on anxiety.

Troubled-Waters-Cleansing

this week, i’ve been thinking a lot about anxiety and depression, and how to normalize it, how to own it. these conditions, these afflictions, they are REAL, and they are something that so, so many people struggle with, and hide, and feel ashamed of.

i’m done feeling this way.

guys, i have anxiety.

and i want to share my story with you all today, in hopes that it will be a light in the often dark, dark world of mental illness.

* *

when Jord and i first moved to Vermillion, we were newly married (barely one month into our marriage!), and we were both embarking on new adventures: i was attending graduate school in English literature and teaching at the local university, and Jord accepted (literally a week or so before our wedding!) a new position in athletic development for the fundraising body for the university. we were living in a new city, an hour away from our families and friends, and we were navigating newlywed life together.

once graduate school began and the academic year ramped up, my perfectionist tendencies – that i was able to keep in check (for the most part) in my undergraduate years – heightened considerably. with each novel or reading that was assigned, and with each student essay that hit my grading pile, i lost more and more of my ability to endure what felt like (to me) falling short.

if i didn’t underline or annotate or seek to fully understand each sentence of each novel or critical reading that i was assigned in my graduate courses, i felt like i wasn’t qualified to seek a master’s degree. if i didn’t circle every grammatical error or imprecise topic sentence in my students’ essays, i felt like i wasn’t trying hard enough or doing enough to help my students to succeed.

as you can guess, these feelings – of failure, of doubt, of constantly seeking to do more, to be more – took a toll.

Jord was a first-hand witness to all of these feelings. he was the ear to which i confessed all of my stress, the shoulder on which i leaned, the face to whom i looked to for support, for comfort, for safety.

but i felt like i was failing him, too.

here we were – newlyweds! – and i couldn’t even muster enough energy at the end of the day to stay awake during a movie, to hold his hand in mine as we munched on popcorn.

my anxiety finally reached a breaking point in February of 2011, when, in the midst of teaching a new course and taking my own classes with seemingly even higher demands, i remember feeling helpless, like i didn’t possess any skills whatsoever to cope with my new reality – my teaching assistantship, my graduate coursework, my marriage. and in that moment, i remember Jord taking my hands in his and recommending that i seek therapy.

* *

Jord came with me to that first appointment, and he held my hands as i cried to the therapist at our local hospital about the way that i had been feeling, and the toll that these feelings were taking on my life. i truly feel that seeking help was the first step in managing my anxiety, for without my weekly therapy appointments, which i participated in faithfully until the end of 2012, i’m not sure that i would have been able to find the light in the dark tunnel that i was trapped inside.

the other tool that helped me then, and that still aids me now, is medication.

i take a little blue pill every morning, before i guzzle my coffee, and i’ve done this every morning since 2011.

* *

in the early weeks and months after i began my weekly therapy sessions, i also had what my therapist called my “emergency medication,” which was fast-acting and effective in quickly calming my anxious tendencies. i remember carrying this medication with me in my purse everywhere i went, and i remember reaching for this pill a few times, when often unexplainable feelings of overwhelm or failure would bubble up.

after a while, my emotions began to even out, and i felt comfortable and confident moving forward in my graduate studies, my teaching assistantship, my marriage – my life – without the emergency medication in my purse. Jord and i began to seriously discuss starting a family, and shortly after that, we were expecting our Lionel.

i took medication for my anxiety during both of my pregnancies, with Lionel and with Quincy. while my doctors placed me on a different brand of medication during these time periods of pregnancy and breastfeeding, i faithfully took my low-dose anxiety medication each morning of both of my sons’ entire existence, both on the inside and in the outside world. and i’ll do it again, should we decide to have another child eventually.

even in light of the emotion-ridden and utterly painful guilt of the doctor’s misdiagnosis for the reasoning for Quincy’s brief NICU stay, i know that the medication that i take each morning saved me many times over.

it allowed me to complete my graduate studies. it allowed me to re-engage in my marriage. it allowed me to even consider becoming a mother. it allowed me to cope with the guilt that i unnecessarily felt for Quincy’s short stint in the NICU. and it allows me, still today, to be the mother and the wife and the Sara that i want to be.

