Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My Story: Endometriosis, Part II

To recapitulate briefly, I finished Part I with explaining that I used depo provera for 5 years. It initially is the only substance that brought any semblance of relief. It was also cheaper than birth control pills ($30 a month for pills versus $30 every three months for a shot in the rear). I stopped using depo the spring of my second year of teaching high school.

I had no relief any longer from it, and the fear of what faced me was diminishing with the looming summer months to "recuperate" and balance.

That was fun. No, it wasn't. Not at all. My body was so dependent on the shot that I was thrown into a frenzy the likes of which I can still, 7 years later, remember all too well. I had the most debilitating insomnia one can imagine, coupled with hypersensitivity to noise, light, touch - I honestly felt I could relate to Roderick Usher's malady in Poe's story. When I finally DID fall asleep, a mere creak of floor boards would awaken me and it would take me hours to sleep again. 

On top of the insomnia, my chest grew - in size and sensitivity. My breasts were so painful I had to wear a sports bra every moment of every day. I had to tip toe up and down stairs. I couldn't even hug my husband. 

I had hot flashes and cold sweats. And I was in pain and irritable. Thank heavens we were out of school. On my own, I started journaling the symptoms I had every day and the level of pain (1-10) I felt and where it was located.

I saw the doctor, again, after these lovely symptoms didn't subside before school began, and he told me to start keeping my basal temperature. He also made copies of all my notes to keep in my file. I did as he asked for the next 6 months. I also did everything I could on my own to encourage my natural health - exercised regularly, increased the amount of water I drank in addition to green tea and cranberry juice (I had a kidney stone the fall of my second year teaching. That was miserable!), and ate as cleanly as I could. The sleep balanced more, but I am still an incredibly light sleeper.

After returning to the doctor with what I thought was proof that my body, over a year after halting the depo, wasn't balancing out, he gave a perfunctory glance to my charts and said it looked good. I was flabbergasted. I had no idea what I was supposed to see, but to me, my basal temperature was all over the place. One day I was 96.1, the next I was 99.4. How is that evening out? 

He asked if we were intimate. I said yes. And that is when I got his attention. He asked what birth control we were using. I said we weren't because, let's face it, I was all over the place. There is no way we were going to have a viable egg fertilized; and then his jaw dropped.

Everything I had done. Everything I had recorded and monitored. And the only thing that made him pause was the fact that I wasn't pregnant. Then, the doctor told me he wanted to run fertility tests. 

I thought I could smack him. First of all, why NOW? What was it about not being pregnant that made him suddenly realize something serious was going on? And second of all, what good would that do? Steve and I are rather set against forcing something that isn't meant to be to happen. If we couldn't have kids, we couldn't have kids. I have nearly 200 every year that are mine. Even after they leave my classroom. Why would I waste money and time and stress on tests that will show what I already knew?

At that point, he had nothing else to offer me. He knew I was set against trying another pill, shot, implant, etc. until I finally found some natural balance. So he told me to let him know if anything changed and sent me on my way. I was confused, angry, and dumbfounded. I felt neglected and just set adrift. He did offer one suggestion, though. He recommended that, since we weren't using any protection, to start taking prenatal vitamins, just in case. And it was a big "Just In Case."

Steve and I scoffed and started saving money for Europe. If we couldn't have kids, we would do everything else we'd always wanted to do. But I'm rather glad I listened to that last bit of advice. After another 8 months, my body finally sorted itself out. The first semester of school ended and I felt odd. 


Pleasant, even.

The last day of first semester exams, I took a pregnancy test, fully expecting to see the "Not" symbol. Imagine my shock, my surprise, my delight in seeing the two straight lines, instead. We were pregnant. It was wholly unexpected. We had written it all off and were going to Europe. Weren't we?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Unexpected Realizations - Lesson Planning for Freshmen

I've said the Pledge of Allegiance on a nearly daily basis for over 20 years.

For awhile, when I was the student, there were times it became rote. I would stand for the required 20 second speech, hand over heart, and my mind would switch off while my brain spoke. At other times, usually when the speaker we all followed like lemmings had longer pauses than accustomed to, I would think about what I was saying and it would have a fresh impact on me.

