Wednesday Weeps

This entry will only be a few lines long but I want to simply write them from my heart (no draft) as it is something I need to process (and writing helps me do this) and as always, I hope my sharing can help one of you too.

I often say everyone needs compassion and you don’t have to look far to find someone in need. Everybody hurts sometimes. January 2nd marks the anniversary of my Dad’s death and this is a trigger for my family. No matter how many years go by, the memory of that day will always be sad and sting. I often share about my infertility journey, and that grief is also not a moment or a season that I can move on from. Yes, I have moved forward and the experience has made me who I am today, but I will always carry it with me. It is possible to be broken and strong at the same time and it is indeed okay to ‘still’ weep when I think of the pain of losing those I love, despite being able to smile and enjoy life between the brokenness. It is hard for others to understand and fear of judgement keeps us from being vulnerable but don’t let that stop you if you feel the need to share or shed a tear.

We cannot always tell if someone is happy or sad. But what we can do when we see them hurting, is to weep with them. Allow them to have their grief and hold back from judging and giving advice.

Let people have their journey and be gentle while they move forward the best they can.

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It Takes Guts To Grieve

There is a lot that has been written on the stages of grief. Usually they are listed in chronological order: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Mourning, Acceptance.

This week I have had a few unexpected conversations with a variety of people about loss. This has ranged from the death of a family member, to personal belongings destroyed in a fire, to the loss of a dream as doors have been closed.

I love lists and neatly ticking boxes as I complete each task, however, I find my ‘stages’ often overlap and even go in circles (and I’m not alone!) When I think I am making progress and weeks go by without an incident or breakdown, suddenly something will trigger a memory and tears will slip down my cheeks. I often get a physical ache in my heart or stomach as the pain demands to be felt but I think this is natural and necessary and I’ve learned not to fight it and rather see it through.

“Grief is like an earthquake. The first one hits you and the world falls apart. Even after you put the world together again there are aftershocks, and you never really know when those will come.” -Unknown

About 10 years ago my infertility journey had me messed up. Properly! The loss of control, especially over the ability to predict the future, led to frustration and desperation. The compounded feelings of helplessness and the strain of treatments and even low self-esteem all contributed to bringing on depression. I recently saw my friend’s Strava profile after he had put his Garmin watch on his dog and let him run around the garden. It was a messy maze and looked like a toddler’s scribble all over the page! It’s a good illustration of my grief graph, especially in the early days when my empty womb was a heavy burden to carry.

Loneliness is a huge factor, which is why I take the risk to share my story and help others break free of the isolation by bringing these topics into the light. You feel that nobody understands. You cry, sometimes in public, but mostly in private, as you mourn the loss of your dream, until eventually you reach the point of acceptance. Although the pain never completely disappears, through my writing, running and fitness adventures, I have been able to reach others and encourage them. This has helped me gain a sense of purpose and the ache becomes more manageable. However, like I mentioned in the beginning, there are still times when an insensitive comment can trigger anger and hurt and I backslide a few ‘stages’ again.

It’s unrealistic to expect us to all follow these steps and then graduate and be done with it. I believe my tough days will never completely disappear but they do diminish, in frequency and intensity. Taking control of your negative thoughts is also vital, while maintaining an attitude of gratitude. Instead of seeing ‘acceptance’ as the goal, it’s more about adapting and coping.

“It’s okay not to be okay as long as you are not giving up.” – K. Salmansohn

From Pain To Purpose To Podium

On Sunday I joined 620 other runners as we made our way to Nagle Dam for the 1000 Hills Challenge. This is an epic, tough event and for many (like me) it was the first time visiting this hidden gem, tucked in the upper reaches of the Valley of 1000 Hills. It has become one of KZN Trail Running’s premier races and a highlight on the trail running calender. With 5km, 10km, 20km and 38km options, there was something for everyone.

