Anatomy of a Breakthrough

Dear Family,

A large number of people seem to agree on this: You have to acknowledge and accept what's going on in order to be able to change it. People say this about losing weight, revamping personal relationships, and changing careers. It has always seemed to me like the kind of “well, No DUH!!”-sort of advice that isn't worth giving a second thought, because it's so damn obvious.

And then...some things happened to me over the past few months. And now I find myself pondering this cliched advice rather seriously. It turns out that figuring out what's happening in a given situation is sometimes extremely difficult, more difficult than I ever, ever thought. So I guess I'm a tiny bit farther along my path toward becoming a humble human (unfortunately, I wasn't super far along in the first place).

The following semi-edited novel is my attempt to understand some of my own recent, personal, human-style woes, complete with near-total self-centered attention to mostly myself. An actual update concerning our whole family, including “isms”, is not included here. Consider yourself forewarned.

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First, some Personal Health History, along with Chronological Commentary

Birth until 2010:

--Consumed strict lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, with two years of veganism as a teenager. Lots of soy, whole-grain starches, and vegetable oils, along with lots of veggies and fruits and legumes.

--Had increasingly severe symptoms of hypoglycemia as a child, worsening in adolescence and early adulthood.

--Extremely horrible, painful menstrual cramps, starting as soon as my period did (around 14).

--"Moodiness"/PMS/Cyclical anxiety/depression.

--"Needed lots of sleep" (about 10 hours per night).

--Severe post-partum-depression after Ben's birth (2004), including two years of undiagnosed pelvic pain, breastfeeding issues (pain, oversupply), "vulvodynia," exhaustion.

--Less-intense post-partum-depression after Jem's birth (2008), although I had some strange gastro symptoms, and some exhaustion (but less severe).

As Ben's health symptoms worsened between 2004-2010, my life centered more and more on “normalizing” him, and trying to pretend there wasn't a problem with either him or me. As he became less and less tolerant of social encounters, our family life became more insular and isolated. But since I was so hell-bent on accepting our/Ben's/my situation as it was (what were the alternatives? I kept looking for options, and finding none), we kept attempting normal things like bike trips, traveling, visiting, socializing, and community events. I was left continually wondering: why was I always exhausted by these attempts, and why did they always end with (or, more commonly, get cut short by) Ben's worsening screaming fits and anxiety/obsession/whining attacks, along with the ever-present challenge of his extremely picky eating?

During the first six years of Ben's life, I so often felt like an ineffective, relatively useless mother. I worked very hard to counter these emotions by....working harder. It seemed like so many people (and books) had a lot well-meaning advice, which didn't work much at all with him, except that I couldn't come up with many other ideas myself, so I tried as hard as I could to make things work anyway. It was hard to be with other people and not feel embarassment either on behalf of my son's behaviors, or on behalf of my parenting.

It had all developed so gradually that I still really couldn't see the forest for the trees, and couldn't understand even a fraction of how strange and strained and challenged our life was becoming, and how stressed I was by all of it (and how little was actually caused by my Poor Mothering Skills, which was where I pointed blame when I wasn't shoving guilty and resentful thoughts about Ben deep into the pit of my stomach).

Meanwhile, I was finally, little by little, carving out a small “career” for myself in cooking and catering. It was super challenging to find the space and time to make this happen, but I was discovering something (vegetarian cooking for crowds) that I loved to do, and which fulfilled the part of myself that desired satisfying, goal-oriented work. I found an incredible retreat center that was willing to pay me well for my services, and where people raved about my cooking. The first night I ever spent away from Ben and Jem, around New Years 2010, I cooked for a conference of happy, hungry people and felt like in a tiny way, I had come home to myself.

Back at home it was getting so hard to take Ben out, that shortly after his sixth birthday I couldn't really do it any more.

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Spring 2010: We Started GAPS

--My hypoglycemia got a LOT better.

--My monthly bleeding shortened from five days to 2-3, was much lighter and less "clumpy," my cycle shortened from 35-45 to 28-30 days, and my basal body temps became both more even and 1 degree higher overall (even though they were still about 1 degree lower than normal).

