Letting it all hang out 

I spoke with Jesse’s fourth grade class today about her OCD and anxiety disorder, her treatment plan, and the meaning of life.

Well… maybe not so much that last part.

Bear with me as I travel a long and winding road to telling you how it went, and let me put the punch line here in case you don’t make it to the end of this blather fest: SPEAK. If you are suffering, speak. Not just out of need and selfishness, but also as a gift to those who love you and share your world, and as an offering to others who suffer like you. Speak, so that they understand you better, so that you aren’t alone. Speak, to break the cycle of silence.

 * * * * * * *

I’ve become rigid in my belief that silence, sidled up alongside a false sense of the need for privacy, is a wellness-killer with respect to mental illness. But if I pay attention, all the messages I’m receiving tell me I’m totally wrong. Privacy and secrecy are the gold standard. Talking about this stuff remains taboo.

A couple months ago, Jesse agreed to be part of a story on childhood issues in an edition of Milwaukee Magazine dedicated to mental health issues. The writer asked me up front: do you want me to change your names?

Why? I asked.

He said something about privacy. I had my answer ready; I had already discussed it with Anthony and Jesse. We’re agreeing to be part of this story to fight stigma, to demonstrate courage for and with our suffering child. How can I tell Jesse I’m not ashamed of her, and how can I teach her not to be ashamed, if we hide her behind a fake name?

I thought it was a done deal until he called me back a few weeks later. He wanted to make sure I was okay with using Jesse’s real name. Yes, I answered. Yes, I have her permission and therefore yes, you have my permission. Remember what I said about stigma?

It was a pleasant, albeit redundant, conversation.

I thought it was a done deal again until the magazine’s editor called me a few days later. He wanted to make sure I was okay with using Jesse’s real name. I repeated myself. He said the lawyers insisted he make sure.

I started to feel a rise of anxiety. “Is there a reason you keep asking the same question? Am I giving you the wrong answer? Is CPS going to come after me for using Jesse’s real name?” No no, he assured me, just making sure.

But all the same, he asked me to send him an email confirming my decision, per the lawyers’ request.

 * * * * * * *

It seems to me that mental health institutions and professionals also encourage a sort of fetish for secrecy. When we were investigating enrolling Jesse in the Rogers outpatient program, we weren’t even allowed to visit the space to see how things operate. Privacy issues for current patients, they said.

On the first day we arrived at the facility — what do I call it? A clinic, a building, an outpatient facility, an institution?  Whatever I choose, it better be euphemistic. God forbid a mental health facility’s signs should actually say something about “mental health” so that I know I’m in the correct place. (I’d actually prefer something along the lines of, “CRAZY NATION, ENTER HERE.” Very clear, and laughing is good therapy, after all.)

Right, so on the first day, we had to sign a massive fine-print document regarding privacy. It read like a national secrets act agreement. I hope they won’t send me to mental-health-industry-Gitmo, and I hope they won’t kick Jesse out of the program, if I happen to write something here that’s considered a violation of one of the 800 non-disclosure provisions in that agreement.

If I weren’t a smug, grumpy, maladjusted human being who ignores social cues, I think all this input would be teaching me that I must seek privacy, that I must hide my family’s dirty little crazy secrets. Tell me about your cancer and your broken bones and your diabetes and your heart disease, but don’t lay your brain problems on me. That’s just… ew.

 * * * * * * *

Jesse has been on shortened days all year at school, but it’s even more truncated now that she’s in this intense OCD/anxiety outpatient program. She only goes to school from 8 to 11, plus she missed almost a full week of school for our intro week at Rogers. Not to mention that she’s been pretty wack-a-doodles all year long. A few weeks ago I started to think Jesse’s classmates might deserve to to be offered a little insight.

I suggested gently to Jesse one day that I could speak with her class about her diagnoses and what’s going on, kind of educate them a little. Jesse didn’t hesitate. “Yeah, that would be great,” she nodded. “They already know about all my inappropriate behaviors, because they see them all the time.”

Good point. Jesse appears to be following my lead in letting it all hang out. I love this girl.

 * * * * * * *

Despite the battle-ax I carry about openness, I was surprised to find that a concrete plan to talk with Jesse’s classmates about her disease unsettled me. I didn’t want to tell them what’s wrong with her. Still, we scheduled the visit for this morning and I crossed yet another little bridge in Jesse’s mental health journey.

I procrastinated vigorously and waited until last night to start preparing. I guess I thought I’d be able to google up something. Surely, some English speaker somewhere on Earth must have done a little presentation to kids about OCD and generalized anxiety, and posted it up on the web for a bum like me to plagiarize.

But no.

Maybe my bad attitude made my search mojo go wrong. In any case, I eventually had to come up with my own little outline and get on with business.

I walked into Jesse’s classroom this morning feeling anxious and fussy, even though I know this particular group of kids pretty well. I visit every couple weeks to do an “Art for Youth” presentation/project with them, and I’ve been on a few field trips. We’re pals, and they’re great about engaging with me and speaking up.

I won’t give you too many nitty gritties about what I blabbed about, but I guess I should record the big strokes.

I likened mental illnesses to other diseases of the body. We used diabetes as the analog. It’s a lifelong condition; kids have a harder time staying in control than more experienced adults; and over time you learn with diligence and hard work how to manage it and stay healthy.

We talked about what anxiety feels like. The kids did a great job of cataloging the ways it makes your body and brain feel really bad. And then I asked them to imagine feeling like that every day, all the time.

I showed the kids Jesse’s drawing of what her anxiety looks like:

IMG_1895

Yes, his name is Shock Lord. He’s a boy. Shock Lord’s arms are made of lightning, and his hair is a cloud filled with lightning. He is Shock Lord because he SHOCKS Jesse all the time. Jesse has explained to me (and I told the kids) that his eyes have been cursed to see things wrong. If he sees a small hill to climb, he thinks it’s a dangerous mountain. If he sees someone walking toward Jesse whom he doesn’t recognize, he thinks the person has knives and guns and wants to kill her. I explained how these fears can fill Jesse’s mind and blind her to what’s going on around her, so that she might appear to ignore a smile and a friendly hello from a friend.

I started seeing light bulbs go on.

We talked about what it means to suffer from Jesse’s style of obsessive thinking — to believe that the intrusive negative thoughts that percolate into your mind, unbidden, are significant and prove that you’re a terrible person. I likened the obsessive process to being trapped in a small cage with a giant TV on one wall, blaring at maximum volume on a station that only shows you things that scare you the most. You don’t have a remote control and you can’t close your eyes.

More light bulbs.

We talked about what compulsions are like — the feeling Jesse experiences, as if heavy rocks are pressing on her heart, and it doesn’t stop unless she lets out the blurted words or engages in the inappropriate behaviors. I showed them her drawing of the compulsive piece of her personality.

It is named, inexplicably, Ricket.

IMG_1896

Ricket is a dog-like creature and sister to Shock Lord. She was misled by a Sith-like character long ago (coincidentally, on Jesse’s birthday) into believing that the things she makes Jesse do are good for people, or maybe will protect Jesse. The claw over her head grabs taboo words and behaviors from around her. Ricket’s brain cavity grew into that large wiggly square shape to absorb the claw. Ricket’s pincer tail holds the blurted words to throw them out into the world.

Huh.

The kids soaked it in. Totally fascinated. Light bulbs left and right.

We talked about what Jesse’s inappropriate behaviors and offensive word blurts “mean.” I said they don’t have a moral meaning — she’s not trying to hurt you or offend you. In fact, she’s ashamed of the behavior; she hates herself for it. So what her behaviors mean is simply this: she is suffering from a mental illness that grownups still haven’t figured out how to treat effectively.

We talked about treatment. Medication to help with the anxiety, along with relaxation and cognitive interventions. I explained how exposure therapy works for the OCD — making her hear and see things that make her anxious, and then making her control her behaviors. I showed them what her competing response looks like. They were shocked, a little freaked out that we would do this to her. I explained habituation. They remained skeptical and expressed an almost protective instinct toward Jesse.

We talked about what the kids could do to help Jesse. This was easy, because they already do it. Most of these kids model great behavior. They’re kind and patient. They encourage Jesse to keep trying. They ignore her when she acts up. They never forget that she’s an ordinary kid under there, just like them.

And in the course of this boring tittle-tattle, these extraordinary human beings (nurtured and led by an extraordinary teacher) became bathed in shining haloes as their comments and questions came at me.

* * * * * * *

Many of their questions reflected a deep compassion, bordering on fear, for Jesse. Will she always have to feel like this? Can her OCD ever go away? Can she get rid of it? One little girl wept.

Some kids seemed to just want her to be in school more. One little fellow repeated back to me her schedule at Rogers, which goes Monday through Thursday. “What does she do on Friday?” he wanted to know. “I hope she’ll be at school,” I answered.

