The crushing weight of anxiety

My journey, my story, my kind of crazy

I wake up to hear Clark stirring via the baby monitor. It’s 1:30am. I’ve been asleep 2.5 hours. I get up to nurse him before he starts crying and wakes up Darcy. After nursing him, I go back to my bed, and try to sleep. I am exhausted. I haven’t slept more than 3 hours at a time since he was born 3 weeks ago. But I can’t sleep because what if Darcy heard him? Do I hear her? Is she going to wake up again at 3am crying? Why isn’t he settling down?! Is he going to go back to sleep? Please, God, let him go back to sleep. Do I need to go burp him again? Should I enroll in classes this upcoming semester? Or take a break? OMG! Go to sleep, Beka. Now I only have like 2 hours before he wakes up again, ready to eat! Shut up, brain, shut up!

And I didn’t go back to sleep because these (among other) thoughts are racing through my mind nonstop. Just like the previous night. And the one before that.

In the morning, I check to see if Clark is breathing–constantly. Did I turn off the coffee maker? What are we going to eat tonight? Is Clark still okay? Is Clark going to be okay? Do we have any paper towels? What if Darcy has another ear infection?

I’m easily able to convince myself that I just “have a lot on my mind.” I mean I’m a mother of two children that are under two years old. I’m a grad student that works full-time. I’m just a little stressed, and that’s why I’m having trouble and feeling anxious. Then the other thing with those symptoms happens…the heart racing, palm sweating, stomach dropping, limb paralyzing thing. It’s kind of like the exact moment where you remember that you forgot to do something really important. Except I haven’t forgotten anything, and knowing I haven’t doesn’t stop these feelings. I have exactly zero relief.

Anxiety–postpartum anxiety to be exact–is the worst, and these episodes can occur three or four times an hour lasting anywhere from 2-15 minutes and occur independently of my unrelenting, worrying thoughts. If I’m completely honest, it probably started with all the drama surrounding Clark’s pregnancy, and his birth, combined with the heavy postpartum hormonal shift, made it pretty terrible. Making matters worse, I felt guilty, and I tried to pray my anxiety away. Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” But my anxiety wouldn’t dissipate because I was sick. My brain was, anyway. We wouldn’t be expected to pray away diabetes or high blood pressure, would we?

According to americanpregnancy.org, postpartum anxiety affects around 10% of women, but I’m pretty sure it is severely underreported. Why? Because women are scared of judgement. Of being ignored. Or of confirming their worst fear—that they are, in fact, a “bad” mom. Just last week I read this article, where a postpartum woman told her provider she was having persistently violent thoughts she would never act on, but was disturbed by. Yeah, they called the police on her, who escorted her to the ED, treated her like a criminal, and finally released her 10 hours later with a list of phone numbers to call for “help.” Zero support, zero medication, and zero empathy.

No.

Just. No.

That is so far from acceptable that I actually hurt for this woman. I know firsthand how hard it is to get help. You see, I experienced postpartum depression with Darcy. I claimed it was situational depression only because of her surgery, etc. It was hard and dark and affected my initial bonding with her. Thankfully, with meds, love, and support, it quickly abated and I became strong again. Towards the end of my pregnancy with Clark, Ben had mentioned he was worried I might struggle again once the baby was born. So in my favor, I had a husband who was looking out for me. This is important because when you’re bogged down with the weight of depression and/or anxiety, it can be hard to see things for how they actually are. So, when I confessed to him how insanely worried and anxious I felt, and that I didn’t know why, he told me, “Call Dr. B right now. Get help.”

My reaction wasn’t calm. “I’m not crazy, dammit! I’m just…I don’t even know how to explain it.”

“No, Beka, you’re not crazy, but the way you’re feeling IS making you sick. Call her.”

Dodging it, I said, “Well, my appointment is in a couple of weeks, so I’ll talk to her then.” There. That should satisfy him that I’m going to take care of it, and (bonus) will put it off for now. Because I’ll get better by then. Right?

“Call her now,” he insisted.

“But it’s Friday.” Even I knew that was a weak argument.

“Yeah, and her office is open. Call her, Beka. Now.”

“FINE!”

