Capture Your Grief, Day 31 – Sunset

Thank you for sticking with me as I spent the last month exploring my grief using these Capture Your Grief prompts. This prompted writing series certainly offered some new perspectives for me, and I look forward to building on the lessons that I uncovered as a result of this exercise.

Today’s post will be very short, but I didn’t want to let the sun set on this series, without telling you that I have lots more planned for this space in the coming months, so stay tuned!

See you back here soon!

Capture Your Grief, Day 30 – Reflection

You might have noticed that I’ve been skipping CYG here and there.  I’d apologize, but I’m not really sorry.  My youngest son has been sick on and off for the last 3 weeks and, in addition to  being busy taking care of him, my anxiety has been nearly unbearable. I’ve been taking it one day at a time, and haven’t had a lot of space in my heart for the vulnerability that comes with writing. It’s temporary, though, as you can see. After all, here I am.

We are finishing up the Capture Your Grief writing prompts. Tomorrow’s will be the last one. I’d like to say that I’ve enjoyed them, but the truth is that I sort of, well… didn’t. However, I do think that this series has been important for me. I’m terrible at feeling my feelings, and grief is an especially icky thing to force oneself to examine, but it is for this reason especially, that I have grown from doing this work. I haven’t had any huge breakthroughs, but these prompts have provided a platform for some small, but important revelations, and it is one of those revelations that I want to talk about today.

Last week, or maybe it was the week before… Hell, it could have been yesterday. When your child is sick, all the days just sort of run together. Anyways, at some point in the recent past, I was reflecting on the Capture Your Grief prompts, and how I spent a lot of them actually writing about anxiety. I felt a little like I messed them up, in that respect. I spent too much time thinking about anxiety, and not enough time thinking about grief. Then, it hit me -my anxiety and my grief are so tightly bound that it would be impossible to explore one, without exploring the other.

For example, I’ve recently been telling my therapist how I have had a hard time planning my youngest son’s 4th birthday party and the two reasons that I can come up with are, in a nutshell, Anxiety and Grief.

The first reason, is that both the intrusive and magical thinking which I experience as symptoms of my anxiety are trying to scare me into thinking that we aren’t going to make it to 4. For those of you who do not have anxiety, I just want you to think about that last sentence for a moment, because for a lot of mothers with PPA, this is a common issue/fear. My (perfectly healthy and strong) son’s 4th birthday is not just a given. I have trouble keeping faith that we will make it. In the words I used with my therapist, it feels cocky to believe that we will make it there. It feels arrogant and naive to believe that my son will do what humans do – that he will grow up. This is not me being “grateful for every day”, or “not taking life for granted”. No, no. Those things are great. This is not great. I am full-on paranoid about planning a party, or buying a larger bed, or buying 1 size up in clothing, because I am terrified that it won’t happen, or that it won’t be necessary. As I understand it, this is a pretty textbook example of intrusive thinking and magical thinking combined. Both are classic anxiety symptoms. Either way, it is every bit as awful as it sounds.

The second reason is related to the first, but has a deeper connection to grief. To put it simply, I am afraid to get my hopes up, because I don’t want to be disappointed. My therapist is the one who connected this to grief, and it was not until she discovered this link that I began to see just how intrinsically connected my anxiety and grief are.

You see, when we got pregnant with Clara, I was recovered from my first bout of PPA. I knew that having another baby meant risking another battle with anxiety, but I felt well supported and prepared. Getting pregnant took a lot of courage, and it also meant that I believed it was safe. I believed that it was safe to have another baby. I believed, truly believed, that things would be fine. I had learned to ignore the anxious voice in my brain until it was no more than a breath of a whisper. Being brave in the face of PPA and pregnant again was like hoisting a trophy over my head. I was radiant with victory.

And then we lost her.

It felt like the Universe was putting me back in my place. The disappointment was all-consuming. I felt ashamed for having hoped. I didn’t know it then, but I had begun to associate hope and planning for the future, with loss and disappointment. I had inadvertently connected hope with pain.