* *

anxiety is something that may have brought me to my knees time and again in my adult life, but it’s also something that i manage on a daily basis. i do so with the support of my family and friends, my colleagues, my faith, and yes, my medication. my anxiety is not shameful – it’s a point of strength for me, for if i didn’t endure such struggle, i wouldn’t feel such triumph.

well hello there.

this is my first post in three-and-a-half months, and i’m not even sure what to say. so, hello there!

i suppose that i should catch you up on life in these parts. in short, we’ve been soaking up all that life has to offer, and i’ve been trying to focus on living life instead of documenting it – hence the radio silence over here.

but, i miss writing about our lives, and i miss sharing our little part of the world with all of you, so here i am.

all about L

first, our sweet L turned 4 in June, and he had a memorable baseball-themed bash at our local park. all of his dearest friends and family came to celebrate the big ‘4’, and we sweat and soaked up the opportunity to be amongst kiddo laughter on the gorgeous (albeit windy) day outside. we ate some concessions-themed food in cute little red-and-white-checked cardboard baskets (baseball theme!), we opened gifts (our boy’s toy collection continues to burst at the seams, which made Goodwill donations even easier this year – yay for sharing forgotten toys as we acquire new favorites!), and we even played a game of t-ball, which was a fascinating and wildly entertaining way to close out the festivities.

L-Hockey-Fall-2016

speaking of t-ball, our boy had his first season of organized sports this summer, and he LOVED it. he loved his purple Hawks jersey (go Hawks!), he loved hitting and fielding (playing pitcher was his most favorite; even though pitchers don’t throw the ball in this t-ball league, pitchers often see the most action on defense), and he especially loved his coach…Daddy.

we’re now in the midst of L’s first soccer season, and he adores that as well. he already has four goals to his name, as well as countless steals, assists and, of course, foibles and fumbles. but he couldn’t be having more fun, which is all that matters to the Mama of the house.

lastly, in semi-big news, we added a dog to our family…for about 18 hours. unfortunately, we’ve discovered that L (for sure) and (most likely) Q are allergic to dogs…and we aren’t talking stuffy noses; instead, our boys coughed and coughed, woke up with itchy and red eyes, and had buckets of snot making it difficult for them to breathe. so, despite our love for the adorable, perfect, sweet sweet SWEET Golden Retriever that we brought home (we called her Millie!), we returned this sweet dog to the family who had been caring for her in hopes that she would find a new home. we know that she will be a wonderful pet to her new forever family.

we do have hopes that perhaps the boys will outgrow their allergies, as many individuals that we know have experienced. we are also very, very cautiously investigating the opportunity to bring a hypoallergenic dog into our family. we are visiting friends in a few weeks that have a Schnoodle (Schnauzer and Poodle mix), and we’ve heard that Golden Doodles shed much less than Golden Retrievers, but we aren’t ready to make the financial – or, frankly, the emotional heart – investment yet.

all about Q

our sweet Q has been replaced by a stubborn, insistent, “i do it myself” child who is, to put it nicely, challenging to parent these days. however, he still has that killer smile, so he’ s largely walking all over us as we grapple with this new reality. of course, we should have expected this turnaround, as our beloved L also sported quite the stubborn streak around 18 months of age, but my Mama memory (and, ahem, my heart) sure wasn’t primed for this transition.

i have all the feelings for the baby stage of my boys’ lives, but when they hit the toddler phase, and the “i love you’s” give way to the “noooooo’s,” i begin to lose my mind a bit. in short, attention Jord: #weneedmorebabiesinourhouse.

Q-Baseball-Summer-2016

despite the arrival of his attitude, Q is one of my favorite humans. he is saying more and more words (and complete sentences, as of the beginning of September!) as the days pass, including a few of my recent favorites:

* “i block,” which is only uttered when Q, engaged in a football or wrestling match vs. Daddy and L, makes a killer block like he’s in the NFL

* “i OK,” which he says every time he coughs, trips, sneezes, falls…the list goes on…

* “Lionel?” which is said…all the time. he LOVES his brother and always is actively seeking him out, whether it’s to play cars, to watch iPad (which Q is also obsessed with – thanks, Blippi), or to wrestle

lastly, Q’s love of water knows no bounds. we visited a local water-park as summer drew to a close, and while L wavered between courage and caution when it came to slides, waves and fountains, Q couldn’t get enough. “wa wa” is a frequently-uttered phrase in our household; i can’t wait to get Q into swimming lessons.

what’s new with Jord and me

Jord and i snuck away for a long weekend in July to celebrate the bachelor/bachelorette parties of our friends. we left the kiddos with the grandparents and drove to Wisconsin, which is becoming our new favorite state – it’s just so pretty, guys. i wanted to buy every little adorable old house on every street corner in the small town of Hartford, where the parties took place, as well as in the neighboring town of Ceaderburg, where the bachelorette and her girls partook in some delicious wine (i only bought two bottles, but i’m totally regretting not buying a whole case while i was in town). we also had our very first batch of Wisconsin cheese curds, which will definitely not be our last – YUM.

