Thursday, February 15, 2018

Random Questions Regarding the Value of Life as Related to School Shootings and Mental Illness

My thoughts are in a jumble, but there's lots going on that’s taking up space in my head. Sometimes clarity comes with writing. But not always. So fair warning. It's pretty incoherent and without a conclusion...

Yesterday there was another school shooting.

Yesterday there were calls again for politicians, government, anyone to "do something, don't just pray, don't just talk, take action...create more laws, fix mental illness, make it stop."

Yesterday there were the usual debates between those desiring government intervention in hopes of eliminating mass murder and those pointing out how we allow "mass" murder everyday in the form of abortions (and even euthanasia) followed by the usual "don't change the subject" admonition from the "more gun control" side.

Yesterday someone pointed out that this is NOT changing the subject if you are looking at the big picture, that if life isn't valued when it starts or when it is ending, then why should we expect life to be valued anywhere in between?

Yesterday these conversations reminded me that legislating any of these issues, whether gun control or abortion, is just a band-aid. We can legislate all day long, but some people will still find a way to express their hurt by hurting other people, some people will still find a way to eliminate an inconvenience or to prevent or end a perceived suffering. They will find a way to live out their egoic selfish natures, to put their wants, desires, hurts, opinions, beliefs first. Some people will still value their own life, their selfish desire for revenge, or their dogmatic adherence to what they believe is a superior belief system over someone else's life.


Yesterday I sat in a meeting with family members, a case worker, and a doctor. Our purpose was to determine the next steps on behalf of another family member who is currently hospitalized because they are refusing to eat. 

Yesterday we had to decide whether or not we could or should intervene if this person continued down their path of starving themselves. 

This person has adamantly and verbally expressed, as well as recorded in a written directive, that they do not want any interventions, specifically in the form of a feeding tube. 

This person has attempted suicide multiple times in their past. This person has tried every drug known related to depression and/or anxiety with no permanent relief. 

This person has undergone ECT shock treatments with temporary positive outcomes. This person's last experience with ECT went very wrong and they came out of anesthesia too early causing severe psychological trauma, anxiety, and recurring nightmares. This person refuses to use ECT again as a possible remedy. 

This person has suffered from a lifetime of anxiety and depression. This person has been suffering physically from severe tremors for the past couple years that were possibly induced or triggered from all of the culmination of drugs they have tried for treatment. This person suffers from extreme anxiety and doesn't feel safe unless in bed in a dark room. This person states they feel empty inside. This person is unhappy, miserable, and is passively-aggresively committing suicide using the only method they know they can control. This person does NOT appear to value their life anymore.


What if we are able to cure or medicate mental illness away? What if we are actually able to legislate mass shootings and abortions out of existence? What if the government is able to forcibly bend people's will so that they can't give in to their egoic selves. Is this possible? Can legislation overcome humanity's bent towards putting one's self ahead of another? Will we all live safe and happy and value life then? How do we get people to see the bigger picture of how our lives are connected? How do we get people to want to sacrifice their own desires for someone else?

What if our family member's body finally succumbs to the act of starvation and starts to shutdown? What if this person can't resist intervention anymore? What if we can force our family member to eat at that point by deciding they will have a feeding tube? What if we insist that they keep on living no matter how they feel or appear to be suffering? Will that family member value their life then? Can we value their life for them? Do they need to participate in some way, show some sign that they want to live?

Can valuing life come from an external entity to be forced upon someone? Can we force people to see and know that we are all part of one Life, one Light, one Being, one Body? That by killing another we are killing ourselves? That by not valuing other's lives we can't value our own life? How can people become aware? Can it come through "doing something"? Can it come through politicians? Can it come through legislation?

Or does it have to come from within? And if so, how?

Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Hero's Tale by Michael Patrick HagEstad

A Hero’s Tale

Before I lay my head to sleep
Before I pray my soul to keep
     Tell me a Hero’s Tale

Tell me a story I may recall well
So I may my grandchildren tell
Speak of a man daring and true
Doing great deeds for me and you
Who does not need great powers or luck
Who relies on his skill in the times he is stuck
Sing of a warrior who lives by his creed
Who has great honor and takes care of his steed
Hold him up for the generations to see
How they should live and what they should be
Do this now as the sun sets low
As the campfire crackles and the embers glow
The time for heroes may have come and gone
But there is time yet for a ballad or song

     So tell me a Hero’s Tale
For this time is brief and we must regale
Our values and virtues through a Hero’s Tale

-Michael Patrick HagEstad


Three days after Michael left for his second semester as a freshman college student, I found this hand written poem on a piece of yellow tablet paper sitting on top of papers that were scattered on our work desk, no heads up, no "hey, I wrote something, did you read it?" 

So after I noticed it, I asked him when he wrote it, and he said he couldn't sleep the night before leaving, and since he'd been mulling these words around for a while, he decided at 3:00 am to just write them down. So of course, I asked him if I can publish it on my blog, and he, of course, says "do what you have to do, mom". 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

What Is A Special-Needs Mom's Purpose In Life?