So, thanks to my brilliant goddess of a therapist, when I think about planning my son’s birthday party and feel that deep and guttural fear, I understand why. It hasn’t made the fear stop, but understanding why it is happening is the first step in the process of unraveling that connection. This is a perfect example of why I am such a huge proponent of therapy. I don’t think I ever would have made that connection on my own, but when she pointed it out, I felt a shift happen inside of me. I knew that she was uncovering something important. It wasn’t quite an ah-ha moment, but it was something, for sure.

If you are currently suffering from what you suspect might be anxiety or depression, please, please, see my Resources page (you can navigate to it from the teal colored menu, right under the header), and get started on finding a therapist in your area. Therapy saved me from Postpartum Anxiety once before, and it is, one day at a time, giving me my life back.

I’m looking forward to being able to plan for the future again. I know someday I will not be afraid to hope, and I can’t wait for that day to come.

Peace and love to you, friends.

Capture Your Grief, Day 27 – Self Portrait

IMG_20160216_205219

Life is a series of moments, and this is one of mine.

When I look at this photo, I see an invisible battle being waged.

I am living with an anxiety disorder, and every day, in almost every moment, I am fighting. I am fighting my anxious brain with my intellectual brain. I am fighting the terrifying voice which tells me that I have to use a certain coffee mug every morning, or say a certain phrase at bedtime, or else my child will die. The voice which somehow turns the most benign of tasks into life-altering decisions.

I see a woman falling through life, somehow managing to look like she generally has her shit together. On closer inspection, though, I see the chipped nail polish. I see the breakouts on her skin. I see the bags under her eyes. I know the larger stories these small details tell.

I see eyes which have known great loss, and great fear.

But, I see something else, too.

I see a woman who, despite the daily battle, works hard to advocate for women’s health issues, both mental and reproductive. I see a woman who has decided to own her story, rather than hide from it, because there is a chance that it could help someone. I see a woman who went to work today, who went to therapy today, who adulted pretty damn well on all fronts, despite the endless barrage of triggers that she has experienced in the last 3 weeks. I see a woman who swallowed her pride, and then swallowed her meds, and did her best to get back to the business of living.

I see a mother and wife who loves deeply. A love so deep that, in the darkest moments, it was the only thing that kept her here.

I see the battle. I see the pain. But, one thing I do not see, is shame.

Keep fighting, friends, because every day you are a freakin’ hero.

Capture Your Grief, Day 23 – Love Letter

sun-heart-autumn-leaf-39379.jpegAn Open Letter to All Parents Who Chose To Terminate a Pregnancy For Medical Reasons:

Since losing Clara, I have often been lumped into support groups or bloggers whose focus is Pregnancy and Infant Loss. This association is one that almost always makes me uncomfortable. I am hesitant because our loss was voluntary… sort of. I mean, our diagnosis meant that Clara would have been very unlikely to survive outside my womb, but still. I sometimes don’t feel comfortable being included among women who have spontaneously lost pregnancies, or who have had stillborn babies. I am often afraid that my presence must be insulting in some way. I am honestly not sure if I am welcome, and I feel like a fraud in their company.

Occasionally, this sensation is so consuming that I find myself being vague about how we lost Clara. Not wanting to offend, I sometimes leave out just enough information for our story to sound like a pregnancy loss, rather than an abortion for medical reasons. Some days I just don’t have the courage to weather the potential judgement. Some days my heart is just too sore.

So, I see you. I know. I know how hard it is. I know how much it sucks. I know the isolation. Among bereaved parents, we are a sort of sub-group, and one that does not get a lot of time in the spotlight. Sometimes, it feels as though we are the murky underbelly of pregnancy loss and parental bereavement. No one really knows where, or if, we belong.

The decision to end a pregnancy, for any reason, is a painful and heavy decision to make. Choosing to end a pregnancy when that baby is wanted, so, so wanted, is a waking nightmare. It is every bit as traumatic as unexpectedly losing a pregnancy or child, but it is different.

Do not let the isolation make you despondent. While we may not have an official awareness month and we might not feel as though we always belong among those Walking to Remember, we still have each other. We are not alone. You are not alone.

I don’t need to know why you ended your pregnancy. You don’t need to justify it to me, or to anyone. I know that, whatever your reason, it was hard, and I am so sorry you were ever in that position. I know that belonging to this particular group is sometimes scary, because it can bring judgement from people who really, truly, do not understand. It can bring angry words and vitriol. Hate and condemnation.

