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

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

 

Pity

I hate being the object of pity. I’m not much happier with sympathy, I can sometimes handle empathy… But I hate pity.

I raced at Regionals this weekend, and although all of my four races felt good, and my team came together and performed well, I did not win any medals. Which was disappointing – every other person on my team won in one of their other races, I seemed to be the common denominator among losing boats. I thought I had made more improvements over the last year than I had, but apparently it’s going to take a lot more work to compete at an international level and win.

One of my coaches, who is an ex national team athlete (he was headed for the olympics until an injury forced early retirement), decided to race a single scull, and unsurprisingly he won. He felt like it was unfair, because despite having followed the letter of the law, it is somewhat unsportsmanlike for an athlete of his caliber to compete at a masters level. So this is where the pity comes in: At the end of the regatta, once the boats were packed back on the trailer and we were ready to make the 4+ hour drive back to the ferry, he called everyone together for a team meeting/end of regatta wind down chat. It started out nicely enough, he made some nice comments about learning a lot from adult athletes and how much he enjoyed coaching us…

Then he brought up a new thing. The “spirit” award. Citing the idea that this person had been positive and complained the least throughout the weekend, he called on me, and gave me his gold. And I just wanted to crawl under a rock and die. It I felt that I had earned that award, maybe it wouldn’t have felt so shitty, but I don’t think I did – There was another member of the team who had been far more helpful, positive, and proactive than I had been all weekend, which means they selected me because they felt bad for me. Because I alone had not medaled. I can handle my own disappointment, but knowing that I was the object of my coach’s pity just … It just sucks.

I held it together until I got into the car to drive home and then let the tears come. The ladies I was carpooling with were worried about me, and agreed that it was a poor choice and pretty transparently a consolation prize… and they were lovely. Half an hour into our drive home we were giggling about other things.

I have no desire to have anyone pity me. A large part of why I keep the details of my infertility largely private is because I have no interest in being the object of that attention. And I work my ass off at rowing, i’m just not performing at a high enough level to win yet. Having my coach think that that action was appropriate just… Makes me want to quit. Having it happen in front of all of my peers, and drawing attention to my failure, not to mention making me a lightning rod for their pity as well? FML.

I know that he thought he was doing something nice, and that makes the whole thing somehow worse. If he were just being an ass hole, I would write it off and dismiss it, but he genuinely thought that he was being kind. And there isn’t really a way to give it back without being an ass hole in return.

I’m aware that three days of racing in 35+ degree (celsius) weather, plus <5 hours a night of sleep for five days, plus 7+ hours of travel time on either end it making me more emotional than normal. I’m aware that once I am well rested and a few days have passed I will feel less miserable about this. But right now I don’t want to get back on the water, I don’t want to deal with anyone from that arena, I just want to hide, give up, oh, and starve myself to boot, because when I hate myself, I feel all the old body image issues resurfacing.

I have to go for a training shift at my new job today. I am overtired, have a slight heat exhaustion hangover, and my brain feels like fuzzy mush. Not ideal training circumstances, so here’s hoping I can get through it with some shred of dignity intact.

Fuck pity.

-Me

A Weird Conundrum

So, something I am noticing that I am struggling with: I am starting to get on with my life. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am getting over not being able to get pregnant – that remains a nice little black cloud in my psyche, but I am starting to see it more as a distant storm instead of an ever present shadow. As I am able to actually focus on the good things in my life, I have a weird sensation like i’m cheating on my unconceived, unborn child. Like somehow being able to build other positive things in my life is doing a disservice to the dream of having a biological child. I think it’s associated with the general grief experience, but it’s an interesting aspect. It’s like somehow if I can move on, if I can build a positive and fulfilling life without having imprinted my DNA on the next generation, I never really wanted it that badly.

I know that’s a load of crap. If I woke up tomorrow, or next week, or next year, and took a pregnancy test and it were positive, I…. I don’t have the words to express how happy I would be. I have dreams where it happens, and the disappointment I feel on waking and finding out it isn’t real is almost heartbreaking.

So as I actually feel like I am building a different life, and a good one… I find the feeling of being unfaithful to my original plan very interesting.

I think my Husband and I will take a very serious look at adoption sometime in the next three years. I think we will look at children who are in the foster system, not infants… and I think we will be parents. We will have a child, or children, and we will parent together. But in the meantime, I need to not feel guilty for trying to build a good life without my dream baby.

-Me

Apparently it’s time for a change?

