The Birds Saved Me

Two years this May is my anniversary, if you will, of being diagnosed with major depressive disorder, also known as clinical depression. At the time, I hadn’t realized it was mental health awareness month and how fitting it was that I was finally going to see someone about this problem I’d had, hid, and endured for far too long. And even in going to see my primary care health professional, I had gone in with the mindset that it must have been just stress and anxiety that was plaguing me. But after spewing my guts out to her, and sobbing for a good half an hour, she made me gently realize that no one was supposed to feel as awful as I was for as long as I had been. And thus began my journey into accepting my, and now advocating for mental health awareness.

I can’t speak for every person suffering from some sort of mental health issue. Every person, and every issue is so very different. But I can say with 100% certainty that what I can say for every person dealing with a mental illness is that there isn’t nearly enough information, awareness, and understanding about the struggles so many people with mental illnesses face each day. And I can also say that this needs to end.

And the best way for this to awareness to grow is by those of us living with or loving people with mental illnesses to speak up about their experiences. Because maybe, if one more person can see that they’re not alone in the way they’re feeling, that they’re not broken or hopeless, and that there are people who care about them and will support them, then that’s one more person to get help and then share their experiences so even more can benefit.

While I know I’ve shared bits and pieces of my story before, there’s always more. So, here’s a little bit you perhaps didn’t know before.

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Many people who are close to me know that I love birds. I love having my feeders out and full each day so that I can watch the wild backyard birds in my neighborhood congregate and eat. I know each species that comes frequently, what their calls are, their habits, their mating patterns. I watch for my favorites, and am worried about them when the weather takes a nasty turn. I revel in seeing the babies each spring and summer, and am heartbroken when I find one that has smashed against our dining room window and didn’t make it. I’ve downloaded apps, bought books, joined groups, and researched websites all to learn as much as I possibly can about these amazing animals. And they are. I know this now having studied them for two years. But I didn’t always know this or care at all to learn about them.

If you’ve known me longer than two years, you might wonder when I suddenly became so obsessed with birds. My daughter certainly did, and asked me as such not long ago. “Why are you so into birds all of a sudden?” I think was the exact phrasing. And my answer was this: they saved me.

Two years ago, before I was ready or capable of admitting I was depressed, but was in the deep, dark hole of it, I found myself learning how to mentally check out. I would stare into nowhere, almost like an out of body experience because it was so much nicer than to be present with my feelings. Being numb to everyone and everything was far more desirable than feeling angry, desolate, useless, and out of control. So, I would leave my body where it was, and allow my mind to cozy up into a fuzzy blanket, and ignore the world.

It was during this time, early spring, that when I would check out during meals, I would turn my head and gaze toward the window and stare outside. Well, I imagine you needn’t be a birder to know that many birds start migrating back into our area during this time. And so, as I was trying to check out, a flash of color or a song would catch my eye or ears, and pull me back in. It began happening so frequently that eventually I simply couldn’t ignore it anymore. There they were, flitting here and there, dragging dried grass for their nests, or showing off to attract a mate. And always, always looking for food.

It was at that time as well that my dad put out a couple of simple feeders, and began filling them with seed. And still I would watch. I’d watch and see how different birds preferred different seeds. How some were ground feeders, while others preferred to eat while perched. Some were aggressive, and scared the other birds away, while others waited patiently until most all the other birds flew off, and then picked at the remains.

I watched and watched, and as I watched, I found myself being inside of myself for longer and longer periods of time. And the more I was aware of my emotions, the more I started realizing that I couldn’t continue to live this way. It was either I find help or I lose everything by permanently shutting myself off from everyone else. Everyone I loved. Luckily for me, I was able to recognize that, and did get help.

So, when I say that the birds saved me, it’s not because of some profound realization I had about them, or some meaningful connection I made between us. They saved me because their presence caused me to slowly creep out of the grayness of my mind and thus forced me to recognize that how I was living was unhealthy. I was able to begin a path of recovery, which to be honest, I don’t think will ever end. There is a distinct difference between major depressive disorder and situational depression, and therefore different treatments, which is a topic for another day. But part of the treatment I found was in connecting with something outside of my immediate bubble. And in doing that, finding that perhaps I wasn’t too far gone yet that I couldn’t be brought back. It allowed me to be cognizant enough of my own needs that I was still able to recognize that how I was feeling and how I was acting was not healthy, and so changed all that.