I will do my best to bring balance by telling you this:

I love you. I love you for being brave. I love you for making what felt like an impossible decision because you had the presence of mind to know what was best for you and your family, and then the courage to follow through. I love you for being here, for searching for your community. I love you, because you have found us. We are here. We are not the murky underbelly of pregnancy loss. We are Mothers and Fathers, bereaved. We are humans who, when faced with devastating circumstances, had the courage to make a difficult decision. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, you are still here to tell the tale. You survived. Every new day is a victory. Every new day is an opportunity for more healing, and for more growth. I love you because you are still moving forward. I love you because you inspire me to do the same. I love you because when I feel like I am on an isolated island of loss and pain, you remind me that this place, our little island, is far from empty.

I love you, because you are here.

Stay strong,

Kelly

 

 

Capture Your Grief, Day 22 – Dreams + Rituals

As I have mentioned before, I have a difficult time dreaming about the future. What you may not realize, is that when you dream about the future, you are doing so with an understanding that certain things will unfold the way that you expect them to. Certain people will still be in your life, everyone’s health will be in order and you will not be living alone in a refrigerator box under the interstate. You are able to dream about the future because you are confident that your future will unfold in a certain, desirable way. Some of you are nodding and see no reason why this simple understanding about the future would be a problem, but the anxious among you know. You see, anxiety is an expert in the art of taking the confidence you possess for the future, and taking a big old doody on it. Eloquent, I know.

Seriously though, my experience with anxiety has been such that, dreaming of the future is scary because I often have difficulty with the base of confidence that is required. I struggled with this during my first battle with PPA, and it has been even worse after losing Clara.

We put a lot of thought into becoming pregnant again, after my first battle with PPA. Obviously, I was afraid of my illness resurfacing. Ultimately though, our desire for another child was stronger than our fear of another anxiety battle. I felt well-supported by my husband and therapist and knew that, should PPA rear its head again, I had the resources I would need to heal. I had confidence in the future.

Receiving our diagnosis and subsequently losing our daughter was like winning the World Series and then having the title unfairly stripped away. I had been victorious! I had worked so hard towards my recovery and had been brave enough to risk PPA again in order to fulfill our dreams of another child. I was there!

And then it was all gone.

Clara was, in a symbolic way, the proof of my recovery. Losing her meant that terrible and tragic things can and do happen. The future is uncertain. Impermanence is the only guarantee.

So, how does one get the nerve to dream about the future, when you know all too well, what tragedies can befall? I’m learning that the answer is this, right here:

12507430_10205840906397370_155613904891545662_n

Me.

I have experienced an awful tragedy. My family has been visited by grief and loss. After a victory against anxiety, I am back here, in the trenches. And yet, I am still standing. I am still living (and thoroughly enjoying) my life and doing my best to share my journey, in hopes that it helps others. My visibility of the future may, for the time being, be obscured by my anxiety disorder, but there is no doubt about my continued existence. I am definitely still here. My marriage survived the hellscape of loss and we are closer than we have ever been. My children are healthy and happy. They laugh and play and excel at school and preschool.

The future is uncertain, that is an undeniable fact, but experiencing loss does not guarantee that your future will be a bleak and painful one. Anxiety is an illness of the mind, and the intrusive thoughts and spiraling fear does not herald a future wrought with nightmare.

Capture Your Grief, Day 20 – Forgiveness + Humanity

What a perfect prompt for the day that registration opens for the 2016 Climb Out Of The Darkness!  Today’s prompt is all about forgiving and finding the best in humanity. I can think of no better way to honor it than this:

Forgiveness

Dear Kelly,

I forgive you.

I forgive you for all the nights spent pacing the living room in tears for no reason other than that you were terrified for, well… no reason.

I forgive you for the times that you resented that sweet baby boy because he was hungry, and you were tired. SO TIRED.

I forgive you for being afraid of walking over concrete surfaces. I’m so sorry that you had to live with the tiny horror movies that played in your mind which caused that fear in the first place. It sucks, but I’m sure glad we can go on sidewalks again.

I forgive you for hiding the fear. I understand that it was a scary thing to experience and an even harder thing to own up to. I know why you hid it for so long. It’s okay.

