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December 17, 2013

Neal’s a LOT sensitive

I wrote Friday’s post first because it was pondering Addison and her temperament that first made me want to read The Highly Sensitive Person. But interestingly, almost as soon as I began reading, I stopped thinking about Addison and started thinking about Neal.

If Addison does turn out to be an HSP, I probably shouldn’t be quite so surprised. After all, she is her father’s daughter and in case you were wondering, Neal displays a lot of attributes of a textbook HSP (though in tomorrow’s post, I’ll explain more about HSP variations; you know, just to complicate things). Not that I doubted it, but reading the first couple of profiles of highly sensitive infants and children in Aron’s book certainly confirmed my opinion. I felt like I was been reading all the accounts I’ve heard from his parents and sister of his disgruntled infancy. I’m fairly convinced Jerome Kagan, who pioneered the research on “high reactive” (just one of the many names used to describe the trait) infants, would have identified Neal as such in an instant.

I have never mentioned this on here before (though I drafted a whole blog post about it almost 18 months ago that’s still in editing purgatory) but when we were in marriage counseling, we spent nearly an entire session devoted to a discussion of whether Neal has Asperger’s syndrome (back when it was still called that). Long story short (for once): after a casual consultation with a more experienced colleague, the therapists agreed that Neal fit a variety of the characteristics that could put him on the very high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, possibly “Asperger’s lite” to use their words.

What does autism have to do with high sensitivity? Well, that’s actually very tricky. On Elaine Aron’s website, in an article written in August 2009, she explains that it is perhaps hardest to distinguish high sensitivity from autism spectrum disorders in adult men. However, one of your best indicators should be that “those with Asperger’s still show a lack of understanding of what is going on emotionally in the other person even if they can hold a conversation.”  She further describes an experience with a man with Asperger’s, concluding that “he could experience his own emotions, but he could not read the signs of the emotional experiences of others,” which would stand in stark contrast to HSPs.

Interestingly, though, around the same time that article was published, studies began to question the very pervasive idea that those with autism lack empathy. The “intense world” theory suggested that atypical responses to social situations might be due to an excess of empathy — a hypersensitivity to experience — rather than a lack of it. As far as I can tell, this perspective has only gained support over the intervening years. I wonder, then, if Aron misunderstands the distinction between autism spectrum disorders and high sensitivity.  If this new notion of excess empathy leading to withdrawal in autistic individuals continues to be supported by research, what then becomes the primary distinction between an HSP and someone with an autism spectrum disorder? If you find out, will you let me know?

My best guess is that it has to do with the level of functioning, and in that sense, I think the HSP label probably fits Neal better. It acknowledges that there is something about his innate physical functioning that he probably can’t change, and will at times be ruled by when he experiences over-arousal. Still, for the most part he leads a “normal” life, including having family, friends (1 or 2 at least, unless you count his 3,600+ Facebook fans), and the ability to make a living.

It seems only fair to point out that while Neal can agree that he’s very sensitive to some things (especially tactile stimuli like, you know, his fingernails being too close to his fingers), he is somewhat reluctant to completely embrace this HSP label. For most of his life, his own concept of self has been based around the idea that he is a calm, easy-going person — not one of Jerome Kagan’s high-reactive infants that was prone to become an anxious adult. “When I had no responsibility for anyone else, I was always calm and relaxed,” he tells me.  It seemed only fitting to share with him another passage from Quiet about those short and long SERT alleles I was talking about:

“Similarly, short allele adults have been shown to have more anxiety in the evening than others when they’ve had stressful days, but less anxiety on calm days.” (p. 113)

It would be hard to overstate how closely this resonates with my observations of Neal. Of course, as enlightening as it was to think about Neal in the context of high sensitivity, my most important discovery had nothing to do with him. Stay tuned . . .


October 13, 2013

The second day


“For I, the Lord God, created all things . . . spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth.” (Moses 3:5)

Almost exactly ten years ago I was endowed in one of the many temples of the LDS Church. The very first day I went through the temple was all joy and good feeling and . . . well, feeling, that’s the best way to describe it. I had just spent a solid year in a temple preparation class (a story for another day) thinking about everything, so it was a wonderful experience to just feel for awhile.


But the second time I went, I launched into a textual analysis of the creation as depicted in Genesis 1, Moses 2, Abraham 4, and the temple endowment session, just as I’d been trained to do in college literature classes. Spreadsheets were made, my friends, in order to identify every minute difference in language or imagery and garner whatever insight I could from it. For several weeks, I would spend my non-working hours reading and re-reading those creation accounts, refining my spreadsheets as I did. By the time I was done, I knew the language and sequence of the creation account like the back of my hand (don’t ask for a recitation now, however). But surprisingly, the most significant element for me was just seeing the stages of the creation depicted visually. It gave new meaning to the concept of a spiritual or mental creation preceding any physical creation. (I suddenly wished I could go back to a previous philosophy test and interpret Plato’s theory of Forms with some new-found clarity.)

