Of course, I always set myself up with a cart load of summer projects to get accomplished. Always on that list are things like clean the garage, catch up with the filing, clean the refrigerator, polish the cupboards, etc. In addition, this summer, I was hoping to paint the inside of my condo. I had the colors all picked, and I figured I'd just chunk away at the work, one wall at a time, until it was all fresh and new again.
Too, coming into this summer break, we all knew that we were facing the hurdles of T's surgery. The doctors led us to anticipate that being very difficult, with a long and complicated recovery. So, we were mentally prepared for a medically intense summer.
As it has turned out, this summer has been much different than what I planned, or expected.
The best part of all of it has been the relative ease with which T came through her surgery. Her recovery, while slow as we might expect from this kind of surgery, has been pretty smooth. She is reintroducing various foods, one by one. Most of what she is able to eat at this point is still pretty soft, and we do have to focus on proteins, but so far, so good.
I'll be right up front, and tell you that I have made almost no progress on that list of projects. To be sure, there has been NO painting going on. Some of that has to do with a pervasive exhaustion that has settled over our family. I just haven't had much energy, and I seem to be able to sleep, and sleep, and sleep. He and I have gotten into a pattern of staying up late, walking well into the wee hours of the morning, and then sleeping until the very late morning. I have enough of the Puritan in my background to feel just a tad guilty about that, but I also know enough to really listen to my body, and take advantage of the easy days of summer to catch up and take care of myself.
The other side of the summer story is that He and I have dragged ourselves through this summer, feeling our way along and trying to figure out how we might relate to one another on this side of all that has happened. It has been a quiet sort of passage. We've spent a lot of time together, but often that is time in the grip of silence (sometimes companionable, and sometimes simply empty). We have held hands. We have cuddled. We have rubbed and stroked and hugged one another. For much of this summer, it has seemed to be necessary to just touch and hold on.
We have, mostly, managed to not growl and snap at each other. We had one difficult day at the beginning of this last week, but for the most part, we have been pretty gentle with each other.
We are still learning how to live this life we have been given. Maybe that "still" isn't even really accurate. It really does seem that we are maybe just beginning to make sense of all of it; finally healed enough to begin to try and sort through what is left, and figure out the way forward.
We've made some big discoveries:
We've learned that Tom has a genetic anomaly called MTHFR (and yes, we do tend to refer to that as "motherfucker."). This is, apparently, a pretty common set of genetic polymorphisms. From what we've read, there may be anywhere from 10% to 40% of the population of the US who have some form of this defective set of alleles. There are several variations, but only two have been studied very thoroughly. The short version of what we've discovered about this is that this abnormality interferes with the body's ability to process B-vitamins and folic acid through a process called methylation. People with MTHFR issues may be processing the B-vitamin complex at only 10%-60% efficiency. It leads to a build up of something called homocysteine in the blood; a condition called hyperhomocysteinemia. There are a number of issues related to all of that, but chief among them are cardiovascular problems, depression, alcoholism, diabetes, kidney and liver issues, anemia, migraine, arthritis, dementia, infertility, ... and on and on and on. Knowing about the presence of this genetic anomaly gives us some context for the long arc of His history that brought us to this point. It also gives us a solid handle on a way to intervene in the continuing and seemingly intractable depression that He deals with; has perhaps always dealt with. The prescription supplement, Deplin, that provides the L-methylfolate that His body cannot produce effectively helps to support the production and metabolic processing of the neurotransmitters that help to regulate mood and anxiety. The trick is that dosing with Deplin is tricky. We've had to do some "wiggling around" to get it in the right range. I am thinking we are finally there -- I hope.
His post traumatic stress disorder continues to present challenges. It is an unpredictable factor in our days and nights. He can have very good stretches of time during which He feels well and balanced, and life seems pretty good, and then something triggers the PTSD and He falls into a spiral of uncontrollable nightmares, hyper-vigilance, vivid and unwelcome memories, distancing from relationship, mistrust, guilt, and depression. The layers of His trauma can be a confound as we never know whether He is reacting to traumatic events from His childhood, or from the more recent events of two and a half years ago. To make everything more complex, I struggle with my own trauma issues, rooted in an abusive childhood, too. When He gets going, His responses to His own fears can smash right into my tender places, tripping me over into fear and anxiety. With that going on, we are likely to fall into a nasty feedback loop where we are helpless to support each other. We can be a thorough-going mess in the middle of all of that.
One hopeful development has come from an unexpected quarter. I had a parent of one of my students recommend a book earlier in the summer. She and her husband adopted three children (siblings) from two different orphanages in Ukraine about four years ago. The oldest boy was about 16 when they first brought them all to the states, and as soon as he turned 18, he headed back to Ukraine. The younger two, who are now in 7th and 8th grade, have a variety of challenges and issues. Both struggle with English, although they have made remarkable progress, and surely speak better English than I do Russian. The older one, who I'll call Alex, has a very difficult history. As a six-year-old, he was present when his addicted mother (who worked as a prostitute in order to obtain drugs) was murdered by a "client." Alex and his younger sister were sent to separate orphanages. I do not know all of the horrors of the orphanage where he lived for years before being adopted, but I imagine it was far from an ideal, nurturing environment. He has lots of behaviors related to that trauma history and has been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder. These parents have struggled valiantly to provide a loving and nurturing home for these children, but it has been an uphill battle. This book suggests an entirely new, love-based approach to dealing with attachment-
We've also begun to find some sort of comfort level around our more "switchy" dynamic. Probably, I am the one who has struggled more with that. I keep wondering what this new pattern of relating means for who I am. I cannot seem to turn off the little niggling voice that pokes at me and chants, "not wife, not slave, not wife, not slave, not wife, not slave...," and yes, I do realize that is just silly. I still struggle with the questions, and there do not seem to be any answers. If I can let go of feeling like I need to have some sort of definitive identity with regard to that part of our life, and just relax into things, then it turns out that He and I can switch back and forth and spank and get spanked depending on who is where "head wise." I think it is harder to talk about it here. There are way more reactions to consider in the back and forth of mutual switching, but it seems to work for us at this point, and it is one of the places where we feel sort of light and playful. So that is good.
I have one more day, and then it is back to the classroom. I hope I am ready. It wasn't the summer I would have asked for, but I suspect it might turn out to be a summer that let us do a lot of work that will take us into the next part of our lives together. That would be worth a lot more than all the painting I might have done -- and what the heck, I can always paint a bit at a time as the year progresses.