So I did, and I told her nurse, “Look, my anxiety is kinda bad. Ben said I should call…shouldn’t I just monitor it and see if it gets better?” She immediately responded,”No way! It will only get worse if we don’t do anything. We’ll start some meds now and see if we need to adjust the dosage when you come for your appointment.”

The second thing in my favor:  a matter-of-fact, yet compassionate response from my doctor’s office. When I returned to her office 4 weeks later, we decided to increase my dosage AND she gave me a PRN (as needed) script because I told her Clark’s surgery might just push me over to crazy town 😜. The reason I go into all this, and air my “dirty” laundry is because this is a problem. I’m a nurse, I’m educated, and it still took my symptoms, my husband’s urging, and my doctor’s following up to get me on the road to a more therapeutic place. If a link in any of those chains is broken, women will slip through the cracks and take on motherhood with an additional, massive weight on their shoulders.

So, maybe we should talk about this. Maybe we should de-stigmatize these mental health issues that are SO very relevant to our loved ones. We should listen, support, and help those we know are struggling. We need to look out for our friends when they’ve had babies and encourage them to seek help if they need it. If you are struggling, you aren’t alone. It’s going to be okay, mama. You won’t always feel this overwhelmed. Love yourself, give yourself grace, and get some help. Because your children need a happy, healthy mama, and you’re gonna get there. Love to all ❤

What the hell is craniosynostosis, anyway?

And why I know so freaking much about it

What is with this weather, man? We’ve had snow twice this winter in South Louisiana. It’s cold and weird, but I don’t hate it. School closed for an entire week, and we got to play together as a family. From looking at social media, most parents were complaining that their kids were making them crazy. Maybe Darcy makes me crazy on a daily basis, but I honestly loved having Ben and Darcy and Clark and I home together. It was a continuation of Christmas break, and I think we needed the down time. Ben is in school at LSU for his last semester of engineering, so that’s why we’ve been able to enjoy the breaks together. He does work part-time, but his office was closed during the snow fiasco because the entire state of Louisiana shut down.

Now, some of you remember that Darcy was diagnosed with craniosynostosis at 5 weeks old. What is craniosynostosis? Well, when babies are born, their skulls are not one solid bone. They are actually several separate bones held together by lines of fibrous connective tissue called sutures. This allows the skull to expand and accommodate a rapidly growing brain. With craniosynostosis, one or more of these sutures is fused too early meaning proper skull growth cannot occur. If the skull cannot grow as the brain grows, intracranial pressures can increase and cause brain damage. Also, the child will have an abnormal head shape. There are certain syndromes associated with craniosynostosis, but most cases are non-syndromic and only involve one suture. Darcy’s was non-syndromic sagittal craniosynostosis. She underwent a total cranial vault remodeling surgery at 12 weeks old. It was hard, it was brutal, but she is growing, thriving, and developing perfectly.

I am both a nurse and a mom. A lot of people say, “When it’s your kid, it’s different,” but I seem to be an exception. It’s really hard for me to turn the nurse off. I assess my children critically and clinically. I knew that Darcy was a beautiful child, but I also knew her head shape was different, that her temples were dimpled inward, her head was narrow, she didn’t have posterior fontanelle, and that she had a strange ridge down her head. I remember mentioning it to her pediatrician as he assessed it. We got scans that day, and she was diagnosed. When Clark was born, I noticed immediately he didn’t have a posterior fontanelle and had a small ridge down his head. I specifically asked the neonatologist (who was stupid about a lot of things) if the MRI showed craniosynostosis. He said “No way.” I can’t let things go, and it gets me into trouble sometimes. When something is bothering me, I get total word vomit–I just blurt it out and throw my persistent thought/worry out into the universe, and not always so elegantly. Ben jokes that he never has to wonder what’s bothering me because I’ll just straight up tell him. In my heart, I knew Clark had craniosynostosis despite what others said.

“But the MRI showed he didn’t.” “His head doesn’t look as narrow as Darcy’s.” “He looks just fine.”

