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2016 & 2017: The Hard Years

Last year was hard. No sense putting a made-up pretty face on it, or calling a spade a diamond: physically, emotionally, and situationally, 2016 was a hard year.
I gained some of the weight I lost in 2015 back – not eating properly, not being motivated, and seeking emotional solace in food all played their own roles. I spent 6 solid months separated from my husband, which meant 6 months being a single mother. I shared a bedroom with a non-sleeping toddler for nearly 5 cumulative months of the year. I made the difficult decision to go back to work after 5 long years of recovery. I took on new volunteer positions without shedding the old ones. I began a part-time direct sales business. And honestly, travelling over the Christmas season is no way to finish an already trying year.
And this year has started in the same way. MiniSir will be deployed this year – yet another long separation for us. I have secured a job and day care for Grunt, and now we are just waiting on my official start date. We bought a new car, anticipating a future that the Army has now changed on us (again). And all those volunteer positions? I can’t seem to shake them.
So while I prepare to be a newly working single mum, dealing with what little spare time I have being eaten up by committees, I have to wonder some days if strength comes from simply doing.
I walk now because I refused to believe I couldn’t walk then. I bore a child because I refused to believe I was infertile. I have been alone, alone and pregnant, alone with a child, and I have been strong enough to do all this because I refused to give up on what needed to be done. So.
This year I will be employed, and Mummy, and alone. And I will be strong. I will do what needs to be done. And I will be here for others in the same place when they think they can’t.
Some days I will need reminded of my own strength, and some days others will be the ones needing reminded. On days when I can give of myself, I will. On days when I need you to give me a little of the strength back, I hope you will.
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I’m Not Gonna Cry, I’m Not…

We are leaving tomorrow. And I am running around like a crazy person trying to figure out what will expire in our fridge and our pantry while we are gone, because tomorrow is also garbage day; two birds, one stone.

It is my choice to go to Ontario for close to 5 months. It really was my choice, even though I keep walking into Grunt’s room and sighing, knowing that tonight is the last night I will be rocking him in my wooden chair, the same wooden chair my mother rocked me to sleep in, for a long while. MiniSir will be gone for close to 3 months on exercises, and then handing over and starting his new position back at the Regiment, and THEN the Regimental obligations with the Calgary Stampede and Spruce Meadows… We would never see him. It was the right choice, both financially and emotionally, to take Grunt to Ontario for an extended visit with family while he does all of this.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t miss my house, my friends, my familiar shops and even my (sometimes infuriating) neighbours. This morning my cat was sleeping so still and soundly in the sun I thought for sure he had died – he was fine, just in a heavy sleep, but I’m becoming paranoid that something will happen while we are away.

I also constantly feel like I’m going to forget something. Never mind the fact that we are driving across Canada, stopping in all major cities each night and will be near any store I can think of if I do, but still… I just know I’m going to forget something.

And the unspoken feelings between MiniSir and I: this is the longest we will have ever been apart, even including when we were long distance dating between Kingston and Medicine Hat. I’m a lucky military spouse in that sense – his deployment overseas was before my time with him – but any length of time that you are a separated family is difficult; both while you’re apart and when you finally come back together. Whether it is for a week or 5 months or a year, everyone’s routines collide in an epic “can’t you read my mind?!” blow-out.

So when I went grocery shopping yesterday for last-minute items, I may have purchased a lot of comfort food. I made 13 eggs worth of scrambled eggs to freeze yesterday so the eggs didn’t go bad before someone ate them. I have thrown out anything in the pantry that will expire between now and the end of July. And our freezer is jammed full of random leftovers that can be eaten as a single meal sometime down the road. This is how I am coping.

So. If you’re going to be in the Ottawa/Kingston/Toronto corridor over the next little while, let me know. I’m going to have my own vehicle and itching for distractions. Otherwise, I’ll see you all on the other side of the long, long drive.

I Am A Terrible Blogger

Really. Just awful.

I originally started this blog as a method of therapy, a way to express myself in a safe environment where I could work out my thoughts and feelings while trying to navigate through life an anxious, post-traumatic stress-ridden woman in a new city. And so far, I’ve posted intermittently and never on a schedule.

