The Flash

In which MJ can’t be taken anywhere.

The people who know me best know that I have a curse.  I’ve had it since I turned 15.  I remember the day it fell upon me.  I was at WaterWorld in Houston.  It was a hot, humid July day.  I was having fun going down the water slides and swimming.  I recall hanging out in the Lazy River, resting on my inner tube.  I stood up to reach over to my step-sister when I heard my friend shriek, “Holy shit! Where’s your top?” I looked down.  I was topless.  My bikini top had vanished.  I was just standing there practically naked.  I quickly pulled up the inner tube to cover myself and began searching for my top.  It was gone! Where was it? It couldn’t have floated off very far.  Could it?

And that’s when I heard it.  That unmistakable tone.  A teenage boy yelling, “Hey there, you want your top back?” He was swinging it around his head with a most smug expression on his arrogant face.  I wasn’t about to fool around with a guy like that.  I just found a life guard and informed him that unless he wanted me to strut around a family joint like it was Rio de Janeiro he had better persuade the dude who was holding my bikini top hostage to give it back.  I also happened to pick the biggest, baddest looking life guard I could find.  Go for intimidation when you can.

That was the beginning of a stellar career of embarrassing moments involving my clothing betraying me–always in public.  I have fallen in downtown Minneapolis during rush hour landing face first on the sidewalk resulting in my skirt flying over my head revealing my entire ass for the whole of the viewing public to see.  Oh, the honking horns and catcalling.  I pretended to be dead for about a minute.  I have walked around a crowded restaurant with my fly completely open revealing my very fancy underwear.  I have had a halter top come undone in my front yard and flashed my male elderly neighbor while doing yard work.  That was spectacular.  He didn’t look me in the eye for a month! I have run in the Target parking lot during a storm, and unknowingly my blouse had come partially undone so that only one breast was revealed. I was actually walking around the produce section flashing one boob! I think I even picked out a melon while said breast was exposed.  And, yes, a man did say, “Nice melons,” to me.  Another man followed me around the produce section the entire time staring at me.  And, because I am who I am, I threw down a pear and yelled at him, “Do you have a problem, sir?!” at which point he just stared at my exposed breast and uttered, “Uh…”

The worst thing that’s ever happened? While Grace was in the middle of her prodromal decline, I was in a bad place.  I was getting up every morning at 6 AM to take her to day treatment.  I was exhausted, scared, and confused.  Trying to take care of her as well as my other kids, run a household, pay the bills, be a wife…I just couldn’t do it all.  I was getting migraines all the time.  So, I would just throw on clothes in the morning, grab Grace, and drop her off.  I don’t remember what else I did that summer except survive it.  Well, one morning I had a feeling that I had forgotten something very important.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I was anxious.  I took Grace to day treatment.  I dropped her off.  I was driving home through morning rush hour traffic, and I couldn’t get past the feeling that I felt weird.  Something was wrong.  I turned onto my street, and I almost ran over the UPS man who was standing in the middle of the street! I stopped, rolled down the window, and apologized.  He was very nice about it.  I pulled up to my house and parked the car.  I still felt off.  What was I forgetting? I opened the car door and moved to get out.

I recall that I was wearing a shorter denim skirt.  Those skirts ride up on the thighs a bit when you’re climbing out of a car or minivan.  I try to be conscious of that when I’m climbing out of the minivan.  I was just so tired that day.  I saw the UPS guy’s truck pulling up next to me in my rearview mirror so I knew to be careful.  I was getting out.  He was pulling up.  He slowed down to wave, and then I saw his face.  I’ll never forget it.  First, it was shock.  He looked well and truly shocked.  I waved at him.  I remember that I was partially standing with one leg in my van and the other out of the van because I was getting out of the car–like some housewifey, panty-less Captain Morgan.  He kind of waved back.  His eyes got really wide, and then his mouth just hung open.  And he shook his head in disbelief.  I think he might have smiled a bit or laughed.  I couldn’t figure out what he was doing or why he had stopped the van.  He just sat in his big, brown truck and stared at me with that expression of shock and awe pasted on his face.

It was then that I figured out what I had forgotten.  And, I froze.  Then, I wanted to die.  Could I move away? Could I change my name and leave the country? Do the Federal Marshals have a program for women like me?

I had forgotten to put on underwear.  OH…MY…SWEET…LORD! 

I’d like to say that I never saw him again except that I did.  He made a point to deliver every package to our home that summer.  I felt like a younger and dirtier Mrs. Robinson.  Who forgets to put on underwear? Really?!

So, I thought the curse was broken.  I went two years with no incidents.  Until yesterday.

We were at a lovely store in our area showing our fabulous house guest around.  I was wearing a dress.  I seldom wear dresses, and I feel that I will continue to seldom wear a dress after yesterday’s fiasco.  I like skirts.  I like jeans.  I like skinny trousers.  Dresses? Sometimes.  When you’re a cursed individual as I am, it’s good to have ample coverage in case a light breeze comes along.  You never know.  Anyway, I was trying to follow my PT’s instructions and wear that damn backpack so that my neck would be in good shape.  There we were, walking around, looking at stuff.  I was wearing my backpack.

