Archive for the ‘exhaustion’ Tag

The Sound of Strength

Hibou is screaming in my ear, an incessant fire alarm of a noise reaching its fingers down my throat and twisting my guts around my heart. She is crying because she wants to be asleep but isn’t. So easily overtired and overstimulated, she can’t figure out how to stay asleep once I’ve finally managed to get her there. Just like her brother, who was the king of the half-hour nap.

Desperate to maintain equilibrium, if not my sanity, I can feel myself deadening to her screams, mechanically patting her back and rocking, disassociating. All my old, ugly resentment against Dearest rises, threatening, whipping me into a frenzy. All I can think of is how he isn’t rescuing me from this screaming maddening noise. I can’t reconcile that with the bottles he is sterilizing, the laundry he is doing, the formula he is making, the other child he is putting to sleep, the lunches he is packing, the clothes he is folding. I am holding the screaming child because I am the one less likely to want to fling her across the room, and I hate my husband for it. For the fact that he can’t take it, for the fact that I can. It makes no sense, but there is no sense in this howling tornado of a room, there is only an exhausted baby, four walls, a closed door, and me.

Many hours later, I am sitting in the doorless livingroom in the slanting, slatted sun, a blessedly quiet sleeping baby sprawled on my chest. The resentment is sleeping too, banished, a hard-won fight.

It isn’t my newborn that I need my stamina for – it’s this other battle, against my own shapeshifting demons. I must come out the other side with children, marriage, and self intact. Failure is not an option. And so, I sit, in silence, and soak up the sun, recharging for the long night ahead, the long months and years of my own private war.

They say that courage is not the absence of fear, but forgeing ahead despite the presence of it. I knew this when we decided to try to have another child, and I know this now, when she is here. Let me not forget.

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Baby Steps

The sun is warm on my back.
I am out, navigating shoals of snow and melting ice, walking for the first time in three weeks.
The flu, bronchitis and a fractured rib – on top of third trimester pregnancy – made this Christmas one to remember.
I’ve never been so sick.
The ruts of tired snow, iced layers of tracks and slush, make this walk around the block more of an adventure than I care to admit.
I walk carefully, oh so carefully, balancing my battered ribs against my abused abdominal muscles, back straining to counteract Baby’s sloshing weight.
I will heal just a couple of weeks ahead of the next onslaught, torn rib muscles and pressure fracture racing against a planned C-section.
This walk will be a victory then too.
Water drips from every roof, every branch, syncopated to my coughing.
Hatless heads and bare hands are an Ottawan measure of warmth on this bright January afternoon.
I turn the corner, and the sun warms my face.
The sky is smiling.
Slow, shuffling, faltering, still –
my steps walk to the beat of poetry.

The Inevitable Fall From Grace

The darkness has come again, and I am lost in it,
out of tune,
unstrung.
Uninvited tears flood as I struggle to ask a friend to take Bonhomme for the afternoon.
“She’s not fit to be a mother.”
“Look at her, falling apart.”
“What’s she crying about? Because someone else needs to mother her son for her? Because she has to ask? Because she has the gall to?”
“Not fit.”
These are the whispers of my heart music, discordant, insistent, endless.
I cry without reason, without warning, without relief.
I beg.
Make it go away.
Let this period of my life be over.
Please make this song end, let me move on.
There is no rhyme or rhythm, just this pathetic, soaked-pillow begging.
Alone.
Lost.
I am too lost to look up,
to look up from my bed,
from my feet.
I stare at them, deadened, and watch my feet take one stumbling step, and then another.
I have no idea where they are going –
I have only the bleak knowledge that they must go.
This is the only answer my prayers get:
no matter the music,
time still marches on.

