time capsule

This blog has become a sort of time capsule these days. I love that about having an online presence–it’s sort of like a giant scrapbook of things that were (and are) important to me at different stages of life.

I took several years off from long-form blogging when I had children. It just so happened that right when I was passionate about sharing daily updates on my tiny humans, Facebook and other micro blogging sites appeared. Now that my little ones are big enough for their online identities to impact their lives (meaning I talk about them less online), I’ve found myself coming back to this format, using it as a place to mull over ideas and issues that puzzle me.

So, for those of you rejoining after this long break and those of you joining for the first time, welcome! Thank you for being here with me. :) To summarize, I got married in 2004 and divorced in 2016. That was a big change. Transitioning from married with children to divorced with children was necessary, but not easy or enjoyable. My life now revolves around co-parenting in a bi-nuclear household, finishing my BS in Nursing (May 2019, woot!), and working in the healthcare field.

What changes have you had in your life recently? At my current age (39), I’ve noticed that years 10 and 15 seem to be critical junctures for a lot of marriages (ones where communication issues come to a head and result in progress toward a better relationship or dissolution of the marriage). Have you noticed the same phenomenon?

Much love to you, and thank you for journeying alongside me.

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Stress is like pain–it can reach unbearable levels

TLDR: For those who don’t want to read this long post: Stress is like physical pain–it hurts, sometimes too much for our existing coping mechanisms. We can’t always avoid this type of stress. Knowing this, what is the best (i.e., healthiest and most sustainable) response?

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Recently, I had the privilege of weathering a brutally unfair, chaotic, and unexpected roll-out of a new, academic testing format. It was one of those situations in which my intuition (born from working in 4 different degree programs over the last several years) told me that something terrible was going to happen. Regardless, I dug deep to access my depleted-but-still-present reserves of optimism. I proactively thought about the worst possible scenario (failing this last test and getting kicked out of my program only 3 months from completion) and how to guard against it (studying as if I’d already failed so that I could anticipate any weird curve balls the new test might throw at me). I looked straight at this scenario and decided it wouldn’t happen. I studied my brains out, using every available resource that my mentors recommended: student resource center, calls with my course mentor, calls with my academic mentor, 1500 + practice questions, etc. I ranted/vented/complained to sympathetic friends and family. Still, I felt like something was missing, but neither I nor any of the people I went to for advice could think of what it was. I practiced remaining calm and approaching each test question as if it was my first, reading carefully, answering mindfully, and researching my mistakes to ensure that I didn’t make them again. I worked to the point of burnout, exhausted and sick of the material.

Finally, it was time to take the real test. I took it and did NOT pass, missing it by just a few questions. While I’d anticipated this, it was still devastating. I only had one more chance to pass it, or risk not graduating and rendering all of the sacrifices of the last 3 years invalid.

The stress of this knowledge took a heavy toll on every aspect of my health. My skin went dull. My body, already struggling to recover from Grave’s disease and thyroid issues, bloated with inflammation and water weight, making my clothes feel tight and uncomfortable. I had trouble regulating my body temperature, finding it difficult to warm up no matter how much I bundled or heated my home. I had dreams where all I did was toil. I woke up every morning feeling exhausted not matter how early I went to bed. I got sick, a terrible cold, that dragged my fatigue into a whole new level of misery. My stomach cramped and delayed emptying, making it hard to eat healthy, fiber-and-protein-rich meals without feeling uncomfortably full for hours. My muscles spontaneously tensed and spasmed, even in the middle of supposedly relaxing stretches and movement. Yoga class was wonderful in the moment, but I still felt heavy and brain-fogged from the stress. Worse yet, the exertion of even gentle, restorative yoga left me too fatigued to study effectively, meaning I couldn’t start my day with classes like I normally would. My creativity and problem solving abilities noticeably diminished. It felt like my brain was a computer infected with malware that slowed down every essential process.

Looking back at this, I know all of these things came from the stress of failing and having to retake such a high stakes test. (I did retake it and pass with flying colors, btw).  :) And now, gazing back at the past couple of months from the vantage point of having survived, I had an epiphany: stress is like pain. It can sometimes reach unbearable levels that overwhelm my existing coping mechanisms.

It helps to think about stress like a bad headache or like severe back pain. As a migraine sufferer, when I feel a headache coming on, I quickly head it off with medication (usually Excedrin and several glasses of water). I’ve learned to do this because if I don’t, I end up curled up in a ball with that miserable, extreme photo-sensitivity plus a pounding/vice grip sensation around my entire skull that only migraines can bring. Likewise, if my back muscles get too achy, I go to a chiropractor or get a massage, or do some extra stretches to work out the tension.