Then, someone some where in my life pointed out Red Skelton's vignette from his show and I was amazed.  I was already out of high school at this time but it made me thankful to have the sincere meaning stressed to me again. I promised myself that if I went into teaching, I would have a lesson based on the Pledge in hopes of reminding the wave after wave of young people I encountered why we celebrate Independence Day, why Memorial Day is so important, why we need to treat our veterans with respect and compassion. Considering how many of "my kids" have gone into the military since I started teaching, this is even more important to me.

At the end of this past school year, I was in a full-fledged creative flow. Steve even expressed surprise at each new project I began, and seemed dubious about my dedication to finish them all. I'd been itching for months to let my creativity out of hiding, and the constructing of a Pinterest account in addition to impending summer months with a child old enough to participate increased my endeavors.

Although I've worked my various creative side on numerous projects, I'm still feeling a little unfulfilled. Many of the projects I've developed over the past two months (beginning before school let out) were toddler/preschooler based. I am still yearning to stretch my own muscles before they atrophy.

Yesterday I was running errands. I took a different route to a store for a change of scenery.  While paused at a stop light I've driven past countless times, I noticed one of the metallic historical markers that explained the significance of William Fleming, a physician and member of the military who lived in Virginia during the late 1700s. I was struck by this marker that is probably ignored 99% of the time people drive past it.
Just like my reawakening to the importance of the Pledge of Allegiance every time I stop and think about each line, I was shocked to realize how little I knew about William Fleming. I was horrified to think of how little I knew about William Byrd, even though I've looked him up. And I've taught Patrick Henry's speech to the Virginia Convention, but how much do I actually know about the man?
William Byrd II
Eureka! I am teaching freshmen again this year. It has been... 6 years? since I've taught the general freshman classes. Since then, our standards have changed and a much larger influence is placed on nonfiction literature, on vocabulary, on grammatical construction. Since these students are new to the high school scene, why not ensure they have a full understanding of the importance of their own school's namesake? Why not research the buildings in this area that have been named after those who had an impact on this community and develop their appreciation of their hometown? The lesson will accomplish, hopefully, much more than mere preparation for their benchmark tests.

And as I'm pondering this idea, I realize that my creativity has been flowing the entire summer - just in a different canal than the one I intended. I've been thinking and rethinking my lessons - what I've done in the past, what I can salvage, what needs to be completely trashed or can survive an alteration, since May. What I didn't realize was that, as I was making cardboard box rockets, or hand print t-shirts, or canning jam or cleaning out the closets, I was doing what I've wanted to do.

I still need my time this summer. I still have many projects - some for me, some for Syd, to accomplish. But I am feeling a quickening. I am excited for next school year. I am by no means ready for it, but I am looking forward to implementing my new ideas. And I'm amazed by the little things, like an historical marker, that inspire me every day.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

My Story: Endometriosis, Part I

I've only known one stretch in time when I was pain free. The 10 months I was pregnant was the most relaxing, enjoyable period in my life, aside from the normal discomfort that comes w/ carrying a baby. I have distinct memories of obtaining amazing abs in college because the only thing that alleviated my pain was rocking back and forth or, when I wearied, sit-ups or crunches. 

It started at around 16 years. At this time, what I experienced was what one may generally think painful cycles would include: severe bloating, cramping during the cycle, irritability, etc. I had a doctor who tended to believe I was merely an "hysterical" (ba dum tsss) teenager who blew her symptoms out of proportion.

My mother had a full hysterectomy when I was a senior in high school, and call me crazy, but I had a bad feeling regarding what that portended for my own health. 

I had my first laparoscopy, under the patronizing doctor, my sophomore year of college. I was officially diagnosed with Endometriosis. Essentially, the uterine lining that is supposed to slough off and exit the body was growing outside my reproductive system. When the hormones signaling the end of the cycle begin, the cells have nowhere to go and pool, causing immense pain, bloating, digestive issues, nausea, etc. If it is severe enough, they can form a binding of the organs, limiting movement, increasing the pain, and limiting fertility. 
Photo Courtesy of http://medeasy.me/2012/05/17/ch-14-endometriosis/
At the time of my laparoscopy, I was a residential assistant and had to wheel myself through the halls on a desk chair because the pain as well as the pain pills were pretty interesting for someone who never touched anything other than chocolate. This first surgery was diagnostic as opposed to a form of treatment. Once inside, the doctor did try to zap a few cell clusters with a CO2 laser, but he knew he wasn't able to find everything. Over the next few years, I went through 3 different brands of birth control pills trying to control, well, everything.

