Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Grief Cycle

My journey to becoming a mom has been filled with a lot of emotions but the one I never expected (and who would really?) was grief.  The amount of grief that has surrounded me since becoming a mom is undeniable but yet here I am, fours years into it and I'm still trying to manage that grief. Like my PTSD symptoms, the grief sneaks in when I least expect it.  The pool where Megatron takes his swimming lessons has become an emotional minefield for me lately.  There are several women who have toddlers in classes during the same time slot at Megatron and they also have infants.  While their big kids are in the pool, they are always chit chatting with each other about how old their babies are and what milestones they are experiencing.  Some days I just feel left out because I appear to be the only mom there with an only child.  And then some days my stomach is in knots, I have a lump in my throat and I hold back tears the entire time he's in the pool.  When class is over, I rush Megatron out of the pool, to the showers and then out of there as quickly as I can so I can redirect my attention.  Why?  Because those moms are experiencing normal, healthy babies and I completely missed out on that experience.  One week, I overheard a woman tell another that her baby was 7 weeks old.  My first thought?  Megatron had his first major surgery when he was 7 weeks old.  Another week, two women each had a baby on their laps and the babies were cooing and smiling and interacting with each other.  The babies were both 6-7 months old.  For me during that time, my baby was in acute liver failure, was living in the hospital and was waiting on the only thing that could save his life, a liver transplant.  He rarely cooed and smiled.  He was isolated to his hospital room or our house so he wouldn't get sick so there was no interacting with other babies. Another time a mom was sharing how her baby had a low fever and mild reaction to a vaccine and it was so scary.  In my head I was rolling my eyes .  Scary?  Scary is being told that your child is going to start vomiting blood and when that happens, call 911 because babies can bleed out in a hurry.  Scary is your baby being on a transplant list and fearing that the organ won't come in time.  I've even had a similar reaction to someone sharing their delivery experience.  I was very unexpectedly induced 5 weeks early.  My delivery was the exact opposite of what I had hoped for.  My pregnancy ended in fear.

Once I shake off the tears, I'm almost always very agitated for several hours because I'm angry that I am still experiencing these emotions.  Megatron is going to be four.  He's (relatively) healthy and thriving now.  Why am I still so rattled by others having a completely normal parenting experience?  I'm angry because I don't what his medical history to turn me into a bitter person.  I am genuinely happy for others when they welcome a new baby.  I enjoy hearing new moms talk about their babies, because yes, I did experience a few of the normal things like diaper blow outs, nursing challenges and sleep deprivation.  I don't ever want a friend who is a new mom to avoid talking to me about their babies.  I don't ever want to dismiss the fears a fellow mom experiences with a new baby.  They are legitimate and real.  I just have such a different experience and perspective though that I tend to struggle with certain topics.  Sometimes I feel like I can't relate to other moms because of the perspective I have.  I feel like I don't fit in.  But because Megatron is thriving now, I don't really fit in with special needs moms either.  We still have our challenges but they are minor compared to 3-4 years ago.  They are minor compared to what a lot of other parents are facing now.  But because of this weird place in the middle, it can be isolating.  Which is probably why I still struggle with so much of this.  I'm alone with my thoughts way too much.  I even have random guilt because Megatron is doing so well.  Why us and not someone else?  Why is another post transplant kiddo having so many complications when we have faced few?  It's this awful cycle I get in sometimes.  It's like your stereotypical "mom guilt" but kicked up a few notches.  I feel guilty for thinking not so nice things when people have healthy kids.  And guilty when I realize I have a somewhat healthy kid now and there are so many parents out there who are waiting for an organ for their kid or aren't having as much post transplant success as we have had.  It's maddening really.

