Achievement Unlocked: First Trimester

It's not always good weather when the stork comes.

Hello, all!

So, there’s a reason I’ve not been around for months. A Very Good Reason. Which is actually a number of very good reasons piled together into one general Good Reason, which can be summed up thusly: I’m pregnant with our third child.

Having just bumped over the end of the first trimester milestone, I now feel this is reasonable to share with the Internet At Large, though most people in our circle of family and friends know by now.

Aside from that announcement, I’ve had no time, energy, motivation, or interest in or for blogging since late June, perhaps (in case you haven’t noticed, ha). I was physically miserable for months: quite literally lying in bed or flopped in a puddle on the couch for the vast majority of hours in a day, barely able to open my eyes at times for the nausea, sickened by just about every smell in the world, and utterly overwhelmed by the task list involved with moving into a much bigger house. Not to mention pretty much incapable of dealing with my two preschoolers for a number of weeks. Friends and family volunteered to come watch them for several hours out of each weekday for a number of weeks; were it not for this, we would not have survived, at least not without toxic dosage levels of TV (I jest, but truly, it would have been horrific).

On top of this I discovered that we had a stomach virus running through the house, which hit me VERY hard and explained a ton of horrible digestive issues… mostly after the fact… and then we got Hand Foot and Mouth Disease for the third time in two years.

We have had, as you might say, a Rough Time.

Starting in about week 12 or so, though, I finally, SUDDENLY began to drastically improve on the physical health front. The nausea wore off quite a bit and my energy levels started to rise again. I was able to take care of the boys myself and handle a few simple house chores on most weekdays. Now that I’m through week 14, I *almost* feel like myself again.

Aside from the drastic mood swings, unpredictable and horrific bouts of depression and severe irritability, perpetual gut-killing anxiety upon waking every morning, constant sentiments of misanthropy directed at myself and my immediate family members, and a soul-crushing reticence to being touched. This following about six weeks of serious depression straight, thanks to the severe health issues and accompanying beliefs of personal utter worthlessness and invalidity.

Aside from that, you know, I’m almost normal.

So, all that to say, this has been (is being) the worst pregnancy I’ve experienced, by far, and yesterday I hit my wit’s end.

I’ve been doing Christian counseling off and on (though it HAS been quite awhile since my last session) for the past several months, and that has been helpful, but it doesn’t really get to the underlying problems I have with trauma and depression and a number of other things and address them. Especially since I know, from the past two pregnancies, that I have at least a tendency to prenatal depression (I tend to get much better after birth but struggle a lot emotionally during pregnancy), I know that given the severity of what I’m encountering this time around, I need some serious, specialized professional help.

So I requested an appointment with a local practice yesterday and hope to hear back from them on Monday. I’m also hoping to connect with some sort of perinatal mental health support group in the area, based on the advice of a friend. And, yes, I’m going to talk to my doctor about medication, which I don’t fundamentally like the idea off, but I have a higher value for doing due diligence and addressing a problem holistically, and I acknowledge that there are many qualified experts out there that know a whole lot more about how to handle this problem than I do, both medically and therapeutically.

So, there you have it: my Life Update of the past few months.

I want to say, too, that I’ve been rather hesitant to say anything on here about the pregnancy because I know several lovely folk here who have struggled with infertility and infant mortality, etc. And I know every birth announcement must, on some level, sting for you; and I don’t want to compound anyone’s pain. I see you and love you, people, and I am sorry for the ache this necessarily causes in your hearts. But I knew it wasn’t something I could fail to bring up for forever… and, if I mentioned anything, I wanted to be frank about how this pregnancy has not been a walk in the park. This just can’t be a “rub my happiness in your face” post because that wouldn’t be at all honest. Yes, I am VERY grateful for this baby; we wanted at least three children and I feel like, Lord willing, we’ll be blessed with a warm bundle soon enough. But this pregnancy has all but totally convinced me that I NEVER want to carry a child again. Ever. So I don’t want anyone to look at me and think, “Oh, lucky her, there’s yet another perfectly blissful expectant mother… it makes me sick!” Because I am so far from anything blissful, content, or happy, it’s wretched. And I know many of you might resent that, too, because dang it, I get to HAVE a BABY–why aren’t I just jumping up and down for joy?!??! Well, I feel sick over that fact every day, too. I hate that I hate pregnancy. I feel like a total traitor of what it means to be a mother on this point. It seems pretty dang ungrateful to me, too, and I feel ashamed.

