That Dark Place


Warning: Heavier than normal stuff in this post.

unfinished-business-feature-400x200I’ve have been feeling “it” circling me for a little while. The symptoms are unmistakable: a gradual social withdrawal; the somewhat manic devotion to projects and work for the distractions they provide; the nagging sense that if I can keep thinking happy thoughts and stay busy enough that I’ll keep from sliding toward that dark place that dominated my life just a few short years ago.

My slide into the dark abyss where I wallowed for an extended period of time came in the wake of our last ditch attempt at conceiving through ICSI IVF.  When the BFN (to use the term of art that I’ll translate for the uninitiated: Big Fu#!@ing Negative) came in after the last beta test, I was beset with all of the classic symptoms of depression.  I fought back as best I could through writing, counseling sessions with a RESOLVE-recommended counselor and lots of support from my ever patient dear husband.

But during the worst of it I gave Rip Van Winkle a run for his money sleeping almost constantly when I wasn’t required to fulfill work obligations. While I lost a fair amount of time in slumber land the sleep immersion was my body’s attempt to escape from the harsh reality I didn’t want to face. I avoided just about all social requests. I developed a contempt for my body that led me to accept (but not ingest) from my ob/gyn a sample birth control pill kit that would have left me with only four abbreviated periods a year rather than the customary tear-inducing and failure-mongering dirty dozen.

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Keeping those BCPs close at hand in the medicine cabinet was my way of reminding my body that I was capable of taking control of it. It was as if I was saying “Okay, you good for nothing plumbing, you may not perform the way the mother nature intended, but just know that I can shut you down altogether with just a glass of water and this hormone packed pharmaceutical.” (In truth, I couldn’t bare the idea of taking more hormones and I wanted deep down to believe that a miracle was still possible.)

I still have the BCP package but they’ve long-since expired. They’re one of an odd set of items that are squirreled away from those darker days. While I’ve rid the house of baby items and stretchy, loose-fitting clothing I bought over the years with an eye toward maternity wear, there are certain odds and ends that I haven’t been able to part with…yet.

So what gives? What’s behind the brooding cloud that’s been gathering over me the past few weeks? I wish I knew for certain. I’ve been impressed with the great progress and courage that other women in the IF blogging community have been demonstrating. Perhaps by comparison I feel as though I’m still stuck in a limbo of sorts. There are weeks when I feel I’m taking two steps forward and then, BAM! there I go taking one step back.  Let me offer up as exhibit A in my “fortified heart.”

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And by fortified, I mean “fort” in the classic Middle Ages sense.  I’ve recently become painfully aware that over the past several years I’ve built an impressive wall around my heart that keeps me from genuinely engaging with and getting to know new people. The wall also keeps me at a distance from many others whom I’ve gotten to know over my lifetime.  The wall is a defense mechanism that keeps me from opening up and fully revealing who I truly am now — that would require tapping into a full range of experiences and emotions that have severely battered me.  I clearly don’t have a problem tapping into those here in this blog but it’s safe here.  The physical world is a different matter.

I expend a lot of energy when required in business and social settings holding a smile on my face (but as Aunt Sassy noted recently there’s a big difference between smiling with your mouth and smiling with your eyes).  I’ve caught my reflection in a mirror unexpectantly at times and am surprised by the sadness I see in my eyes — but in those unguarded moments it’s unquestionably there.

So why not tear down the wall? While I know I need to work on doing just that, I worry that in allowing myself to fully open up to people the way I once did before IF stole a large joyful part of me that I won’t be able to control my heart. I might dissolve in tears, lash out at an innocent comment or become ugly in my anger.  Because of that I’ve found that it’s been easier to retreat than to explain. The dark clouds, though, remind me that shutting myself off is not without its costs. It’s exhausting to live on guard and it should come as no surprise to me that it’s a downer not to be free to be myself.

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12 Responses

  1. Deathstar

    April 26, 2007 7:05 am


    The problem with pasting a smile on your face and staying busy is that it only works for a little while. I know. I tried it. I found a really great therapist and for a while, it eased my heart tremendously because I had somone to unload my frustration and pain and grief on. One session, I think I cried for the entire hour. I don’t think I’ve cried for an hour in my entire life. She warned me that grief comes in waves. Some days it’s not so bad and other days, it’s hard to crawl out of bed. I know that dark place, it’s called fundamental darkness and it can hold a lot. All your fears, all your insecurities, your failure, your shame, lost dreams.

