Tag Archives: family

Good-Bye 2011

2011 is almost over, so time for me to assess the good and the bad of the year.

Bad:

1: continued depression

2: back and hernia surgery

3: worrying about things that I cannot control

Good:

1: surgeries have and mental treatment have helped my well being

2: Growth of my family relationships: working through “for worse” and “in sickness” with my wife; watching my children grow; new honesty and openness with my parents and sister; meeting my brother and continued growth and reconnection with my biological family

3: blogging as a tool to help organize my thoughts and feelings.

Thank you all for reading and commenting.  Tomorrow: looking forward to 2012

 

 

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What’s in a Name: Inked Edition

Louis Comfort Tiffany, Window of St. Augustine...

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Earlier this year I waxed somewhat poetically about the names that were given to me by my parents.  Names (not just my own) still are somewhat fascinating to me.  I thought of this the other day when talking to my son.  Before he was born, my wife and I were leaning heavily towards calling him “Gus”.  My grandfather’s nickname was Gus, and it was one that not only we both liked, but would most likely be unique among his peers.   The only issue was that we could not agree on what Gus should be short for.  I wanted Augustine, after St. Augustine, the great theologian, philosopher, and church father.  Lovely Wife leaned toward Gustav because, well, she liked it.  When he was born we settled on a different name, but then it was suggested that we use Gus for a middle name.  The debate was renewed.  Finally, after several minutes of back and forth, Lovely Wife said, “What about just Gus?” So Gus it is.

Well, interestingly enough, often times now Little Guy will seem to ignore you if you use his first name, but pays immediate attention if you call him Gus.  Maybe it was meant to be in the end.  It will be up to him what he goes by as he gets older, but for myself, it turns out that I find myself calling him Gus about half the time.

That got me thinking about my own name.  In the Catholic tradition it is commonplace to give your child at least one saint’s name.  Alas, to this point there is still no St. Ryan.  My middle name is David, and while there are a few St. Davids, none are particularly well-known (King David of the old testament is not a Saint.)  This got me curious about St. Stephen (Stephen being the name given to me at birth).  I knew his story well–he is often known as St. Stephen the Martyr, as he is recorded to be the first martyr as seen in Acts 7:58.  I looked on the list of saints on catholic.org, and learned that St. Stephen’s feast day was December 26.  Most people would think “Oh yeah, good King Wenceslaus looked about, on the feast of Stephen…”, but my first thought was that December 26 was my parents anniversary.  Not only had they adopted a son originally named Stephen, but had also nearly named me Stephen themselves.  One of those odd syncronicities that I have run into quite a bit.  Curious, I looked up who feast day fell on my birthday, and found out that it was Sts. Joachim and Anne.  If you are unfamiliar with them, they are the traditional/legendary parents of Our Lady.  Interestingly enough, from my point of view at least, St. Anne is the patron saint of mothers.

Finally, today, I wanted to share with you my tattoo that I got a few weeks ago.  I wanted something that would be unique to myself, while honoring both my names and families.  With the help of Erin at The Electric Crayon, this is what I was able to come up with:

It is located on my right shoulder.  A couple of quick explanations.  I put it on my arm in tribute to the passage from the Song of Solomon “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave” (8:6).  While the narrator is talking about romantic love, I none the less connected it to love of my family as well.  The author is talking about the “tattoos” of the time, and their permanence, so to set oneself as a seal upon another’s heart was to make them permanently theirs, just as I belong permanently to my families.
Secondly is the letters themselves.  The big initials are the initials of my name, the ones seen everyday, by which I am known.  Inside those are inscribed the initials of the names given to me by my birthmother.  They are somewhat hidden, known to few, but still indelibly part of who I am.

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A Slight Diversion.

I had to share this quick thought.  Tonight before the kiddos went to bed, we all laid on our bed: Lovely Wife, Baby Girl, Little Guy, and me all cuddled up together, with Wonder Pup at our feet, reading stories.  Have you ever had one of those moments that you wish would never end?  Those few minutes were the happiest I have been in quite awhile.  I now have a new “Happy Place” when I am stressing.  What is your extra-special-go-to moment?

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Where I have been.

Yesterday I alluded to the fact that my quest for mental health is looking up, just as my quest for getting a great photograph has.  It hasn’t been easy.

