Thoughts on Empathy

February 17, 2014

I think I have always been fairly empathic. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to imagine how I might feel if something bad happened to me. So whenever I saw bad things happening to others I was capable of empathy.

However.

There is one area where I was lacking empathy. Because I couldn’t imagine what it felt like. I can imagine a house fire, cancer, death, unemployment, etc. But I always struggled with mental health. I saw people who struggled with mental health issues as weak. There are a lot of reasons for this but I don’t think it’s necessary to list them. It’s not important why I couldn’t empathize with people struggling with mental health issues. What IS important is that I now can.

What changed?

First, my divorce. I had some very rough moments with that. It left me with a slightly better understanding of depression. But only slightly. It sucked donkey balls but I got through it. And without professional help – mostly because when I sought professional help what I found was an idiot. I also got through it without meds because I felt that I was supposed to feel miserable. It seemed wrong to me to medicinally suppress the pain that I knew was normal. Perhaps because it never got truly out of hand.

What gave me a real understanding of depression was my first pregnancy coupled with Pops’ third cancer. Frankly it was mostly the pregnancy that caused the crippling depression but knowing that my father was dying did not help me see the light at the end of the tunnel. I knew that once I got through the pregnancy I would still have hard times ahead. And when I say “get through the pregnancy”… perhaps I should remind people that it took five months to kill those twins. Five months of blood draws to check my HCG levels. Levels that kept stalling or rising when they should have been falling. It got to the point that I stopped believing that I would EVER be NOT pregnant. The anxiety was overwhelming.

But that’s another story which has mostly been told already.

In addition to my personal experiences with situational depression and anxiety that got out of hand I have met a lot of people (mostly women) on Twitter who suffer from depression and/or anxiety (among other things). I’ve learned so much more about mental illness in general – just by being on Twitter. I no longer see these people as weak. And I no longer see them as the “crazy” people on the bus to move away from.

Having taken care of Pops for almost 7 years I am also now more empathic to people in wheelchairs and/or people who have “accidents” in public places. It can be difficult to get to the bathroom when you are physically impaired.

And now for the story that prompted this post.

Last week a man got on my bus and sat next to me. He was mumbling to himself and clearly not quite right. I could make out most of what he was saying since he was next to me. He was counting the stops until he could get off the bus and telling himself it was going to be OK. Clearly, riding buses gives him anxiety. Perhaps it’s being crowded in. Or maybe he fears all vehicles and the inevitable accidents that occur. And maybe the fact that the driver accidentally closed the door on a woman behind him didn’t really help his anxiety (she was OK).

All I know is that I used to see people like him and move away and think “crazy” and “weak.” But this time I saw a brave man doing something he was scared of. Despite being scared. And so I thought “brave” instead of “weak.” And when I heard him say, “It’s going to be OK, it’s going to be OK” I turned to him, smiled, and said, “Yes. It will be OK.”

Seen on a bathroom stall door

Seen on a bathroom stall door. A kind word can go a long way.

He seemed surprised I had spoken to him but smiled back and said, “Yes. Thank you. It will, won’t it?” I’d like to think I helped him make it one more stop. Regardless, I have finally found a silver lining for all my suffering: Seeing people for how brave they can be on the inside rather than how weak they look on the outside. I think it makes me a better, kinder person and I am proud of myself for still being capable of learning new behavior. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? ūüėČ

On the Topic of Suicide

December 3, 2011

No, not mine. Don’t worry. That’s not an option for me. Unless maybe I had a painful and terminal disease. Which I don’t.

Right Guy found out yesterday that one of his former co-workers, someone I only met once but he worked with every day for two years, ended his life. It’s horrible. I can’t imagine feeling THAT hopeless.

I’ve had a rough year this year. And I’ve had rough times in the past. I’ve even had several successive YEARS of rough times. And I’ve experienced feeling so shitty that I asked myself, “What’s the point? Why go on?” But I have never seriously contemplated suicide. I simply can’t understand it. I understand not wanting to go on. I understand losing the hope that things will work out how you want them to. But things do CHANGE. Even if you’ve lost the strength to change them yourself, life brings change – even if not the exact change you were hoping for. And I guess I’m just too curious to ever end it. I want to know what comes next. What’s around that next corner?

What comes next could always be worse. That’s always a possibility. But it could also be better. And at the very least it will be DIFFERENT. And I get the sense that people who end their lives do so because they are no longer able to recognize that things can and will be different. Eventually.

Things change. Life goes on. No matter how much I allow myself to wallow in self pity (which I’m currently doing and getting sick of myself for it) I never forget that. And I feel so sad for the people who do forget it. So sad.

Anxiety. I haz it.

