Vulnerability and Grief

This weekend has been particularly bad, and I am not entirely sure why.

Part of it is probably because I planned to spend most of this weekend at home: I have a paper due tomorrow, and I know my own powers of procrastination – had I planned on any significant recreational activities, I would not have spent the time I need to writing. As it is, the assignment is mostly done, and I have several hours tomorrow afternoon to review, edit, and submit. So I have spent the past couple of days mostly alone, except for my Husband popping in and out and the furballs. Unfortunately, it turns out I’ve been relying pretty heavily on being busy to distract me from how unhappy I actually am. Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware it’s there, I just function quite well as long as I’m busy and distracted. This weekend I have had time to just sit with myself, and I’m not a happy person to be around.

I feel quite isolated. My Husband wants very badly to be supportive, and he is doing everything he can, but he was both not as invested in having children as I am(was?), not has he really recognized that the situation is what it is. He tends to be very good at sitting back and just hoping things work out for the best. Which actually works well with my… shall we say *ahem* somewhat less laid back personality. My closest friends at the moment are childless by choice – never wanted them, don’t think they ever will. Their attitudes are actually really helpful from the point of view of being able to see what opportunities are available to me going forward as a childless person, but it means that they don’t really understand the grief I feel loosing something I never really had.

Part of my issue is that I don’t like to interact with anyone when i’m unhappy – I don’t really like to share my feelings. This probably goes back to the control issues, but also, I just hate constantly being a debbie downer, and taking my crap out on the people I care about. I don’t really want anyone to know how unhappy I am. I think my Husband is aware, to some extent. He’s been away for work a lot lately, so he hasn’t actually been around to see me/it, but after almost 14 years together, he knows me quite well, and he knows when I’m sad. The same is probably true for my good friends – I think they know something is up, but they also know me well enough to know that I’m not going to share until i’m good and ready. Which might be never. I really hate to be open and vulnerable, and I am desperately afraid of doing so and then being rejected.

I hate crying. I hate being vulnerable. I hate feeling like I am making any show of weakness. And I really hate feeling an overwhelming sensation of grief and loss over something I didn’t really have. I am aware that what I am grieving is the idea of a child – to some extent I think we all assume that if we want them, they will be an option, a right, even.

Turns out that’s not true for all of us.

So I have this intense feeling of loss, and a certain amount of resentment and frustration, and I am struggling to find an appropriate outlet. Writing helps. Drawing sometimes does. Playing music and rowing at least put my mind and body into a productive space.

Even as I write this though, I am starting to censor myself, because I hate actually being honest about how bad I feel, even in an anonymous forum. So i’m going to stop, before I go back and start deleting, and let it stand as it is.


Mudita and Joy

I got some great news about a good friend of mine today, and felt that all over warm happy feeling I associate with pure joy. In trying to describe the feeling to another friend on the phone later, I was at a loss for words. The best I could come up with was that it felt like the opposite of shadenfreude. She suggested mudita – a Buddhist concept describing sympathetic joy, or happiness in another’s good fortune. Its pretty much my favourite word now.

Unsurprisingly, I have been having a lot of trouble experiencing joy in my own life right now, but it is reassuring to know that I can still feel it on behalf of other people. Since most days I feel like I am walking a tightrope over a tarpit of roiling emotion, I had started to wonder if and when I would be able to move out of this depression. I don’t by any means feel like this is the turning point – I have a sense that I will have to do some work to actually deal with everything, not just sweep things under the rug. But for now, I will focus on the positive: I am capable of feeling joy, even if it is not my own.




It’s been almost three weeks since I realized I needed to stop trying to have a baby. It’s getting easier to think about, but it’s not yet easier to say. I am not saying that I would be anything other than thrilled (well, maybe terrified and incredulous) if I suddenly found out that I were pregnant , so I suppose I have not given up hope. I have started to re-evaluate my life rather thoroughly, trying to suss out what really matters to me, what needs to be a priority, and what, since children are unlikely to be any part of what legacy I leave the world, my hypothetical legacy will look like.

The things that matter to me generally are as follows: To protect that which I love above all else. To not knowingly hurt someone or something without cause. To never to take my pain out on anyone or anything. To be a source of support and stability. Mentorship. And eventually I would like to effect change in public policy that enables the health care system to focus on preventive care as opposed to reactive care, because I believe that it could have a significant effect on quality of life. I would like to experience real joy, be open to love in all different forms, and be able to find fulfillment in my actions and life decisions.

I would like to think that each day, week, month, year, I can choose to learn from my experiences and build myself into a better person as opposed to seeing those experiences as punishment and becoming bitter. I loath the idea of being a bitter, hollow husk of a person, but I sense a capacity in myself that that entity exists. I think that is why I generally try not to fully experience my feelings, and instead make a concentrated effort to shove them away and put on a brave face. That, and the black tar pit that is my feelings at the moment looks deep and sticky, and I think I need to wait until it’s stiffened enough to hold some of my weight before I wade in. I worry that if I try to cross it too soon, I’ll get so bogged down that I won’t get out.