I forgive you for letting the anxiety build to a point where you were impossible to be around. The tension that seemed to emanate from you was probably the vibe equivalent of smelly lines on a drawing of feet. People weren’t very keen on being around that, and I forgive you for it.

I forgive you for having trouble imagining the future. Anxiety is a thieving scumbag and the first thing it steals from you is hope. We’re going to get there, but it’s okay if the future is kind of scary right now.

I forgive you for sometimes being overprotective with the kids. You have an anxiety disorder, girl, it’s understandable. You usually find a pretty good balance and they are certainly living full and awesome lives. You don’t stifle them, so what if you’re not the parent who can handle them doing physically risky things. Let’s just hope they don’t grow up to be stuntmen.

I forgive you for the OCD ticks you developed. I know it’s embarrassing, but it’s not altogether surprising. Plus, I’m super proud that you didn’t hide that stuff when it started cropping up. The second you realized what was happening, you brought it up in therapy. That took guts, girl. Good for you.

I forgive you for the times you have anxiety about taking anxiety medication. It’s kind of funny if you think about it… but usually only after you’ve taken your medication.

While we’re on that topic, I forgive you for having anxiety about having anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but you are putting in the work and I know you can get through this. Hell, you are going way beyond putting in the work, you are straight up noisy about this stuff, and I’m proud of you for it!

I forgive you, for all of it.

Keep climbing.

Kelly

Humanity

To all you Mamas out there who have or have been through a postpartum mood disorder, I’m talking to you.

I see you, and it’s okay.

But don’t take my word for it, take a moment to forgive yourself today. See what comes out.

Once you’ve done that, head on over to Postpartum Progress’ Climb Out of the Darkness page and find a climb near you. On June 18, the longest day of 2016, we will join together to shine light on maternal mental illness. Come out and meet other moms who have walked in your shoes. Let’s continue to drive momentum towards better, more accessible mental health screening and mental healthcare for mothers everywhere. Let’s Climb Out of the Darkness.

If you are in the Chicago area, I will be at my local climb with my family, and I would love to meet you!  I’ll be wearing a Motherhood Misfit t-shirt and would be delighted if you stopped me to say hello!! If you can’t join a hike, but still want to donate to the cause, please use this link to make a donation.

Here’s to you, Mama!  Here’s to Us!

Print

Capture Your Grief, Day 18 – Seasons + Symbols

Little Moon

Once, I held the moon inside me
In my womb, it grew
Not twinkling stars, nor blazing sun
It was the moon, I knew

A little lunar lovely
To call our very own
But bad news came a-knocking
Into chaos, lives were thrown

I held my moon, my baby
In the quiet of my womb
My arms never knew her
But, in my heart, she has a room

These things, they do happen
And no one can say why
I know one thing for certain, though
The Moon can never die

She was just too big for life on Earth,
As any moon might be
So back into the sky she flew
To shine over you and me

I love you, Little Moon.

 

Capture Your Grief, Day 17 – Secondary Losses

In the United States, Spina Bifida affects approximately 1 in 1000 pregnancies. This incidence doesn’t sound as rare as one might think, but it is important to note that in many of these cases, the baby will have Spina Bifida Occulta, which is the least severe form of Spina Bifida, and generally causes no complications or symptoms. So, of that number, incidence of Spina Bifida Myelomeningocele, which is the most severe form of Spina Bifida and the one that Clara was diagnosed with, rates are lower. Furthermore, many cases of Spina Bifida are related to larger genetic disorders, such as Trisomy 18 (Edwards Syndrome). In our case, blood work showed no such genetic disorders, meaning that our specific case of Spina Bifida was likely just a simple physical mutation. A fluke.

You might say we were just unlucky.

To that, I would reply “No shit.”

What this unluckiness means, however, is that something terrible, rather unlikely and somewhat rare happened to one of my children. This sentence is important because it is comprised of all of my worst, most anxious nightmares.

Before we lost Clara, my anxiety disorder was under control. After going undiagnosed for 2.5 years, I had finally gotten myself to a great therapist and had been working hard, using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to get back to living my life without the shadow of paralyzing fear.

