A Little Nonsense Now and Then

I have had one helluva time coming off the prednisone.  Yesterday was Day 2 off the drug, and it was my low point.  I should have just cancelled the day and stayed in bed.  Oh the pain and fatigue.  I gave the day my best shot, but I was bested.  I was in bed at 6 PM shaking, sweating, and nauseous.  Prednisone withdrawal is a nasty business.

When I don’t feel well or one of the girls is under the weather in some way, we amp up the humor.  I spent the evening watching “Parks and Recreation” on my laptop and laughing uproariously.  I highly recommend it.  Doireann crawled into bed with me as is her habit with her Smartphone and said, “Wanna see some kitty pics?” She always saves the best cat photos that she finds on Tumblr to show me, usually at 7 o’clock in the morning.  I have no idea why she waits until the morning.  This time, however, she showed me her collection in the evening.

“So, there are all these amazing photos of firemen rescuing these cats from burning buildings.”  I immediately cooed with anticipation.

“Check this one out, Mom.”


We both patted our chests simultaneously looking at this poor kitty gripped with such fear.

“Look at this one, Mom!”



“Oh, they’re having a moment! Look at how they look at each other! It’s so sweet!”



“Oh, it’s just a wee thing! Aaaaw, it’s so cute! Do you think it belongs to someone? Poor kitten…”



“Oh, and this one needs oxygen! Oh, these firemen are so kind!”

And then there was this one…





“Good God!”

And that’s all it took.  I couldn’t stop laughing. I know that cat was scared, but it looked like a maniacal super-villian compared to all those other cats.  And the expression on the face of the fireman? What’s he thinking? “Thank God I caught him, the bastard.” I just couldn’t help it.  Doireann was laughing, too.  And you know what? I have laughed about it all day long today.  Off and on, I’ve just laughed about this stupid cat picture! It’s a meme on Tumblr! I was even laughing about it in the bathroom today which my entire family could hear.  Funnily enough, this caused them to start laughing.  At me, of course, but laughter is laughter.  Eadaoin shouted out, “Are you laughing at the cat picture again?” I shouted back, “Yes!” Someone yelled while laughing, “Mom, you are so weird!” Maybe, but they were laughing!

I thought that since it made me laugh so hard last night and today, thusly, relieving my distress, I might share it with all of you.  Perhaps you’ll think it’s inane and silly or even weird, but perhaps you’ll laugh, too.

Silliness is good.  Laughter is even better.

***I give credit to (Tah the) Trickster Tales of Tumblr for compiling these photos that led my daughter to show them to me last night.  It gave us great joy.  Apparently, I’m still enjoying myself.



A Trip to Crazymaking Land

Miss Lydia strikes again! I feel like I’m writing for a daytime drama.

Grace came home yesterday, groaned, put her backpack on the couch, and proclaimed, “You won’t believe what happened today.  Miss Lydia took it too far today, Mom.  I’ve had enough!”

Grace comes home daily with a Miss Lydia story.  This woman is always up to something questionable so I usually listen and empathize.  What can I say? No matter where you go there will always be that person who seems to derive joy from making everyone else miserable be it through sexual harassment, bigotry, or just plain ol’ stupidity.  Seriously, sometimes people are just dumb and have no interest in learning a better way.  It’s better to learn how to deal with these folks at an early age rather than feel surprised later on that the world is full of people whom you would never want to take out for a beer.  Most of us can deal with that.

But Miss Lydia is different.  This gal isn’t stupid.  I thought that she was for a while.  I think she’s a different sort of person altogether.

Yesterday, the staff at Grace’s school was having a development day so Miss Lydia was in charge of Grace’s class.  I don’t think anyone really enjoys Lydia’s affect.  She’s on the loud and obnoxious side, but that can work with a group of loud teens.  During the day, another teacher came into the classroom to teach “the brain class” in which the class learns about neuroplasticity.  This is one of Grace’s favorite classes.  She admitted to me yesterday that she does get very excited in this class and does speak out of turn.  I find myself thinking of Arnold Horshack and his, “Ooooh-ooooh-ooooooh!” from “Welcome Back, Kotter”.  This is not that unusual, however, in terms of classroom management.  This is really not that unusual for a classroom of eight kids with mental health issues either.  Impulse control, anyone? I would think that one would be rather excited, however, to see a group of kids getting excited about neuroplasticity.

Well, Miss Lydia had a different agenda.  She decided to sit in the back of the class and keep tally marks next to each student’s name for every time they spoke without raising their hand.  She then went to Grace during class, showed her the ongoing list, and said, “In just six minutes, look at how many times! Just look…”  Grace wasn’t sure what the tally marks were for.  Initially, she thought that it might be good because, in her school when teachers keep track of something, it’s always good.  She then overheard Miss Lydia mocking her as she showed the tally marks to other staff listening in on the class: “Just look at this! In six minutes! In just six minutes…”

Grace shared that she began to feel weird as if something were very wrong.  Miss Lydia was smiling, but her tone was mean.  After the class was over, Miss Lydia decided to give a statistics lesson using the tallies she spent the previous class accruing.

