Archive for May, 2011

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Right where I am – two years, 9 months.

May 26, 2011

I’m especially grateful to Angie for starting this Right Where I Am project (for more about it, see her post) because it helps to see where others are in their grief as well. It adds context and makes me feel less isolated and odd.

I am not always sure that I know where I am, which is, I guess, a big part of where I am. Almost three years later and I’ve only now sought out professional help for depression and anxiety (or/and possibly PTSD). One of my biggest problems in life is that, even though my poker face is transparent as plastic wrap, I pull off a very convincing imitation of “fine.” I also keep telling myself that I should really be fine, even while I tell myself that “should” has little to do with my reality. I am trying to pretend less and to speak to myself kindly instead of critically, and that is difficult. And if this sounds like I’ve got a lot of voices in my head, well, there are lots of days where it feels pretty crowded in here.

I am still figuring out how Teddy’s death has affected me and I am starting to realize that some of my coping strategies aren’t good long-term plans. Two years ago, I did whatever I needed to do to get through – to get through another day, another hour, another damned diaper commercial. These days, getting through isn’t the only thing, usually isn’t the main thing to consider. That’s a relief, but it also means a lot of readjusting, and I’m not sure I’m ready to readjust yet. My timeline, it is not a timeline that syncs well with this world that moves on as if babies dying is no big deal.

It helps that Teddy’s little sister is in our lives. She has been a big part of my healing and she is bright and busy and amazing. Yesterday before bed she sat in the rocking chair reading Ten Little Ducks to me with much babbling and emphasis on the high points.

“Oh, no!” she said.

“Oh! The ducks all fell into the ocean!” I said.

She turned a page. “Growr!”

“The polar bear says “Growr,” I affirmed.

“Ar, ar.”

“Oh, the seal does say ‘Ar, ar!'”

“Quack, quack. Quack, quack, quack! D’ar.”

“You make such good duck noises. And I see the stars.”

She read it to me twice. I almost cried just because I’m so amazed at how alive and interesting she is, because she’s turning more and more into her own little person and I revel in the fact that I get the chance to watch it happen and see who she is becoming.

The flip side to all of this is that she also reminds me of all I’m missing. She wears her brother’s Cubs cap, she reads his books, but she takes up her own space in the world. His space is still empty and I can’t fill it with busyness or imagination or distractions or sheer force of will. Would Teddy have laughed like that? Would he have loved ducks and bears and lions? Would he have been busy, busy, busy all the time, or more laid-back? The biggest part of my grief right now is all of these things I’ll never know, that I should know, and while many days this ache is just part of the background noise of my life, there are still times when it knocks me over, makes me gasp and gulp.

I still miss my faith and at the same time I’m still angry at God. I realize this doesn’t make much sense. I’m some sort of mish-mosh of  lapsed Lutheran, Agnostic, Neopagan, and Neoplatonist at the moment. It’s very messy, but maybe I should come up with a catchy name for it, find some followers and make some billboards?

Two containers of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream sit in the freezer, waiting for me (did you know their “Late Night Snack” ice cream has chocolate covered potato chips?!), and my lunch today was a chocolate bar, pop tarts, and a diet coke. Which is an example of one of those coping strategies that I need to revise and rethink. At some point in the past year eating, specifically eating things I know are bad for me (the pleasures of rebellion, maybe?) has become a strong source of comfort and relief. It makes me feel better, the primal mindlessness of eating ice cream straight out of the container, turning my brain off and focusing on the tactile sensations and the flavors and the small but suddenly really important decisions like whether or not to take another spoonful. I love it, but it’s not sustainable.

But this week I have ditched the nursing bras and am really happy to be wearing ones that hoist my breasts up and make them look more bouncy and less jiggly, more Mad Men and less Madwoman in the Attic. Seriously, I’ve been checking my boobs out in every mirrored surface I pass today just to see how fine they look (mighty fine!). It occurs to me that there hasn’t been a time in past couple of years I would have done that or even been able to imagine it.

I am happy, a lot of the time, but it’s a complicated happiness.

And I still want Teddy back.

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Learning (again) to talk to myself

May 23, 2011

One of the favorite things I’ve read this year is a YA novel called Chime, by Franny Billingsley. Quite a lot of it turns out to be about words and the power of words, what we say to others and ourselves. That makes it sound all self-help-y, and it isn’t. It’s a quirky, wonderful book with one of the best narrators (funny, lonely, prickly) I’ve read in a novel of any genre, and if you enjoy the kind of language that begs to be spoken aloud, romance, fantasy, and mystery, I’d suggest you pick it up. I liked it so much I ended up writing a short review of it on Good Reads, which I don’t often do.

This week I had my tenure review session with my supervisor, Associate Dean, and Dean. I’m great, apparently, and when it comes to primary job responsibilities and service, everyone thinks I’m doing good work except for one mystery person who thinks I suck. But this person was handily dismissed by everyone else at the meeting, so I just have to assume that this person thinks I suck for reasons that have little to do with my actual work. Apparently it’s not someone I work with on a regular basis (the comments from tenured colleagues are given anonymously, but I weaseled that much out of my supervisors), which is a relief.

I need to be much more published, however, in order to get tenure and stay on here. I need at least one article finished and submitted by June. Two articles submitted over the summer would be better.

I knew this was what I was going to hear, but it was still hard to hear it. I don’t know why. I felt like I’d been called into the principal’s office. I hate that something that used to come fairly easily to me is now hard. I hate it that I’m worried and insecure about my work when three years ago I was an energetic up-and-comer. I hate it that I’m so hard on myself, and that I’m hard on myself for being hard on myself.

I’m mad that my energy levels are so much lower than they used to be, that my drive seems to have driven away, that I can’t just buck up and get on with it. But I need to start being kind to myself in order to get my work done.