When I first started writing this, my intent was to share the single greatest piece of inspiration I have ever had at the temple. It was only in the starting, and stopping, and being unsure how to proceed, that I realized how foundational all that study of the creation was, a necessary prologue to that most significant experience I had when I went by myself one day in early 2011. I was seeking some comfort and direction for all that ailed me: namely, chronic illness, the last remnants of my postpartum depression, an insanely stressful work situation, a stalled thesis, family issues, marital discord. Things were looking grim.

Ever since Addison had been born, I’d had these passing thoughts of leaving her and Neal (or just Neal, or just her) and going to Canada (or Denny’s).* Those thoughts had always seemed like the insane rantings of a lunatic, but right around the beginning of 2011, I thought maybe they had been sane all along. Maybe our family just wasn’t going to pull through this rough patch.

So, I’m sitting in the temple alone, waiting for something, anything to help. The creation film starts: they’re separating the light from the darkness, and calling it good, and ending the first day, and BAM!

This is the end of the first day of your marriage.

It’s kind of electric just typing that. The impression came so clearly, strongly, undoubtedly from God (and in case you don’t know, I’m a doubter, so that undoubtedly is a BIG-freaking-DEAL to me). On the one hand, you don’t like to hear “end” and “marriage” in the same sentence. On the other hand, it was as if this simple metaphor flooded my mind with understanding. This is the end of the first day of your marriage. There will be more. Most of the first day (4 years) of our marriage was wonderful. It was good. Most of it was almost effortless, separating light from darkness and helping me to choose light instead of the darkness I had been so fond of in my earlier years. But there are six creative periods, and the first day has to end if you want to create something more beautiful and complex.

I went to the temple perplexed and sorrowful. But I came out resolute. BRING IT, second day. But after I get us a therapist, obviously.

Over the days that followed, I went to the creation accounts again and again. It was only through this lens that I noticed that one of my many angsty, middle-of-the-night blog posts was actually the beginning of the spiritual creation of the second day of our marriage. When I wrote about becoming strong, a theme that obviously remained with me for the few years afterward, I had glimpsed a teeny, tiny vision of what my life could look like in the future if I was willing to face some hard realities and put my blood, sweat, and tears into making changes.

Off to marriage counseling we went to talk about abstract concepts like the meaning of the word love and minuscule details like who would clean up Addison’s high chair after dinner and how long an acceptable goodnight kiss should last (no, I’m not kidding; I’m sure our therapist wishes I were). All the while we were engaged in a spiritual creation, mentally deciding how our future should look and what we would have to do to get there. Although we never quite agreed on the length of goodnight kisses, we did make some big decisions then: No more big consulting contracts. No full-time jobs after graduation (up to this point, we had been considering Neal pursuing a teaching career). More hours of babysitting for Addison and more dinners out for us.

The week after we had our last therapy session, we moved to California to live with my parents (because what else are you gonna do when you’ve decided on no full-time jobs?). During the subsequent two years, we continued this spiritual creation, trying to sketch out the vision I had glimpsed. In our future life, we would cook and eat dinner as a family every night at 6:00; read scriptures and have prayer with Addison just before her bedtime, couple prayer before ours; do chores together on Saturdays; have family reading time every Sunday after church; eliminate TV (not movies, of course; heaven forbid we have nothing to keep Addison from talking to us for at least two minutes at a time!).

Once we got our house in the National Forest, the vision started to take even clearer shape: we would walk to the park or library every day, sometimes hike “the mountain;” Neal would paint in his new studio (the garage) while Addison played in the dirt; when the snow came, she could sled down the small hill in our backyard; while Addison brushed her teeth at night, I would write a growth-mindset message on her whiteboard for us to read together.

Sometimes the level of specificity of the life that we have been mentally creating feels downright ridiculous to me, coming from a more free-flowing, often unscheduled (vacuuming at midnight, why not?) household and having a natural affinity for novelty and surprises. But I’ve come to accept that if I want that vision, especially with Neal, lover of routine, I have to be intentional and vigilant. I’m just glad that after two and half years of the spiritual creation, we’ve finally moved on to the physical creation (which Neal is doing a better job chronicling than I am) and that it looks like this:

Morning light

and this:


(Although Addison sliding into a hole in the ground wasn’t necessarily my vision.)

