Waiting

T-five days to surgery. It’s not a big deal. I’ve been enjoying a whole lotta puns about it being a superficial surgery.

Except that for me it is a big deal. I am choosing to have someone take a scalpel to my tissue to make some significant changes to my body. Three pounds off each breast (ish). I am hoping that this makes a huge difference in my neck and shoulder pain. I am not expecting a miracle, but I think not having ~15lbs hanging off my chest will be helpful. My Husband is fishing for the week, which is fine… Honestly, not having him around means that I can clean the house and keep it that way, and get a bunch of little misc. things done around the house to make sure it’s in a state that won’t drive me crazy while I’m not able to lift or move anything. Never mind the scrubbing and cleaning. However, not having him around also means I have a lot of time alone in the evening without a foil to bounce any thoughts that occur to me…

Friday, Friday I go to get this done. Five more days.

I’m not any better at waiting than I am at humility.

-Me.

Humility

More than most things, depression is humbling.

I have in most aspects of my life been able to force my way through, muscle/brain/charm/flirt, etc. I am lucky. I am a pretty, caucasian, blond, and highly intelligent female. I found out when I was 17 that the IQ tests I took at age 9 designated me a genius – on a continuum I fall about halfway between 99-100. I didn’t actually know when I was placed in the gifted program at age 10 what it meant, other than that i got to skip social studies, which was great for me – give me mind puzzles over details on the voyageurs any day. I mostly use this as an example as why when I say that IQ is not a relevant indication of success, it’s not sour grapes – I am in the top 0.5 percentile according to highly biased tests best suited to middle class north americans. I just don’t think IQ is relevant because, frankly, it has a lot of research and anecdotal evidence suggesting it is not. However, it has been valuable to me in that I pick up new concepts quickly, I can respond and amalgamate new information efficiently, And I see links between details that are not immediately evident to others…. Basically I feel like I am extremely good at fooling people into thinking I know more than I do. Don’t get me wrong, in my chosen field of active rehabilitation, I am good – I have worked my butt of to know, research, back up, and reenforce what I do, and I am good at it. But much of the rest of my life I am simply faster on my feet than average, and therefor I feel like i’ve fooled people into thinking I am smarter/better than I am.

All that being said, where does the humble come in? Here’s where:

I can’t muscle/think/smartass my way through depression and mental illness. Long before I started this blog, I was in denial that I was experiencing depression. My sister in law told me, years ago, that what I was experiencing was depression – she was right – and I denied it outright. My own fear of the stigma and overall atmosphere surrounding mental health caused me to completely disregard my own. In my mind, the fact that I was not suicidal, and could get my butt out of bed in the morning, were indications that I was fine. I was not aware of the term “high functioning depression”. I thought that to be depressed I would have to be basically bedridden and lacking any kind of motivation.

So I convinced myself that the black hole of a mental state was just my being grumpy, it had nothing to do with the feelings of inadequacy, the fear, self loathing, insecurity, fatigue… It was just my having a shitty day. Nothing to worry about. Because I could get up, go to work, be a full time student and work 2-3 part time jobs and still be a supportive friend/wife/sibling/child… all of this could happen, right?

I promised myself time off when I finished my undergrad – I was just going to work the part time job as a research coordinator for a lab at the university – a role I had been doing while completing my undergrad degree and honours thesis (it’s published, woowoo). Then I got my first real job as a Kinesiologist, and the next five years are what she wrote – far be it for me to turn down a job in my chosen field and not choose to work my ass off. But I never took time off. By the time I walked across the stage I was already embarked on my new career – something that few of my peers had managed, but something that meant that long desired and planned for time off didn’t happen. Fast forward five interesting and professionally fulfilling years – I don’t regret that decision. But I was burnt out and a mess at the end of my undergrad, and I never actually took the pause that I promised myself.

Back to humble. Basically it is this: It doesn’t matter how smart, driven, determined, or full on stubborn I am. Depression has caught up with me and overrun my life in the lat few years. And that is humbling; not because I thought I was better than anyone else, but because I had that stupid blind faith that I would somehow manage to be the exception: That Depression wouldn’t be able to take its tole, do it’s damage, because I would push through. So … humbled. Because this is my take away: You can run, but you can’t hide. You can busy the shit out of your brain, prioritize other things and people, and run at full steam for as long as you can… but you cannot ignore mental health. It isn’t simply gone. It refuses to be forgotten. Trust me on this, I tried. For years. For years before I knew what I was doing, and possibly with more fervour once I had more awareness. Therapy helped a lot, because it tends to. And I think it was a decent stopgap measure, but in my vanity, I still thought I could go it alone, and that was an epic fail.