Over the past two years I have been battling some health issues along with my depression.  This all came to a head over the summer.  Out of disability time at work and out of room for appeals, I was let go.  Luckily my wife has a good job and good insurance, because in June my back, which I had problems with on and off for years, threw an all out hissy fit.  I couldn’t stand, sit, or lie down without pain.  When I saw the doctor and had an MRI done, it turns out that I had a ruptured disc.  It was so bad, in fact, that he didn’t even give me a choice.  Surgery was necessary, and as soon as possible.  Afterwards, he told me that the rupture was so big (about the size of a thumb) that they named it.

Recovering from two surgeries in six months (I had two hernias fixed in December) and depression really took its toll on me.  I was lethargic, irritable, but most of all apathetic.  I just didn’t want to do much of anything.  I would drop the kids off at daycare (I was in no shape to care for them on my own), come home, and go back to sleep.  It was a pretty miserable existence.  On top of everything, I was only hurting my relationship with my wife, and possibly my kids, but I didn’t feel that I had any power to change.

Life didn’t follow my lead, but instead continued to change with me along for the ride.  Not all changes were bad.  I told my parents and my sister about my contact with my birth mother and my siblings.  It was a huge burden off of my back, and I think generally well received.  However now I think they are having a little trouble working through their feelings about it.  At least now I am in a place where I am more comfortable to talk about it and work through their fears.

Life wasn’t completely bleak either.  I attended my brother Adam’s wedding and had a great time.  Watching my kids growing and learning made me feel good.  Most of all, knowing that my wife was sticking by me in the most difficult part of our marriage got me through a lot of bad feelings.

Although I hadn’t hit rock bottom, I could see it from where I was standing.  My wife and I went to see my counselor.  He could tell that my mood had gone completely off the rails.  Rather than trying to work through it himself at that time, he referred me to the local behavioral health hospital.

My wife and I went there immediately.  I did a short assessment.  Rather than admitting me as an inpatient (I was neither suicidal nor homicidal) I was admitted to the “partial hospital program”–in effect I would be considered an inpatient, attending group sessions most of the day, but I was able to go home and spend the evenings with my family.  Since that time I have transitioned to the intensive outpatient program.  Basically the same, but I am limited to a certain number of hours per week that I am able to attend.

Perhaps one of the most valuable things that I got right away the first week of treatment was a diagnosis: Major Depressive Disorder.  Although it sounds worse than just “depression”, it has actually helped me.  It is not part of me anymore than a bad back was.  It is just an obstacle that I have to overcome.  Giving it a name rather than a nebulous concept gave me something to combat.

It’s a work in progress, but it is already bearing fruit.  I feel better.  My wife is happier.  I am happier.  There will be bumps in the road.  I know that I will be able to overcome them.

Next time–medications and stigmas.

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Two Girls Revisited

Earlier this month, I wrote about my two wonderful nieces who happen to have Autism Spectrum Disorders.  As I have noted, April is Autism Awareness Month.  April also happens to mark both of their birthdays.  These incredible young ladies are on my mind quite a bit, and I wanted to share something that I think it is not only important for parents and family of kids with autism, but for all parents in general.

When my older niece was diagnosed with autism, my sister and brother-in-law were able to enter her into an early childhood preschool program to help her develop social skills.  There were still struggles, but as the time to send her to kindergarten drew closer, it became evident that she would be able to enter a “normal” elementary school.  Going to mainstream school seems to have helped her flourish.  Maybe it was the extra interaction with kids, maybe it was the structure, maybe she was just ready.  In any case, like I have stated before she now looks and acts pretty much like a typical tween.

My younger niece would follow the same footsteps.  She attended the early childhood program preschool.  Although she wasn’t as advanced as her older sister when it came time for kindergarten, program administrators along with my sister and husband agreed that she would be able to attend an elementary school in a normal classroom setting.  The one difference is that she has always had an individual aide assigned to her. 

Flash forward to a couple of months ago.  She is now in third grade.  The principal requested to meet with my sister.  The school had made the decision to transfer my niece to a special education classroom at a different school.  This was quite distressing for my sister.  Like many kids with autism, changes in routine can be traumatic for my niece.   It turns out that being in a smaller classroom has had an incredibly positive effect on her.  She genuinely enjoys going to school now.  She won an award for citizenship at her school.  She has even been able to go off of one of her behavioural medicines, which has had the added benefit of letting her slim down considerably.  The other day she had a swimming party for her birthday where she invited kids from her old class.  It was so great to hear the kids tell her how much they missed her.  Although I am sure that she misses them too, I can’t help but think she is happier now.