It’s been two migrations and eight seasons since the birds unknowingly filled a void in me that no one knew was there. And they continue to be a salve for me on days when everything still feels wrong.

I love my family. I love my friends. And I cannot express my sincerest gratitude for those who have expressed their care and understanding to me. My love for all of you is immeasurable. But these birds…they are really the ones I owe everything too. Because they don’t even really know I exist, they ask for nothing, they require nothing from me. They don’t want to solve my problems or feel inadequate if their attempts at making me happy fall flat. They simply are. And in their being, I can just be with them. And thankfully, those who love me best know this, and know now to just leave me be with my birds when they see that look in my eyes. Because they know that I’ve found my way of coping. And their love for me respects this therapy of sorts.

Because it is therapy. It may not be exactly conventional or backed in some scientific study, but it’s good for my mind and soul nonetheless. And I firmly believe that whatever it takes, so long as one’s choice of coping or therapy does not inflict further harm on themselves or others, then so be it. We all need different things, and respond different ways. And there’s no right way to live with mental illness.

You do you, my boy

Looking back at my birthday reflection from last year, my words now feel so ironic. I remarked on how Ollie was an ever-steady personality, that change hadn’t come much over the last year. And now I think about his year 5-6 and see how it was THE year of change for him. Beautiful, hard, deeply important change. He had some major battles, and his success was hard-fought and deservedly won, and I couldn’t be prouder of him for who he has become.

As was evident in his last birthday essay, Ollie struggled a bit with leaving me at school for some of the year while in Pre-K. He worried I wouldn’t come back or that he would be left alone forever. By early spring, I thought that issue had nipped itself in the bud; but, almost right after his 5th birthday, his anxiety came rushing back unexpectedly and with a fierce vengeance.

It seemed so startling at first because it was almost like over night he went from being reluctantly happy to see me go, to him being completely distraught all over again. Everyone in his life wracked their brains trying to figure out what was eating at him, but no one could pinpoint one single thing. Was it the first death in our family that made him ask me what would happen if I died? Was it his body finally realizing it couldn’t keep up with the pace of school and causing him to become overly sensitive? Was it something he’d seen on tv, something someone said, something we couldn’t imagine? Was it none of the above?

It was emotionally exhausting trying to figure out why he was suddenly clinging to me and sobbing when I tried to go anywhere without him, whether it be to school or just to the grocery store while he stayed home with grandma. It was so unlike him and it worried me to no end.

Finally, I took him to the doctor who suggested he see a psychologist. And after waiting almost a month to get him in, that he did. We spent our summer seeing his psychologist about once every 10 days. And eventually it began to make a difference. He started becoming less and less fearful, better and better with leaving me. And as tiresome as it was to maintain unflinching patience with him when I just needed to go to the store for 30 minutes, I think it ultimately helped a bit.

Until it didn’t anymore.

Until one day out of the blue he began again to act as though I would leave him forever. With no provocation, other than our push for him to be more independent. We saw he could and so we encouraged him to continue to do so. But he pushed back. And I feared he’d never get better.

Until he did.

And not because he saw the psychologist more often or because we tried more therapies. Because in truth, I was so tired of going to the psychologist about once every week just to see him show the same behaviors day in and day out that I finally made the decision to stop taking him. And maybe it’s not the type of thing that’s recommended because we didn’t phase him out, we just stopped. But it’s what we ultimately decided to do.

But you know what, after we just stopped, and told him we stopped because we saw he had gotten so much better and thought he didn’t need to go anymore, he really did get even better. It was almost as if he needed to believe that he had it in him to do whatever he needed to do. That it wasn’t that someone had to be there telling him how to manage himself, he could do it all on his own.