When I finally hit the point earlier this year that I wanted to stop existing, I was clear that I needed help. All of the help. And I needed to let go of my own narcissistic vanity and be vulnerable. And I hated every second of that. I hate being vulnerable, I hate feeling weak, and I hate letting people in and needing support. But in wanting to not be me anymore, I realized I had to stop pretending that my depression wasn’t real.

I’m not going to for a second pretend I have any answers. I don’t. I don’t want to die. I want to see what life has to offer. I wish I had more humility, because even as I write this I still feel like I should know better. But that is the thing with being humbled – it happens in spite of yourself, not because of a decision, despite one… despite your sense of self, wants, needs… the id will out. And mine has wanted out with a vengeance, and scares the ever living shit out of me.

At least I don’t want to die.

Ugh. Humble is not my colour.

-Me

Crazypants.

It’s been two weeks since I finished with my previous job, and I’m two weeks out from my surgery. My new job is actually busier than I expected it to be – I’m working 15-20 hours a week instead of the 5-10 hours I expected. So thats good, I think. What is less good is the realization that although I am happy to be done with my previous company, this new job is not really what I want to be doing. I miss the clinical setting, I miss collaborating with other therapists. So at least now I know what I want to focus on in terms of where I will build my career.

I am also struggling hard with the increased down time. My mental health has been a lot better in the past few months, which is lovely… But having down time to sit with myself is not really something I enjoy much. I don’t think i’ve really been ignoring anything lately, so it’s not that I am suddenly being confronted with things I was pushing aside. Except exactly how terrified I am about going in for this breast reduction surgery. I had been basically ignoring it, because I know its going to happen, I know it needs to happen, and that’s it.

Then on Tuesday I dropped a friend off/picked her up for her surgery – not the same type of surgery, but similar duration. Not a totally routine surgery, because there was some uncertainty as to exactly what the procedure would be/how long it would take, but I had no real reason to worry, she’s healthy, active, etc. And I was utterly terrified for her. I don’t know why. I know she’s important to me, obviously, she’s my friend. I also was pretty aware that there was no reason to think she would be anything other than find after the whole thing. She did look nervous going into it. She told me afterwards that she was shaking before they gave her the general anaesthetic. She is fine, by the way – no complications, out safe, and healing away. But something about watching her go into surgery and then staying with her during her recovery really brought it home to me what I am in for.

Some of that is just basic logistics – forced time off, pain, recovery, the fact that I wish I had been able to lose more weight prior to surgery. Some of it was watching her not really be herself for a period of time, and seeing her so scared. And trying not to mirror that, because she doesn’t need to be worried about looking after me while dealing with her own recovery. But unfortunately I stressed my brain in a way I didn’t expect, and the aftermath has me feeling all weird and discombobulated and messed up. Which is no-one’s fault but my own.

I am not expecting any complications from my surgery – I too am a healthy adult, and i’ve been under general anaesthetic before with no ill effects. I have the time booked off work, i’ve looked into medical EI, and I have my Husband and some other friends available to help with anything I need. I think having had over four weeks to think about it, and having had it rescheduled twice already has me feeling weird – I feel like I can’t really engage with my new job fully, because I have to take time away. I don’t want to work too hard to book a lot of new clients when I know that I will have to leave them, first for a week while I recover, and then again for a week at the end of August because i’m taking my first vacation in at least nine years. The additional awareness that it’s not exactly what I want to be doing is also not terribly helpful in that respect.

I’m just feeling lost, and sad, and weird, and socially awkward, and like I lack direction. And I don’t really know what to do about it. I don’t especially want to be around anyone, and I don’t have deadlines or details to immerse myself into. I cleaned out some closets while waiting for my friend to be done with her surgery, and i’ve organized parts of the house that have needed it since we moved in. I have a few small projects that could happen, so maybe that is what I will focus on for the next two weeks – all the heavy and energy consuming jobs that I can’t do once I’ve been chopped and re-built, because I’m not allowed to lift things for over a month.

