How I went through seven years of failed treatment and came out feeling better than I have in my whole life!
Going through infertility can be a really difficult time. It can cause tension between partners, friends and family members. When lots of friends are having babies, you can find yourself avoiding their company and instead gravitating to your single friends and those with no children. IVF can be mentally and physically challenging. If you are not managing your thinking effectively, the process can be like a roller coaster ride.
“There are highs, there are lows, tears and laughter. I know, I’ve been there. Seven or so years of treatment, many thousands of pounds worse off, no child at the end, but feeling more positive and happy than I have ever done in my whole life!”
This all sounds rather bizarre, but it’s quite true. Let me explain. Throughout all my treatment I tried absolutely anything I could to keep myself calm and maximize the chances of it working: reflexology, mindfulness, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, massages, tailor made pill combination based on my hair analysis and even bee propolis! Don’t get me wrong some of these really did relax me short term, and there may be health benefits to some of them, but I had no understanding how they worked. I was totally relying on someone or something making me feel more calm and relaxed. I would have tried anything, especially in that 2 or so week period in time when you are waiting to see if the treatment has worked.
The nurses and doctors at the clinic tell you to relax and keep calm. This really wasn’t helping! The more I tried to relax, the more stressed I got that I wasn’t relaxing. The clinic gives you a list of things you shouldn’t do at this time and it is so easy to become paranoid that you have done one of these contraband things. Sometimes you lose perspective and forget that millions of women get pregnant, break all these rules as they are unaware they are pregnant. I would go for a walk, carry some shopping, have just a warm bath and then worry I had done something wrong. I wouldn’t even drive through a local village that I loved during this 2 week wait as on several occasions this was where I had been when I realized the treatment hadn’t worked!! It all sounds quite irrational now thinking back, but that was what I believed.
After each failed cycle, I would throw myself into work, taking it out on the garden weeds, getting fit again by entering a triathlon, half marathon or training to walk the three national peaks. Anything to stop me thinking about the treatment. I was resilient and stubborn. I would always bounce back and never needed any drugs for anxiety or depression. I had some really close family and friends who were amazingly supportive, however, I was just surviving and certainly not thriving.
So what changed?
How did I go from seeing things a little like this:
To seeing it more like this:
The Thrive Programme
Prior to my 5th cycle of IVF treatment, I decided to try the Thrive Programme. I had no idea what it was, but thought I would give it a go. There was nothing to lose and lots to be gained. So I did the programme a year and a half ago. I remember doing the quiz based on locus of control (how much you believe you are in control of your life) the first session and was initially pleased I had got such a high score. Being a perfectionist this was clearly a good thing, right?
I was a little cynical about the programme, nothing else had really worked, why would this be any different? However when I started working my way through the book and doing all the exercises with a consultant, it really clicked. I understood the research from studying psychology at university and the pragmatic approach appealed to me. Even my rather cynical husband had to admit I was calmer than I had been in a long time. Being a straight talking northern man, he liked the approach of learning how to just get on with it and help yourself.
Thrive helped by showing me:
How to feel more in control
I learnt about locus of control (LOC),the extent to which you feel you are in control of your life and how much you feel your life is controlled by external factors. I started to understand the importance of gaining an internal LOC of control where you believe you are in control of what happens to you, rather than other people, fate, the weather, superstition etc. It really helped me feel less helpless about the treatment. Yes I realised I couldn’t control the ultimate outcome, but I could control how I responded to my present situation. I could control my thoughts and negative beliefs.
How to be kind to myself
To not be so harsh on myself, get stressed and worried about small insignificant things. I became very self-aware and realized how critical I was on myself. No one would have spoken to me like I spoke to myself. I developed positive self-talk and recognized when I was being really harsh. I really loved the saying in the Thrive Programme book
“The thought that is in my mind right now: is it helpful? If not, then either change it for one that is, or bin it!”
It took a lot of practice, but I am quite good at this now, detecting straight away unhelpful thoughts. I also learnt the connection between language and thought and that if I wasn’t feeling great to play it down and distract myself rather than being really catastrophic.
To rehearse and visualise what I want to happen
I learnt something called Coue’s Law. This is essentially imagining what you want to happen, rather than what you fear will happen. I did not imagine being pregnant as this was out of my control. Instead I imagined being calm and in control of my emotions. Visualizing and mentally rehearsing each step of the process, from the different procedures and injections to getting the results. I became much better at administering my intramuscular progesterone injections as well. I could relax myself so it was less painful, imagining again what I wanted to happen, rather than how painful I feared it was going to be.
The Stockdale Paradox.
When reading this section of the Thrive Programme book, it really rang true to my situation. Jim Stockdale was a US Naval officer who was a prisoner of war in the Vietnam War. Despite being tortured, he never doubted that he would survive, escape and make it the defining moment of his life. The paradox was that he was actually not the most optimistic, those who were gave up hope and died. Instead he had an unwavering belief that he would prevail. He never doubted his coping skills, but he was realistic about his current situation. I really like the Stockdale analogy I could see how the Stockdale approach could help me manage my current situation. To maintain my mental health, I needed to adapt to my situation and face the current reality. How could I go from just being resilient and surviving each cycle to it actually being the defining moment of my life? Throughout the whole process I knew the importance of adapting my goals and expectations. At the beginning of the process, I never imagined I would be in the situation where I had done 4 cycles of IUI and 4 cycles of IVF. But if I didn’t adapt to the changing situation and the failed cycles this is when I would succumb to depression. This was happening and it was up to me how I choose to deal with it.
How to gain better coping skills
I learnt that you can’t control everything. Instead it’s about having great coping skills to manage uncertainly and deal with adversity. I gained a lot of self-insight into my need to be in control, but I learnt that this was actually a sign of being out of control and feeling fairly helpless. If I developed a more internal LOC I knew I would feel less of a need to micro-manage my life!
How to boost my self esteem
By processing my positives each day, thinking about what I had achieved and what I would say to others who had done the same, my self-esteem increased dramatically over the space of a month. So from seeing myself as a fairly worthless human being, I was starting to like myself and feel more confident in my own ability. I wasn’t relying so much on other people telling me I was good at something to feel better about myself.
I felt more empowered and more assertive to question my treatment and ask what they were going to do differently. I armed myself with lots of knowledge. I can happily say that I did everything I could to maximize the chances of success. I have no regrets about what we did.
So what am I doing now?
Yes the future is bright and does actually look quite orange! I am running my own business as a Thrive Programme Consultant, helping others as the programme helped me. Previously I had put myself in a box believing that I was a certain kind of person and I did a certain kind of thing. I now know this was a limiting, rather unhelpful belief. The ceiling of my limited expectations of myself has been blown away. I now know that I can do anything I put my mind to if I put in lots of effort and believe in myself. I know that it doesn’t matter what other people think, I will just go out there and do it. Yes the treatment didn’t work but it’s not how you get there but what you end up with that matters. It was a relief when we had finally made the decision to stop. I had taken back control of my life. Another chapter now begins and we are in the process of adopting.
Brooks, C.H (1922). The practice of autosuggestion, by the method of Emile Coue, Gresham Press in Kelly, R. (2015) Rob Kelly Thrive -Health. Happiness. Success. Cambridge: Rob Kelly Publishing
Collins, J (2001). Good to Great: Why some Companies Make the Leap…and Other’s Don’t. Random House Business in Kelly, R. (2015) Rob Kelly Thrive- Health. Happiness. Success. Cambridge: Rob Kelly Publishing
Kelly, R.(2015) Rob Kelly Thrive -Health. Happiness. Success. Cambridge: Rob Kelly Publishing