“Let’s take a look at all these marks I’ve got on this list, class! Let’s do some averaging.  Which student spoke out of turn the most? Let’s do an average, shall we? How many times per minute did that student blurt? Who failed to raise their hand the most? Who did it the least?”

And on and on she went, shaming the class.  She covered the names of the students, but, since she had shown Grace the list in its entirety previously, Grace knew that she was on the top of Miss Lydia’s Naughty List.  She knew that she was the student to speak without raising her hand the most.  She knew that Miss Lydia was most likely singling her out.  Grace said that she felt sick.  She also said that no one in class said a word.  They just sat there in silence while Miss Lydia smiled treacly as she taught on averages using their misbehavior.

That’s not the worst of it.  Here’s my favorite part.  After Miss Lydia was finished teaching her special brand of statistics, Grace struggled to emotionally regulate.  After all, this is the teacher that locked her in an elevator a few months ago to bully her.  She started crying in class.  True to form, Miss Lydia approached Grace and said, “Oh my, what’s wrong? You seem upset.  Is something bothering you? Were you upset by my tallying? Do you need me to walk you over to talk to someone? Do you need my help, Grace?”

This is textbook perpetrator behavior.  Miss Lydia isn’t a nice teacher trying to teach manners.  She’s a gaslighter.  This woman is predatory! She’s found her niche among a vulnerable population and is choosing to exploit them by manipulating their perceptions.  First, she hurts them through humiliation and shaming.  Then, when they exhibit an emotional response appropriate to the hurt inflicted, she engages in denial and withholding by pretending not to understand her part in bringing about the circumstance.  The next step that she will probably take is countering in which she will call into question the memory and credibility of the victims of her actions.  This sort of “classroom management” is actually exceedingly common in classrooms across the world, but it’s forbidden in Grace’s school.  Her school adheres to the Nurtured Heart approach.  Manipulating perceptions to force behavioral compliance might be a favored classroom management tool, but it won’t work in this population of students because their perceptions are already altered.  They are already vulnerable.  This is why what Miss Lydia did is so egregious.  And doing it with a smile? That just makes her look sadistic.

Gaslighting is actually very common.  It’s seldom discussed, but we’ve all experienced it.  Think about this scenario:

“Jenny, your hair looks so bad! ::friends hanging around begin snickering:: What did you do to it? Did your mom cut it for you? Ohmigod…”

“That’s a really awful thing to say, Kayla.”

“What? I was only kidding.  Gawd…you totally can’t take a joke.  You are so uptight. ::friends hanging around nodding in agreement and rolling their eyes::”

This is gaslighting.  The message here is: “What I said wasn’t the problem.  There wasn’t a problem until you pointed it out, therefore, YOU are the problem.”  This kind of gaslighting is called blocking and diverting.  A person changes the conversation by blocking (I was only kidding!) and then diverting to control the conversation in order to undermine the victim’s perception and credibility ( You can’t take a joke!).  In my experience, this is the most common form of gaslighting.  The best way to deal with it is like this:

“We can talk about my being uptight and ill-humored in a moment, but right now we need to talk about what you just said.”

The other types of gaslighting behavior are:

  • Trivializing: this technique involves making the victim believe his or her thoughts or needs aren’t important.  ( “How can we move on as a family if we aren’t talking to each other?”   ”Oh, I have some problems controlling my anger, I guess, but you just need to get over everything and forgive.  Good people forgive.”  ”So what that I’ve ignored you for five years? I’m talking to you now.  Let’s just let the past go…” )
  • Abusive “forgetting” and “denial” can also be forms of gaslighting:  This is an interesting gaslighting technique.  A person can deny or “not recall” any behavior they choose citing that they don’t remember.  ( “I never said that.” “I don’t remember doing that.”  ”I don’t remember your wedding going like that.  I remember it going wonderfully! How could you possibly be angry with me for something I don’t even remember!”  It’s from this point that an abuser will often move directly into countering which calls into question the victim’s capacity to remember events and information correctly–“I wonder if perhaps you are even capable of remembering things properly.  I mean, I remember enjoying myself.  Maybe you’re just a bitter person.”  “You do have that mental illness thing.  Maybe you don’t even remember anything right.”)
  •  Countering: this technique involves an abuser vehemently calling into question a victim’s memory in spite of the victim having remembered things correctly. ( “You have a child’s memory.  I’m an adult.  That’s not what happened.”  “You don’t remember it correctly.”  “You were mentally unstable due to being bullied.  I’m certain you don’t really remember how things really were.” )
  •  Withholding: a gaslighting technique where the abuser feigns a lack of understanding, refuses to listen, and declines sharing his emotions. (“I don’t know what you’re talking about.  That was never said to me.  I don’t have to sit here and listen to this!”  “You’re just trying to make me feel guilty!”)