I’m sorry.

So I wanted you to see me struggle authentically, and not pretend to be anything else. I’m a pretty poor excuse for a mom, and a pregnant mom, at that. But I also hope you’ll see that I’m not content to stay there. It’s not worth it to wallow in physical or mental dysfunction when there’s help available. When there’s a better status quo that can be achieved.

So I will keep you posted on how my pursuit of that goes… and in the meantime, please pray for me. I need it, too.

–GM

 

This is what the past few weeks have felt like.

Sand Traps and John Milton

This is what the past few weeks have felt like.

Imagine me clawing my way up out of a particularly deep pit of sand, spitting grains of grit every which way. *ptuey, ptue ptuey!*

Blech. It’s been a hard, intense last couple of weeks in Real Life World. My mom was back in the hospital a bit (but is doing much better now!); potty-training is in full-swing (almost there!!); married life continues to demand a lot of focus and effort in order to grow and thrive (and plenty more difficult conversations–that being said, though, they are getting easier!!); my own internal demons continue to nip away at me; I’m singing in the choir for a local orchestral production of Verdi’s Requiem, which we perform this Friday; I’m trying to get my poetry workshop in order for June and continuing to teach Latin; family has been in town for visits; we’re getting back to house projects that we’ve let languish for weeks; we’ve started to hunt about seriously for our next house; and I continue with volunteering commitments for She’s Somebody’s Daughter and our church’s meal ministry. And we FINALLY got some beautiful days of spring weather, so the boys and I have spent a lot of time outside lately.

All that being said, my online life has waned dramatically.

Which, arguably, isn’t a bad thing, given the priorities that I’ve cut back on it for. But I’m still discouraged that I haven’t kept up very well with most of you reading this, or your blogs. There are a lot of wonderful people out there that I want to continue to build ties with, and it’s just sad that the nature of reality stands in the way of my ideals of perfect connection with everyone I encounter, online or in person.

So I hope you know I’m thinking of you, reading what I can as time permits, and praying for you as the occasion arises.

I have all these ideas that I want to blog about, too–but encouraging my 4-year-old’s newfound interest in FINALLY trying to write numbers (not letters–he’s still opposed to that–but he can and WILL happily make number shapes now, after I’ve suggested he try to write ANYTHING here and there for a year!), practicing how to share my emotional state honestly and openly with my husband without being combative, and getting my house into a lesser state of disarray–efforts like these are more important to me in this moment.

There have been very hard-won victories of patience, self-awareness, and persistence in the face of low-reward outcomes… outcomes that, in the grand scheme of things, really are remarkably important. They just feel rather like a let-down when they arrive because the amount of work to achieve them feels disproportionate to me somehow. But there my high expectations lead me astray again.


 

Ever tried to peel one of these--with a vegetable peeler? Bad idea.

Today, for example, has been an endless exercise in releasing expectations and their accompanying fears. It feels just like skinning an overripe avocado with a vegetable peeler–wholly unnatural. Who would do that?!

It’s so much easier to believe my broken ways of feeling and relating really aren’t a problem–they’re just part of what makes me different. It’s hard for me to think of them as wrong or anything like the source of destruction and heartache under the surface of my awareness.

But that describes so much of how we relate, mistakenly, to life: if we haven’t thought of something ourselves, it solicits every ounce of our skepticism.