Last night I had the privilege of having dinner with another special-needs mom. I met this mom briefly in passing maybe a couple years ago when her son's therapy appointment was scheduled after my son's. The therapist, turned friend, introduced us, and I'm sure I smiled, nodded and politely said 'hi' in my hurry to leave. But let's face it, usually when I'm introduced to another mom there, I don't internalize the meeting because I just don't have time for strangers in my head or heart these days. And besides that, most of this therapist's clients fly in and out from around the country (or world) as we once did, and I was sure I would never see this other mom again.

Well this therapist/friend must have mentioned my blog to this mom as I know she had done time to time with other clients. I'm flattered that she does this and so grateful because it might be theraputic to unload your thoughts on "paper", but it's a whole nother level of therapy to have your thoughts acknowledged and appreciated by others*. 

Because of my blog and Facebook posts, I got to know this mom a little here and there through her comments on those posts as well as private messaging on and off. However, over dinner, I came to find out last night she might be my number one fan, that she reads just about everything I write in my blog and on Austin's Facebook page, and that because of that she had shed tears during our trauma with Austin last year being caught up in our story and experiencing it right along with us. It was humbling to think a "stranger" could be so attached to Austin and me in that way.

But its not surprising, I guess. At least not with the many opportunities we have to share our stories on the internet and in so many formats. I've been caught up in other mom's stories and their kid's lives whether I've communicated with them or not, inspired by those mom's determination and dedication, amazed at their kid's incremental accomplishments, mourning over setbacks, occasionally jealous over those mom's seeming ability to do this better than me, and shedding my own tears if their kid's life ended too soon.

And I think that's why this mom and I could meet up and go to dinner together last night as if we'd know each other forever. When we connect with someone who is going down a similar path, we speak their language and we both "get it". And to have unspoken permission to discuss openly our individual trials and grievances and confess our fears to someone who "gets it" can be like hitting a reset button. It reinforces the fact that we aren't alone, and we have a chance to remind each other what our purpose in life is right now, at this moment, in this life situation. We have a fleeting momentary mission that has been laid at our feet, that we don't have to feel trapped (as I've felt in the past), that we have a choice whether or not to accept and surrender to that purpose.

And that purpose is not to be their doctor, to diagnose causes or to medically explain this or that although we will continue to seek out the best and brightest just in case something is missed. That purpose is not to be their nurse or caregiver, to feed and diaper, to administer meds and clean their spaces and equipment although we will continue to fight for the most helpful equipment and the best medications that might ease their conditions. That purpose is not to be their therapist, to teach and train these frail frustrating little bodies to accomplish the smallest tasks even though we will exhaust ourselves researching and trying every new intervention and therapy that comes along, some beneficial and some not. That purpose is not to start a foundation on behalf of our kid's rare disease or diagnosis, or to sponsor events to raise awareness. That purpose is not to host a Facebook group to connect other special-need's mom's, or to start a blog or write a blog post that might help other mom's not feel alone. These can all be good and noble things that we do and can certainly keep us busy and distracted, but they are not our purpose.

Our purpose and mission in life is one we have in common with all moms, not just the special-needs kind. Our purpose, if we so choose, is to accept and surrender to this gift in front of us, to attempt to make a difference in this one life, this one soul, to make sure this one light feels divine, unconditional love. Right now, in this moment. 

That's our purpose. That's our mission.

(Thank you, friend, for helping remind me of this last night! And don't be surprised if my next couple of blog posts aren't inspired by some of our discussion. Your acknowledgement that I seem somewhat at peace at this point on the journey has me analyzing how exactly did I finally get to this point of acceptance and surrender. And while I'll reserve the right to leave room just in case that changes (nothing is stagnant), it might be nice to document some of the things that helped me along the way, in case it can help someone else.)


*I feel so lucky to live in this day and age of social media when you can hit "publish" and have our thoughts read and shared within minutes or hours. I think of the "good ole' days" when we might write in our diary or journal and its not until we're dead that someone accidentally discovers our thoughts on life situations or our stories. These days we have a chance to share those thoughts and stories with the world at our leisure for better or worse, hopefully for better, I suppose. So remember, Sharing Is Caring!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Skin-To-Skin {Choosing Life: Chapter 8}

