT OKAY, I CANNOT PRETEND TO BE OKAY WHEN I AM UNDER ALL THIS GRIEF AND UNCERTAINTY. So, feeling like I am making a thoughtful decision, that I am working through everything to make sure that I feel peaceful(ish) with this turn of events and probable transition, that's good work when you don't have to be a functional human anywhere else.

Garden Work
Remember when I said that my disheveled gardens looked like my insides felt? Well, not so much anymore. I got out in the dirt over break and cleaned up several beds. I weeded like a lunatic yesterday (and my neck, shoulder, and low back is real pissed at me for it today, man it stinks to be 40) and got rid of a wheelbarrow-full of marsh marigold, wild strawberry vines, and violets that were choking things out. I rage-pruned the liriope (lilyturf) around the blueberry bushes. Everything looks so much better.

See ya, invasive weeds! 

This bed was FULL of marsh marigolds. Now, just hostas and forget-me-nots. And lots of space to plant new things!

The forget-me-nots by the chimney are blooming first, probably a radiant heat differential from the bricks. That is the nerdiest sentence I may have ever written. But aren't they cheerful? 

Admitting We Can't Do It All
So, Bryce has wanted to get a landscaping service in for a year now, because last year he just couldn't keep up with the lawncare and with starting his PhD coursework and just everything feeling so fucking overwhelming over the last year, he was at his wits' end. Our fall cleanup was pretty dismal (not helped by a heavy snow in November) and the spring state of the gardens and the yard was just causing a lot of stress. But I struggle, because the garden is MY thing. Sure, mow the lawn, but shouldn't I be the one weeding and cleaning up and doing all that stuff? Especially since I don't work in the summer and that's sort of my job? Well, I admitted that I can't keep up either and it was making me feel worse that everything looked crappy. Although this week I did get out and do a lot of clean up myself, we hired our snow plow guy to be our lawn-mowing, leaf-blowing, bed-edging, mulching guy too. And the cleanup was AMAZING. He is also interested in more natural, organic gardening and upkeep, and he respected that my Virginia bluebells were already up and those things are one of my favorites but also SO FRAGILE and rip if you blink at them...and he managed to get all the leaves and detritus with barely any damage. Then I met with the gardening lady he works with, who apparently works with several houses in our neighborhood (and here I thought everyone did it themselves), and she is going to do pruning, which I suck at, and divide the irises, and move some misplaced shrubs about. She also does consulting stuff, so I can work with her and she can show me how to do things at the right times and if I work alongside her it's cheaper because we split labor. She was super nice and said I had a lot of cool stuff and had great suggestions for areas where I need to put new things in. 

It was hard to let go of control in this area. I felt like if I didn't do it all myself, it was cheating. But like I told the gardener lady, I can do more in the summer. When school is in session, I just can't get to everything the way I'd like to and so I do need help so I can concentrate on new plantings and windowboxes and containers too and not so much on the other stuff. Except weeding. Despite the hell it wreaks on my body, I really love weeding. It is so satisfying to see a bed full of weeds and then see the wheelbarrow full of your work and the nice clear beds, the plants breathing a sigh of relief that you've removed the stranglers from their roots. I like that work. But it's okay to get help. And they both know that my snake buddy is my friend, so I am not worried about that. 


Bluebells further in bloom
Bluebells right in the middle

Fixing Furniture Problems
One of my plans for not feeling so stagnant was to buy new living room furniture. To get rid of the loveseat and fake-loveseat/bench ottoman setup that we currently have, and get some grown-up furniture that fits the scale of our living room. 

See what I mean about faking seating with the ottoman? Everything is so big and this space is so tight. It's nice, but that loveseat takes up way too much real estate to really only seat two people. Time to go! 
So we went to a local place that sells furniture among other wonderful things, and we found a couch that was perfect. Also two upholstered chairs that are cozy and curl-up-able but not so huge in size. The couch will arrive this week, the chairs unfortunately not for another 8-10 weeks because they only had one in the fabric we wanted and I wanted them to match (they don't match the couch exactly, they are both neutral but the chairs have a herringbone pattern and are a bit darker wheat color not dissimilar from the loveseat we have). We can mix things up with accent pillows. But not ones with words on them. Holy hell, the store was filled with pillows that said things like "Happily Ever After" and "Love Me Always" and "HAPPY HOME."  I put my ass right on that "Happily Ever After" pillow. 

I'm hoping that between these things, maybe little square ottomans with pillow storage inside and a more streamlined coffee table, maybe I can finally host bookclub or have a jewelry lady party. Maybe our living room won't feel quite so hobbitty. I hope the layout I have planned works out, because I am spatially challenged and realized when we got home that the measurement of the couch was for the space designated for the chairs... whoops. I think we can make it work. We will make it work and it will be awesome. 