I am so terrified. I don’t really understand why, I just am. It’s not just the surgery, it’s the job, the changes, life – I feel like i’ve stepped out onto a high wire with no safety equipment. And some of that is tangled up in the fact that this surgery is in part an acknowledgement of what I already know: That I won’t have biological children… But this is something I had always postponed until after, so having it now is one more permanent mark on that page.

Ugh, torturing metaphors.

I need to stop writing now. I have nothing else productive to say, just the circles and spirals of thought that have been going on in my head for most of the week. I think tomorrow I need to take myself for a long hike alone, and work out my body and my brain. Because oh fuck, that option won’t be available to me after the 28th.

-Me

Talking About Infertility: A Friend’s Guide

It’s getting easier to interact with my friends with kids, and with their kids. I spent the weekend visiting with a friend i’ve known since high school, her husband, and their two adorable daughters (2.5 years and 10 weeks). It was an awesome weekend, we went hiking, caught up, hung out with the kids, and gave her some much needed adult time while her husband looked after the kids.

Something that has come up a couple of times with my family/friends who have children is their uncertainty as to how uncomfortable it is going to make me if they talk about/interact with/gush over their children. And I do understand that. I get that there is a distinct level of awkwardness surrounding the conversation of infertility. Since it remains such a taboo subject of discussion, people have their own ideas and expectations for how they expect the infertile individual to feel and what their comfort level would be if they were in that situation.

I can’t speak to anyone else’s feelings on the subject, but here are mine: I like to hear about how happy people are to have their children. I think the fact that they enjoy their progeny, that they are excited to be parents, and that they love the experience is a good thing. Yes, of course it makes me think about what i’m missing. Of course there is a part of me that is sad.

What is exponentially worse is the people who have children and apparently hate or resent the whole experience. It is one thing when someone has the thing I want most in the world and treasures it… It is a whole other thing when they have it and they treat it like an inconvenience.

I know that having children is stressful, and draining, and a huge sacrifice. I know that it is hard, and that there are moments where any parent is likely to regret how much of themselves they’ve had to give up in order to support their progeny. I don’t think there is any such thing as a perfect parent, and perish any thought that I consider that I would be anything close to that if given the opportunity. But at least here in Canada, we have access to birth control, family planning options, and worst case scenario, abortion, all subsidized by our health care system. There is no excuse to bring an unwanted child into this part of the world. I don’t expect anyone to take the concept of terminating an unwanted pregnancy lightly. Unfortunately, I do think too many people take the concept of parenting lightly, which seems to have a whole other set of consequences.

As someone who has given parenting, childbearing, child rearing, and the sacrifices and work involved a lot of thought, not just in the last four+ years, but for the better part of a decade before that while my Husband and I were planning a life that centred around having a family… I honestly find it difficult to imagine how anyone can go into it without a basic grasp of what they will be giving up in order to support the little life they create. However, I am often confronted with evidence that exactly that happens all the time, and it drives me a little crazy.

So, talking to a friend who is dealing with infertility. Things to consider:

If you are curious about someone’s interest in having children, should you ask? The blanket answer to me is no. It’s none of your business what they want, and chances are if they want you to know they will choose to tell you. However, I think it can come up organically in conversations, and depending on how open they are about their fertility status, and how close the two of you are, they may choose to bring it up. If you are not comfortable having that conversation (and maybe hearing about some of the baggage behind it) don’t ask. My closest friends all know the basics, and varying levels of details about what my Husband and I have been going through. I personally chose to brush off the question or ignore pointed comments that can hang on the air if I don’t feel like talking about it. I will either full on lie, make a joke, or just say that we are not having kids without qualifying information. The basic point is: It’s none of your business, I don’t care who you are, my fertility is mine, and I will choose when and with whom I discuss the details.

