The Struggle Is Real

I haven’t written anything in a while, so I was going to force myself to sit down and put metaphorical pen to paper this morning. I discovered quickly that it wasn’t going to be an easy writing day, as I’m really having trouble organizing my thoughts. So then I thought I might write about that: the struggle.

I may have mentioned before, Dear Journal, that I’m particularly sensitive to the weather. My mood often follows the seasons. Winter and early Spring are often challenging times for me. In Indiana, I’d refer to these times as the Seasons of Gray, as that seems to be the predominant colors. I probably have a mild form of Seasonal Affect Disorder, though it’s never really bothered me enough to get an official diagnosis. In general, I can manage. It’s just that not all days are created equal.

Depression runs in my family, and I’ve written about mental health before. My own journey is perhaps atypical of most. I don’t know that I’ve ever been chronically depressed. Instead, I go through “funks.” For me, this tends to mean one to two weeks where I really struggle to motivate myself to do, well, anything. On top of a lack of  motivation (or maybe because of it), I feel a deep lethargy and my thoughts are very disordered. For instance, trying to write this currently feels like herding cats in my brain.

I read about a study once where they compared writings from folks in the depth of depression and when feeling “normal.” Same people, writing about similar things when they’re both depressed and not. The interesting outcome was that there was very little difference in both quality and presentation of the output. I take that to mean that you, Dear Journal, will be unable to discern my mood through my writing. In fact, it’s likely that while I’m struggling more with the process, the end result is on par for my own abilities. I’ve always tried to keep this in mind and not use my “funks” as an excuse not to write.

I guess I wanted to write this today because I’ve been feeling lately that the best things on the Internet and Social Media are the most genuine. There’s a lot of Fake out there, and it’s typically the Fake that causes negative outcomes. Perhaps if we could celebrate the genuine, we’d be able to come together more. Or maybe this is just the idealistic Millennial in me.

In any case, for me these last few weeks have been rough, but for no particular reason. Everything in my life is great. New job is going well. Brooke is fantastic and growing. The weather is even improving. I’m just not feeling it yet. Strange how that works sometimes. That being said, the nice thing about my own particular condition is that I know, from experience, that it will pass. I just need to buckle down, exercise a bit, try to eat a little healthier, be good to myself, and get through it. I’m lucky in that regard, because for a lot of people the struggle is a lot harder, and they cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Which I guess is the point of what I wanted to say today: be kind to one another. Be genuine. No one chooses to struggle. Let your light help them find their own.

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Thank You for the Birthday Wishes

Primarily, this is my thank you post for all of the well wishes for my birthday a couple days ago. But since I have a tendency to be long-winded and over-analytic, I decided to turn it into a post.

I’m not a big birthday guy to begin with. My wife and I are polar opposites in this regard. I find myself a bit uncomfortable with the attention, especially when I just simply survived another year. My wife is all about everyone having their own special day. She goes out of her way time and time again for people (not just me) with the goal of delivering a special day. And, I will say, despite my discomfort, it is also nice to touch base, even if ever so slightly, with so many of the friends and acquaintances I’ve connected with throughout my thirty-four years. So thanks especially to my wife for all the effort she puts in to make others feel special.

Man, 34 is a bigger number than 33. They all begin with a thirty, which seems so much bigger than a twenty. And I won’t even think about teen numbers. Everyone’s been posting the “ten year” side-by-side pictures lately… amazing how time flies!

It’s pretty cool that, due to social media, we have glimpses of each other’s lives still. The reality of getting older is also losing touch. For most people, getting older means more responsibility, and responsibility takes time. Staying ahead of home maintenance, participating in child rearing, and trying to keep a strong marriage tend to be my three biggest activities, but even just balancing those three are a challenge on a lot of days. Add in jobs and friends and hobbies, and I feel very fortunate to be living in a time when I can just type all my thoughts and shout them into the void that is internet, and some of you will listen and care. That’s pretty cool and means a lot to me, even if we haven’t spoken in years, so thank you for all those shared thoughts.