November 19, 2011

Anxiety. I haz it. About Thanksgiving. And other things.

I kind of freaked out yesterday. More accurately, I freaked myself out. I went a little Rain Man walking around Tar-jay shopping yesterday. I don’t think anyone else really noticed. Cuz I’m that awesome. But I noticed. It wasn’t quite an anxiety attack. I never froze. There were no real heart palpitations or difficulty breathing. I didn’t pass out. I didn’t feel like I was having a heart attack. I just went Rain Man on myself.

I think, in order to avoid having an actual attack, I just had to talk to myself incessantly and make OCD hand gestures (I’m really not completely kidding about the Rain Man comparison). I had to talk myself through each aisle. “Just go get this item and then we’ll go.” But then the item wasn’t there. And of course I’m in the aisle next to Babyland. It seems everything I was searching for was located in the general vicinity of all the baby crap. *sigh*

Most of the anxiety wasn’t even baby related. I just knew I didn’t need to add to it. I was having to talk myself through each step of shopping. Yes, out loud. Muttering under my breath to myself but the lips were still moving and I was audible. And making weird gestures with my hands.

Here’s the deal. I may or may not be having hot flashes again. I’ve been a little sick lately but don’t seem to have a fever. Maybe I just overdressed for the weather yesterday. Maybe the covers were too thick. I AM, after all, adjusting to a new climate. Or maybe, just maybe, my body has AGAIN decided to do a 180. Am I menopausal or not? I can’t take this yo-yo crap. Dr. Google tells me hot flashes can be a symptom of anxiety. So now my anxiety is giving me… anxiety?

I’m waiting to have a period after the ectopic. I’m supposed to go for bloodwork on CD21 to check my progesterone to see if I’m ovulating. And, just for the hell of it, my RE also wants to check my FSH (on CD21?). I wasn’t too worried about AF not showing up since I was having cycles earlier this year. I just wasn’t sure I was ovulating because AF was so short. But now I’m worried that I’m back to hot flashes, night sweats, no ovulation, no AF. Total reproductive shutdown. Just like 2 years ago. Good times.

It’s too early to worry too much about that. It really needs anther week or two. But adding that to my plate right now just tipped me over.

The anxiety I’m feeling is mostly not about all that crap. I’ve resigned myself to worrying about that stuff next YEAR. Or at least trying not to worry about it until next year.

It’s Thanksgiving. It was Pops’ favorite holiday. It will be my first major holiday without him. In the last 20 years I missed being with him on Turkey Day TWICE. Once because I was out of the country. The pain of his death has recently been surfacing – now that I’m moved, not pregnant and basically have nothing else to think about. I had thought the day, or maybe just the meal, would be difficult. I didn’t realize I would start freaking out about it in advance. It probably doesn’t help that I have four in-laws descending upon me next week. Two I haven’t ever met. They are not staying at our house thankfully (ooh, something to be thankful for!). We don’t have enough room. But I have to manage to get the house in order (still unpacking our own boxes and I have a garage full of stuff from my Pops’ house, some of which I need for entertaining).

Unpacking the boxes from Pops’ house really threw me for a loop. All I really wanted was to find a few nice red wine glasses. Maybe an extra baking dish for all the cooking I have to do. Instead I had a breakdown. A complete bawl-fest. Obviously I have not dealt with all this yet. Right Guy did his best. But I was, well… Hot Mess doesn’t even begin to describe it.

And two days later I went Rain Man in Tar.get.

I am not right in the head. Really. I’m being completely and totally serious. But, as I said to Right Guy, I can’t be that wrong in the head if I realize I’m not right in the head. Right? I know I’m not right in the head. I know why I’m not right in the head. Drugs might help. Talk therapy… I dunno. Like I said, I KNOW why I’m crazy. I don’t need a therapist to tell me why. And what can be done about it? I can’t bring my father back. I can’t undo my disastrous pregnancies. I can’t not ever unpack my dead father’s things.

I just have to grieve. And get past it all. And I think that must mean that I’ll be crazy for a little while.

I’m hoping it’s just the crazies talking (really the PTSD on this one) but I am now afraid of having a child. By any means. I think WAY too far ahead. What happens if I get my dream? Right now, I feel SURE that that child, whether my own or adopted, will die young. Probably of cancer (you know, cuz of the irony of Right Guy being a pediatric oncologist and all). The universe seems determined to take away what I love most. To make me feel constant loss. So if I defeat the odds and achieve my dreams… they’ll just be taken away at a later date.

Loss deferred.

I know that’s crazy. But at the same time… it isn’t. It happens every day.

[This is why I’ve been a little AWOL from twitter. I can’t be of much support to anyone else right now and although I know you all care, you can’t get rid of my crazies. Better not to bring everyone else down – not this far down. Oh yeah, also, twitter client FAIL.]