In contrast, when I feel my stress levels creeping up, there’s no quick way to derail that process. I can do yoga, create positive visualizations, eat healthy, and meditate. I can talk with friends, pray, sing, and prepare for the upcoming difficulties as best as possible; but there are times when stress becomes unbearable. If my physical pain becomes unbearable, I can always go to a hospital for help. But what about when stress becomes overwhelming? What happens when a stressful situation is the only thing I can think about, kind of like the emotional version of a distractingly awful toothache? Is there some sort of stress-banishing version of Excedrin that I’m missing out on?

The most helpful part of this thought experiment has been to embrace the idea that it’s not a failure on my part if my stress levels exceed my ability to process them. Sometimes, through no fault of our own, life ends up being overwhelming, emotionally painful, and psychologically draining. The key to staying sane seems to be to make whatever changes I can to ensure that a state of overwhelm and exhaustion doesn’t become my norm (and to accept that making those changes doesn’t always guarantee that the overwhelm will vanish quickly).

If you think about it, we caretakers regularly grapple with this dilemma–sometimes our children, parents, or partners need extraordinary amounts of care. Is it our fault that our loved ones get sick or need long term, intensive care? No, of course not.

Concomitantly, is it our fault if caring for a sick loved one (or dealing with any other difficult situation) becomes stressful and overwhelming? I’d argue that it’s not. However, the prevailing attitude toward stress always seems skewed toward blaming the stressed out person for his or her own situation. Stressed? Oh, don’t let outside circumstances dictate your emotions! Feeling overwhelmed? Remember that we can’t control what happens, but we can control our response to it. Well, sure…I can control my response to the point of not raging or hurting myself or someone else. But living with high levels of stress is like living near a massive building fire—no matter how much I try not to breathe in the smoke-filled, polluted air, I still have to breathe and my available filtration masks can only filter out so much. What happens when that building fire 1) requires my involvement but is not something I can put out myself and/or 2) already has professionals working to extinguish it, but won’t be extinguished for several weeks or months?

I wish I had a solution for this. I know from direct experience that too much stress is toxic and destructive on every level: emotionally, psychologically, and physically. I’m also a believer in the power of love and positivity to redeem even the most dire situation. Is the best way to cope with overwhelming stress to ask for help while proactively and systematically trying everything I can think of to remedy the situation? Or is it to find ways to endure just an hour longer, living minute by minute and looking for the next actionable item? Is it to attend therapy to seek expert advice on dealing with an extraordinarily difficult situation? Is it to delegate/offload less urgent tasks so that I have more energy for the stress inducing ones? If I compare stress to a raging toothache, it looks like my priority should be to resolve the issue ASAP, because how will I possibly be able to focus on anything else when coping with it is devouring all of my resources?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on stress and on dealing with high levels of stress for long periods of time. Much love to you , and thanks for being here for this journey.

 

 

One of those {good} days

Today started out terribly–I woke up feeling like I was 8 months pregnant again: agonizing round-ligament/hip pain, lower back pain, a migraine brewing, exhausted. And then I realized that it was just “that time of the month.” I dosed up on Naproxen and curled up on the couch until it took effect. Thankfully, the hubs kept the girls entertained for a while.

I felt well enough to make a yummy breakfast of Almond-Chai-Quinoa Hot Cereal–it IS the first day of the YumUniverse Plant Powerful 30 Day Challenge, after all! Then, we got T’s passport application submitted at the post office–YAY! That was one of those sticky tasks that’s been hanging over my head for a month now, so it feels wonderful to have it done. I made a yummy lunch for the family, an act of service that I’ve realized is something of a love-language for me. I get such a happy, warm, satisfied feeling when I’ve provided us with an enjoyable, nutritious meal.

Then, the hubs headed off to work (with a yummy PBJ made with homemade PB) and the girls and I proceeded to have an AWESOME afternoon together. We transitioned seamlessly from free-play on their parts to reading books, to playing outside, to resting, to waterplay in the kitchen sink, to a sensory basket experiment with Trinity that River helped me with, to snack time, then more playtime outside, stickers, mapping out our airplane route for our upcoming trip to Manila via Seoul, more books and snacks, and finally dinner and a short video time, per River’s request.

Even though T. is teething brutally, she’s surprisingly easy going and will play on her own for up to 15 minutes before she needs to be moved or needs a change of pace. River is also doing more and more activities on her own and just coming to ask for help when she needs it. I find that having a day like this when I can check email, read a few blogs, post pictures, & cook healthy meals while the girls play, in addition to getting some awesome one-on-one time with each girl leaves me feeling refreshed rather than drained.

