Hazy Days

the shadow of the life to come

Hazy Days

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Sharing my struggle: the sunshine

For the last 6 months, I’ve experienced increasingly strange, frustrating and depressing health problems.  I explained in the previous post (sharing my struggle: a dark valley) about my struggle with underlying depressive episodes amongst other symptoms of ill health, before I eventually consulted various health professionals, landing up with the much respected immunologist, Prof Patrick Bouic.  In short, it was discovered that I have a hectic hormonal imbalance that needs correcting.  I am now on the road to recovery, and, while I am only 3 weeks in, I have not felt as energetic, awake, alive and happy in a very very long time.  Against the dark valley of tired, aching depressive episodes, the brilliant sunshine of improving health, energy and happiness is all the more brighter as it stands in contrast to the darkness beneath it. 

As I stand on this, albeit recent, side of a dark period of my life, I look back and see that even amongst all the darkness there was much to be grateful for, to rejoice about and to cling to. 

So, for this post, in keeping with the theme of the 2012 May SACHS Blog Carnival topic, I would like to share some of the things that helped me to cope through this difficult time and other times too.

my wonderful family

SUPPORT – family

I am blessed to have a husband who is very much hands on in the kitchen.  Weekends are mostly his gig when it comes to cooking and handling breakfasts.  Having him lift that burden from me during the rougher times was truly an enormous blessing!  My in-laws and parents are super duper helpful too.  I tend to be the independent sort – not wanting to rely on others too much.  But, the reality is that both sets of our parents love us and will look after us in ways that they can.  Most recently Craig and I had an entire long weekend of to ourselves, for the first time since in almost ten years, while grandparents whisked all four kids off to Hermanus to holiday with them.  Over and above the practical help they offer, my mom and dad pray with me and for me.  And that really is the best support of any kind.

It really is a great blessing to have close family close by.  I know so many homeschooling mommies whose families are far away.  Many of them have found other support systems, whilst some have adopted other grannies and grandpas!  I think it is well worth getting to know older couples in your church groups, neighbourhood and friendship circles.  The relationships developed benefit everyone in both families and the joy that comes from loving, sharing with and helping one another is priceless.

SUPPORT – housekeeping

I am so ever grateful for Johanna, our housekeeper, prayer warrior and example of godly living.  Without her keeping tabs on the general day-to-day cleaning of our home, I think the last 6 months would have been a thousand times worse.   I realise that not every one can afford the privilege of having someone help with the cleaning of a home, even in South Africa where house help is more common than not and is integral to job creation in our economy.  For years I had Makhulu come in weekly to help with the ironing and basic cleaning.  With tiny tots underfoot, it was a wonder that I managed to keep the house clean on the other 6 days!  Back then, I followed a lot of the FlyLady’s ideas for keeping the home running smoothly and effectively.  Planning meals and cooking two or three in advance; building the kids’ chore responsibilities; having systems for laundry, packing away, storing etc all really help towards keeping the home in running order.  Honestly, some days when the house needed to be cleaned up and I was feeling exhausted, I was so grateful that the kids knew their specific chores and could get to them with little explanation or supervision. 

SUPPORT – friends

While I was experiencing strange symptoms and increasing periods of depressive episodes, I didn’t really talk too much about it.  I was still in denial, perhaps.  Whatever it was, it took me a while to kind of "click" that something odd was going on with me.  It was only after it had crysallised in my brain that I realised that my symptoms could all be related.  Only then did I begin opening up and asking for prayer.  The love and care that I experienced was quite overwhelming.  I’ve not really been on the receiving end as I’ve not really had to go through something like this before.  Most of the time I felt mildly horrified that my struggle was causing others so much concern.  To see my friends’ eyes well up with tears made me want to cry for them!  But at the same time, I felt enormously privileged to have friends who cared so much.  They really loved and prayed me through a difficult time.  

my wonderful co op bunch

SUPPORT – Co Op

I cannot stress this enough.  Being a part of a homeschooling co-op / support group is worthwhile indeed.  Being a homeschooling parent and being a mommy are often almost indistinguishable one from the other.  Being a part of a group, where other mothers completely identify with where you are at, is more precious than silver.  Over the last 5 years of Lunch Bunch, we have all grown to know and love each other more.   Our weekly meetings are as much for us as it is for our children.  It’s a place where we can share our struggles, our doubts, our bad days and our good ones.  It’s safe.  In fact, most of my friends who loved me through this tough time are my fellow co-op moms, and I am so very grateful to God for placing them in my life.