Here, finally, is third installment of the insanity that has replaced my normal self. It’s been written for 2 weeks but I haven’t had the courage to publish it until now. Catch up on Part One or Part Two if you like.

Medications
This is about my attempt to find a happy chemical balance. And it’s not pretty. There’s been a fair amount of self-medicating going on. I will likely gloss over it a bit so no one tries to lock me up in rehab, but… it’s not pretty. I’m a person who normally doesn’t like to take any kind of medication I don’t absolutely NEED. So this is a somewhat new experience for me.

I asked for anti-depressants fairly early on since I wasn’t eating. But it took some time before I realized I also needed anti-anxiety meds. I self-medicated for that for quite awhile. I had plenty of Rx painkillers from the surgery, ectopic and kidney stone. And let’s just say narcotics dull more than physical pain. No, I’m not addicted, but damn, do they take the edge off. I haven’t taken any for awhile now but I do kind of miss them. It’s the only way I can chill out sometimes. Alcohol works to a point. And then I get depressed and start crying. It just seems impossible to truly relax without medicinal help. A little 420 helps, but then my sinuses get messed up from the smoke.

They’ve switched my anti-depressants from cym.balta to pro.zac. I thought it was helping but maybe not. I’m still up and down. Combine this with all my efforts to find the perfect sleep cocktail and we get to add in some more drugs to the mix. Sometimes I have to take something else to keep me awake. With my current sinus issues that’s mostly just real sud.afed. But I also have a friend who takes ader.ol….

So… I take pills to keep me from being depressed. I take pills to help me sleep when it’s time to sleep. I take pills to keep me awake when it’s time to be awake. I am in constant search of something that will help me relax without knocking me out. I just need to be able to function. To get up and go to work. Or get up and work from home. Be able to enjoy a night out with friends. Obviously I have not admitted to my docs the minor drug infractions I’ve been committing (in the grand scheme of things they are relatively minor – for me personally not so much). But I’ve been honest about not being able to function.

I had thought the end of the ectopic would magically cure me of this. No such luck. Now I just get to worry about Pops and his cancer instead. And the upcoming cross-country move and subsequent job search. Ay-yay-ay. I. Just. Want. To. FUNCTION. I need some chemical balance. I probably need some hormonal balance as well. All signs were pointing to normal cycle on that front but alas, the hunger, acne, hormonal wrath, and cramps are NOT due to ovulation/impending CD1. Now I’m just thinking it’s menopause symptoms. I’m a hormonal wreck lately. And then there’s that pain that I thought was from the ectopic… I guess it’s just adenomyosis pain. Sigh.

My new favorite quote from Legally Blonde: “Elle, I know you’re upset about all this, but can’t you just take a Percocet?” If only. As much as the perc.oset helps… you can’t function (not well, anyway) on it.

What If… There are so many What Ifs that come to mind but I’m supposed to pick just one to write about.

What if I never get pregnant? ¬†¬†What if I do get pregnant but miscarry? ¬†What if I can’t adopt for some reason? ¬†What if the hole in my heart never goes away? ¬†What if I had gotten pregnant back when I still had eggs? ¬†What if I develop early osteoperosis from early menopause? What if I lose friends because I’m not comfortable around them or vice versa? ¬†What if the stress & anxiety are too much for my relationship with Right Guy? ¬†What if we go broke paying for treatments? What if my RE won’t let me do IVF?

I could easily continue adding to that list. ¬†But the one that haunts me the most is probably the least interesting to others. ¬†And the one that makes the least sense. ¬†You can’t change the past after all. ¬†But for most of us 30 something POF/DOR women we can’t help but wonder if we squandered the fertile years of our 20s. Or if we did something to cause this. ¬†I can’t even begin to imagine how it affects the women who are diagnosed in their 20s.

WHAT IF I HAD GOTTEN PREGNANT BACK WHEN I STILL HAD EGGS?

When I was married we tried. ¬†I went off birth control and actually had regular cycles. ¬†Something I long for today. ¬†I never thought I would long to get a period but I do. ¬†Even though those regular cycles were interrupted by pain from endometriosis I still had eggs and a chance EVERY MONTH to fertilize one. ¬†The chance was there back then. ¬†Never mind the fact that my ex-husband had an abysmal sperm count and was cheating on me (maybe that’s why he had an abysmal sperm count). ¬†Never mind the physical pain I was in. ¬†I HAD EGGS. ¬†I had the basic raw materials to produce life. ¬†I don’t have that now – or at least not in the quantity I should. ¬†There may not be enough eggs left in my basket at this point. ¬†And for all I know the ones that are left might be rotten.