Emotionally Hard Organization Work With That Coffee Table
So, that coffee table? See the three leather(ette I think) boxes under it? Those are were full of all kinds of emotional bombs. On the side you can't see there are stacks of magazines. I have been avoiding cleaning out those baskets for a very, very long time, particularly the one all the way to the left. 

I have been coloring on top of the sum total of my fertility journey. That box/drawer/basket contains all the pictures I have of embryos. All the surgical pictures. All the protocol sheets I saved, all the bills for tax purposes and FSA purposes, informational sheets, the four notebooks full of notes on doctor's appointments, decision trees, and journals dedicated to daily journaling about each cycle. TWO FILLED JOURNALS OF CYCLE NOTES FROM ALL THOSE IVF CYCLES WE DID. Every card, flower delivery card, amazon gift note, or invoice from a gift or condolence gesture we ever received for our losses or canceled cycles. And at the very bottom, every hospital bracelet I ever wore for a procedure related to IVF, be it a retrieval, a hysteroscopy, the laparoscopy to remove my ectopic pregnancy and tube, or transfer. 

It's a lot of grief in that box. And I wanted it close to our daily life for some reason. I have a friend, who I met through a mutual connection and who is in an adoption journey herself, and the first time we met in person was at a craft store because she wanted to help me figure out how to finagle that stuff in a healthier way, where I could corral it and honor it in a scrapbook maybe and then put it somewhere where I could see it if I wanted to but it wasn't so central to daily living. I never did it. 

Well, she is going to be so stinking proud of me because since we need to move all the furniture for the couch delivery to happen, we had to empty that coffee table, and I bought a pretty butterfly box and I put everything in an organized way into it and then put it out of the way: 

Look how organized and put away that is. 

Such a pretty box for such an emotional bomb. 
Except, I did throw something out, and it was a huge step for me: 

Why on earth do I need to keep these? NOTHING good happened while I was wearing these. Adios, strange grief relics. I release you to the landfill. 
It was sad in a weird way to drop them all in the trash, and then I tied that sucker up and threw it in the bin outside so there was no panicky grabbing them back, and then I felt so much lighter. It was like letting go of some of the weight of that journey, of what those procedures wrought on my poor body, and for no tangible result. So I release them. And with them, a little weight from my grief. 

I was proud of myself for not going through all the things when I put it in the box. I just organized what went there and then put it in the nook behind the glider, for now. There's room for more stuff to go into the box if I so choose, but for now it's encapsulated and out of our daily living space. 

Also, these were in the far right drawer and on the other side: 

This is easily three years of this publication.
I have had a subscription to this magazine for no joke, five years. It was a hopeful thing in the mailbox. Until it wasn't anymore. I have razored so many pages from it that my Baby Binder is in need of a possible second volume, and when I got to that point and didn't feel any closer to an actual baby for whom to use it all as a reference...I stopped razoring. I stopped reading it. It was just too painful. And I sure didn't want to set up a second Baby Binder for a mythical baby. But they kept coming. And I felt it was a bad omen to stop the subscription, even though YOU CAN TOTALLY START A NEW SUBSCRIPTION FOR JUST AS CHEAP WHEN A BABY ARRIVES. 

So when the one on top came, and I saw that adorable little girl and could envision her as mine, in some reality where we got chosen, it was too much. It was Good Friday and I was exhausted and it was the last straw. I just thought, WHY AM I DOING THIS TO MYSELF EVERY MONTH? and then I realized how easy it is to cancel the subscription online and I wondered why I'd held myself hostage for so long like this was the most insurmountable task ever. But I did it, and now I won't get them anymore unless I actually need them. In the meantime, I need to find a place for them -- what are some places where you can donate two to three years of a magazine like that? I feel like just recycling them is a waste. However, I don't want them in my house for much longer. Thoughts? 

So that, my friends, is pretty considerable progress. We even went out to dinner both Friday and Saturday night (Mexican Friday, German Saturday) and I did not feel overwhelmed or overly sad. We are working our way through our decision making process, which is really decision made and just waiting to see what happens between now and then. It's exhausting making all this progress. But I'm proud nonetheless. It is so wonderful to feel lighter. To feel less weighed down. To feel like I've smashed the mask. Sometimes I find myself crafting a new one, and I think I'll always struggle with that. If I just keep smashing it, it will be okay. It is hard to realize that, to paraphrase a meme a friend posted on social media, my rockbottom had a basement. But now I'm climbing back up, and hopefully no matter what life will be a much brighter place for it. 


  1. This is a lot of hard work you've been tackling. So much of it fruitful, but none the less hard to do. I'm glad you are tackling all of this. Taking steps to explore and be at peace. And the letting go. Ah to the novels that can be written.