Many days, I feel like fully meeting the needs of my two little ones is tough, especially when they both seem to urgently need me at the EXACT SAME TIME, multiple times a day. Today was one of those days that just went well, and I want to document it here as a reminder that it’s possible, even if it won’t happen all the time.

2013, Quick Update

Family

We’ve definitely had several transitions in the past few months–most notably, our Trinity-girl is now 5 months old(!!). She is utterly adorable–I’m continually shocked at what an easy baby she is. She’s almost always in a good mood (even when teething), eats like a champ, burps herself, rolls over onto her tummy, laughs at anything River does, and has just started “singing,” i.e., vocalizing like a baby dinosaur with high squeals and shrieks. She’s so overwhelmingly cute and cuddly that it’s almost unbearable. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to parent a full-term baby after first experiencing a preemie. It makes me delight in the effortless-feeling, developmental-milestone-smashing course that Trinity is on, rather than taking it for granted.

At first, having 2 children was a bit daunting–the first 6 weeks felt very overwhelming. However, thanks to Trinity’s great personality, River’s surprisingly open acceptance of her sister, and the help of friends, family and babysitter, I feel like we’ve found our equilibrium (well, as much equilibrium as one can muster with children in the mix).

Health

I’m still avoiding gluten as a holistic means of combating my Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, although I’ve relaxed a little bit when visiting family. It’s so hard to find gluten free food at parties and gatherings that I tend to chalk up those days as ones that will result in my being very bloated for the following 72 hours. I find that I still have a rather addictive response to the combination of refined flour and sugar, and I’ve had some increased refined-sugar cravings after relaxing my gluten free regimen. Definitely NOT a coincidence, I think. I have settled into a good routine at home and have found that creating a 5 week plan of naturally gluten free breakfasts, snacks, lunches, and dinners (complete with page #s for recipes, etc) makes it a lot easier for me to serve things that all of us enjoy. When I say “naturally gluten free,” I’m referring to meals in which the original recipes don’t call for gluten-containing ingredients. Example: a breakfast might be scrambled eggs with cheese and cottage potatoes instead of eggs with gluten free toast. I’m trying to eat “whole foods,” rather than using gluten free substitutes b/c most store-bought gf substitutes have a terribly high glycemic index and fairly low nutritional value.

I’ve also found an edible, tasty snack/sandwich bread from Elana Amsterdam’s  The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook. I LOVE the high protein content and the dense, moist texture of her quick-bread recipes. Here’s a similar recipe from her website for her “Bread 2.0.” The bread is easy to make and actually tastes great without incorporating loads of sugar or rice-flour. I have to say that it’s definitely my best experience with savory, gluten free bread thus far.

On a less holistic note, I’ve also started taking Levothroid. I’m in awe at how fantastic I feel after just a week. My TSH was only at 3.1, but since that’s on the high end of normal and at a level that can have negative hormonal effects, my primary care PA suggested that I try a tiny dose (25 micrograms) to see if it made a positive difference.  My energy levels are higher than they’ve been in over 4 years, I’m sleeping well, and I don’t crash after just a few hours of activity. It’s beyond awesome to feel “normal” again.

I don’t love the idea of being on a medication for the rest of my life, but at this point, having low energy is just not an option, and I haven’t been able to find empirical studies showing that going gluten-free *actually* helps keep Hashimoto’s in check. The suggestion makes intuitive sense to me as a lay person, but I’m willing to concede that it may be misguided. Still, I feel better eating gluten-free, and since I have multiple generations of diabetes in my family history, eating in a way that minimizes my consumption of grains and maximizes my consumption of protein, whole fruits and veggies will still have massive health benefits. I’m not prepared to go Paleo, but I am convinced that eating as if I’m trying to manage diabetes (high protein, carbs from non-starchy veggies, etc), even though I don’t have diabetes, is probably the best thing for my body.

On the crafting docket for Feb 2013…

There are so many inspiring resources available that I find myself mentally planning and Pinterest-pinning activities and stopping there. So, I’ve compiled a short, doable (rather than wishful) list of Valentine’s Day related activities that I’m going to do in the next 4 weeks. I think of it as my antidote to Pinterest-paralysis. :)

  • Salt Dough Ornaments in various, embellished heart shapes. I’m going to string these onto garlands–one for us and a few others for friends and family. My plan is to do most of the work on my own, and then have River paint the shapes with glitter paint and glitter glue, since that’s one of her favorite things to do. I made the dough tonight, and it’s in the fridge to use tomorrow. I already have a few ideas for variations brewing–mixing glitter into the dough so that it doesn’t flake off, and possibly coloring the dough pink.Image (Photo credit and idea credit go to the brilliant and inspiring Jean, at The Artful Parent)
  • Soap Petals–I just adore these and have always wanted to make my own for some weird reason. February is a good month to do something like this with the container of pink, silk rose petals in my craft cabinet. My mom has already put in her order for some, and I think River will get a kick out of using them. Image Photo credit goes to Donna DeRosa of the lovely Etsy Shop, Blushing Rose
  • Find and read a story about St. Valentine that’s appropriate for a 3 year old and talk about the origins of the holiday.
  • Memorize a short love poem with River.