And I really think this was a turning point for him. This  was back in September, almost halfway through his year 5, and only a few weeks into our new homeschooling lifestyle that this happened. But after that point, instead of him assuming he needed to be taught everything or shown  or assisted in doing everything, he suddenly began believing he could do anything. And he began creating his own learning experiences and his own projects. And it felt, to me at least, that he was suddenly on his way. Just like it seemed that overnight he curled into himself and began feeling afraid and insecure, overnight he sprang from that mindset and went back to being his true self again.

And because I overthink everything, I’ve been trying to figure out what it was exactly that allowed this to happen. And the more I think and the more I read and the more I embrace this new way of living we’ve chosen, the more I realize that what it was that changed him was simply time. Time to simply grow up.

Now what I’m about to say may not be an opinion that sits well with everyone. And I mean this in no way to be judgmental. But it’s something I’ve come to believe very deeply over the last year since I began researching homeschooling. And now that I’ve seen my own children benefit from this way of life, I absolutely believe it to be truth. At the very least, our truth.

Kids are little for such a precious short time. And we in America seem to value achievement and competition so much that we impose these things on our youngest people and in a way that can , and often does, create irrevocable harm to them. We push them into schools, for many of them, not long after they’ve become potty-trained. We’ve traded daycare for preschool. School. For babies. We take away their time to play, experiment, discover, be free and push them to “learn”, to read, to write, to achieve more and more, outdo their peers. We take away nap time and story time and time to be messy and fall and hurt themselves for the “safety” of a room with tiny chairs and tables that they’re asked to spend most of their day at, sitting, doing as their told. And then we wonder why children act out or “fall behind” or any of the myriad other complaints we have about our children in schools these days. We impose unnatural circumstances and behaviors on our children and then fail to see why they don’t thrive.

And trust me, I’m no better than anyone else who has put their child into schools. I too pushed for them to read better and more when I saw they naturally could sooner than most. I felt pride when their teachers told me they were well-behaved or had good grades. Because that is what I was conditioned to believe.

But now, getting off my soapbox. I can see so damn clearly now that what Ollie needed more than anything else this past year was just time to mature. Time to be 5, to be barely more than a baby. Time to grow at his pace and at his comfort level. Time for him to take his own risks when he chose. To learn more about himself and his world when he was ready. When HE was ready.

And now he is ready. Now he’s back to being his silly, joyful, curious little self. It was heartbreaking seeing my usually happy, confident little boy reduced to fear, sadness, uncertainty, and involuntary tics, and thinking there was nothing we could do. And it feels so amazing now to know that the only thing he really needed was nothing. Nothing but us to be there, to love him, to believe in him, and to let him do what he needed to do when he needed to do it.

And now he’s ever the more not my baby boy. He’s grown so tall, and seemingly over night grown into a little man’s body with no more chubs hanging around his tummy or thighs. He’s strong, and sharp, and beautiful. He’s still got his smile that warms your soul, and a penetrating, knowing look, like his father, that bores into your core.

And he still has a sense of adventure, and to be honest, recklessness. He can’t quite decide if he wants to drive submarines when he grows up, or be an astronaut. He wants to build rockets, and discover new species of fish deep in the ocean. Of course, he might also like to be a veterinarian or a locksmith like his dad. And he wants to have kids someday but only if he doesn’t have to get married. And he still doesn’t care if Barbies are “for girls” or not. He loves Linda, his Barbie, and he’ll be damned if you try to make him feel otherwise.

And I’ll be damned if anyone, including myself, ever tries to make him feel, or act, or do anything he doesn’t feel ready for ever again. He trusts me with every ounce of his being to be the person who knows him the best and has nothing but his best interest at heart. And I will never let him down again.

And so, my Bubba-Boy, my heart, my love., a very happy 6th birthday to you. Even though I can’t quite wrap my head around you being 6 already, I will not wallow in sadness over 6 years gone because I know you have so many more to go. And I plan on seeing you though all of them as your biggest fan and greatest support. You continue to build your towers and then crash them down. You peg off your Beanie Boos with your nerf guns and then dress Linda up in her finest. You continue to feel the pride you deserve in reading aloud to us those silly adventures of Elephant and Piggie. You continue to run amok with your friends (real, honest to goodness friends), and challenge yourself to be your most authentic you. You are a beautiful force to be reckoned with, with a spirit and soul to rival no other.