As parents, how many times to we try to fit a square peg into a round hole?  My nieces have taught me that each child is unique, valuable, and respond differently, whether they have a “disability” or not.  We worry that Baby Girl doesn’t talk as much as Little Guy did at the same age, but we neglect to remember how incredibly verbose he was for his age.  Yet, she seems to have motor skills that are far ahead of what his were at her age.  It seems that we will never stop learning from our children.

As a reminder, please visit Autism Speaks for more information on children with autism spectrum disorders.

UPDATE: Please visit this awesome site.  Autism Love Hope.  She makes awesome jewelry that you can use for gifts or to help spread awareness.

WEDNESDAY FUN: My first artistic endeavour

Earlier this month I spoke about my sudden desire to create some art, and I wanted to share my first painting:

I was actually pleasantly surprised.  While I obviously have amature level skills, I went about it without much of a plan.  The sailboat is going away from stormy waters towards calmer seas and the sunrise, an obvious metaphor for overcoming depression.  What I didn’t plan was that the side representing the future is much more blurred, and the brush strokes follow no pattern.  An added, but not purposeful metaphor.

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On Siblings

I read somewhere that siblings are such a powerful influence on us, because they are our first peers.  I think this there is a definite truth behind this, as I look at the relationship that I have with my sister.  What is somewhat interesting to me, however, is the almost instant rapport that I have been able to develop with my bio siblings.  Meeting them has been quite an interesting study of nature v. nurture.  I thought I would give a brief description of each of my siblings.

My sister that I grew up with is almost two years older than I am.  When my parents first brought me home, from what they tell us she had a bit of a regression, or jealousy, or whatever you might want to call it.  She would climb in my crib and steal my pacifier.  Growing up we tended to fight like cats and dogs.  Things changed when she went to high school, while I hung back in junior high.  For whatever reason that was the catalyst that changed us into best friends.  While she was my most ardent supporter, she could also be my most vocal critic, but I think she only did this because she knew that I would accept open, honest criticism from her.  Today she is smart and funny.  Nobody can make me laugh the way that she does.  We are very honest with each other–things that each of us might be able to get past our parents or respective spouses don’t get by our BS detectors.  She is a wonderful mother, perhaps underscored by the strength that she has displayed raising two girls with autism.  My two nieces and my nephew are great kids.  I think that she is depressed like I am, but it comes from different places.  She is a cynic and a pessimist (which of course I can see right through) while I am an optimist with strong anxiety.  Sometimes it seems like we are depressed because life has “proved” her right while it has “proved” me wrong.  I put those in quotes because depression takes things that most people would simply shrug of turns them into big, hairy deals.

While my biological siblings are in essence still relative strangers, having only seen them in person a few times, it is amazing to me the connection that I feel and the real sense that I am indeed a part of the family.  Also, each of them have qualities that remind me of myself.

My first brother is 2 years younger than I am.  He is very tall, which was a little strange at first, because I am reasonably tall, and having a younger brother taller than me didn’t quite mesh in my head for a little bit, even though logically there is no connection between birth order and height.  He is kind of quiet and reserved, much like I can be, but has an easy smile and has been easy to talk to once I got to know him.  I compare him to the way that I am when I first meet people, or when I am around people who I don’t know very well.

My next brother is 3 years younger than I am.  He looks a lot like me.  I am positive that if we were someplace where we both met somebody that we didn’t know, we would not have to introduce ourselves as brothers.  I think that we probably have more in common than that.  We both have a hearty laugh and a genuine but seemingly mischievous smile.  Incidentally, we all have this quirky crooked smile–sometimes it is harder to see, but when I look at some pictures of everyone, I will notice it and think to myself “there it is!”–an interesting genetic phenomena.  I liken him to the self that I show to my close family and friends.

My next brother is 9 years younger that I am.  Currently he is in college studying English with an emphasis on creative writing.  In particular he has a passion for poetry.  He is easy-going, easy to talk to.  I imagine that he is the life of a party.  While it seems they all share my love of music, reading, and writing, there is a definite passion that is perhaps most evident in him, particularly writing, of course.  He seems to live life with complete gusto, while still being able to keep his feet on the ground.  He is the me that I have deep inside, wanting to get out.

Last but certainly not least is my sister.  She is nearly 19 years younger than I am.  Even though we are technically from the same family generation, I was worried that we may not have a connection, but this appears to have been unfounded, despite our gender and age differences.  She is brilliant and mature, perhaps a side effect of growing up with older brothers.  Lovely Wife mentioned the other day that she forgets about her age (she is a sophomore in high school).  She has definite passions, ideas, plans, and goals for her future.  In her I see the me that I once was, and who I wish to be again.  OK, minus the girl part.  You know what I mean.