getting on with it

STRUCTURES – put in

Despite having had a rough time these past 6 months, we still did school.  Honestly, I don’t think I would’ve coped if I was schooling them entirely on my own, without any curriculum help or guidance.  I know that I sing the praises of Sonlight ad nauseum, but really, it’s true!  I never needed to prepare for any school day if I didn’t want to.  As it is, any prep that I do is stuff that of the divergent type – like writing letters to pen pals, or outings or creating projects.  Those only happen in the good weeks, however!  So, on those really horrible, drag-myself-out-of-bed days, it was a great relief that we have structures in place and that the kids could get on with independent work happily, and we could cuddle on the couch and read, read, read and learn, learn, learn with little required from me.

out with the old, in with the new Math U See is working for us!

STRUCTURES – toss out

I’m such a box ticker and forward mover, that I often find it extremely difficult to let go of something that is just not working.  Especially if we’ve paid money for it!  These past six months put paid to that.  I had such a hard year last year trying to motivate my 7-year old to get on with the discipline of seatwork, that this year I couldn’t fight against the raging outbursts and unhappiness anymore.  Especially not when I was feeling depleted myself.  So, I tossed our maths curriculum and found another.  I elicited help from a speech therapist who is helping me to help her learn in a fun, games-orientated way.  I let her play more and incorporated some of it into our learning.  Oh we still have plenty of bad days and I still require more seatwork from her than she will ever want to do, but it’s so much better!  And concepts that were once as slippery in her mind as butter on her fingers are now, finally, sticking! 

STATE OF HEALTH – build it

Obviously, I’ve butted heads with ill health and the detrimental effects it has on me and my family.  So many mommies struggle with one kind of illness or another and battle on every day, despite pain, depression and other kids of debilitation.  For some, it’s a reality they have to live with.  For others, like me at this stage, it’s quite possibly preventable.  In the light of my crazy hormones and weird health experiences, I’ve realised that I have to, have to, HAVE to keep healthy, especially if I am going to be a pleasant person to be around! 

Here is what I’ve been doing lately that has improved my health so much.  I’m still on a road to testing, trying, cutting out and adding in, but what I’ve done so far has made an enormous difference!

I did a liver detox using Milk Thistle tablets (1x400mg per day).  5 days on and 2 days off for two weeks.  During that time and still now I made sure that I:

  1. drank lots and lots of water! 
  2. cut out sugar (aimed for 100%, probably cut it out 95%, thanks to the odd bread or other hidden sugar item I ate)
  3. cut out caffeine
  4. increased my green leafies – I added raw baby spinach to my lunch and supper meals.  Yummy, fresh and good for me!  I also took Spirulina to increase the intake of greens.
  5. continued to take supplements: Barleylife, Omega 3s (REAL brand), and Vit D3 (Solgar brand)

My doc recommended that I went to a clinical nutritionist to determine a good eating regime, but I can’t afford her at the moment (medical aid does not cover clinical nutritionists, I’m afraid!).  But, I really do advise going to a nutritionist for sound food for healing advice.  I’m seen so many people healed and/or revitalised by eating correctly for their specific ailments or allergies.  Most recently is my little niece, Becky, who has numerous allergies including salicylates.  She is a completely reformed child!  Her mother says that the pain of making meals specific to her needs is nothing next to the enormous pain, anguish and fear that accompanied Becky’s many trips to the hospital and constant ill health. 

I’ve only been on this way of eating for three weeks, but I feel so incredibly, amazingly healthy!  Aside from a very late night I pulled writing the last blog post (try falling asleep at the laptop around 1:30am) which left me feeling quite tired the next day, I’ve been feeling alive, awake and energised during the day.  I wake up in the mornings awake and ready to go.  I want to get up and exercise!  While I have managed to keep to some kind of sporadic exercise regime this year, now I feel more enthusiastic and have really been enjoying getting back into it.  It’s been simply amazing and such a huge contrast to how I have been feeling for so long.  Best of all, in these past 3 weeks I’ve had not one episode of depression, neuralgia, double vision or cold sores (which I usually get every month!).  Of course, they could still pop up, as three weeks is a short testing period, but this is the longest time I have gone without having a major emotional dip lasting days and sometimes weeks in over a year.