The Time-Space Continuum

There will come a time, they say, when my child will not want to talk to me incessantly.
“Momma, I’ve got an S T 15 4 hundred telescope!”
A time of ignoring, of being out, of closed room doors and worrying about how he’s doing.
“Look, Momma, I’m at 128 steps on my foot thermometer!”
“Your pedometer, Darling.”
“Yah, my footomometer! 136!”
I will wonder what to do with my spare time. And my spare space. And my spare quiet. They say.
“Momma, how much points do I have now in the game? Do I have more than you? How much more than you do I have now, Mummy?”
Someday, I will not be touched at random times and in random places. My body will no longer be public property, nor my sleeve a place for unclean faces to cuddle.
“Momma, for your birthday, I’m going to buy you something special. Something of your very own, that you will really like. It starts with a T. But you’ll never guess! It’ll be a 15 5 hundred, at least! A tuh, tuh, tuh T!”
I will sleep more than one night in a row uninterrupted. People will knock on the bathroom door, and then go away when they discover that someone is on the other side. I will blow-dry my hair from start to finish with nary a shouted conversation during.
“Look Momma, I unlocked the bathroom door with my own thumbnail! Oh, clever me!”
Dinnertime will include conversations, not negotiations. Even, should I dare to dream so brazenly, with only one person speaking at a time.
“1288! One two eighty-eight steps from breakfast to this lightpost!”
There will come, they say, a time when I will miss this. I will. Whether it will be as much as I miss that fantastical time now, oh, I don’t know.
“Momma, did you know? Did you know that chocolate is moo-licious? Did you know that sand is really little tiny rocks? Did you know that one of the constellations is a hunter, with a bow? Did you know that? And, when I become an inventor, I’m going to invent a car that can fly, and runs on air, and never gets dented. And I’m going to biuld you a robot that will cook you dinner. And, did you
know, that, that, that rocketships can shoot missiles? And that ped is like the French word for foot, but it’s actually another language. And, I’m at, I’m at. Hold on, let me check. I’m at 14 hundred steps! 14 hundred! 14 hundred steps to daycare!”
For now, I cherish my solo walk to work, filtering in only the noises of traffic, of birds, of feet crunching. My chatter-free fifteen minutes. I soak in the sun warming my legs, the freedom to walk at my own pace. I am grateful, every single time during elevator chit-chat, when I don’t need to reply.
Someday, silence will stretch. It won’t be measured, allotted, stolen. I will remember all of this fondly.
I will delight, at a further someday, at charming moments just like these, which will come in defined doses, at reasonable hours of the day. When children will not feel like an endless bombardment, when there will be rest in between the waves.
There will come a time.

One Midsummer Night

The evening drinks the sun down,
a slow, smooth swallow
lingering on the tongue.
The light caresses the wildflowers,
stretches shadows for me to follow.
The sky is one long brushstroke.
I am so lucky.

The noble cows watch me roll past with indifference,
The lily pads wave me on.
This is the Ottawa Valley,
lush, well-worn, warmly welcoming.
I am on my way home from camping with Bonhomme,
a scant day and a half of splendour.
Hours of lugging and tugging,
planning and packing,
setting up and taking down,
all for a mere overnight stay.
I made this happen.

I remind myself of the delight on his face as he held a 6-foot grey ratsnake in his hands, courtesy of the park ranger,
as I make my eighth trip into the house carrying in gear,
weighing the cost of a precious vacation day from work.
There were blue-finned sunfish in the water this morning,
as the geese ate their breakfast of lawn nearby.
We kayaked over the same fish in the afternoon, Bonhomme proclaiming himself an expert paddler.
We discovered frogs the size of thumbnails,
saw centipedes curl and fireflies wink,
I remember as I resist the call of my lullaby tires.
We learned the four calls of the loon.
There was quiet colouring,
and noisy tent peg hammering,
hooting and tooting while walking in the middle of the carefee road.
It was worth it.

The half moon applauds me with its full belly
(knowing full well that I’ve been up before the sun),
for making memories,
for teaching one small boy how big it feels to be free.

The not-doing

I feel good today.

In fact, I’ve felt good for five days. Five whole days. Monday to Friday. A week’s worth of good.

I’ve been cringing, waiting every day for this freakish feeling to end. Hasn’t yet. Might not.

I don’t feel high, that manic-panic feeling of everything being too bright, too sharp, too fast.

I feel…

…normal.

I haven’t felt anything near the definition of that term for longer than I care to consider, so perhaps you understand my hesitation in stating it.

I feel a regular amount of tired, the amount anyone with young children and a career and a house and a child’s 5th birthday to plan might feel. (Normal.)

I find myself amused by the little things in life, several times a day – at least as often as I am frustrated by them. (Normal.)

When I swear under my breath (as I am wont to do, rather frequently), that’s it. I’m done. I was mad, I swore, now I feel better. When the swearing was directed at someone, I barely even feel guilty for swearing at them. And then I swear at my guilt, tell it to go the bleep away, and I feel better again. (Normal.)

