Don’t Call It a Comeback…

My family, my dad in particular, loves to tell the story of how I fell asleep when my mom was in active labor with me. She was pushing and, apparently, everything stopped, my heart rate dropped and after the obvious ensuing panic, the doctor said I was in a REM cycle. I like my sleep, what can I say? As one who has had two babies but never felt a contraction, who am I to argue with the family lore of how I came to be? The moral of the story here is that I don’t like to be rushed and I showed very early on in life that I was most likely going to want to do things in my way. (For the record, sorry Mom! Nobody should get a nap when Mama’s in labor!) 

I am an introvert wrapped in extrovert’s clothing and facial expressions. It often appears that I’ve never met a stranger and I can carry on pretty good in groups when I need to. BUT being on the go and having something planned for everyday with other people is definitely not what I would want to be my norm. Since having Luke and Leia, this has become even more true as I often feel poured out at the end of each day. Everything I have feels like it’s poured into two tiny humans who slobber on me and hit me in head for no apparent reason. And I wouldn’t change it for the world. The last month and a half has been such an interesting mix of finding new levels of energy and yet having so many things to deplete it. 

Friday felt like the best day of my life. It was a blessed day with a full calendar but lots of clear thinking, planning, and joy in the living of it. Yesterday (Monday) felt like I was going uphill, all stinking day. I felt drained, sluggish, and so very irritable. Every event felt like it took crazy levels of energy and motivation that I just couldn’t find anywhere inside me. At one point, I was crying on the phone with our electric company in a parking garage over a misunderstanding on our bill. It wasn’t a pretty day. And for probably the 16th time, I worried that TMS wasn’t working and that I will never truly be free of depression and anxiety. It’s a fear that bounces around a lot. I’ve had a couple of times during the course of my treatment where I’ve gone 3 days instead of 2 without a treatment and each time, I breathe easier once I see my technician and feel the magnet “tap” on my head. Yesterday, I had to admit that I am very scared that this last month is just a brief respite from what is still going to be a long battle with mental health. That isn’t how TMS works, by the way. It’s just how my fear works. I’m scared that everyday will feel like Monday and my babies and my family will only know that side of me and not the one who laughs and lives without a weight pulling her down. 

I’m scared that once the magnet isn’t pulsing my frontal cortex anymore, I’ll revert back into old thought patterns and I will feel as if everyday is an exhausting, uphill battle. What if I am a weird case and it only works when I am getting active treatment? For the love, I fell asleep during my own birth, surely something is different about me! I realized yesterday how quickly the fear takes hold when I open the blinds but still have a hard time seeing things in a new light. 

I was certain that I would wake up today and feel the same as yesterday. I went through our morning routine of bottles and breakfast and did feel weariness. I haven’t napped during the babies naps since about week one of treatment. It was something that I used to do everyday. Everything in me was saying that I had pushed too hard yesterday and I needed to rest today. To be the kind of mom and wife and friend I want to be, I needed to find some way to recharge. Taking a nap this morning felt like a failure. I kept telling myself that it felt like defeat, like I was taking steps backward. And somewhere in this process of just beating myself up emotionally, I texted Chad at work and let him know what I was thinking. He pointed out that sometimes he naps when the babies nap because keeping up with two toddlers is tiring. I felt free to do what my body was trying so hard to tell me to do. I took a nap and woke up feeling better able to handle what lay ahead of me. And a bit of perspective for what (hopefully) the rest of my life will look like. 

The hardest part of this treatment for me has been having to be downtown for an appointment five times a week. I don’t like having too much on our calendar. I start to feel too constrained and rigid when we do. So, an appointment everyday for two months has been hard for me to swallow. I am a homebody. I like to keep our kids on a schedule. And I love to get a lot done when they are napping. All of this has been slightly changed with daily treatments and after five weeks, it has worn me pretty thin. So, I now understand that TMS isn’t going to make me different in this area. Just because I might have the energy for a daily outing or a daily playdate, I’ve learned that it doesn’t mean I need to make those things happen. I’ve learned that TMS isn’t going to take away my irritability or my short fuse. Those are things that still have to be restrained and contained. TMS isn’t going to make me an extrovert. (You obviously can’t see me but I literally cringed a bit). Extroversion is no longer my goal. I’m getting quite comfortable in my introverted state. And TMS isn’t going to erase the negative thoughts and neural pathways in my brain. That’s work for me to do on a minute by minute basis. I might feel better equipped than ever to manage those but it won’t get rid of decades of “programming”. 

