Monday, August 31, 2015

Why Am I Here?

Today was the first official day of my PhD program at BYU!  But before I go into that, I just wanted to thank everyone for the support I received after posting a couple of weeks ago about our miscarriage.  It was really an amazing experience for me to be so vulnerable and see how love and support was the unanimous response from so many of you.  Thank you for reaching out to me through comments and private messages to talk with me about your own pain and loss and how you got through it.  It meant the world to me to know that people out there cared about my struggle and pain and were there for me when I reached out for support.  I also learned a lot from each of you about pain, empathy, grief, and love.  So thank you, again.  It was such powerful experience for me.  


So today marked the first day of my PhD experience (in Marriage and Family Therapy at BYU).  It felt like a pretty big deal even though all we did was sit through a few meetings and get oriented.  But I'm starting a PhD!  How did I get here?  I never thought I'd be pursuing a doctorate.  A masters felt like more of a possibility my whole life, but a PhD?  That was never for me.  Turns out I really like school, and I especially like school when it's about mental health and how to be a more effective therapist.  So here I am.  

I'll be honest, the entire process of applying for the PhD and getting accepted has felt a little automatic and mindless.  I haven't felt a very strong push for what exactly I want to do once I get in to the PhD, I've just gone through the motions to get here.  All summer I had conversations with myself and Dave that went something like this:

"Is this really what I want to do?  I don't want to do this because it's some goal I feel like I need to achieve to become a complete person.  I want to do it for the right reasons."

"What are the right reasons?"
"Well, I think the wrong reason would be to boost my self-esteem, or to convince myself (or anyone else) that I'm good enough and worthy of love.  But if I don't want to become a professor, why am I doing a PhD program?" 

And the conversation would end there--never resolved.  Eventually I got to a place where I was about 95% confident that this program wasn't about convincing myself that I'm enough, but I still wasn't exactly sure why I felt like I should do it.  Then about a month ago I gave a lesson in our church (a ward of young single adults) all about pornography and the atonement and how shame gets in the way of healing and progressing and what pornography addiction is really about--how it's emotional, not sexual, and how there is hope, etc.  It was one of the most powerful lessons of my life--not because the lesson was particularly powerful (although I think it was for some people), but because it reminded me of exactly what I'm passionate about and it became very clear to me what I need to do in the PhD program. 

Dave reminded me that night that of all the clinical populations I've worked with, pornography users are the ones that I consistently maintain hope for, which is unique because most therapists feel more hopeless with pornography than other issues.  I think as a church and mental health community, we don't understand the issue of pornography addiction as fully as we need to, and as it stands, we don't have treatments that work.  We have treatments that can make improvements, but we're missing something.  People who really struggle with a pornography addiction have usually seen multiple therapists and each one has tried something different--usually to no avail--and most of them have ignored trauma and emotional regulation as anything worthy of attention.  

I want to work towards figuring out what we're missing about pornography addiction--particularly in the LDS culture where we're ridden with shame about it.  I'm nervous because it's going to make for a tough dissertation, and a heavy topic of study, but I'm determined to do my best to help our community figure out how to help couples and individuals whose lives are being ruined by porn.  I'm feeling pretty energized and excited about the program now because I feel very very directed by God in this feat, and I think He'll direct me where I need to go with this over the next 3 years.  I've have a fantastic mentor who's supportive and happy to help me find the answers I'm looking for, which is not always a given in a PhD program, so I feel blessed and grateful for him.  

All in all, I'm relieved to feel like I finally have a direction for my program and confident that I'm going the right way (at least for now, you never know where Heavenly Father will lead you, right?).  We'll see how long this energy lasts, since this is all pre-homework, research, and stats classes...but at least for now, I'm feeling like I finally know why I'm here and what I need to work towards for the next 3 years.  Wish me luck! 

Friday, August 14, 2015

In The Spirit Of Authenticity...

Guys, I have tried to start this post like a hundred times.  It's been 9 months since I last blogged and I feel like I'm a completely different Erin now than I was then.  I share relationship posts on Facebook at least 2x a week, but I'm sad that I haven't found the courage to really share my personal thoughts and feelings with everyone over the past 9 months.

It's been the hardest year of my life (#understatement) even though the pelvic pain has gotten miraculously better with the help of my new medicine.  It sort of feels like God gave me a reprieve from the chronic physical pain so I would have the energy and strength to tackle the emotional upheaval to come.  And tackle it I did, haha.

I really want to get on with blogging about the here and now and sharing what's happening in my life with you all, but it feels inauthentic because I really feel like before I do, I need to share the most vulnerable and painful experience of this last year.  It's changed me, and it's important to me that I don't pretend that it didn't.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In February of this year, we found out we were pregnant.  I was immediately overwhelmed with mixed emotions.  I was excited and surprised, but also filled with a huge sense of foreboding and fear that I might miscarry, or even if I didn't miscarry that I might be in chronic pain again as I'd have to stop my medicine.  And it definitely didn't help that I didn't feel at all ready to be a mom!