Just as Plato taught that the physical manifestation will never perfectly match the Form, we’re finding that our physical creation doesn’t yet match our mental vision. Our leisurely 6 o’ clock family dinners often start with “Crap, it’s 6:20, what do you want to have for dinner?” and end with Addison in time-out for once again scaling the kitchen table, but we’re all starting to get into our new habits. In fact the other day Addison told us that in exchange for trying to stay seated through the entire meal, she wanted to create a “new habit too, that we are going to eat food every day!” (Clearly, this hasn’t been our strong suit as parents — who can remember lunch every day?) Despite these imperfections, the second day of our marriage has proven wonderful. Every once in a while, I feel wistful for the first day, but it had to end if we were going to create something even more complex and beautiful.

* You should know that it was very hard for me to write that sentence. Thinking about leaving my little girl, a defenseless infant, is probably the most shame-inducing thing I’ve ever experienced. How could I even contemplate that after spending so long dreaming of her existence, not to mention the difficulty of getting her here? But I wanted to say it because my friend Rachel once told me that she thought about doing that too and it made me feel so much better.

June 23, 2012

A fond farewell . . . and a new beginning

Remember that one time I said I was going to write more about personal finance on here? Yeah, I didn’t. I’ve often thought about it because it remains a huge passion of mine, but somehow it never quite seems to fit in here with all the talk about pregnancy and adoption and adorable pictures and incarceration (because otherwise there was such a unifying theme, right?).

So I started to think about creating a second blog focused on personal finance, which sounds simple enough but somehow felt like it would completely undercut my life philosophy. (I know, I’m ridiculous.) Back when I was a teenager and going through my first round of therapy, I realized just how fragmented my life was. I was something of a different person with other people and in various settings. And when it all hit the fan, I realized just how unhealthy and draining and horrible that life was. I decided then and there that I wanted to be (1) one person and  (2) totally open about that one person. And I think I have mostly been successful at this remake of myself — and nowhere is that success more clear than on this blog I have come to love. It is an absolute expression of me and that ideal I espoused as a very messed-up 18-year-old, who somehow managed to figure out what would bring me lasting happiness (if 14 years is any indication of that).

As silly as it sounds, I have hated the idea of sending some of my thoughts/ideas/passion to live elsewhere on the internet. Still, I decided to do it. When I started thinking about how to chronicle this “alternative lifestyle” we’re trying to live, it just made sense to keep it in one discrete, focused place.

So if you’re a personal finance geek, or you still haven’t figured out what the heck we’re doing, or you want to know how much money we’re making, or you want to see our budget (you know you wanna), hop over to Chronically ill finances and take a peek. Feel free to ask questions, offer suggestions (though that’s not a promise of heeding them), question our plans, or ask about specific budget items. I don’t have a master plan of how often I’ll post there (besides whenever we bring in income, which hopefully will get more frequent), but I would love for it to be a place where I can dialogue with and be challenged by interested people.

But before I abandon the topic of personal finance altogether, let me leave you with some parting “budgeting tips and tricks” in the form of this screencast I made as a sort of audition for the online adjunct faculty position I was seeking. If you watch it, don’t forget to share your own budgeting tips in the comments, or tell me how you’re going to apply one of mine to improve your financial situation! (Do I sound like a personal finance teacher yet?)

May 18, 2012

Friday already?

Filed under: Family, History, Personal, Therapy — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 11:38 pm

I almost can’t believe it. This week went by in a flash, perhaps because there was no schedule in sight!

Addison getting sick + Neal getting sick + work to be done at the “other house” that we’re still trying to fix up + a big training/application process going on for a part-time gig I’m applying for = lots of TV at our house. The upside of all that TV is two-fold:

  1. I realized Addison really doesn’t watch that much TV/movies regularly, something that I have always worried about and that Neal has assured me is not that big a deal.
  2. TV makes life with Addison sooo much easier! God bless the creators of Curious George and Peppa Pig and whatever else she was watching while I was trying to keep her from talking to me.

I don’t think we’re going to permanently add more TV to our daily life, but it sure is tempting!


On another note, my friend Victoria linked to this CJane post: “Concurrent Collisions.” It actually speaks quite perfectly to this place I find myself in right now. I am taking the process of writing my personal history quite seriously these days (too bad I don’t get paid for it like CJane does!). And one of the things I have had in the works for awhile (and mentioned a couple of times) is writing about therapy. The series, which I have already written quite a few posts for, started out about our most recent gig in couples counseling. Then I thought what I should really do is go back through each past therapy experience and record what is left of it — what stuck with me, and is still here, as a testament to how it reshaped my life. And then I realized that there’s this thing I would need to tell to put that first therapy experience in context. This thing that I have never told anyone besides that first therapist, except in tiny bits and pieces. I resolved to do it. I even decided how I would start it out. And then I got that pit in my stomach that CJane describes. I felt sick, as if I had already told the whole world about this thing that I have obviously avoided talking about for twenty-plus years. I honestly never thought that I was avoiding it so ferociously until I started to think-write about it and an intense, self-protective instinct was suddenly clear as day.

