I’ve Come a Long Way from Hell

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I’m writing this blog post as a treat to myself.  My friend Doreen Bench, blogger extraordinaire of “Always Recovery”, wrote that blogging helps lower her tension level and that’s what I hope happens today.  Last night my daughter suffered terrible ear pain that came on quickly.  I realized that it must have had something to do with her trip to the pool earlier in the day.

A look at WebMd under “treating ear pain in children” suggested that she had swimmer’s ear. She kept screaming as waves of pain hit her, and I gave her acetaminophen and a warm compress, but nothing seemed to help her feel better.  I knew that if she could fall asleep, we could probably wait until Urgent Care opened in the morning.  She finally dozed off, but I knew she would most likely wake up again during the night, and she did wake up briefly twice, but thank God she was able to return to sleep each time.  As the daughter of a speech therapist trained in ear anatomy/function, I knew that if she was able to sleep for long stretches, we could avoid the ER.

Words fail me when I try to describe what was like to see my child hurting like that.  I had an ear infection when I was little and over forty years later, I can recall how, apart from the pain of childbirth, nothing else ever hurt that bad.  As I comforted my girl, I wanted to tear my hair out. I felt helpless; moreover, I was utterly frustrated, furious, and frightened.  The three F’s from Hell!

So first thing this morning we headed to Urgent Care so we could get in line before the doors opened at 9:00 a.m. We left our beloved new puppy Lucy alone for the first time since we brought her home.  Lucy has become my third child (I freely admit it – dog lovers will understand this!) and it was tough for me to leave her.  I put on classical music to soothe her, and made sure that she had food, water and toys.  At that moment I wished I had gone through the extensive requirements to certify her as a psychiatric dog so I could bring her to Urgent Care!  I had seen dogs in their office before.  My last visit to Urgent Care (which was only a couple weeks ago – I swear to God the place feels like a second home!) I observed a fellow patient with his big,’ol Lab dog waiting to be seen.  But, as I often do in this blog, I digress.

Avonlea did, indeed, have swimmer’s ear and it’s good I brought her in because it was in the early stages.  I couldn’t imagine what her pain level would be like if I had waited much longer. She was prescribed ear drops with a steroid and anti-bacterial agent, and in the future when she goes to the pool there are other ear drops and ear plugs she can use to prevent this from happening again.

I’ve been to this medical office often in the past eight weeks.  Aside from today’s visit there were two Urgent Care trips for yours truly, two separate “Well Child” visits for my daughters, and one “New Patient” exam for me with a general physician so that I could get the required referral for my mammogram.

While we got ready to leave for Urgent Care this morning, I dressed up a little nicer than I usually do.  My usual outfit consists of sweats, jeans or a casual skirt, a tank top and my $7.00 black flip flops I bought in Hawaii! I barely style my hair and my makeup routine is simply eyeliner and Burt’s Bees $4.99 lipgloss.  However, lately I’ve been hooked on watching “What Not to Wear” re-runs with Avonlea and Marill.  To my great surprise they enjoy the show as much as I do. Today the “What Not To Wear” stars’ fashion rules inspired me to look a little more pulled together so I could present well to the doctor.

The reason I bring appearances up is that I looked, more or less, like a “normal” mom.  I wore a dress for a change.  It was a hand-me-down, like literally all my clothes in my closet, but it was  understated and I liked its charcoal gray hue.  I put my hair up in a ponytail, smoothed on some makeup and I wore a beautiful freshwater pearl necklace.  Avonlea likes it when I dress nicely, and even though she was in pain and scared, she liked the fact that I made the effort.

Looking put together also helps me in terms of my constant struggle with social anxiety.  I’ve always been shy in most circumstances, and I grew up with anxiety that worsened over time, especially after the bipolar diagnosis. I have social and generalized anxiety, and I’ve done all sorts of things, both traditional and holistic, to try reduce my angst.  It’s very common for people with bipolar to also suffer with anxiety disorders, which makes total sense to me!

Anyway, I was very anxious about my daughter’s ear, and that intensified my regular high level of anxiety, so I was an anxious mess this morning. Still, I powered through it!  I validated myself for being a good parent and for taking care of my child.  I didn’t reach for my anti-anxiety pills, Baclofen, which I’ve been off for almost three weeks.  I just took deep breaths and reminded myself how well I was doing in spite of my anxiety.