January 4-11, 2011

The next 24-48 hours were a blur. And one of the events that she attributes to that time frame may have actually occurred sometime the week before since all of the memories for a few days prior to and immediately after Austin's birth sort of run together. In her mind's eye they are like a highlight reel for an upcoming movie that fade in and out or snippets put together as a slideshow that crossfade into each other. She remembers weird specific details that have become embedded as part of the story in her mind while not necessarily having any bearing on the actual birth events and may or may not even be accurate. She blames this on the anticipation and accompanying adrenaline.
Fade in. She and her husband arrive at a foyer in the hospital and wait at a counter until the NICU doctor arrives. The doctor introduces herself and proceeds to lead them through a door where they worm their way through a maze of brightly lit small rooms, squeezing between office chairs and desktop computers, into a dimly lit room in the back. 
The doctor, dressed in a long full skirt, sits on a couch-like bench. They sit on vinyl upholstered chairs across from her. She had just come from lunch and occasionally tries to muffle a belch. She also keeps fluffing her skirt which over time fills the room with the acrid smell of fart. These are the details that punctuate the upcoming life and death discussion. 
They are there to discuss the birth plan, what their desires are in light of the baby's ultrasound with the assumption of his imminent demise. She and her husband had already agreed before the meeting about what their plans for Austin would be. Basically, if he breathes on his own and does not need to be put on a vent, then they want the hospital to treat the birth as it would any other complicated birth. The NICU doctor seems to be on board with this plan and repeatedly affirms their decisions. They discuss that the baby might be in the NICU to receive whatever resources he needs above and beyond breathing on his own. They leave with assurance that this doctor is part of their team and will fight for what they want. Fade out. 
Fade in. She is in the delivery room with a crowd of people milling around the room waiting for the big event. Obviously she is the center of attention. Her nurse-midwife, who delivered her first two children years before, is there to hold her hand throughout the birth while an OB is scheduled to do the actual delivery due to the unusual circumstances: inducing a medically complex baby at 37 weeks who they think is measuring as a 40 weeker. 
However, her contractions begin to get closer together, and the OB is still tied up with another delivery. At some point, her nurse-midwife is sitting at the end of the bed telling her when to push. A nurse stands on her left to help hold her left knee up, and her husband stands on her right holding her right knee. Eventually the OB shows up to join the show, but he agrees to only stand close and supervise while allowing her nurse-midwife to finish the delivery. She's very happy about this. She loves her nurse-midwife. 
All those faces. Everyone encouraging and coaching. And she's gotten the epidural so in between the painful contractions and pushes, she feels pretty good. She even feels like she can entertain. She laughs and smiles and makes jokes, probably just a coping mechanism to distract from the surreal circumstances. At one point, she feels and hears a loud POP. She jokingly turns to her husband and accuses, "You broke me!" Everyone laughs. Fade out
Austin was born on January 5, 2011 at 5:06 pm. He was 6 lbs. 14 oz. His length was 20 1/2", his chest was 12 1/2", and his head measured 15".
Fade in. She is holding him skin-to-skin. He is still alive and breathing on his own albeit not deeply. His breathing causes a faint whistling sound. She subtlety examines his abnormalities: a couple of fingers stuck together, one crooked finger, short thumbs, a wide flat, crooked toe on one foot, and what appears to be an extra toe or growth on the big toe of the other foot. His chin appears small and his ears seem small and low. Maybe his head is large, but she can't tell. Otherwise, he looks like a baby that had just been born, trying to adjust to his new environment. 
Her big kids arrive and are invited close to see their new brother. Photos and videos are taken. She is overwhelmed, trying to make sense of the situation, excited her baby is still alive, scared her baby is still alive, wondering how much longer he would be with them, wondering how long they would be waiting before the inevitable. The baby squints one eye open. The nurses cheer and tell the big kids to look at his eyes opening! Fade out. 
Fade in. She is still in the birth room. The epidural is finally wearing off, and she can tell she needs to pee. She sits up and swings her legs over the side of the bed and tries to stand. Pain shoots up through her body and she begins to fall. She realizes she can't bear weight on her legs. It seems like they aren't connected. She grabs onto the bed. Two nurses come along side her and support her to the bathroom. It feels like she is dragging her legs, they aren't working. The nurses blame it on the epidural, that maybe it hasn't worn off all the way yet. Fade out. 
Fade in. She is in a brightly lit recovery room. A photographer who volunteers at the hospital to take pictures of newborns and families who's babies are not expected to live has arrived. Her parents are there too along with her boys and husband. The boys still have their school uniforms on. Because she can't get up to walk or even sit up very far in bed, they stage photos with everyone gathered around her. The baby is on her chest and all the boys lean in around her. Her mom reaches in and moves hair out of her face. When she sees the picture later, all you can see is her face. She notices she is the only one with a fake pasted on smile. The rest look worried and tired. 
Right after this photo someone comes and says they are taking her to get X-rays. Most of the rest of the photos are taken while she is not there. They wheel her bed out of the room and down a few hallways and into the X-ray room. The technicians tell her they need to get her off the bed and onto the X-ray table. She offers to help by using her arms and upper body to hoist her body off the bed and onto the table. One technician grabs her left leg to lift it off the bed to go with her upper body, but doesn't think to grab her right leg too to keep them together. She yelps in pain as she is straddled between the X-ray table and the bed until they finally realize she can't lift or move either of her legs on her own without pain. Fade out. 