Several kids wisely focused on her anxiety levels. A conversation developed naturally about when she’s least anxious — when she’s drawing, everyone agreed, or playing basketball. They wanted to know what helps her. I was blown away by the practical implications of this — they were searching for ways to guide her.

Stories were shared about Jesse being bullied on the playground. It took me aback, because Jesse doesn’t tell about that stuff. Some kids from another class were kicking and pushing her away one day. Some kids said no to her. A group of boys teased her and asked her to chase them, then made fun of her. Jesse’s own classmates regaled me with stories about how they stood up for her and invited her to play with them. They told me that their teacher taught them their class is a family, so they stick together and they stick up for each other. I made my hands into a heart shape and mimed it beating on the left side of my chest. I couldn’t speak words or I would have cried.

Even now I have no words. You had to be sitting among these little people. The humanity, the compassion, the practical comprehension that overtook them when they were given the chance to understand why Jesse is the way she is right now — it was something glorious and profound.

At the end of our chat, Jesse joined us. She walked in shyly and sat on my lap, and she took questions from the class.

Which in itself is an extraordinary feat. Courage! I would have fallen over in a swoon if she wasn’t squashing my legs with her bony bottom.

The kids peppered her with questions, wise and silly, gentle and diplomatic. Do you like Ricket? Who do you like better, Ricket or Shock Lord? What’s your anxiety level right now? What things do you like to do that help your anxiety be lower?

Interspersed with the questions were the helping hands. Jesse, don’t let Shock Lord tell you bad things, said one sweet boy who spoke with a quiet sense of urgency. Don’t listen to him. A little girl spoke up. I’ll always play with you at recess, Jesse. If anyone says no to you or teases you, you can always find me. A boy chimed in. You can play basketball with me any time, Jesse. I’ll always say yes. The kids started riffing about Jesse’s drawing. They planned a drawing contest between her and another kid.

Finally, the teacher said we could take one last question. Jesse called on a friend whose hand was raised high. “Um, can I give you a hug now, Jesse?”

The class got up and it looked like Jesse would be swarmed. The teacher interceded and lined them up before they crushed her, and Jesse stood at the head of the line. One by one, hug after hug, these beautiful little people passed their love and acceptance to Jesse. It was so much that even Jesse — bastion of self-loathing, fortress of misery and cynicism — couldn’t find a way to cry foul on it.

It took my breath away.

 

 

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Look for the helpers

I go to a Rogers Hospital facility four days a week, so it goes without saying that I think of Mr. Rogers all the time now.

?

No no no, it does not go without saying. It’s simply not true. BUT, as my Nick would say dramatically before digging into a story that I’m sure he finds really interesting — in a sort of New Jersey twang that Anthony has taught him, somewhere between stereotyped 70’s mobster and Donald Trump — Lemme  tell ya something.

Friday evening my friend Robin came over with her two boys, twins who were born within a week of Nick. They’re leaving town soon, so we have to fit ten years’ worth of twice-a-year playdates into about 6 weeks. It was just going to be a quick get together, but she blew in with her delightful mom, a rotisserie chicken, a pizza to throw in the oven, and a box of chopped fruit. Also champagne and chilled wine.

I knew exactly what she was doing; she knows we’re suffering. She also has a bag full of detritus to deal with in her own life, but she came here and filled my cup pretty well.

At Rogers, they want the parents of kids in the program to talk about our own needs with each other. And I’m surprised to report that I’m resistant. I don’t really want to talk about it with those parents. We have very different personalities on the face of things, and I’m not sure these hard-core Wisconsinites (Packers gear, every day) will appreciate my TMI attitude and somewhat bawdy sense of humor about our situation and about Jesse’s behaviors.

But Robin pointed out something I don’t really think about, which is simply this: because of my ridiculously open attitude, I have a tremendous amount of emotional support. My family may suffer, but we rarely do it alone. These other parents, however, may be more normal. That is to say, they may feel ashamed and alienated, perhaps even within the scope of their own families. They may not have anyone to really share their suffering with, and they may have a lot of reservations about opening up and receiving support. So talking about it in therapy is important.

That hadn’t occurred to me, big-mouthed and grumpy recipient of much love, support, and encouragement. And so Mr. Rogers comes to mind (even though it hasn’t been a wonderful day in my neighborhood for some time now). We’ve all heard the story. When he was a boy and saw scary stuff on the news, his mom put it in perspective for him:

“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

My family’s travails are hardly newsworthy. Still, even in this infinitesimal space we occupy in the universe, in the teeny tiny disaster that constitutes my family’s current life, there are the helpers all around us.

* * * * * * *

My brother Mark has a wickedly cynical and comic insight into human nature. I can always count on him to make me laugh and cry at the same time. We had a typical far-ranging chat a few days ago, as Jesse and I were driving back from a tough afternoon session at Rogers. Mark regaled me with classic takedowns of a couple members of our family, and I remarked, “I would love to hear how you make fun of me when I’m not in the room.”

Mark answered promptly, “No, we don’t make fun of you. We just worry about you.”

I was a bit taken aback. “You worry about me? Why would you worry about me?”

There was a short pause before he answered, deadpan. “We just worry that Jesse’s sucking the life out of you.”

Mark and I burst out laughing. It was a raucous, bittersweet shared laugh, with much rueful head-shaking. Mark was making it funny, but I also knew he meant it. It was his poetic, comic way of saying, Carla, your family wants you to be well, we want you to take care of yourself. You matter.

Helper.

* * * * * * *

Jesse missed almost a full week of school a couple weeks ago, because we were going to Rogers daily for our initial work-up and orientation. The Friday of that week was her birthday.

Her behavior had been even more off-the-wall than usual before she stopped hitting school. Just nuts. She has disrupted her class frequently and daily this school year with bizarre behaviors and word blurts. She has caused a lot of trouble. These kids know there’s something wrong with her. In fact she’s told them, honestly and frankly, about what she struggles with.

When she returned on the following Monday, a pack of handmade birthday cards from her classmates was waiting for her. She pulled them out of her backpack slowly and deliciously when I picked her up. I could sense her disbelief. She read them to me one by one as we drove home. I was in tears by the fourth card.

We love you! Stay strong and positive! You are one of the best people ever! I hope you have an amazing birthday! I hope you come back soon! You are the dearest friend. You are nice and caring! I hope you have a fantastic day when we get to see you again. The best girl in the world.

Helpers.

* * * * * * *

Jesse and Nick attended the nature preschool operated by the local Audubon center. Jesse was a very challenging little preschooler, but somehow we built strong bonds with a few of the teachers there, amazing women who opened doors in my heart as a parent and allowed me to see Jesse in many different ways than what came naturally to me.

One of these teachers shares a birthday with Jesse. Last summer, after hearing about some of Jesse’s struggles, she reached out and took Jesse for a hike and filled her cup. Just last week she touched base to share love and hope — eight years after she became Jesse’s teacher. Another preschool teacher sent me a note last week as well, full of love and empathy, and reminders of how precious and unique a child Jesse is.

I was reduced to tears, though the feelings welling up were inchoate. Somewhere in the range of gratitude, awe, and relief. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve this kind of support, but I know what Jesse did. She has always walked with her curious eyes wide open, engaged and conscious — which may explain why life terrifies her so much.

But anyway, preschool teachers? Maximum helpers, Mr. Rogers style.

* * * * * * *

Anthony’s colleagues, our friends and acquaintances, Facebook friends, distant family, even total strangers who happen to read my blog posts. Everywhere we turn, there’s someone with an encouraging word — you’re making the right choices, don’t give up, Jesse is amazing — or an offer of practical help, like the family that took Nick home from school at the last minute so I could get Jesse to therapy one day. Life savers. My old college mate Jeanne, who declares that she’s the crappiest friend ever — totally wrong, because I’m the crappiest friend ever — sent me a loving and hope-filled note out of the blue. Mates from around the world chuck my figurative shoulder and lend me an emotional hand day by day. Cup-fillers all.

Just as important are the people who break with stigma to tell me about their own and their children’s struggles with mental illness, their own journeys to wellness, their own reliance on meds and therapy to survive. These aren’t celebrities who get airtime out of their disclosures; they’re just incredibly decent folk who want to help alleviate my family’s distress. I’ve heard from total strangers and I’ve heard from friends I never would have guessed have survived mental illness. The wall of silence makes us feel alone, but it’s a paper wall. Anyone who walks through it is a helper.

* * * * * * *

The problem for people dealing with mental illness is that there’s no news coverage telling Mr. Rogers’ helpers that we have a need. We have only our own voices. When I started writing about this stuff, I thought I was just getting it off my chest. But I’ve since realized that I’m also crying out for help. I’m making my own newsreel, because I don’t have the strength to survive Jesse’s mental illness in silence, by myself. I need to laugh and cry and share and laugh some more about it all, and I need to teach Jesse to do the same. The only alternative is emotional death.