The gorgeous spring weather helps. It helps a lot. But, I’ve been through other gorgeous springs – and at times, it hasn’t helped. There are times when no amount of beauty gets to cut through the gray darkness. Those are the times when I see the beauty, I know it’s there, and I know that I should care deeply about it – but the most I can summon is a vague irritation with myself for not caring. It is the strangest kind of disassociation you can imagine.

I think what is helping more is that I am (slowly) learning not to exhaust myself. I am starting to understand that the most important thing I can do right now is to do all the things that I need to do in order to become as physically and mentally healthy as possible – and when I don’t understand it, I do them anyway. I’ve already learned how to prioritize exercise, healthy eating, and healthy sleeping, and I’ve made each into a (more or less) solid habit. What I’m learning now is to do, and not do, all the other stuff. The stuff that makes me feel emotionally good. Painting. Sewing. Reading. Walking. Having a latte. Doing jigsaw puzzles. Taking a lunch break. Writing. Making jewellery. Napping. Some of these are harder to do than others. Most of these are harder to stop than they are to start. Hardest of all is telling myself that it’s OK to not do any of them, and instead, just sit in the sunshine, or just watch TV, or just go to bed. It’s OK to read a book instead of running errands. It is OK – it really is OK – to just do nothing. In doing so, I am not doing nothing. I am investing in myself. I am not exhausting myself.

To do this, I’ve decided to approach it the same way I approached the physical health tasks. The only way to create habits is to just plain create them. So, I decided to commit to doing one creative thing a day. It could be two minutes worth of poetry, or fifteen minutes of clarinet practice, or a nice long session of crafting with the kids. The point is not the creative result, but the act itself. This has helped me with the guilt, and occasional panic, of the not-doing – because I know that I’ll do something creative again tomorrow.

As I get ready for a weekend of birthday parties, placing a rather enormous stuffed penguin in a special spot for a very excited birthday boy to find in the morning, I savour this feeling. Creaky, gritty-eyed, somewhat frazzled, with a bit of zen thrown in, and smiling.

Normal.

The Grind

I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog front for a goodly number of months now. Yes, I’ve been struggling to have enough energy, stamina, to write – but that’s not really it. Really, it’s that I’ve been pulling my punches. I’ve been avoiding going within too much, delving too deep. Writing forces me to turn a pretty glaring light on sometimes – and I’ve not liked the sight every time I’ve flicked the switch lately.

Doc called me on something, at our last visit. His argument:

“How come you feel that it would be OK, it would be justifiable, to choose to postpone pregnancy, or forgo it altogether, if you had a physical illness – such as a uterine problem, or severe anemia – because you recognize that you would never choose to knowingly potentially endanger a fetus; and yet you don’t feel that it’s OK, it’s acceptable, to do the same due to a mental illness? That a pregnant mother experiencing chronic sleep disruption, poor appetite, debilitating mood swings, anxiety-induced breathing difficulties doesn’t pose the same level of potential danger to the unborn? How come you can come to terms with having a physical illness affect your reproductive choices, but not a mental illness?”

Huh.

Damn.

So, it turns out, that I carry that mental-illness-does-not-equal-real-illness stigma after all.

I’ve been so doggedly determined to not let my depression get the upper hand for so many years now, that I’ve delegitimized my needs.

The session ended with Doc wresting a promise from me to consider putting my next potential pregnancy on hold, just for a while, a month or three or six, until I felt that my mental health was stable enough not to unduly affect my physical health.

I fear this.

I fear this time of waiting. What if that delicate balance never comes? I don’t fear another difficult pregnancy (just an unhealthy one); I don’t fear having another four years of early childhood being as demanding as the last half-decade has been. I fear waking up twenty years from now and not being able to forgive myself for having only one child because I wasn’t strong enough to have more.

I’m one of the lucky ones. Yes, I have what’s called major clinical chronic depression – but I’m not impaired by it. I’m highly functional. Having a sister who isn’t really brings home to me what that truly means. It means that my depression does not get the best of me. It does get the worst of me – it gets my punctuality, it gets my attention span, it gets my even keel, it gets my sleep and my peace. Sometimes, many times, it gets the better of me. But it does not get my words. Or my painting. Or my voice, or my love for my son, or my sheer get-through-it-despite-it-all grit. Depression does not get my soul.

And so, I tell you, as I’ve told all the well-meaning and caring people who have tried to offer me fixes in the past few months, especially immediately surrounding my recent miscarriage: I am not broken.