Anyway, between my initial forays into talk therapy (and goodness, it’s a relief to sit down and talk to someone without worrying about hurting feelings or being judged by people I have to live and work with) and my pleasure reading, I’ve started closely observing the way I talk to myself. I thought I was a very self-aware individual, and it’s been a bit of a shock to pay attention to how I talk to myself every day. These observations lead me to admit that when it comes to myself, I am a judgmental, intolerant, sniping bitch.  Intellectually I know I’m still grieving, slogging through grief, but there’s a very fed-up (and, as it turns out, loud) part of me that thinks I should just be better by now. That I should be more focused, more energetic. More, more, more, and better, better, better. So I’m working on being nicer to myself, of being realistic about who I am and what I’m capable of, of being tolerant of my limitations.

Instead of saying, “I should have done better. I suck,” I’m going to try to say, “I would have liked to do better, but I did what I could considering x, and I learned a lot about what I’ll do if/when this comes up in the future.” It’s hard to quiet my judgmental voice and be accepting of myself. But it’s starting to make some things easier. Hopefully soon, one of these things will be my writing.

I’m also investing in a select but substantial upgrade to my professional wardrobe. I’ve worn maternity clothes for three summers in a row, even though I’ve only been pregnant for two of those summers. And while last summer I didn’t care, this summer I want to be able to go to meetings without looking frumpy or frazzled. I want to look like I’ve got my act together, even if it’s mostly pretend.

And, just for myself (though if it helps you, I’m glad for it), I’m writing this down so that I can refer to it later, because I need to keep reminding myself that it’s true: weary ≠ lazy. Even years and months after a death. Even then.

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A woman walks into a psychologist’s office…

May 13, 2011

And hopes there won’t be too much awkward silence.

Yeah. Not much of punch line. Sorry about that.

I had my second experience with professional counseling yesterday. I think it was good for me, and, unfortunately, I think it was necessary. I’m doing all right in many areas of my life but there are a few in which I’m just not functioning well, and I think some of my less thoughtfully developed coping strategies are now doing me more harm than good, particularly my mastery of self-distraction and my avoidance of, well, anything involving leadership.

It took me three months of staring at the phone to call and make the appointment. The very helpful woman on the phone asked me if it was an emergency, and when I said there was no hurry, booked me an appointment for the following day, which, in retrospect, probably kept me from thinking up an excuse not to go. My university offers up to five sessions per employee, after which they offer referral services, so I don’t expect a long-term relationship with this psychologist, but I’m grateful I saw him. The last time I sought out counseling services, I was in graduate school in Chicago, feeling lonely and isolated and stressed out. I saw a counselor who reminded me of my grandfather and I was completely unable to connect with him. I never went back, partly because I found my circle of friends just a couple of weeks later, but partly because, at that point in my life, if I wanted a lot of awkward silence leading to nothing in particular, I was able to get that just by sitting next to the wrong person on the El.

Dr. S., the psychologist I saw this week, didn’t sit silently by if I was struggling with what to say. His questions were pointed, but I had the definite sense that he wasn’t looking for answers so much as helping me to find some of my own. He is blind, and mentioned that losing his vision was one of his connections to grief and loss, which made a lot of sense to me. It also reminded me of Milton’s sonnet that begins, “When I consider how my light is spent…” And while I’m not attached to anything else that Milton wrote (Paradise Lost falls into the category of books I can appreciate but don’t really like), I love that sonnet. And thinking of it helped me relax. And knowing that Dr. S. couldn’t really see me also helped me relax, strange as that seems. I could concentrate on voicing my thoughts, and before I could tense up or shift into “I’m fine. Don’t worry about me” mode, I was telling him about Teddy, about trying to come to terms with losing him.

I’m going back.

I feel almost sheepish that it’s now, over two years out from Teddy’s death, that I’m feeling broken enough to seek this kind of help. But that’s also why I’m writing about it here. For all the times that I’ve spent telling myself that grief isn’t linear, that I shouldn’t feel pressured to stick to any arbitrary time line, clearly I’ve been thinking that I should be “better” by now. And the truth is that in many ways I am, but in some ways I’m not. In a couple of select ways I may even be worse.

And that’s not a wrong reaction to what’s happened, even though I wish I didn’t have to cope with it. I think I needed someone to tell me that, too.

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Flowers on Mother’s Day

May 6, 2011

Clematis

Last year, on Mother’s Day, I received flowers from my in-laws congratulating me on my first Mother’s Day. They mean well, and they love me, but it stung. There may never be a Mother’s Day when I don’t think of those flowers.

The year before I received flowers, completely unexpectedly, from friends from work, who remembered me and Teddy. There will never be a Mother’s Day when I don’t think of those flowers.

The year before that, my mother sent flowers to me as the “expectant mother.” We’d just started to see the specialist about the possibility of something being wrong with Teddy, but we were told it was likely everything was fine. I was worried, but hopeful. I’d forgotten about those flowers until last night, talking with my mother on the phone.

This year I got myself flowers – two clematis plants for the corner of the yard I’ve been gardening in. One should be a nice Wedgwood blue, and the other a deep purple. I’m hoping they’ll twine together in interesting ways and climb up the tree outside the living room window. I’ve started to think of the small bit of gardening I do as a way to remember Teddy, but maybe it’s also a channel for some of the attention and love and nurturing I wanted to give him. It helps somehow that they’re just plants. They may live and thrive (they should thrive after I provided them so generously with manure and careful planting), which will make me happy, but if they die, I’ll just be sad, not destroyed.

I’ll be remembering you, too, this weekend, my babylost mother friends. I hope Sunday is kind to you. I hope you find solace and comfort in surprising places, and that if solace and comfort is out of reach, that the days pass quickly.