I should have known that schedules were never going to work. However, I should also have known that writing would make me feel better.

The past few months I’ve been struggling with a relapse of depression and anxiety. It all started when I began taking a drug to help me with a completely unrelated physical issue and ended up quite depressed as a side effect. My doctor put a “cease and desist” on the drugs immediately upon seeing me again, and now I am waiting to see a specialist next month for some more testing and alternate options. However, since coming off the drug, I’ve still been struggling to get back to myself, the self I was before I started them – the balanced, “totally got this and don’t need more meds” me.

It isn’t working.

I bawled after getting out of the shower today because I was thinking about something that may (but 99.9% won’t) happen. And if that isn’t a classic symptom of anxiety’s cold fingers prying in my brain again, I don’t know what else would be. My sleep is beginning to be effected; I’m having more difficulty falling asleep and more difficulty waking up. I don’t want to do anything. Even MiniSir says I seem listless.

Yes, hello depression. Glad to see you could join us.

I have yet to relapse to anything PTSD related yet – thankfully – because if I do that, I will have a really hard time driving myself anywhere. And winter is nearly upon us, which means winter drivers and driving conditions and there’s a whole new heap of things to be anxious about.

So I am seeking help now. I have a call in to my psychiatrist, and if I can’t get in to see him soon I will talk to my doctor immediately.

In the mean time, if you see me and I look like I could use a hug, I could use a hug. Hug me. I am a good hugger. I like hugs.

(I would also like someone to buy my house. But that’s another blog post for another time.)

I’m Wearing His Hoodie

Here’s the thing about a hoodie. If it’s special like mine, you can pretty much conquer the world in it. You refuse to see the stains on it and it doesn’t matter how big it is on you. It keeps you safe like armour and acts like a security blanket with a convenient pocket in the front. No matter how many years go by, no matter how worn it gets, your special hoodie will never let you down. Mine certainly hasn’t.

Not 4 years ago, when it still smelled enough of MiniSir that I stuffed a pillow into it and hugged it through the night, wishing I were in Medicine Hat with him, rather than Kingston without him.

Not 3 years ago, when I would get up and put it on every morning (or sometimes early afternoon) while every broken part of me screamed in protest at the action. Still not then, when chilled to the bone in the night, even on warm nights, I would put the sweater on over my pjs and crawl under the sheets, pain killers and anti-psychotics pumping through my veins so I could sleep.

Not 2 years ago, when, after we moved and married in one whirlwind summer, I saw my husband for 7 days in a two month period and came to the realization that him being an officer back at the regiment meant something completely different than being an officer posted into a staff position.

Not a year ago when I waited and waited for him to finally be done in the field while puking my guts out and watching cartoons to cope with being pregnant on my own. Plus it was downright necessary the week when everything in my closet stopped fitting at once and I dragged the sweater on over my too-tight shirt to finally go shopping for maternity clothes.

Or earlier this year when I was so tired from being a new mother that it was the only thing that held me up some days.

And it hasn’t let me down this week either, when events have left the military community shocked and saddened, and everyone feeling just a little vulnerable. I wore it to a fellow military spouse’s house on Thursday and she asked if I had put it on because I just needed a little extra comforting. I hadn’t even realized it, but I had. I had needed that extra layer that it gave me, that armour with a hug inside it. I knew my husband was safe at work, and in my hoodie, I was safe too.

That’s the thing about a great sweater. When he asks me how my day is going and I say, “I’m wearing your hoodie”, he knows he’ll need to give me some extra hugs, for one reason or another. And it won’t matter to him because he knows he can’t ever be replaced by a piece of clothing.

Because even though being in his hoodie is great, being in his arms is better.

The Way I Remember It

Last week was not a great week. For our family, the last week in September has too many days of note, and they are all bittersweet. Chief among them is 24 September, the anniversary of the first death of a Strathcona during my husband’s deployment in Afghanistan. His name is tattooed on MiniSir’s arm, and though I never got to meet Nathan Hornburg, I’ve seen his handsome face on many memorials. Every year when I wake up on this day, I remember his face from the photos, and thank him for his service and sacrifice. I thank whoever else is listening for guiding my husband home safely so he could be the one waking up beside me. And I think of my best memory of that particular anniversary, which happened just three years ago, and I hope that wherever he is, Nathan approves.

