Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Halloween '14

Halloween '14

We got really into Halloween this year. We put up decorations, we carved pumpkins (twice!), and the kids had their costumes picked out well in advance. At first, Westley wanted to be a ninja, and I did a little happy dance, because that's among the easiest costumes ever: black hoodie he already owns plus black Toms he already owns plus thrift-store black sweatpants and done! Then Westley decided he wanted to be something scary, and after some serious deliberation, he settled on being a werewolf. It was either that or the Grim Reaper, but I think the mask settled it.

Werewolf Salon

As much as I love the idea of making costumes from scratch, I'm not actually that crafty (or energetic). I got to mom it up a little, prepping his mask (stuffing it with balled up pages of The Stranger and blow-drying to make it less bag-shaped and more face-shaped) and cutting up a 99-cent teddy bear so he could have little patches of fur coming through holes in his jeans. But Westley still got to experience walking the aisles of the costume store, oohing and ahhing over the masks and bottles of fake blood.

Halloween '14

Ivy went as a flower fairy, because after trying several costumes on her—a kitty, a giraffe, a pumpkin—and having her veto them all, I settled on something I thought she might actually wear for longer than a minute: a thrifted tutu and wings with tiny elastic straps, both of which could be slipped over regular clothes.
Flower Fairy at Work

(A headband with flowers was also purchased. When I tried to put it on her, she handed it back to me and said, "You can wear it.")

Halloween '14

This was the first year Ivy got to go trick-or-treating with her own bucket. She got really into it. Going out at night was exciting. Walking up people's driveways was exciting. Seeing all the Halloween decorations was exciting. Wearing her costume was the best. She toddled happily up the street announcing, "I got mah tutu an' mah wings!" She carried her plastic pumpkin bucket even when it got heavy. We also heard a lot of "I ha' some candy!" The only thing Ivy absolutely would not do was say "trick or treat." On a few occasions, when an adult tried to encourage her—"What do you say?"—she answered, dead serious, "In my bucket."

There were a few meltdowns along the way—which is probably to be expected when combining small children, refined sugar, and lack of bedtime routine—but overall, I'd call it a successful holiday. We walked a short loop through our neighborhood, which took much longer than I thought it would. The kids ate a second dinner of protein, raw veggies, and olives to offset the two pieces of candy each, while Rob read the The Vanishing Pumpkin aloud. They were in bed about an hour and a half later than usual, and fell right asleep.

This was also the first year we made a real plan for all that Halloween candy, and it's been awesome. The kids got to eat a couple pieces the night of, and then choose a few more to keep, one piece for every year of age. The rest Rob and I "bought" from them for new games and DVDs. Now, instead of being asked for candy twelve times a day, I hear "Can I watch—?" and "Can I play—?" But I can live with that.

I donated the Halloween haul yesterday, and took down most of the decorations today. I also sent out Christmas party invitations. End-of-the-year ride, here we come!

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Fall Down

The difficult thing about healing my psychosomatic pain wasn't getting around the "it's all in your head" notion. It wasn't side-stepping the idea that because there isn't something physiologically wrong, my pain wasn't "serious." I've been in my head before, and it's dark and terrifying sometimes. All in my head is pretty serious.

No, the hard thing about dealing with psychosomatic pain is that once I recognized that it was a big old fake-out from my brain to distract me from unpleasant emotions, I had to start actually experiencing all those unpleasant emotions. Which is—this will surprise no one—unpleasant.

Anger can hit me out of nowhere now, and I lash out at anyone close by. Or I get these massive pangs of terror in my chest for no reason other than an ambulance drove by or a fat crow landed on the roof.  A child or kitty pees on the floor and my inner demotivational speaker starts feeding me her trademark negative affirmations: "This is horrible. I hate my life. Everything is fucked."

But at least my back doesn't hurt anymore.

This time of year is hard for me under the best circumstances. Everything outside starts to get so cold and dark. And the problem with fall is that when you start to notice the cold and dark, it's only going to get colder and darker. That's when I start to feel cold and dark. Rain becomes a daily occurrence, and as I'm lugging pool toys up to the attic and hauling out the fall coats, it sinks in that things are just going to get colder and darker and rainier for the next several months. Under the best circumstances, when I feel like life is more or less awesome, I just stare longingly at the sun hats while thrift-shopping. This year, I'm panicking.

