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At any given time, my days could be reflected by one or more of the shades in the picture above. Bright, intense golds and reds of happiness. Serene blue. Or moody darkness. In a sunset photograph, they make a picturesque combination. In my body and mind, the combination can be tumultuous and frustrating.

And this year has been particularly tumultuous and frustrating…

The multi-facetedness of being a mom and wife is often overwhelming. We all know what it’s like – between shopping, sorting, cleaning, cooking, lifting, nursing, reading, bathing, feeding, helping, disciplining and loving, there seems to be little room to breathe, never mind relax. Add in being a homeschooling parent, and it just seems all a little crazy.

But, I do love it.  I honestly absolutely love home schooling my kids.  Not all the time, mind you.  Some days I want to throw things, shout at children, give up and cry.  Some days I do.  Other days run smoothly, or we have a break through, or an unexpected diversion that is rich with living learning.  I like those days.  Mostly, I blog about those days.  They’re the days I want to remember most with my kids.  But sometimes I blog about the hard days.  I remember a particular manic episode a few years ago with 4 kids, 7 years and under in a dining hall that could only be recorded with humour as the alternative was too depressing.  I’ve shared about a couple of times when my kids’ ministered to me after my own appalling behaviour.  Or a day that went completely awry only to be redeemed the next in such a way that I could claim zero credit.  I’ve even written about the contradiction that I am.  They’re all posts about the tougher moments where I’ve learned a lesson or experience God’s grace again.

But, for the casual Hayes Happenings reader, it’s easy to assume that life is hunky dory in our household.  Posts of our kids’ homeschooling highlights far outnumber their moments of sinful anger or rudeness.  A record of a lovely holiday most likely does not include the angry words that were exchanged over a silly incident.  The brilliant colours of the sun are what feature most: they’re the moments that bring me joy, hope, understanding and learning.

But, this year I’ve spent too much time in the dark shadow of the valleys to ignore it here.  And since this SACHS Homeschooling Blog carnival is all about sharing our struggles, I guess it’s appropriate to share it here today:

For some months now, I’ve been struggling with rollercoaster moods and emotions. That “normal” day or two of monthly grumpiness that always accompanied my cycle turned into full blown depressive episodes. Over the last two or three years, I’ve begun experiencing weird health-related symptoms: trigeminal neuralgia; lump-in-throat syndrome (yes, it does exist under that name!); double vision; unexplained weight gain and … increasingly messed up cycles and episodes of extreme feelings of anger and/or sadness. I’ve never really been a depressive person. I’ve had a moment or two here or there. But, prior to the last few months, I’d never experienced weeks of despondency. My shoulders felt weighed down by a lead blanket, my heart heavy and my mind unable to really focus on anything other than the bare necessities. Even preparing supper was such an undertaking that it wasn’t unusual for the family to sit down to another Woolies-cooked-chicken-and-salad combo.  Waking up was painful – both because of my sore back and my inability to shake off a heavy tiredness.

I knew I had to get out of the cycle of emotions I was experiencing.  I couldn’t let my mood dictate my actions, but it was hard.  Especially when dealing with four kids with different needs, including a terrorist toddler, an argumentative 9-year old, a whiny 5-year old and a 7-year old child who struggles with left-brain learning and bucks anything that smacks of seatwork or repetitive tasks.  I tried getting back into good routines – exercise, bible time and planning in the morning.  I joined the Hello Mornings challenge and saw some progress in snatches.  But too soon the darkness enveloped me and I struggled even to wake up before 7am.  Some weeks I dragged myself from Monday to Friday, with the hope of having some respite over the weekend, only to have Monday arrive too soon, along with the shroud of sadness.

Yet, at the time, I didn’t fully realise how bad things had become.  Because I did have good days between it all, and because I had support systems around me, and the knowledge of God’s unfailing love, and because my kids’ learning moments still included some wonderful joyful experiences, I didn’t feel the impact of the hard times quite as badly – once they’d passed.

It was only while I was in the second week of an emotional dip, that my mother convinced me to see my GP.  And you know how mothers can be persuasive about things like that!  All the tests he ran came up normal.  It was just worsening PMS – the pill was the solution.  I’ve not taken the pill for 12 years, after discovering its abortifacient properties in 2000 and choosing to stop taking it.  While that is no longer applicable to me, I was still concerned about taking hormones.  And, after reading the pill’s package insert (ahem, mini BOOK) of hectic side effects and cancer-causing risks, I decided against taking it entirely.  It was time to figure out what was at the bottom of my tiredness and strange symptoms.  What was actually causing the worsening PMS?

My GP graciously entertained my request to do further tests and referred me to immunologist Prof Patrick Bouic of Synexa.  He would do the increasingly popular saliva test to properly ascertain what my hormone levels are like.  In the meantime, I realised that my symptoms could also fit under the umbrella of Multiple Schlerosis.  Prof Bouic agreed. It was an anxiety-ridden few days between realisation and the clear results of an MRI.  And not a big surprise when the saliva test returned with hormone levels that were wa-ay out of sync.  As in … testosterone levels through the roof and oestrogen levels so suppressed they barely featured.  It’s a wonder I haven’t grown a beard!