--My depression/anxiety got WAY way way better, and my PMS pretty much disappeared.

--I only needed 7-8 hours of sleep, the rest was better and more sound, and I woke up feeling great, with lots of energy to take a walk before everyone else got up...

...despite the absolute and complete craziness that we were plunging into, with Ben's anorexic symptoms et al, that (we didn't know then) would take over a year to fully resolve.

I can now see, what with the stunning accuracy of hindsight, exactly the ways in which I neglected to notice the buildup of chronic stress in our family life. And yet, I didn't have much chance to take stock and practice stress-reduction at the time, because I could _finally_ see a way we might heal Ben, and it felt like both his and my future depended in large part on whether we could succeed at least partway, and because the whole thing (Life!) was all SO crazy and chaotic and complicated and all-consuming. And there was nobody stepping forward to implement this protocol for Ben, besides Jeff and me, and something had to be done absolutely immediately.

GAPS was the beginning of my ever-more-single-minded crusade to heal my son. I glimpsed the possibilities; I started to realize what we were up against, and how very sick my little boy had become; and I. Wanted. Him. Better.

Starting to eat meat was one of the hardest things I'd ever done in my life, and for many many weeks after we started GAPS, even aside from the stress of Ben's eating issues, I wandered my kitchen like a hungry, confused, and very lost soul. It is hard to describe exactly how non-intuitive eating had become for me, and how much this contributed to me feeling less grounded than I had ever felt in my entire life to date. It was like I couldn't actually eat, or feed my child anything, without making careful decisions prior to each bite. Constant decision making is incredibly exhausting, but it wasn't like I could take a break from eating for a little while to figure out which end was up...so we kept on pushing through, and over a period of about nine months I finally grew to actually, grudgingly enjoy eating dead animals.

The flip side was that, for practically the first time in Ben's life, I felt like I had an inkling of how to be an effective mother. FINALLY, I had something I could do for my child!! This added even more fire to my crusade! If only he would eat the food... There were some days when I honestly couldn't think of anything in the world that would be better than having a child who could Eat.

Struggling to get Ben to consume food, over a super-intense year and a half, was a goddamn nightmare in so many ways. How was it possible that my child should suffer so much, and that all our available tools should seem to clumsy? And, how on earth could I possibly relieve his suffering any more than I was already trying to? EVERYTHING was so hard, his not-eating, his crazy tantrumming, his obsessive behaviors, his whining, his anxiety, his neediness, his wanting-to-be-near-me-or-Jeff-at-all-times, his inflexibility...

Anything I tried to do outside of family-survival-oriented-tasks felt Too Hard, Too “superfluous,” too extraneous. And really, under the circumstances, it WAS about survival, and everything else, the small little “me” indulgences like going to women's groups, visiting with friends, attending dance or pilates classes, doing part-time work-at-home, having dates with my Sweetheart, pursuing my “career” in cooking food I no longer wanted to eat...it all just gradually fell away, out the window, mostly because it was just Too Much. Between spring 2010 and fall 2011, my life was overwhelmingly comprised of cooking, child-crisis-management, cleaning, much much more cooking, a lot more health crises big and small, a tiny amount of gardening, spoonfeeding one or more children at every meal, dealing with Ben's tantrums and obsessions and anxieties, and trying to understand whether Jem's behaviors were copy-cat versions of Ben's, or if he was having his own gut-flora issues on top of everything else.

I tried not to fixate on the negative, and I struggled so hard to find bits of myself to keep afloat, especially inspired by and because of Jeff. Him being the rock-like husband and partner and friend and “provider” and incredibly amazing and hardworking father-to-our-children that he is, has been the most steadying part of my life at every point. I wanted so much to have a baby with Jeff, all those years ago, and I so much wanted (and want) to figure out how to make our spiraling family life turn RIGHT again, when things just weren't coming out how we'd hoped they would. Every single day I am grateful for his support, and during the many, many months of Ben-starvation, I was so grateful for having one thing in my life that I didn't have to question: my gladness that I married Jeff!

