You can take the Mama out of the Geek world…

It’s been nearly twelve years that I’ve worked for my current employer, a software company that I suspect most of you are all too familiar with.  Earlier this month, spurred in part by the seizures and in part by a few personal factors, I decided it was time to leave.  I’m fortunate in many ways; I have the full support of my husband and family in doing this, and we have the means (and medical insurance) such that I can afford to take a couple weeks of down time before jumping back in to the workforce.  It was not an easy decision to make, but from the way I’ve been feeling since putting in my notice, I can’t help but be convinced that this was the right choice to make for now.

Many years ago, when my  previous husband and I were divorcing and I had to start breaking the news to people, I did so with expectations that people would be disappointed in me for not being able to make it work. Instead, I received almost unanimous support from family, friends and co-workers. I thought I was going to hear things like “Have you tried [something else]?” or be told that I was giving up, not trying as hard as I should have.  Instead, I heard things like “I’m so glad! You deserve to be happy,” and “Kudos for making a tough decision!”

This past week, as I’ve been telling my friends and co-workers that I’m ending my working relationship, I’ve realized that I had similar expectations about their reactions.  I worried that people would question my decision, or ask whether I had done everything I could to make things work out. And once again, I’ve realized that I haven’t been giving them enough credit.  Once again, I’m hearing nothing but supportive comments.  My friends and family know I’ve been unhappy here for quite a while, long enough that it’s worn me down physically and emotionally. They probably also know that I’ve stubborn and hate to admit defeat, so it’s not too surprising that it took something drastic to make me realize what was happening. Walking away from a decent salary and a prime slate of benefits seems a little crazy, especially in this economy.  Working here was right for me for many years, and it was through my job that I met many of those friends (one who later became my husband).  But even good relationships can go sour under certain circumstances.  Sometimes it’s possible to put things right.  Other times, the price of staying outweighs the benefits.

I’m an engineer at heart, so I have to analyze. In looking at the similarities between the two “breakups,” I’ve been trying to understand why my first instinct is to brace for criticism and disapproval.  The best I’ve come up with is that it’s the criticism and disapproval that I feel myself. Is this really the right decision? Could I have found a way to make it work if I’d just looked a little harder or put more effort into it?  Clearly I’ve failed somehow, and surely it must be my own fault.  After all, hundreds of other woman, mothers of young children, are able to pull off the necessary balance of effort needed to succeed in the workforce, and even in this high-intensity company.  If they can do it, there’s no reason I shouldn’t have been able to as well.

But frankly, if I’m going to send my Kiddo off to the care of someone else five days a week, it really should be so that I can do something I love and find fulfilling, rather than something that’s going to drag me down or even leave me in tears at the end of a too-long workday.  The people who care about me are able to see that, and I can certainly stand behind it when it applies to other people. I just don’t do as well acknowledging it for myself.

The support and love I’ve gotten from the people close to me as I’ve made this decision has been more than I expected.  As my husband loves to remind me, I am more than just my job title.  Yes, it’s been an integral part of my identity for a very long time, but just as I’m more than a mom, more than a wife, more than a puzzle solver or a blog writer, I’m also more than what’s on my business card. I’m greater than the sum of my many hats–and now, it’s time to try on a new one.



Curveball caught, life goes on

Sometimes life throws you curveballs.  I’ve had a few myself, the most recent being just a couple weeks ago.  I’ve noticed that the key to surviving unexpected situations seems to be how well you can adapt to the new version of “normal.”  Heck, even for surviving expected situations (bringing home a new baby, switching jobs), when it’s a significant change to what you were used to.  It’s been about two and a half weeks now since Return of the Seizures, and we’ve had to make some changes at home in response.  Most of them have been minor ones, but breaking old habits and forming new ones can be a little rough until the changes become routine.

The biggest issue for us is that I’m temporarily restricted from driving.  Even though it does feel like we’ve got the seizures under control for now (they haven’t been back since I left the hospital), we’ve been abiding by the restriction for the time being. My husband and I carpool to work now, and he drops me off and then takes Kiddo to daycare himself, since daycare and my husband’s office are very close to each other.  In the evening they pick me up.  It’s been nice driving in as a family, even though it’s meant having to shift around some work hours and responsibilities.

I’ve also had to get back in the habit of taking medication twice a day.  Thankfully, I’m no longer feeling the dizziness on it that I was experiencing the first couple days.  I have a new neurologist now, and I like him a lot. My old doctor’s office was very far away, and they couldn’t see me until the end of May.  This new one is closer, is associated with some of my other regular doctors, and was able to get me in for a visit much sooner.  Switching doctors often means going through another round of tests, and I’m not thrilled about that, but since medical science continues to advance, perhaps they’ll find something helpful this time.  The good news is that my new doctor was willing to switch me from the Keppra that I’m currently taking back to the Lamictal that I took several years ago with great results.  It’s a multiple-week ramp-up process, so I’m sure there will be some emotional ups and downs over the next month or  so, but I’m willing to suffer through that knowing that it has worked well for me before.