    And even when you are cycling and getting BFN’s and crying, you still get to try again, there’s still a kernel of hope. And when you start to feel better, you think screw it, maybe IVF is not the way and we can do it on our own. But then… nothing but Aunt Flo.

    I know that adopting a child does not replace the child that my husband and I would have had. It might help my heart, but that “potential” child will forever be a dream.

    Sometimes that hole in your heart is not meant to heal. It cannot be fixed. You’re just different. You can never be the same woman you were or wanted to be. Not better or worse, just different. It’s a scar that you can hide with a little makeup, but it’s always there. Part of you. It tells a story. It says you survived.

    No, I don’t like it. I want to be like those other woman out there, baby esconced in a trendy stroller with my dog walking the seawall, Starbucks in the cupholder. I want to swap labour delivery stories, show my scars, bitch about my jelly belly. I want to watch my little one grow and develop, smile at me, turn her head when she hears my voice. I want people to say she looks like me or has my husband’s eyes. But life isn’t fair, is it?

    But what do I do, I’m a Buddhist so I chant. Nam myo ho renge kyo. So my child can find me, if not in this lifetime, then the next. I chant so I can see beyond my pain. Every now and again, I can. On those days, when I can, my child is still there, the best of both of us, happy, healthy, where no one or thing can ever harm her. And on the days, I can’t, I miss her so badly I can barely breathe.

    I’m going to try my best not to live a half life. For her sake. For my husband’s sake. And for my own. I deserve to be happy, and so do you.

  2. DD

    April 26, 2007 1:31 pm

    Is it possible that you feel this welling-up because you have been blogging while many are still treating? Forgive me if my questions seems completely out there, but I’m only taking into consideration that this blog is fairly new and I wasn’t sure if you had another blog, or if you were reading chatrooms (ugh). I wonder sometimes if I hadn’t got into blogging if I would feel like I do (for me that would also be depression mixed with envy).

    It’s kind of like how many bloggers stop reading other blogs when they become pregnant. Maybe I’m completely in left field…sorry if I am. If so, don’t bother publishing this.

    Just know that I’m thinking of you and so many others who ride the wave of depression.

    • Pamela Jeanne

      April 26, 2007 3:12 pm

      It’s an excellent theory, DD, one that I’ve considered spending as much time as I do inside my head. But, no, I derive quite a bit of comfort from the online IF community. At least we all have a common understanding of how IF changes us. Bumble has an eerily familiar post today that builds on what I’ve written. Deathstar and Miss E’s comments here also sum it up. I know my time for treatment is past. I think it has more to do with knowing that I spend the vast majority of my time day in and day out with people who truly don’t understand how my face once lit up, the playfulness I once possessed. I’ve moved beyond the intense grief around the conception aspect of IF, but it seems I’m now realizing how hard it is to suck it up and pretend for the world around me that the far-reaching affects of IF don’t still have a sizable influence on me and how I relate (or don’t if I’m hiding behind the wall) to others in daily life. It’s the challenge of feeling one way and acting another that’s contributing to my unease. It’s therapeutic to analyze and write about it — gets the old heart and head in alignment…

  3. Ellen K.

    April 26, 2007 1:37 pm

    I am sending you a huge hug.

    I too have felt that sort of fortress. In particular I shy away from people with whom I might have something in common, except that they have a child and I haven’t.

    I think that it’s often difficult to feel like a true participant in life in general, when you want a child but cannot have one. I sometimes feel more like a mere observer than I should.

    Do you happen to have a pet? If not, would you consider getting one? I think the unconditional love of an animal, especially a dog, is so satisfying. I don’t know what I would do without Sadie. And because of our daily walks together, she helps me be more of a participant and interact with kids and adults.

  4. MLO

    April 26, 2007 2:06 pm

    The part about the “smile in the eyes” caught me. My DH has said he misses my smile – the one that lit up my entire face – ever since we got our diagnosis.



  5. Mel

    April 26, 2007 4:13 pm

    Perhaps it is seasonal or you associate a time of year with a certain loss (or blissful happiness). And it brings back the feelings. I’m sorry you’re blue. I hope grey skies part soon.