Healthy people do not engage in gaslighting.  This is manipulation at its finest, and it’s malignant.  If you’re being gaslighted, then you will feel crazy; or, you’ll feel like something is wrong with you.  You’ll feel a need to have your reality checked constantly.  You’ll find yourself asking, “Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I really am the problem.”

I have no time for this kind of behavior.  I have a lot of room for people in my life who make honest mistakes, fail, get up, and try again.  But this? Nope.  Perps need not apply so I contacted Grace’s classroom teacher about Miss Lydia’s field trip yesterday.  I’m sorry.  I don’t recall signing a permission slip for a field trip visiting Crazymaking Land! I was told this morning that the administration would “handle it”.  I have no idea what that means.

I’m just trying to establish a paper trail as well as teach my girls that certain behaviors are to be expected in life.  Others?

Absolutely not.



I received an email from the head of Grace’s program that Miss Lydia will be moved out of Grace’s program.  She will be moved to another floor.  Good-bye, Miss Lydia! Grace feels better already.



Cheese and Whine

In which MJ might whine a little or a lot

I like to process my life through humor.  If I didn’t, then I would turn into a mushpile.  It’s just too intense.  So, we laugh a lot around here.  Laughter and humor are probably one of the best ways to process intensity.  There are only three ways to rid your body of stress hormones: tears, sweat, and laughter.  I choose laughter every time.  Crying ruins your make-up, and sweating ruins your hair.  I kid.  Sort of.  Besides laughing is just more fun.

I’ve been judged by a few people because I don’t see the intensely moving films at the cinema anymore.  I don’t go see the documentaries like “Waiting for Superman”.  Why would I? I’ve already had to testify in front of a judge in the case of a dismissal of a school principal.  I’ve taken on the school board.  I don’t want to sit in a theatre and relive it! It’s hard for me to read intense fiction as well because real life is over the top around here.  I don’t want to enter into more fictional intensity in my free time unless it’s going to be truly meaningful.

So, yesterday I watched the first episode of “The X Files” with Doireann.  She was home sick, and I was on the couch feeling very weird.  I had to see my neurologist yesterday for my six month check-in, and I predicted before I went that I wasn’t going to leave her office unscathed.  I’ve had some weirder than my normally weird symptoms for the past few months.  I am a known under-utilizer.  I don’t call my doctor if I’m ill.  I won’t even go to the ER if I’m having an anaphylactic reaction.  I just stab myself in the leg with my Epi-pen, down two Benadryl, and keep going.  I don’t know why I’m like this.  It annoys my family to no end.  It may be that it’s because I have a family of already very needy kids who need a lot from the healthcare system.  I don’t want to be another reason that we’re paying more medical bills, and I just finished paying off that surgery and hospital stay associated with that “idiopathic” kidney stone! (Psst…it was caused by a 6-week vitamin D blast prescribed by my PCP) I also don’t like the attention.  I was sick for most of my childhood and adolescence.  I hate seeing doctors.  HATE.

So, when I had to tell my neurologist yesterday that I suddenly can’t see very well out of my left eye, I’ve had two weird phantosmia events wherein I’ve smelled something burning accompanied by extreme vertigo, and last fall I had about three weeks of searing pain and tearing in my left eye going into my jaw all occurring at 3:45 AM, I knew that she was going to make her annoyed face.  I was right.  She looked irked.

“It’s stress, right?”

“No, your chronic migraines are stress.  You are not describing migraines.  This is different.”

Well, fine.  I tried to roll my eyes, but my left eye won’t quite roll.  It sort of gets stuck if that’s possible.


It doesn’t matter that my face will freeze like this. I look fine, right?

She mentioned the words “seizure”, “optic neuritis”, “cluster headaches”, “MRI with contrast”, “EEG”, “prednisone” and some other medication that was entirely new to me.  I whined a lot.

“Not another MRI! I hate them! With contrast this time? NO!”

“You knew coming in with all these symptoms that you weren’t leaving without an MRI and an EEG, didn’t you? It’s been a few years since you’ve had a scan.  An EEG is easy.  I want to be sure you’re not having breakthrough seizures.  That burning smell you’re smelling is neurological.  I need to be sure I don’t need to tweak your meds.”

I whined some more.

“I’m putting you on a coarse of prednisone and verapamil to stop these cluster headaches.  You’ll come back in six weeks to wean off the verapamil.  Side effects aren’t too bad.  Nausea, dizziness…constipation.”

More whining.

“I want that MRI ASAP.  I need to make sure that you don’t have optic neuritis.  Your symptoms are bothersome.  I’ve got to rule out MS.”

