Where are we now?

I just poured cold water into Nixin’s breakfast bowl. Nixin watched me, confused and a little amused, as my water bottle stood patiently nearby. That’s why we’re not going to Turtle Town this morning. 

More accurately, we’re not going because Pyra is teething and she and I didn’t get enough restful sleep last night. I quickly gave up and went back to bed after trying to persuade Rod to take Nixin to the beach without us. 

This lifestyle is an interesting mix of vacation and … “life” that I feel we  haven’t yet sorted out. We’re still finding our footing and figuring things out as we go. I feel a bit like we’re moving around in limbo. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to the idea of venturing out from a permanent residence: you leave your home and stuff behind for a certain period and then return and resume where you left off. Only we just left, we didn’t leave off. We have no home to return to (although I admit that the generosity of my parents to share their home with us is very near the feeling of having our own home). 

I was frustrated that Rod wouldn’t take Nixin to the beach without me, because we’re only on Maui a couple more days, and our time with Nixin is fleeting. Who knows when she’ll next have the chance to swim with sea turtles? More importantly, when will he have the chance to share the experience of swimming with sea turtles with his daughter? Well, maybe it will be tomorrow, or maybe it will be never. Who knows? 

On vacations you generally are more motivated to get out and experience things because your time away from “real life” is limited. But what if you’re living a semi-permanent vacation? Is our motivation declining because we don’t have a deadline to return to “real life?” Or is today just an off day because we’re all a little under the weather? I’m sitting on the lanai (pretty sure that’s what they call a deck here?) soaking in some gentle morning sun, listening to the coos and chirps of island birds, with the sea shimmering a deep blue just a few hundred feet away. But I’m letting my daughter sit in the air-conditioned apartment and watch “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.” 

I’m going to have to do better to take these things in stride, because this IS our life. There will be down days, and there will likely be many more than I imagined. We’re not out on a quick 2-week trip, we’re just “out.” There will be indoor tv days even in paradise. But I’m grappling with this, because as much as I appreciate relaxed, having down time, and not over-planning, I feel the tug of mortality and uncertainty in my periphery- the uncertainty of how long this lifestyle will last. There are other variables, out of our control, that we have to contend with and incorporate into the equation. 

We don’t get to make all of the decisions for Nixin’s experience and future on our own. There have already been some shadows of roadblocks coming to light that we’ll have to navigate. And it may potentially lead to a change in course. 

But I ramble in my cocoon of sleepy thoughts. I guess I just want to make sure I appreciate this life right now, as we live it. And to really live it, even as it stretches out in front of us indefinitely. I don’t know if we’re at the beginning of long and durable venture, or if this beginning butts up against the unexpected ending. 

I may have experienced a sleepless night with a teething baby, and awoke to feel unrested and grumpy, but the Maui morning sun has soaked into my bones as I sat writing this, removing the sense of frustration and anxiety that permeated my foggy thoughts. The blue water swept those unwanted feelings out to sea. The chorus of birds have brightened my outlook and helped to adjust my perspective. 

We can never know exactly where we sit on our journey through life. But that’s ok, especially if we recognize and appreciate the inevitable uncertainty as opportunity. 

Mahalo Maui. 

Stepping Into the Light

I have several posts that are waiting for me to find the time and patience to type out. For some reason, I thought I would be writing all the time once the baby was born. I’d just be sitting around smiling at my newborn and have a fresh, energized mind and two free hands to write all I want, right? Ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha … ha. As I write this, I do have two free hands even though there is an adorable baby latched to my breast (I figured out how to prop her up so that I can type with both of my hands!), but my mind is far from fresh or energized. So … this post may end up a little funky … if I even manage to finish it.

Anyway. I write now on a topic I hadn’t planned to, but that’s been knocking around in my head lately: the effect of sunlight on (my) health and wellness.