  6. karenO

    April 26, 2007 5:35 pm

    Oh Pamela, I think we’re all tuned into each other’s souls. I so wish I could hug you and soothe your pain a bit, but if I don’t even have the wisdom to deal with my own, I might just make a mess of it! We are the girls with the broken smiles, and to borrow from the song a bit more: My door’s always open, you can come anytime you want.

  7. Louise

    April 26, 2007 6:08 pm

    Sending you a huge hug as well. I sometimes find myself hiding behind a wall as well, and I also hate the way that infertility has changed me. We used to LOVE to entertain, and now I just can’t find the energy or interest to have a huge open house. My eyes were once a lot happier, too.

    Deathstar mentioned her faith, which made me think about mine….Since I am a Christian, I am holding to a promise that my suffering has some type of meaning, that there is a purpose. I have no idea what that purpose is, or if I ever will know it under stand it. Probably not. But it helps me on my bad days, believing and knowing that God has a plan for my life, plans to prosper me, and not harm me, no matter what my external circumstances are. Yea, that is coming off as a bit preachy, but it is something I cling to on my bad days.

    Wishing you all the best, remember you are not alone!!!

  8. foreverhopeful

    April 26, 2007 6:16 pm

    Wow.. I so relate to this right now. I’ve been protecting and hiding myself from the world for so long. And I’m so afraid to face the world because of my own pain and scars. I’ve always been someone who couldn’t hide my emotions very well. People can tell from my face and voice when something is wrong. I suck at faking things. And lately people I talk to have noticed a difference. Infertility has taken so much out of me that I’m not the same person anymore. I don’t know if she will ever come back but I want her back. I personally think getting it out there is more therapeutic than keeping it inside. Being honest to ourselves and dealing with the pain is the first step in healing. I was the expert once in denial and covering it up with busyness but I was only bandaging my scars. When you bandage your scars, you never really allow yourself to truly heal. I know we want to just forget, hide and cover our scars but I believe dealing it with in our time and in our way is a journey and I believe you will get there. The only advice I have is don’t compare yourself to other’s. Its a personal journey and even though we may have simliar pains and experiences, no on went through the exact same thing as you. You just have to get through your grieving process in your own way and in your own time. Allow yourself to be yourself with people close to you.. allow yourself to feel what you need to and cry it out and be angry… even in your blog. We’re all here for you. I believe its better to deal with it and get it out than to deny yourself of it. Its very painful at times and we will fall hard but I believe one day the pain will be less and you will find a day where it doesn’t hurt so much. It will only continue to hurt just as much if you continue to hold it inside and deny yourself what you need to feel. I know how hard this process is and you’re not alone. Big hugs to you and hang in there.

  9. Aunt Sassy

    April 26, 2007 10:42 pm

    ** Warning: I am a hypocrite! **

    So you burst into tears, or blast someone who is being insensitive. Oh well. I believe (although I am not good at living this yet) that if our intentions are to move forward, we will… just as soon as we acknowledge and let out the junk that remains. And sometimes that takes a while. And it seems to me that it occurs in layers… like peeling back layers of an onion. I don’t think the grieving is done once and then over for good. Stuffing it builds a wall around our souls, making it more difficult to connect with ourselves. And for me… that is when the darkness begins to set in. So please be good to yourself. and if that means you get pissed off and yell at a cashier here and there, go for it. I really don’t think it will last forever. ((hugs))

  10. Bumble

    April 27, 2007 1:04 am

    You’re right PJ, we must have been on the same wave length while writing these posts. As you know, I’m feeling just the same as you at the moment about all this and wish I knew how to rip that wall down too, but it feels locked up tight, and if I even think of undoing the lock, I feel like crying. Don’t know where that comes from, but hey. I guess we just feel safe within ourselves. The part about how you see sadness in your eyes made me cry, I see it too. Hang in there, you are a strong wonderful woman and there is an end to all this, we have to believe it. x

  11. Aurelia

    April 27, 2007 2:19 am

    Two steps forward, one step back, yep, my life. Right now, I’m feeling two steps forward, but I know I could go backwards, and thats okay, because grief is not linear. It just is. You will find joy again. I believe it.

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