blips in a life of mental illness

Jesse has been on her meds for almost a month now. Earlier this week, after several weeks of a half-minimum-dose trial, we moved her to a full therapeutic minimum dose. 10 milligrams of Citalopram a day.

I’ve definitely seen a difference. I would describe Jesse as a little more upbeat the last few weeks, less down on herself… though not consistently. I hadn’t thought of her as a child suffering from depression, but I’m adjusting that lens, because she sure seems a lot less depressed now. Hindsight is a grumpy bitch.

Apparently it’s not called depression anymore, by the way. It’s a mood disorder now. A good friend and I were chatting about this and she pointed out that “mood disorder” sounds awful. I think she’s right. I guess I’d rather be just depressed than have a disorder, but there’s no explaining the DSM to a layperson like me.

Whether Jesse has a collection of disorders or not, I look at her in some moments now and I think, “Citalopram is turning her into a sociopath.” She can spend a whole day trying to kick Nick in the head; and then, when I finally run out of patience and say to her at dinnertime, “this has been a totally exhausting day because of your negative behaviors,” here’s what she’s apt to answer.

(Nooooo, she won’t say, “that’s too many commas for one sentence.” Stay on subject with me here, dear reader.)

“But mom. Remember when I woke and for, like, 10 minutes, I was awesome?”

I guess it’s a good thing Jesse can hang onto those positive moments. We’re all still hanging on from moment to moment, as we try to find her in the maze and pull her back to us.

* * * * * * *

Jesse gets really, really angry about her homework one night. She comes at me with a pencil, snarling like a cornered lion, and it’s clear she’s planning to stab me. Time speeds up. Before I rightly know what’s happened, I have Jesse on the floor. I’m down on one knee. One of my hands has her pencil hand pinned behind her back, my other hand is on her neck, and her face is firmly planted on the carpet. I snarl at her. “NEVER. ATTACK. ME. WITH. A. PENCIL.”

She lies limp until I let her go. She comes to me for a hug a few moments later. I don’t want to hug her. I don’t want to touch her. I don’t want to be attacked by her. I don’t want to defend myself against her. She leans on me anyway and I can’t find it in me to push her away again. “Hug me back, mommy. Hug me back. Hug me back.” I can’t stop myself.

* * * * * * *

Jesse has gotten in trouble at school for touching someone inappropriately. The guidance counselor has talked with her about progressive discipline, with the ultimate device being expulsion. I ask her later in the evening about it all. How much does she expect people to tolerate? What does she think will happen if she doesn’t change? She speaks as she lies peacefully on the sofa, her affect somewhere between blank and morose. Her voice is clear and mature, but still with the sing-song timbre of a little child. She sounds almost dreamy as she spins out her fate in her imagination. “Well… I think what’s going to happen is… I’m gonna get expelled. And then I’m gonna become a drug addict and a drug dealer. And then I’ll go to jail for, like, most of my life. Then when I get out of jail, I’ll die and go to hell.”

* * * * * * *

One morning I get fed up with Jesse. She’s been throwing magna tiles at all of us viciously for weeks. She’s hit Nick in the face several times, and those things hurt. Anthony saw her land a shot just near Nick’s eye; a half inch up and he could have been blinded. She hits Nick in the face again on this particular morning, and I lose it. I grab a pile of magna tiles and I start winging her with them. I’m throwing them at her like I might spin a rock to skip it, loosing them with my right hand from my right thigh, thumb up. I corner her as she cowers and cries, and I bellow, “HOW DOES IT FEEL??? HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE TREATED LIKE YOU TREAT US EVERY SINGLE DAY??” I’m Joan Crawford with the coat hanger, only it’s magna tiles, and I don’t have any makeup and my wardrobe sucks.

I can sense Nick hovering nearby even as I rage; he’s standing right beside me. I hear his little voice almost whimpering. “Mommy, please stop. Mommy, don’t hurt Jesse.” Jesse eventually escapes me and runs outside, screaming as she slams the door. “YOU HATE ME!! YOU HATE ME!!! I’LL RUN AWAY AND NEVER COME BACK!!!”

Little Nick flutters about the room in a minor panic. “Mommy, what if someone steals her, if she runs away?” I assure him she won’t do that, but he stares out the window for a moment. Finally he relaxes. “Whew. She’s still there, mommy. She’s in the back yard. She didn’t run away.”

He’s satisfied now and walks over to me. “Mommy, please don’t hurt Jesse.”

I start to cry. Nick looks at my face and wonders aloud. “Why are you crying, mommy?”

I say what I feel. “You know how sometimes you tell me that you feel like you’re the most hateful child ever? Right now I feel like I’m the most hateful mommy ever.”

As I say the words, my dam breaks and I start bawling. Nick grabs me with all his might. My six-year-old finds me in the maze. He straddles my lap and wraps his arms around me. “You’re not! You’re not the most hateful mommy ever! You’re the most beautiful amazing mommy ever!”

Nick smothers my face in kisses and suddenly realizes he’s crying too. “Mommy look!” he says in wonder. “I’m crying too. Why am I crying too?”

 * * * * * * *

This morning, Nick sneaks Jesse’s Citalopram off her placemat at breakfast, unbeknownst to anyone. He comes up to me and whispers it in my ear, his voice oozing guilt. “Mommy, I ate Jesse’s candy medicine!” I’m stunned and I wonder if he’s making a bad joke. I look on the placemat. Jesse hasn’t come down yet but the medicine is gone.

I turn to Nick. “It’s not candy! It’s her medicine to help her! Are you serious that you ate it??”

Nick starts to cry. “Yeaaah, I weally weally did!” Waaaah. He finally fesses up that he wanted to see how good it tasted. “But it did not taste good at all, Mommy.”

I tell Nick’s kindergarten teacher when I drop him off. She keeps a watchful eye on him through the day and reports that he seems fine. When we snuggle up at bedtime, I ask him. “Did you feel any different today? Did anything seem different, or anything hurt, like your tummy?”

Nick thinks for a moment as he settles down to start drowsing, and then he answers calmly. “The only thing today that was not like aaaalll the other days is that my butt was more tickly.” There’s a perfectly timed pause before he starts giggling.

 * * * * * * *

One of Anthony’s colleagues has a sister who’s a fourth-degree black belt in tae kwon do and a therapist/counselor. She likens anti-anxiety meds to the padded armor we use when we spar in tae kwon do. It helps you fight off the fear, the anxiety, the depression. It makes you stronger and safer.  But it doesn’t take away your power, nor does it take away your responsibility to fight.

I love that analogy. This morning I remember it as I send Jesse off to school. We’ve been chatting a little bit about how Nick is Jesse’s greatest advocate — always on her side, always defending her. I point out that he didn’t just come out that way — he was taught that by Jesse. Before she was this angry little thing we’re living with right now, she was a brilliant big sister, a magical big sister — the one who takes the fall for her little brother so he won’t get in trouble, the one who puts her body between him and the on-coming car.

I remind Jesse that this is who she really is, that we’re waiting for her to come back, that she has the power to change her world and herself, to silence the voices inside her that tell her to be hurtful and unkind. She has to have courage and commitment. She has to be brave and strong. And she has some extra armor now; she has Citalopram. I hold my hands high, like they do at our tae kwon do classes. “PILSUNG!” I bark at her loudly. “YOU, CAN, DO IT!!”  She jumps up again and again to high-ten my hands, to the cadence of the chant. She marches off with Anthony to face her doom.

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