Then, on the way out of Urgent Care, as I de-hunched my shoulders with relief at knowing Avonlea’s case was not severe, I was triggered.

I spotted the doctor who technically was the first person to diagnose me with bipolar disorder.

At first seeing him didn’t make any sense to me. Dr. S., my children’s former pediatrician who worked in the same building as the Urgent Care clinic, was sitting down in the waiting room chair.  He looked like a regular patient instead of being on the job that day. Dr. S. held a baby in his arms and was cooing at her (or him), and he was seated next to a pretty blonde woman who I believe was his wife.  (Later on I realized he and his wife may have been there to see another doctor for their newborn, but I’m not sure.)

Eight years ago I took my second baby to see Dr. S. for her six-week-check-up and I brought him a bunch of gifts.  I was taking superfast and I was elated.   He took one look at me and exclaimed loudly, “You’re manic!” as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. I immediately burst into tears, which I did not do in public.  I felt on a gut level that I had “been caught” at having bipolar.  I calmed down enough to convince him I would seek immediate psychiatric help. I admitted myself to the hospital after that incident to be officially diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder one.

I had initially chosen Dr. S. as my daughters’ pediatrician because he was brilliant, funny, and great with kids.  Dr. S. was also very cute!  I was intimidated by his high intellect and good looks, but I didn’t dwell on those qualities too much because he was such an outstanding doctor.  Of equal importance was that he developed a good rapport with my older daughter in particular.

Seeing Dr. S. today, albeit briefly (we didn’t even have eye contact!) brought back vivid memories of my falling apart in front of him, of being at the very beginning of the disease that would almost destroy me numerous times, and other ineffable feelings. As I walked Avonlea outside to our car, I allowed myself to wallow in my “trigger zone” for a few minutes.  Then I forced myself to let those negative associations go.

I thought to myself, “You are NOT the person you used to be.  You are stronger and you are doing so much better.” It’s true.  I’ve come a long, long way!  It’s a cause for constant celebration, really.

As I write this, my sweet girl is so worn out from the pain and fear of going to Urgent Care that she fell asleep on the couch.  A daytime nap for this energetic nine-year-old has been absolutely unheard of for so long, and as I gaze at her napping, I feel such love for this person. She has beautiful hands that look like they belong to a pianist, complete with polished nails (in pink, of course!) from a manicure I gave her before she went to the pool. Those hands are so very different from the chubby little nubs she had eight years ago.

Watching her in repose, free of pain, is magnificent.  Absorbed, I forget about my own troubles for a few minutes.  Now I see her arms move and stretch as she wakes up once more. I know I’ll see both of my children in pain again.  And I plan on being the strong one, the healthy one, for each of them to lean upon for support as much as humanly possible.  I’ve spent enough time ill with bipolar disorder, shut away in hospitals seven times in eight years

.  It’s time to be available on a moment’s notice to help my kids face any pain they’ll encounter under my watch as well as when they strike out on their own.   It will take a Mack truck to stop me from being there for them.

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A Jonah Day

 

 

 

 

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Today’s weather has been stunning.  Giant white clouds waft across the cerulean blue sky, and the air has a brisk, sweet quality thanks to yesterday’s rain.  It’s 3:00 p.m., and apart from going outside to our mailbox and to our wood pile, I’ve stayed inside our small house all day long with my two girls.

While I am ever-grateful to have a home, unlike so many people who don’t, being homebound is not good for my mental state.  I remember the many days when I remained indoors, bedridden with crippling bipolar depression.  While today I am no longer depressed (thank God, thank GOD!) I become easily ill-tempered when forced to stay at home.  “Forced” may not be the best word choice here – in a rare united front, my two daughters informed me they wanted to stay home.  Neither one had a serious illness, although Marilla had blurry eyes that had been dilated at the optometrist’s office the day before.

I didn’t want to drag the girls into my car against their wishes over this situation, so we stayed put.  I also took advantage of being home to finally start online traffic school, a necessity I have been putting off.  (Due to my foolishly speeding to a counseling appointment, I got a ticket for a whopping $300.)

Anyway, I realize that my bellyaching is ludicrous, and that many people would love to have this kind of “problem”.  But I’d like to use my “get out of jail free pass” for whining just for today.  Maybe some of you might even relate to my frustrations, and find comfort in knowing that you aren’t the only one who experiences what I describe.