Fade in. It has been at least 8 hours or so since he'd been born. She and her husband briefly whisper between themselves whether or not anyone should be feeding Austin yet, and if so, why hasn't he been fed? She decides to attempt to breast feed and tries to get the baby to latch on just like she did with her other babies, but he didn't seem interested or able. Shouldn't someone be concerned? Shouldn't someone be talking to them about feeding him at some point? 
The photographer is still in the room and happens to also be a NICU nurse so her husband runs some of these questions by her. She seems concerned too and advises him to ask the next NICU nurse that comes in to check on Austin. When a nurse arrives her husband asks if Austin is going to be fed. The nurse replies, "Oh, you want to feed him?!" She leaves for a while and then returns with a tiny orange tube which she threads into the baby's nose. She then proceeds to pour a tiny bit of formula into a large syringe at the end. She doesn't explain anything, but she says she will be back later to give more. Fade out. 
Fade in. Two doctors are standing at the foot of her bed, the OB and an orthopedist. Her husband is standing beside her bed. The OB is grinning in a goofy manner, almost giddy. He said he's never seen anything like this in his entire career. He said he did find a couple of records of it happening in some of his research.  
They are telling her their options. The X-ray shows that her pelvis is dislocated. Officially, it is called diastasis symphysis pubis which is the separation of normally joined pubic bones. In her case and the reason it is unusual, the ligaments had completely snapped apart (hence the POP she heard) instead of just loosening or stretching. The options she is given are to either have internal plates or an external fixator installed, both achieving the goal of holding her pelvic bones in place until the ligaments could regrow from nothing between the pubic bones. It would take 9-12 weeks. If she chooses the internal plates, she would have to return to have them removed during surgery in about a year. If she chooses the external fixator, she would return to have it removed in an outpatient procedure in about 9 weeks. She chooses the external fixator and surgery is scheduled within the next few hours to have it placed. Fade out. 
Fade in. It's dark. She isn't on the OB floor anymore, she is on the orthopedic floor. She shifts her body and tries to raise an arm. It hits a metal contraption that is apparently attached to her body. Hitting it sends vibrations throughout her whole system. She pushes the button in her right hand for morphine. Fade out.
The external fixator or what
she fondly referred to as her "erector set" 
Fade in. Still dark. Through squinted eyes she can see a bassinet with a sleeping baby to the right of her hospital bed. She wonders why he is there and not in the NICU. She doesn't care. She pushes the button for more morphine. Fade out. 
Fade in. She's awake and holding the baby, wheezing and whistling as he breathes. She has an oxygen cannula in her nose and wrapped up over her ears. She wonders if she should take it off herself and put it on him. Fade out.
Fade in. The baby is in the bassinet on the other side of the room. Her husband is sitting in a chair a little to her right. She is still woozy from pain killers and not that interested in the in and outs of newborn care at this moment. But she wonders why is he still alive? And why is he in the room with them with no NICU attendants? Fade out
Fade in. They have a nurse friend who also has experience with her own medically complex kids who has been showing up for moral support. He confers with her to get her thoughts. She also seems concerned that Austin isn't in the NICU and that he doesn't seem to be getting the care he needs especially since he now seems jaundiced and nobody has done anything about it. She encourages her husband to go over to the NICU, find the doctor and start demanding answers to questions. He leaves and tracks down the doctor and tells her that Austin seems jaundiced and asks why he isn't being treated with a bilirubin blanket and given more care like the other babies in the NICU. She points to a bilirubin blanket in the corner and tells one of the nurses she could put that on the baby "if he thats what he wants." Fade out.
Fade in. The room is flooded with natural light from the window to the left of her hospital bed. A meeting has been called and her husband, parents, and the NICU doctor are sitting at the end of her bed in a semi circle. She is just listening from her reclined position, still a little groggy from pain meds.
Even though in their meeting before Austin was born the doctor had said she would support whatever decisions they made, that if he is breathing on this own, she would give him the same kind of care she would give any other baby born with challenges, she repeatedly advises them now to take him home and quit feeding him. "Comfort care" is what she calls it. Fade out.
Fade in. Nothing seems to be making sense. Her husband starts to get really suspicious and peppers each NICU nurse that comes into the room with questions. Eventually one of the NICU nurses confides that the NICU doctor's personal soapbox is that she believes keeping babies like Austin alive puts a burden on society; the nurse hints that if we want him to have a chance to live, we need to get him out of this hospital.  
Their nurse friend stops by to visit, and he rehashes the meeting we had with the doctor. She suggests they request to take Austin to Seattle Children's for a second opinion, a hospital with staff that has regular experience with kids like Austin, and a hospital that treats her own medically complex children.  
Her husband tracks down the NICU doctor again, and tells her we want a second opinion; we want to give Austin a chance. He requests a transfer Austin to Seattle Children's. The NICU doctor seems pissed that her advice is not being taken and storms out of the room.  
That afternoon with encouragement from their nurse friend, her husband makes phone calls to Seattle Children's NICU to find out what they need to do to get a second opinion there. They say the NICU needs to put in the request for the transfer. This seems like an impossible task since he'd already experienced her balking at the idea this first time it was mentioned, but he asks the NICU doctor to make the request anyway. Fade out.
Fade in. It's now been about 5 days since Austin was born. They are sitting in the hospital room chatting about what the next step needs to be when the NICU doctor surprisingly arrives with papers to sign and announces they are taking Austin to the NICU to prep him for transfer to Seattle Children's for the next morning. For some unknown reason the doctor has decided to comply and makes the arrangements against her will with no explanation. Perhaps Seattle Children's' doctors has helped convince her. Fade out.
We found out a few months later when a large bill for the life flight came in the mail, that since the NICU doctor refused to admit it was a "medically necessary" transfer, insurance was denying the claim. We had to spend the rest of the year appealing and collecting every document we could to prove why he needed the transfer. She continued to claim throughout that fight, that she could have provided the same amount and quality of care that Seattle Children's had so the transfer wasn't medically necessary. And while the Seattle Children's doctors adamantly disagreed that our local hospital could have provided the expertise Austin's challenges needed, it still begged the question if she believed she could, then why did she not?
Fade in. The ambulance crew has arrived and are ready to take Austin and her husband to the airport. However, it is reported to her that they are delayed because they find Austin still not ready for travel. His O2's are dropping too low as well as not meeting other basic criteria according to his bloodwork that they require. The NICU doctor has still not put him on oxygen and seen to his basic care. Fade out.
Her husband reminded her later that as part of Austin's prep for the transfer, they taken him to the NICU to run all the tests, put him on a monitor and brought him back to my hospital room. However, the monitor constantly alarmed so my husband asked them about it. They took him back to the NICU for a couple of hours and returned him without a monitor. They had decided the monitor was malfunctioning and told her husband nothing was wrong so Austin didn't need a monitor.