“Aw, come on!”

What can I say? I am a horrible patient.  She smiled at me.  I did all the neurological testing like heel-toeing it for her, touching my nose and her finger, and all the rest of it.  I did well.  No drunk walking here!

I am, however, not enjoying my prednisone and verapamil.  I feel WEIRD.  Sort of wired, hot, and tired at the same time.  My eye still feels funny, but the good news is that the trigeminal nerve that was causing those cluster headaches does not hurt this morning.  I can directly press on it, and I don’t feel a thing.  Thank you, prednisone! For the past week, it has been throbbing and keeping me up at night! Okay, okay, so my neurologist knows what she’s doing.

Now it’s just a matter of showing up for the testing.  Ode to joy.  I really don’t like EEGs.  At least it won’t be a sleep-deprived EEG.  At least I don’t think it will be.

Okay.  I’ve whined.  I’ve complained.  I’ve taken my morning prednisone dose.  Hey, it’s Buy One Get One Free at Caribou today in celebration of spring.  I think I’ll get a coffee involving lots of whipped cream! It’s not cheese, but it’s dairy.  That counts, right?


Yes. Yes, I would!

Just Keep Swimming

Grace attends a school in an intermediate district.  I had no idea what that meant when I first learned of its existence.  What the heck is an intermediate district? This intermediate district exists to educate all the kids on IEPs that their own districts lacked the resources to educate themselves.  About eight school districts financially support this district.  They pay a lot of money, sort of like a membership fee, so that they can send their kids there.  This district is a bit like a last resort for districts.

When Grace was in need of an IEP two years ago, I didn’t know any parents who had ever heard of this district.  It simply goes by a number.  Like District 007.  I would ask other parents, “Have you ever heard of District 007?” No.  I wondered why no one had ever heard of it, and I also wondered if it was like something out of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.  Were all the teachers like Nurse Ratched?

When Grace was in her third hospital setting, District 007 was providing the education for all the children there.  I met one of the teachers.  She was amazing.  District 007, in fact, did Grace’s IEP evaluation by force of our resident district.  Then, I met one of the women from District 007 in charge of all educational services provided off-site.  She was also amazing.  She reminded me that I was the most powerful person on that IEP team, and she even sat with me through Grace’s IEP meeting with our resident school district to make sure that every point was made with clarity.  She wanted Grace to have her IEP.  She then arranged for Grace and me to tour the facility that was to be Grace’s new school, and she met us there to be with us both.  I was in a haze of confusion and awe.  I was not used to be treated with such respect.

The school was simply fantastic.  It was a brand-new facility housing several special programs.  There was a program for pregnant teens and a nursery for their babies and toddlers so that they could continue to go to school and graduate.  That alone amazed me.  When I was in high school, the school staff seemed to go out of their way to shame pregnant girls in order to make an example of them.  There were programs for children and teens on the autism spectrum.  There was a café and store that was student run and, of course, teacher managed, but these “school jobs” were teaching life skills.  There were rooms with kitchens and even laundry rooms so that teens could learn to cook and even do laundry.  Again, opportunities to learn independence and life skills.  The school librarian had a big, black labrador who was a trained therapy dog, and, when students were struggling, they could go for a walk in the school with him.  There was even a therapy bird! She liked to sit on shoulders and groom hair.

Grace’s class had only seven other students, one teacher and two to three paras.  The Nurtured Heart approach was used throughout the entire facility.  There was a social worker associated with her classroom, and she arranged for a woman from Lutheran Social Services to come in throughout the year to teach the girls all sorts of things about sexuality, hygiene, boundaries, safe people, appropriate relationships, and the like.  Honestly, it was a dream come true.  I couldn’t have asked for anything more for Grace.  She is treated with such respect in her environment now, and, when I go to her school’s family nights, I observe that every staff member knows Grace.  They all give her high fives or pats on the back.  The kindness and generosity of spirit there shocks me.

I invited a friend to accompany us to their autumn book fair last fall, and she, too, was shocked.  “This is a public school? I’ve never heard of this place!” I think that’s the point.  If all parents of special needs children knew of District 007, then they would be banging down the doors! I found it very weird when, at the end of the final IEP meeting to approve Grace’s attendance at District 007, the head of our resident district’s special education department looked at me and almost hissed, “I don’t think District 007 is going to be what you think it will be.”  She was right.  It far surpassed anything I could have ever imagined in terms of special education in America.

Alas, even in the best environments, there will always be a bad apple.  Miss Lydia is Grace’s bad apple.  She is one of the paras in Grace’s classroom.  She’s been in special education for years.  She’s been through a lot, too.  A few years ago, a student hit her so hard that he fractured her neck.  Working with this population is a calling.  It’s not a job.  I think that Miss Lydia might need to retire.  I think that she’s put in her time and needs to go out on a high, but she continues to show up even though she may be burned out.