At the moment I’m just trying to regroup, and refocus the significant energy that had been invested in trying to get pregnant in a positive way. At the moment I am pouring the majority of it into rowing: I’ve increased my practices from 4 to 6 sessions each week, and I will be racing in four different events at the regatta in June. I think that I also need to put some of my energy into nurturing myself, because I am quite raw – frayed, really. School needs to truck along, and it’s going reasonably well, I just have trouble focussing much of the time, so I tend to participate in bursts, instead of a steady stream. I expect a lot from myself, and at the moment I’m having some trouble delivering.

I suspect that it will take a while before this is any more clear in my head than it is in my rambles here.





I’m not having a terribly positive week.

In part, i’m just exhausted – I’ve started to row more frequently, which means both more early morning alarms, and the addition of two more 70 minute+ quite intense workouts. I revel in the activity, it feels great, and I generally feel enervated and fresh once I’m done, and almost excited to face the day. Unfortunately, that feeling quickly fades as the day wears on.

I think I’m just emotionally drained. I have noticed a tendency in myself over the past few weeks to hide from social situations rather than joining them, and that tends to be a pretty clear indication that I am low on personal resources. My job, however, demands social contact and being present, which is significantly harder to muster right now than normal.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job – and for the most part I love my patients. I have few joys as sweet as seeing the light go on when someone who has not had a pain free day since their injury actually starts to feel better, or when a post-concussive patient starts to clear the fog and show me who they actually are, because they finally can. My job is rewarding, and satisfying, and I am proud of what I do. It’s also an amazing outlet for my need to nurture, and and excellent distraction from my own worries and woes. Working in active rehabilitation, I have the rare privilege of meeting people when they are at their worst, and are frequently unable to be who they want to be. Their vulnerability is acute, and finding the balance of helping them get better while maintaining professional boundaries is always interesting. Being injured has a way of bringing out the best in some people, and the ugly side of others. I get to know my patients intimately during the hours we spend together, and each one presents their own unique puzzle to be opened, organized, and put together as best I can. Occasionally I resent the limitations of both my own skill set and the medical and insurance system. Frequently I am saddened by the limitations of the human body to heal itself. But most often I am proud – I am proud of the hard work my patients put into themselves, the ownership they take of their own lives, and their recognition of their small successes as well as the end goal.

It has been pointed out to me by various friends and colleagues that I might burn myself out, but I don’t think I would be as effective a therapist if I were not as invested as I am. And honestly, I don’t feel drained by the work itself, each day has both patients who need more, and those who give more back. And those ends of the spectrum can be the same person on different days.

I think that the source of being drained has more to do with coming to terms with my own situation, and the sadness that surrounds the issue. I have decided to stop all fertility treatments. I just don’t have the energy to place into what has been for over three years a completely fruitless venture. Unfortunately, choosing to do nothing is almost as exhausting as doing something, because the lack of action is an admission that my life as I had planned it is unlikely to take shape. And I feel sorrow. And loss. And a deep, gnawing crevasse in the pit of my stomach that neither can, nor wants to be filled.

I am very good at distracting myself: With work, with rowing, with my friends, with school, with my Husband and dog, and mundane tasks, I fill the time, and avoid feeling my feelings. But I know they are there. Little shadowy insidious tendrils flicker in and around my thoughts throughout the day, and in the dark they take hold and drag me down.

Last year I had the word “Hope” tattooed behind my right ear, to remind myself that it needs to be present. I am struggling to find it just now. As I am struggling to find a take away, or some way to see humour in what is to me just a wall of pain. I wonder, sometimes, how other individuals who deal with infertility experience the loss. For me, it presents like physical pain, and the stress of it frequently manifests itself into abdominal discomfort and nausea. It’s ever present and overbearing. And all I want to do it make it stop.


Coming to terms

It’s mothers day, and I am starting to understand that I will likely never be a mother in the conventional sense. This isn’t news to me, I’ve been wrestling with it for a while – it has a lot to do with why I started writing in the first place. What is interesting is how clearly I feel that it is true.

I’m no longer in denial. As a 30 year old woman who has tried to conceive for over three years, I have less than a 3% chance of getting pregnant without significant medical intervention. And I can’t rationalize the cost of IVF or IUI. Not to mention the physical toll of the fertility drugs. So although I’m not returning to birth control, so the possibility, however remote, still exists, I am coming to terms with the reality of the situation.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sad. I feel a sense of loss and sorrow that I won’t likely get to conceive and carry a child to term, I won’t see what my husband and I can produce. Chances are, since adoption is not an option, I will never be a significant part of a child’s formative years, and I certainly will never be celebrated on Mothers Day.