While I have my moments when I am mentally rolling my eyes about someone whining over a normal, non-life threatening kid experience, I feel like our experience with Megatron has taught me empathy.  I think before becoming a mom, I was able to sympathize with someone else's struggles, but now, I am able to empathize.  I am also much more aware of how seemingly normal, every day experiences can look very different to different people based on their perspectives.  Mother's day is a great example.  Pre-Megatron, Mother's Day was simply a day to honor my mom; to shower her with some extra love and attention.  But now my heart seems to feel all the friggin' feels, all the time.  Now it is not just a day to give extra thanks to my mom and for Megatron to hopefully one day learn to do the same for me.  I am now very aware that it's a day that may be extra sensitive for those who want more than anything to become a mom but haven't been able to yet.  It's a day that is painful for those who have lost their mom.  It's an excruciating day for the mom's who have lost their children.  Instead of just thinking about picking up a Mother's Day card for my own mom, I want to go hug everyone I know that is experiencing a situation like I described above.  While empathy is a good thing, I may have it to the extreme and it may not be a healthy emotional weight to carry around.

So here I am in this weird cycle of grief and guilt.  After 2 years of therapy, I'm finally able to sleep most nights without having horrible flashbacks to that first year of motherhood.  I don't hyperventilate when I see a medical helicopter or hear and ambulance siren.  That's serious progress in regards to my PTSD diagnosis.  I do still struggle with washing my hands at the hospital because the smell of the soap still transports my brain to back when we were basically living in the hospital. I'm at least able to actually use the bathroom at the hospital now rather than trying to avoid it at all costs so that's progress too. But its finally time to tackle all of this grief so it doesn't consume me.  I don't want to pretend the last four years didn't happen and I don't want to waste my time and energy wishing that it had all gone differently but I do want to lighten this emotional weight.  It's heavy and I'm tired.  It's time to start letting it go.  I need to start being a little kinder to myself and acknowledging that what I'm experiencing is a normal reaction to the challenges our family has faced over the last four years. Not only is is normal but there is nothing WRONG with feeling they way I have been.  I've been focusing too much energy at being angry with myself for feeling this way.  Like I didn't deserve to grieve because ultimately my child did survive.  How can you grieve someone you didn't lose?  Turns out you can grieve more than the loss of a person.  The loss of a certain experience can be just as emotionally painful.  I haven't had the motherhood experience that I had expected so it's time to accept that, grieve the loss of what could have been and keep moving forward.

If acknowledging that this grief is normal is step one, then step two must be admitting my feelings to others.  I try to put on a strong front most of the time but the reality is is that there are days that are a challenge from the time I wake up until I crash at night.  The reality is that there are some weeks I don't want to take Megatron to swim lessons because I don't want to hear the other moms gush about their healthy babies.  Also part of my reality is to plow ahead no matter what.  I refuse to let my emotional baggage to hinder my ability to parent (I don't always succeed but I don't quit either).  In my opinion, it's not an option for Megatron to not take swim lessons so I sit there in the waiting area like a ball of nerves for 30 minutes every week.  My therapist and I will continue the hard work so that I can maybe one day sit there and feel relaxed.  Or maybe even coo at those cute babies or strike up a conversation with their moms.

Monday, May 1, 2017

2017 Cap City (not quite) Half Marathon

I've been training really hard since late January for another half marathon.  When I created my training calendar, I hadn't intended to work towards a PR.  I just wanted to have a goal that would help me work off the weight I put back on during the holidays.  But as I moved through each week of the training schedule, I was steadily increasing my pace.  I didn't do anything different this time around other than I was maybe running slightly more miles each week.  But I was starting to see times in the high 10s pretty regularly.  I then started seeing averages in the low 11s and high 10s even for the longer distances.  My current half marathon PR had an average pace of 11:45 and here I was seeing 10:45 a couple times a week.  Even with the consistent training though, I wasn't really thinking much about a PR.  I was signed up for the Cap City 1/2 marathon but since I've done it a couple times before, I know its a difficult course.  There are quite a few uphills in the first 5 miles.  Nothing compared to Adams County but they are still hills and hills aren't as convenient to find here in Columbus when it comes to training.  I always say I'm going to make a better effort to hill train but then never do.  It is what it is.