Jord-Sara-Fall-2016

in other news, we’re doing well with our budget plan, thanks to Financial Peace University. we’ve had to put a bit of a pause on our additional payments to our debt as of late, due to some uncertainty with my contract negotiations at my day job (i teach English at a local technical college), but these stalls in extra payments are allowing us to more readily afford a new roof on our home – it’s funny how God provides!

both Jord and i are experiencing times of busyness at work, so we relish the opportunity to soak up time with our boys and with each other. one new thing that we’ve been doing lately: we’ve been playing board games together (L’s newest favorite is this, which he purchased with his own money that he earned doing chores around the house and from his birthday; Jord and i are OBSESSED with this game). we also recently added this game to our collection, and we’re anxiously awaiting a break in our schedules to play it.

big (and little) home updates

speaking of a new roof…we learned this summer that our roof experienced significant hail damage during a storm in the fall of 2015 (yes, almost an entire year ago). we had an insurance adjuster come out to survey the damage and estimate replacement costs. during this process, we learned that our homeowner’s policy had an ACV (actual cash value) stipulation, which, in simple terms, means that when something is damaged, our policy only covers the actual cash value cost, not the full replacement cost. SO, long story short, if we want to claim our roof damage and replace the shingles, we would have to pay out a bit of money in order to replace our roof. luckily, we’ve worked with an excellent contractor who’s been tirelessly appealing to our insurance company for more comprehensive coverage of our damage, and our out-of-pocket is significantly less than we initially anticipated. so, in the next few weeks, we’ll have a new roof installed!

Front-of-House-Updated

i’m also way behind in updating you on a few little tweaks that we’ve made to our home in the past few months. i’ve completed a phase I makeover of our upstairs bathroom (i’ve had a post on this drafted for MONTHS). these inexpensive updates have made such a difference in the space, and i hope to share it here soon – i just have to find time to clean the bathroom (HA) and then snap some photos.

we’ve also moved L into his own big boy bedroom downstairs (as mentioned here), and we’ve reorganized Q’s room to better suit him. i have also painted a dresser from my childhood to use as storage in Q’s room, hung a few more items around the house, and officially traded (with my brother and his girlfriend!) our black 4×2 Expedit in exchange for a distressed dresser.

what’s coming up

we’re headed out on a few mini vacations this fall and winter, mostly to bigger cities in neighboring states to take in a baseball game, go shopping and/or see friends. but this December, we will also embark on a Black Hills (South Dakota) family vacation with my parents, my brother and his girlfriend, and their new Yellow Lab puppy, Copper.

we’re excited to cozy up in a cabin with snowy mountain views, to play board game after board game, and to (hopefully) teach sweet L how to ski, all while soaking up time as a family unit. it’ll be my family’s first real getaway in a very, very long time, and we know that introducing our boys to the magic of the mountains in the wintertime will be an experience that they won’t soon forget. in short, we couldn’t be more excited. hopefully, we’ll recreate moments like this, except with four people (and no babies – sob!) in the photo:

Hills-2012

that’s all the news that i have from our world – what’s new with you?

four.

Lionel-Conner

Sweet Lionel Conner,

it’s hard for me to believe that four years ago, almost to this very minute, you joined our sweet family. time has seemingly evaporated since the moment in which i first met you, so much so that i have begged you in recent days to be 2 years old instead of 4. “you can’t go backwards, Mama,” you said to me, giggling at the prospect of turning yourself back into a baby. i tell you frequently that i still remember when you were a baby, and though i’m sure that my mama hormones have me forgetting all of the hard times, i recall your baby self as such a joy, Lionel.

but your sweet self today, Lionel, at age four, is joyous in a totally different and wholly fulfilling way. you are hilarious, yet kind; just yesterday, when i asked you who would win in a contest – Mama or Daddy – you quickly said “Daddy,” and when Mama’s face fell, you said, “but you can be the champion, Mama – Daddy’s just the best.”

you are precocious and stubborn, sometimes to a fault; your brain is full of ideas {“i don’t like showers. i’ll like showers when i’m a Daddy”}, and you, like your Mama, want things just so, which is especially evident when you play sports {“baseball players stand, Mama, not sit”}.

your little life is full of so much joy, Honey Bear, and you radiate that joy to all of those around you.

you are so, so loved, Lionel Conner.

all my heart,
Mama

{photo by Creative Kindling}

the arrival of the ‘tude.