Just because I don’t naturally, easily, readily think of my hyper-vigilance and senseless anxiety as anything but normal, healthy, and good doesn’t mean they ARE those things.

It means I take bad things for granted–bad things I could otherwise ditch.


 

Emotions exist in our brains. That doesn't make them more or less real than any other part of our existence.

Now, one conscious rejection of broken thought patterns does nothing–and, let me be clear, *NOTHING*–to re-write the neural pathways that solidified them to begin with. Not in that moment, not perceptibly. My subconscious can, and often does, draw me right back again to the nameless, reasonless worry that my consciousness formally rejected ten seconds before.

Christians will call this influence Satan’s work, or the work of my sin nature, and that I simply need to reject it repeatedly, firmly, or else distract myself with something else. Portions of this approach may be effective in some situations; but taken all by itself, I think this understanding is outright wrong and harmful. Spiritual warfare/moral mastery simply isn’t all there is to it.

Regardless of what prompts them–the devil, the sin nature, the Spirit of God, or any number of ethically neutral experiences and awarenesses–emotions are biological phenomena. Neural pathways house the electrical impulses that we experience as emotional sensation, which manifests itself in our bodies (if you not so sure, go talk to Dr. Laura Markham). I believe I heard this first in grade school; as a good fundamentalist cadet, I rejected the claim wholesale because it didn’t jive with my concept of emotions as a wholly spiritual ballgame–something completely disconnected from physical reality.

I believed this because I was taught that emotions are *always* something I could have control of, regardless of my physical OR mental state (which I also oddly thought of as mostly disconnected from physical reality since my childhood also taught me that intelligence was something you could attain through sheer obedience and diligence, which are moral character traits). Why? Because emotions had moral values assigned to them–they could be good, or they could be evil–and if they carried moral weight, and I was expected to live in a completely morally upright way, then it must be possible to control my emotions in such a way as to only cultivate “good” emotions and to clear out “evil” emotions. To avoid experiencing the evil ones at all was, in fact, the ideal impressed upon me.

I don’t think it’s just me. My wide experience of evangelical Christianity in general tells me that we, as a culture, have no concept of emotions as biology. It seems to be a completely foreign notion to us. And yet it is broadly documented and demonstrable in every moment your breath quickens at the sight of a loved one; every occasion in which you clench your jaw or squeeze your fists; every episode in which the skin on your face and between your shoulder blades tightens because you are trying so hard NOT to let the “wrong” emotion show and certainly never at any awkward or perceivably inappropriate time because goodness knows Christians MUST NOT let emotions control them–and so instead they spill out over your body in ways you don’t realize and you begin hunching, cowering, craning your neck and suffering mysterious pains and aches and stomach upset…

Because by squelching your emotions instead of studying, understanding, and effectively expressing them, you have indeed let them control you–physically and pronouncedly, though never intentionally.

How’s that goin’ for ya, GM?


 

Comfort *requires* physical touch.

As you might expect, the whole experience has been severely debilitating for decades. Just endlessly “rejecting” Satan or the sin nature hasn’t helped a whit in the long-term.

What has helped, though, has been allowing myself to feel ALL my emotions–even the irrational, deeply unsettling ones–understanding what is behind them, and resolving the source of those fears, worries, and frustrations with truths grounded in trustworthy experience of goodness, love, and security. Falling back on that absolute truth that Jesus loves me *in all my sin and in all my mistakes* as evidenced by the countless kindnesses he blesses me with each day (sunlight/rain/children/shoes/gas in the car/fattening foods I don’t need but love/cats/hugs/birdsong/video games/laughter/the smell of garlic cooking/hyacinths/blogs/paintings/poetry/Latin/computers/shelter/listening ears/my mother/the smell of my baby’s hair/the softness of my bedsheets/my husband’s smile/ETC.) does a lot to physically demonstrate to my physical body that I am loved. I. Am. LOVED.