So here’s today’s two cents from Carla, if you’re reading this and you’re suffering: ask for help; then look for the helpers. They are everywhere.

But not in a creepy way.

They’ll come through for you and yours, and they will lift you up. They’re listening, watching, waiting to catch you when you fall. You just have to let them know you need them… and then don’t be too proud to accept what the helpers offer.

I know what you’re reading here is weirdly positive and maudlin for this grumpy girl. Don’t get me wrong. I still think people suck. Humanity is full of blood-sucking not-helpers who get off on others’ suffering and failure.

For instance, there’s the person who overheard me at a party telling someone about Jesse’s OCD and our move to more intensive treatment. She interjected to tell me about a neighbor who’s child has struggled with “that same problem” since childhood, and now she’s in her twenties and it’s been AWFUL. Shakes head to accentuate miserable failed life.

Note to self: not a helper.

So yes, I still think people suck.

But also they don’t.

 

 

OMG CBT AND HRT FOR OCD, WTF??

We have begun intensive therapy in earnest for Jesse’s anxiety and OCD at an outpatient facility of the Rogers hospital system (which formerly would have been known as a mental institution, yeah?). In other words, Jesse has agreed (loosely) to allow us to stick her repeatedly with an emotional cattle prod.

Monday through Thursday, we leave home around 2:00 to travel to Oconomowoc, where we work hard from 3 to 6; we get home around 7 pm. It’s a really long evening, and it screws with our home life and extracurriculars immensely, but so it goes.

I like saying “Oconomowoc” frequently during the drive out. It’s not “AWK-oh-no-MO-awk.” It’s not “OH-ko-NO-mo-wok.” It’s Oh-CAW-numu-WOK,” which does indeed roll off the tongue sensibly once you get used to it.

What? you say I’m engaging in avoidance? No no, I just love Wisconsin names. Waukesha. Sheboygan. Wauwatosa. Kinnickinnic. Winnebago. Manitowoc. Menominee. On and on. What’s not to love? Don’t you love these names too? Do you think it’s okay that I’m talking about this?

What? You say I’m reassurance seeking? Stop, just stop. I think you’re being just a little bit overbearing and anxious about this whole conversation.

What? You say I’m projecting?? Now you’re really upsetting me. STFU.

What? Now you’re calling me infantile and hostile?

… You’re probably right.

* * * * * * *

Last week, Anthony, Jesse and I drove to Oconomowoc and met with the social worker on Jesse’s team for three hours on each of three consecutive days. We had lovely chats in which we went over as many of Jesse’s obsessions and compulsive behaviors as we could think of, as well as all of her expressions of anxiety and hostility. We filled out a host of forms and questionnaires. We were introduced to rudimentary ideas about cognitive behavior therapy, the main tool in the non-pharmaceutical fight against OCD and anxiety disorders. We catalogued all of Jesse behaviors and made a “hierarchy,” from most challenging to least, so we could pick the right ones to start her re-training with.

I challenge any grown up to begin therapy for mental illness like most children have to do it — sit in a room you’ve never  been in before and listen to the people you love and rely on most in the world, the people who know you best and with whom you’ve shared your deepest secrets, disclose just about everything that makes you suck to a total stranger.

Not surprisingly, Jesse was really pissed off.

* * * * * * *

In addition to the obvious extreme anxiety from which she suffers, Jesse seems to be somewhere in a shared zone between OCD and Tourette’s, and maybe her behaviors serve some attention-seeking motives as well. She’s a little messy, as most people are.

Jesse’s tics or compulsive behaviors, or whatever you want to call them, can be extreme: mostly they have to do with all things taboo.  Last summer and fall, issues of sexuality intruded most heavily in her mind and led to word blurts about sex and weird inappropriate physical behaviors. She also threw in a healthy, salty mix of something akin to George Carlin’s seven dirty words.

Then she evolved.

Some time in winter, she read a book at school in which one of the characters used the word “nigger.” Jesse brought the word home and we had intense conversations about the history of slavery and apartheid and inequality in America and the nature of the word, and about the many reasons why we never, ever use the word or say the word, except in some academic sense. She became obsessed with issues of racism and  and white supremacy. Now she blurts the word “nigger”, as well as other bigoted epithets, in all the wrong places and at all the wrong times.

I’m being a little facetious, of course. There’s never a right time or place for that word. As my brother Mark remarked, it’s on the top 5 list of worst words in America. Maybe even number 1. Totally, completely taboo, a word dripping in political and social sin, an evil word.

So of course, it calls to Jesse like a horrific siren song. It fills her head and pops out like a bursting boil, having no moral meaning in her usage except that it’s taboo, serving no purpose that we can discern except to fill her with shock and self-loathing.

This blurting occurs despite the fact that Jesse’s school has a significant minority population, despite the fact that many of her best buddies at school are black, despite the fact that her own mother is half Korean. There’s a really strange disconnect here. It makes no sense.

You can imagine the amount of aggressively negative and punitive feedback Jesse got from Anthony and me when this version of her taboo-blurting developed. We were loud, judgment, and frankly, ugly. We couldn’t bear it.

And still it took us months to realize that our current parenting skills and once-a-week talk therapy are simply inadequate to the task of addressing this problem.

* * * * * * *

Enter Rogers and a whole new bag of acronyms to teach us a whole new bag of tricks. Jesse is now admitted to the intensive outpatient OCD/anxiety program for children and adolescents, known affectionately as IOP OCD AC. The treatment approach for her will rely mainly on the cognitive behavior therapy approach, CBT, as well as a related theoretical model called habit reversal therapy, HRT. Both approaches bring to mind how one might train a dog, only maybe more sophisticated. At its most basic, the patient works on developing self-awareness regarding what triggers bring on negative behaviors, and then engages a “competing response” (the inevitable “CR”) to help block the tics and compulsions.

This sounds easy. It’s not.

Jesse describes the urges she experiences as overpowering. She reports that she tries all the time to control them, and  she simply can’t. She’s a failure, moment to moment. She experiences the urges not as a tingling or a funny feeling, like some OCD patients do. Rather she says it feels like big rocks are pressing on her heart and it’ll explode if she doesn’t follow through on the compulsion. There’s no hint of malingering or make-believe when Jesse finds her way to sharing these little details. There’s just the reality of her suffering.

* * * * * * *

Every day, rain or shine, fun or no, Jesse has to do two basic things as part of her treatment at the IOP OCD AC.

One, Jesse journals her negative compulsive behaviors (with a large assist from adults for now), with the goals of increasing self awareness and tracking progress. We have a wee notebook, and on each page there are three columns: “S” for submit, “R” for resist, and “CR” for competing response. If Jesse gives in to an urge, hashmark under the S; if she fights it off, hashmark under R. Either way, if she engages her competing response (pursing her lips tightly and clasping her hands together), hashmark under CR.

Again, it sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s actually excruciating when tics and compulsions are occurring every few minutes. Writer’s cramp ensues. Also for the first couple days, we weren’t using hashmarks. We were instructed to write down the descriptions of the behaviors. Can you picture how that went? Jesse resists an urge to say the word “ass.” She writes it down under R: “didn’t say ass.” She has effectively come through on her compulsion in a different form, so now she feels an even stronger desire to blurt it and she can’t fight it off.

Fail. We moved quickly to hashmarks.

Two, Jesse does exposure exercises, which basically go like this. She sits down with a timer and engages her competing response. Then I hit her with the cattle prod by presenting her with a trigger that heightens her anxiety. Right now we’re working on a lower-anxiety trigger. Basically, I stare into her eyes and bark something like, “DON’T SAY THE WORD FART. AND DON’T REPLACE IT WITH ANY OTHER WORDS OR BEHAVIORS. FART FART.” And she has  to sit there with her lips clamped, fighting the urge to blurt. She’s supposed to ride the wave of anxiety until it weakens to a place where she experiences it as “low” — until she habituates — or until she gives in. Stop the timer, record the result.

Eventually, we hope, we’ll move to more critical triggers. Show her a photo of two people kissing romantically. She fights back the compulsion to say sexual things or engage in sexual behaviors, through pure will power. Show her a photo of a black face, or of a scene from the deep south in the 60’s, maybe of cops attacking civil rights protestors. She fights back the compulsion to spew racist trash talk.

A strange torture all around.

* * * * * * *

I honestly don’t know how Jesse is hanging on. But she’s this amazing little beast, feral and beautiful and desperate.