The week before the race, I caught wind of the forecast.  88 degrees.  WTF?  We haven't acclimated to warm weather running yet here.  A week might as well be like predicting the weather a year from now so I let it go and focused on eating well and getting a couple short shake out runs in.  Then I started hearing rumors that the forecasted temperature was dropping.  Awesome!  But then rain entered the picture.  And not just rain but thunderstorms.  You can race in rain but not lightning.  The night before the race was quite the light show.  There was tons of rain, thunder and lightning.  I laid out my race clothes, along with a poncho and crossed my fingers that it would blow through faster than expected.  Despite this being my 16th half marathon, I hardly slept.  Partially due to the weather and partially due to nerves.  And when I woke up on race morning?  Pouring rain.  I didn't even want to get out of bed.  But when you fork over that much money for a race (plus a $30 parking ticket while picking up my race packet, which I am appealing), you kind of have to show up.  So I got dressed and headed downtown.
Faking a smile because I was dreading going outside!
Luckily it stopped raining for the hour before the race while I was waiting around with my friends.  I was trying to be optimistic but the radar looked awful.  More storms were coming.  Could we run fast enough though?

We had fun waiting for the race to start at least.
The race started and I was soaked with sweat in the first mile.  The humidity was pretty bad.  But I felt ok and tried to remind myself I was going to need to drink more than I had in training due to the humidity.  Around mile 3, it started to sprinkle.  And then rain.  But it didn't last too long.  Miles 4-5 were sort of dry.  Then it started up again as we turned back towards the south and had a good view of downtown.  Ugh.  Normally when I run, I zone out and gaze at the ground about 15 feet in front of me.  I looked up though and couldn't help but notice a giant dark wall of clouds over downtown.  We were running right towards it.  With each step closer to downtown, it started to rain harder.

Somewhere around mile 7, I saw my brother, sister in law and nephew.  I was so surprised!  My mom was at her house watching Megatron.  The Pilot was home sick.  I wasn't expecting any of my family to be out there, especially given the weather!  But there they were.  That helped me get my pace back up (I had been in the 10:30-10:45 range until we turned towards downtown when for some reason, I couldn't seem to stay under 11:15).

Not long after I passed them though, a huge bolt of lightning lit up just south of downtown. Everyone running near me screamed and/or groaned.  We just kept going, not really sure what to do.  I was running with the co-worker of a friend of mine and it was her first 1/2 marathon.  I started to feel bad because I was beginning to wonder if the race was going to be stopped for the lightning.  We made a left turn and all of the sudden, people started shouting, "it's over.  The race is cancelled."  It was so confusing though because none of that was coming from anyone official.  So we just kept running.  And at that point, there was no where else to go.  We were in a part of downtown where there were only parking lots and vacant buildings.  Then a police car drove by and the officer was using his microphone telling people the race was cancelled and to seek shelter immediately.  The problem was there was absolutely no shelter right there. So we kept running.  It was POURING by this point and the wind kicked up.  There was thunder and lightning all over.  The person I was with knew her family was waiting for her to pass by not too far from where we were so we just kept running.  She finally saw them so we stopped.  I gave her a hug and said how sorry I was that today wasn't going to be the day to finish her first 1/2.   She stayed with her family and I started running, but this time up on the sidewalk.  But that was mostly because the street was flooding.  Like up to your ankles flash flooding.  Somehow we had made it far enough back downtown that I knew the starting area (and the gear check where I had left a bag with warm clothes and flip flops) wasn't far away.  Just as I was about to turn off the course and cut over the block back to the gear check, a police car pulled up and angled itself in front of the road, not allowing runners to go any further.