And all the tensions and nervousness and nightmares created by countless memories of being unloved and unwanted and rejected and neglected: they are not relevant to the present moment in which I physically experience the love of God. And I can let them go.

They are no longer as real as the present time of goodness and love which He has set before me.

Then, when the neural pathways/Satan try to pull me back into detrimental, habitual thought patterns, I *can* say with good reason, “Nope. I know exactly why there is no reason to go there. I’ll tell you all about it.” I allow the sponge in my skull to soak up all the reassurance and resolution available for the fears that triggered my fight/flight response in the past, the button for which my subconscious and the devil take turns prodding.

And–after many repeated iterations of this practice–the devil will leave me alone for a time, and my neural networks gradually make some headway on rewiring themselves into healthy, positive patterns of emotional thought.

It. Takes. Time. And the right approach.


 

five to ten seconds: the eternal perspective you need in a moment

The hardest part is feeling desperate for the good effects to take place immediately, or else to feel guilt over not doing it the “right way,” as I was taught. I.e., setting mental fire to those unwanted emotions and ignoring their existence–until they burst out violently and damage everything.

(I think Satan cleverly takes advantage of me there, especially.)

And this is where the patience the last several weeks have demanded of me comes in particularly handy. Patiently addressing the difficult emotions and complicated baggage that keeps dragging me (or others) down, in detail, without shortcuts. Patiently accepting whatever steps forward we make, however small. Patiently resting in God’s expectations for us–which are so, so much lower than mine.

Without this patience no real progress is made.

Without this patience, I run ragged, desperately searching for a peace that I could only find while holding still.

My favorite psalm came to me once again this morning:

Lord, my heart is not haughty,
Nor my eyes lofty.
Neither do I concern myself with great matters,
Nor with things too profound for me.

Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,

Like a weaned child with his mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord

From this time forth and forever.

(Psalm 131, NKJV)

 

And I am reminded, as well, of this sonnet by John Milton (Sonnet 19):

When I consider how my light is spent,
   Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
   And that one Talent which is death to hide
   Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
   My true account, lest he returning chide;
   “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
   I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
   Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
   Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
   And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
   They also serve who only stand and wait.”

 

“They also serve who only stand and wait.”

This blog may have to stand and wait for a little while yet… but I hope you see why I’m finding it worthwhile.

Love to all.

–GM

 

I always believe the ideal is waiting just over the horizon.

Escape From the Ideal

I always believe the ideal is waiting just over the horizon.

 

All the places you ever wanted to escape to

are always

Here

in the end.


 

I published this poem on my “professional” blog a week or two back just to demonstrate that, yes, I actually am a writer… in the unlikely event any of my “serious” work is ever accepted for publication by any (established) journal. But I also wanted to talk about it here on this blog, which is much more interactive/conversational.

First off, a shout-out to valdelo of Silently Screaming for the simple encouragement to keep writing. That little nudge prompted me to see if I had anything in me tonight… and voila. (More about the power of nudges in a future post!)

Anyhow. This poem popped into my head as I was contemplating my pronounced tendency to look to the horizon for salvation. I have the *worst* time practicing mindfulness–i.e., focus and attention fixed on the present, experiencing and appreciating all it has to offer, not lingering in the past or endlessly planning out the future. The Yercoviches refer to this tendency as “reviewing and rehearsing,” a behavior practiced by vacillators (such as myself) who tend to devalue or idealize events (this is just the link to a summary of the “core pattern” handout where they describe these tendencies, which you can also find available for purchase on their site). I.e., I tend to feel that the past could have always played out better, so I rehash it endlessly trying to “troubleshoot” for future improvement–or I believe that a future event can be perfectly managed if I only plan it out carefully enough, so I overthink constantly (and heavily).