With the picturesque rural setting of Msinsi Nagle Dam, the unspoilt bushveld and the breath-taking beauty of the route, we were able to endure the tough terrain and steep climbs, because the joy of absorbing your surroundings, made the challenge worthwhile. I felt privileged to be there. Wildlife like zebra were around too and gave another unique experience to the event.

From an adventurous river crossing to running through the tunnel under the dam, these new experiences are ones I will treasure forever. An unexpected highlight was winning the 20km ladies race and it is a moment I will never forget. My trail family made me feel so welcome and we all had a great morning relaxing in the sunshine afterwards, enjoying the festive atmosphere.

Running the trails has helped me overcome an emotional last few weeks and it reminded me that every season of life has a purpose. For some reason I have been drawn to the wilderness and dirt roads and found them to be the perfect metaphor for this stage of my journey. Like the terrain we run on, you go through mountains and valleys, get caught in currents and often need others to help you through those difficult patches, until you find yourself on dry land again. However, just when you think it is going smoothly, you hit another rocky road and have to reassess your game plan.

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Many years ago, I wrote a book entitled “Whole Pieces”. Through my infertility journey I realized if you trust God with the shattered pieces of your life, He can make something good out of it. Not everything is good. There is so much we all endure that is plain awful! But in time, God can take the very thing that you are battling with and turn it around to use for good as He intends. I have seen this happen in my own life several times and want to encourage you to never give up and know your pain can be used for purpose.

 

How To Be A Supportive Friend To Someone Who Is Hurting

I was asked by someone today to please give them advice on how to support a family member who is struggling with infertility. As always, I am honoured that others still come to me for help and yet every time I panic. What do I say? Every situation is different and I remember my journey was incredibly hard in the beginning and nobody could say the right thing.

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This question comes up often and I have explored it over the years but I thought it was worth writing about again, immediately, not only for this family who are feeling desperate but perhaps in between the lines you can find chunks of helpful information to comfort someone you know who is also hurting, regardless of the circumstances.

Struggling with infertility is not easy because everywhere you turn, you are reminded of the hole in your heart. You are surrounded by babies, prams and pregnant bellies in the shops, at work, at church and it hurts. It makes you want to withdraw from society and at the same time, this makes it hard for your loved ones to know what to do.

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As I said in the beginning, every person is different, so it is impossible to give a blanket answer here. Being a good friend to an infertile is not easy. The situation may change from one day to the next and you have to be prepared for that. Sometimes no matter what you try, you will never get it right but a huge first step is to let them know that you acknowledge how hard it is for them. A good friend never judges. Show them empathy.

Also educate yourself about their situation (this will help avoid offering pointless advice) and don’t try cheer them up by minimizing their pain (“Want kids? You can borrow mine for the weekend!”)

NEVER SAY ‘JUST RELAX.’ (Would you tell someone who can’t see to just relax? No!) Relaxing will not change the medical diagnosis causing infertility.

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I’m a hardcore vet at this now and have gone through the intense pain of the dark years and while it is unbelievably hard, it is no longer all-consuming. However, everyone moves through stages at their own pace. It can vary from a friend who is at the early stages and is still full of hope and optimism, to the one that is heavily involved in treatment and is carrying great pain (although may not show it). When your loved one is in the dark stage and everything has the power to hurt them it is often best to offer friendship and support from a distance.

It usually has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the situation they find themselves in, as they struggle to cope with their reality. Let them know that you are here for them if they want to talk or cry or scream! But also let them know that if they don’t want to do any of those things, it is okay. You will wait and be there when they are ready. That’s the best advice I can give. If in doubt, ask them. If they don’t want to talk about it, respect that and don’t push.

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I hope this helps someone who needs to hear it today.

Thank you to all my friends who have stuck it out with me.

Fishing For Compliments

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I recently watched an episode of a reality show where a woman in her early twenties created a fake online profile and cultivated deceptive relationships that were based on a lie – she pretended to be someone she was not. Although the scam was a success at first, it eventually ended up hurting her and those she interacted with and after much damage had been done, she came clean by revealing her true identity. Many tears were shed.