Apart from a long, rambling birthday thank you, I also wanted to note in this post that, for the first time in 11 years, I’ll be changing jobs. I’m moving from Delphi Technologies to Ball Systems this upcoming week. I will say that evaluating a job offer was an extremely difficult decision for me. You can try to run the numbers and make it simple as far as compensation, but there are emotions involved that can’t be discounted either. It’s going to be tough when I walk out of the first and only post-college job I’ve known, and it’s scary walking into the unknown with a new company. Still, I’m excited about the move. It brings me closer to home and offers a new challenge. I’m sure I’ll be posting more about the transition in the upcoming weeks (if I’m not completely swamped by the change), but for now I stand on the precipice of 34, looking out at a somewhat unfamiliar and challenging road. Here’s hoping it proves rewarding both personally as a still-new parent, and professionally as I embrace a new opportunity.

Either way, Dear Journal, thanks for being there.

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Merry and Bright

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I thought I should send you one of these, Dear Journal, but you don’t have a mailbox out here in the real world, so I’ll do it digitally. It’s Brooke’s first Christmas, so that’s pretty special. A few weeks ago, it snowed for the first time in her life. She can’t talk yet, but judging by the look on her face, she was thinking: Great, now it’s going to be icy on my drive to work. No, sorry, that was me. She was more like: What is that pretty, fluffy stuff?!

I’ve learned this year that we’d all be a whole lot happier if we could be babies again. Seeing the world anew through the eyes of your child is pretty neat. It can really highlight a lot of the small things that you take for granted.

So here’s to you and yours, Dear Journal. May you view this holidays season through the eyes of a child. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.

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On Mental Health

This is going to be one of those posts where I lay down my thoughts on a particular topic. If you’re looking for the Brooke update: She’s doing fantastic. I’ll post a pic at the end of this. We obviously sped right through July and August, as it is now September and here’s a post. October is just around the corner and is mental health awareness month, so I’m jumping the gun lest I miss it.

I’ve had occasion recently to reflect on mental health issues, teenage suicide in particular. As a high school football coach, we hear about the struggles of our players and their peers quite often. Most do not progress to the extreme of suicidal considerations, but every now and then we are given the opportunity to help someone who really needs it. It’s actual more frequent than you might think, which is both scary and something that needs saying.

Mental health in general is a tricky issue, because I think it makes a lot of people uncomfortable to talk about. We don’t want to confront all of the ways in which we, too, are broken and in need of help. As someone for whom depression runs in the family, and who has had to stare it down quite often, I like to try to be open about my experiences. There are a whole lot of ways that anyone (even you, Dear Journal) can help someone who is struggling. Almost all of those ways start with talking about it in the first place, and waiting until someone is on the edge to begin that conversation is a dangerous game. Instead, it is important that everyone, teens in particular, know that there are resources available to them. Whether it be a coach or parent, counselor or friend… you are NOT ALONE.

And I guess I just wanted to note clearly, Dear Journal, that I’m a resource as well. While I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with mental issues, I don’t claim to be an expert. But I know how to listen, and I know how to find experts when they are called for, and I can sympathize with anyone who may have felt like life is crushing them down, beating them up, or drowning them. I’ve been there. Many of the people I love have been there. And we fight the good fight every day to keep living. Because, I know it may not seem like it in the moment, but I promise you life is worth it.

And if you ever feel low and need something to pick you up, google “babies smiling.” You might see something like this:

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On Parental Leave

Brooke will be 6 weeks old tomorrow, and it’s been a challenging six weeks to say the least. Yet, I still recognize that we have it pretty good. Kate is able to stay home (unpaid) and care for Brooke for several more weeks before going back to work. We are fully covered as far as insurance via my job, and we are not struggling to put food on the table. Brooke is healthy and thriving. She has some moderate reflux, but otherwise is just dandy. My heart goes out to every parent that is facing steeper challenges than we are, and I know and have known several. My point is simply that babies are challenging, even in the best of circumstances.

Why then, oh why, do we, today, in these United States of America, not have paid parental leave as a standard benefit for both parents? Apart from the sheer callousness of a capitalist crazy society, why are we not supporting parenthood more? It simply does not make sense to me. There’s plenty of money out there in all of these companies, and it may even prove to be beneficial in the long run.

I could argue a lot of things. I could argue that I’m complete garbage at work anyway when I’ve been up every two hours with a crying infant. Even if I haven’t, personally, been the one caring for said infant… I still wake up. I could argue that the stress of worrying over my wife and kid while I’m away is absolutely shaving productive years off my life, likely leading to anxiety related diseases that will make my later years medically expensive. I could argue that a short break from work to get my home affairs in order would see me return more focused and dedicated than the hectic hodge-podge, stumble through new life that happens naturally. Not to mention the benefits to society of children with present, dedicated parents. These are all good arguments that I could make supporting paid parental leave that aren’t simply: “Because maybe we, as a society, should simply be a little more compassionate.”