Losing Clara, and the reality of it being to a generally unlikely cause, was like rolling out a red carpet for my anxiety to return. Most of the work that I had been doing in therapy was reinforcing the improbability of my fears. I was convincing myself of the irrationality of it all. The problem is that when you conquer anxiety by convincing yourself that your fears are unlikely, and are then confronted by an unlikely nightmare coming true, well, it’s easy to see how I very quickly lost control of my mood disorder.

The way that my anxiety works, is that I am, and have been since the day he was born, absolutely terrified of losing my youngest son. Every cough, every fever, every bumped head is enough to set me into a tail spin of fear about what might be happening that I cannot see, and cannot control. I am terrified of lurking, undiagnosed illness. I am paralyzed by thoughts of the unknown future. In fact, I have a very difficult time dreaming of my son’s future, because I have trouble trusting that it will be full of wonderful things and not certain doom. I know. It’s awful. One of the techniques I am using to combat this fear of the unknown future, was given to me by my mother, who had the exact same problem when I was a child.

SCIENCE BREAKMood disorders such as Anxiety and Depression are generally thought to have a hereditary link, and people with parents or siblings who suffer from them have a much higher likelihood of experiencing Anxiety and Depression themselves. What’s more, researchers at Johns Hopkins conducted a small study a few years ago which uncovered that when specific alterations are present during pregnancy within two particular genes, they were able to reliably predict that a woman would develop postpartum depression. We still have a lot to learn, but one thing that this does tell us is that if your mother experienced a postpartum mood disorder, such as PPD or PPA, you are more likely to develop one yourself. This isn’t a doom and gloom message, though, because what this knowledge does is empower you and your doctors to be on the lookout for symptoms of postpartum mood disorders. When you are aware of a possible genetic pre-disposition, you can catch the signs faster and begin treatment sooner! Knowledge is power!

Back to our regularly scheduled blog post…

Anyways, my mother told me that she used to practice a specific meditation when I was young, which helped her to cope with the fear of losing me. She simply imagined me as an old woman. She would close her eyes and imagine what I might look like as a grandmother. She imagined what I might sound like, and what things I might like to do. It sounds simple, but it’s not!  So far, I have only been able to imagine my youngest son as a middle aged man. I have been slowly aging him in my mind, however, and eventually I am sure that I will be able to picture every wrinkle on his face. For the time being, I imagine him as a 30 something, with 2 kids and a loving partner. My son is obsessed with baseball and does seem to have a bit of natural talent, so I like to imagine him as a professional baseball player. A pitcher, specifically. Sometimes, I close my eyes and imagine that my husband and I are at one of his games, sitting down the 3rd base line, with both of his children, our grandchildren, in tow. His children have white-blonde hair, just like my son, and in my mind we are joined by his wife (though I’d be delighted with a Son-in-Law, too and don’t mean to assign a sexual orientation to him, I just keep seeing a female partner), whom I love and get along with grandly. Sitting just above the dugout, we are, the five of us, cheering him on as he approaches the mound, fit and strong and gorgeous as the day he was born.

I can picture this so easily, and the more I practice, the closer I get at being able to imagine him as an old man. This technique helps more than simply working to convince myself that my fears are unlikely. That argument has rather lost its potency after our experience with Spina Bifida. Instead, I am teaching myself to trust that the future holds wonderful things for this child, my beautiful youngest son.

So, while I may have lost control of my anxiety after losing Clara to Spina Bifida, I am working hard to regain the upper hand.

Play ball!

Capture Your Grief, Day 16 – Creative Grief

I don’t usually draft what I am going to write before I write it. Maybe that’s a bad thing. I do edit, a little, but my work here in this space is largely unpolished. Again, maybe that’s a bad thing. However, one thing that does happen, when you write like this, is vulnerability. My writing is not perfectly structured. It’s not professionally edited. I write the way I think, and the way I talk, so what we end up with is a conversation, and I quite like that. You’re getting me, just as I am. You’re getting unfiltered thoughts and emotions, a soul and heart laid bare.

This is a two way street, though, because while you get a peek inside, I get to let some things out. Since I don’t usually outline in advance what I’m going to write, I don’t know what’s going to come out until my fingers hit the keyboard. In this way, writing becomes a form of processing for me, and I didn’t realize how much I needed to process creatively, until I started doing it again.