    May your garden bloom. May you continue to feel lighter. And keep smashing that mask

    1. Thank you so much. It is a LOT to tackle. I am a bit worried about adding work back into the mix and continuing to tackle, but I did some of the hardest things while I had not much else going on. Oh, peace and letting go. Things that are just ongoing processes without end, I think. Not getting over but getting through. And through and through and through.

      Thank you, my garden has new treats each day it seems, and I am definitely lighter. I hope I can function and be mask-free as I finish out the school year. Especially now that I know the ultimate cost of the mask...

  2. Letting go can be so hard, but sometimes just clearing our life of all these reminders of grief is so good for us. I actually spent the day yesterday cleaning out my closet and finally put my sister-in-law's hoodie that I've been keeping out in the back of the closet in a bag and it felt good to put some of the grief with it.

    Sending you hugs and love as always as continue making progress on this journey <3

    1. Yes. I hang on to the weirdest things, and there is a peace and an unburdening in letting things go, or at least not having them be so visible. Oh, the hoodie. That must have been hard.

      Thanks for the hugs, right back atcha. It's one hell of a journey, and I so appreciate the love.

  3. You are doing such a great job Jess, when it absolutely has to be the last thing you would ever want to do, confronting all of this stuff. You have taken time out for yourself, and done some incredibly hard work, and that is so admirable. You are incredible and amazing and I honestly feel so privileged to get to know you.
    I hope that tomorrow is easy on your heart, returning to work and all of the care and concern, but I have a feeling those amazing students of yours are going to lift you up.
    I love the purging of things, the new furniture, and hiring landscape help. It's amazing how small things like a pretty garden can be so damn good for your soul. (I just put in a few bright orange pixie lilies on a bare corner and they have made me ridiculously happy)

  4. Letting go is so hard, but when you put down the heavy load that has filled your arms for so long, you can embrace the joy that will come. I love this post. It's so full of hope. May you find much joy!

  5. I've just been catching up. I'm really sorry to hear about the horrible side effects from prednisolon and how all the stress from everything was getting on top of you.. I'm glad to read that you have had some time off from work now and are focusing on self care. Great about the new therapist too. I totally understand your reasons for reading the Life without baby book. A lot of those things you posted from it resonated with me too. I follow quite a few blogs of women who are childfree for whatever reason, mostly not by choice, and I think it is good for me to see that life can still go on and be good whatever path you end up on. I've also been trying to prepare myself a little for all outcomes. Great that your principal is so supportive by the way. You sound like you really go above and beyond as a teacher and it's nice that it's been noticed. Sending love!

  6. All of these things sound like great ways to help you work through your feelings and to help you feel a bit lighter. I know that you think that recycling the magazines would be a waste, but I bet it would feel pretty good to put that whole stack in the recycling bin.

    1. Thank you -- I read this and was like, YES, THAT WOULD FEEL GOOD and so they are gone, off to be recycled in a Trader Joe's bag, they left this morning. And it does feel good to have them gone, although I did briefly think about offering them to a neighbor but then realized I had no idea how to explain why I was getting rid of three years of Parents Magazine...

  7. Glad you are feeling more like yourself and that you have had this time to delve into processing your experiences and grief. You have done a lot of good work and I hope you feel the strength from it. Hope this new start carries you through the rest of the school year. Summer will be here soon and you will have a longer break to continue to rest and heal.

    As for the table, it helped to hold things that needed a space until you were ready to revisit them. I think it is a good thing that you didn't dump them too soon or on someone else's time table. You went through the items when you were ready, had a more clear mind and being present. You can feel good in honoring those items you decided to keep and to have no regret in those items you decided to let go. You earned that freeing feeling. Use it to move forward, wherever that may be.

    A few years ago, I made an inside/outside box and it really helped me to let go of a lot of things, emotionally and physically. Your box kind of reminds me of that. Here is the post I wrote :

    1. Thank you for sharing this post. It was beautiful, and heartbreaking, and I loved your box. I also love what you say about my coffee table storage, and summer. I am SO looking forward to the rejuvenation of summer.

  8. This is all so good. I am so glad your meds are working for you and you're feeling more you. I am so glad you have a quittin' date so you don't have to live in this eternal wait, and I hope it's a date you're fully comfortable with. I am so glad you are finding ways to feel less stagnant. I know how stifling it is. I am so glad you felt ready to put that stuff away.

  9. You're doing so many things right! I wish dh had hired someone to mow the lawn years ago; he absolutely hated it (and we had a big back yard -- for the kids, you know...!) and it was a big reason why he wanted to move into a condo.

    Your pile of Parents magazines reminds me of a similiar pile I had beside my bed of Martha Stewart Baby magazines (she had a baby magazine for a brief time). I hadn't even read most of them, and at some point after we'd decided to end treatment, I finally dumped the whole pile into the recycling bin. It was sad (and embarrassing -- all that money & I never even read most of them...!) and liberating at the same time.