Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Podcast with my friend

Back in around January of 2018, my psychiatrist came to the conclusion that, due to the spectacular failure of antidepressants to give me any relief, it appeared I had bipolar type II. This was a huge relief. “I’m not crazy!” I thought. “Well, I am crazy... BUT I’M NOT CRAZY!!” We switched to a different kind of medication entirely which has provided some measure of help. I’m still kind of a wreck, but I’m not as bad of a wreck as I was.

A month or two after this diagnosis, my friend from college days, Jessica Jackson, contacted me and told me she was starting a podcast and could she interview me. Wow! Sure!

So here it is, about a year and a half old. Thanks for listening:


Friday, September 7, 2018

Baby Michael's Entrance

On Monday morning, September 3, (baby's due date) Chris and I went to the hospital, took the elevator to the third floor and got checked in to the maternity ward for elective induction. GDM combined with a darkening mental horizon meant that despite my distaste for being induced, it was the better route. Plus, EVERYone at church got a real kick out of the fact that I would be laboring on Labor Day.

Our nurse during all of the labor and delivery was Nancy, a fabulous caregiver. I couldn't have asked for better. We did all the usual things, answer a bazillion questions, change into a hospital gown, get an IV going, started penicillin (for group B strep), etc. The doctor, Dr. Pittard, came in and checked me, I was at a 2, and so we started pitocin.

At a quiet moment of the morning, Chris gave me a priesthood blessing. Sometime near 11am, the contractions, while still within the range I can handle, started heading towards what I new would be exhaustingly painful, so I asked if the anesthetist could be called. Ofttimes it takes awhile before they can get there, and I would rather be ahead of the pain than behind it.

Jamie, an anesthetist with an easy-going manner and a great sense of humor, got there fairly quickly, and he got the epidural started. But weirdly, only a band of about six inches, starting from the top of my large belly to about my belly button, went numb. I could still feel and had full range of motion from the belly button down. Nancy (who kept getting tips from Jamie over the phone) and I tried shifting my position, seeing if gravity could help the epidural take effect further down, but clearly the epidural was not going to descend any lower.

Nancy informed Jamie, and he came back to see if he could assess the problem in person and provide a solution. He couldn't see how, even with my scoliosis, that band would be the only thing that had gone numb. Apparently, that could have been a typical response if the epidural had gone in at around thoracic vertebrae number 10 (T10), but he had put the epidural in at around lumbar 3, a vertebra at least 5 inches lower than T10. That's a long way for the epidural to travel, and seemed quite unlikely. Jamie said he wished he could take an x-ray and figure out what had happened, but couldn't seeing as I had a baby in my abdomen.

So he told me, "We can either do a new epidural, or no epidural." I said I liked the first option best (no contest!), so he, apologizing for the first one failing, set about putting in a new epidural. It wasn't nearly as painful getting the second one done (although I've never found epidural getting to be particularly painful, especially compared with some of the other pains of labor, like getting checked, or even getting an IV put in), thanks to the first one numbing that section of my torso so well. Jamie put the new epidural in at about L4, one vertebra lower than the first. The only clue as to what went wrong the first time was that a larger amount of epidural medicine than usual oozed out of the first "wound" site. So it's clear the epidural didn't end up where it was supposed to go, but why that resulted in the six inch band of numbness, we may never know.

Almost immediately after Jamie got the second one in, I felt my legs start to tingle and get warm, and within minutes we could tell that epidural no.2 was a win. Jamie again apologized and I assured him it was fine. The important thing was we got there in the end! He joked that we'd just call the first epidural acupuncture. I agreed.

One of my favorite parts of this episode was that Chris was given a chair to come sit by me at the bed while the anesthetist worked at my back and the nurse stood at my front. That was new for us. Nancy suggested he could hold my hand for support, and I was surprised at just how supportive that small thing was, holding hands while I got all poked and prodded in the spine.

The rest of the afternoon and early evening was pretty uneventful. I could rest, and just lay down the whole time, which is mostly what I did. I spent some of that time going through all the "educational stuff we need to you know before you can get discharged" on the iPad they gave me, and Dr. Pittard came at about 2pm and checked me again and broke my water, (his original plan was to break my water at noon and THEN I'd have an epidural, but since with Lucy I had progressed really quickly once my water broke, and since he'd been held up in the OR, I changed things up by having the epidural first) but most of that time I spent resting and waiting for little boy to be ready to be born.

Sometime between 6 and 6:30pm, Nancy asked if I wanted to be checked, she had a hunch I was close. She was right! I was fully dilated and effaced. Dr. Pittard was called and we were soon pushing. Little Michael Lewis Machado was born at 6:51 pm. He came into the world all wiggly and hollering and blue, just like the other three did. He was 8lb 11.7oz and 21 inches long. Our heftiest baby yet.

We came home from the hospital on Wednesday after receiving wonderful care from all the nurses (shout out to Madonna who is like the coolest, 60 something, Mary Poppins-like nurse I've ever had). Michael had some jaundice but it is now receding, and we are starting our life as a family of 6. Mom, Dad, two boys, and two girls. His siblings already adore him and love to hold him (for about 20 seconds at most) and give him kisses. And Dad and I are getting our fill of a sweet, sleepy newborn.