Get your fill of Cheez-its and whatever other junk food your heart desires today because it’s your day. I love you, little buddy. Here’s to another year of you.

I’m not a poet, and we all need one 

What does one say on a day like this? On a day when nothing else seems amiss.

 
The puffs of white still pour out of cars as people drive off to work.

The chickadees still sing their dee-dee-dee from the trees.

My cats still lounge by the heater, leisurely giving themselves baths.

The sun has risen and set,

And we’re all still here.

 

And yet there’s a shift,
A crack,

A fissure,

A change.
Everything is the same and yet it isn’t.

Everyone is the same, even though we’ll never be the same again.

And I can’t find the words we all need to hear.

Unplugging 

Sometimes I think back to years past when no one had cell phones, and especially not internet access in the palms of their hands, and I wonder what the hell we did with ourselves. Then again, I also think these pieces of pint-sized technology are the worst thing to happen to us as people. Ironic, considering I’m typing this on my iPhone right now. 

But hear me out. Yes, it’s amazing and incredibly helpful sometimes to have the world and all its wonders at our fingertips. But what that also means is that often times we’re so wrapped up in it that we miss what’s going on right in front of our faces. And we often forget that what other people are doing or saying mostly has no bearing on our own lives. 

But we continue to make ourselves apart of it, even knowing this. Why? I don’t have an answer to this myself. All I know is how I can now see it affects me. And that is this: it’s unhealthy. 

And I’m not talking about potential cancers and tumors from putting my phone up against the side of my head or in my bra (hey, sometimes I don’t have pockets, ok?). I’m not talking about how it may affect our eyesight or how it can cause insomnia. I’m not even talking about how being on our phones more means we’re moving less, which in turn means we’re gaining more weight. Even though, yes, those are all issues people worry about. 

What makes these expensive pieces of plastic and metal most unhealthy, for me at least, is how much they affect my mental health. How addictive they’ve become. How obsessive they make me. How much anxiety they produce. And anyone who knows me knows I don’t need anymore of this shit in my life. 

And yes, I know it’s my fault. I didn’t actually need to buy a smartphone. And I don’t actually need to visit the myriad apps, websites, and social media outlets that I do on a daily basis. No one actually forced me to do these things. So I’m not looking to place blame on anyone else but myself. 

And considering I know that I have anxiety and depression, and often worry unnecessarily about things others probably don’t even think about; and, considering I feel everything so much more strongly–especially sadness, worry, and inequality–you’d think I would know better than to allow myself to get hooked on the internet. But even though I do know better, I don’t stop it. I’m fairly sure no heroin junkie plans on getting hooked. It just happens. After a series of increasingly destructive behaviors, it just happens. 

And so I think it happens to us all. But I can only speak of myself with absolute certainty. I can say with this resoluteness that I need to let it all go. The social media has to stop for me. For now? For forever? I don’t really know. I only know that I can’t keep on like this. 

And that is so fucking nerve wrecking for me. I wish you could feel my pulse as I write this. 

What if I miss something? 

What if someone tries to send me an important message, and I don’t see it in time?

Won’t someone possibly get upset if I don’t like or comment on something they’ve posted? 

Will anyone even know I’m absent?

Those are just some of my worries. Some irrational. Some not. And really just some of the worries and thoughts I have about “unplugging” myself. 

But, see, the thing is that since this election, I’ve been trying to keep up on everything politics related. It’s my duty as an American, and one that cares even more so. But the more I read and watch, the worse I feel. And the worse I feel, the more I carry this over into what is my actual life. And I’m just sick of letting these things clog up my thoughts and suck up my time. I just can’t do it anymore. 

And I know that right now is not the best time to give up, that it’s a time to purposefully be aware. But I can’t. 