On day one at Rogers last week, Jesse told the social worker that her behaviors don’t bother her at all. I pushed back. “Really, Jesse? None if it makes you feel bad?” Nope, she answered. It doesn’t bother me at all. On day two, the social worker wrote down some basic emotion words. Bad. Sad. Angry. Ashamed. Frustrated. She asked Jesse to circle the word that described how she feels about her behavior. Jesse hid her face, resting her cheek on her left forearm. Her scrawny little right hand reached out with a pencil and surreptitiously circled the word “ashamed.”

I felt big rocks pressing on my heart and I thought it might explode.

I don’t want Jesse to be ashamed anymore. It’s time for her to accept that the beast inside her doesn’t define her, any more than cancer or diabetes or MS define a person. Yes, her OCD and anxiety are part of who she is and always will be. Yes, the intrusive thoughts reflect something about her brain. But it’s time for her to comprehend that all the nasty, offensive stuff she does isn’t driven by a moral compass. It’s driven by a disease in her brain.

And the deeper, harsher truth is that it’s time for me to accept and comprehend these things as well. I’m working on it, day by day.

and here we go

I haven’t posted anything since Christmas eve. Just a few days ago I started writing something about spring and plants and some stupid shit, but today I’ve set that vapid nonsense aside for real life. This morning, we finally took the leap and agreed to admit Jesse to an outpatient treatment program for OCD and anxiety, at a local hospital that specializes in treating mental health disorders and illnesses.

I started out wanting to find some sort of support group for kids with OCD and extreme anxiety, to supplement the weekly private therapy sessions we already go to. It turns out, such a support group doesn’t exist in this area. There is, however, a local hospital system, called Rogers, that treats OCD. I spied them out on the internet and learned they have some outpatient programs for kids, and it got me to wondering. It didn’t take long for Anthony and me to acknowledge that the past 12 months have been the worst year of Jesse’s still-short life and our much longer lives. Every day is a struggle, in one way or another. She remains largely friendless, alienated, miserable. Lately she has developed a physical affect, her behaviors increasingly erratic, her eyes dark with misery and fear, her mind distracted almost completely and almost always by whatever lurks inside her. Every single weekday I wonder if I should bother to send her to school. As parents, Anthony and I are emotionally exhausted.

I was shopping at Whole Foods when the Rogers intake person called me back for the initial screening interview, to collect information to determine whether Jesse was a good fit for their program. I tucked my half-full shopping cart near the checkout lanes and sat at the bar in the hip eating area, staring out the store’s front windows. I answered question after question, trying not to cry too obviously or talk too loudly. We went through the laundry list. Does she have issues with cleanliness? Does she have obsessive thoughts about sex? Violence? Religion? Harming people? Is she cruel to animals? What percentage of her time do you think she has obsessive thoughts? What percentage of her time does she engage in compulsive behaviors? Is she afraid of school? Does she have panic attacks? Does she have temper tantrums? Does she try to hurt herself? On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being totally functional and 10 being non-functional, where would you put her?

Is she ever happy?

The answer to this last one was so simple, and it required no explanatory clauses. “No.”

Clarity shaped itself around my answers. My child isn’t falling apart anymore: she has already gone to pieces. She can’t pull herself back together. Neither can I.

I waited anxiously for several days to hear back from Rogers. The doctors apparently looked at the screening interview notes and made some decisions. I got the call from the admissions lady today, informing me that they thought Jesse would be a good fit and they could get her in right away.

I promptly fell to pieces. Heaving, bellowing sobs unexpectedly took me from toes to shoulders. The nice lady was still talking. I spoke as clearly as I could through the convulsions. “Can you just wait a second? I just started crying and I can’t make out what you’re saying. I’m gonna try to take some deep breaths, give me a second.”

It was pretty clear this wasn’t the first time she had a parent fall apart at this moment in the conversation.

And so off we go on a new path in the journey. Three days this week, Anthony and I will accompany Jesse to 3-hour sessions with hospital staff to go over her situation and make a plan. Starting next week, she goes 4 days a week for 3 hours a day to a small group of kids and adolescents, for probably 8 to 12 weeks. A parent always has to be present. The commute is 45 minutes each way. The telephone lady remarked that she knew what a hassle it would be for us. I replied that it couldn’t be any worse than what we already endure at home every day.

I’ll try not to think about all the ways Nick is going to be overlooked in this process.  He’s 6 years old and well-adjusted, and I think he’ll be glad to see some improvement in Jesse’s behaviors. We’ll make it up to him somehow.

When my call with the Rogers person ended today, the sobs came barreling back. I laid my head on the desk and wept, and wept, and wept. I almost vomited. I hyperventilated. I smeared blue ink all over my face as I wiped away my tears with my calloused fists, because the only pen I could find to write with when I was taking notes on the phone was one of the kids’ goddam washable crayola markers in baby blue, and that stuff just gets everywhere.

I eventually took a deep breath and called my dear friend Erin. I was supposed to help her with a  tile job in her house tomorrow. Erin has known Jesse since she was three. “Hey Erin. I can’t help you tomorrow, I have something better I have to do.” There was silence from the other end of the line. “I have to take Jesse to a mental institution instead.”

Erin broke into peals of affectionate laughter. It was exactly what I needed to hear. And then she talked me down as I continued to shed tears.

I know this isn’t my “fault.” I know, rationally, that I’m not to blame. But my emotions aren’t there yet. Not only do I feel guilty for letting Jesse down and waiting too long to go this route, but I also worry about being too much of a martyr about it. I find myself trying to put Jesse’s suffering into perspective. Mental illness looks like nothing, really. I can easily say to myself that she’s better off than this person or that person — she doesn’t have cystic fibrosis, cancer, epilepsy, MS, physical disabilities, deformities, muscle weaknesses, intellectual disabilities, or any missing parts anywhere on her body.

But I know that’s a lie. Mental illness looks like suffering. It looks like self-loathing, self-injury, suicide. It looks like life cut short and lived hollow and imprisoned. Untreated, I know that’s what it’ll be for Jesse.

So we’re in. I’ll continue to let you know how it’s going when I can.

vignettes from a grumpy day

Bob the Plumber and his side-kick Dylan arrive early today to do as much work as they can for our renovation. They can’t install the sink or dishwasher, because the counters aren’t in yet (why? why??). But there’s plenty else to do, and Bob swears that the horrendous nerve pain in his cracked molar isn’t going to stop him.

Nick, who hasn’t left for school yet, greets Bob cheerfully. As Bob gives our dog Madeline a scratch on the ear, Nick announces loudly and helpfully, “SHE’S A GIRL.” Thanks to Nick’s cute underdeveloped palate, it actually sounds like “she’s a go-wool.”

Bob takes note of this news politely. “Oh, is she?”

“Yeah,” answers Nick. He starts up a game on his iPad and his thumbs get busy as he stares unblinking at the screen. “Mommy doesn’t like to have boy dogs because you can always see their penises.”

I try not to be too embarrassed by this disclosure. Bob handles it diplomatically.

(It’s not the visual, by the way. It’s the dry humping I can’t tolerate.)

* * * * * *

I was planning to install the last sheets of a waterproof membrane in the future parents’ bathroom while the kids are at school, but Bob has to turn the water off for a while. What a shame that I can’t do this particularly grueling task today. The blisters and scrapes on my hands will have to wait a day.

All I can do is sit and plan the tile layout in said bathroom. This is brutal and brain-twisting work, I tell you. Bob pops down an hour into my mental contortions, looking somewhat happy. He talks with his jaw clenched, like he’s Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter. “Ah j’st hud the t’uth pulled.”

Unbeknownst to me, for the past half hour Bob’s been at the dentist having his tooth pulled out. He’s back to work now, numb jaw and all. Meanwhile, I’ve accomplished nothing. I feel terribly inadequate.

* * * * * *

I drive over to Glen Hills middle school to pick Jesse up. She’s currently on a shortened schedule to help manage her anxiety and OCD. She can’t make it through a full day yet without unraveling. No no no, that’s not the right metaphor. Not yarn. That’s too soft. She’s more of a shrapnel bomb. She can’t make it through full school days without shrapneling.

Most days when I get Jesse, we head straight home and she finishes her schoolwork here. We cover whatever material she’s missing in the afternoon, she does her reading and math and homework. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s bitter. But before we get started, Jesse usually comes in for a long embrace. Sometimes it’s before we even make it out of the school house. She sits on my lap or stands next to me as I kneel or sit. She wraps her scrawny and strong arms around my neck and leans in. We hold each other tight for long minutes. She’s still so little that when my arms wrap her body, my hands reach around as far as my opposite shoulders. I could just as well be hugging myself. I don’t know what Jesse’s thinking, and I don’t ask. I know she’s still and silent; this is a rare and precious state for her, so I don’t like to interrupt it. I don’t know what I’m thinking either, as I bury my face in her hair and kiss her. Sometimes I’m filled with simple love (whatever that four-letter word means to me today), and sometimes with a longing for an easier path through life for her, and sometimes with a simple sadness that her school hours are so hard for her.