Welcome to the world, my new son.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Blessed be the name of the Lord

"...the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
At my brother's funeral last April, we sang three congregational songs: "I Love to See the Temple," "Sing Praise to Him," and "Press Forward Saints."

"Sing Praise to Him" has much of the sentiments of Job 1:21. Job has just learned that all his sons and daughters have been killed in an accident. He rends his garments, shaves his head, and falls down to say, "...the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."

Consider these lines from the 2nd verse: 
What his almighty pow’r hath made
His gracious mercy keepeth.
Within the kingdom of his might,
Lo! all is just and all is right.
To him all praise and glory!
Some of the brethren sitting on the stand were holding it together so well until we got to the part in verse three:
As with a mother’s tender hand,
He leads his own, his chosen band.
Something about seeing a grieving mother there at the front of the congregation and singing about a mother's tender hand was pehaps just too much. I think that was one of my Dad's favorite parts of the whole funeral.

But I digress. Back to Job. If God has made something, his mercy will keep it. All is just and all is right, even for Job who lost his health, his family, his worldly goods, etc. Why? Well, I'm not sure exactly why, but in part, it's because God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful. There are challenges we must pass through that are leading us to a greater glory. All that is unfair in this life will be made up, not least of all by molding us into who we are meant to become. This is why we can say, "blessed be the name of the Lord," and, "To him all praise and glory!"

My dad said people probably thought we were really weird for picking Press Forward Saints and Sing Praise to Him to sing at a funeral. More often people sing things like, "Oh My Father" and "Each Life That Touches Ours for Good." You know, songs about departed loved ones, and what it's like in heaven, and such. Instead, we sang, "Press forward," (ie. "move along.") and, "Alleluia!" "...rejoicing in his might," and "To him all praise and glory!"

When dad said this, he had a bit of a twinkle in his eye. I think that's because he understands Job, and why Job can say, "Blessed be the name of the Lord" at a time when it seems he has no reason to praise.

Plus, those Alleluias at the end of that final hymn? They felt so good to sing. I think Michael would have loved it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Lesson from Grief

A month ago, my little brother, Michael Lewis Hunsaker, departed this life. A drunk driver hit the car my mother, sister and he were in. They survived. He did not.

Our sadness has spawned many tears. And I have felt the peace which passes understanding more times than I can count. We see too many small and simple signs that God used this tragedy to take Michael home. It was his time. And while we miss him more than we can say, there is a peace that accompanies this knowledge, and I truly have reason to live extremely well.

There are some strange lessons you learn through grief. I'd like to share just one of them. It is this: People mourn weird. And you have to learn how to graciously accept their offering.

People say things or give things that come from their hearts, and yet fall woefully short of being helpful. Afterwards you may shake your head or just laugh over the absurdity of it with your loved ones. Because there's not much you can do to stop this kind of thing. But man, I didn't really expect this to be one of the lessons to come out of death.

This card I found once sums it up pretty well:
(photo cred)
People mean well. And far and away most of them say and do things that truly help you bear your grief. But now and again, someone mourns weird. They are trying to help, and so you're at least thankful for that. And the laughing with your family about it afterwards? That's kind of a healing thing too.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Reaching out

Today my friends, seen and unseen, heard me cry out in pain (perhaps some of them literally, it wasn't a baby cry, it was a full grown woman bellow). It's been the same hardness of mental anguish over here. Day in and day out. Often I don't contain it well. The anguish, that is.

So during the day I had two friends reach out with texts, and another reach out with food. She remembered how I don't like to cook and brought us a casserole for the future.

And some unseen hands went and got gifts for our whole family. Wrapped gifts for the children, stitching supplies for me, a gift card for Chris for one of his favorite fast food places, and a bundle of blankets. Snuggy flanel ones for each of us. They left it all on our doorstep and ran. Leaving us full of thanks and inability to express it directly.

Thanks for helping me hold on today. Thank you for making sure I couldn't feel forgotten. Thank you for strengthening my feebleness and responding to my cry.

Call it coincidence if you like. I know its something more.

image cred

Saturday, November 11, 2017

three to four weeks

A little bit "stream of conciousness" writing about my demons. For your benefit as well as mine, but please... no pity.

Imagine you wake up every day in pain. It's severe enough that you don't even want to get out of bed you feel so bad. But you have responsibilities that cannot be set aside, so you get up

That pain stays with you throughout the day. There are moments, sometimes even an hour or two, of relief, but like an overbearing house guest, the pain never leaves you alone.

You go see a doctor who knows your condition, prescribes medication to help with the pain and asks to see you in 3 to 4 weeks. After all, that's about how long the medication will take to really work. Oh, and by the way, it's likely that this medication will make your pain worse. If it does, get in to see the doctor sooner, and also, we have a whole slew of medications we can try in case this particular one goes south. But again, each time it will be 3 to 4 weeks before we'll know and your pain might again get worse instead of getting better.

It's not that the doctor is incompetent. No, he's one of the best in his field. You just have to endure life altering pain for days and weeks at best and months and years at worst before you may find any measure of relief.