If ¬†I had gotten pregnant when I was married then at least I would have a child of my own. ¬†Even if I was still divorced and still had to see and deal with the ex because of the kid – I WOULD STILL HAVE ¬†A CHILD. ¬†Ideal conditions? ¬†Certainly not. ¬†Better than now… perhaps. ¬†For me anyway. ¬†Maybe not so much for the kid. ¬†But maybe the divorce wouldn’t have happened if there had been a child. ¬†My ex even said that to me – “If there were a child things would be different.” ¬†It hurt so much to hear him say that. ¬†For so many reasons. ¬†I wouldn’t have wanted him to stay just for the sake of a child. ¬†But if having a child changed things between us and made it better… ¬†this particular What If has a way of snowballing. ¬†What if he had figured things out BEFORE the wedding and we never got married? ¬†Would I have met some other great guy and had children with him before my eggs disappeared? ¬†As much as I love Right Guy and am ecstatic to have found him I don’t believe that there’s only ONE right person out there for each of us. ¬†Could I be living an alternate life? ¬†Happy with a different guy? ¬†And with kids?!?

After the initial split with my Ex all I kept hearing from friends and family was this: ¬†“At least you don’t have kids.” ¬†I think I still have a scar from all those (well-meant) comments. ¬†Due to the endometriosis and his deployment to Afghanistan our TTC efforts were interrupted and therefore we weren’t able to actively try to conceive for that long ¬†– but it felt like it. ¬†It felt like 15 months of trying that ended in “I never loved you (because I always loved her) and oh, by the way, I don’t want kids.” ¬†And then I had to endure the “be glad you don’t have kids” comments on top of it all. ¬†So those wounds have all re-opened recently. ¬†So I’ve got to rehash the past, deal with the present all while worrying about the future. ¬†“Some days it just isn’t worth chewing through the restraints” as they say.

If I had had a child back then maybe I wouldn’t have met Right Guy. ¬†It’s horrible to admit but I think I’d take the kid if I had to choose. ¬†Maybe not. ¬†But it would be a close call. ¬†Fortunately I don’t have have to make that choice. ¬†I’m here now in this situation with him and all I can I do is make the choices about how to handle it now. ¬†This is really a pretty futile What If. ¬†But it haunts me nonetheless.

What if I never get past this what if? I’d love to track down my ex and yell at him. ¬†But would that help? ¬†Nope. ¬†These are ultimately my issues, not his. ¬†He behaved badly and if he had taken the time to get to know himself better before we married maybe some or all of this could have been avoided. ¬†But he didn’t do that. ¬†He wasn’t truthful with me or himself about his ongoing relationship with his high school sweetheart. ¬†And no amount of yelling at him is going to change that. ¬†Although it would be fun… ¬†I daydream (or sometimes it’s real dreams) ¬†sometimes that it would be cathartic to yell at him or punch him and that it would give me the closure I never really got (he divorced me from Iraq so I never even saw him during that process). ¬†But, in the end, I don’t think it would accomplish anything more than to drive home the fact that I’m not who he wants to be with. ¬†I’d be that crazy insane ex-wife people talk about – and then people would sympathize with¬†him for having to deal with such a crazy ex-wife (never mind his actions). ¬†And his wife, a.k.a. the ‘Other Woman’, likes to give interviews about her book and talk about his vasectomy online so I’m sure she’d blast me publicly if contacted him. ¬†So I’m still really unsure how exactly to get past this once and for all. ¬†Except by having a child so I don’t have to wonder ‘What If’ anymore. ¬†What if I don’t have enough eggs to even try IVF? ¬†What if I adopt and I still can’t get past this What If?

Lest you think I’m a truly selfish person who would rather have a child with an a$$hole for a father than a great guy in her life, let me iterate through some of the reasons I want a child. ¬†Many of them are selfish but not all.

There are the usual reasons for wanting a biological child:

  • best of my qualities + best of his (if we’re lucky)
  • wanting to experience pregnancy
  • wanting to experience the awesome feeling of having created life

And then the reasons for wanting a child even if not biologically my own:

  • I feel a void in my life without a child
  • the desire to do it better than my parents (haha)

But MOST important is the fact that¬†I have A LOT of love to give ¬†– and currently all I do is annoy my cats with it ūüėČ

So, to conclude on a positive note… what if I am pregnant RIGHT now? It’s possible. ¬†I took the meds, the timing was right. ¬†I’m trying to walk the line between positive thoughts and realistic expectations. What if , on our current or next cycle, WE ALL get BFPs!

Links that prompted this post:
www.resolve.org/infertility101

www.resolve.org/takecharge

http://www.stirrup-queens.com/2010/04/bloggers-unite-project-if/