Miss Lydia does not understand mental illness.  She might think that she does.  Grace is in the EBD classroom–the emotional and behavioral classroom.  She was put with the more “emotional” kids rather than the “behavioral” ones.  Grace doesn’t have behavioral problems.  She simply can’t function in a typical classroom setting.  The least restrictive environment for Grace is this setting.  She would not be able to change classrooms, follow instructions, hear above the din of thirty kids, or even do homework.  She needs a lot of help to accomplish small things.  Miss Lydia often accuses Grace of being difficult or crying in class because she doesn’t feel like doing her work.  When Grace has her debilitating migraines at school, Miss Lydia often accuses Grace of making them up to get out of doing something she doesn’t like.  When Grace experiences visual aura associated with her migraines like seeing lights, Miss Lydia often says that she’s lying.

Miss Lydia is a problem.

I simply tell Grace’s teacher what Miss Lydia is doing.  Miss Lydia is smart in that she doesn’t openly accuse Grace of these things.  She volunteers to take Grace to the nurse’s office, and then she accuses Grace while she’s alone with her.  It’s very sneaky.

The good part about this is that the school social worker, the head of Grace’s program, and her teacher believe Grace.  They have disciplined Miss Lydia for her antics.  Miss Lydia is now not very fond of Grace because she advocated for herself.  So, Grace now comes home daily and says upon entering the house, “Ugh, Miss Lydia did this today!” What Grace doesn’t understand, however, is that she’s getting practice in dealing with difficult people who don’t understand her particular health condition.  Schizoaffective disorder is a disease.  It’s a chronic, lifelong disease.  It’s not Grace’s fault that Miss Lydia is burned out and ignorant, but Grace does have to learn to know that she’s not crazy.

There’s a name for what Miss Lydia is doing.  It’s called ‘gaslighting’.  Some therapists will call it ‘crazymaking’.  She is trying to manipulate Grace’s sense of reality or perception in an effort to manipulate her.  Why? I don’t know.  What I do know is that gaslighting is scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to human behavior, and it’s rampant.  Telling a vulnerable person who is in pain that maybe they’re making it up because they really have a problem is manipulative.  It’s based on this manipulation: “I don’t see a problem.  In fact, there wasn’t a problem here until you pointed it out so maybe you’re the problem.”  The issue with these sorts of interactions is that we don’t easily recognize them unless we’ve had practice with them, and we also must have a good sense of self to stand up to them.  Miss Lydia might be trouble, but she’s actually giving Grace much needed practice in self-actualization and self-advocacy.  Oddly enough, this is the benefit of dealing with someone like Miss Lydia provided that there is adequate support in the environment.

As a parent, part of me wants to rescue Grace from Miss Lydia, but I know that Grace is getting something from Miss Lydia that I’ll never be able to give her–a strong sense of empowerment.  She’s learning to stand up for herself not in spite of her illness, but with her illness.  She’s also learning that no matter how amazing and supportive an environment might be, there will probably always be someone in that environment who just doesn’t get it.  That’s true everywhere.  So, we learn to ask for help from those who care about us, practice self-advocacy, and implement those healthy boundaries–the ones everyone’s been talking about in those support groups.

It’s not easy to let our kids out there, is it?

Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.
Dory: Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.
Marlin: What?
Dory: Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

“Finding Nemo”

A Meditation

We just celebrated Purim this weekend.  I really love this particular feast for so many reasons.   The story of Esther reads like a dramatic screenplay in so many ways.  There’s an empire-wide abduction of virgins, eunuchs, a young queen, a powerful king, a corrupt vizier, murderous schemes, courage, acts of cowardice, thwarted genocide, and it all ends in bloody redemption.  The book of Esther is one of those books that is very easy to see yourself or your own story in because there is so much to overcome.  Everyone has a battle to fight somewhere.  If we have a battle to fight, then we have an enemy.  Esther’s enemy was Haman.

Haman was an ambitious guy who craved glorification.  He was the king’s right hand man, his vizier.  He was also anti-Semitic and, through cunning and deceit, convinced King Xerxes I to have all the Jews in the Persian empire slaughtered.  Why? Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, refused to bow to him.  This enraged Haman who undoubtedly was dealt a narcissistic injury by Mordecai’s refusal to admire him.  What do narcissists do when they’re psychically injured? They get even, and that’s just what Haman did.  He lied to King Xerxes about Mordecai’s actions causing him and his people to look disrespectful, even mutinous, to the king.  That’s all it took.  The Jews were to be wiped out.