Anyway, I pick her up today as usual. I beat Jesse to the exit area, so I slump in a chair and wait. My eyes happen to land on a large sign welcoming visitors to the middle school. But my sight is blurry and tired, and my contact lenses are dirty, and what I read is “WELCOME TO GENITALS!”

Ew. Jesse’s penis obsession is definitely rubbing off on me. The good news is, I read the sign wrong.

* * * * * *

I take Jesse to Starbucks for a vanilla bean cream frappucino, her favorite treat obsession these days. I’ve tasted it and I’m totally repelled. It’s sugar, with sugar added, and then topped with sugar and whipped cream.

But it’s what she loves, and she came out of school with a smile and a pretty good attitude, so I think she deserves it on a Monday. She settles down into a bar chair and slurps away. I stand next to her leaning on the bar, waiting patiently for her to enjoy her treat. I realize suddenly that her face is weirdly close to mine and she’s inspecting the bottom half of my face.

“Why are you looking at me like that? Are you looking at the scratch?” (Jesse gave me a wicked scratch on my jaw a couple days ago while she was jumping on me from behind.)

“No. I’m looking at your face. You look like a nice grandma.”

Nice. “Why? Because I’m old?”

“No!” Jesse exclaims cheerfully. She pulls her chin back to make a double chin and talks with narrow pursed lips in a low tone, as if she’s imitating… me. “It’s because you’re all blubby.”

I hug Jesse from behind and squeeze, and also I burp directly in her ear. “Do I burp like a grandma?”

“Yes, like a strong grandma!”

At least I have that.

* * * * * *

Jesse and I head over to pick up Nick from elementary school. He comes out smothered in his own cheerful smile. You would never, ever guess that at last week’s school conference, his teacher told me he cries a lot in class. He seems to have a lot of anxiety and has very little self-confidence, especially about learning letters and sounds. He gets hung up and really worried about tests. He gets down on himself about doing badly. He’s being placed in a reading intervention group.

Nick is in kindergarten so I’m not too worried about the reading thing yet. I’m more worried about his mood, given our family histories. I need to get on that and pay some serious attention to him, help him get over his fear of learning to read, do some extra tutoring with him. But with what spare time?? I’m spending every free moment trying to finish up my part on this fucking renovation. In 4 to 6 weeks, I keep telling myself, in 4 to 6 weeks.

Until then, I keep mulling over a sweet moment Nick and I shared a couple days ago, as we sat on the stairs to the basement. He straddled my lap and held my cheeks gently with his not-tiny-for-much-longer hands. I said I was sorry for being so busy and not being able to do as much stuff with him as I should. He replied, “You’re right mommy. You do a lot, but you don’t do enough for me lately.”

But those worries are blown straight out of my mind when Nick walks out of school. He is pure sunshine. He loudly and methodically hands me all his crap the second he steps out the school doors. “THIS is my school work. You have to bring it back tomorrow. THIS is something else I have to bring back. THIS is my lunch box.” He smiles at me disarmingly and decides to keep his backpack on. I don’t even get a hug as he races off to the playground.

A good-sized handful of kids and their parents, a combination of moms and dads, tend to stay after school to play on good-weather days. The kids get along well, and it’s an easy chance to socialize and get some fresh air after being cooped up in classrooms all day. Nick has so much fun. He makes friends easily; he’s kind and inclusive. He’s just a cool little guy. Jesse struggles this year with playground time. She’s either going hog-wild OCD on penis talk or sitting somewhere by herself being morose. Today, she sees a classmate from middle school who’s come with an older family member to shoot hoops. They greet each other shyly, and then Jesse promptly starts to lift her shirt in one of her OCD maneuvers. At least she doesn’t ask to have sex with him. But other than this blip, she seems to have fun. She plays with several kids and runs around. She’s pretty normal today. It’s kind of weird, I think to myself.

* * * * * *

After dinner, Nick fires up a Power Rangers episode on his iPad mini. I hate all 400 Power Ranger series equally. They are the stupidest shows ever made. They suck so bad, and the plots are even worse than the acting.

But I don’t do anything about it. I should be playing alphabet games with Nick. I should be playing board games with Jesse. We should be doing jumping jacks and interactive play, followed by sun salutations and meditation moments, and then gratitude sharing. Instead my kids are watching Power-Bad TV on the iPad and sharing rainbow sherbet straight out of the tub.

At least they’re using spoons. And they’re getting along in close quarters. Nick isn’t screaming at Jesse, and Jesse isn’t kicking, clawing, or choking Nick. No one is putting anyone down. In fact, they’re being downright delightful together.  I’ve been waiting for days like these for a long time.

Jesse strolls over to me. She sits in my lap and I hold her like a toddler I’m nursing to sleep, her legs slung to one side of me and her neck in the crook of my arm. I love these sweet moments with my children. She leans in and looks lovingly into my eyes as she squeezes my meaty upper arm. “I need your warm blub to warm me up.”

* * * * * *

After warming up on my blub, Jesse segues smoothly into the title of her new “personal narrative,” which is a thing they do at school. Her latest is called “The One and Only Free Heart,” she tells me.

“That sounds really neat. What’s it about?”

Jesse giggles. “I don’t know yet. I only wrote the title.” I can practically see her brain whirring as she spins out a tale between her ears. I realize suddenly that I haven’t heard Jesse mention penises but twice this entire afternoon. Penises are nowhere to be seen as she dreams about the story she’ll tell.

I think that’s worth being grateful for, even if I am a sorry, disgruntled excuse for a mom these days.

transition labors

My cousin Sherry pointed out recently that, at this point in our renovation project, reminding me (as she did) that it’ll all be worth it in the end is like reminding a woman in transition labor that it’ll all be worth it.

I understand the implication — it ain’t gonna help — but Sherry was wrong. It helped.

* * * * *

I remember Nick’s transition labor really clearly, because I elected not to use any painkillers. I had an epidural with Jesse because I didn’t know any better. It created a disconnect between me and my body that I didn’t like. I couldn’t really feel the contractions, so I didn’t have an intuitive sense of when or how hard to push. It was very mechanical and medical. Not at all the right thing for a control freak like me.

Anthony and I decided together to skip the epidural with Nick. We had to induce, so it was freight train labor for a few hours. I sat on the doctor’s stool for most of my contractions, with Anthony standing next to me. I wrapped my arms around his waist, rested my head on his ribs and breathed quietly, Bradley-style. Sometimes I wandered here and there. Since I was attached to an IV bag of Pitocin, Anthony would fuss with strings and things on the wheelie contraption that held the Pitocin bag, and he’d help me wander. On and on it went, with an increase in the Pitocin dose every half hour.

It was all pretty bearable, until something really, really bad started happening. “I think I need to poop,” I told Anthony.

Anthony shook his head patiently. “No. You don’t.”

“I really, really think I need to poop. I need to poop now. I need to poop RIGHT NOW.”

Anthony looked at me, still mild. After a long pause, he said, “Ok.” He fussed with the wheelie thing, and we went to the bathroom. I sat on the toilet. I got right back up. My crotch felt so wrong.

“I don’t need to poop.”

“I know.”

Days later, Anthony told me he realized then that I was in transition labor. I asked him how he knew.

“Because you were panicking. The book said you would panic.”

Literacy: don’t get pregnant without it.

After the aborted poop trip, I spent the next 20 or 30 minutes cursing intermittently. Have I mentioned this before here? Not loudly, and not at Anthony. I was standing. Each time a contraction hit, I bent over at the waist and held onto Anthony’s hand and a table while the nurse rubbed my back, and I muttered a chant quietly as I took slow, calming breaths. “ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck.” Deep breath in. “Ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck ohfuck.” During the intervals between contractions, I apologized profusely for my language.

I remember telling Anthony at some point, “I don’t think I can do this for an hour.” He answered with a shake of his head. “You won’t have to.”

The nurse chimed in. “It’s too late to give you anything to help, honey.”

By the time the doctor got to our delivery room and extra nurses started fussing about with I-don’t-know-what, I was done cursing and was on to a new repeating line. “I gotta push. I gotta push. I gotta push now.”

Doc looked at me and shrugged, a mix of sarcasm and humor. “So get on the table and push.”

I climbed up on the table myself. Anthony lent me a hand. I found the lever to adjust the back of the delivery table. “How upright can i make this go before you want me to stop?”

The doctor looked at me with a stink eye and spoke in a dry voice. “Well at some point, I’m going to have trouble catching the baby.”