I’m just not that brave, not that committed. I am that scared. And I am that worried. And I am feeling that hopeless and helpless. I’m just not feeling like a social justice crusader. I’m feeling that a lot of days it takes every bit of my concentration and effort merely to keep my small little piece of the world still functioning. And right now it feels like I can’t give any more. 

So I hate to be a whiner. And I hate to defer to someone else, but I think I need to let the fighters keep fighting, and let myself slink into the background. Because, truthfully, we can’t all be all things all of the time. And right now I know that looking at these things day in and day out is giving me such intense anxiety and making me teeter dangerously close to the edge of a depressive relapse that I have no choice but to back off. I can’t breathe anymore, and I have to save myself. Selfish or not, it’s what I need to do. 

I need to surround myself with kitties and books and my kids’ smiles. And I’m not going to allow myself to feel guilty because of it. 

I admire you, fighters. I admire you so much. And I respect you beyond words. And many days I wish I was you. But I’m not. And that’s just got to be ok. 

So on the eve of a historical inauguration, I think I’m bidding social media adieu for now. For how long I do not know. I imagine not forever. But long enough to rewire my brain and refocus my needs and priorities. And long enough to reevaluate how best to spend my time. 

And hopefully that means reading more books instead of heartsickening news articles. And writing more of my long overdue book instead of comments to and about people who will never see things my way. And hopefully being more present when my kids are doing something or saying something instead of having the back of my mind wondering what’s going on in my newsfeed. 

And hopefully it means making my way back to social media in a healthier mindset and with a more balanced approach to being a part of this part of our world. 

I will have tonight be my last hurrah for now, and start anew in the morning.

Deep breath.

In Denial of Being in Denial

It was  Monday morning, and I was settling down to the dining room table with my pumpkin spice coffee steaming in my favorite mug, getting ready to teach my daughter her first class of the day, both of our least favorite: math. We complete math first so that we both have the patience of not being over tired from other classes to give math the attention it needs. And usually it goes pretty well. She may grumble a bit, or I may have to retrace my steps to make sure I haven’t made a simple computational error (which I’m known to do). But usually math doesn’t cause too many problems for us.

Today, however, it was quite the learning moment for us both. Perhaps more so for me than her.

You see, I gave her a final project assignment for multiple digit addition and subtraction, and place value that I thought was really cool, and applicable to the real world. Because, seriously, anyone who is not full of joy to work out some numbers needs all assignments to have real-world application. She was challenged with planning a sleepover party, and needing to budget both her money and time between activities. Initially she was really excited to work on this. She dove right into the planning of what she would want to do. Rent a movie or go to he movies? What kind of pizza and what size to buy? Should we have pizza before or after the movie? She was all abuzz over these decisions. But as soon as I asked her to figure out which pizza deal was better, and if she’d have enough money for each plan, her face fell. I hadn’t said anything else when I could see the tears welling up in her eyes. What the hell just happened? I wondered to myself. What did I do??

I didn’t want to rock the boat any harder, for fear of collapse, so I just silently watched her as she started adding pizza and pop prices together. And I continued to say nothing until she was finished, even when I saw her make an easy mistake of not carrying and adding the one, hoping she’d catch it herself.

She didn’t.

So, when she looked up at me from her paper, I had to tell her to recheck her solution to problem A. You’d swear that what I asked her instead was “Can you solve 2x+3y-9(16+4b)=. (I don’t even know if that’s a legitimate math problem, and if so what the fuck the answer would be). As soon as I asked her to check her answer again, the delicate balance of tears on her bottom eyelid toppled, and down flowed her frustrations from her cheeks to her paper. I knew then that I was fucked. There was no way she was going to go any further in this assignment today.

So, instead of pushing her to finish the work, I asked her to set her pencil down, and without shrugging, and using her words, tell me why she’s so upset. My kids hate when I do this, but I refuse to let them shrug and try to force me to drop the subject. Nope, not this mama. We’re talking this shit out.

Perhaps because she’s been though this so many times and is sick of me, knowing I can outlast her silence any day; or, perhaps because she really was ready to talk, she actually opened her mouth and squeaked out a “It’s just so hard.”

