How I Stay Here, Now
I went to bed last night with that Christmas-eve excitement in my bones. “I get to wake up early and write!” I thought to myself as I popped my Melatonin. As the sleepy tingles set into my cheeks and eyelids, I thought about tomorrow:
Saturday. My sweet early morning ritual. Making my way downstairs. Moving from window to window, opening the curtains to the new day. That young morning light slowly saturating the sleepy living room with golden warmth. The sounds of my happy coffee pot percolating my liquid companion. My MacBook’s “hello” as I turn it on and open up a blank document. The feeling of my fingers steadily striking the keyboard as I take my internal word and place it in front of me in black and white words. The stillness of the early morning, Cory and the rest of the world still lost in their REM-induced dreamland. The possibility of a new day. A blank document. A full coffee cup.
Full of hope, I let myself surrender to sleep.
I woke up, five minutes before six. My late-night dreamy wonder had been slapped in the face by stress. My body felt stiff. All ten fingers and toes, swollen and achy from my rheumatoid arthritis, rudely informed me of the Cortisol that must have been raging in my body throughout the night. After registering these body signs, my first anxious thought was, “Hurry - pop the Synthroid.” I had been instructed by my OB-GYN to take Synthroid to treat my newly diagnosed hypothyroidism to help my body get and stay pregnant. It has to be taken on an empty stomach at least 30 minutes before food. Or coffee. Or Ibuprofen for these darn joints.
I threw the Synthroid in my mouth, chugged down some water, and squeezed my eyes shut, hoping to trick my body to fall back asleep. “See, body, my eyes are shut. This means it’s sleeping time. Okay?” My ploy didn’t work. Anxious thoughts started to race.
I thought about how the IVF nurse at my new fertility clinic hadn’t called me back this week with my updated AMH levels from my recent blood work. AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone) is a hormone measured to get a sense for a woman’s ovarian reserve, or egg count. My AMH is low, meaning I may not have many eggs left. The clinic wanted to repeat my blood work to see where my AMH levels were at after my ovarian cysts and torsion. If my AMH levels had dropped following the torsion (i.e., lack of blood supply to my ovaries, the eggs’ little squishy white home), I may not be a great candidate for IVF anymore. And this would crush me. The nurse told me she would call me back by the end of the week, as soon as the results showed up in her inbox. “What if she received the results but they were so bad that she didn’t want to tell them to me over the phone and she’d rather wait until we could talk in person at our next meeting in two weeks?” My brain strung together worry-filled run-on-sentence after run-on-sentence. I looked at the clock: 6:14. I squeezed my eyes shut even tighter. Sleep, brain, sleep.
But then I heard sounds of sweet salvation. The eruption of bubbling hot water from the dark abyss below. Waterfalls of boiling liquid spilling over the dark earthy grounds. The harsh blast of steam. Sounds from Heaven. My coffee pot beckoned to me. Come to me, where the tastes are rich and the stress is less. I snapped myself out of my mental somersaulting, got out of bed, and let myself enter into the easy flow of my morning ritual.
It’s through these beautiful, automatic routines that I’ve found respite from my anxiety. I feel grateful when I’m swept up and guided by the gently flowing current of monotony. I welcome the expected and familiar when life can sometimes feel so foreign. Like my daily westward drive on Hampden Avenue. Or the routine of constructing a perfect sandwich. Or doing my PT exercises at night while on the floor of my bedroom while listening to a podcast. Or evaluating a new patient at work and getting lost in his story for an hour. Or grocery shopping.
So, other than leaning on routines, how else do I cope? Here are the top 8 ways I cope with infertility and other life stressors:
1. I don’t. Sometimes I don’t cope well at all. And that’s okay too. These past two months, I’ve been a mess. A roller coaster of emotional sludge. Enjoyable highs followed by unexpected lows. I’ve been irritable and snappy. One time I was mad at Cory because he grabbed a Gatorade for himself at the checkout stand at Home Depot, and he didn’t grab me a Diet Coke. Did I tell him I was thirsty? Did I tell him I wanted a Diet Coke? No, because he was supposed to read my mind in that moment apparently! (I have since then apologized to poor Cory about my Home Depot Diet Coke incident.)