In my limited seizure experience, the only time there was a single contributing factor was when I was drinking heavily.  In all other cases, it’s been an accumulation of multiple factors: insufficient sleep, high stress levels (often work- or school-related), and a slightly weaker physical state due to illness. The last one is difficult to avoid entirely, and the first one can also be a challenge with a young child in the household. But there are things I can do about my stress levels at work, and I’m taking steps in that direction.

Other than that, life at our house hasn’t been too affected by this event.  In many ways that’s great, but it also makes it easy to forget sometimes why we made those changes in the first place.  I get busy enough in the evenings that in between sorting laundry and cleaning up dinner leftovers, sometimes it slips my mind that I was supposed to take a pill until it’s overdue by a couple hours.  If I had a severe enough seizure history that forgetting to take my pill on time almost always led to seizures, I’m sure it would be a top priority every night.  But instead, sometimes the more immediate demands of life distract me from those tasks with less obvious results.

For all that I’m willing to talk about it and write about it, let me be clear about one thing:I hate having this diagnosis. I don’t like the practical and emotional impact it has on our family, and I don’t like the idea that my brain needs help to function properly. I just want to be normal again (or as close to it as I’ve ever managed to get.) But I’ve adapted to it before, and we can deal with this now.

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By the way…

It’s probably obvious by now by now that I’m a huge fan of Intersect.  A couple months ago, they added a new feature: your own personal map with the stories you’ve shared pinpointed in space.  They also provided code to embed your story map in other web pages.  Unfortunately for me and other WordPress users, the embed code uses an HTML tag that the WordPress software intentionally strips out for security reasons.

However, last week I came across a workaround to this problem, and I’m delighted to say that it works almost as well as embedding the map itself.  I’ve added a new page to the menu bar above, and I invite you all to check out my storyline.  I’ve also added a few more stories there to make my map more interesting, although you do have to scroll the map to the left to get to the Hawaii ones.  I’ve got a few more coming soon, but thought it might be more tantalizing to distribute them sloooooowly.  (ok, fine. I’ve been busy this past weekend helping assemble an application for the World Henchmen Organization, and doing various job- and brain-related things.  More stories AND blog posts coming soon, I’m sure of it!)


Reader question: Did changing diapers lead to a change of mind?

Recently I challenged some friends to come up with blog topics for me. My friend Sora suggested this one: how have your opinions about parenting changed since actually becoming a parent?

I have to cast my mind back almost two years to answer this one. I remember feeling very uncertain, especially as the due date got closer. It seemed like there were so many different approaches to parenting.  So many books.  So many philosophies. How would we know we were making the right decisions, especially in cases where we wouldn’t see the results for literally years?

In many ways, it got easier after the delivery.  There were a lot of decisions that became moot, because we went with what felt instinctually right.  For example, when to start solids? We just waited until Kiddo started showing interest. The best guideline I’d heard was that when we started feeling guilty about eating “real” food in front of him, that would be the time. As imprecise as that sounds, it turned out to be spot on. One day not long before he turned six months old, he started showing a different kind of interest in the food we were eating, as though he was trying to figure out why we were putting it in our mouths and more importantly, why we weren’t taking it back out.  A week or two later we broke out the traditional box of rice cereal, plus some avocado for variety. It was important to me that he be exposed to a variety of food, because I’m a picky eater myself and didn’t want to pass along that habit. But as it turns out, Kiddo loves to eat all kinds of things. Last night he was chowing away on chicken curry; one of the fastest new words I’ve seen him pick up was “couscous.”

There were a few areas where I’d been firm about an idea while incubating the boy and changed my mind afterward. The biggest one was Baby Sign Language. I’d written it off  years ago after an incident at a friend’s house. Even when Kiddo was born, I wasn’t planning on trying it. When my mom was visiting a week or two later, we had a conversation in the car about how useful it was for a friend’s family back home, and I found my position softening. A few months later, baby sign language books were on my Christmas list. We only learned about a dozen signs, but I’m sure glad we reversed position on this one.  Having a way for Kiddo to tell us he was all done with his food, or that he wanted more, has been a huge help in reducing frustration at the dinner table. We taught him a sign to use when asking for help and it comes up all the time. Just this morning, after he knocked all his toys off the edge of the bathtub, he turned and calmly asked me for help getting them back, rather than whining in frustration. And contrary to some nay-sayers’ belief, studies have found that learning nonverbal signs doesn’t actually delay or interfere with children’s ability to learn spoken language. Thanks, Mom!

One area where I found myself being less open-minded than I’d expected is breastfeeding. Before getting pregnant, I figured formula feeding was just as good as breastfeeding. Once I started reading parenting forums and other collections of opinions I decided breastfeeding was preferable, but that I wouldn’t be upset if we had to supplement. I was unprepared for how much of an emotional impact it would have on me. While Kiddo and I had a good breastfeeding relationship as far as direct feeding went, I struggled when it came to pumping. At work it was difficult for me to produce enough milk for him, and also a challenge to carve out regular time for pumping. At home I often stayed up late at night, trying to get just another half-ounce or so. Around five months, my husband began laying the groundwork for introducing formula, at least while at daycare. I gave lip service to the idea, but still resisted. The day it finally sunk in that I just wasn’t producing the way I needed to, I sat at the kitchen table and cried. In the long run it probably doesn’t matter when we started giving him formula in addition to pumped milk (for the record: seven months) but it was a surprise to me how much stronger my feelings about it were once I was actually doing it.