Q-Dyeing-Eggs-Easter-2016

our dear Quincy-Bug is many things – deliciously chubby, thrives in routine, adorer of books and cars, and owner of a mega-watt smile – but he’s also posing quite the attitude in recent weeks.

wonder where he learned that? ahem.

exhibit A: Q meets the toilet.

since big brother L’s potty-training adventures began around Halloween 2015, sweet Q has also grown quite fascinated with all things potty-related. so, it was no surprise to me that Q often joins me in the bathroom each morning as i ready myself for work.

but last week, things took a turn.

Q-Flushing-Toilet-April-2016

the boy discovered that not only could he reach the flush handle on the toilet, but that he also knew how it worked.

in other words, we’re taking donations for our water bill, which is sure to skyrocket.

exhibit B: the “all done” flop.

Q has become quite the book lover this spring. among his favorites: Eight Silly Monkeys, Go Mater and Chicka Chicka ABC.

Q-Books-March-2016

however, our Q-Bug is not an equal opportunity lover of books…no…he’s much more of a one-book man. while i’m telling myself that this is a positive sign for his future forays in the world of romance, it’s quite amusing to watch how this devotion plays out currently.

the scene: Daddy and Q are seated on the floor of our living room, reading Chicka Chicka ABC together. Mama is watching from the kitchen.

as Daddy finishes the story and closes the book, Q begins stroking his belly, using his interpretation of the sign for “please” to communicate his desire to read the story again.

Daddy obliges…and then obliges another time, leaving this reading session’s book count at one book, read three times in a row.

after the third round, Q’s hand again goes to his belly, yet this time, each upward and downward stroke of his hand on his chubby middle becomes more and more fervent, more determined. it’s almost like he’s anticipating the “no” that’s imminent.

after a short pause, i hear it: “all done,” Daddy says, as he flips his hands from palm-away to palm-out, using the sign for “all done,” which our boy understands.

and then, it happens. the “all done” flop.

Q throws himself out of Daddy’s lap, wrenches his chub-filled body so that his belly is akin to the floor, and buries his face in the carpet, wails emitting from his saddened face like a lamb bleating for its mama. it’s quite dramatic, and given that he is my child, quite typical.

* * *

i could go on and on with countless examples, but rest assured: things have certainly been an adventure with this boy, right from the start. and even though i joke about trading him in for a new model (one who is, ahem, female – this mama wants a girl someday), i love this little bugger as high as the moon is hung in the sky.

weaning Q: photos to treasure.

as i mentioned in my post last week about our decision to move L into his own big-boy bedroom downstairs, part of the decision was impacted by my nursing relationship with Q. as i did with his big brother before him, i nursed Q for a total of 15 months, and despite some hiccups with my supply when i returned to work, our breastfeeding relationship was wonderful and fulfilling.

when reflecting back on the two growing boys that i nursed, is that in the early weeks of motherhood and breastfeeding L, i felt so, for lack of a better word, confined and tied down to my “job” as his sole food provider. now, i know that the biggest culprit behind those feelings was the fact that i was a brand-new mama who was doing all of this for the first time, but what’s interesting to me is that i never, ever felt this way when nursing Q. perhaps it has something to do with the fact that i was still reeling from his unexpected early birth and subsequent time in the NICU, or maybe it was simply the blessing of my status as Mom 2.0 to two children, but it was so, so different. while i certainly treasured my nursing relationship with L, as i reflected here, it was more of a battle to appreciate, at least at first, the ability to meet his needs in such a meaningful and intense way. but with Q, i was likely more prepared for that responsibility, and instead of battling against it or feeling emotionally drained by it, i soaked it up – i relished it.

when it came time to wean Q, as i mentioned in my post last week, we did it in stages; we day-weaned Q in December 2015, and a few weeks later, we then weaned him to only nurse one time per day, right before bed. in mid-February, i would be traveling away for a few nights for a work conference, so i felt strongly that a few nights before i left marked a good time to “make the break,” so to speak.

on Monday, February 15, i contacted my sister-in-law, Larissa, and i asked her if she’d be interested in snapping a few photos later that evening of me nursing Q for the very last time. she was kind enough to take photos of me nursing baby L, and i am so appreciative of those photos.

here’s me and L in the midst of our nursing relationship:

Sara-L-Nursing

thankfully, Larissa agreed to stop by, and what follows in this post are photos that i so treasure, for they capture this special time in my life, and in Q’s life, when we were bonded so inextricably close together. many, many thanks to Larissa for taking these special photos!

here’s me and my sweet Q:

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Sara-Q-Nursing-5

Sara-Q-Nursing-2

Sara-Q-Nursing-3

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