It took 3 contractions. The first one, I was still too shaky and winded from climbing onto the table, getting my legs up into those humiliating stirrups, and adjusting the table back. I was also distracted because I wanted to yell “RING OF FIRE! RING OF FIRE!” but I was trying hard not to say it out loud, because when I was pushing Jesse out I told some jokes and laughed — an excellent sign of nerves — and then Anthony barked at me to stop laughing and concentrate on what I was doing. So I didn’t yell out “RING OF FIRE!” in Nick’s delivery room, even though I thought it would be really funny. (Except for the ring of fire I was actually experiencing. That wasn’t funny.) I didn’t want to irritate Anthony again, and I thought he was right that I should concentrate better. So I kept quiet. Which took much of the mental effort I should have put into pushing issues.

Right, so that was the first contraction. The second, I popped Nick’s head and gave myself a stage 500 perineal tear. All those squats really paid off. The third contraction, Nick’s shoulders hit fresh air and I was pretty much done with my work. Except for the placenta, and ew, TMI. I walked out of that delivery room, pushing Nick’s crib thing — what do you call them? I can’t remember what they’re called. AH! Bassinet. I pushed the bassinet to the recovery room myself. It felt good to walk out on my own, with my man beside me. They should have just let me carry the baby.

* * * * *

Jesse is going through a sort of transition labor. The Citalopram seems to be working. Her mood has improved remarkably, and she seems to be more clear-headed and resilient. But clear-headedness means she can better understand how messed up she’s been and still is. She’s exhausted after months of trying to control herself. She doesn’t know what’s happening in her mind. She’s out of energy. She’s panicking, just as we can all sense that she’s about to make some big breakthroughs.

Saying Jesse has “poor self-esteem” sounds trite, but sometimes it’s easier for me to think of it that way. It’s a euphemism in my mind for “self-loathing” and “destructive self-hate,” both of which are more apt to make me cry. Just yesterday, the school guidance counselor called me to touch base. Someone had asked Jesse what she thought might be a good thing to do if she’s having trouble controlling her urges to say inappropriate things. The idea was to have Jesse come up with some of her own strategies.

Jesse answered. “Just kill me.”

Jesse’s therapist and psychiatrist independently insist that she doesn’t meet the criteria for a Tourette’s diagnosis. It isn’t tics that get her, but rather obsessive, perseverative thinking. OCD. And of course, anxiety. Anxiety disorders are a messy, messy business. The symptoms and behaviors overlap with, and are related to, stuff that happens with OCD and ADHD. So when a child has severe anxiety, it’s very hard to determine if there are also other issues in play.

It’s a mess when you’re full of random, inchoate fear. It takes a long time to sort it all out.

I decided to explore the OCD thing with Jesse, because she seems to feel uncontrollable urges to do some pretty stupid stuff — grab kids inappropriately, say inappropriate words (these days mostly “penis penis penis”), that sort of thing. She describes it as a burning feeling that rises up in her throat as she tries to stop herself, until she can’t fight it anymore. My ignorant, uninformed mind says “Tourette’s” to that, but the experts are saying OCD. I’m listening.

A pretty typical OCD scenario involves a person who feels she has to do something in order to avoid a really bad consequence. Like… “Unless I touch the floor at 20 minutes past the hour, my mommy will be hit by a car and die.” So I asked Jesse one day, “What do you think will happen if you don’t do those things your body tells you to do?”

Jesse was pensive and glum. She sat quietly and then muttered, almost inaudibly, “I won’t be myself anymore.”

It took me a second to register it, and then here’s what I wanted to say. “Well THAT’S fucked up, Jesse. Why you gotta be so deep and intense and all? Why can’t you just be normal OCD?”

I don’t remember what I actually said, because I was aching all over. There are so many hairline fractures in my heart; what’s another one. But I’ve thought about it a lot since then. A LOT. Like, obsessively. I can’t stop spinning it in my mind. I keep wondering what it feels like, to think you have to do certain things that you know will alienate you, direct disapproval your way, ignite disappointment, leave you friendless and lonely, make you miss out on fun activities — or else you won’t be you anymore. That is so messed up. I eventually asked some more questions, and it became clear that Jesse thinks her rage and anger and strange behavior are inexorably linked to her creativity, her imagination, her individuality and uniqueness.

That is some crazy, heavy shit.

Dr. Abrams suggested we treat it just like you treat any OCD behavior. Directly. It’s very strange, but we’re trying. This weekend, Jesse woke up not angry. That’s still unusual, but an increasingly common phenomenon. I reminded her not to be angry. Don’t hurt people. Be kind and gentle. She did it for a while, and she also got on the computer and wrote this poem, inspired by the t-shirt she was wearing:

When in Doubt

When in doubt dance it out!
When in doubt to the nearest water to the stream just dance it out.
When in doubt fly as far as ever to the place which is just right next to your journey.
When in doubt you are who you are to the nearest peaceful island.

Then she found a piece of paper and drew a picture of a “flower girl” — a girl with an unfurled flower for a body. Next with a few added strokes she turned it into a girl who got trapped in a genie bottle. It was a lovely, loose pencil sketch.

I remembered to say it: Jesse, you controlled yourself this morning. You haven’t attacked anyone or anything. You’re still drawing and writing. You’re still creating and imagining. You’re still you.

She didn’t say anything, but I know she heard me. I could see her staring into blank space, thinking.

Jesse asked to go out to breakfast with just me on Sunday morning. She said, “I decided that’s my mental illness right now: I need my mommy.”

You could press me to death under large rocks and it still wouldn’t match the weight of those words in my life. But instead of bearing down on me, they lifted me up and gave me hope. Because Jesse knows she needs me; and I guess that means she knows she can need me.

We had a delightful breakfast together. We went to a restaurant we used to visit every Sunday morning when Jesse was a toddler, before Nick was born. We chatted about how Jesse used to slay the patrons and staff with her cuteness and giggles. We went back in time to a place where another equally real Jesse used to live — still challenging, still intense, but somehow more joyful and present in the world that exists outside the space between her ears. I nattered at Jesse about it. You are everything you’ve ever done and experienced. You are more that what you do today. You are still redefining yourself, and I hope you never stop. You are always YOU, no matter what you do. Jesse nestled in my arms and made me feed her pieces of pancake, like when she was a toddler. It was strange and peaceful.

We’re in transition labor together again, Jesse and me, only this time I don’t have an epidural to blind me to what’s happening. The pain is intense, excruciating, almost unbearable. But we have no choice. We have to continue the journey. We have Anthony and Nick beside us, patient and gentle. And I can still carry my baby when she needs me.

That’s what all the squats are for.

* * * * *

Our home renovation is in its last throes as well. I’m panicking about that too, even as the end looms, and I have many transition labors to accomplish so that we can have our house back.

Drywall was installed last week. Two guys put in every piece of drywall in a mudroom, kitchen, eating area, two bedrooms and a bathroom, in less than 9 hours. I was blown away.

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Then Greg, the drywall expert, spent 5 days taping and bedding all the joints and making everything smooth and pretty, and then priming all the new drywall. He got to wear stilts, and he did a beautiful job.

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He left our new spaces blinding white and ready to paint.

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While Greg worked over the drywall, a gentle soul named Marcel painted the outside of our house.

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While Marcel and Greg did their thing, I pieced up some old floor boards onto plywood and roughed out a plank table that’ll sit under the window in our kitchen.

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After cabinets are in, we’ll put the final cuts on that slab, adhere some quality hardwood laminate along the edge, and pour a self-leveling epoxy over it as a finish. It should survive whatever abuse the children heap on it.

We painted the kitchen area.

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We finished repairing the ten million holes made to blow in insulation in existing walls.

I’m almost done making a new cover for the laundry chute opening.

We’re installing kitchen cabinets ourselves.  Prep work (with spawn stretching):

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A few cabinets in place:

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We just need to finish getting those cabinets in, and then the counter guy and the flooring guy can get busy. And then I need to tile the master bathroom and mudroom. Also we need to install some interior closet doors, and we’re doing all the wood trim ourselves. There’s more painting left to do in the bedrooms. And lots of other little things.

It won’t be long now, but I have a lot of labors to get through. I’m panicking for sure. But I keep reminding myself: it’s transition labor. It’s just a thing that happens as the end comes near. There’s nothing anyone can give me to help ease the pain now, but if I can wait it out, it’ll all turn out right.

Or at least, right enough.

depressed again, naturally.

Once in a while the threads that keep me airborne break and I crash into the muck of depression. It’s happening again, and I always spend way too much time in these episodes pondering whether it’s really situational or just me, because I know I could be handling it better.

* * * * *

Jesse has taken her version of Carlin’s seven-dirty-words routine to school. “FUCKSHITPENISASS!” Her classmates are startled and a little scared, her teacher reports. Jesse ends up in the counselor’s office alone to do her work most days.

The words sit inside Jesse like an ever-present, vomitous bile. She told her teacher, “I feel like I need to say the words, and if I don’t, it turns into a burning feeling in my throat that gets worse and worse, until I have to say them.”