I’m thinking that “Love Came” by Rumi might be a truly fun one to memorize with her if I incorporate lots of interpretive gestures. Sure, it might come across as ridiculing a gorgeous, profound poem, but if silly gestures get that gorgeous, profound poem into her head, I’m OK with the indignity of it). I plan to read the poem aloud with her (with gestures), then record it on her digital recorder for her to listen to, then practice it with her a few times a week. We’ll see how it goes.

  • Memorize John 3:16 with River. (Well, I already have it memorized, so it’s more like helping her learn it). I plan to use the same techniques for this verse as for the Rumi poem.
  • Let River go crazy with a pack of 200 heart-shaped stickers to create 6 Valentine’s Day cards that we will address and send to select friends and family. Yes, I’m deliberately doing only 6 cards. If I get very ambitious, we’ll address these cards with photo address labels similar to the ones Meg of Sew Liberated uses in her little guy’s letter-writing activity. My idea for the cards is to have her put stickers on waxed paper, iron another sheet of waxed paper on top of the stickered one, and cut out hearts that she can then glue onto cards. (It’s an easier variation of Martha Stewart’s “Heart Covered Waxed Paper“).
  • Bake a heart shaped cake topped with strawberries and whipped cream. I will probably do a gluten free one so that I can enjoy it. If I’m ambitious enough, I’m going to attempt a GF version of the child-friendly, French yogurt cake that Pam Druckerman raves about in Bringing Up Bebe. If I’m too tired to have my 3 year old “help,” I will do it by myself while she is occupied with playdough. :-P

So, there you have it: garland, soap, stickers, cards, a poem, a verse, and cake. I figure that mixing in “love” themed activities gives me the entire month of February to do some of these. :)

Pregnancy Update, Week 27

Wow! This pregnancy feels like it has flown by: definitely not what I expected, but I’m not complaining.

Current Stats:

  • 27 weeks (at 28 weeks, a baby has a good chance of not needing a ventilator if she makes an early exit, so this milestone is an exciting one)
  • Baby is a GIRL according to the 18 week ultrasound. It was very difficult to get any good pictures of her, though, as she used her hands to cover anything we tried to look at–face, skull, heart, gender-determining parts, etc. I’m hoping to get another ultrasound at an upcoming visit to confirm the gender.
  • I’m THRILLED at the thought of having another girl–I’m just a little shocked that my instincts could be so wrong. Though, now that I’ve been saying that, several moms have related their own “I was TOTALLY wrong about the gender” stories, so it’s not unheard of.
  • This baby is astoundingly active compared to how River was in utero. I’m actually experiencing that lovely “squirming alien about to burst from my tummy” phenomenon. She also likes to play games and will kick at various spots that I push on. River moved, but her movements were much less emphatic. This baby also HATES anything (even my arm!) being on my tummy and will kick and kick until I remove the offending object or limb.
  • River is extremely excited about the baby coming–she curled up in front of my tummy and said, “I’m laying next to the baby!” and she talks about helping feed the baby when she arrives.
  • Weight Gain: I think I’ve gained a total of 12 lbs, and I feel great. I’ll be getting all the usual tests for gestational diabetes, etc., as well as some tests to ascertain thyroid function and levels this week. Hopefully everything comes back normal
  • Back Pain: Not so great. I generally can’t walk or stand for more than 10 minutes at a time without feeling like my pelvis is going horribly out of alignment and causing my back to ache and twinge. I’m seeing a chiropractor and massage therapist on a not-regular-enough basis, and they do help a bit, but not as much as they helped with the last pregnancy. I think a huge factor is that I haven’t been exercising at all during this pregnancy, so I’m really feeling the effects of weaker muscles now that I’m getting bigger.
  • Silhouette: Another nice difference with this pregnancy has been my silhouette–this pregnancy has a much more belly-centric emphasis on the weight gain (I think b/c the weight gain has been slower), so I look a little more pregnant than with my last baby. Even though I don’t have the classic, “all-belly” look, it’s nice to at least look pregnant rather than just bloated or fat! :-P
  • Energy: Depends on the day. Some days I feel reasonably energetic and others I feel devastatingly tired. I’m been getting better at pacing myself and avoiding driving whenever possible. For some reason, driving even short distances tires me out like nothing else. The nice thing is that unlike the first trimester, when I go to bed earlier or take naps, I’m actually refreshed when I wake up. It’s nice that sleep actually helps now instead of having no effect!
  • Assistance: The wonderful husband suggested hiring a babysitter. We found a great one, and having her help out for 10-12 hrs a week has made a huge difference in what I’m able to get done and how well I’m feeling.