2. I talk about it. In blog posts, in counseling, with my husband, with friends. I hear myself and let others hear me. Sharing my story through these blog posts has been the much-needed oasis in my trek across this fertility desert.
3. I meet other people like me. This past week, I joined two Facebook support groups for women (and their partners) with Unicornuate uteruses. Me: “Hi. My name is Kristen, and I’m a Unicorn.” Group: “Hi Kristen.” I’ve found my unicorn tribe! These women are fierce, informed, and many are...FERTILE! I’ve read countless stories of women who have successfully carried their own babies. Who have had three children with their wonky uteruses (for the record, the plural of uterus really should be uteri, am I right?). Several women have even had twins and triplets! Meeting other women walking in my shoes has been so healing.
4. I attempt mini mindful moments. I’m a huge fan of the work from mindfulness masters like Tara Brach and Jon Kabat-Zinn. But how do you actually put their work into practice? Here are a couple simple things I do every day (thanks, sister, for these specific recommendations).
I pay attention to my tongue. Is it tense and pressed against the roof of my mouth? If so, I relax and lower it.
I pay attention to my jaw. Is it clenched? If so, I open my mouth.
I pay attention to my arms. When I’m watching TV, I often notice that my arms are tense. I might be holding onto my water bottle, clenching it, not even aware of how tight my grip is. I notice, put my water bottle down on table, and relax my arms at my side.
5. I engage my sensory systems. Smells, tastes, and sounds ground me in the here-and-now and help me get out of my mind. For example, I bought some new lotion from Ulta that smells like a combination of Hawaiian flowers and blue Fruit by the Foot. I put it on every night and the smell anchors me to reality. Also, I’ve been on the hunt for a new perfume. Ask my coworkers. I’m always coming up to them a little too close for comfort, sniff-sniff-sniffing like a dog. After wearing the same scent since 2006, I’m in need of something new. I’m excited for my next birthday or Christmas when I’ll request Dolce and Gabbana’s Light blue or Glossier’s You!
6. I laugh. Especially at Cory’s invented jokes. As we were walking through downtown Denver from the light rail to Coors Field last week, Cory came up with this great joke: “What if there once was a religion called “Am” (pronounced: Om. Rhymes with “mom.” Believe me, you’ll need the right pronunciation in your head to get the punchline. So practice it again real fast. “Om.” Okay, back to the joke). Let’s start over. “What if there once was a religion called “Am.” Then one day, a group broke away from the religion and started practicing their own, similar religion. One friend from the Am religion asked his buddy in the new religion, “So, what’s your religion called now?” And the buddy answered, “Am-ish.” Get it? Get it? Bahaha!
7. I walk. Exercise used to be my main coping strategy. I used to live for that endorphin-filled, sweat-dripping feeling after a long run or heavy squat session. Ever since my physical therapist restricted my exercise to walking, slow biking, and weight lifting for the elderly (no more than 10 pound weights), I’ve felt less enthused about movement. That being said, a quick walk around the block can be magical for my mood. I don’t want to make it sound too good to be true, though. Some days, I return from my walk equally depressed as when I left. Other days, I feel like I’m walking on sunshine. The world is my oyster, and all other uplifting English idioms. If I can get myself out the door, walking does seem to help more often than not.
8. I turn my brain off through entertaining, and sometimes senseless, TV. I’ll admit it. I, a master’s-degree-bearing, fine-literature-reading, flute-playing, cultured woman, watch The Bachelor. I do! It’s a guilty pleasure that takes me out of my world and launches me into an overly produced land of sparkly gowns, superficial conversation, fears of commitment, and so many hilarious tears. Best of all? No pregnancy, no babies, no fertility talk. Perfect! I’m also a huge fan of Queer Eye on Netflix (“Can you believe? Yas queen!”). If you haven’t seen that show, you need to stop reading right now and watch it. You’ll thank me later.
And sometimes, none of this "works." Sometimes no strategy takes away the pain or dulls the sadness. Sometimes I'm just sad, and that's okay too.
Like my mom expertly says (expert mom, expert psychotherapist), "Kristen, take one moment at a time. Stay here, now. You'll eventually get there, then." So now, here, I finish this blog post and the last cool drop of coffee in my mug. I hit save and prepare for the next here and now of whatever comes next in my morning routine.