Huh? I’ve seen her do much harder work than adding a pizza and a pop together. How was this hard?

“What’s so hard, Lil? This was simple addition, which I’ve seen you do so many times before.”

“But I got it wrong. And I always get something wrong. And I hate getting it wrong.”

Now we were getting somewhere. I inhaled and exhaled fully and slowly, just like yoga taught me to in a situation when talking right away is not necessary or advantageous. I looked at her picking at her cuticles, avoiding eye contact with me, and suddenly understood who she was. She was me. And it was not only shocking, but also very disheartening to realize. My heart ached for her because I knew exactly who she was and why this math problem had become so monumentally huge and terrifying for her.

Having anxiety is a motherfucking bitch. It’s crippling at times, and the longer it goes unchecked, the worse it becomes. And it doesn’t give a shit if you tell it to go away or if people tell you that you should just ignore it or get over it, or that you’re too old, or smart, or capable to have to deal with it. Nope. That asshole latches on and Does. Not. Let. Go.

So because I know all of this already, but my sweet little girl is just figuring it out, I couldn’t have just told her, “Lil, it’s fine. It’s just a math problem. It’s not life or death.” Because for her in that moment, it felt like it. So, instead, I said, “I know, Lil. I really do. It feels like shit, and I hate it too. But what does feel  better is acknowledging it. Talk to me, Pookie Girl, so I can try to help you.”

I don’t think this was what she was expecting. I think she had already made up her mind that I would try to dismiss it away so that we could get back to work. So it took her a second to switch gears and decide how she was going to explain herself to me.

“It’s just like taking a test. I’m always last. And everyone is always done way before me. And then I feel like they’re looking at me, and waiting for me to be done. And then I don’t even finish because I don’t want to be last. I don’t want them looking at me. And then I get a lot wrong because I don’t finish. So then I don’t even try different next time.”

Well, fuck.

I couldn’t talk. My face was pinched as tightly as my throat was. I couldn’t talk because she had just put my whole life into her words. And I had no idea what to say to her. How was I supposed to tell her to carry on and move forward when I can’t do that myself? How could I be an inspiration when I was so damn stuck in this, too?

So, for better or worse, what I did do was tell her the truth. I told her that I too was always one of the last to finish tests.

And that I hate going out in public, especially doing things I’m not comfortable with because I imagine everyone is watching me and judging. I don’t go running like I want to because everyone will know I’m out of shape, and laugh at me. I don’t go to yoga class because everyone will know I can’t get myself into the more advanced poses.

I told her that anxiety has gotten me so badly that it literally has made me physically ill. That every job interview I’ve ever gone on, I’ve been on the verge of puking or passing out the whole time, and that I walked out thinking I was an utter failure. And the times I didn’t get the job only perpetuated that notion, leaving me feeling worse and worse as the revolving door of interviews kept turning.

That when I finished my Master’s degree, a professor I had told me I should really consider going on to get my Ph. D., but that I would never do it because I don’t think I’m smart enough.

That for as long as I’ve been self aware, I’ve loved stories. And as soon as I could write, I began writing my own. And there’s not much else in this world that I want to do but write and publish a book. But I don’t follow through because I’m pretty sure I’m a hack, and that no one will want to read it. And it’s just so much easier to hide and not take that chance than to face the reality of feeling so wholly inadequate.

I told her that living with these fears has left me with so many regrets and what ifs. I’ve held myself back because I was too afraid. And who knows what I might have denied myself because of it. I told her the longer you refuse to acknowledge your fears and anxieties, the bigger they grow until they overpower any will you have left.

I told her I wanted so much more for her than I have ever wanted for myself. And I told her I would do anything at all for her to show her she could do it.

She then asked me, “So weren’t you writing a book last year?” I replied that I was. “What did you do with it?” I told her that I stopped. And when she asked me why, I could only tell her the truth. I stopped because I didn’t think it was any good. I quit because I was scared. I quit.

She put her hand on top of mine, and said, “But you said we’re not quitters. That life will always be hard, but we can’t quit because what would be the point then.”