Generally, if I whine about my lack of leave in public, someone inevitably points out that: “Leave is protected in America.” I never understand if these folks have read the fine print. By protected, you mean to say that I cannot be fired for having a kid and caring for said kid, so long as I file the necessary paperwork in triplicate and agree to receive no pay for the duration of my medical leave. Gee, how generous of you, America.

This approach leads to what happens most often now: one parent shoulders the parental load while the other attempts to keep the ship afloat. To say nothing of the uphill battle single parents face! And we wonder why depression runs rampant through our society. Everyone has heard the saying “it takes a village to raise a kid” but apparently it’s rare in corporate America to actually want to live in that village.

Some companies have woken up and realized the benefits of paid parental leave. Kudos to them. We need more of that. I also think that any company that does not have a standard paid paternity leave should not be allowed to advertise for Father’s Day.

Look, I get it, having a kid is an expensive choice I made so I have no room to complain. But what you don’t get is that I’m not really complaining for me. I’m in good shape and I’ve worked hard and been fortunate enough to be in a position where I don’t have to struggle as much as others. I’m complaining for the people that can’t even afford to get on a computer and type something on a secret public journal that not very many people are even going to see, because shouting into the void of the Internet is how conversations are started these days. So the take home is this: More people need to talk about how America is not so great for parents.

Really, though, its a pretty simple. I really miss my baby while I’m grinding away in my cube. I really wish I could be there for my wife while she’s struggling with our crying infant. I really think we ought to do more to support parenthood in America.

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Hello World, Love Brooke

On May the 8th, 2018 at 8:42PM, Brooke Eckman Hofferth pirouetted into the world. Or maybe it was break dancing. Either way, her Dad found himself swiftly in awe.

Earlier that morning, her mother had begun to feel the first pangs of labor. She’d been awoken by them at a brisk 6AM. Initially, Mom thought it to be simple cramping, so off to work she went. For the record, Dad wanted to call the doctor then, but Mom assured him that it was “no big deal” and thus the day began.

It was around noon when Mom texted Dad, indicating that the cramps had not gone away. She had been in touch with the Doula, and they agreed to keep monitoring, but that Brooke’s arrival was still a ways off. Dad agreed, and the day marched on.

Around 4PM, Mom was beginning to realize that she was, in fact, in labor. The cramps had become full blown contractions, regularly taking her breath away. Valiantly she soldiered on, slaying strays and grays alike. She sent another text to Dad, but cautioned him that she did not want it to be blown out of proportion, and that she would see him soon after they were both off of work.

Dad arrived home at 6PM, anxiously awaiting Mom’s return. Mom called while driving herself home, telling him that she was in a good amount of pain, and that maybe they would need to call the doctor after all. Dad told Mom to breathe and focus on getting home.

Once Mom arrived, Dad helped her into the house and then began to do what any good engineer would: collected data. Handy contraction timing app pulled up, Dad mashed away at the start and stop button in time with Mom’s ever-worsening contractions. Dad was thoroughly surprised and not the least bit alarmed when the initial results seemed to indicate a two-and-a-half minute cadence. That was much faster than expected.

Dad attempted, mostly in vain, to make Mom comfortable. He repeated the mantra of “just breathe” and “you’re doing great” as a man who could only say those few words would. Meanwhile, he focus on gathering items in preparation for a pending departure. Dad also made a phone call to Grandma V, letting her know that her presence had been requested for the ride to the hospital.

It was 45 minutes into the data gathering when Mom’s water broke. It was as if God had lobbed an invisible water balloon, perfect of aim, that curved in to burst against Mom’s thigh, startling and obvious. At this point, Dad realized that the data-gathering had ended, and a more all-hands-on-deck approach was needed to get this ship sailing.

Aunt Leslie called around this time, surely not expecting to be dragged so abruptly into this unfolding tale. Dad implored Auntie to hurry to the house and help him prepare Mom for the journey. The scene had become a bit chaotic, and an extra set of hands was sorely needed. Dad also call the hospital to let them know that he would be coming in hot.