What I’m not sure of now, and I started to work out in Victoria’s comments section (oops!), is whether this pit is one that is meant to battled against or one that is meant to be accepted as a sign that some things are better left in the past. I often tell people that I was a completely different person pre-20 years old than I was after, but if I never tell this thing then no one will fully know what I mean. Maybe that’s okay? Maybe that’s fearful? I haven’t decided.

But one thing I have decided: more Pictures for the Weekend starting today! Stay tuned.

April 14, 2012

Lindsay loves Neal

Earlier this week I asked Neal what he wanted for his birthday.  He said, “To follow our schedule.”  One-track mind, right there.

But that’s not exactly what I had planned for his gift.  My gift idea stemmed from a conversation we had last year when we were in the middle of marriage counseling.  If you know me and my striving nature (and Neal and his more complacent nature), you know that I was driving that therapy train.  I knew there were things we could do better in our relationship and before we lost our opportunity for free counseling, I wanted to explore those things.  A lot.  Over and over again.

Neal was more than willing to come along for the ride (a condition of our marriage was a willingness to go to counseling with me whenever the mood struck), but about halfway through he made a good point.  It’s good to work on things and talk about improvements to be made,  but he also wanted me to take time to remind him of the things I love about him.  After all, as John Gottman says, the best marriages have a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions (his Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work is still my most recommended marriage book!).

So I started thinking of ways to show him what I loved about him.  I wrote journal entries that I eventually turned into a book.  And . . . hmmm . . . in my head, it seemed like there were more things on this list.  But I did have other ideas, one of which was to go through all my past blog posts (I’m only through 60 out of 380-something) and create a new category for all those that specifically talk about Neal and his many stellar qualities.  I have aptly termed this new category Lindsay loves Neal, in honor of a computer file I created on his desktop (unbeknownst to him) while we were dating.  Of course, a bound book or collection of blog posts won’t replace me verbally expressing love, but who wouldn’t appreciate a compilation of all their best qualities and funny anecdotes just a click away to peruse as needed?

So Neal, happy birthday.  Lindsay still loves Neal.

(Even if you’re almost 30 and no longer this hot young thing I met in D. C.)

January 20, 2012

Getting Things Done: Processing, part II

The culmination of my “git ‘er done” year is that I want to fully implement the  Getting Things Done system in my life.  So I’m going to document the stages I’m going through over the next few weeks (before 2011 really ends).  I previously posted about Collecting and Processing, part I.

So, I need advice.  I mentioned that I was humming along with my processing, until, BAM, I hit up against this big emotional barrier.  I think, nay, I know one or more of my blog readers can help me move forward and make a decision.

First, a little background.  Neal and I are, and have been, in the process of paring down our life.  Not that we had a huge life to begin with, but if I haven’t mentioned it before, we want a tiny life.  A tiny life that will fit in a tiny, 320-square-foot home.  One of the reasons for moving in with my parents for awhile was to work on this paring-down process, since I still had a sizable chunk of stuff from my past life housed here.  So I’ve been doing that.  And mostly it’s been fun.  Going through my old high school/junior high stuff is pretty entertaining.  But last week I came across a big box of stuff from my two-year baseball mission, AKA the lost years, 1998-2000.  The summation of the lost years is that after my freshman year of college I had to quit school for two years, was mostly bed-ridden, started therapy, learned to hate doctors (except psychologists, I like most of those), listened to a lot of sports talk radio, watched a lot of baseball, and wrote.

All that writing is my problem at the moment.  See, I kept it all, every bit.  Letters to and from me.  Journal entries.  Two novels I started.  A ridiculous number of poems.  And HOLY HANNAH, it’s depressing stuff.  I was facing my own mortality at 18 years old, and the combination of adolescent angst and clinical depression and potential death are just overwhelming.  It’s been 12, 13 years and it’s still absolutely too painful for me to read any of it.  “Across the Catwalk” and “Untitled,” which I only wrote after I knew things were getting better, are just about the only things I can tolerate reading from that time in my life.  In my efforts to go through stuff, decide what to keep and scan, what to toss, I tried to start by reading some of the letters other people wrote to me.  I thought that would be easier, but man, I couldn’t get through more than one or two.  Even though I’m not still that horribly ill (mentally, physically, emotionally) teenager, I can’t help but feel all that pain still resting there.  And when I read the letters people sent to me, which seemed safer than reading my own writing, I can feel them grappling with that pain and not knowing what to say to me or about me.