 I am still finding my place in my suddenly larger family, but I am loving every minute of it.  It feels almost like I am getting a clean slate, able to choose the things that I like from my upbringing and those that I like from my genetics, and meshing them into what will be my true self.  When I have finished this process, I think that I will have also found my way out of depression.  I love my siblings and I love my families.  Finding that very unique me is and will be quite an adventure.

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What’s in a name?

Have you ever sat back and pondered if your name makes you part of who you are?  I once heard it said that the thing that people most like to hear is the sound of their own name. 

Growing up I would think about this.  I liked my name.  Ryan.  Even if others had the same first name, it branded me as an individual.  Although now it appears to have been gaining popularity when I received it in the 70’s, it still seemed unique enough to me growing up.  My middle name (I will only share my first, sorry) was more traditional, but it had meaning to me as a place in my family.  It was the same as my favorite uncle’s first name, and the middle name of both of his sons, my cousins.  For an adoptee, it tied me into a history of sorts.   Of course my last name created even more of an identity.  It officially made me part of a family, of a tradition.  Almost a reference point for my life.  It made me proud to share it with my family, as I am proud now that it is carried by my wife and children.

An interesting discovery for myself as an adoptee searching for my roots was the discovery of my name given to me by my biological parents.  In fact, learning my name was an impetus for making the search.  Originally I had petitioned the adoption agency for my medical and non-identifying information.  Part of the information that agencies give for non-identifying information is the adoptee’s original name (minus the last name, of course).  So, as I pored over the information, there it was in black and white.  My first name was Stephen.  Somehow, it felt like I always knew that.  I remember thinking back to grade school, when the teacher asked each of us if we were to give ourselves a name, what would it be, and why?  Stephen is the name that I picked out, but I don’t remember the rationale.  My Mom and Dad had also mentioned that they had considered calling me Stephen before settling on Ryan.  Was it preordained?  It turns out that I, like many that would go on to be placed for adoption, was named after relatives.  My father’s name is Steven.  A small difference that is philosophically interesting.  A small change that ties me to him, yet makes me different.  It is almost as if it acknowledges the “good” parts of his personality, while giving me a clean slate to wipe away the “bad”.  Although I don’t think this is what they had in mind.  I can think of three more likely reasons.  Being Catholic, it would have been more traditional, i.e. my patron saint would be St. Stephen.  It may have reflected the family heritage of my mother’s side of the family–it being a more traditional spelling given my ethnicity.  Finally, my mom also has a brother that is named Stephen.  Of course, it could be none of these things.  I also think about the possibility that if I hadn’t been placed, I may have gone by “Stevie” as a differentiation from my father, at least while I was young.  I like that too, even if it is total conjecture.

My middle name was so unique, I was almost certain that it was after someone else.  Actually, it was one of the puzzle pieces that led me to finding my mom.  It was my grandfather’s name–although he went by a nickname.  The first time that my mom wrote me back she confirmed this–I was named after my father and my grandfather. 

My last name was a mystery, though.  I had found my mother’s maiden name, and I was pretty sure what my father’s last name was (I was right).  Which would I have been given?  I tended to like my mom’s.  I tried them both on, saying them to myself in my head.  When we did meet, she placed a piece of paper in front of me and said “Here, look at this.” although I was sitting down and she was behind me, I could hear the smile on her face.  It wasn’t my official birth certificate, but one of the commemorative ones that the hospital gives to new parents.  I did have her name.  As I have gotten to know my siblings, I find it interesting that they all seem to strongly identify with her side of the family.  Perhaps, having two different dads, it is the thing that ties all four (now five) of them (us) together, in spirit and in genetics.  An unbreakable fraternal bond. 

I have always kicked around the idea of writing a book, and thought that if I did so I would write under a pseudonym.  I could never think of one that I liked.  It turns out that I have the perfect one, and it isn’t “pseudo” at all.

FRIDAY FUN: Photo Favorites

Sunset over a rural Iowa skyline.

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What a weekend

This week I am going to eschew my normal philosophical musing type posts.  I am doing this for a couple of different reasons.  The first is that now since I have established a blogging style, it is time to sprinkle in a few other things.  Secondly I wanted to talk about a few things that are important to me.  Last, I don’t want people to start thinking that my entire life revolves around depression and anxiety (be prepared to still hear mention of those).  I do experience and observe other things in life.  If you do like the other format, fear not!  I have plenty of topics still in the hopper.