Some of the panic is self-inflicted. In other words, I think I let myself get this down. I haven't written anything except the odd journal entry since August, when Ivy turned two and became, according to the Babycenter e-mails I can't seem to remember to unsubscribe from, my "preschooler." Westley started first grade in September. And I followed a rabbit down the hole of depression. I promptly relapsed into my worst bad behaviors, moping through the days, gorging at night. Tear-shedding, sigh-heaving, and rapid-fire consumption of white things and refined carbohydrates ensued: whole cups of coconut butter, pounds of white rice, brown sugar straight from the bag. I didn't try to stop it because my fall felt as inevitable as the pitch-black autumn evenings.

Things almost always look better in the morning...or on a Monday...or at the beginning of a new month. I feel as though I got handed a bunch of fresh starts all at once, and things are better today. Checking tasks off my to-do list helps. Shifting the way I think about my relationship with my children helps (more on that soon). Eating more vegetables helps. I have a few dates to look forward to, and a new weekly class I love. The squirrels outside my window are winter-fat and hilarious. Still, the "Everything is fucked" song started up before the breakfast dishes were even cleared recently, when I managed to make Westley cry over plans for his birthday party—twice. However, things don't feel so hopeless. I feel slightly less helpless.

(And my back really doesn't hurt anymore.)

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Friday, August 15, 2014

How I Got My Back Back

On Sunday I helped lift a giant refrigerator up and down stairs. Today I carried a squirmy toddler all over the zoo in my arms for three and a half hours. My back feels fine. In fact, it feels good.

If you've known me for longer than six months, you've probably heard me complain about back pain at some point. Chronic pain is like that. It makes it hard to talk or think about anything else.

Starting when Westley was about a year old, every day was a game of Russian roulette with my own body. It was not a question of whether or not I would be in pain today—the pain was always there—it was a question of how much pain? In the mornings, before I'd even tried to roll over in bed, I would begin to wonder: today would I be able to sit, drive, walk, lie down, lift my baby? As time passed and the pain increased, the state of my low back determined the course (and mood) of my days.

There was no obvious source of the discomfort. I hadn't been injured. I'd had horrendous back labor with Westley, but as soon as a baby's head was no longer pressing into my spine, my back felt great! The pain seemed to come out of nowhere. Doctors suspected something might be off with my digestive system, or my pelvic floor muscles, or both. Or maybe I had injured my back, and I didn't remember? That seemed unlikely, but, I guessed, possible in my postpartum haze.

Because I had no real diagnosis, I tried all kinds of things to fix my back, some of them bordering on the crazy. I tried physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care, various forms of exercise including a series of yoga classes designed to heal back pain, heating pads, ice, vitamins, herbs, and support belts. I spooned with a giant piece of selenite. I had wires and sensors placed in my vagina for pelvic floor biofeedback therapy, and ate things I never imagined I would eat ever again or at all (salmon, yogurt, cod liver oil, beef heart). I figured that if I explored enough avenues, one of them would lead somewhere good.

Some of the treatments seemed to work a little, for a little while. Other aspects of my health. I slept better. My energy levels improved by leaps and bounds. My mood was less volatile and my depression all but vanished. But my back still hurt, to one degree or another, all the time.

The thing that finally worked was a book I found by accident.

I was searching the library's catalog for The Divided Mind by John E. Sarno, MD. However, the first book to come up under Dr. Sarno's name was called Healing Back Pain. I checked it out and read it in four days.

My back felt better after two days. Dr. Sarno describes a condition called Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS), and a type of person(ality) prone to experiencing it. I saw myself in passage after passage, and despite some skepticism (was this the Forer effect at work?) I was able to internalize Dr. Sarno's theory enough to erase my pain before I'd even finished the book.

TMS pain involves muscles, nerves, tendons, and ligaments but it starts with the mind. The pain is real, and it's awful, but it exists only as a distraction from repressed trauma and unacceptable emotions. In other words, there's nothing wrong with my back. (My L5-S1 "problem" isn't a problem after all.) It's my feelings that are broken.

I've been pain-free since May. The past three months have been exhilarating in their normalcy. I'm filled with ridiculous excitement every time I watch myself do a totally run-of-the-mill thing without any back pain. I can make the bed and not worry that I'm going to collapse. I can carry Ivy in my arms for an outing and not be immobile the next day. I can walk and even dance in high heels! I can lie down in any position I feel like.

Chronic low back pain was practically my whole identity for six years. I wish I hadn't suffered unnecessarily for so long. But I feel stronger, healthier, and happier now than I remember feeling—ever.

I'm really back.

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