I had my second laparoscopy after I graduated from college but before I started graduate school. At this point, I was put on what was, at the time, an experimental drug, that caused me to become menopausal for almost a year. Let me tell you - I am dreading the time I have to experience that in real life. It was miserable. And to top it off, we went through a heat wave that summer that made me feel as though I were cooking inside and out.

By this time, Steve and I were both asking the doctors if they would perform an hysterectomy just so I could have some quality of life. The list of symptoms I experience(d) grew exponentially, and varied as much as and as often as the weather changes. As soon as something weird crops up, I first have to attribute it to my fluctuating hormone levels before I can look to anything else. Doctors refused, stating we were too young to know that was what we truly wanted. I dare any of them to feel what I felt and not think that would be desired.

After the Lupron, I went through another doctor and 2 brands of birth control pills before finally trying depo provera. I started the depo after graduating with my Master's. Depo offered me some relief, finally, but my body quickly adapted to it and it began to be a surface relief and a crutch. I was so terrified of what I would experience if I stopped it, that I kept using it. I was also told that we would be lucky to have children at all, as it seemed most of my system was compromised.

Depo is only supposed to be used for up to 3 years. I used it for 5. It sucks the calcium from your bones, so I stopped the depo and had a bone density scan to ensure the safety of my skeletal health. Because of the lovely side effect of most (all?) birth control, I fought long and hard against weight gain, losing grandly. However, the weight-bearing exercises I had been using kept my bones strong enough to fight off the use of the depo.

This is where my story begins to veer, and thus, the end to part I.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

My Story: Endometriosis - The Grand Reveal

I am currently reading Candide, by Voltaire. One take-away lesson that has struck me repeatedly, as it did young Candide, was the fact that everyone has his own story. Everyone has his own struggles, his own demons, his own trials and tribulations to face and conquer. And let's face it - we don't often speak of the ills we each suffer, candidly, unless we're amongst those we trust or those we feel we will never see again.

In my years as an educator, especially of high school teenagers who all know so much more and so much better than I, I have found it important to not dance around issues pertaining to the mature adult. I'm not saying I talk about intimate details of my life, but I certainly don't sugar-coat what it was like being pregnant, nursing, dealing w/ rushing out of the classroom to rescue my son from excruciating ear infection pain his first year of preschool, etc. And I do not feel a need to hesitate or change the class discussion when my students ask me when we were going to have another child. "I can't." I say, as easily as I next claim to "love chocolate." Only a few get nosey at that point, but most just accept it and turn back to asking someone for gum or a dollar to get a drink out of the vending machine.

My point in this digression is to state that I am done dancing around the issues. I am truly on my last chance to get my health in order, or I will have no other choice but to have a full hysterectomy. I would prefer not to do that. I've done the drugs (one was even experimental - yes, I was a lab rat), the surgeries (yup - multiple), and various other methods of controlling the symptoms and the pain.

I found a blog that discusses using yoga to treat endometriosis. Dorothy states, very concisely, "But that is how it is with chronic pain.  The pain takes over and you begin to just endure it.   You angrily accept that pain is a way of life and that you are powerless against it.  You stop searching for ways to feel better.  You don't sleep right, your eating habits get all crazy, your digestion goes all out of whack, and you get irritable.  It's frustrating, depressing, and downright exhausting!" I couldn't have said it more succinctly myself. I am tired of being angry about the pain, discomfort, and various other aspects of endometriosis, and I am exhausted w/ trying to hide what I've been feeling.

In light of the fact that I've felt almost like a pariah because, well, we don't speak of women's health openly, I am saying enough. Enough not letting it out in the open. Enough dancing around why I just can't get on the ground and play with my son. Enough hiding the fact that I'm close to passing out in class. Enough of it all. I've seen, through my research, that I am not the only one who was scared to talk. I am not the only one to suffer. And maybe - just maybe, I'll have some tidbit of information that will help another woman experiencing the same struggles.

Endometriosis be damned - this is my tale.