Her husband also reported later that that the medics told him during the flight to Seattle that Austin was briefly stopping his breathing causing him to d-sat for a up to a minute before recovering. They had to keep increasing his oxygen in his box on the plane to prevent the d-sats. They asked him what he knew about it, if Austin had been on oxygen at the hospital, and if this was typical. He told them no he had not been on oxygen, and he had no idea if it was typical. He told them about the monitor being "broken" when they a tried to put him on oxygen at the hospital. The EMT's couldn't believe that Austin had not been on oxygen at all the entire time since he'd been born, how a doctor wouldn't see to that basic need.

Austin finally getting oxygen
and basic medical care at
Seattle Children's Hospital

Because of that NICU doctor's attitude, she has felt especially responsible for having decided to give Austin a chance at life even though her husband was there making decisions with her. Because of this doctor, she has felt determined that Austin not be a burden on anyone, hence her reluctance to ask for help even from family members or friends. She was even reluctant at first to seek financial support through the government programs he was “entitled” to or to appeal reimbursement for things the insurance company had denied. For her, it was not anyone else’s “burden” to bear. It was a decision she made between her, (her husband, of course), and God.

The End


I began writing the story of Austin's birth on December 25, 2013. After Austin was born, I was sitting with friends in a coffee shop, friends that had been there through each event as it occurred, who suggested I write his story. They said they would for sure read it and were sure others would want to also. They may have been joking, but I took it to heart even though it took me two years to get to the point where I could sit down and begin recording his story. However, I'm pretty sure they've kept their promise and read every chapter.

Austin's arrival shook my belief system and everything I thought I knew about faith and God to the core. I'll be honest, I had the blind faith. Once I got through the initial shock, I was gung-ho that this was going to be THE miracle story. Glory to God! With every doctor's appointment, I half expected they would come out and say, "Well, we don't know what happened, but his brain has totally been restored. We can't find anything wrong. It's a miracle!"

I even believed this into the first couple years of his life, that there was a miraculous restoration just waiting around the corner for him, for me. If only I believed hard enough, if I said the right words in prayer, if I yearned for it with enough intensity, if I had the mustard seed sized faith, if I announced publicly everyday that "God's got this!", if my husband and kids did the same. God had always had my back, right? I mean, I'd never had to experience anything hard so in my mind that meant he had my back. I was blessed. And if he was going to give me something hard, then it must be for God's glory and he would be faithful and just to give me a miracle. I just had to trust.

But there were no magic words or formula. Nothing dramatic changed. Yes, there were things that weren't as bad as we thought, but there were also things that were worse. So what can I claim is a miracle and what isn't? It seems to me its all luck of the draw. God isn't causing bad things so he can perform miracles. Bad things just happen. It is what it is.

It's taken me four years to finish writing all the events of Austin's birth story. I originally thought I'd sit down and write it like a book, submit it as a short story to a publisher (which I know absolutely nothing about since I'm not a real writer). But instead I found I needed to go very slowly. That I could only dribble out a little at a time. I also found that I'm impatient. I want instant feedback, hence the blog format worked quite well. I could write a "chapter", get a little encouragement before I geared up for the next one. So in a way, my "short story" is now in rough draft form sprinkled amongst other blog posts that reflect the changing state of the rest of my life over the last four years. I wonder how disjointed it sounds if someone other than myself were to read it from Chapter 1.