And so the journey of my health has begun to improve.  Prof Bouic is the most unlikely medical professional I’ve yet to meet.  He is frank, thorough and helpful. He’s garnering respect from all quarters. The unlikeliness comes from the fact that, while he studied conventional allopathic medicine and works in that field, he advocates a lot of natural medicines and approaches.   And that’s what he has recommended for me.  I’m still slap bang in the middle of the treatment to sort out my hormone levels, but three weeks into it and I can tell you this.  I feel vastly, enormously, brilliantly better!

Prof Bouic put me on a milk thistle detox for 5 days on, 2 days of, 5 days on, 2 days off.  It was the most gentle detox my body has ever experienced.  No nausea or insane headaches.  I had to ensure I cut out caffeine, drank lots of water, ate healthily and included lots of greens.  In addition to his recommendations, I cut out most of all sugar and kept up with Vit D, Omega 3, Barleylife and Spirulina supplements.  I’m now on a natural product called Testralin which aims to regulate the testosterone levels.  And that will be followed up with Estrofactors in a month’s time.

The changes are unbelievable.  While I can’t say if it’s had an effect on the neuralgia and double vision*, I can say that it has lifted my horrible sadness.  I’ve had three solid weeks of feeling unbelievably light.  And… I sleep.  I sleep well.  I wake up wide awake.  I’ve rejoined the Hello Mornings challenge for this new season.  I decided to be realistic and aim for a 7am wake up, instead of the 6am wake up of the previous challenge.  Well, most days I’ve woken before my alarm, sometimes at 5:30 along with my husband who has recently taken up early morning cycling, and I’m awake!  No dragging my body out of deep slumber and struggling to stay awake.  I feel energetic all day.  I feel motivated and inspired.  I’m cooking for my family again!  As in: budget-friendly, planned, wholesome meals.  I’ve been inspired to try new things, baking up a storm of healthy Mary-Ann Shearer sweet treat recipes.   Most surprisingly, I have no back pain.  At. All.  Before these past few weeks, I would easily get a sore back from sitting at the computer or anywhere really.  Waking up in the mornings would sometimes feel excruciating.  I would curl myself up into a ball, knees against chest, to stretch out my aching back.  5 days out of 7 would be like that.  For the last 21 days I’ve not had one little twinge of back pain, even after some long stints at the computer hunched over budget spreadsheets, blog posts or research.  I have no idea if it is related, but it’s certainly happily coincidental.

I know that this is just the beginning, but it’s a beginning with a lot of hope.  I’m excited about this journey of more healthy approach to living.  I’m grateful for the people who have helped me in so many ways and the way the Lord orchestrated some uncanny coincidences.

And I’m grateful for the journey because I am learning and appreciating so much more:  when I thought I had MS, I had a sense of being carried by God, despite the anxiety it carried.  While I was wading through the darkness, I was especially grateful for caring friends, family and support groups.  My home was managed brilliantly by my ever faithful, honest and hardworking housekeeper, Johanna – a blessing I don’t deserve.  Instead of battling through curricula “because I’ve already bought it”, as is fitting for my personality type, I ditched things midterm to find a solution that would fit the family better.  It meant we went off course a bit, but we are still floating!  And happily!  I realised that even in the midst of horrid darkness there were still many moments of saving grace, especially where established routines were concerned.

I hope to share in more detail some of the things that helped me through these last 6 months in the next post: Sharing my struggle: the sun shines

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*while I’ve not had an episode these last three weeks, they are sporadic, anyway, and usually only flare up around the beginning of my cycle.  I’ve managed the trigeminal neuralgia with Omega 3 supplements.  When I first got neuralgia, I would experience episodes of the most excruciating pain in my head. It felt like someone was stabbing a razor sharp spear right to the core of my brain through the cartilage of my ear.  The entire one side of my head would feel aflame and numb at the same time, like a terrible sunburn. The episodes would last anything from a day or two to a week or two. After months of trying to manage it with painkillers, to no avail, I stumbled across an online forum where someone recommended Omega 3s.  It works for me!  As long as I am taking my supplements daily, I do not experience episodes of stabbing pain any more.  In the last 6 months of particular bad health, I’ve had a “breakthrough” episode of the burning numbness, despite taking Omega 3s.  I am hoping and praying that by treating my hormones correctly, the breakthroughs will no longer happen and the double vision will not cross my path again!  Otherwise, this journey of discovery will have to start investigating neurological disorders and possible mercury poisoning.

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This post features on the South African Carnival of Homeschool Bloggers where South African home schoolers share experiences, ideas, philosophies and much more. You can join the carnival too by heading to the South African Carnival of Homeschool Bloggers sign up page.

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