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--In Spring of 2011, my own health (which had been so improved on GAPS) took a turn for the slightly-worse: My blood-sugar/hypoglycemia issues were absolutely great still, but apart from that, my mood and energy problems were back, and in a very specific pattern: totally fine between my period and ovulation...and then, I would ovulate and feel more or less depressed and moody and anxious until my period, at which point I'd feel good again. There were some months that were worse than others, but no months where I felt as good as before (the first year of GAPS).

In summer 2011, at my sister's wedding, I can see (in retrospect again) how the crazy stress was beginning to take its toll, and how I was already struggling with where to shove my resentment. On a ferociously sunny day in June, while all other family members and friends and guests were partying and decorating together and getting ready for the festivities, I sat with an unreachable, tantrumming child in a faraway bedroom, taking a break in between spoon-feeding him his breakfast and his lunch, and I cried. I cried for Ben, for obvious reasons. I cried for me, because I wanted to be there for my sister, and instead I was missing yet another in a long string of missed-out-on-events, while I took my turn doing crisis-management in the never-ending cycle that seemed to consume Jeff's and my entire life. I was crying for lots of other reasons too, but mostly it was Ben making noise, drowning out the drone of the air conditioner for a really, really long time.

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In midsummer 2011, both Ben and Jem got whooping cough, and along with this came a three-month long regression in their symptoms (along with the added stress of the cough). Ben's anxiety got worse, and though there had been a few weeks when he was finally putting himself to sleep at night, now he was back to needing 1-3 hours of bedtime comforting each night. Meals were taking between 2 and 4 hours to be eaten by either Ben, Jem, or both. I was sick and tired of cooking and cleaning. Morning ablutions plus breakfast took us till nearly noon to complete, what with constipated boys needing enemas, and all the other aforementioned complications. I was completely exhausted by crisis-management, and whenever Jeff had a free moment, I just wanted him to take the boys so I could have a few moments to work in peace and quiet (except I was equally sad not to have any energy for fun family activities and adventures).

I was too tired to take my morning walks on many days, and this lack of self-care energy was even further draining my reserves. Ben was still having near-daily tantrums, sometimes for over an hour at a time. He was still plagued by painful skin rashes. He also still wasn't feeding himself, even though his food consumption was gradually and steadily improving, and now Jem wanted to be fed as well, and the tedium of endless mealtimes and feeding-of-children seemed to be the exact definition of “interminable”. I tried to go out with them as often as possible, but the logistics of packing and then spoonfeeding two children a picnic lunch was daunting much more frequently than not.

I always feel guilty when I write these descriptions, especially when Jeff reads them, because our lives are almost NEVER all bad, and even at Ben's worst we have always managed to eek out a tiny measure of fun in our days. I've also been such a huge proponent of Choice, and how one can Choose to be at peace with ones situation (even while one can also Choose to work to change it). It's just that I guess I hadn't realized how out of balance things had gotten. And I also guess that these particular descriptions right now are my attempt to paint an _overall picture_ of the effects of Ben's sickness--obviously not including every single detail of every single day.

And one of the overall consequences of all this, is that there was a day last summer, somewhere swimming in a sea of days just like it, when the boys were sitting at the table and taking their miniscule bites of food for the third consecutive hour, just one meal of three that had to happen that day, and I was scrubbing the kitchen cabinets just because it was a mindless task to pass the time (and one that wouldn't be too hard to quit quickly in case a child exploded or otherwise began to need attention). I looked over my shoulder and out the window while I scrubbed, and thought for the umpteenth time how much WORLD existed outside of my tiny existence, and I thought: “I cannot imagine what life will be like when we're all Better.”

What would we do? What would _I_ do? What would our lives be like??

Because obviously, once our family was all healed up, I would be doing hardly any of the things that currently occupied 95% of my waking efforts. And once I took away spoon-feeding, anxiety-management, tantrum-mitigating, crisis-dealing-with, enema-administering, and all the endless other side-tasks included in my current quest to Heal Our Family...well, all that would be left in my life (aside from being a loving wife and mother, which I just don't think are supposed to be listed under “tasks”) would be cooking, cleaning, and a very part-time work-at-home job that I tried to squeeze in on weekends.