It enrages me that depressives have to fight this fight, while bearing the burden of our disease, in a way that very few others do. If you were in a wheelchair without the use of your legs, we would not encourage, chivvy, or outright order you to get up and walk. Grow new legs. We would not admonish you to stop being such a useless lump. Or to take better care of yourself. We would descend down in righteous wrath upon anyone who made you feel guilty or inferior or incapacitated for not having the use of your legs. We would demand wheelchair access entry for every building, boycott en masse those inaccessible entrances and hallways and bathrooms, renovate for you, and stand, sit or shout in solidarity for your challenges. And yet, when it comes to depression, and all mental illnesses – where inaccessibility is invisible – that wrath is private. It is silent. We do not wear mental illness proudly on our sleeves. Depressives run marathons, yes – it’s called making it through the day. But there aren’t any cheering masses.

The last few months have been eventful. Yes, of course, I’ve gone through the hormonal, physical and emotional demands of a constantly changing body, first due a couple of months of early pregnancy and second due to the sad end to it. Throughout both experiences, I’ve had the additional burden of a chemically unbalanced mind, as my hormonally-triggered chronic depression has ridden the resulting waves. But it’s actually been talking about depression that has been the biggest burden.

Through one of those wacky turns that social media brings us, my mother learned about both my pregnancy and my miscarriage in the space of about a week, through a friend, rather than in person from me. These things happen to those who blog. It gave my mom and I the opportunity to have a heart-to-heart, which ended up centering around depression. But it was a struggle for me, because despite the fact that I’ve been battling diagnosed depression since adolescence, and despite the fact that my eldest sister was also diagnosed at the same age with a much fiercer, and debilitating, permutation of the disease, and despite the fact that I’ve been both proactive in addressing and open about depression, my illness was news to my mom. It’s not that I hadn’t told her, many, many times in many, many ways – it’s that it hadn’t gotten through.

Now it has.

And by extension, it’s gotten through to her closest friends, as she reaches out to them to help her find solace. They, in turn, flooded me with well-intended advice, right about the time when I was struggling to breathe due to weeks of sustained blood loss.

I think this is a battle everyone with depression faces. We get to be educators, advocates, defenders and truth-tellers – all while also living with the disease.

Luckily, many people who have a brush with depression have it once. Maybe twice. This is called episodic depression – often due to life events, such as losing a loved one, losing a job, moving to a new city, serious stressors. It’s still depression, and it’s still serious. It requires the full range of treatment options and support. It can be life-changing. I say luckily only because for those people who suffer episodic depression, it can come – and it can go.

And then there’s chronic depression. Chronic depression differs from episodic not necessarily in terms of intensity – both hurt. But it does differ in terms of frequency and duration, and these can lead to more severe outcomes and combinations with other disorders. Treatment isn’t just about treating the depression when it occurs, it’s also about treating the depression when it’s not occurring, to prevent or lessen relapses. Think about it like cancer. When you have cancer, you are either in remission or you are not – but you always have cancer regardless of its current state, and you are always treating it whether symptoms are present or absent.

Chronic depression gets diagnosed as such once you’ve had multiple episodes – you go through one to get to the other.

To be honest, I can’t even tell these days whether I’m in the midst of, or recovering from, a depressive episode, or if I’m just plain burned out. Work is an exhausting conveyor belt of short deadlines, constant reading and research, little to no feedback, fast footwork and political messaging, and increasingly, soothing frayed tempers. Home is a series of scheduled visits and errands and chores, little to no feedback, and even more frayed tempers. In neither place do I feel like I’m achieving anything. This is what they call the grind.

And just like a ground stone, tiny pieces of me are flying off and dying little deaths every day. What’s left is simply trying to survive – let alone trying to shape my life into the kind of space and structure that I would need if I were to actively try to manage and prevent recurrences of depression.

I feel the overwhelming urge to take a vacation from my life.

Which brings us full circle, to Doc asking me whether now is really the right time to keep trying to have another baby. I cannot express how much it hurts, the jackhammer that this is inside my core, to have to accept that after all this time, after all this effort – to have come this far battling my depression, to have struggled so to regain some health, to have left the best job I have ever had, to have nursed my husband back onto two legs, to have seen the other side of four years of not-sleeping-through-the-night, to have finished my Master’s degree, to have tried and failed to have another child, after all this and more – it’s still not enough. I am still not healthy, nor stable enough to have another baby. I cannot will my way through this.