We still don’t have an official diagnosis of anything except anxiety; but if that doesn’t sound like a plain case of Tourette’s syndrome, I don’t know what does. Maybe it’s time to push the shrink for a formal diagnosis, so we can get a game plan on with the school. People worry about the stigma of a diagnosis, but what could be more stigmatizing that being the classroom’s resident freak show, even if the syndrome remains unnamed?

The outbursts are confusing and humiliating for Jesse. I started telling the teacher about Jesse’s alienation and friendless state. I couldn’t get all the words out, because the tears would have come out too. I didn’t feel like crying. I’ve already been crying too much lately.

Jesse has barricaded herself behind a fortress of anger and hostility. She doesn’t cry for emotions anymore, just physical pain and rage. She’s mean to all of us, even the dog. We keep hunting for chinks; Citalopram is definitely opening some cracks, but it’s slow going. A couple days ago, Jesse told me, “I’m not easy to break on the outside, mommy. But inside, I’m real easy to break.” I stuck my finger in the chink as hard and fast as I could. I asked her to break easy on the outside, to let us see her hurting so we can help her.

Jesse thinks her creativity is linked to her rage. Anthony and I chided her. Creative people are vulnerable and open, not cruel and closed up. True human insight comes from that softness, buttressed by the courage to speak — not from anger and cruelty.

* * * * *

Jesse likes to threaten to kill us all these days. “I hate you. I’m gonna kill you! I hate you! I hate you! I wish you were dead!”

A few nights ago I couldn’t take it anymore, the incessant rant of threats, death wishes, weird cussing and sexual references. It was too much. I stood next to Jesse, who was holding a block of wood she took off the top of the newel post for our basement stairs. “Just do it, Jesse. End my misery. Kill me. You can use that block to do it. Just brain me. Hit me in the head, over and over again. I’m begging you.”

She stared at me in shock. “What??”

“You heard me,” I answered. “Do it. Stop making noise. If you want to kill me, do it. Me and daddy. Just get it over with. Stop being a bully and making threats. Just get on with it.”

Anthony stood next to me. Kill us. Then we’ll be dead like you want. You’ll have exactly what you want.

In that moment, I meant it. I felt peaceful about it. I was ready to take the blows. I was ready to make the final sacrifice. Maybe it would teach her a final lesson.

Jesse ran upstairs and sobbed on the sofa. I didn’t understand her reaction.

* * * * *

My heart breaks and breaks and breaks for Jesse, even as my own rage breaks the dam I build every morning as I plan out how I’ll survive another day of her verbal and physical abuse. I keep waiting for relief, and I weep every day as I wait. I try to do it in private places where no one will see me. No one likes a cry baby. But once in a while I can’t stop it. Nick thinks it’s all his fault, amplifying my guilt; his soft brown eyes brim with tears as he hugs me and asks me to stop. Jesse tells me coldly to stop being a cry baby, but she can’t hide the startled sadness that lurks behind her huge green eyes.

Last week Nick’s teacher, Mrs. R, told me an anecdote. The kids were supposed to be drawing something they think about a lot. Nick was having trouble getting started. Mrs. R asked him what he was thinking about. “I’m thinking about how my mommy cries a lot when she’s sad, and sometimes I cry too because she is crying.” Mrs. R answered Nick cheerfully, “Oh! How about trains! You like trains! Or dragons! Draw dragons!”

Mrs. R, whose own teenage son struggles with a mood disorder and behavioral challenges, wasn’t chastising me but just letting me know, keeping me in the loop. Still, it was a crushing moment.

* * * * *

There was no school yesterday. Our district doesn’t have school on Yom Kippur. They call it a “fall break day,” but everyone with half a brain knows it’s for the Jewish new year. I took the kids apple-picking. It was a disaster, of course, devolving into whining from Nick and abuse from Jesse. As we tried to drive away after filling two bags with apples, I had to pull over and kick Jesse out of the car. I called Anthony and ended up sobbing uncontrollably as Jesse sat on the grass next to the road. Unexpected words flowed out of my baby-bawling mouth, giving shape to how low I’ve come.

I can’t remember the last time I had real fun with my kids. I can’t remember the last time I was happy. I have no hope that anything will change. I haven’t had a break from on-site parenthood in TEN YEARS. I live in this filthy shithole of a house, working seven days a week on this and that, waiting and waiting for our renovation project to push forward more quickly, but it’s only going to go slower and slower because I have to do more work myself to make up for budget overruns.

Snot ran out of my nose and tears poured onto the steering wheel as I blathered at Anthony. He was silent on the other end until I dried up. “I’m sorry, Carla,” he answered simply and quietly. “I know it’s been hard for you. Jesse is impossible.” I could hear his heart breaking for me, and it made me feel selfish and self-absorbed.

I think we have to give the dog away so she can be in a place where she’s not afraid of the kids. I love her and will miss her so much. I hate it.

A person came to my house Tuesday, trapped me in a room where I was trying to avoid him, forced a conversation on me that I had told him several times I didn’t want to have, harangued me and yelled at me and insulted me. It was aggressive, bullying behavior. I reacted like a trapped mongoose, because what else could I do? It was truly the most awful human encounter I’ve had since I quit lawyering. I was only thankful that Anthony wasn’t here to witness it. He doesn’t like to see me feeling threatened and I’m not sure what he would have done.

Jesse was right when she said we were being greedy by doing this home improvement project. My misery is a simple karmic justice for my greed.

* * * * *

There have been moments of light, but right now they feel to me more like the trick your eyes play on you when you’re in pitch blackness. The light isn’t real. I can’t even fake up hope today.

But I like Yom Kippur. I like what it’s about; I like the idea that you can seek new beginnings, again and again. Christians like to think they own the market on principles of repentance and forgiveness, but they forget that those very ideals grew out of Jewish traditions. And it seems to me a lot of modern Christians leave out an important aspect of these ideas: you should seek forgiveness not only from God, but from the people you’ve wronged. You should atone not just in prayer and between you and God, but in life here on this earth.

I read a little Yom Kippur poem yesterday.

To those I may have wronged, I ask forgiveness.
To those I may have helped, I wish I had done more.
To those I neglected to help, I ask for understanding.
To those who helped me, I sincerely thank you.

Nice ideas. I read them and started crying as I thought about Jesse and Nick who have only me to be their mother, who deserve better than I’m giving them these days. I re-imagined the poem in my own image, as I prayed to my children.

For all the wrongs I’ve committed against you, I beg hopelessly for your forgiveness. Someday. When you’re older.
For the times I actually managed to help you, I wish I had done more. And better.
For the countless times I neglected to help, I ask for understanding. Someday. When you’re older.
For the times you helped me, lifted me up, and threw me a lifeline. I sincerely thank you. You shouldn’t have to do that for me. You’re children.

* * * * *

Will my children ever forgive me?

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.

in the land of Nick…

Yes, I have a son. His name is Nick. Jesse is not my only child, nor my most favored. She just makes me more grumpy than Nick, so she provides more fodder for this forum.

But Nick is annoying too, just in a less disastrous way. He keeps things in perspective. Today at the swimming pool, as Jesse ran off screaming about her french fries and dripping ice cream, Nick stood close to me as we watched her shrink away on the lawn. He sang a song made up on the spot. The tune sounded pretty cheerful, but the lyrics went like this:

Jesse messes up everything,
Jesse makes things not much fun,
It’s no fun doing things with Jesse,
But that is just my life…
Yay.

A jaded, sardonic six-year-old with a sense of humor is a rare commodity. I do treasure mine.

Today was a pretty typical day for Nick. He walked into the bathroom shortly after breakfast and hollered out to me. “I GOING TO POOP, MOMMY.”

“OKAY, YOU DO THAT! I’LL BE THERE IN A MINUTE TO WIPE YOU!” I hollered back from my seat right here next to the computer.

But then just 10 or 15 seconds later he was standing beside me, cheerful and light-hearted.

“Did you go poop already?”

“Noooo. I was just kidding.” This is one of his things. He thinks it’s funny to tell me he’s going to poop when he doesn’t actually have to.

He smiled. “Only… I don’t know why, but when I sat down I got all wet.”

“Where did you sit down?”

“On the potty.”

Hm.

“Was the seat cover down?”

Blank, innocent stare. Eyelashes batting.

“Did you forget to pull your pants down when you tried to poo??”

Now Nick was defensive. “No! I did not have to poo! I was only joking!”

“Did you sit down on the potty without pulling down your pants???”

Shoulder shrug and more eyelashes. “Maybe.”

Sigh. There was nothing for it. I investigated. Nick’s undies and shorts were soaked. There was a huge puddle of pee in front of the toilet and all over the seat and toilet itself. I deduce that Nick sat on the potty to pretend he was pooping, but then actually peed, emptying a bloated bladder in a powerful spray that exploded out of his pants.