It’s such an important part of my life.  Absolutely defining.  I remade myself under the tutelage of so much suffering, both external and self-inflicted.  I thought someday I would want to look back on it all, like maybe there were still lessons for me there.  But I’m beginning to doubt that day will ever come.  Maybe living through it once, and still coping with chronic issues that connect me to it, is enough.

I’ve pictured gathering it all and setting the box on fire.  I love fire (in a slightly pyro-type of way) and I love the symbolism of letting it all go.  But then I worry that I would regret that, for me and for my daughter.  For me, because I don’t want to pretend it never happened and I don’t want to ignore something that could teach me more of what I need to know.  (After all, Joseph Smith once said, “Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.”) And for Addison, because perhaps she could avoid some of the mistakes I made during those years or at least feel less alone when she makes them.  Maybe I should just seal that box up, mark it carefully, and tuck it away for her to find some day.  She’ll learn things about my past from that box that I will probably never be able to tell her.

Neal thinks I should scan them without reading them and then get rid of the physical items.  But I’m not sure that would be less painful.  I would still catch glimpses of the words, and like I said, it just feels like that ache is still present.  Should I do something that has the potential to keep me in my depressed, too-contemplative mode for a couple weeks more?  (By the way, this all came to head on that same Tuesday.  I thought getting things done (!) would help me feel productive and stave off the depression, but unluckily this was the box I came upon — since there was no Box 8.  :))

So, here’s where your advice comes in.  Burn it?  Seal it?  Push myself to go through it?  What would you do, or what have you done in your life?

January 4, 2012

2011: Did I git ‘er done?

Filed under: Family, Personal, Personal Finance, Therapy — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 4:17 pm

I always love reading about people’s goals and resolutions for a new year.  I think I’m drawn to the concept of striving in general.  And while I’ve always been a striving sort of person, I don’t think I’ve ever felt as successful with following through on New Year’s plans as I was in 2011.   The one-word theme git ‘er done really worked for me — I actually managed to keep it fresh in my mind from beginning to end.  Having said that, when I look back at the things I said I hoped to get done in 2011, I can actually only cross one off my list:

  • Thesis
  • Three in-process papers submitted to journals
  • Reading Getting Things Done
  • Rach and Todd’s wedding quilt
  • Finish or discard the 50-some blog post drafts I’ve started
  • Roll over 403b into Roth IRA
  • Cross off two or three more states on my life list

But man was that thesis a doozy!

Otherwise, papers are still in process (but two of the three involve collaborators so I don’t have full control over that).  And I’ve only got about 50 pages left in GTD, so not too bad.  The quilt — what can I say, Rach?  I’m lame.  Blog drafts . . . now there’s 106 instead of 50.  The 403b rollover I wisely deferred until 2012 because this year will be the lowest income we’ve ever had.  And while I couldn’t cross off any new states, I did manage to see new cities in North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Even if at a cursory glance it looks like I didn’t really git ‘er done the way I intended, I feel quite satisfied with the year.  Spending time with my Grandpa in his final days is not the sort of thing I would set a goal for, but it is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done.  And when I wrote that list I didn’t realize that I would soon feel an urgent need to go back to therapy for the fourth or fifth time — I can’t believe I’m losing count; that doesn’t seem like the sort of thing you should have trouble keeping track of — but so I did.  And just to kick it up a notch, we went to couples counseling, which is about 1000 times harder than individual therapy.  But I’m proud that we did that, and that we pressed on for six months even though there are always times you want to quit because you might still be able to protect some little corner of your precious ego.  Therapy wasn’t exactly something we got “done” (instead we graduated and lost those benefits and our awesome counselor) but it made me and our marriage stronger; now that’s a pretty dang good year.  I also succeeded in making a book for Neal, something I had been working on since April, but was only spurred to completion by this timely post from On Call Mom. (Thanks again, lady!)  That’s exactly the sort of thing I would start and never finish in years past, but not this time.

So the unexpected moral of the story is that as turbulent as 2011 often felt, it was also incredibly fulfilling and growth-inducing.  And as it ends, I feel a deep sense of peace and satisfaction that while I didn’t do everything I wanted to, I did the things I needed to.

Oh and also, I’ve decided not to let 2011 end for me until February 29.  I’ve got a new one-word theme for 2012, which I’m equally excited about, but I think git ‘er done will serve me better for at least a couple more months.  And since I’m an adult, I can arbitrarily end my years whenever I please.  So here’s to two more months of git ‘er done!