SAVING GRACE – accepting it

It’s fairly common to tag on to the end of a post like this some shout out to God; a platitude of sorts.  But, the truth is that this entire post would not have been written if it were not for the saving grace of Jesus.  Understanding that every single human being is simply not perfect – in fact, far from perfect – and that we are all in desperate need of saving from our own destructive selves, has kept me buoyed throughout my life.  Yes, buoyed.  Because, it is with great relief that I can lay down my futile attempts to be great/perfect/fantastic and know that Jesus stands that gap for me – and then some.   In some ways, going through tough times is the best thing that can happen to a person for it’s only then that we really realise how helpless we really are and how much we need Jesus.  When Multiple Schlerosis was a very real possible diagnosis lying before me, and the horror of a worst case scenario washed over me from time to time, I found myself often without breath.  Yet, with every catch of my breath, I also felt an equally powerful balm on my soul, knowing… knowing that God has everything under His control and if this was my path, then He would walk it with me.  I can’t begin to explain how greatly comforting that was.  And still is. 

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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.

Sharing my struggle: a dark valley

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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.

Moments in May

this is a completely unedited shot.  Love the colours! If I am juggling 5 balls at the moment, it’s only because I’ve dropped 50 already. At least, that is how it feels.

I’ve not talked with my big sis in ages, and that’s because I’ve not been online much at all. I continue to be the most hopeless play-date organiser. I’m woefully behind in many admin tasks. We’ve only just begun to see some regularity in our school days in the last week or two – and progress too. Electricity hikes, unexpected house maintenance tasks, and more, complicate matters. Never mind all the emotional stresses and strains that are normal life, plus those that aren’t. And the lists of many other things that contribute to my measly attempt at juggling too many balls for my current skill level! I’m sure I’m not alone in this, and others experience much greater challenges in life, but it’s still hard. And this month has been one of the heavier months.

Why am I blogging about this? Well, to be honest, partly as an excuse for the lack of blogging lately. And partly to say, “hey, you’re not alone in the daily struggles”. Or perhaps, “I hope I’m not alone in this!”

But, despite all the stuff that complicates life, I realised while uploading our photos from this month that there have been so many happy moments. Memorable moments. Moments for which to be grateful. And most of these moments are captured in jpeg for us to treasure and enjoy as we look back to May 2011 – remembering not the frustrating moments as much as the precious, heart memories of this time.

Arrrr! Shiver me timbers!Compiled in the slide show below are just some of these moments, like …

  • when we all played on the beach at Onrus, enjoying the last summer-like days of autumn
  • the morning the kids spent two hours in intense bonding moments of play – enjoying each other, creating a pirate ship from old cardboard boxes, dressing up and painting each other’s faces – all playing together from youngest to oldest with equal attention and participation
  • the time the kids marched into my room with a lovingly prepared tray of goodies for a mid-morning snack
  • or when Craig took us to the beach for mother’s day and we soaked in the sun and explored the storm’s treasures in our church clothes and bare feet

Someone once asked that if you experienced a catastrophe in life and had everything stripped away from you, what would be the two most important things that you would want to keep? For me it’s my faith and my family. And right now, I have those.

So I am grateful.

(If you can’t see the slideshow below, click this link “Moments in May” which will take to directly there)

Mom, I noticed how you are…

From time to time… Um. Ah-hem. What I mean to say is often I find myself getting really impatient with the kids, frustrated with a task or simply just plain ol’ sinfully selfish. So, after a frustrating day of many tasks and not enough hours, and a spanner or two thrown into the mix, it’s rather humbling to walk into my bedroom and see these painstakingly composed words:

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It reads:

To mom x
Mom I notiste huw you ar
You get fstated evren nu and then
Love from Katie

To mom love from Katie
Mom I am sad four you
I love you so muhc
I love you bcoos I love you x

So precious and sweet and heartwarming. And heartbreaking, too. Especially since today was a pretty good day for me! Oh Lord, protect these kids and grow them to love you because of your love and because of and in spite of our parenting!

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