I used to tell my clients the following statement all the time. “Your mind will lie to you all day long but your body is going to tell you the truth”. My mind tells me that I’m invincible and that I can just keep going and going. Especially because my neurons are firing. My mind tells me I’m weak if I can’t keep up the pace. The truth of it all is this: TMS isn’t going to remove all the fatigue from my current life and schedule. My body is tired because I spend my days chasing and caring for two kids. And my weekends on house projects. Just as I tried to ignore the signs of anxiety and depression that my body was telling me before I sought treatment, I can’t do the same after 26 sessions. While yesterday felt like a setback, I’m happy with where I’ve landed. It feels real. It feels true. And it still, honest to God, feels like progress. 

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Aside

“Whoooah, we’re halfway there….whooooah, livin’ on a prayer”

I have my 21st TMS treatment today. I am over halfway through the course of treatment. Before I started, I was hoping for the 75% reduction in symptoms that most people report when getting transcranial magnetic stimulation. The word that my tech used today was remission. My Beck Depression inventory and the Anxiety Scale were showing numbers that more aligned with remission. REMISSION. For people who have been chronically ill, that’s incomprehensible. I didn’t think it belonged in the same sentence as anxiety and depression, and certainly not when it came to my own anxiety and depression. 

The great news that I’m so happy to report is this: I feel in remission. I feel energy and strength coursing through me. I feel the ability to handle stress and fatigue when they arise. I feel the motivation to push through frustrations that would have previously derailed me for hours if not days. I feel able to catch negative thoughts that would have spiraled out of control. I feel able to actually pause and take a deep breath and try to find a bit of perspective when flustered. It feels great. It feels like a different life. 

I was scared going into TMS because I worried that maybe I didn’t really have depression and anxiety, I just thought I did. There’s no blood test or lab that will tell you that you have these illnesses. And when you are fighting these things daily, it’s hard to be objective enough to sometimes know how you are really feeling. I thought I’d go to the consultation and they would kindly tell me to suck it up. Instead, I learned that my symptoms can border on the severe but I have learned how to function with them. 

What I realize halfway through treatment is that I, for sure, had anxiety and depression and they sapped the little bit of energy I had that wasn’t taken up by my toddler twins. To put it another way: if I had a client who presented as I did 20 sessions ago and was presenting how I am now, I would think they were either in a manic phase or they were on amphetamines. The change is that drastic. 

Everyday isn’t roses now that things are working better in my brain. I still have a lot to do and most days, I still feel like I have too much to do and not enough time to do it. I still have two bright children who are learning to push limits and have “tantrums” that beg for my attention. Without going into too much detail, I learned a couple weeks ago that TMS doesn’t eliminate PMS (sorry Chad!). I find that things can still irritate me pretty quickly. I can feel the anger well up in me when something goes sideways or Luke hits me in the head for the 15th time because he thinks head hitting is somehow part of a hug. I am sad that my first impulse is anger but also counting it a victory that I don’t act on that anger. I am managing to wait and calm down before I lose my temper and that’s a pretty new phenomenon for me. 

The metaphor of the blinds being open remains my biggest word picture for how I am feeling. And just like when you physically open the blinds, the extra light allows you to see all the messy areas. The areas that were best kept shaded. I am finding and tripping over those areas in my heart since I have been thinking more clearly. I am realizing the negative self-image and the mean thoughts that I have allowed to chip away at me for years. I see more clearly how people might want things from me that though I feel better, I am still not willing to give. I am doing my best to challenge some long-held beliefs about myself that I have formed or have been put on me by others and seeing if they hold truth when put up to the light. And also, quite literally, I’m cleaning my house because though I thought I was a super clean person, open blinds show everything. Why does Oreo shed so much? He’s almost 14 and I still marvel at the amount of shedding every Spring. 