The book of Esther is not very long.  The name of G-d isn’t mentioned one time in the entirety of the text.  It doesn’t take that long to read which is a good thing because the tradition on Purim is that we read the entire book out loud.  Every instance that Haman’s name is read, loud noises are made with noisemakers or groggers.  The girls used to make their own noisemakers when they were younger.  This year, they did not.  They’re older, but Milly still had a noisemaker.  The girls were more than happy to boo and hiss and squawk and make all sorts of strange noises at the mention of Haman the Evil’s name.  Milly surpassed them all with her noisemaker and yelling.

In keeping with the culinary traditions associated with Purim, I even successfully made gluten-free hamantashen which were all eaten in under ten minutes! I wish they only took ten minutes to make!

The wonder of incorporating one’s faith tradition into one’s home life is that traditions like these give us chances to declare and reflect upon what we really believe in our own environments at our own pace.  I was a very young child the first time I read the story of Esther.  I’ve heard about Esther countless times as an adult.  I’ve heard rabbis and pastors alike discuss her story and character, and some of the things they’ve said about her have indeed been important and meaningful.  No one has ever mentioned, however, that Esther was essentially abducted.  All the young women who were abducted across the empire were taken against their will in order to please the king because the king had divorced Queen Vashti.  Apparently, she didn’t feel like being paraded around  like a piece of meat in front of all the intoxicated princes and important officials engaged in the big ol’ drinking festival capping off the king’s 180 day party!  It was the height of debauchery, and she wasn’t up for it even if the king himself had called for her–in a drunken stupor.  No, thank you.  I don’t fault her one bit.  It’s been suggested that King Xerxes actually wanted Queen Vashti to come display herself before all these drunk dudes in her crown–and nothing else.  So, King Xerxes abducted all these young women because he was going to replace Vashti.

Esther was living her life with her cousin, Mordecai.  Both her parents had died.  Esther was Mordecai’s uncle’s daughter.  He adopted her to care for and protect her.  In this culture at this time, something like that would have been a necessity.  What was their age difference in reality? They were cousins.  I doubt that Mordecai was really that much older than Esther.  Esther was a victim along with all the other girls who were forced to leave their homes and communities when she entered the palace.  She had no choice.  When she was made to live amongst the king’s harem for a year, going through the purification rituals, she wasn’t doing that by choice.  It was forced upon her.  When her turn came to go before the king “for the night”, we can all assume what that meant.  She was forced to have sex with a man whom she did not know.  When he favored her and made her queen, it wasn’t because she chose it.  Her name was even changed.  Esther’s real name was Hadassah.  The life that we read about in Esther was forced upon her, and it began with an abduction.  Haman was merely going to end her life and the lives of her family and people group out of hatred and narcissism.

When I read this story, I see so much of the human experience.  I don’t think anyone will escape life without having difficult circumstances forced upon them.  We don’t choose our suffering.  Grace didn’t choose her schizophrenia spectrum disorder.  Milly didn’t choose autism.  Women don’t choose breast cancer.  I didn’t choose to be trafficked when I was 18.  Certain people born into difficult life circumstances like poverty or abusive environments don’t choose that.  Car accidents, job losses, illnesses, trauma, mental illness, alienation, addiction and all the other various forms of suffering on the spectrum of human experience are generally not chosen.  We make choices, but, for the most part, we don’t wish to be ill, addicted, abused, exploited, estranged, and in pain.  These are conditions inherent to being human.

There is something empowering and even hopeful, however, about reading a story like Esther’s and being given the permission to shout, “Boo! No!” every time the antagonist’s name is mentioned.  The first time I did this I felt weird.  I wasn’t raised in an environment where it was permitted to say ‘no’.  One didn’t yell.  Genteel ladies didn’t shout.  Good manners forbade such an act, and yet here I was in a situation in which I was required to make noise.  I was allowed and even encouraged to yell out, “NO!” The louder the better.  Haman was evil.  What he did was atrocious.  What he tried to accomplish was heinous.  Wiping out an entire people group is evil.  It is wrong.  We should shout at that, and in doing that we begin to feel our sense of personal power rise up.  What else is unjust in our lives? What else deserves a big, fat NO? What else deserves some noise? What else deserves our attention? What else is wiping us out? What has become our Haman?

Do you know what happened to Haman? Haman was so taken over with hubris that he built a gallows in front of his own house measuring 75 feet high with the intention of hanging Mordecai on it.  It reads like a soap opera.  In the end, Haman was hanged on the gallows he built along with his ten sons.  Every Purim, in the middle of my reading the book of Esther, I find myself quietly asking, “What would I like to see hanging on Haman’s gallows? What needs to go in my sphere of influence? What would I like to make a spectacle of?” With every bit of noise following Haman’s name during the reading, I imagine something going up on the gallows.