November 8, 2011

“Vacation is the worst part.”

Filed under: Family, Motherhood, Personal, Therapy — Tags: , , , , , , , — llcall @ 8:08 pm

Of life, he means.  That’s what Neal just told me in response to my somewhat-whiny statement, “I just want to go back on vacation.”

It may seem strange that we didn’t completely figure out that some of my FAVORITE things — travel and vacations — are some of Neal’s LEAST favorite things until year six together.  But actually, it’s not strange at all because what was formerly Neal’s mildly-expressed preference for staying home, which I share a lot of the time, has turned into a deep-seated aversion to getting out of a two-mile radius of home since the bambina came along.  In some ways that I am only beginning to understand, Neal is filled with complete and utter dread when we 1) veer from a rigid schedule or 2) take Addison anywhere.  Which often seems strange to me since truly Addison is one of the best travelers around.  She never tires of seeing new places and interacting with new people, and handled five days of house-hopping with ease.

I suppose I didn’t mention it on here before (I meant to), but we just returned from a crazy, whirlwind vacation.  It didn’t involve knocking off any of my final states (trust me, I tried to talk Neal into a day trip to Mississippi so I could get to 44 states but he was certain either our marriage or his sanity wouldn’t survive the trip), but it was great fun nonetheless.  I started with a flight to Durham, North Carolina for a day and a half of eating with Ms. Kaila and her many entertaining friends.  Kaila spoiled me like crazy; I’m pretty sure I’ll have to make another NC appearance someday!  Then she drove me through the gorgeous fall leaves to Christiansburg, VA to meet up with Victoria, who graciously packed up her pregnant self and two-year-old to drive me to D.C. — but only after making me and Kaila homemade pizza.  Wonder woman, no?  It was great fun showing Victoria and Katie around D.C. for a day . . . I wished it could have been a week!  But something about the timing was meant to be since our other grad school friend Emily was also in D.C. that same day.  I can’t tell you how strange it was to be discussing toddler behavior and pregnancy issues (not mine, obviously), while having lunch in Adams Morgan with my two friends from Provo.  After a truly superb dinner at Le Pain Quotidien (their pesto = pure heaven), Victoria drove me to Dulles to rendezvous with Neal and Addison (yes, Neal braved a five-hour solo flight with a toddler; he still has the heart of a champion.).  Our few days in D.C. together were far too short.  I have some niggling regrets about people I didn’t get to see, not being able to go to church in my beloved old ward, and missing out on my favorite restaurant.  But really, there could never be enough time in a place I love and miss so much.

Our next stop was Nashville, TN, complete with a trip to the farmer’s market and an interesting hour at Occupy Nashville, which I may blog more about later.  Although Tennessee wasn’t a new state, I did manage to make better memories there, which was also on my states to-do list.  Finally, we made our way down to Huntsville, AL to visit Neal’s parents for a fun fall week.  Addison benefited from a thoughtful grandmother who picked out a Halloween costume and insisted on trick-or-treating, something that Neal and I no doubt would have overlooked if left to our own devices.  Ladybug pictures to come . . .

But back to the general topic of vacations . . . sort of.  I have spent much of 2011 trying to answer a couple of questions:  Why has the transition to parenthood been so dang hard for me and Neal?  And why has our relationship taken such a hit even though we had a strong foundation of communication before Miss A came along?  I’ve known some answers to these questions for awhile, and just before this vacation I had a couple of huge epiphanies (topics for another day).  But this vacation certainly solidified some additional reasons.  I actually feel and do better as a parent when we’re out and about, either for a day or two weeks.  That process of getting out gives me a needed adrenaline rush that allows me to more closely match the huge energy reserves Addison was blessed with.  That, and I kind of hate routine.  I hate doing the same thing everyday, sticking to the same schedule and the same activities.  Blech.  (Addison’s novelty and thrill-seeking streak certainly appears to come from me, though I hope she continues to have the energy to match her desires.)  And for Neal, a rigid and highly-specific schedule is like a favorite blankie you never want to let out of your sight.  I’m not even joking when I say that for the entire six months of our marriage counseling* we had the same conversation every single week:

Me: What do you want to discuss at counseling tomorrow?

Neal: Our schedule.

It’s a tribute to him that he kept coming even though every week I rolled my eyes and we discussed emotions and abstractions and existential crises instead.

So, to sum up.  Couple getaways, awesome.  Whole family vacations, tolerable (for him) only once every few years.  Separate vacations, good.  I guess I’ll have to take Addison to Disneyworld without him . . . maybe next week!