I'm not the same person I was when I got pregnant with Austin. I'm not the same person I was when I gave birth to him, and I'm not the same person I was when I started writing his story 4 years ago. But over the entire 7 years, I've survived grief, anger, and depression on my path to overcoming my disappointment, both the initial disappointment and the later disappointment when I didn't get that miracle I expected.

So guess what I learned? Overcoming is the miracle. Learning how to accept and surrender is the miracle. Surviving is the miracle. I love this quote from a book I read this past year:
"And whether you believe in miracles or not, I can guarantee that you will experience one. It may not be the miracle you’ve prayed for. God probably won’t undo what’s been done. The miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the day." William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

My Morning of Mourning The Loss Of Something I Never Had. Thank You #Supermoon.

Early morning on Dec. 3, 2017 my eyes pop open as I realize my stomach is doing that queasy thing. It is the third morning of recovering from the "Please God, Kill Me Now" stomach bug that had just ravaged our family. I roll over in bed and look at the time, 3:33 am.

Well, of course it is. I'm not surprised. I've been seeing repeating numbers all year. Usually it's 11:11 or 4:44, but sometimes its one of the other combos. At first it was kind of fun, but now it seems ridiculous. I doubt I'm actually seeing them more often than they ever occurred before, but for some reason my mind is super aware of them these days.

I toss and turn the rest of the morning trying to go back to sleep. However, at 7:00 am, I watch my phone alarm chime. I hate being awake for the alarm. For some reason the anticipation of watching the numbers turn to the time I set the alarm for and then bracing myself for the sound is much worse than waking up to the alarm from a dead sleep. Usually to prevent that from happening, I just grab my phone a couple minutes before and turn the alarm off.

If I'm going to have any chance of getting Austin and myself ready for church (husband is already up packing for the airport), I know I have to force myself to get out of bed immediately. I have learned that I can't permit myself to have a snooze option because I will resist and resent getting up the longer I lie there. Plus, I would have to anticipate that alarm again. No thank you. I put my feet on the floor.

Sitting in the dining room, I have zero energy and can't decide at this point if I am hungry or still nauseous. I slump forward onto the dining room table while trying to choke down a small bowl of soggy Cheerios.

With my head on my arm, I stare out the window past the wooden blinds at the terra-cotta colored wall 5 feet from the house, and I ponder the colors. That burnt orange color gets to me sometimes, but it seems to be the official color of the desert so everything has to be painted burnt orange to "look natural" and "blend in" with the dirt (I mean, desert). It does do a nice job of setting off the green tree leaves in front of it, though. So I'll take that. I watch the leaves wiggle in the breeze.

My attention moves to the collection of things stored in front of the window: a collapsible wagon that isn't collapsed but filled with random things, a special-needs stroller, two child sized cots, and my shooting gear in the corner -
one small, black duffle bag containing my shooting jacket, a fleece liner, an elbow pad, shooting glove, sling, eye protection, ear protection, and notebook; a scope stand; and Michael's toolbox I've been borrowing filled with small bore ammo, an ammo box, various hex wrenches, and scope among other things Michael had needed for shooting small bore and air rifle over the years.

And...wait for it...I start to cry. Surprise, surprise. And oh yes, I am grieving shooting gear.

For months, ever since Austin's brush with death last January, I've been wrestling a decision about whether or not to move on from learning to shoot small bore. And suddenly I knew the answer in that moment. I am giving it up. Sorrow washed over me for the loss of what could have been, but never was. How can I grieve the loss of something I never had? It is my super power, that's why.

I started learning to shoot from the coaches at my son Michael's practices over the last couple years. Over the weeks, they gradually loaned me an amazing gun followed by fantastic sights, some basic equipment, and with their encouragement, I imagined myself as being pretty good. It was even mentioned I might be a natural like Michael. And with that ego stroke, I thought, if I could find the desire and discipline to practice, practice, practice, I could probably be great! Plus, I really wanted to make these coaches proud of me and feel their time wasn't wasted getting me equipment and training me. I am a people pleaser, you know.

Oh, the stories I made up, too: "Overwhelmed, Anxiety-Ridden Special-Needs Mom Finds Stress Relieving Outlet By Shooting Small Bore In Her 40's. Becomes Famous." Because, we always become famous in our dreams and imaginations. Otherwise, why bother dreaming? #amIright?

But reality has finally set in. While I used to be motivated to shoot with Michael, he is off to college now and on to other pursuits. Which makes me happy. Small bore and air rifle served its purpose for him. However, without him, I don't have any desire or discipline on my own to get up early on a summer Saturday morning to drive an hour away to practice for 3 hours, get super sweaty, and then drive an hour home. Or get up VERY early on a winter Sunday morning to go freeze my fingers at a practice match all day.

So while in theory becoming a famous, female small bore shooter sounds very rainbows and butterflies (because, I'm not going to lie, once at the range, its really fun, and you think you want to come back all the time), and it sounds remotely possible (except for the hard work and lack of desire and discipline), the truth is, I want to be lazy and slow moving on the weekends, a feather in the wind, or a slug. I want to have all the options and not have to do any of them. So I cry.