I felt so icky this morning that I decided to take a shower, even though I try not to do that if I’m the only parent at home.  For some reason, when I shower after Craig’s gone to work while both girls are home, they get into fights.  No matter how much I ask them behave themselves while I shower, they still bicker.  Sometimes they do worse than simply bicker.  Today they fought like cats and dogs just moments after I felt the lovely hot water pelt my back, and I was absolutely furious.  It was an awful scene, and as soon as I could exit the bathroom, time outs were given.

After that horrid debacle I was in a totally foul mood.  My thoughts drifted to an email I received the day before. The message was from a local parents group that I’ve belonged to for years in which parents ask questions of one another and receive advice.  As it had been raining that day, a parent asked for tips on fun things to do with kids when they are staying inside all day.

One impressive (and intimidating) response was:

“Rainy days are great for:

Documentaries
Learn to cook something new
Crafts, Crafts, Crafts
Face time with Grandparents
If you have a microscope, look at all kinds of things!
Board games
Clean with fun music in the background!!
Put out a puzzle on a card table and dabble at it while you have time
Slime/Goop/Playdough – the recipes are out there
Make the best popcorn and watch movies like: The Count of Monte Cristo, Finding Nemo
Your own home is a wonder of possibilities.”

The other reply included other possibilities such as a “drizzly hike to see newts at the elementary school, or go bowling and stroll the arcade at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, visit downtown museums, go to the local aquarium” and more.  Doing any of those activities didn’t appeal to me; as some of you know, I’m not a crafty mom.  Plus I was emotionally and physically drained from the tantrums.

I wasn’t feeling hopeful about our home being a hot spot for wonder of any kind.  But guilt poured into every crevice in my brain.  I was raised in a Jewish household, and guilt plays a large role in the Jewish culture.  I felt guilty for not creating some wondrous activities in our home to cheer up my girls.  I felt guilty for not giving them something better to do than stare at the television or play Kindle games.  I felt guilty for not even wanting to do something simple, interactive and educational like read them a book.

I wanted to bury my head in the sand.

And I did bury my head, metaphorically speaking of course; I did that all day long by checking out of engaging with my children.

Yes, I was “productive” in studying my scintillating online traffic school information, and yes, I made sure Avi and Rilla had food to eat and water to drink and they were safe.  But I’ve basically been a ghost in the house today, to quote Tracy Thompson’s great book title.

In one of my favorite books Anne of Avonlea, protagonist Anne calls a day of hers gone very wrong “a Jonah day”.  The “Jonah” reference alludes to a Biblical section in which the prophet Jonah was swallowed by a great fish and was disgorged unharmed three days later.  Much more happened to him than that, but you get the idea.  Jonah had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

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Anne, a schoolteacher, loses her temper and whips a student, returning home utterly dejected.  After she tells her adoptive Aunt Marilla about her day, Marilla reassures her, “You take things too much to heart, Anne.  We all make mistakes…but people forget them.  And Jonah days come to everybody.”  I love Marilla’s perceptive comments to Anne.

Even though my day has felt like a Jonah day, and I made a ton of mistakes, I believe my resilient girls will forgive me for my transgressions.  Tomorrow will hopefully be better; I’m determined to make an attitude adjustment, but I know it will also be challenging.  My girls’ two best friends, also sisters, are coming to stay here all day.  I am taking care of them because I want to, but I’m also doing this as a favor to their caretaker who is under the weather.

While the girls will entertain one another, watching four girls under the age of ten in our 900 square foot home is not like going to the day spa.  At least the weather should be clear.  I’ll be sure to herd the precocious young ladies into our yard to disperse some of their energy.  We are also planning to make strawberry cupcakes – a rarity for this non-crafty/non-bakey mother.  You won’t find us cleaning with Ross Lynch music blaring in the background, or going to look at newts, and you definitely won’t see me handing out homemade playdough, but I’ll try to chill as much as is possible when one is a teetotaler and 100% benzodiazepine-free.

The bottom line is that my life is good.  There’s a small part of me that feels that I’m entitled to only blissful days after all the bipolar hell I’ve been through.  (I know that’s highly irrational, not to mention self-absorbed, but it’s true.)  Everyone has bad days, and this is not the end of the world stuff, so I’ll count today towards my yearly quota of Jonah days.