  • Grace’s illness. BOO!!! NO!
  • Stigma around mental illness. BOO!!! NO!
  • Alienation in relationships. BOO!!! NO!
  • Feelings of disempowerment and loss of self-esteem in my loved ones! BOO!!! NO!
  • Loneliness. BOO!!! NO!
  • Lack of authentic community. BOO!!! NO!
  • Loss of a proper sense of self due to difficult and intense circumstances. BOO!!! NO!!
  • Unrewarding and difficult relationships that lack intimacy and a solid foundation. BOO!!! NO!!
  • A sense of ontological insignificance. BOO!! NO!!
  • The loss of wonder and hope.  BOO!! NO!!

I want all forms of death to leave our life and the lives of my friends.  We all experience death be it the loss of life, illness, relationships that don’t work out, financial problems, unfulfilled dreams, internal wounds that should have healed but won’t and continue to hinder our forward progress in life, losses of all sorts both big and small, and tiny deaths in the forms of hopes deferred, unmet expectations, and disappointments.  When I stop, however, and read about my ancestors and what they accomplished I see what’s possible.  Suffering is a given.  I’ve said it many times.  There are four guarantees in life: death, taxes, change, and suffering.

What if, however, there were other guarantees? What about love? What about kindness? What about forgiveness? What about justice? What about sacrifice? What about compassion? What about generosity? What about courage? All of these are in the book of Esther, too.  We may not get the justice we imagined, for example, but, in my experience, it doesn’t mean that a wrong goes unaddressed.  Sometimes it just looks different from what we imagined.  Sometimes vengeance doesn’t look glamorous or spectacular at all.  Sometimes justice, or even vengeance, is being able to stand strong, hold your head up, and feel empowered in that one part of your life in which someone once called you a nothing.  You proved them wrong.  Courage is confronting the very thing that terrifies you while you feel afraid.  Forgiveness isn’t a feeling.  It’s releasing someone from a debt that you know they will never be able to repay because you know that continuing to hold onto that debt is actually crushing you and preventing you from moving on.  The healing of the feelings will come later.

Knowing and truly believing that we are indeed significant regardless of our gender, race, religion, or sexuality, to me, is a form of justice because we live in a culture that does not honor and promote dignity.  We live in a culture that exploits the weak, old, young, vulnerable, sick, alienated, different, and poor in order to create spectacle, mock, and stratify.  If it can be boiled down into a sound bite, put on a t-shirt, and sold, then all the better.  Does it matter if that pithy one-liner comes at the expense of an entire group or gender? No.  If it offends, hurts, and exploits, then all the better because offense feeds the masses which promotes more social media attention which promotes more sensationalistic media coverage which promotes more voyeurism which promotes more consumerism and on and on it goes.  We begin to experience justice on a personal level when we extricate ourselves from this media machine, wean ourselves from thoughtless consumerism, look inward at our inner landscapes, and ask the two all-important questions:

  • What do I really want?
  • What do I really need?

That’s really what motivated Esther and Mordecai.  Desire, need, and a strong sense of ontological significance.  In the face of annihilation, they each fought in their own way with what they had to survive and flourish, and they did as did the rest of the Jews.  Some of us are facing forms of annihilation in the forms of disease, intimidating diagnoses, difficult relationships, and uncertain futures.  There seems to be no guarantee except that nothing is certain.  That is the only known variable.  The unknown.

I disagree.  What Esther, Mordecai, and their people teach us is that we are worth fighting for.  Even when faced with something extreme and seemingly impossible to overcome, there is always hope.  We are all unquestioningly worthwhile, lovable, and valuable.  Even if nothing is certain, that is.  With that in mind, we can move forward knowing that it might not be easy to pursue our own welfare or the well-being of a loved one, but pursuing a life of peace with a courageous heart for your own good as well as for the good of those you love is never a wasted effort.  I guarantee it.

For Mordecai the Jew was next to King Ahasuerus (King Xerxes I) and great among the Jews, and was a favorite with the multitude of his brethren, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to his whole race. Esther 10:3

For Your Information

Here’s another article to make your eyes bleed and your head hurt.  I post these (and archive them under ‘Cool Info’) because they prove that when the brain isn’t functioning as it should, its illness as it were is often observed in a decline in cognitive functioning, behavioral changes, and a presentation of symptoms that meet the criteria for a diagnosis straight out of the DSM.  The greater our understanding of this, the sooner we can kick the notion of stigma associated with mental illness outta here!

Childhood’s end: ADHD, autism and schizophrenia tied to stronger inhibitory interactions in adolescent prefrontal cortex

DBT for Anxiety

I’ve written about The Intake before.  When you’re in crisis, they can be very hard to endure.  The longest intake I’ve ever done was about four hours.  I left the inpatient treatment center at midnight.  I wrote in my last post that parents often feel judged for their child’s mental health crises.  Well, there’s no time when you’ll feel more vulnerable than when you’re completing an intake on behalf of your child.  It feels like an interrogation, and you feel like a suspect.  The person doing the intake is gathering as much history as they can.  They want to know how stressful the family environment is.  They want to know if your child has faced any kind of abuse.  Are you an abuser?