* I keep mentioning therapy in bits and pieces, but I’ve decided to add a new category about it because soon I’m going to start a series of retrospective posts about our experience in counseling.

June 2, 2010

Happiness Project Wednesday: Do what needs to be done

Every Wednesday I’m recording how The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin has influenced my daily life.  To read my introductory post, click here.

I have searched in vain for the blog post (or maybe it was in the book?) where Gretchen talks about how her mom taught her this:  do what needs to be done.  Don’t procrastinate, don’t hem-and-haw, just do it.  For the most part, this is not the time in my life where I get to do this very often.  I’ve got a pile of medical bills for which I need to write dispute letters.  We’ve got what I’ve affectionately termed “junk alley” in the hallway, stuff that needs to be put away, sold, or donated.  Our car needs new tires.  But I’ve also got a three-month-old who’s becoming a bit of rebel when it comes to napping.  Not exactly a recipe for getting stuff done.

Lately I’ve realized this sentiment is about more than these nagging tasks; it’s also about prioritizing.  Do what needs to be done.  And be honest and realistic about what those needs are, and what has to slide for the moment.

In that vein, I’ve decided to prioritize two things.  First, scripture study.  This is a need that’s taken a huge hit since Addison was born.  See, my norm with scripture study in my pre-baby life was heavy on the study.  I’m the type of person that would have about five books out, looking at cross-references and commentary.  I was in the middle of studying Isaiah when baby arrived, and it has taken me some time to accept that, at least for now, there will be no more heavy Isaiah studying.  Luckily, I’ve found an alternative.  My friend Anne from D.C. gave me a book by her father, 101 Powerful Promises from the Book of Mormon, quite a while ago and I’m using it now to scale back my expectations and instead focus on consistency.  No matter how crazy a day feels to me, I can always find a few minutes to read two pages devoted to a specific promise from The Book of Mormon.

Second, therapy.  On my post about how I was still dealing with postpartum depression, another D.C. friend, Linsey, assured me that I was self-aware enough to know if I needed to do something more aggressive to deal with my depression.  I definitely felt that was true, but at the same time realized that I was avoiding making the decision to go back to counseling.  Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE therapy.  I will sing its praises all day long.  I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t want a captive audience for an hour a week?!  But I was really fighting it simply because time feels so precious to me.  I felt like there were so many other things (e.g., medical bills, junk alley, and the like) I needed to do during the time I get away from Addison.  I finally decided that I needed to start counseling again when I realized that even when I had free time, I couldn’t figure out what to do that would really rejuvenate me.  Neal would tell me to do something fun, and it was getting to the point where I couldn’t remember what I do for fun because nothing felt fun anymore.  That’s when I knew I needed to see a therapist again.

That, and Neal telling me that I needed to see a therapist again.

Sometimes we need other people to remind us to do what needs to be done.

September 10, 2009

“I will weep a while longer”

I’m weeping even now as I post this, though I wrote it days ago.  It’s some of the stuff I’m working through (or some days, not being able to work through). It’s quite lengthy, probably depressing, and I still don’t know if I even want to post it or not.  Neal and I have been debating how to work through my grief, more praying (probably never a bad idea), maybe another round of therapy (some people don’t know this about me, but that would be round #4 in my adult life), more talking about it, less talking about it.  I guess I’ll try this and see what happens and go from there.


I remember my first few phone calls with my mom after my roommates and I were in a big car accident in the summer of 2003.  Despite surviving what could easily have been a fatal crash, I felt no real fear.  I told her, probably too matter-of-factly, look at it this way, no one is in two crazy car accidents in their lifetime.  Now I’ve gotten it out of the way, you don’t have to worry about that anymore.  Statistically speaking, I still think I have some sort of ground to stand on because it is very unlikely that a person would be involved in two cataclysmic accidents (particularly if they are a passenger in both, as I was, meaning it has nothing to do with their driving ability).  But the older I’ve gotten the more I understand how unhelpful my “insights” were.  Probably first and foremost because this happened less than 3 years later:

(So much for a universe where you could accurately compute probability)

(So much for a universe where you could accurately compute probability)

But also because she understood better than I just how uncertain this life is, and how having children intensifies that feeling with these beings that are both part of you and separate from you.  You can’t control them, or what happens to them, and the illusion we create that we do have control over this uncertain world vanishes, sometimes over long periods of time and sometimes in these earth-shattering, life-changing moments.