But after three years, and the heartache, stress, devastation,  and sorrow, I think it is time to regroup, re-evaluate, and move on. I can’t keep clinging to the idea that something will change. I have to admit, one of the hardest things for me is admitting that I have no control over this, and that I have to relinquish the decision to circumstance. I hate that. In some ways, choosing to move on is me taking back control of my life.

If I do, at some later date, find out I am pregnant, or our life circumstances change and IVF or adoption become options, this may change. I am not shutting the door, I’m just moving on to the next thing. I can focus on my work, my masters degree, maybe a PhD or another professional degree after that. I will compete in my chosen sport, nurture my pets, and be the best damned Aunty my little munchkins could ever ask for.

I don’t know how I will cope, or what life is going to send my way. That scares me. This is the first time I can honestly say I’m moving forward without a plan.



Six days ago my cat died.

I love my pets more than I like most people. This makes loosing my little feline companion hard, despite the fact that she was 20 years old and I was well aware it was coming. I tended to think of Mischief as my little Daemon – like in the Golden Compass, when their souls, their essence, took physical form. Mischief was mine. Her soft little calico diva personality was an intimate reflection of me. She was difficult, and loving, and determined, and stubborn, and a giant pain in the ass throughout her life. I loved, and love, her for all of those things.

I adopted her through the SPCA in October 2006. She had been left there by her previous family, who moved to the UK and didn’t want her to spend three months in the quarantine that was at that point required for pets moving across the Atlantic Ocean. She had been in her cage at the SPCA facility for almost three months when I met her. I did not intend to adopt an older adult cat – I had planned to choose a young, fun, silly adolescent. Instead I pushed my fingers through the mesh, and she sidled up to the edge, nuzzled me, and I was sold. I didn’t take her home that day. Due in part to the rules (You have to have landlord consent), I had to wait a few days before I could go back for her. And honestly, initially I thought it was split between her and a lovely little tabby named Mia, who looked like Garfield. But Mischief was the cat who I couldn’t forget. Something about her called to me, and as soon as I had the requisite paperwork in place, I went back and got her. I literally left work in the middle of a shift to go and collect her and take her home. I had to leave her there and go back to work (serving – lunch through dinner – I only got away with leaving because of the slow afternoon). By the time I got home that evening she had made it hers. My papa san chair in the living room was her favourite spot, and from her vantage point she made it clear that everything she surveilled was hers.

Mischief was my priority through four moves, the majority of my undergraduate degree, getting married, and starting my career and then my masters degree. She was there when, briefly, my now husband and I took a break to figure out our priorities – at which point she quite literally slapped some sense into me when I was falling apart (note – cat paws are cute, but you don’t want them hitting your cheek with any significant velocity).She has put up with my neurosis, my insecurity, my paranoia. She trusted me and reciprocated what I had to offer.

When she got sick last June, I knew that her days were numbered and we were counting down. She had already outlived any expectations I had for her life (16), and she stopped eating, drinking, and moving. Prepared for the worst, I called the mobile vet, managed to choke out what I needed, and they arrived for testing. Her white blood cell count was high, and her liver was failing. Best guess: necrotic liver cancer. Anti-nausea pills and liver meds helped a lot. She rallied. Three weeks ago I noticed that she didn’t want to jump onto the table where her food was, or onto the counter where she had revelled in being able to effortlessly scale any barriers to access whatever food we didn’t want her to have. Slowly her rear legs started to fail. At first it was subtle. Then more clear: She wasn’t able to produce any power with her hind legs, which meant she couldn’t jump. She dragged her legs as she walked. But still she purred, she ate, she accepted attention and seemed content.

Then she started to say goodbye. The Wednesday before she left forever, I woke up at 2 in the morning to a scrabble and my blanket being dragged down off my body. At the end of the bed was Mischief, looking baffled as to why her attempt to ascend to her usual place at the head of the bed had failed. I picked her up and brought her onto the bed, and she tolerated my affection for a while before returning to her chosen spot. Thursday she attempted to get up on the couch, with similar results. Again, I picked her up, and showered her with attention to the extent of her patience.  Thursday I also noticed she was less interested in her food.

Friday I just knew I needed to be home.

Around 2 am on Saturday morning, I heard her walking around, and then she made a funny sound. I didn’t respond immediately – she made lots of funny sounds. Then the dog wouldn’t settle, and I knew something was wrong. I turned on the light and found her on the floor between her two favourite spots. As far as I could tell her heart just stopped mid-stride. I sat with her for a while before I put her on her favourite blanket.

There isn’t a lot more to say. She exemplified the things that I love about cats, that cat-detractors say they can’t see: She was loving, and sweet, and affectionate, and clearly attached to me. She was my little girl. The loss I feel is acute, but I know it will fade.

Loss is funny that way: You can feel loss for that which you never had as intensely as for the things you have. It’s not always readily apparent how much you will miss something. The emotional pain can be acute and almost physical, which is disconcerting.

Loss is also a time for reflection, re-evaluation, and re-prioritization. It forces you to confront that which you want to avoid.