This young woman’s heart was filled with shame and she felt she didn’t measure up to the world’s standards, having experienced rejection time and time again. Like many of us, she had come to believe that some parts of her were flawed and most of this thinking was a result of wounds she had received growing up. If you don’t believe you are worthy of love as a child, it is difficult to believe you are worthy of love as an adult. I think many of us can relate to this. I know I certainly can. It’s only by God’s grace that you slowly start to heal and realize how valuable you are.

Her painful past was causing her to have a warped view of herself and the way she interacted with the world. She turned to social media to seek romance based on false pretences, yet creating fake profile photos and elaborate hobby lists didn’t fill her void and the more she tried to be liked, the more extravagant her stories and lies became. Thankfully, by the end of the show she managed to find the help she needed to free her from this prison and accept herself for the beautiful person she truly was.

The desperate need for affirmation and love sees many people turning to others, often complete strangers, for approval and validation and social media is their platform of choice. It is a vicious circle as everyone tries to keep up with everyone else, when in reality we are all battling with similar insecurities and would be better off being honest about our struggles.

There is no need to reveal your heart on your Timeline if you don’t want to but I think part of the reason we are often “tired” is because we spend so much time and energy trying to keep up appearances and upload our own version of a fake profile picture by wearing masks and pretending everything is fine, when clearly it isn’t.

The good news is that you are not alone and I don’t have all the answers but I do know that sometimes a good cry is a healthy way of letting yourself grieve. There is no reason to fear abandonment, shame or rejection if you let the tears flow. Even if you do it in private, simply letting it all out, allowing yourself to feel again instead of suppressing the emotions, is an important step in the healing process.

“The tears … streamed down, and I let them flow as freely as they would, making of them a pillow for my heart. On them it rested.” (Augustine – Confessions)

Healing Hearts

In my previous post I mentioned my current health struggles but am grateful to share I am feeling better, have embraced my extra heartbeat and we are working well together!

Most of the people we come into contact with are fighting some kind of battle, which is why I strongly believe we need to show compassion to everyone we meet. My heart no longer aches physically but it still gets stabbing emotional pains as I empathize with those who are battling a variety of hurts and often wrongly conclude they are not worthy of love and feel like failures.

Although I have become a bit of a poster child for infertility, I relate to many other journeys beyond this realm as pain is universal, which means although our stories are all different, we can still have empathy for one another. However, it is always a blessing to find someone who has walked the path you are on and this week I had a lady express how grateful she was when she learnt I didn’t have children (I knew what she meant, despite it sounding strange) because now she doesn’t have to feel alone. Although there is an instant bond, I never presume to know how someone feels, even if we have shared a similar situation, as no two circumstances are exactly the same.

Most of the time I don’t know what to say when faced with friends weeping bitterly in my presence but I do my best to simply be there for them and ask them what they need. Usually it is company (often turning up with food does wonders too!) not advice, that is the most helpful.

“Advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.” (Gildor to Frodo, The Lord of the Rings)

One of the worst kinds of advice is the “cheer up” remarks people offer, especially when the pain is still new and raw. People don’t want to be told to ‘look on the bright side’, when they first receive devastating news. Proverbs 25:20 says: “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.”

I also remember being terribly hurt every time someone told me I shouldn’t feel bad about being infertile because having kids is hard. I actually should be happy I have it so easy. (I am sure my heart used to throw out an extra beat or ten at times like that!) Would they be happier if someone came and took their kids away!? Of course we have to give each other grace and often they don’t mean to be hurtful but we all need to learn to pause before we speak and think first, before blurting out throwaway comments like these.