Who was I, anymore??

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It was right around this moment when things started to really turn around for Ben. It was October 2011. We were finally, finally, cross-yer-fingers, starting to reap the rewards of our incredibly hard work. Ben was really and truly getting BETTER. Eighteen months after beginning GAPS, he was finally eating three meals a day with very minimal coercion or trauma. He began feeding himself, and learning how to use silverware. He was learning how to tell jokes, and understand humor. The whooping cough was over. He was pooping on his own, most days, without requiring an enema. Even Jem was starting to eat on his own again. Ben began putting himself to sleep about 50% of the time, and he and Jem started sleeping in their own room. Ben began to develop noticeable resilience, allowing us to push him harder when necessary (to overcome his own anxieties and obsessions without tantrumming, for example, or to use polite terms of speech) and to call him on his rudeness without this precipitating a tantrum. He stopped having daily tantrums, in fact—first they reduced to every other day, and then every few days, and then every couple of weeks (always with unfortunate exceptions to the rule, but still--they were way, way less). It seemed very likely that soon we might be able to set up regular childcare of some sort.

And yet, I still hadn't quite realized, despite my own gradually worsening depression/anxiety symptoms, how incredibly hard I was pushing myself. Ben's larger-scale improvements were only dimly appreciated by my already lower-functioning brain. In fact, I seemed only able to worry: Now I have to start adding _more_ jobs to my cooking and caretaking schedule! Now I have to somehow get over my insecurities and years spent doing not much besides Ben Crisis Management...and help Ben navigate the world of other people, and tasks he needs to learn, and...still maintain the strength to deal with his anxiety attacks, whining obsessions, and the occasional full-on tantrum... Without meaning to, and without realizing what was happening, I was withdrawing into a fog of exhaustion and social anxiety myself.

Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention: right around exactly at the moment when Ben was getting better, in October, we got pregnant. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, and maybe you're right, and maybe we are the most insane people you've ever met, gluttons for punishment in every possible way. But the crazy thing is, I really, really wanted another baby. And a large part of me felt guilty, like if I were really a good mother who deserved another baby, then I should NOT have another one, but rather I should give more of my energy to my oldest child, who obviously still needed all the help I could give. But gosh darn it, I WANTED to be pregnant.

And after all this time on my GAPS crusade, and after giving up most everything else I wanted to do with my life aside from GAPS GAPS GAPS, I decided to give in to my DNA's desire to reproduce. And once it was clear that Jeff's feelings were similar, on one very romantic evening after a lovely and beautiful day, a very tenacious and tiny baby began growing inside of my belly.

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Of course, it's a lot simpler to quit a dance class or stop attending a women's group, or even to take a sabbatical from a part-time job, than it is to stop a pregnancy. And I did not WANT to stop the pregnancy, at all. But at this very moment, in the fall of 2011, as Ben was finally starting to get better and I was still pushing full-steam-ahead to make him betterer and betterer, my newly-pregnant body said: No. Way. Uh. Uh. You. Cannot. Push. This. Hard. ANY. More.

You might say that pregnancy was the final hormonal straw that broke this camel's back. And still I didn't really understand what was happening, and I mostly felt guiltier and guiltier, and weaker and weaker, and holed up in our house doing the cooking and some cleaning and keeping an eye on Ben and Jem, and feeling more exhausted than I've ever felt in my life. Felt like I never wanted to get off the couch. The moodiness was like that PMS I used to have, but it was getting way, way worse.

Was this pregnancy? Or a bad case of irony? I suddenly developed super-crazy (and unprecedented--never in my life did I ever have these) cravings for starch and carbs, and near-complete repulsion for meat and fat. My hypoglycemia was back with a vengeance. Everything was especially bad at night, I was having high anxiety, terrible depression, and it was coming as increasingly longer "attacks" with decreasing amounts of time between attacks. During the day, I was having lots of specifically social anxiety (i.e. I didn't wanna see people at ALL).