September 24, 2011 was a Thursday. MiniSir was posted at CFB Suffield. I was in Medicine Hat Hospital, recovering from the accident. The Portraits of Honour, a mural depicting Canada’s fallen soldiers from the Afghanistan tour, was in town for a public viewing and gala. Of all days to have the gala, this one was especially poignant. MiniSir had to attend, but he had the afternoon off to get ready. I was napping in the afternoon sun, something I often did after my second Physio workout of the day, when he came into the room, still in his combats, and sat next to the bed.

“I was thinking about today, and how short life is,” he started, “and in case I didn’t get the hint when your accident happened, today really kicked my ass with it.”

Sleepy, bleary-eyed and without my glasses, I vaguely noticed he had something in his pocket.

He went on to say how he couldn’t imagine life without me, and that he felt that it was the right time to do this. After much teasing about what was in his pocket, he pulled it out and nervously opened the box. It was the ring we had picked out together months ago, the one I had loved immediately. He asked me to marry him, and when I nodded, slid the ring on. But he made me say the words, all of them, before he would kiss me in celebration.

The ring had been sized for my pre-accident finger width, so it was far too big to keep wearing. I waved it around and let it sparkle for a while, but when he told me he had to go get ready for the gala, we agreed to put it back in the box for safe keeping. Then, his visit cut short with a promise to try and see me later, he left.

I spent the evening playing card games with my mum and talking about what kind of wedding I wanted, and went to bed still wondering when he would show up. Late, nearly midnight, I woke up to a text message saying he was just outside. The ER guard had apparently taken one look at him and let him in without a fuss.

I was still waking up when I heard the familiar “Ching-Ching-Ching” of his spurs against the hospital floor. And when the nurses started wolf-whistling and cat-calling, I knew exactly what was going on. Still dressed in his mess kit, having come straight from the gala and a whiskey toast to Nathan, he was strolling through the hospital looking like a million bucks, just to kiss me goodnight.

And I fell in love with him all over again.

He came into my room quietly, and when he saw I was awake, he gave me a single red rose he had stolen from the centrepiece. “I love you, Mrs Johns,” he whispered.

The next day was the day I walked for the first time without the casts. The nurses couldn’t stop talking about his appearance the night before, fawned over my ring, and gave me a beautiful martini glass they had all chipped in to buy me as a congratulatory gift. When he came to visit that evening and I showed him I could stand up by myself without the walker, he got the ring out, got down on one knee, and proposed again, just so he had done it right.

If you ask me, he did it right the first time.

And that is why, every September 24, I wake up happy, though I know it’s a somber anniversary. Because I remember that it was Nathan who helped my husband to take what he wanted from life, to say what he felt, and to be strong and proud. This September 24, I looked down at our sleeping son, at how beautiful he was, and marvelled at how so much can change in just three years. And then once again, I thanked Cpl. Hornburg, a man I never met, for everything.

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An Anxious Time of Night

Most of the time I think I have my anxiety problems left over from the accident completely handled. I’m not on any medications any more, for my mental or physical state. I weaned myself off all of them while I was pregnant with Little Grunt. It took a lot of supplementary therapy (we are talking about therapy twice a week for an hour for the better part of a season), and a period of adjustment to deal with the manageable daily pain. But my hard work was rewarded with a child born with minimal exposure to the NSAIDs and narcotics I was taking. And for the most part, the therapies seemed to have worked.

I am stiff in the joints, but getting back into my swimming this fall will help with that. I don’t have any issues with traffic anymore, and very few left while in a vehicle. I have completely beaten my depression with the odd exceptional bad day that pops up now and again. The PTSD is also mostly gone into recession, my only problems now generally related to the unpredictability of crowds and sudden change. But every so often, panic sets in out of the blue, and it all revolves around my precious baby boy.