This weekend we went to visit my bio-family.  What a great time.  Just a quick synopsis of how my relationships shake out:  After I was born and placed for adoption, my parents did end up getting married.  After getting married they had two more sons.  After getting divorced, Mom married her current and second husband, and they had a son and a daughter.  I am roughly 2 years older than Brother 1 (I couldn’t come up with nicknames that were clever or that weren’t completely dorky, so this is what you get) 3 years older that Brother 2, 9 1/2 years older than Brother 3, and 19 years older (kinda weird to think about, but so cool) than Little Sister.

After several failed attempts I still hadn’t met B3, and mom had mentioned how she would like to see Little Guy and Baby Girl.  It almost didn’t work again, as B3’s completely adorable little one (10 months) was going through diapers like a hot  knife through butter, and he had a lot of homework to do.  In the end Mom convinced him to come, as we could all go do something and take the baby with us, so he could have the house all to himself.  I am so glad that it worked out.

Within minutes of getting there on Friday and settling down, LG climbed up on Mom’s lap with a book.  If we hadn’t done anything else for the whole weekend, that sight was pure gold.   Soon, B3 arrived with his fiance and little one.  his fiance came in first and almost asked my what I was doing there before she realized who I was (B2 and I look so much alike).  When B3 came in we shared a big brotherly bear hug (loving the alliteration there).  The kiddos had a great time with their cousins.  In particular, Little Guy had a ball with B2’s daughter who is about the same age as he is.

Mostly, though, I had a great time.  We all got to talk about things serious, silly, philosophical, and fun.  LW commented on how strange it felt that everything was so comfortable.  I was a little worried that B3 and I wouldn’t have as much common ground with me as the others because on the surface we seem the most different, but that is not at all how it turned out.  By the time we left, BG who is normally quite shy had warmed up to Mom. 

We talked about the next times that we would be getting together.  I left feeling recharged.  I am so tired today, though!  It was definitely an eventful and satisfying weekend.

MONDAY FUN: YouTube Music Favorites

Joe Bonamassa

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Opening Up

Up until now I have been mum on what is an essential part of who I am.  It is part of my history, part of how I view the world, part of how I process relationships.  I am an adoptee.

What I can’t say for sure is how or if my adoption has affected my depression.  Certainly my parents provided a loving, nurturing, stable, and supportive upbringing.  I love my mom and dad and my sister dearly.  It has been a wonderful life, to be certain.

Nor can I say with any certainty that my adult mood was adversely affected by the other side of the equation.  In her famous book The Primal Wound, Nancy Verrier posits the theory that the adopted infant, whether consciously or unconsciously, will always remember the separation from his mother, and it will affect attitudes, perceptions, and relationships for the rest of his life.  It is an insightful if sometimes difficult read for all sides of the adoption “triad” (the adoptee, the birth parents, the adoptive parents).  Of course, each adoptee is different.  When I read the book, I found myself nodding in recognition of myself through some passages, while finding others irrelevant and skipping them all together.

It makes sense that a baby would remember his mother, no matter how unconsciously.  Even though I don’t remember, I am sure I felt her warmth, her kisses, her tears.  I am sure that I heard her voice, whispering words of love, hope, and regret.  I am sure that she was feeling a firestorm of emotions deep in her heart.  I wonder if I was able to sense that.  I wonder how much, if any, was passed on to my psyche.

There is also a more physical, perhaps tangible link between birth parents and their children in regards to the latter’s depression.  Genetics appear to be a contributor of susceptibility to depression.  Of course, there are other factors as well.

I can say that even though I grew up in a family that was loved and loving, I did think about my birth mother on many occasions.  I don’t have any statistics, but I assume that this is almost universal among adoptees.  How could it not be?  So perhaps Verrier is right, and I do carry a primal wound.  One that manifests itself in questions, in personality, and yes, in longing.

The paperwork that I possess states that I was 17 days old the last time my mother held me before placing me for adoption.  Young and scared, I am sure that moment profoundly affected her.  I have come to realize that for good and bad, it has affected me as well.

Of course, our story doesn’t end there.  How could it?  Thirty-four years, two months, and four days later, I found myself slowly walking up to her door.  An incredible sense of serenity had descended upon me, where I had expected a record amount of anxiety.  As she sprang out of the door just as I reached the front porch step, she wrapped me in a hug.  I will never forget the first words that I consciously remember her saying to me.  “You’ve changed a lot since the last time I saw you.”  Perhaps more than that, I will remember the astonishment that I felt.  Her voice sounded so familiar.

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