I had to force myself to eat--everything was unappetizing. And I felt like ours was the ultimate in irresponsible pregnancies. Here I was, burdening the world with my own and my family's overwhelming needs, and I was adding ANOTHER member?

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But that's where I was. The pregnancy, despite all this, was definitely sticking.

We arrived at Mom and Dad's house in January (for what would stretch into a two-month “visit”), and along with my growing belly, I sported dry skin, a pallid face, headaches, pimples, thin and limp hair, occasional small skin lesions on my hands and face, a poor sense of balance, thin diagonal lines of white (no pigment) on each wrist, thin and wrinkled skin around my eyes (almost painful), no endurance for exercise, and a heart that often pounded like crazy when walking up the stairs. I immediately got a gastro “bug” that nobody else in the house got, but which sent me to bed for eight days. I felt chilled with the slightest exposure to a cold draft, had decreased tolerance for bright lights, loud sounds, my small children, and strong smells, and I felt like I was going insane. The panic attacks started in earnest, and got so bad and so frequent that I thought I was going to die (I learned that this is a common symptom with severe anxiety, but this was not a helpful bit of knowledge during the episodes themselves).

I felt like I never, ever EVER wanted to cook another meal, or deal with another child's tantrum, or even go grocery shopping, ever again in my life. Always before, even at the worst points, I had always felt like my body was strong, and that I could power through and do what needed to be done, at least mostly. This time, as I lay in bed for days at a time, even after I felt “better” from my “stomach flu,” I felt like a pretty uniquely terrible, worthless, burdonsome person (probably similar to many, many other depressed persons around the world), as well as weak in every conceiveable way. I really thought that I was going to lose this baby for sure.

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The questions that go round and round in my brain are: What really happened in October, and why did I crash so terribly in January, and what exactly can I do to recover from it all and birth this baby and piece our family life back together, and prevent the whole grand slam of events from happening again? Is it possible for me to quell the panic from rising in my chest every single time Ben begins to whine, or whenever I need to cook dinner?

It turns out that “nervous breakdown” is not actually a formally defined medical term, and according to wikipedia, it is “nearly absent from current scientific literature regarding mental illness. ...[S]urveys of laypersons suggest that the term refers to a specific acute time-limited reactive disorder, involving symptoms such as anxiety or depression, usually precipitated by external stressors.”

Since it's not even a scientific definition, my sister suggested that I call my experiences over the past several months a “Nervous Breakthrough,” thereby reclaiming the dubious diagnosis and giving it an ultimately positive sheen. Also, this redefinition imagines a future even brighter than ever, possibly _because_ of said Breakthrough. I have been trying to grasp onto this idea, even while the following Wikipedia exceprts resonate with my recent experiences in nearly every way:

“Specific cases are sometimes described as a 'breakdown' only after a person becomes unable to function in day-to-day life due to difficulties adapting.”

Wikipedia adds, on the topic of PTSD: “Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma...overwhelming the individual's ability to cope. ...Diagnostic symptoms for PTSD include re-experiencing the original trauma(s) through flashbacks or nightmares, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, and increased arousal—such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger, and hypervigilance. Formal diagnostic criteria (both DSM-IV-TR and ICD-10) require that the symptoms last more than one month and cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”

“Evolutionary psychology views different types of fears and reactions caused by fears as adaptations that may have been useful in the ancestral environment in order to avoid or cope with various threats. Mammals generally display several defensive behaviors roughly dependent on how close the threat is: avoidance, vigilant immobility, withdrawal, aggressive defense, appeasement, and finally complete frozen immobility (the last possibly to confuse a predator's attack reflex or to simulate a dead and contaminated body). PTSD may correspond to and be caused by overactivation of such fear circuits. Thus, PTSD avoidance behaviors may correspond to mammal avoidance of and withdrawal from threats.”