Overall, I’m excited to welcome this little one–I know that amount of work and sleep deprivation that’s coming up in the next year, and I’m ready for it and not afraid to ask for help when it’s needed! :)

 

Pregnancy #3–Week 13

(Clarification: We have one little girl with us and another little person who we never got to meet in this life due to a miscarriage. This is our third pregnancy).

When I found out I was pregnant this time, my reaction was completely different from when I found out I was carrying River. I was thrilled instead of petrified, and not at all surprised rather than flabbergasted. Also, since I went crazy researching EVERYTHING about pregnancy last time, I feel a lot more relaxed about this one.

Still, this pregnancy is shockingly different from the last one. Here are some comparisons:

River:

  • awful morning sickness but decent, steady energy levels throughout
  • huge appetite
  • terrifyingly effortless weight gain (20 lbs)
  • worked full time outside the home
  • no libido whatsoever
  • craved sweets like nobody’s business AND had a chocolate aversion for several months (I’m normally a chocoholic)
  • knew I was carrying a girl, but was afraid to believe it because I wanted a daughter so badly
  • frequent headaches and back pain

Pregnancy #3

  • Virtually no nausea, and when it DOES appear, it’s more like a vague, background feeling. Shockingly low energy levels most of the time, combined with occasional, 1 day spurts of crazy energy and productivity.
  • Very low appetite.
  • No weight gain (yet!!), but my tummy keeps getting bigger!
  • full time Mom–SOOOO much harder than working my paid full time job. :)
  • Remember what I said about opposites? ;-)
  • Virtually no sugar cravings (weird, as I’ve battled these my entire adult life). No chocolate aversion.
  • Am convinced that I’m carrying a boy, and since I’ll be equally happy to have a boy or a girl, I have no qualms about trusting my instincts this time around.
  • And, unfortunately, the last factor remains the same: still battling almost daily headaches and back pain. Massage and chiropractor visits help a bit, as does the Fioricet prescribed by my OB.

Overall feelings:

I have a lot of optimism about this pregnancy and hope that it will go well with no pre-eclampsia this time. (I have a 10% chance of getting it again, which means there’s a 90% chance that I WON’T). :) I’m much less stressed with this pregnancy even though I’m working much harder as a pregnant, full-time mom.

The novelty of eating when I’m hungry without guilt no longer exists, as I’ve been eating that way since River was born. I think this is helping me keep my weight at a healthier level early on.

Now that I have an extraordinary little one running around, I’m grieving more for the first pregnancy that we lost and I’m also much more emotionally invested in this pregnancy. While I’m able to intellectually say, “What will be will be,” my heart screams, “I want this baby to be born healthy and whole and I want to get to know him in this life!”

I’ve also been looking back at the NICU experience and thinking about the consequences that another such experience would have for River. I know that we’ll pull through anything that comes our way–we have a great hospital, fabulous support network, and lots of orneriness. :) Still, as a toddler, River is still extremely attached to us (me, in particular), and having to divide our time between her and a NICU baby would be a heart-wrenching, energy-sucking challenge that I’d prefer not to have to endure.

On a completely shallow note, I’m REALLY enjoying my pregnancy induced cleavage–SO MUCH FUN, given that I normally have none! :)

What does River think?

River doesn’t have much concept of time yet, so when I tell her there’s a baby in my tummy, she gets very excited and asks to see it. She then gets confused when she can’t see it through my skin and promptly loses interest and forgets all about it. I think  that once the baby is a lot bigger and moves enough so that River can feel him through my skin, the concept of a baby joining our family will be much more real. We’re not talking about it with her specifically at this point (other than the occasional, “There’s a baby in Mom’s tummy!”) because we don’t want her to be sick of the concept by the time the baby arrives–we want it to be a fun, exciting surprise that she can look forward to. So, we’ll probably talk about it more in the last few weeks before the baby arrives.

To our little one:

I’ve felt a deep, emotional connection to you since before I got an official, “positive” pregnancy test. We’re so excited that you’re joining our family. Stay put and grow, OK, little one?