I had to do an intake for Eadaoin this week.  Her time with the crisis stabilization program came to an end which is a good thing.  Jane, her in-home therapist, found a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) support group for adolescent girls, and, as a condition of attending the group, Eadaoin would need to continue with outpatient therapy.  By some miracle, our insurance will cover this program.  This is exactly what Eadaoin needs.  I am a huge proponent of DBT.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy deals with thoughts and teaching us how to change them.  DBT deals with skills.  Everyone on the planet could benefit from DBT largely because one of the primary goals of DBT is increasing distress tolerance and then learning containment.  Learning mindfulness is also one of the goals of DBT as well as proper self-advocacy skills.  In my mind, DBT ought to be offered in high schools.  What I learned during the intake session is that I have to attend the group with Eadaoin so that I learn what she’s learning at the same time so that I create a culture at home that helps reinforce what she’s learning in group.  I’m so stoked.  I don’t know if she’ll be, but I am.

I already practice containment and have taught the girls to use it.  Some people call it ‘compartmentalizing’.  It’s a necessary skill for all people but particularly for sensitive people prone to rumination, brooding, dangerous introspection, catastrophizing, and perseveration (Guilty!).  The basic principle is that you imagine some kind of box.  For visual thinkers, this is not difficult.  For people who do not think in pictures, this might be a challenge, but challenges can be overcome.  Your box can be anything you want.  My box is platinum and covered with sapphires.  I didn’t really consciously create that.  That’s just what appeared in my imagination so I went with it.  I also like the idea of a Russian lacquered box or even a Fabergé egg.  It’s a container of some kind, and it’s precious.  Some of the intricately carved jade boxes at our local museum in the Asian arts section have captured my imagination as well.  Anyway, choose a box.  Or, as Eadaoin did, choose a room.  Eadaoin’s anxiety feels so huge to her that she needed a room.  Her room is in a hollowed-out tree.  There is red and white mushroom furniture and little plates of sweets and twinkling lights.  It’s very her.  Your container of choice is where you will place the ideas and tasks that catalyze your fears and worries.  You can put them there as well as take them out.  The point is that you can begin to exercise control over how and when you think about what worries you.

For example, I realized the other day that I had not yet called my accountant to get the tax hullabaloo underway.  I panicked.  I was in the car driving.  I couldn’t very well do anything about it at that moment so I simply put the entire thought process in my platinum box.  I told myself that I would take it out of the box when I got home and feel upset about it then.  You know what? That’s exactly what I did! I then emailed my accountant ASAP.  It sounds a little too easy, doesn’t it? Initially, it’s not.  The actual act of engaging in this process called ‘containment’ builds new neural connections in the brain.  The more that you do it, the more complex your neural connections around containment will become.  The more complex the connections become, the faster you’ll be able to contain.  For the most part, I can contain myself in less than a minute around most intense situations.  There are still a few situations that still give rise to panic in me, but the principle is still the same.  I know that I can contain myself.  I’ve been consciously practicing this skill for eight years now.  If I feel strong panic arise and a need to ruminate or perseverate, which I do sometimes, I can tell myself the truth about it: I know how to contain in other areas.  I can learn to do that with this thought process, too.

Dealing with anxiety isn’t about making the anxiety go away.  It’s about: 1) learning and increasing distress tolerance 2) learning and practicing containment and 3) figuring out what is true.  Anxiety exploits a bit of truth and then builds an empire of fear and uncertainty around it.  For example, using my tax worries as an example, my thoughts went something like this:

“Ohmigosh! I forgot to call the accountant! What’s the date?! What if she’s too busy? What if she died? Why didn’t she call me? Was I supposed to call her? What if I can’t find her number? What if her email changed? Is it March already? I can’t believe I didn’t call her.  How could I forget something like that?”

The only truth in any of those thoughts was the statement that I forgot to call my accountant.  Oh, and it’s March.  That’s it.  The rest of the progression is a slew of cognitive distortions and self-judgment.  One bit of truth used as a springboard into the pit of despair known as anxiety.  My body’s response to this was to hold my breath and feel sick to my stomach.  Thank you, cortisol and adrenaline! So, I shut it down by putting it in my box.  As it turns out, she wasn’t dead.  I had her email address.  We scheduled an appointment.  It all worked out.

I watch Grace, Milly, Eadaoin, and Doireann as well as my husband do the Anxiety Dance all the time.  “What if…”, “How could I…”, “It always happens…”, “It’ll never work out…”, “I just can’t deal with this…”, “I should have known…”, and on and on and on.  There is a better way to think.

If any of this sounds familiar to you and you don’t have access to DBT, then I recommend this as a starting point:


Click on the image for the link!

This is an excellent workbook, and it is part of a DBT series.  I have the original.  There is one for PTSD and even eating disorders.  Check it out!