Wikipedia again, this time on the topic of panic: “Panic attacks are periods of intense fear or apprehension that are of sudden onset and of relatively brief duration. Panic attacks usually begin abruptly, reach a peak within 10 minutes, and subside over the next several hours. Often, those afflicted will experience significant anticipatory anxiety and limited symptom attacks in between attacks, in situations where attacks have previously occurred. The effects of a panic attack vary. Some, notably first-time sufferers, may call for emergency services. Many who experience a panic attack, mostly for the first time, fear they are having a heart attack or a nervous breakdown. Experiencing a panic attack has been said to be one of the most intensely frightening, upsetting and uncomfortable experiences of a person's life and may take days to initially recover from. Repeated panic attacks are considered a symptom of panic disorder.

“Sufferers of panic attacks often report a fear or sense of dying, 'going crazy,' or experiencing a heart attack or 'flashing vision,' feeling faint or nauseated, a numb sensation throughout the body, heavy breathing (and almost always, hyperventilation), or losing control of themselves. Some people also suffer from tunnel vision, mostly due to blood flow leaving the head to more critical parts of the body in defense. These feelings may provoke a strong urge to escape or flee the place where the attack began (a consequence of the sympathetic 'fight-or-flight response') in which the hormone which causes this response is released in significant amounts. This response floods the body with hormones, particularly epinephrine (adrenaline), that aid it in defending against harm.”

More on PTSD, which causes “biochemical changes in the brain and body that differ from other psychiatric disorders such as major depression” (my bloodwork suggests, incidentally, that I have moderately suppressed cortisol levels, as well as very suppressed thyroid and pituitary hormone levels):

“In addition, most people with PTSD also show a low secretion of cortisol and high secretion of catecholamines in urine, with a norepinephrine/cortisol ratio consequently higher than comparable non-diagnosed individuals. ...Brain catecholamine levels are high, and corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) concentrations are high. Together, these findings suggest abnormality in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.”

“Low cortisol levels may predispose individuals to PTSD: Following war trauma, Swedish soldiers serving in Bosnia and Herzegovina with low pre-service salivary cortisol levels had a higher risk of reacting with PTSD symptoms, following war trauma, than soldiers with normal pre-service levels. Because cortisol is normally important in restoring homeostasis after the stress response, it is thought that trauma survivors with low cortisol experience a poorly contained—that is, longer and more distressing—response, setting the stage for PTSD.”

Every reference I found to “nervous breakdowns,” “truama,” “PTSD,” and “Panic Attacks” also mention psychotropic drug treatments and various therapy possibilities (mostly cognitive behavioral types). In addition, Wikipedia notes that “...Psychobiological treatments have also found success, especially with cortisol. Psychobiological treatments target biological changes that occur after a traumatic event. They also attempt to chemically alter learning or memory formation. Cortisol treatments after a traumatic event have found success in mitigating later diagnosis of PTSD...”

It is very important to note, I think, that chronic stress Really, Really messes with a person's cortisol levels over time. I spent a good part of February researching and hoping to find a complementary pill-type treatment to help deal with my symptoms. I got bloodwork, and can provide more details than you could possibly be interested in, if you send me an e-mail. :) Plus, I discovered some fascinating facts about thyroids, adrenals, cortisol production, inflammation, and other related topics, and posted this info here: http://www.lifeisapalindrome.com/updates/some-fascinating-facts-about-th...

This is an interesting article on the stress-depression-cortisol link: http://chriskresser.com/the-stress-depression-link

It sure is a chicken-or-the-egg scenario, isn't it? Do inborn/defective cortisol/thyroid/HPA-axis issues start the psycho-physiological/biochemical response...or is it due to great big giant boatloads of chronic stress? Or is it both? And what is the best approach to maximize ones chances of healing in either case?

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Two weeks ago, I went to a doctor in Pennsylvania who will prescribe thyroid hormone supplementation, and/or cortisol, if I want him to. As I sat in his office, I had several realizations:

1. We (the human collective “we”, unfortunately including even doctors) know incredibly little about how our bodies work, and I really, really don't want to mess purposely with my hormones (via supplementation) except as a last resort.

2. There is nothing innately wrong (like cancer, etc.) with my thyroid--in fact, my labs show that many factors may be causing suppressed thyroid/pituitary function.

3. I need to get stronger fairly soon, if i want to birth this baby while having the best shot at an uncomplicated birth, and if I want to ensure the highest likelihood of having an uncomplicated postpartum period.