I”m trying to use this time to work on other areas in my life as well. I’m reconnecting with my faith in a deeper way. I’m creating a daily routine for myself that has time spent in my Bible. I’m working more on my marriage and our communication, both of which took a hit with having two kids at the same time. I’m trying hard to simplify areas of life so that there is room for opportunities of joy. And like I did with my children when life felt unmanageable at this time last year, I’m creating a schedule for myself. I’ve become a bit of an Emily Ley groupie. In her books “Grace not Perfection” and “A Simplified Life”, she talks about the structure that is in place for our everyday life that helps us de-clutter our lives and hearts so that real joy has a place to come and stay. “A Simplified Life isn’t a perfect life. It’s a life that is messy, full, and well lived. It’s both crazy and calm. It’s real, flawed, and rich with love. It’s organized to make inroads for joy. It’s simple to make room for play. And it’s rhythmic so when life gets out of cadence, which it will do, we have a foundational beat to get back to.” Before TMS, before debt payoffs for our family, before so many decisions made in 2018, this was a quote I wanted to be a guidepost. This is the light I wanted to shine on 2018. Organized and prepared because when a kid throws a curveball or life shifts quickly, we know how to get back to a place where we are all safe and happy. I didn’t know that God had TMS in store for the spring of 2018. I certainly didn’t see how 36 treatments fit into an already packed life in the midst of trying to simplify. But halfway through, I can tell you with certainty, I hear the foundational beat better than I ever have and most days, I have the energy to pick up a baby or two and dance. It’s more than I ever hoped for. 

For the many of you who have told me you’re interested in TMS, I’m telling you to RUN not walk to your nearest treatment center. (Go to www.neurostar.com and the “find a doctor” tab). I only wish I had done it sooner. 

Twenty (one) Fingers and Twenty Toes

It sort of feels like we have been keeping a secret. I would say that I didn’t intend to but that wouldn’t be the complete truth. Granted, the time to blog or put any thoughts down is pretty rare with twins but this is something I’ve wanted to write for a while and have shied away from for longer than I’d like to admit.

Now that you’ve all read our harrowing (though hopefully not too graphic) birth story, I’ll pick up where they’ve just wheeled me into my room after the PACU and Chad and his mom are waiting. In a haze of pain and anesthesia, I found myself searching for two baby beds and looked longingly at Chad to explain where they were. My sweet husband, knowing me so well, pulled out his phone and showed me my first pictures of my babies. His first words were “they’re breathing on their own” and then their weights, probably the detail I had been most anxious about during my pregnancy. Little did I know that 8 pound babies can end up in a NICU just as easily as 5 pounders. He then smiled at me a slightly strained smile and announced “Luke has an extra thumb.” He knew that this detail would shake up his usually-fragile-but-currently-already-shattered wife. Excuse me, what? Beg pardon? My baby has 11 fingers? What is this, The Princess Bride? Jokes aside, I was rocked by this news. Instantly, I felt like I had done something wrong in my pregnancy and that Luke was suffering those consequences. Would this extra digit mean developmental issues to come later? It was one of many scenarios that I had never even thought to consider.

I feel that I need to pause here and do some explaining. Some of you might be reading this and thinking “chill out, woman, it’s a thumb, not an extra head.” Some of you might be totally freaking out. I want to give you the space to do either. I can only tell you my own process and how I have been changed by this precious boy that God has entrusted me to raise.

I’ve had a long, long battle with appearances. For most of my life, I have wanted to project that everything is fine, everything will be fine, and I’m good. Infertility had a lot to do with changing that. I now crave honesty and authenticity. I surround myself with people who desire the same and are active in that pursuit. Those willing to be vulnerable but also proactive in their own growth. When your husband tells you that your baby has 11 fingers, you kind of forget about that battle against appearances and just have a panicky thought of not only “what does this mean?” but also “what will people think?!?”