Auntie arrived and, to her credit, calmly surveyed the yelling and moaning of Mom, the panicked meandering of Dad, to get right to work on the task at hand. Together, Dad and Auntie prepped Mommy in record time (for her especially), guiding her to Dad’s car and getting them on the road. As luck would have it, Grandma V’s Uber arrived (that’s a tale for another time) and she hopped into the back seat of Dad’s car so that she could hold Mom’s hand during the quick trip across town.

And quick it was. Daddy channeled all of the Indy 500-esque skills that he had soaked up over the last decade in Indianapolis, and raced to the hospital. It was somewhere in the middle of I-69 when Mom informed Dad that Brooke was, in fact, coming NOW. Dad dodged a few cars, zipped by a line of trucks, and barreled into the home stretch. By the time he pulled up to the hospital, Mom wasn’t sure she could make it inside. Dad swiftly snatched a wheelchair, encouraged Mom to hover her way on to it, tossed the keys to Grandma V, and dashed into Community Hospital North.

Mom and Dad had taken classes at the hospital, so Dad knew the way. A quick button press opened the doors to the thankfully waiting elevator, and they shot up to the fourth floor. Dad pushed the buzzer to enter the maternity ward, and was whisked into a triage room. Two nurses and Dad were in the room when Mom let them all know that time had just about run out.

The first nurse maneuvered Mom onto the far edge of the bed, while the second nurse radioed for help. Mom barely had a chance to climb aboard when Brooke poked her head out, excited to meet everyone. Unfortunately, there was a little bit of clothing still in the way, so Mom and the nurse quickly remedied the situation, and Brooke spilled the rest of the way out into the nurse’s waiting arms. The nurse guided her gently down to the bed where, much to Dad’s relief, she let out a wail. The second nurse, who’d only had time to don one rubber glove, announced: Baby born at 8:42PM.

After that, the room flooded with a doctor and several more nurses. They hurriedly attended to Mom and Baby, making sure everyone got calmed down from all of the excitement. Dad went to check Mom in, and Grandma V wandered up from the parking garage. The rest of the night was spent in relative peace as Brooke settled into this big new world and Mom’s warm waiting arms. Dad and Mom fell immediately in love with little Brooke, and after only a couple nights in the hospital being cared for by the excellent staff, they journeyed back home.

The End.

Author’s Note: A couple “facts” I wanted to record from May 8th, 2018:

  • A record 23 births were performed at Community North, beating the old record of 22. Brooke was the tying run here, at #22.
  • Community North is the top birthing hospital in the state, so I believe that record holds for Indiana as well.
  • Brooke was only the second baby ever to be born in triage at Community North. You know, not in the actual birthing suites.

(Facts based on rumors corroborated by various nurses. May or may not be acknowledged by the World Record folks.)

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Because It’s Now May

It’s been a while, Dear Journal. I’m having trouble finding the time to check in. It’s a lame excuse, I know, but work has been busy. In addition, when I’m not at work, I’ve been working hard to prepare for my daughter’s arrival. And, when I haven’t been doing that, I’ve been just trying to stay sane.

The end of this pregnancy journey feels a lot like when I was a kid waiting for Christmas to arrive. Or, later as an adult, waiting for a much-needed vacation to arrive. There’s an almost impossible level of anticipation that makes it increasingly difficult to focus on, well, anything. And it’s even worse, in this case, because we don’t know exactly when this “vacation” is going to arrive. It’s not like I can actually count down the days, because we only really have a best guess. Yet still, we’re counting.

I’ve never really been the type of person to peek at Christmas gifts, even as a kid. I’m content, for the most part, to experience the anticipation and then receive the payoff when the day finally comes. In this case, however, I really wish I could have a sneak peek. I guess we kind of have, in the form of ultrasounds. But unlike a box of legos or that new N64 game, I have no idea what this gift is even going to be like.

Everyone has guesses and opinions, to be sure. I feel like by this point, I’ve heard it all. Parenting is fun, but no fun. Challenging, but easy. Natural, but something you have to work at. There’s a bunch of “rules” but then there are no rules. Guidelines, but no one experience is the same. What worked in the past may or may not work in the future. It’s scary and exciting.

I’ve had 9 months to prepare, but now it’s May. It’s May and she’s coming. It’s May and there will be no Aprils ever again. What a bizarre thing, these life changes are.

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