I mentioned my concerns to our pediatrician at Clark’s one-month appointment, and he said we could just continue to monitor it. That held me over for like 2 days before my propensity to not let things go led us back to his office requesting imaging studies. We got an X-ray of Clark’s head that was consistent with a craniosynostosis diagnosis. Our pediatrician then referred us to Darcy’s craniofacial surgeon who we love ♥️At that appointment, he told us that he was moving to California in 2 weeks and unfortunately the neurosurgeon on Darcy’s team has retired😭

–This was devastating to hear, but moving on–

He told us that without a CT scan we couldn’t be 100%, but that Clark looked like he had partial sagittal craniosynostosis whereas Darcy had complete sagittal craniosynostosis. This would qualify him for a less invasive surgery using an endoscopic approach. This means they would use a small incision to remove the fused suture, and then use helmets to shape his head over the better part of a year.  Our CT scan the following day confirmed what we knew—Clark has partial sagittal craniosynostosis. I asked our craniofacial surgeon why both of our children had this and what could cause this genetically. He said that the sagittal suture is typically NOT associated with genetic origins. He said that it was “extremely rare” to have 2 children with non-syndromic sagittal cranio. I asked “How rare?” and he said that he had actually never seen it occur twice in a family. We’re SpEcIaL! Ha! Honestly, after the hell we’ve been through, the fear and anxiety, this seems like small(ish) stuff. It’s probably a mark of how bad shit has been when you look at neurosurgery as not a big deal, but we don’t see it as that big of a deal. Not after what we’ve been through. This is fixable, man.

After Darcy was diagnosed with cranio, I swore I would never miss that diagnosis as a future practitioner. I never anticipated having another child with it, but we did, and I didn’t miss it. We’re getting an early jump on it, and we should be meeting with our new neurosurgeon in the next few days to come up with our surgical plan for baby Clark. He should also begin physical therapy in the next couple of weeks as well. His tone IS improving, and he’s pretty much perfect in our book.

Darcy loves “baybee.” In fact, we wish she would love Clark less. She excitedly runs up to him and throws blankets over his face and body so he won’t get cold. She jams his pacifier into his face as he screams in protest. She tries to pick him up and is the opposite of gentle. It’s actually probably a good thing he’s going to be wearing a helmet 23 hours a day after his surgery. Darcy has added so many words to her vocabulary. She got a toy kitchen from Santa Claus and begs us to play in her “kitch” every day. She loves to throw and drop things while yelling, “Oh, no!” She says “okay” after everything, loves to play outside, and yells, “Go Saints!” whenever she sees football on tv. Darcy loves to point to the chair, couch, or floor and tell us to “Sit.” We’ve been going to the grocery store every Sunday just the two of us, and she likes to help put the groceries on the conveyer belt. She’s the best little toddler I know.

I decided to return to grad school this semester because my life is very calm, and it’s a very rational choice. 😑That’s a glimpse into our crazy lives right now. It is legitimately crazy and unfairly blessed. I am thankful to my Jesus for this life. Love to all.

P.S. That picture is from our craniofacial surgeon’s office. We have the same picture of Darcy at the same age. It’s becoming this weird family tradition 😂

Thoughts on turning twenty-great

Yep. As of tomorrow, it’s here once again. My birthday! I used to be such a firm believer in birthday weeks and celebrating every last minute of the 24 hours of my birthday. This year, well, I can’t say I’ve even noticed it creeping up. This summer I’ve been super busy with school, and a new job, and Darcy, and getting food poisoning, and being pregnant, blah blah blah.

So, I only get two more years in my twenties. I’m not particularly sad about that, but it has made me somewhat reflective on where I thought I would be 10 years ago at the ripe age of 18. If I look back 10 years when I was about to start my freshman year at Delta State, I can honestly say that my life IS different than what I had expected, but also not. I figured or hoped I would be successful and finished with any schooling, happily married to the man of my dreams with child(ren?). So okay, 2/3 ain’t that bad. I had also hoped I would be living in a city bigger than my small hometown and have my own dog. Check! Check! Oh and I *really* hoped there would be lots of money. Let’s just take a minute to laugh about that one. LOL