Oof, right to the gut with that one. I guess she does listen to me after all. And what could I say to that? She was right. I do say that. And I say that because I don’t want her to give up on herself when things get tough because I know firsthand what that is like. But here we were having to confront the fact that I talk a good talk but haven’t been walking the walk.

All I could muster was another, “Yeah, you’re right, Lil.” Weak, I know. But what else could I say?

And then she came at me with the one-two punch.

“But you just said you quit your book. You don’t know it wasn’t good. What if it was good? I know that my math isn’t good, but you want me to keep going. That’s not fair.”

True. It’s not fair. And it’s not how I want her to see me.

“So, if I don’t quit my math, you can’t quit either. I’d read your book, even if you did think it wasn’t any good.”

My heart.

My beautiful, brilliant, amazingly loving and true little girl. My life. My reason for doing everything. My reality check.

So I smiled, and thanked her for saying she’d read my book, and promised her that I would look at it again, and see where I could move forward with it. And when she asked if I had blogged recently, I and I told her no, she very pointedly told me that I could start there, that I needed to practice my writing if I thought it wasn’t good enough.

I couldn’t love her any more if I tried.

And after I told her I would. That I would write something today, she picked up her pencil, and finished reworking the math problem she’d gotten wrong. My brave girl.

So I guess the lesson my daughter taught me today, instead of me teaching her something as expected, is that being in denial of being in denial is bullshit. I’m not fooling anyone, least of all myself. And if she can tell her anxiety to pack it up and out, the least I can do is try to do the same myself.

You see, when I was 23 and trying to get pregnant, I heard from so many people in my life that I was too young, that I had no reason to get pregnant yet. But somewhere inside of me, I knew that I needed her. I didn’t know who she was yet, but I knew that this baby, whomever it turned out to be would give my life greater  purpose. What I didn’t know, however, was how much she would ultimately save me.

 

 

My Ovaries and I: A Story of TMI

It’s 5:23 p.m., and I’ve already completed making dinner, teaching my kids, and grocery shopping; and, am only mildly tired. This is quite a new experience for me. Especially considering I have my period, and I’m usually wiped out to the point of utter exhaustion. Like can’t even be awake right now. But today I’m not. And there’s a reason why. And no, it’s not coffee.

Weight struggles have always been a part of my life. I was once a very tiny person. When I was a child, I was short and very thin. I used to revel in sucking in my stomach to reveal ribs jutting out like those you see on exaggerated cartoons of people on dessert islands. In a family of mostly larger people, I was a bit of an anomaly. But, alas, I did not stay this way.

Sometime around puberty, I suddenly began putting on noticeable weight. I wasn’t exactly unhealthy, but anyone who paid attention could see that I was definitely filling out. “It’s just baby weight,” I’d be told by my parents. Of course I didn’t assume otherwise. But as my “baby” years waned, and my weight did not, I started to feel self-conscious about it.

By 7th grade, one of my childhood best friends and I had mastered the art of sucking our stomachs in to appear to be as thin as the pretty, popular girls. I remember getting a quickie physical in order to sign up for a YMCA-type camp (That I ultimately didn’t go to), and hearing that I was 107 lbs. I was 12. I was blown away. How in the hell had I tipped past 100 lbs. already? I was horrified.

And that is just one of many examples over my almost 34 years of my struggles with my weight and body image. Not that I always felt badly about myself. I’ve had plenty of moments in my life when I’ve looked in the mirror and was happy to be me. And plenty of other times when others have affected me in a positive way–not to put too much impact on how others’ perceptions of oneself should influence one’s view of oneself. Like my early teenagehood boyfriend telling me I was too pretty to need makeup, and he liked my face just as it was. Or complete strangers telling me I had the most beautiful eyes they’d ever seen. Or I had a booty other women would die for. All of these things are great and all, but I almost feel like they were told to me at my peak of physical attractiveness.

Now I am still a 5’2” woman, but have certainly flown by that initially horrid 107 lbs. mark. And I’m working toward accepting who I am and not fixating on what other women look like. I’m trying so hard to be brave about it all. So…big breath here…I can say that as of this morning, my scale told me that I am 171 lbs. Did I mention that my scale is an asshole?