If I look back even further, before I’d actually considered becoming a parent, I think the biggest change in viewpoint was that I used to think I didn’t want kids because I’d be a terrible parent. I didn’t think I could measure up to my own parents. And heck, I enjoyed sleeping in on weekends and being able to eat whatever and whenever I wanted. I never believed that being a parent would be an easy thing (having a baby brother born just before I turned 16 cured that illusion quickly) and in part, my decision to be childless was born out of wanting to take the easy path. When my husband and I decided to try for kids, it was a big leap of faith for me. Now I honestly do believe it was one of the best changes of mind I’ve ever had.


The lurking demon

This past Monday evening I left the house for what was supposed to be a fun social evening, an officewarming for the new Intersect offices.  Instead, I ended up in the hospital.  After almost eight years of dormancy, my epilepsy returned with a vengeance.

I don’t talk about it much.  I don’t consider myself a Person With Epilepsy, but rather someone who occasionally had has epileptic seizures.  I was diagnosed in the summer of 1998, more than a dozen years ago, but I’ve had only a handful of incidents in that entire time.  For the first ten years, I was on medication to keep the seizures at bay (and it worked, for the most part) but when I got pregnant in 2008, it had been five years since any seizure activity and my neurologist OK’d me stopping the meds.  Call me, she said, if you have any more incidents.  We were both cautiously optimistic that we’d seen the last of them.

Everyone has a seizure threshold, the amount of stimuli needed to provoke a seizure.  For certain people, myself included, that seizure threshold is more easily reached.  The stereotypical trigger is flashing colors or lights, but only a small percentage of people who have seizures are actually triggered in that fashion.  More common triggers are sleep deprivation, stress, and heavy alcohol consumption.  For me, it’s generally a combination of factors.  This is why I don’t drink much these days; unfortunately, the others are trickier to control.

Last Monday, I was coming off an extremely rough week at work that involved a lot of late nights. On top of that, a stomach flu bug was making the rounds in my family, and I hadn’t eaten much that day.  I was feeling a little off when I got to the party, but wrote it off as merely an upset stomach even though every single seizure I’ve had has been preceded by dizziness and nausea.  Frankly, it never occurred to me that I might be vulnerable, because I thought that my seizures were a thing of the past.

At the party I got to meet a few people I’d been hoping to talk to, but mid-conversation with one of the Intersect developers, I was hit with a wave of dizziness.  I excused myself and slipped into an empty conference room, intending to sit down and collect myself before making a mad dash for the restroom.  But the next thing I knew, I was on the floor coming out of fuzzy unconsciousness, trying to reply to someone nearby saying my name.  When I finally was able to sit up, covered in blood and worse, I learned that I’d apparently fallen face-first onto the concrete floor.  We thought at the time that I might have fractured my nose, but the consensus in the ER later was that I’d just “thumped” it.  I’ve got some nice bruises to show for it.  While in the Harborview emergency room, I had another seizure.  I don’t have a clear memory of everything else that happened there–I’m told I was given Ativan a couple of times, and I was taken for x-rays (I remember them taking out my earrings) and a CT scan–so I’m very grateful that my husband was there to observe and to advocate for me.  Four days later I’m still piecing things together.

Around 1:30 a.m. I was released, and with the help of a friend, we set out to pick up the car I’d driven to the Intersect offices that evening.  We were almost there when my brain foiled that plan by misfiring again, and it was back to the hospital for us.  This time they admitted me overnight.  And from there on out, I really don’t remember much at all until the following morning.  After a few more tests and some discussion with the on-call neurologists, they decided it was safe to let me go again, and this time we made it home without incident.  Since then, I’ve been taking Keppra and resting, and have had no further seizure activity.  Then again, it’s only been four days.  It could be months before another one happens.  It could be years.  It could be never.

I’m surprised by how much this has thrown me.  After all, thousands of people live happy, fulfilling lives in spite of an epilepsy diagnosis.  Years ago, it was just a thing I dealt with, another pill to pop twice a day and a couple behavioral modifications.  But this time it’s hitting me a little harder.  Maybe it’s because the Keppra has depression listed as a common side effect, or maybe it’s annoyance at how much this disrupts our daily schedule (I’m not supposed to drive for six months) and the plans I’d roughed out for the next few years.  But I think a lot of it is due to the fact that I truly believed that this was a demon that had gone away for good.  I’d been seizure-free and off the meds with no ill effects, even through pregnancy and the sleep deprivation that comes standard with most newborns. I was convinced that whatever had gone awry in my brain at the age of 25 had somehow righted itself.  It’s a bit of a blow to discover that instead, the demon was merely biding its time, waiting for the right (or rather, wrong) combination of factors.