So, I guess what I need is someone to picket that rampless restaurant. I need someone to boycott that conveyor belt. I need some solidarity.

I am not broken.

I am still lucky, in my way, in many ways.

But I am also very, very tired.

I know – oh, how I know – that the best of me is the only part of me that matters. And I still have the best of me. Even if it’s not enough, not right now, to make another baby. There is still enough left of me to wait, to try to recover, to try again eventually.

There’s enough of me left to punch back.

Handle With Care

It was one of those days with Bonhomme.
Outlandish, garish, larger than life.
When he wasn’t whining, he was shrieking. When he wasn’t squirming, he was climbing. When he wasn’t complaining, he was arguing.
He was beside himself.
And yet, at times, he was soulfully sorry (if not quite penitent). An hour after eating a cookie when he wasn’t supposed to, he wrote me an apology note, artfully stuck to the bathroom mirror. “Bonhomme Sorry Grace”, it said, in three vertical columns. (He generally calls me Mommy, but apparently, this won’t do for formal correspondence.)
This has been happening more and more lately, with extreme behaviour followed by abject apologies. It’s as if he’s discovering that he’s unable to control his outbursts, that he’s becoming aware that he can’t help himself. The profoundness of his sadness, of his disappointment in himself, is shattering.
When he was one, he was busy. When he was two, he was precocious. When he was three, he was dramatic. At four, he’s been spirited. Now, almost five, I’m running out of excuses.
His teacher, at our most recent parent-teacher interview, alluded to the possibility of ADHD. Dearest was aghast. I was not.
Bonhomme is impulsive, has difficulty sustaining attention, bounces off the walls, can’t sit still, interrupts, requires every ounce of available attention from anyone and everyone in a room, and is very vocally passionate.
He has always been what you might call a “challenging” child.
He has his strengths. He abounds in them. Curious, creative, persistent, articulate, persuasive, caring, decisive, he will be a fascinating adult.
But he has to get from here to there.
And honestly, I can’t tell when it’s not one of those days with Bonhomme anymore.
Once in a very rare while, we have a good day, and I recognize, cherish it as such.
I have made it this far simply waiting for one stage to pass, for him to grow out of one hurdle and into another. But now, I feel the need to face the distinct possibility that it isn’t just ages and stages. It isn’t necessarily just because he’s two, or three, or four. This sensitive, passionate, willful creature will likely always require delicate handling.
ADHD, if that does turn out to be his (our) lot, is a developmental delay disorder. It basically means that certain characteristics come more slowly for some. There isn’t a parent in this world who doesn’t understand about differential development, so, I’m not all that concerned about the possibility. We got game, parenting-wise – we can take this ball and run with it, analyze the heck out of it, throw every tool in the book at it. The real concern with ADHD is the difficulty interacting with other kids, and the long-term harm that can come from that. Regardless, he’s too young to be tested, poked and prodded, diagnosed. For now, we keep on doing what we’re doing, with a few tweaks here and there to cut down on screen time, focus more on nutrition and sleep and physical activity, start working on attention-span exercises. The goal is to have him be able to handle the longer sitting and concentration required in first grade, a year and a half from now.
Small comfort to a tired parent, but then, what parent isn’t tired?
I’ve started measuring my days with Bonhomme not in how many times he loses it, but in how many times I don’t.
And I’m doing pretty good. Not great, and certainly not all the time, but pretty good.
Raising Bonhomme reminds me that patience is a practice.
A caring one.

“Losing Me To You”

A trying day

This afternoon, during a particularly heavy mood slump, thinking I just was not going to be able to do a single productive thing – I looked up and saw that it was almost quitting time.
I felt a wave of relief.
Off the hook!
Most days, today in particular, are punctuated by unanticipated mids and lows (no highs – not yet).
I have fits of energy and focus, resulting in diagrams and notes and phonecalls and meetings – and then all of a sudden I don’t. The only consistent thing about my energy is its disappearance. It is reliably unreliable.
There isn’t much to be done about this.
During my ups, I tend to try to compensate, churning out as much as possible, knowing there’s a silent timer ticking, lurking, waiting to screech right when I’ve forgotten it’s there.
And then I kick myself, berate myself, deplore myself when it’s come. Time’s up.
But I was on such a roll a minute, an hour ago!
Alas.
No more.
And so, I give in, and give up for the day. This is as far as I go, for now. There is always tomorrow.
It’s time to take my brave face home.