And then I stop and realize I am accepting that that's who I am. And I feel light! Like this weight I've been carrying for months has lifted. I don't have to shoot anymore. I don't have to shoot anymore. While its fun, and the people are absolutely awesome, and I got to spend so much time with my oldest son doing something together and creating memories, I can walk away. I can walk away. I can go on to other pursuits that maybe include Austin and my husband and middle son, Jonathan. I can.

4-8-17 I was finally getting my groups tighter.
Sights just needed slight adjusting now.

4-8-17 Patrick and Michael travelled to
Colorado Springs so Michael could compete in the
2017 Air Rifle JO National Championship.

4-22-17 Last day I practiced. Last bull of
the day shot with 5 rounds.
I had finally gotten everything aligned.


P.S. Where can I get a set of football pads and helmet...Jonathan? :-)

P.S.S. I got cool pictures of the #supermoon2017 rising at 5:55 pm on the evening of Dec 3. That's right, people. :-)

Supermoon 2017

Monday, November 13, 2017

6 Ways I Deal With What I Call "Circumstantial Depression" or "The Funk"

Every now and then I wake up and feel a depressing funk or sadness wash over me (you can read a couple of my descriptions here and here), my very own dark little cloud. I don't think its clinical depression (although it runs in my family) because I eventually emerge from it whether after a day or so, or a week or so (or even a month or so). So looking back, I've found it can usually be chalked up to one of a few things.

  • It might be an unrealized expectation and subsequent disappointment. I'm a planner, and when things don't go according to plan, I feel it. I mean, I REALLY feel it. I would go so far as to say that I experience a short round of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) sometimes even over what should be a minor disappointment.
  • It might be cyclical grief. Although I've surrendered and accepted certain hard, life circumstances, the day to day of those circumstances can still trigger a short period of anger, sadness or longing for what could have or should have been, again and again. 
  • It might be project related. If I have an upcoming deadline or commitment that I know I need to set aside time for, my procrastination tendencies kick in, and I delay starting and/or finishing until I've made myself and everyone around me completely miserable about it. 
  • It might be hormone related. Every month that physical cycle we all know about involving the cleansing of the old and replacing with the new can potentially wreak havoc with my emotions. Mentally I resist change so maybe my body does too in its own debilitating manner. 
  • It might be health related. If I'm feeling sick or tired (or both), I also find I'm much more sensitive to the weight of the world (even if that "world" is just other family members). Sometimes overeating or eating too much of the "wrong" food seems to trigger the funk.

So over the last couple years, I have discovered a few ways of dealing with this depressing funk if I remember to take a moment and realize what is happening. But I also have to remember what the ways of dealing with it are, too. So I decided to make a list for myself that I'm also sharing here with anyone else who might need some ideas:

1. Give Yourself Permission and Grace 
Give yourself permission and grace. Try to discover what triggered the funk in the first place. Set aside time to nap/rest/think. Give your body and mind time to process. If you are feeling overwhelmed with work or a deadline (or life - period), and you have procrastinated, acknowledge and accept this about yourself and give yourself forgiveness. Be realistic about yourself, that this is who you are, or this is how you work. Don't let it surprise you. Accept it. Anticipate it. Plan for it.

2. Unload on Someone
Tell someone you trust about the funk and everything going on in your head, whether good or bad thoughts. Tell someone as soon as you notice the signs. If you don't have someone to tell, get a spiral notebook (or join a private Facebook group that allows venting, or start a blog) and write about it. Write however it feels helpful. (I found writing in third person helps me distance myself from some of the more difficult circumstances.)

3. Breathe Like This
Sometimes the depressing funk can feel like and/or cause anxiety or panic so remember to breathe. (There are many descriptions of how to breathe in order to alleviate anxiety on the web, so just I'll describe what I discovered by accident - and through observing my medically complex son - that works best for me.) Breathe in a big breath through your nose, down into your lungs, and hold it as long as possible. Let the held breath push on your lungs and back of your throat like you are about to let it out, but don't. Then when you can't hold it any longer, let it out in an uncontrolled exhale over the back of your throat and through your nose, keeping your mouth closed. You can allow a moan or a hum when you do this, but you don't have to force it. Don't push the breath it out, but don't hold it back either. Once you've exhaled that breath, give in naturally to the next few breaths as your body recovers and takes in oxygen. Don't force these breaths, just allow them to occur naturally. Then, after your body has recovered, do it again. (I usually do it several times until I reach a natural stopping point where my body feels calm, and I don't have to do it anymore at the moment.)

4. Let Out Noise and Silence Your Mind
Find a space where your can be alone (like in a car), where no one can hear you. Listen to whatever music or white noise will drown out your thoughts. (Usually for me it is something with an intense driving beat and lots of electronic and percussion instruments where you can't really discern a melody, voices or words - probably whatever music my parents would call noise.) Play it loud enough so you feel it in your chest, but don't hurt your ears. I call this volume "just below painful". Then sing, yell, or scream as loud as you can. It's possible this could be another form of the breath work mentioned above. But it also serves the purpose of drowning out the negative commentary in the mind that often accompanies the funk. It's after effect is like white noise for the brain so that it has time to forget and reset.