This leads to endless annoyance or discontent or discomfort with a new place or relationship or experience or accomplishment once I’ve finally arrived at it and it has become familiar. All of a sudden, my daydream of freedom and hope and life and possibility has been replaced by obstinate reality grounded in simple, uncomfortable, less-than-ideal facts. It’s not even that reality is really that bad–it just doesn’t match up completely with my daydream. For a vacilator, this loss of the ideal is crushing.

So I have to learn not to value the ideal so darn much.

This is made easier when I realize how many downright stupid, unimportant things I idealize (like not having crumbs on the floor, or having clean bathrooms [honestly, isn’t it far more significant to realize the incredible blessing of HAVING a fully functional bathroom–or even more than one?!], or keeping runny toddler noses off all the furniture)?

It’s harder when I’ve idealized things that *seem* more important, though–like having firm, stable, relationships with loved ones. But firmness and stability don’t look or feel exactly like my imagination tells me (since I don’t have a lot of experience in those areas compared to some, idealized imagination sets my hopes and expectations–not reality). Letting go of these imaginings and finding the courage instead to emotionally experience the reality I’m in–good, bad, and everything in between–is a huge challenge.

It’s deeply intimidating particularly because the reality I experienced for so long taught me *not* to trust, feel, or seek communion with others when relationships have even a whiff of going south about them–in large part because it was never demonstrated to me that doing so *could work*. I also had basically no idea where to start: what does trusting, feeling, and seeking communion look like in a relationship that’s actually worth it–where it’s safe, advisable, and even necessary from a mental health perspective?

However, finding myself in truly worthwhile, long-term relationships has shown me that the old way of relating isn’t going to work here; I need to develop a new skill set.

Fixing all my hopes for happiness and security on the imaginary ideal place, situation, or companion will only leave me despondent when I finally reach my destination–and realize it’s not *everything* I made it out to be.

It will always end up being the experience I’m left to engage with in the present–the current, immediate moment–the one place I’ve had small confidence and found little comfort in for so long.

I will continue to do just that–as long as my expectations are that my ideal *should be* the reality.

The truth, however, is that I can’t change the reality in front of me–but I can, gradually, change my perspective on it and how I interact with it.

The details of this elude me constantly, but I’ve found one mantra from the How We Love website quite helpful. To paraphrase:

“It’s not as bad as I think it is, and it’s not as good as I want it to be.”

Accepting this as unchangeable truth helps me to regulate my expectations and, thus, avoid getting too working up one way or the other. It requires me to let go of my own demands upon reality and exchange them for trust, instead, that my needs will be met–perhaps not how I’d like them to be, but they will be met–by the people who really *do* love me, as they have tangibly and consistently demonstrated over an extended period of time, through the providence of a God who has demonstrated enormous care and love for me over a much longer time frame.

This is the proper way to reflect upon the past: to search it for all the good and love I’ve received, practicing a new, unnatural approach to reflection–rather than picking through it for the parts that didn’t match my original skewed ideals and ruminating over the uncomfortable bits.

And it’s the proper way to envision the future: with calm, simple confidence that my idealized plans will not come to fruition, and are not worth the time I spend on them, but that whatever else happens instead will still be manageable and even full of blessing from a divine agent I can’t possibly anticipate or control–which terrifies me, which reminds me that I need to sink deep into reflections of his steadfast, unshakeable love once more. Because “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18, NKJV).


 

Lord, well over a decade ago I wrote about this, seeking to experience the unfathomable love you have for me, because I needed to be free from fear. I still do. I fear constantly–big things, little things, imaginary things that feel too much like the actual reality of times past to be ignored. Lord, please–free me from torment. Free me from fear. Cast me into perfect love: love based in reality and well-founded expectations, that it may cast out every fear caused by unmet, idealized expectations. Exchange my broken mindset for your healing way of thinking. Help me to be patient with the process (avoiding unrealistic expectations yet again!); lead me to all the tools I need, and bless them with your presence. Thank you for loving me, even when I can’t fully sense it. Especially then. Amen.