Obviously, I’m not a brilliant luminary shedding light on a glowing new topic (I told you my brain is on the frazzled side), as scientists have been studying the effect of light on humans for a long time.  I just found this article– from the year I was born- on how sunlight may affect, not just mood, but fertility as well. My suspicion has long been that my infertility is due to a complex amalgam of issues related to imbalances in my immune system and hormones (not just the “sex” hormones, but ones typically not associated with fertility), but I had never considered that sunlight may play a role in my infertility.

Part of the reason we moved out of Alaska was to see if increased exposure to sunlight would help my (recently acknowledged, self-diagnosed) Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Let me tell you:

Moving to the equator may have been the single best decision I have made in my entire life. Seriously.

Since coming to live in Ecuador, I’m beginning to believe that exposure to sunlight has had an even greater influence on my well-being, and life in general, than I could have ever imagined.

For starters, it’s late November and I’m not sluggishly and irritably crawling out of bed just to day-dream of sleeping all day. In fact, yesterday I took a walk outdoors at 7 am. Of my own volition. In a good mood. What, what, what?! All the more impressive since I’m up half the night with a 2-month-old.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I’d cope this well with the lack of sleep that accompanies caring for an infant.  I’m convinced that if I had stayed home in Alaska, yesterday morning would have seen me either asleep, trying to sleep, desperately sleepy, or ridiculously grouchy. Here in Ecuador, I feel better on less sleep. I wake up more easily than I ever have, and I feel more rested than I ever have.

I also believe that increased exposure to sunlight has alleviated my tendency to be, to put it bluntly, a bitch.  I’m simply not as moody and irritable. My patience is more generous and I’m not (as) snippy. This is a beautiful change, not just for the people around me, but for me too. My irritability has been a source of immense personal guilt over the years. I don’t want to be snippy and impatient. I’ve always known that’s not who I really am, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to fix the problem. Here at the equator, I have felt that my patience runs deeper and my moods are much more even. It feels really, really, really good. Really good. The irritability and guilt ran cyclical with deeper feelings of darkness that were hard (or impossible) for me to climb out of. That leads me to the topic of the “D” word: depression.

It is clear to me now, that every winter since puberty I have slid into a mild depression. I never recognized it as being seasonal, and I also didn’t acknowledge that I was actually depressed. There was always something on which to blame my sadness, extreme lethargy, inadequacy, or apathy:  puberty itself and hormones, unmet expectations, stress at work, grief, etc. Only recently did I recognize the pattern. These life experiences weren’t causing my unfavorable symptoms, it was depression that was keeping me from coping with life’s ups and downs in a healthy way and leading to undesirable responses. I have suffered for years, and my family (especially my husband) has suffered along with me.

I believe that even the grief of my infertility and pregnancy losses was more intense and more disruptive because of SAD. I coped with my summer-time miscarriages much better than those in the winter. In the few months with prolonged sunlight, I felt more hopeful and motivated. I reached my lowest low of incapacitating grief during the mid-winter darkness. I was non-functioning. I was so low, that I reached out for professional help. And for the first time in my life, I took a prescription medication for mental health. What I wonder now: would I have reacted so deeply, would I have struggled so painfully, had I received more exposure to natural sunlight?

I also believe that sunlight somehow affects immune function. Whether it’s related to a role of hormone regulation, or something else, I have no idea. This article seems to point to the same hypothesis, without specifically stating so. There is evidence that exposure to sunlight affects immune-related disorders such as psoriasis, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, IBS, lupus, and thyroiditis. One of my fertility doctors diagnosed me with an immunological abnormality, to which he attributed my recurrent miscarriages. Could increased exposure to sunlight be a possible treatment for some cases of infertility??? That old article from my birth year states that there is at least some evidence that this may be true.

As to the potential effect on other areas of my life, I recently made the link between job dissatisfaction and SAD. As I recall, the apathy and daily battle to get out of bed for work were mostly during winter months. I think I would have appreciated and enjoyed my jobs more if I could see the light of day. Furthermore, I have frequently felt inadequate because I feel that I easily become inordinately stressed out about work. I have felt broken, weak, and a failure. The stress at work that I just couldn’t handle? I don’t think it was really that I was incompetent, but that my body was incapable of a healthy stress response and so I would just shut down. I would go home and go straight to bed, or even stay home from work in order to sleep.