If not for Chad, I probably would have stayed in that panic. If not for Chad, I don’t know where I’d be. I am a woman truly blessed. Chad calmed me and wiped my tears as I allowed the anesthesia to wear off and this new realization to sink in. My baby was born with a genetic abnormality. He was not “perfect.” And he wasn’t in my arms.

I read an amazing article when the babies were about 3 months old that really resonated with me. It was one woman’s story about how she, and we as a culture, are trying to create what she called “superbabies”. She talked about how she ate only organic, exercised daily, attended all the birth classes, and did everything perfectly and her baby was born (in a water birth, no less) underweight, underdeveloped, and with a fairly severe chromosomal disorder. She is 5 and still in diapers and weighs only 22 pounds. This woman’s story is not my own. Shoot, my biggest pregnancy craving was a Southern greasy fast food joint called Cookout. Ketchup could have served as it’s own food group for most of my pregnancy. But I think there is a part of every woman who wants that “superbaby”. The oft quoted phrase of “we don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl, we just want a healthy baby” rang in my ears like a sad failure. Was my boy not healthy?

What about the babies who aren’t born healthy? Do their parents not rejoice when they first see them? What about the babies like mine, who are fortunate by many, many standards, to have had what’s considered a short NICU stay? What about my daughter who has a hemagione (cluster of blood vessels) in her hair? Or my son with his sweet little lobster claw hand? Or what about Jimmy Kimmel’s son born with a terrifying heart condition? Or the countless other babies in the NICU that surrounded my babies for 8 days and 20 days respectively. Are they any less wonderfully made or knit together by God?

I’m terribly ashamed to admit that I watched Luke insanely closely for the first 2 months of his life. My first glimpses of him and moments with him were spent in awe but also fear as I tried to see if there was anything else “wrong.” I would read into his grunts and his cries, looking for there to be something more. Was his colic different or worse than Leia’s? His hair is falling out, Oh Lord, is there something wrong? He’s really solid and dense, what does that mean? He sure does cry a lot! What’s up with that? None of it was helped by the fact that we couldn’t get him to finish a bottle for the longest time in the NICU. It wasn’t that he would get full or fall asleep, he would just stop sucking. He knew he would get the rest through his nose tube so why go to the effort? He’s Chad’s son, after all.

I hate that I spent the first two months+ of his life looking for what was wrong rather than seeing what was absolutely right about him.

Luke came home from the NICU on Wednesday, February 1st. The babies original due date was Wednesday, February 1st. These babies and their milestones and accomplishments will never be in my timing. This baby boy of mine will not be rushed. He will do things in his own time and we will celebrate with joy when he does. I will move heaven and earth to help him but I had to learn when he was 20 days old that it’s not going to go according to my plan.

The changing point for me happened when I saw him smile for the first time. Sappy as it sounds, the boy smiled (in response to a fart, of course) and something lifted and I felt a peace about Luke I had never felt before. This boy of mine, this big-feeling, loud, strong boy who kicked my bladder mercilessly for months, will always keep me on my toes. Just as I will form and shape him, he will do the same to me. Loving him will change me. I had to stop and let him be who God intended him to be, whether that meant he was “perfect” or not. I had to embrace the ways he was different and allow myself to begin to do the same in my own life. I am his model and will be a voice in his head and I so badly want to be one that assures him how awesome he is in every way. His smile was my rainbow from God, telling me that my son is in much greater Hands than my own. This left hand that scared me and worried me was uniquely designed by Him and all of Luke will hopefully be used for His glory.

In a little over a month, we will wake Luke up and take him down to Levine Children’s Hospital, as renowned and wonderful a hospital as I could ask for, and they will operate and remove Luke’s extra thumb. I can say with complete sincerity that I, for one, will be sad to see it go. He will be in a cast for 3 weeks but the surgeon expects there to be no complications and said that she wouldn’t worry about any other developmental disorders. She sees no cause for concern. His polydactyl is the most common type and the one they remove the most. Luke will go on for the rest of his days with just 10 fingers, barring any freak accidents or stupid hijinks. To the rest of the world, he will be perfectly “normal.” But I know, and now you know, that Lucas Richard Beach bears a unique thumbprint of the Almighty and he has since the day he was born.