Anyone who knows anything about human health knows that this puts me on the wrong side of the obese line. And I’m sure my BMI would indicate I’m going to die any moment. But I can say that my blood pressure is excellent, my blood sugar is well within normal, and my cholesterol is just fine. So, all in all, despite being quite overweight, I’m mostly healthy.

Except I do have a shit-ton (yes, that’s an actual scientific measurement) of hormonal problems. What it all amounts to is that I’m basically 34 and going through early menopause. I have what’s now called premature ovarian failure, which is what they call pre-menopause for women my age. I suppose they think that menopause sounds so awful we’d rather be told our ovaries are failures.

What so many people my age don’t know, however, is that it’s not simply just that my ovaries are unable to produce a well-developed egg, thus rendering me sterile. Hormones are so much a part of the human body systems that an imbalance in them causes all sorts of issues. For example:

Adult-onset acne; headaches; fatigue; sensitivity to cold; hot flashes and night sweats; mood disorders; poor muscle mass; osteoporosis; and weight gain and/or inability to lose weight (amongst other things). Oh, joy.

Which makes so much damn sense now that I know what my problem is. I only wish I knew it sooner. Like when it likely began. Like 5 years ago when Ollie was born. Maybe then I could have done something about it before I got to this level of discomfort.

You see, besides being 20 lbs. heavier than before I was pregnant with Ollie, I have also had to deal with a slew of other issues. Some of which are listed already for you above. What tipped me off, though, was my irregular periods. Those led to other symptoms down the line. But considering my thyroid is ok, I had to assume my wacky cycles had something to do with my female hormones.

And for so long (before I knew what was what), I did nothing but berate myself for not being strong enough or determined enough to lose weight. I could work my ass off and practically starve myself and lose just a few pounds. I could work out like normal people, and eat nothing but healthy, nutritious food, and still, the scale would barely budge. It seemed like nothing I did made any damn difference, which was really hard to swallow.

Because it wasn’t just that I felt I was unattractive. It was more than that. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. I felt bloated and distorted. And I worried like hell for my health. And the longer this went on, the worse I felt. Too tired to even try to care anymore. And terrified that this would never end.

Until recently. I finally learned how to better advocate for myself to a doctor, and got blood tests done that finally gave me the answer to why I’ve struggled for so long. And now that I do know exactly what’s going on with my body chemistry, I’m starting to do something about it.

Though my ob/gyn wanted me to take oral progesterone pills, I stopped after a week when they had made me a virtual insomniac. Instead, I’m taking a combo herbal supplement of natural ingredients that have research-backed proof of success with fixing hormonal imbalances, and a bioidentical progesterone cream. And it has been working wonders. So, please, do me a favor: If you don’t believe in this type of therapy, feel free to keep your thoughts to yourself. I’m not at all a person who is afraid of modern medical care, but I am educated enough to know it has severe limitations and blindspots. And, you know what, it’s working.

So here I am, only about 2 weeks into my new therapy, having already dropped 3 lbs. and having a bunch more energy. I’m no longer perpetually ready to pass out and simultaneously cranky as fuck. My appetite has leveled out, and I no longer crave mass amounts of sugar. I no longer have to constantly fight with myself because I feel healthier.

And really, that’s the point. To be healthier. To feel good. I’m used to being chubby. I’ve come to terms with it. My husband is a wonderful man who constantly tells me I’m not only beautiful, but sexy and desirable. I feel very lucky to have him. Because even when I look at myself and see nothing but flaws, he sees nothing but beauty.

So, hopefully over the next few months, I will continue to feel good, gain more energy, and lose the excess weight that my body doesn’t need.

Thanks for letting me get this weight off my chest…..Hahaha, I’m so corny. 🙂

 

 

I’ve put the photo below to help document my journey. I want to be honest and brave, and stick to the mission of this blog, but damn is it hard sometimes. So, yeah, I changed it from color to black and white. We can keep the color of my stretch marks something only I know. 🙂

 

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