I am not saying that it’s his fault – far from it, as he’s actually the reason I am doing so well – and the panic that does well up is always irrational and completely out of context. It hits hardest just after I’ve put him back to sleep in the middle of the night, when I’m lying in bed in the dark loneliness and I can’t stop the thoughts. Thoughts of falling down the stairs while carrying him, thoughts of mishaps in the pool when he starts swimming lessons next month, even thoughts of him just not waking up again. They are terrible, awful thoughts and I would not wish them on anyone. But they come, whether I like it or not.

It’s nearly midnight. I just had to go check on him, lay a hand on his belly and listen to him breathe. He’s sound asleep in his crib next door, wrapped safely in his swaddle. And I stood over his crib for a moment so I could share some of his peace. I know I won’t sleep well now tonight, my dreams filled with confusing and painful images.

But I won’t go back on the medications. Not yet. I can do this by myself. It’s a little rocky sometimes, and it’s tiring, but it’s worth it. He is worth every clean moment of it. If I need them, if it gets bad enough that I feel like I need help, then I will seek it. I’m not shy about asking for it, or admitting I could use it. I was warned that there would be an increased risk of me developing postpartum depression because of my issues before, and I make sure to take stock of my well being to check for signs that I may be slipping that way.

In fact, I would be worried about these panic attacks except that they have been happening since long before Grunt was even born. They are the last lingering icy cold fingers of anxiety that grip me from the accident. They are simply taking a new turn with the arrival of my boy, which comforts me somewhat as I lie here staring at the ceiling in the dark. I have bested the ghosts of bulletproof vans and traumatic pain on nights like these not too long ago, and I know that by employing some of my coping tactics I can best this too.

Ginger, Grey, and Yellow

Being a new mum was overwhelming at first. I can’t imagine anyone thinking otherwise as they hold, for the first time, the tiny person they’ve just spent the last nine months creating. Because of the method of my delivery, I didn’t have the use of my legs for quite a while afterward. Lots of time to cuddle with my perfect bundle of joy and debate about who he looked like.

In our case, this was a very short debate: he couldn’t possibly look any more like my husband than he does.

But as I held him and slept beside him through his first night, we began to notice a few things that weren’t quite right – the most telling one being that we couldn’t really wake him up, and he wasn’t all that hungry when we did. Blood work done the next day confirmed the reason why: our little bundle had jaundice. High levels of bilirubin in his system was making him tired, and because he was so tired he didn’t have the energy to eat. Now, there are a bunch of babies born every day that develop jaundice, but in our case it was a bit more serious. My munchkin was operating in the “very high” range of bilirubins per blood unit – there is no higher on the scale that you can go. And because he is a different blood type than I am, he also lacked that basic genetic immunity which meant that his red blood cells were working overtime.

Luckily, the way they treat neonatal jaundice is by phototherapy. He was placed in a bassinet under a UV light and a heater. He got to wear a sunshade to protect his eyes, and he was kept at a warm 36.5C. We got to have the whole unit in our room with us so we could take him out to feed him when he needed it, and bond with him as much as possible during his first days.

This is the phototherapy set-up for newborns, where Grunt spent his first few days “tanning”

I won’t tell you it wasn’t hard. He did not like being on his back all splayed out at first, but we couldn’t keep holding him like he wanted – it would have made treatment impossible. I cried a lot while he cried, and MiniSir did his best to keep us both calm. He did finally get used to being under the lamp, and it really helped when one of the nurses made him a little nest of blankets so he felt more secure. Over the next few days his colour improved, and when they had evidence that the bilirubin levels in his blood were dropping, they let us bring him home.

By this point the changes in him where undeniable. He was sleeping soundly, and eating so much that we had to start supplementing with formula, something that we have continued to do ever since to make sure he’s on the right track for growth. He’ll never been a big kid – MiniSir and I are not giants – but at his two week check-up the doctor confirmed he had gained back and surpassed his birth weight, and I breathed a sigh of relief. His hair gets more red and gingery every day, and his eyes have stayed a stormy grey, but one thing is clear: the yellow skin colour is gone for good.