So as you can see, my goals have kind of been checked off, but I never really thought about the journey I would take to see these things to fruition. I didn’t think that choosing to major in nursing would impact my life as much as it has. That it would wholly influence my perspective and outlook on life. For instance, if you have ever witnessed a child dying of cancer and seen the absolute devastation experienced by her parents, the important things in your life will forever be exponentially highlighted. Small stuff is small stuff, and it’s usually stupid, too. Nursing has changed my life. Before I married my husband, I never considered the hearts I would break, or even my own heartache I would experience along the way. *Sidenote–he was totally the cause of a lot of my distress at one point* Just putting that out there. I never knew that having a miscarriage would be one of the most heartbreaking experiences I would face thus far in my life. I didn’t know the JOY a healthy baby could bring into my life, either! I didn’t know that the traffic associated with “city bigger than my small hometown” would steal large amounts of my time and happiness, THANK YOU FOR THAT, BATON ROUGE. Anddd I never anticipated the amount of “inedible” crap my dog could eat and survive. I have a sudden vision of Libby dressed in camouflage, running to the sounds of Destiny’s Child “Survivor”. She’s eaten: 2-3 pair of underwear, too many to count socks, a bottle of ibuprofen, a tube of mascara, an entire bag of Hershey kisses, at least three roaches that were poisoned, and god knows what else. She’s seven and never looked so good, although I wouldn’t recommend this tried and true anti-aging diet of hers to anyone else.

The point of my ramblings is that I’ve already “met” the goals that I think mattered most to my 18 year-old-self. My sweet family is everything to me, and adding my husband and his family and our daughter to my list of people to love on has been one of life’s biggest blessings. I say blessings because considering this gift an accomplishment of mine just seems so wrong. God so lovingly sent my husband to me, and has continued to bless and grow our family. School and career and money are all important things, but they pale in comparison to the Big Stuff. And one day I think I’ll have all that other stuff, too. But without them, my life still feels full and exciting. Without my family and the loves in my life, I don’t think I could get out of bed.

So at the end of the next ten years when I’m pushing forty (now that kind of hurts), I have a few different goals in mind; some material, some not. I want us to build our forever dream home. Where? I’m not sure yet. I want to be DONE with school. Whether I finish NP school or not, I just want to be done. I want to finish up my family. I have no idea what that means at this point. I want to grow in spiritual maturity and live a life reflective of loving Jesus. Maybe that will mean less cursing or more praying or not honking at people who ruin my chances of catching a green light or because they are just generally stupid drivers. Or maybe not. Honking is rather satisfying, after all. Love to all you people out there.

So, I’m starting a blog

Hello any and all readers! I’ve been urged by multiple friends and family members to write a blog for several years now. Why? I don’t really know their reasons, but the more people asked about it, the more I thought I might like to start one. About 3.5 years ago, I decided to do it! I had just gotten married, moved to Virginia, and all these awesome adventures would NEED to be documented. I thought of the perfect name, “Rayner Shine” because my new last name was Rayner, and how cute is that?! I told my husband, he agreed it was a good idea, but here’s the thing–I am a major procrastinator. SO. Almost 4 years, 3 moves, 4 job changes, and 1 baby later, here it is! I will backdate some blog entries on some of the more interesting occurrences in our lives, but first we have to agree on a few things.

  1. I am not a professional writer, mmkay? I say things, I write things, but I doubt you’ll see much symbolism,creativity, or special enlightenment that makes your head explode. So seek that on a different blog. Sorry.
  2. Grammar Nazis:  go away. I’m going to write in a conversational tone, end sentences with prepositions, use made up words and contractions because it’s a free country, and you can nitpick elsewhere.
  3. Weird stuff happens to me that doesn’t happen to normal people. I’ll write about it here, and I swear I’m not lying. You’ll have to just believe me.

Now that we’ve crossed that off our list, I’ll have to tell you that my life is chaotic. I know, I know, whose isn’t? But you see, my husband is in school full-time for engineering. Part-time he works as an engineering intern. I also am in school full-time to be a nurse practitioner. WHILE WORKING FULL-TIME AS A NURSE. Also, I have a 15 month old tyrant toddler. Help me, Rhonda! No, seriously, send help. I would say send wine, but I am also pregnant. 17 weeks to be exact. Anddd, I start a new job on Monday. Life is busy, time and money are short, but Ben and I laugh a lot. If you’re game to read along, I’ll gladly share our crazy with you. Love to all.