Soooooooo, its been an eventful few weeks – on top of quitting my job last week, I got a call that my surgery date is much, much sooner than I expected. Initially they called me Monday to tell me that it would be June 27th. I rearranged my entire schedule around that with less than 6 hours notice, and tried to come to terms with the idea of being slightly incapacitated starting a new job.

Then on Tuesday I got a call from the bookings people that they had neglected to check the surgeons availability, and that the 27th wasn’t actually an option. So instead it’s been postponed to July 25th. Six weeks seems like a reasonable amount of time to prepare…

I will still need to take some time off quite early in my new job, but I will at least have a month to settle in.

In some ways having a breast reduction is another step in my acceptance of not being fertile. I had been waiting to see about the surgery until I had children, since breast feeding is apparently more difficult post surgery. Choosing to do so now is again admitting that it isn’t going to happen. I waffle back and forth between weird last minute hope and being accepting of the reality.

The limbo is waning. It won’t go away, it won’t be gone, and I will grieve on some level… but I am starting to concretely move on.

-Me

Birth

A beautiful baby boy came into the world this morning. Very good friends of ours, they were best man and maid of honour at our wedding, welcomed their first child this morning. A few weeks earlier than planned, but he and his mother and healthy, and his father is overjoyed. Their joy is wonderful, and I believe that they will do everything in their power to be amazing and caring parents, and to raise a happy and well rounded child.

And I feel joy for them. I feel it as strongly as I feel my own sadness. The four of us have been friends for over a decade, planned our lives together, joked about how we as mothers would sit in the shade with glasses of wine and get the fathers to run around after the little heel raisers we were bound to produce. So I feel joy that my friends are¬†experiencing parenthood. And profound loss that we won’t be there with them. We can still drink wine in the shade, but no little melange of my Husbands and my genetics will be there to run around with their son. Somehow this birth is harder, largely because we had planned a life together with them, and they are inevitably leaving us behind. I will be a fabulous aunty. I will dote on that little monkey and be there for his milestones. And although I feel the grief that sits behind me every day, I will not allow it to darken every interaction.

The guilt I feel in not having been able to provide my Husband with progeny is huge – not because he’s put it on me, he emphatically hasn’t. But because children were always in our life plan, the one we agreed to in the years before we got married, and the one we planned on after. As we approach a decade and a half together, I appreciate that he has been, and continues to be a loving and supportive partner, and that he does not seem to resent my inability to conceive.

Infertility makes me feel lonely. That is, to some degree, my own fault – I hide my personal details from most of the people who see me often. Those who know all of them live far away, and we only discuss things occasionally, but then in detail. I want to reach out for support, but those who might offer what I want are either unavailable or unable to respond. And what could they possibly say? There really isn’t anything to say.

-Me.

Growth?

I’m starting to feel like myself again. And by myself I mean I am feeeling better, less depressed. I hesitate over that phrasing – alienating the depression, acting as if it is not a part of me, pushing away – it feels off. I suppose what I mean is that I feel closer to being the version of me I am comfortable living with. I think there is also an element of recognizing that although the depressed, nasty, brutal though processes were *gasp* “coming from inside the house!” So to speak, they felt like there was a monster speaking through me.

I think I find it difficult to reconcile between acknowledging that I was that monster, and wanting to push as far as I can away from it/me. Because ultimately I can’t runaway from myself. That monster is going to have to be maintained and cared for, so that it doesn’t decide it needs to try to be in control again.

But those thoughts aside, I am feeling better. Despite the upheaval in my professional life, and just passing the fourth year since we started trying to conceive, I am starting to feel real joy and hope, and I don’t feel guilty about it. One of the surest signs that I feel better is hat I don’t feel like I need to hide my depression from everyone around me. I am hardly broadcasting it (I don’t really broadcast anything…) but I don’t deny or hide it. Rather than naming it giving it power, it seems to instead strip away the layers of fear, hurt, pain, sorrow, and self doubt.

I recognize that, having been through some type of cycle of depression several times, I seem to be susceptible to the state. I know that it is possible that it will come up again in the future when the going gets tough. But each time I come out the other side, my faith that there is a way through is strengthened, and I recognize the value of hope. Two years ago I had “Hope” tattooed behind my left ear. Although I have never regretted the ink, the meaning behind it has shifted over time, and at the worst it felt like that permanent reminder was mocking me. Now, it serves he purpose it was intended for from he start, and reminds me that, whether I see it or not, hope is always there, and there is something worth hoping for.

-Me