I don’t know that I’ve articulated my case very well, but I’m going to wrap this post up anyway. I haven’t written this piece in one sitting, but I would like to publish it on the same day I started to write it so that I don’t run the risk of “the post that was never completed.”

One thing is for sure: I can never go back to how things were. My hypothesis may be completely incorrect and the antidote is something other than (or in addition to) sunlight.  But if I ever spend time in a geographical region with prolonged darkness, I will be taking precautions to safeguard my wellness and ensure  that I get adequate sunlight every day.

I wonder how many of my friends and family, how many of the folks reading this, would flourish- or at least feel like a better version of themselves- if, on a daily basis, they could step out into the light.

 

Photo credit: © 2018, Rodney Wehr. Cuenca, Ecuador

Perceived Stumbling Blocks May Actually be Your Stepping Stones

About a year and a half ago, Rodney and I started to talk seriously about moving out of Alaska. While we both feel incredibly fortunate to have grown up in this beautiful state, we want to live in a more temperate climate with better access to fresh foods and where we can trade in our dependence on personal vehicles for more environmentally friendly and physically active transportation.

Furthermore, despite the fact that I grew up in the dark winters of Alaska, my body and mind function a trillion times better with exposure to sunlight. (I think I may be part plant.) I want to live where there is more sun, more of the year- for the sake of my health and well-being and in turn, the well-being of my family.

Whenever we’ve discussed moving outside of Alaska, the sticking point has always been the same: a sweet little girl named Nixin.

Nixin is a delightful, intelligent, good-natured human. When I first met her, she was a chubby, hilarious, sweet, almost-two-year-old. At this moment, the slender 9-year-old is bouncing around the house with long legs sticking out from her pajama t-shirt.

Rodney shares equal custody with Nixin’s biological mother. As far as these less-than-ideal situations go, things work out pretty well; Nixin seems incredibly unperturbed by her dealt hand of a split family and we manage fairly good communication between our families. Yet, the custody arrangement has always made our dream of an out-of-state move seem out of the question.

Alaska is far removed from any other state and requires one to fly (or drive for several long days), just to get to any other part of the USA. Seriously- a whole other country sits in between! To get from Anchorage to Seattle (the nearest big city in the “Lower 48”), one must drive  2,250 miles (3,620 km). That is the same as driving from Chicago to San Francisco, with enough miles left over to continue down the coast a couple of hours to Monterey. The feasibility of equal custody with one family in Alaska and the other outside seemed … mmmm, NOT feasible. Especially if Nixin were to remain in the public school system.

However, Rodney and I had reached a point that we could no longer imagine remaining in Alaska until Nixin graduates from high school. (Did I mention that I’m part plant and NEED MORE SUNSHINE?!) We decided to broach the subject with Nixin’s biological mom as a “what if?” We said that someday we’d like to move outside of Alaska … what would we do with the custody agreement then? Much to our surprise, we weren’t the only family with dreams to move.

Nixin’s biological mom had been wanting to move out of Alaska, but like us, thought that it wasn’t feasible. All of a sudden the conversation turned to a discussion about how homeschool would allow for both families to move to wherever they’d like and still allow equal custody of the sweet girl who has little choice in the matter.

Fast forward several months and plans were rounding out. Nixin’s other family decided to move to Washington State to be closer to family, and after some contemplation, we decided to spend a year or so “slow traveling.”  We started to homeschool Nixin in preparation for the planned big changes. Now we have about 6 months of homeschool experience under our belts, our personal belongings and real estate are finding new owners, and we’ve got plane tickets out of the country.

As I finish up this post, we’re 105 days from leaving Alaska, and Nixin’s other family is currently trucking their belongings down the Alcan highway towards Washington State- they actually took the plunge before we did!

What if we had never broached the subject? The response we received was beyond our imagination and turned the tide of our life towards realizing our dreams sooner than expected. Don’t hold back for fear of how others will receive you or what response you might get- who cares what they think! Besides,  your perceived stumbling blocks may actually be your stepping stones.