“The tongue has no bones, but is strong enough to break a heart. So be careful with your words.” (unknown)

Whole Pieces

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“Until the lion learns to write, every story will always glorify the hunter.” (African Proverb)

When two of my friends announced their pregnancies this week, my whole being was shaken and I couldn’t believe my body could still physically react in this way. Come on Debs, this is pathetic, get over it already! I was so frustrated. 24 hours later, I had a strong sense of gratitude engulf me, when I realized how far I have come, since those days when news like this would send me into a downward spiral of depression and now, by the grace of God, I can weep and grieve, yet embrace the life I have wholeheartedly and move forward.

Below is an extract from my book “Whole Pieces” which is compilation of some of the emails, journal entries and poems I wrote during the first five years of my infertility journey. Over the next few weeks I will share various passages from the book and my prayer is that perhaps you will be able to relate to some of the more common raw emotions we all experience in our daily lives: the searching, suffering, smiles and silliness that emerge from everyday trials and triumphs.

2 July 2007

“…I have always found it helpful to write down my thoughts when working through a crisis. So here is some of what I have tried to figure out during the last few days…maybe it will be helpful to you too someday, when your faith is challenged and you don’t know how to handle it.

Expect confusing experiences in your life, and see them as an opportunity for your faith to grow. In situations like this, when you feel betrayed and wounded in spirit by an experience you don’t understand, trust God. Any other approach would be silly. Don’t lean on your own understanding. If I look over all the pieces of this story, how every step came together and how wisdom was always sought through prayer beforehand, it doesn’t make sense that in the end the final pieces don’t fit. It is confusing and honestly so tempting to fall into despair. But God has seen every tear we have shed and was with us every step of the way.

We know in our hearts we did the best we could and to walk around bitter now would destroy us spiritually and emotionally. That would be a waste. We’ve learnt, we’ve grown, and hopefully bring glory to God by our example and behaviour.

May our pain be someone else’s gain.”

A Bittersweet Battle

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

“A person who lives in faith must proceed on incomplete evidence, trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” (Philip Yancey)

God understands your pain and knows what you are feeling. You aren’t alone. Since writing my previous blog, “Good Grief” my circumstances may not have changed but I do feel I am finally climbing out of the pit I found myself in. I am getting better at sharing my pain but when prayer is not answered it is easy to get discouraged. During the waiting period doubt, disappointment and depression can sink in and I have experienced all of these.

Our thoughts are especially important at this time and I have had to renew my mind daily and change my thinking. Often when I am feeling my worst, I realise it is because I am thinking about the wrong things and I have to examine my thought life – think about what I am thinking about. You have to go through grief. There is no way around it and if we don’t express our emotions, that is when we get stuck. If we don’t deal with it now then years down the line we will keep reacting to something that happened a long time ago.

You may not be able to control the pain you go through but you can decide whether it is going to make you bitter or better. I often don’t have the words to describe how I am feeling and the most I can manage is “God, help me!” At times like these this verse is great:

“The moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayers out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.” (Romans 8:26)

We all experience physical and emotional exhaustion. We are all broken, and at times want to give up. God will meet you there. When you feel like you are sinking and you don’t know how you are going to keep going. God will meet you there. Out of the ruins of whatever you may be experiencing right now, believe that beauty will rise and with God’s help, you will triumph over your suffering.

Good Grief

I have had a particularly difficult start to the year and feel like I am going crazy! There is so much to unravel and most of my words have found themselves tossed aside on scrunched up pieces of paper, never to be read. However, I am not willing to settle in a corner and sulk and am determined to push through and in doing so, share my sporadic thoughts, as disjointed as they may be.

I keep asking myself, what pain am I prepared to sustain in order to achieve what I want from life? This applies to both physical and emotional pain and is something I began to explore in my previous post: “Start-Struggle-Finish” where I encouraged us to not skip the struggle and instead fight for what is important, even if it uncomfortable.

“Back to school” has been trending and I think it has impacted my wounds more this year than ever before. I manage to hide my sadness well when chatting to friends, who zealously share the excitement of their children bravely settling into a new class. Although I do want to hear the news, and don’t want to be excluded, there are also times when I feel trapped and can hardly wait for the conversation to be over. On those days all I want to do is close my eyes and not open them until the aching has stopped.