We only knew I was pregnant for a couple of days before I went and had a blood test done to make sure everything was alright.  As I'm sure you can guess, everything was not alright.  My numbers were incredibly low--too low to really hope that this would be a viable pregnancy.  But we just watched and waited for almost 10 days because they were slowly rising.  Dave and I were on the biggest emotional roller coaster we'd ever been on (which is saying something after the last couple of years we've had) alternating between feeble hope that everything might be okay, and suffocating fear that I might be miscarrying.  Once the numbers seemed to plateau (still in a nonviable range), my doctor did an incredibly painful ultrasound to make sure it wasn't ectopic and finally ordered a D&C.  This all happened within the span of about two weeks, but felt like a lifetime for us.

After the D&C, it was impossible to ignore the intense feeling of loss and I didn't know what to do.  I wasn't that far along because I'd found out pretty early that I was pregnant, so I felt dumb feeling the grief so intensely.  Was this even considered a baby this early?  My best friend had just had a miscarriage a few weeks earlier and she'd been MUCH further along and I didn't want to add to her pain, so I didn't tell her.  I've hated myself ever since for not telling more people.  I needed support, but there was a strong feeling of, "It wasn't that big of a deal, you were only so many weeks along, and you don't want to make it uncomfortable for everyone around you."

So I pulled back.  I told my family, one of my professors, one other friend and then I shut off my emotions so I wouldn't burst into random tears throughout the day.  I completely lost all motivation to go to class, to be present when I actually made it to class, to be present with my clients, to emotionally engage in their pain, to attend choir rehearsals which I usually LOVE, etc.  It wasn't until about 2 weeks after the procedure that I fully let myself grieve the loss.  It was one of the most painful, yet bonding experiences Dave and I have ever had as a couple.  We had so many questions:  Was this considered a baby yet?  Will this baby be part of our family in the eternities?  Does this mean miscarriage is going to plague our childbearing years?  Was this because of the endometriosis?  Is it normal to feel this much pain and feel it so intensely about this? And there were so many feelings:  Sadness mixed with peace, relief mixed with guilt, fear mixed with love, anger mixed with hurt and confusion, and the list goes on.

I just sort of channeled my pain into really really working hard on my thesis so I could graduate in April and have a break as soon as possible.  It worked.  I got my thesis done, and it was a miracle, but I was broken.  I was so broken when I graduated.  I felt like a champion that day.  Like I had overcome so much and grown and changed as a person like I never believed I could, but I was hurting inside, and I was still healing.

When Mother's Day came around, I couldn't do it.  I really thought I'd be fine, but just an hour before I was supposed to run a choir practice, I fell apart--I couldn't stop sobbing.  I felt the loss so intensely--all day at church I was weepy and sad and confused about still feeling pain about this 3 months later.  Luckily Dave is super tuned in to my emotions and was able to just hold me and remind me that it's okay that I was still hurting and I didn't have to go to church if it was going to be too painful, and that there's no time limit on grief.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

It's been 6 months now since the miscarriage and I regret every day that I didn't tell more people when it was happening.  Even before I was pregnant, I was personally against waiting to tell people until your 2nd trimester because it doesn't make sense to me.  Don't we need support the most in the first trimester when we're vomiting all over ourselves and can't keep saltines down?  And don't we absolutely need support if we're in the process of losing a baby?  Anytime I've shared that I had a miscarriage since then, most women have responded with their own stories of miscarriage and how it was difficult for them too and how they understand the pain and grief.  It's SO comforting to not feel alone in this, so why did I keep it to myself for so long?

I said that this has changed me and I believe it has.  I think I'm exponentially more empathetic--meaning I understand better what it means to hold someone's pain with them and show them that they aren't alone in it.  I'm more sensitive to infertility and issues surrounding motherhood in a religious culture that celebrates motherhood.  I also took the time for myself to heal, which required some intense therapy and soul searching about how I want to be as a mother and how I can love fearlessly in this terrifying world.  I worked to surround myself with people I knew I could be vulnerable with because I trust that they love me and will support me.  I feel like I'm in a good place right now thanks to Dave, Heavenly Father, and other people who have loved me through this, as well as reading a WHOLE bunch of Brene Brown :).  But I still struggle to understand what exactly has kept me from telling my closest friends about the miscarriage until I felt like I could present it all tied up in a neat little bow through a blog post.  Any thoughts on what holds us back from being vulnerable with those we love even when we know they'll be there for us?