You are aware that someone cannot have children. Should you invite them to child-centred events (baby showers, children’s birthdays, etc.). Yes. But don’t be offended if they chose not to attend. Really, I think that should be true of all events – an invitation is not a directive, it’s presenting the option. I think it’s weird when people nag you to show up to something once you’ve told them you won’t, regardless of the event details – weddings, parties, trips… an invitation shouldn’t be considered an order. But I digress…

Should you discuss your children/child details with/around your infertile friend? Yes. If they are not comfortable, they can choose to remove themselves from the conversation. As I said, I love to hear about my friends children, and my nieces and nephews. The little munchkins’ existence has no bearing on my own lack of children, and knowing that there are kids around who I can lavash with whatever maternal urges/attention/care I have (Plus getting to hand them back at the end of the day) is a good thing. I personally also have no issues with my friends discussing the more challenging realities of their child rearing experiences. As I said above, I know that is a part of it, and constant sunshine sugar and roses just makes my teeth hurt. I’m cool hearing all of it, and if I were not, I would say something or absent myself.

Asking questions about their situation, should you? Sure. Again, I think it’s up to each individual to determine their boundaries and what they wish to disclose. As with invitations, questions don’t automatically deserve a response. With those friends who I have chosen to disclose my experience, I have no problem discussing it in more depth, as long as the circumstances are appropriate. I am not going to have a heart to heart in the middle of a party with a bunch of other people listening in. But if I have already determined that I trust someone enough to have told them what is going on in my life on that level, I have no problem going into more detail. In fact, for me, I frequently have trouble talking about it unless someone chooses to ask. I tend to feel like I am over burdening my friends with my issues, so I generally avoid bringing it up. Sometimes someone choosing to ask about it is a welcome opportunity to vent/discuss/elaborate/communicate on an issue that I find intensely difficult to address. There is an aspect of buyer beware in this: If you ask, you may get far more of an answer than you expected and possibly more than you wanted. This is an emotionally charged issue, and it can come out in a whole huge ball of everything that can be overwhelming. Or maybe it just feels massively overwhelming to me. Whatever. Let that be on the asker, if you’re willing to ask an incredibly personal question, you should probably be prepared for the answer.

Random other things:

I don’t care that you don’t feel like you can understand what it feels like. I don’t want you to, I wouldn’t wish this on anyone I care about.

I don’t need your suggestions for other options for potentially getting pregnant – thank you, I know you’re trying to help, but I am a pretty phenomenal researcher in my own right – you are not going to suggest something that I have not already considered.

I don’t want to be told about the friend/acquaintance/your dog’s uncles owner who got pregnant after years of trying just when they had given up all hope. We all know that person (or at least know of them), and they are the exception, not the rule. People talk about that type of event, they talk a whole lot less about the absence of it.

Don’t bitch to me about the person in your life who got knocked up by accident, chose to have the baby, and is being a totally irresponsible parent. I know they exist, I work with the progeny of some of them, I am aware it’s a thing… but if you want to trigger a meltdown in me, that is your fastest route. Don’t do it, if you do, and you know you’re doing it, you’re just being an ass hole. If you are the irresponsible parent, chances are we are not friends, because I saw you coming from a mile away and removed myself from the situation. You didn’t have to feel my wrath, you’re welcome.

I have other things in my life that fulfil me, I am not broken. Yes, I think about my lack of ability to have children constantly. Yes it feels like a giant gaping hole in my life. However keenly I feel that loss, it does not mean that anything else I chose to do with my life is somehow done to compensate. It’s not. I’ve had a few people talk as if my masters degree, career, sport, etc. are all just ways to fill the void… they are not. I do these things because I think they have value. Yes, they are also valuable in terms of their ability to distract me and as coping mechanisms, but they would be equally valuable if I were able to have children – just ask all the fertile people who have also chosen to participate in those things!

I don’t expect to “get over it”. I choose to avoid talking about my infertility in part because I don’t feel like dealing with any backlash from people who, as with the loss of a loved one, think that grief has an expiration date. It does not. Time helps. It makes things less raw, less immediate, and improves coping skills, as well as offering perspective. But nothing stops this from being present, and I won’t simply wake up one morning and not care. So if, when i’m in my 60’s and long past child bearing potential, I mention the sense of loss… It’s still present, it’s still real, and if you can’t understand that… Either you are lucky and have never lost something you truly loved, or you’re a sociopath and you don’t actually feel that deeply about anything. Either way, I don’t really want to hear about it in that moment.

These are my honest, if cheeky, thoughts. They are likely only relevant to me and my situation. However, if you are reading this and wondering what to do in terms of your friend, the best thing you can do is just ask them what they need. Gently, calmly, and respectfully… and then respect their answer.

Cheers,

-Me