People will say how can you still feel this strongly after so many years? For me, grieving over infertility and longing for that genetic link is normal. To be told “you shouldn’t feel that way” is hurtful. The loss of a dream, any dream, is hard to process. It isn’t a death or an event that you can mark the occasion and move on. There is no end. It’s hard to explain what I mean, which is why these are the kind of thoughts I mentioned earlier that should perhaps stay on those discarded pieces of paper!

I hope by continuing to be open about my feelings it helps you realise that it’s okay to be a work in progress and you’re allowed to be vulnerable and not have everything figured out. You are allowed to grieve and be a mess! I realised this week that I still grieve over shattered dreams and it is not something that I will ever get over. It has changed me and although I don’t let it control my life anymore (and I can say that with confidence), it is always there. It is a part of me and I am not going to be ashamed or embarrassed to admit, from time to time, those deep emotions surface and rip my heart to shreds.

“Weeping is a sign of health here on earth. Isn’t that a chilling omen? Not laughter, but tears is the life sign.” (Calvin Miller)

World Book Day

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I have always loved reading and writing and a few years ago I published my own book, entitled “Pain to Purpose”. The book is a compilation of some of the emails, journal entries and poems I wrote during the first five years of my infertility journey. It is a very basic, softcover book, only 80 pages in total and yet from its humble beginnings, this personal project went from being “just for me” to having almost 200 people request copies of their own. God took a journey that was once very private and painful and turned it into something powerful, healing and beautiful. Infertility may be the topic, but I hoped the reader would be able to relate to some of the more common raw emotions we all experience in our daily lives: the searching, suffering, smiles and silliness that emerge from everyday trials and triumphs.

Since today is “World Book Day” I thought it would be interesting to take a trip down memory lane and share some extracts with you:

“First it was one, then another two. Painfully I lost the three of you. A few short weeks was all we had. May I grieve, Lord, perhaps be mad? You gave them to me, then took them away. It was hard to understand you on that day. My dream to become a mom has not come true. But I’m doing my best to bring glory to You.” (Page 14)

“9 March 2007 – Dear Family and Friends….Here is some unexpected news for you… Bruce and I have been dealing with an ongoing battle to have children for just over two years now and had decided to keep this private, even though it meant losing out on the support of family and friends. It was going to stay that way, but a series of recent events made us realise we now need to share it with you all, so you can understand where we stand and to clear up any future questions.” (page 19)

“The fertilization was a success and two days later, they put them back in (this is called an embryo transfer, also done in theatre). Quite an amazing experience. I cannot describe the feeling when you see the embryos moving around before your eyes.” (page 21)

“I’ve never been (still am) so devastated and traumatized in my whole life. I just had to accept that I was losing my twins and was helpless to save them. Experiencing a miscarriage after all we’ve been through is too hard to understand.” (page 23)

“14-06-2007 – I am praying for our little frozen specs today. May they thaw well and grow strong. I know Your hand is over them, Lord. This is going to be my ministry. I can feel it. My life and testimony an example to others to bring glory to You. How exciting! My hope is in You. No one else. Nothing else. I trust You with my life and the lives of my unborn children.” (page 36)

“After all the prayers, emotional, physical, mental and financial sacrifices, years of trying…it ends like this. Can’t comprehend it right now.” (page 43)

“In spite of our disappointment and present confusion we still hold on to the belief that God sees the overall picture of our lives and has great things in store for Bruce and me. We will continue trusting in Him, as this is the key to victory in any painful and seemingly unjust situation…” (page 60)

“I haven’t got perfect patience or answers but I have learnt a few things, which I pray will help you too. Like how important it is to appreciate and respect a waiting period in your life. God doesn’t owe me a baby or an explanation, He simply wants me to keep trusting Him. Have faith in His perfect timing. Rest in Him. Be kind to yourself too and don’t forget to enjoy each day. Embrace where you are now!” (page 14)