5. Make a Tiny Check List
Make a list of 2-3 small goals to accomplish the next day before you go to bed the night before. Set an alarm and don't allow it to snooze. As the day permits, work on those 2-3 small things. Once you accomplish them, reward yourself even if that means allowing yourself to take a nap or sit on the couch and watch a movie. Do this everyday until the funk passes.

6. Only Think About the Very Next Step
Take your eyes off the big picture for a moment. Determine and only focus on the very next step that needs to be done right now. Sometimes just putting a word on a page, drawing a line on the paper, or picking up one piece of dirty laundry and putting it in the hamper can get the ball rolling.

So that's it. A reminder list for me, and maybe an idea list for you. I would love to know if any of these methods work for you. I would also love for you to share your own methods with me.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Pelvic Floor, Duct Tape, and a Voice from Beyond {Choosing Life: Chapter 7}

September 10, 2010 - January 3, 2011

The next four months went by in a blur, and the rest of the pregnancy was, well, a pregnancy. Between the bouts of crying in the closet or at church and putting on a brave face laced with dark humor (sarcasm) in between, it wasn't much different than her other pregnancies except for the looming new expectation. Only three things happened that specifically stood out in her mind.

One of the things included the baby stretching or extending out in a way that would cause extreme pain. Instead of that lovely feeling when a baby rolls or stretches and a little foot or elbow draws an arc across her stomach or pushes out and a little lump appears for a second, it would instead feel like a foot being jammed down into the floor of her pelvis for several seconds at a time. She wonders now if that could have been some kind of seizure.

Facebook status, Sept. 11th, 2010: “Every morning I wake up and wait to see if I feel movement from our baby as every expectant mother probably does. With his death sentence already pronounced, I praise God that Austin is alive and kicking one more day :) I sure love this little guy, but then i have always been a sucker for the underdog.”

Facebook status, Sept. 28th, 2010:  “23 weeks tomorrow! Austin's still movin' and a groovin' :)”

Facebook status, Oct 13th, 2010: “25 weeks :)”

Facebook status, Oct 16th, 2010: “thank you to everyone still praying for us...had a bit of a reality melt down last night consisting of thoughts of "I can't do this..."...much better today though. especially when I don't really know what it is that "I can't do" yet. :)”

Facebook status, Nov 3rd, 2010: “28 weeks.”

Facebook status, Nov. 14th, 2010: “My back hurts! (you have to say this like Jim Gaffigan so it sounds like a joke and not like I'm complaining, although…)”

The other unusual thing she experienced was the most painful stretching of the skin across her stomach. She attempted to relieve the pain by using duct tape over a wash cloth to try to "pull" her skin back together thus reducing the burning and tearing sensations.

Facebook status, Nov. 25th, 2010: “can the skin on your stomach just completely split open? I don't thnk my stretch marks can stretch any further.”

Facebook status, Dec. 8th, 2010: “33 weeks. Jonathan was laying his head on my stomach last night talking to kicked in the head three different times...the look on his face was so funny.”

Facebook status, Dec. 26th, 2010: “Lamentations 3:19-24”

Facebook status, Dec. 29th, 2010: “Went for ultrasound Monday and 36 week appt. today. I'm measuring at 40 weeks and Austin's weight is estimated to be 7.5 to 8 lbs. But nothing is going on down there. So I'm at full term uncomfortableness, waiting for something to start so they can induce. :)”

Looking back she wonders if the painful stretched skin which left wide shiny, silver stretch marks, the fact that she measured 40 weeks at 36 weeks, and the unbelievable amount of amniotic fluid that came out when they broke her water when being induced, meant she had polyhydramnios which apparently can accompany fetuses that have an impaired swallowing reflex.

Lastly, the day before going in to see about getting induced, she was sitting in her room on the edge of her bed. She was alone, feeling scared, crying, and for some reason, she was thinking about her grandmother on her dad's side. She and her grandmother had gotten close for a time before her grandmother passed away. Anyway, she wasn't just thinking about her, she was talking to her in her mind. She was considering how hard life must have been back in her grandmother's day and thinking how strong she must have been, so she was asking her grandmother how she was going to have the strength to get through this birth and the subsequent expected death.

A few seconds later, her husband nudged her and handed her the phone. She took the phone in a teary daze and said hello. Her grandmother's voice answered back!

At least it sounded like her. It took her a moment to realize is was actually her aunt, whom she rarely heard from, but who had a similar sweet, southern accent that at this moment when she was thinking about her grandmother and wishing to consult her, was her grandmother's voice. Her aunt asked how she was doing and proceeded to speak encouraging words to her.

How did her aunt know to call right then?

Facebook status, Jan 3rd, 2010: “Thanks for everyone's notes in my messages, comments and on my wall. It means alot that ya'll are still praying for us. We might be getting close...going in tomorrow to see if we can induce before my stomach splits apart and i explode.”