An hour later, he walked into the bathroom again. We share the one functioning toilet in our house with our construction crews; I’d rather do that than have a port-a-potty. As the door opened, I heard Nick’s lilting little voice. “OOOOh, there is someone in here!” I looked over. He was standing in the doorway. There was a tone of true curiosity in his voice. “I think he is using the potty!” Nick started to walk into the bathroom. WTF?

I yelled in a panic, “GET OUT of the bathroom, Nick, and CLOSE THE DOOR! Give the poor man some privacy!!!”

“Oooooh.” Nick backed out slowly, grabbing his crotch in a familiar, urgent gesture. I sent him straight out back to pee on a tree. He trotted off cheerfully. I tried not to look over at the bathroom door for a long, long time, and whoever was in there eventually left without a word. Thankfully, I never saw who it was.

Meanwhile, Nick disappeared into the woods out back. Eventually he emerged from the trees covered in little prickly seed burrs, which I had to pick off his clothing one by one. He was perfectly content.

My little joker.

IMG_9856

What a beautiful lightness he brings to my life, to offset Jesse’s dark soul. His glass is almost always full, no matter what’s actually in it. Sunshine to Jesse’s moonshine. Yin to her yang — or yang to her yin, depending on the day.

IMG_0143

I don’t know if I would be making it, without him.

grumpy about mental health stigma (quasi-guest blog!)

I am always amazed by how much stigma is attached to mental illness. Behavioral disorders like ADHD and autism have gained more traction in mainstream thinking, or so it seems to me. If your kid is diagnosed with ADHD or autism, you get additional school resources, special ed help, and access to pretty well-developed resources and support mechanisms. And lots of social support these days. Still not hardly perfect, but better than it was.

But issues like tic disorders, anxiety, and depression are still more taboo, and our children who suffer from them have few rights in school systems, which are sort of bellwethers of social acceptance. Even if kids are diagnosed officially, they’re not entitled to any special assistance or resources in schools unless they completely fall apart and become non-functioning human beings. So parents like me are stuck sort of lobbying and begging teachers to go along with what we say our kids need, and hoping they do it without bringing their own not-expertise to bear (I’ve stopped counting the number of times teachers have known better than me how to handle Jesse’s anxiety issues), which just adds to the feeling of STIGMA.

And we all know stigmatized people don’t exist in a vacuum. Those of us who befriend them, or are born to them as family, suffer along with them.

It sucks, which is why I choose to be so naked about mental illness in my family. We are going to own our crazy, along with our grumpy. Jesse should never be ashamed of being born with a brain that leans the way it does, or of needing help to overcome the challenges her brain and body present to her — any more than a person should be ashamed of being born with a missing limb or green eyes or a defective heart or cystic fibrosis. What is, is. I should never feel ashamed of how difficult it is to be an effective parent for Jesse. But it is a hard, hard thing, overcoming stigmata.

* * * * * * * *

One of the most delightful aspects of my emotional nudity is the feedback I get from parents who are struggling with their own kids. Some like sharing, some like knowing they aren’t alone, some are relieved to have found a person who can offer a referral to a good shrink. Some just open up and tell me about their own childhood struggles with depression or anxiety. I know it sounds twisted, but I love hearing about it all. I love knowing that I’m not alone, that there’s a thriving cohort of pretty fucked up people out there, getting along just fine.

Just this week I received a very open-hearted private note from a mom Somewhere Else in America. She told me about her own struggles with a challenging, explosive child. It made me laugh a little and cry a little, for her and for myself, for our families and our children. it made me feel less alone, and less of a failure, and also it gave me some ideas to think about. In particular, this mom has used some energy recently to take care of herself and improve her own outlook, which is in turn helping her kids. It’s a trickle-down theory that doesn’t sound or feel like economic bullshit.

There are so many of us drowning in this crazy, crazy world. If only we could speak openly with each other about our challenges, it would all be so much easier. Along these lines, Somewhere Else mom gave me permission to reprint her note, so here it is (with identifying information changed), as a sort of guest blog post. If you’ve ever felt like your kid “takes a big shit on your day” more often than seems reasonable, maybe it’ll help you a little, as I hope my tales do too.

* * * * * * * *

I would like to tell you a little about myself. I’m a 45 year old housewife from —. I have been married for 17 years and have 3 kids. Eric is 14 and going into 9th grade. Straight A’s super athlete well liked. Harriet is 7. Cute and so sweet. And I have Hayden. He just turned 13 a few weeks ago. Going into 8th grade. He’s smart creative and very funny. He’s also a huge mystery to me. I swear he came out of my womb pissed off at the world and not much has changed. He has extreme anxiety which he tries to hide and has the ability to make our home life hell. He has very dark moods and can be very destructive. He doesn’t hurt others yet but breaks his favorite toys and destroys his room and doors and walls when he has one of his episodes. He usually saves these behaviors for home and especially me. He acts like he hates me often. Probably because I usually have to be the “enforcer”. Believe me I’m as sick of it as he is.

We went to a small elementary school. One teacher per grade. All was good until 4th grade and school life went to shit. He was in the office several days a week. I also volunteer several days a week and the behaviors he was in trouble for were mostly little boy BS. By sixth grade I had enough. Like you I’m not opposed to meds but resistant. My husband comes from a family that believes herbs and diet can cure anything. We tried everything. Nothing worked. They actually tried to cure a schizophrenic cousin with herbs and she ended up in a state hospital for 4 months. My husband was worried that if we got a diagnosis he would be “labeled”. We knew he had ADHD anxiety and was starting to show signs of OCD. I took him to his pediatrician and he diagnosed him with ADHD. Against everyone’s wishes I put him on a non amphetamine med. it was a few months till summer and we agreed we’d see how it worked and take him off for the summer. The changes were minor .

Then 7th grade which is jr high here. Things really took a nosedive. I mentioned his siblings because as a typical middle child he lives in the huge shadow of his super successful brother and became even more resentful of his sweet little sister. His anxiety and dark dangerous behaviors escalated. He made every morning trying to get to school hell. I used to think “he just took a big shit on my day once again”. I think he had a total of 42 absences in first period last year. Several F’s. He started cutting himself. I got the school psychologist involved so we could get a proper diagnosis and maybe get him into a study skills class to help with organization. Big fail. That teacher truly hated him. She would put his name on blank papers and turn them in so he would get zeros. After many tearful meetings nothing changed. At the end of the year we have equivalency exams. He got all A’s. During this time he started cutting himself. Lots of self hate talk but not suicide so no hospital would take him. OCD got worse. He flat refuses counseling. We tried “tapping”. For anxiety. A bust. Acupuncture, nope.

I feel like it’s my fault. If I was just a better mom this wouldn’t be happening. Did I do something when I was pregnant? What am I doing wrong? My patience with him was gone. I yelled at him constantly. I mention his siblings because they are so affected by this too. His brother wants to kick his ass for being so awful to me. My daughter is just scared and cries. My husband says if I were more positive he would be too. Maybe?

I was just feeling hopeless and helpless. I was drinking to cope and said mean awful things to Hayden I am not proud of. Then I got sick. Really sick. I knew something was wrong for the last couple of years but was scared to go to the dr. This summer it got really bad. I lost 20 lbs in 3 weeks and looked like a ghost. My parents made me go to their dr and it was the best decision I’ve made in a long time.

What I have is totally curable but this wonderful Dr recognized something else in me. I was so stressed out. My anxiety levels off the charts. I was having panic attacks. I suffered from these things many years ago but didn’t want to admit it was back. I thought it was just stress. He gave me a few different things but the meds I was so against taking have literally changed my life.

It’s only been a month but I feel like I’m free. My husband said he was so glad to have his wife back. I haven’t yelled at my kids. My patience is back. I feel so positive and motivated. Of all the things I could do to help Hayden I would never have imagined this would be it. I make a point to talk with him often. I’m trying to find ways to get in sync w him so maybe, just maybe we can work things out without fighting. Im still going to keep trying to get him to counseling. The Dr I saw said he would take him on and try to put counseling in a perspective he can understand and not fear. Regarding meds for Hayden my thoughts have changed a little. I wouldn’t love to do it but wow! I am amazed at what a help they’ve been to me in such a short period of time.

I don’t know what your daughter’s issues are and I hope I haven’t offended you in any way. I think as moms we put so much pressure on ourselves to have perfect kids. I just wanted to tell you what has helped me. I have No delusions that this is going to fix Hayden. But health issues and all I am so much happier. I think that’s a good start for my son myself and my family. Hang in there. Life is stressful so are kids and marriage. But we can do it. We have to, right?

* * * * * * * *

That’s right, Somewhere Else mom. We can do it because we have to. It sounds like you’re doing all the right things. Thanks for sharing your story and becoming part of my lifeline.