This is actually a post about miscarriage; I just didn’t know how to get it rolling.  A couple of months ago, I was sitting in Sacrament Meeting and I felt this intense spiritual prompting that I needed to talk about my miscarriage during a Relief Society lesson I was teaching that day.  It was both a dramatic and traumatic experience because I had never spoken publicly about it, and really not very much privately either (at least in comparison to just how much I’ve thought about it).  I sobbed through the rest of Sacrament Meeting, and surprisingly (that’s a joke in case anyone doesn’t know that I cry pretty much every. single. day.) I still had tears left in Relief Society.  I’m honestly not sure what people heard me say because I felt like I was completely unintelligible through all the weeping.

Afterward a sister asked me about how recent the miscarriage was, thinking that it was in May (this was June).  And it struck me how out of proportion my grief must seem since it was quite a few months earlier.  I thought that some sisters who didn’t ask probably thought it happened yesterday with the way I could barely speak about it.  Since then I’ve been wondering about my grief, wondering if part of its length is just how little I’ve talked about it.  All I know for sure is that it is raw; some days I feel like it is still happening.  I’ve read a lot about other people’s experiences with miscarriage and I’ve talked to people I know, and I can’t help feeling some difference there.  I mean, most of them felt so eager to try to have another baby while for months I felt completely guilty to even consider it (of course, I also felt an opposite pull based on the fact that my body is sometimes not-so-slowly breaking down and the window for bearing children seems brief).  I’m ultimately unsure if I wanted to feel like my suffering was like theirs in order to make some sense out of it, or if I wanted it to be uniquely mine.

I remember reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl when I was 18 or 19 and beginning to wrap my mind around the fact that suffering is relative.   Thank goodness he understood this better than I do because can you imagine a therapist who survived the Holocaust not being willing to accept the truly subjective nature of the human experience—I have been in many therapy sessions in my life and thank heaven none of them included the phrase, “You think that’s bad, I remember the first day in the concentration camp . . . .”  Of course, the ultimately mind-bending part of this concept for me is that even our own suffering is relative.  It’s not just that we can’t understand other people’s subjective experience, but that from one minute to the next we can’t really accurately interpret our own.

I’ve had this internal monologue with myself at least once a day for many months now: you’ve suffered much worse than this.  This is nothing compared to, say, the whole of 1999 and 2000. And at face value, I agree; at that point I was completely lost mentally and emotionally, and physically I couldn’t really get out of bed most days.   But that’s where this whole relativity issue comes in because on many days I feel like the sorrow now is both so acute and so unending that I could never possibly have felt worse.  So am I really suffering more now than I ever have before, or do I just feel this now and so it feels worse even though it isn’t?  And here’s that uncertainty again because I’ll really never know.  It’s entirely possible that even though my life was demonstrably worse back then, my capacity for feeling has grown to such an extent that both joy and sorrow are deeper now.

I suspect that most mothers would agree that our capacity for feeling actually does grow, at least that seems to be what many are trying to articulate when they first have a child and feel internal changes taking place.  Of course, that comes back to part of the rub: to the world I am not a mother.  This doesn’t really bother me because it is the only rational way to view my current situation, but it does underscore why I think it’s so difficult to communicate what I’ve been feeling and experiencing for many months.  The way I’ve sometimes articulated it is that I feel like I’m walking around a totally different person than I was a year ago, but no one can see it.

It’s not as if I have a grand answer about how the world should act differently but I just know that I am often left feeling that there is no place for dealing with miscarriage, particularly early miscarriage.  The further along you are the more people acknowledge that you have, in fact, lost a baby.  I don’t begrudge people the things they say to try to be helpful because I know it is an impossible situation to be really helpful in, but it is hard to endure the implications that there was barely the seed of a baby, not really a baby at all, almost like a wish that never materialized.  Because, at the risk of being too graphic, you are physically passing real things out of your system, and at least for me, it was truly and deeply distressing.  And then came the real surprise that those days were the easy days compared to what came after: the trying in vain to figure out how to say goodbye to someone that you just absolutely were not ready to say goodbye to.  Someone that was real to you, but didn’t exist for anyone else.  Someone that you miss everyday, but no one else will ever remember, save God himself.

It’s been many months now and I’m moving on with life (I can’t adequately express how guilty I feel when I say that.  Even though I know that’s how life works—it moves, whether we move with it or not—it still feels like a betrayal to the ones that we have to let go of, even if temporarily, in order to move forward).  I’m trying not to lie in bed watching TV and movies or surfing the internet all day long everyday (maybe someday I will try to go a full day without escaping to one of these things, although truthfully that day seems a very long way off).  I’m trying not to stay awake all night thinking and grieving (tonight is clearly not a good example of that effort).  But I guess I wanted to capture something of how I’ve felt before time passes and I forget how intense and painful it all is/was.

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