4. The doctor agreed to a several-week trial, which is right now, during which time I am doing an intenstive supplement/dietary protocol, seeing a “body psychotherapist” regularly, and I'm doing a modified leptin reset http://jackkruse.com/my-leptin-prescription/ . Next week, I will re-take all the thyroid and adrenal blood tests, and make a final determination about whether or not to try hormonal replacement when those labs come back.

I am definitely feeling better than I was feeling two weeks ago, and it's been about that long since my last panic attack. But still...I am still so much weaker, and so much more easily-tired, and when I'm tired I am so prone to anxiety, and I am really scared about trying to implement all the necessary steps to bring Life At Home back up to the point where I am not only functioning, but also thriving and able to enjoy my children's increasingly good health.

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It's like I went into a black hole 8 years ago, and ended up puting nearly all my heart and soul into a “task” that truly wasn't meant to be my Complete Life's Work (it's never seemed fair to burden a child with such expectations of parental happiness), and it prayed upon all my weaknesses and insecurities--and now I've been spat back out and am so so so tired, just watching the world spin by. I guess it's kind of silly how it's taken a nervous breakthrough and a dozen freaking lab tests in order for me to notice exactly how far I can't push myself anymore.

It's also taken two solid months (of monumental family support and childcare and cooking help and even grocery-shopping assistence, from my really amazing family) for me to even BEGIN to honestly believe (as opposed to think) that What Lies Ahead really could be a LOT better than it was Before, during all those years of Ben being sick. And it's taken two months to start learning how I can be mad at a _situation_ without always getting mad at myself or my child.

And now...it seems like I gotta pick up the pieces in just about every sphere of my life: socially (individually, with Jeff as part of a couple, and with our whole (gulp) family), in terms of my own “self worth” and my desire for meaningful Work (what is it? definitely not cooking, right now), and most especially, in my role as a Mama. I want to be able to capitalize on Ben's rapidly expanding abilities and all the things he CAN do, and I don't want to harbor resentments over events that were never his OR my fault, I want to be able to hire awesome childcare providers (without guilt that this means I am an Insufficient Mother) and figure out what work I can eventually do to pay for them, I want to be able to spend time with Jem doing things that I couldn't do for all those years when his older brother was in crisis, and I want to remember how to have FUN (and eventually have fun family outings and adventures like I'd always planned). Plus, of course, I want to have this baby and enjoy some of the rest of this pregnancy and try to immerse myself in parenting a newborn once s/he is born, while incurring as little additional stress as possible. I want to feel more and more accepting and loving of my own self, and be able to pull myself out of the anxiety pit by not falling in in the first place.

The weirdest part is how non-intuitive EVERYTHING feels at this moment. It's like way back two years ago, when I had to re-learn everything I'd ever known about cooking and nutrition, and it seemeed like everything was up for question and debate, and that my world-as-I-knew-it was crashing down. Right now I feel like my entire life is back there again, because I honestly have no clear idea which end is up, and what I _should_ be doing in any given moment, let alone what I _want_ to do, and whether my wants are more or less worthwhile in any given moment, and when it's finally okay to put my own needs above my child's, and whether it's best to force myself to do something (like going to therapy, or eating a hamburger) that I don't want to do but might long-term be best for my health, and how I can best stabilize myself and recover from my Nervous Breakthrough while not giving up things I actually WANT (like homeschooling my kids, for example).

At least, I'm starting to have hope again, and desires at all--these things were scarily absent for several terrible weeks in January and February. I'm having moments when I can see that happiness is a choice again, while during that Terrible Darkness, it felt like an absolutely unbelieveable, unattainable option that wasn't within my grasp at all. I can see that someday, I actually want to work with teens again, and teach cooking classes, and maybe (when I'm old and bored and have lots of free time) go to school and study biochemistry. It's not super clear to me which end is up...but I guess I'm back on the path of trying to find out.

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Thanks for reading. And even if you had no desire to make it all the way through this novel, it was really useful for me to get it out on paper, to say what I've been thinking about and try to get it clear in my head.

Love,
Sarabeth