The rain let up a bit as I ran to gear check.  Which was a cluster.  There was only one volunteer that I could see so everyone was just hunting for their own bags.  Luckily I had plastered my bag with neon pink duct tape so it was easy to spot and grab.  As I was walking away from the gear check, they started making announcements telling people that everything was cancelled and to seek shelter immediately.  They lowered all the tents that had been set up for the post race party (pizza, beer, champagne and margaritas were supposed to be there) but people were swiping whole pizzas from under the tents.  I was soaked and starting to get cold so I just left and started making my way to the parking garage.  I ended up on the road where the finish line was.  Which was a mistake.  People were still finishing and getting their medals.  Which was just frustrating.  I could have jumped in and gotten a medal but I didn't want one.  I had only run 8.5 miles after all.  As I passed by, the announcers were repeating over and over, "seek shelter immediately.  There is lightning in the area.  Do NOT touch any of the metal fencing (which was lining both sides of the street/finish chute)."  I was only a 1/2 block from the parking garage so I figured it made the most sense to just keep moving.  Once down in the underground garage, I got my phone out (which I had thankfully put in a ziploc bag in my fuel belt) to text my family that I was safe in my car.

This is what was coming right at us once the race started.  
Getting out of the garage was also an adventure.  Because so many people were leaving at the same time as opposed to spread out over a wide range of finish times and the roads still had barricades for the race, traffic was a mess.  I paid to get out of the garage but sat quite awhile on the exit ramp, which had turned into a river.  It was an underground garage so the ramp sloped down and water was rushing down it.  I just hoped my sub compact car wasn't going to float back down the hill!  Once out of the garage, I realized that the weather had gotten much worse.  It was a monsoon.  It was raining so hard, the wind was blowing, thunder and lightning was everywhere.  There were people running all over the place.  Some just huddled in doorways.  As I finally made my way out of the thick of the traffic, I realized how bad the roads were.  There was flooding everywhere!  It took me a couple blocks to figure out where I was (I just kept driving trying to get away from the race course and the traffic) but luckily I wasn't too far from the highway and was able to hop on and head home.  Once up on the highway, while it was still pouring, there wasn't the flooding going on like there was downtown.

When I walked into the house, I was still soaked all the way through and was starting to shiver.  The Pilot gave me a sad look and I went right upstairs for a looooong, hot shower.  I then spent a couple hours sitting on the couch in sweat pants.  I had made arrangements to have Megatron stay with my mom all day because I was planning on being completely spent from running a PR.  Instead I was just freezing cold and my body was stiff from being so wet and cold for so long.
Soaked and sad.
So half marathon #16 didn't turn out but man, what a story!  We were at the playground the next day with Megatron and someone saw me wearing the race shirt and asked me how far I made it.  I think that will be the question when anyone refers to the 2017 Cap City 1/2 marathon: "How far did you make it?"  I found out later that, with the exception of the people who finished within the first 1:15 or so of the race start, a lot of people ahead of me were diverted and finished with 12-12.5 miles.  I feel better knowing I wasn't *that* close.  Haha.

I think if it had just been an average race and that I wasn't really within striking distance of a PR, I probably would have just shrugged it off as a great story and focused on some shorter races I have lined up for the summer and then another 1/2 marathon in the fall.  But for those 8.5 miles I did run, I was nailing the pace.  And after seeing so many PR times this training cycle, I really want the chance to see what I can do in a race.  So after taking the longest shower ever, I started searching for other 1/2 marathons that I could do.  Flying Pig was out because there's no way I'd PR on a hilly course.  I really really didn't want to do Cleveland because I boycotted that race years ago plus registration was up to $110.  Ummm, no,  There is another local 1/2 but it wasn't until June and I was worried about the heat.  The next option was the Indy Mini in Indianapolis. I would have the option to drop Megatron off with my in-laws on the way there so that was one big hurdle out of the way.  Then the rest fell into place by the end of the afternoon. A friend offered to let me stay with her and I could head down to the race with them.  It was a done deal.

So this Saturday, I'll get a re-do.  Everyone cross your fingers and toes that I can stay healthy this week (The Pilot has been sick for a week) and that the weather cooperates!