It's exhausting. It's terrifying. It makes you want to weep. In fact, you often can't do anything but weep.

And it is my life. Every day for months now. Life with a diagnosed, but not successfully treated mental illness.

I'm writing this post for two reasons:
1) because it helps me to write. I can process, make some order out of the chaos in my head. Search for meaning in the moments of mind-numbing anguish. It helps me to write.

2) because maybe you know someone with a mental illness. Maybe you are someone with a mental illness. If you have it, you need to know you aren't alone. You aren't the only one contemplating the deepest abyss and overcoming it hour by hour, day by day. If you know someone, maybe you can understand a bit better what it is they may be facing. You can give an encouraging hug. Some words like, "I see your suffering, and I'm cheering for you." Words that might lift up hands which hang and strengthen knees which are feeble.

I'm NOT writing this post for pity. Unlike others I've talked to, I have almost zero shame about my mental illness. I haven't worn myself to the bone thinking that I'm depressed because I'm just not good enough or because I'm weak. I don't wish to hide the fact that my mind is broken any more than I might wish to hide if my arm were broken. Even my therapist and psychiatrist have made comments concerned about the stigmas associated with these illnesses. And while you could state with some certainty that I'm not exactly of sound mind, all I want to say is, "Who cares?"

I've learned from multiple sources, (parents, family, friends, books, and even TED talks) that mental illness is really the same as physical illness insofar as it's just a part of the body experiencing malfunction. It's different in that the human brain is, as my psychiatrist put it, the most complicated system in the entire known universe. And we haven't exactly cracked the code of fixing it when it's broken.

All that is to say. Be kind to those around you. You never know what darkness they may be facing. It may be that your kindness is just the thing that gets them through one more hour, one more day, or one more round of meds that may not help. Be kind, be encouraging, and above all, be patient.

As Tolkien might say:
Even darkness must pass.
A new day will come.
And when the sun shines
it will shine out the clearer.

photo cred

Friday, April 28, 2017


I love fiber and textiles. So much so that I've at least dabbled in most of the common crafts and have a continuous rotation of deep dives into my favorites.

As of this typing, I have four knitting projects, three embroidery projects and one crochet project that I work on fairly regularly.
Volt shawl I'm currently knitting for my German Knit-Pal
I don't always finish the projects. But sometimes I'll go back to a project I dropped years ago and finally finish it. (or just close the drawer again and think "later... maybe later.")

Part of me really enjoys this, having lots of creative outlets to choose from at any given time. I love bouncing from one project to another. I'll get stuck, (boredom, frustration, lack of tools, etc.) and work on a different project that scratches an itch I have in another part of my brain. Then when I go back to the original project, it feels fresh and hopeful and good.

Part of me feels judgmental about this. Is it because I don't want to be seen as wasteful? I don't want to be seen as excessive or frivolous? I don't want to be seen as someone who can start but not finish a task? I don't want others to think I'm flighty or flakey? I think it's some mixture of all of these reasons.

There's a running theme amongst crafters of all varieties, and that is anxiety about stash build-up, mixed with jokes about how your significant other disapproves of the mess, or of a potential new purchase, or of a barely completed new purchase. It's like we have to justify our stash to the world or at least ourselves, and if we can't come up with a good reason, then at least we can laugh nervously and hope we're not the only one.

I don't know what the answer to this conundrum is. But I've got a few thoughts.

1) This life has a lot of beginnings and endings, but not a lot of completions. Especially perfect completions. When is it that you can check off the box to "Completed teaching my children. Forever. They're fully baked and are whole beings now"? Or "Completed learning. I've perfected all knowledge"? It sounds ridiculous, especially on that scale. But I kinda think it's ridiculous to expect entirely perfect completions of smaller scale things like my craft projects. We might think that a project will be conceived, begun, worked on, then finished, all like a nice little package, but creation doesn't usually work out like that for me. It's more complicated, less linear, more chaotic, less perfect. A little dabbling here, a long-haul effort there and some glorious learning along the way.

2) My fear about "others" judgement is, I think, more about fearing my own judgement. Which sounds kinda silly now that I've typed it out. Don't I like having lots of projects? (yes) Do I really want to change how I'm doing things? (no, at least not at this point in my life) So, where's the judgement that I've been fearing? Not sure, but I suspect it's the virtue of "trying to become," gone awry. I want to grow and become more excellent at everything (including being able to focus and work hard, and not be, well, flighty). But I've come to realize that I can either wait to act until perfection has been attained, or I can keep moving and trying out lots of things and making lots of mistakes (in planning the projects, in executing them, or in both) and growing through doing. And I have a sneaking suspicion that the latter version is the only one that actually leads to growth. The mistakes are sometimes painful and always uncomfortable, but I can't let myself get hung up on them, or hung up on the possibility of them. I'd never get anywhere.

So the moral of the story is, I think I like having a lot of projects. And I'm gonna try to be patient with myself when I feel anxious about having a lot of things I started but never finished. It's all part of the process. And if I keep moving forward with my eyes wide open, I think, in the end, I'll be glad I did.

Now please excuse me while I go back to the knitting project I just started a couple of hours ago...