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.