For a short while, I was doing some freelance writing on the side. I took small writing jobs and spent my evenings and weekends working on blog content for travel websites and small businesses, some copy for a clothing catalog, that kind of thing. For a wordsmith, it was an easy way to earn some extra bucks. I did it for a few months, made a decent chunk of change and then abruptly stopped after having a job where I was asked to write a persuasive post, in favor of hair implant surgery. Yep. Hair implant surgery.

Now, I am all about people doing whatever makes their skirt fly up, so long as it doesn’t harm you, or anyone else, but I have a hard time encouraging people towards any kind of cosmetic surgery because, well, I believe that you’re fabulous darling, just how you are! That said, if you think you need hair implants to be your best self, then like, go for it dude, but I’m not going to be the one who tells you that you need them. Needless to say, I had a hard time writing the post. I did it, but I do recall inserting a line which encouraged the reader to not succumb to societal pressure or antiquated beauty ideals… they probably didn’t end up using my work. Heh.

By taking this freelance writing work, I thought that I was scratching a creative itch. It wasn’t until the hair implant piece that I realized I wasn’t scratching anything. Instead, I was wasting my time (and my talent, maybe?) writing about stuff that I didn’t care about. I was making pretty sentences for someone else, when what I really needed was to make pretty sentences for me.

This blog is the result of that realization. After we lost Clara, I realized that I had a lot of emotion just under the surface. Feelings and thoughts seemed to slip in and out of my consciousness, but I just couldn’t grab ahold of them. Navigating my days was like climbing across a water bed, I just couldn’t seem to steady myself. I turned to writing at the suggestion of one of my therapists, who already knew that it was a favored creative outlet of mine. I started by writing a few tepid lines of, I don’t know, poetry? I scribbled them in an old and dusty moleskin journal that had been sitting, unused, in my craft room. Immediately, I felt relief. The next day, I sat in the library, with the window open, and wrote some more. Again, relief.

About a week later, having spent some time thinking about the best way that I could tap writing as a method of healing, I opened my laptop, created this blog, and wrote Clara’s Story. It was a game changer. Putting our story down allowed me to process the trauma and pain in a way that I had been unable to before. In addition to that, it rocketed me into all these new communities of people; bereaved mothers, women who have had terminated pregnancy for medical reasons, postpartum anxiety survivors, mommy bloggers, and so much more. With one post, I pretty much obliterated the isolation I had been drowning in. And that was before I even had any readers!

Since that time, this blog has been slowly transforming into an incredible, and incredibly diverse, community of people joining together to read and share. We find solace in our commonalities, we find comfort in not being alone in our pain and struggle. We find inspiration in the encouragement and kindness of each other, and we take one day at a time, but we take them together.

Thank you for allowing me this space to creatively process. Thank you for your comments and your kindness. Thank you, thank you, for helping me to do away with that pesky, damn water bed.

Sending you love, and hard, steady surfaces.

Capture Your Grief, Day 15- Wave of Light/Perserverance/MEH

How’s that for a blog post title? Here’s the thing, I have to be honest, I haven’t been feeling these writing prompts. Have you been able to tell? I hope not, but probably you have. The fault does not lie with the person who created them. I think the problem is that I have a really hard time with grief. I have felt really connected and inspired a couple of times over the last 15 days, but that’s it. For the most part, I feel like I have been phoning these posts in. I’m sorry about that.

On top of it all, my youngest son has been sick for nearly 2 weeks (strep and scarlet fever, and then a virus caught on top of that). He is on the mend, but it’s been distracting and upsetting. Illness and injury, particularly when they affect my youngest son, are my biggest anxiety triggers. I have been tense. I have not been sleeping well. I have been trying to self-care… and failing at it.

These prompts are important though, because I am bad at grief. They give me the space to feel my feelings, if only I will take it. I haven’t been taking it very much. I just haven’t been able to.

A few weeks ago, a dear friend sent me a gift of these affirmation cards. I love them and have pulled one every day since we received them, even taking them all the way to California with me when we went on a short vacation in January. Tonight, as I was dawdling, knowing I needed to sit down and work on today’s post, but not really wanting to, I pulled the card pictured above.

Touché, Universe, touché.

So, I am going to take a hint and stick with these prompts, even though some may fall flat. There is something valuable in exploring my grief, and I don’t want to miss out on that.

Love to you all.

.