As a writer friend of mine writes in his weekly column, “Onward”.  Yes, that fits.  Onward.  I won’t look back.

 

 

 

 

When Your Child Knows More Than You Do

imagesThis week is Spring Break, the ideal time for my girls to sleep in late while I enjoy some quiet time each morning. But Murphy’s Law kicked in, and today my nine-year-old sprung out of bed ready to run a marathon just a few minutes after I woke up.

I am never as grounded and patient with my children when I don’t complete my dawn routine, which is nothing fancy – just meds, coffee, yogurt, surfing the internet and writing a little bit.  When Avonlea was raring to go at 6:00 a.m., she found me groggy and somewhat grouchy.

She brought out her collection of yarn.  I yawned at her, clutching my giant mug of Peet’s coffee with a death grip.  I watched her dazedly as she excitedly started to “fork knit” a chain of the soft lavender yarn.

“Can I teach you how to fork knit, Mommy?” she implored.

On other days I would have said no, citing that I needed that time to get ready, or that I wasn’t awake enough. But the eager tone of her voice swayed me this time around.  Never mind that I am not a crafty mom at all, never mind that I wasn’t interested in any kind of knitting and knew I never would be in this lifetime.

I wanted to make her happy.  After a big sip of coffee, I was all hers.

I was humbled and impressed by her knitting prowess.  She made the technique look unbelievably easy, but I struggled and I could barely follow her simple instructions.  Avonlea was patient with me and she chuckled over the fact that her mom couldn’t get the hang of a simple fork knit.  At least I had given fork knitting an honest try, and she was satisfied with my effort.  I also got a huge kick out of my daughter being my teacher instead of the other way around.

I looked at her differently afterwards.  For a long time I have been in denial about how my little girl is no longer truly little anymore.  I still haven’t come to terms with the fact that this young child is her own person. Frankly I’ve been infantilizing her.  For the most part, I am still treating her as if she is still my eight-pound, drooling, big-eyed, adorable baby.  By doing this to Avonlea, I am not allowing her to fully blossom, and if I keep this pattern up she will resent me and I believe she will regress in her behavior.

Like multitudes of nine-year-olds, Avonlea is becoming more capable and savvier every day.  Craig and I have to be very careful about what we say in front of her as she picks up on every word.  She’s so full of questions that we lovingly tease her that she’d make a great lawyer.  Aside from fork knitting, she has also become an expert at using the “Rainbow Loom” (making bracelets, rings and more out of tiny rubber bands – it’s the current rage) and she’s a mean cupcake baker and mathematician.

Of course there’s one thing that I hope my daughter will never know more about than I do…

Not long ago Avonlea asked me if she’d “get” bipolar.  It was hard for me to answer her, but I knew she’d want the truth.  I told her, “Yes, there is a chance you could have bipolar disorder, but there’s also a good chance you won’t have it.”  (The National Institute of Mental Health reports a 15-30% chance of a child having bipolar if one parent has the disorder.)

Then I told her something that my father, who had bipolar disorder, told me when I asked him if I’d get bipolar disorder.  I said to Avonlea, “Researchers all over the world are working very hard to find a cure for bipolar disorder.  There is a chance that could happen, but if they don’t find a cure, we will get you any help you need.” She has been satisfied with that answer, for now.

While we have these years together I hope and pray to all the powers that be that she doesn’t suffer with bipolar disorder.   I am connected with organizations including the International Bipolar Foundation, the International Society for Bipolar Disorders, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, CREST BD, the UCLA Mood Disorders Research Program, and the University if Michigan’s Prechter Foundation.  (I know there are other great organizations out there, but that list is plenty to keep me busy with for now!)  I stay in contact with them to keep posted about advancements in bipolar disorder research, especially related to onset in children and adolescents.

I am happy to always know more than Avonlea about bipolar disorder.  I dream of this disorder being cured, of the stigma toward mental illness melting away and becoming a moot point, and of being able to spend my energy on other topics aside from bipolar disorder.  I dream of Avonlea asking me if she’ll get bipolar disorder and my answering her, without any doubt in my mind, “No.”

Photo on 2014-01-28 at 11.35 #2