Unbeknownst to me, my backpack was slowly pulling up the back of my dress as I walked.  After an hour of walking around, we all decided to go upstairs.  Imagine how much fabric my backpack had pulled up after an hour of walking around.  My backpack had pulled up the entirety of the back of my dress.  I wondered why I was feeling so cold.  Imagine me standing on the stairs in front of everyone looking totally covered from the front and bare-assed from behind wearing a backpack! It’s too awful! It’s…like this!!

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As we were walking up the stairs I could really feel the air hitting my skin, and that’s when I reached around and felt bare skin.  I stopped and tried to pull the dress down, but it was all tucked under my backpack.  Fixing this quickly wasn’t that easy, but I did it.  Now, my husband was behind me the entire time! When we got upstairs I punched him.  HARD.

“What was that for?” he complained, rubbing his arm.

“You didn’t tell me that my dress was completely tucked under my backpack! My ass was exposed! I am so embarrassed! I have a thong on! I look like I was going commando!”

“Sorry.  I wasn’t looking at your ass…”

This is the point when our guest stepped in.  “A husband should always be looking at his wife’s ass!”

And then Milly stepped in, “Yeah, Dad! You should always be doing that!”

How do you not notice a bare-assed woman tromping around a store? I should probably feel better about myself.  If he didn’t notice, then maybe no one else noticed either.

Still…

  • I am going to replace my backpack.
  • Maybe I’m good for another two years now.  No more flashing store patrons or UPS dudes until I’m 43.  God help them.

Anxiety and Practicing The Art of Mindfulness

In addition to Grace’s childhood-onset schizophrenia spectrum disorder diagnosis, she also has a generalized anxiety disorder diagnosis.  So, while Grace’s positive symptoms are under control, she still has some negative symptoms, cognitive symptoms, and symptoms of anxiety.  Controlling the positive symptoms in schizophrenia seems to be goal number one because a person can’t function if they’re psychotic.  I’m not entirely sure how one controls a lack of behavior and feelings which is what the negative symptoms are.

Grace now exhibits a very low affect.  At times, she glides around the house like a wraith.  It used to be very unsettling, but it’s very familiar to me now.  It does freak out the normies like the social workers who come to assess her.  They look a little frightened of her.  Her mood is not congruous with her affect.  She appears apathetic, having no energy for what used to interest her, but this isn’t necessarily true.  It’s just how she appears.  Oftentimes, if you ask her how she is she’ll tell you that she feels well which is just odd because she looks terrible.

The part of her diagnosis that is exacerbating her negative symptoms which may kick off her positive symptoms is her anxiety.  Anxiety is a monster, and it is hard to control.  Stress makes anxiety worse.  Stress also wakes up the sleeping dragon of schizophrenia.  What can be done to control anxiety? I’ve been going around and around about this.  Grace does receive services, and, while the services are good, it feels like it’s not the best fit.  We’re not hitting the bulls-eye.

Grace, like so many of us, is easily triggered by small things.  She can be moving at a good clip until one little thing sets her off, and then the whole family is affected by her crash.  It is extremely stressful.  We might be out enjoying a lovely day when, suddenly, Grace’s mood switches, and she’s standing in the middle of a venue looking like Creepy Susie.

Angus Oblong - Creepy Susie 300dpi

 

It’s unsettling, disappointing, and, to be honest, hard on everyone.  Of course, we all love Grace and want to help her, but the honeymoon is over.  I’ve seen some eye rolls.  I’m seeing the shoulders slump.  “Do we have to leave now?”  The resentment is building.  The questions are going to come: “Why does everything have to revolve around Grace?”

That’s a fair question.  My answer? It doesn’t.

So, last week, I took it up a notch with Grace because I wanted to know what her limits were.  She was doing well.  She was self-directing.  Everyone was getting on, and then she wasn’t doing well.  I don’t know what set her off, but her dark presence cast a gloomy pall over the rest of us.  I took her into a vacant bedroom and talked to her.  I wanted to know what had caused her mood to switch.  I also wanted to know why it was so frequent.  Lately, she has been particularly antagonistic towards Milly.  Milly can scarcely breathe without Grace criticizing her.  Milly is not going to put up with that so she dishes it back to Grace.

There’s nothing like having a house guest to open your eyes to relational dynamics.

Basically, I told Grace that she’s had about two years of therapy and skills training.  What skills was she using in the moment to help herself deal with whatever was bothering her? No response.  I also said that I understood her limitations, but I was going to practice assumed competence here.  I was not going to enable her.  Sure, she had a diagnosis.  So what? She also had more invested in her success than most adults have so she needed to bring those skills to the table.  Her therapist wasn’t coming into our home for hours every week for nothing.  I expected her to use what she was learning.

No response.

“I can’t remember my skills! And I get anxious because I get bad thoughts.  And then I get overwhelmed.”

That’s information I can work with.  Cognitive symptoms are part of schizophrenia, and the earlier the onset the worse the cognitive decline.  We can type out a list of her skills and put them on cards like a cheat sheet.  That’s easy enough to remedy.

The “bad thoughts” are something altogether different.  Is that anxiety or psychosis?

People with schizophrenia can experience a call to action wherein they will hear voices or even have an urge to do something that they intuit as coming from somewhere outside of themselves.  This occurs during psychosis.  It is said that a person has “insight” when they know that the voice or call to action is not real.  Anxiety is a natural by-product of experiencing psychosis because one would be fearful of experiencing it again.  “Is that person real? Am I really seeing this? I just heard a voice.  Was that voice a real voice?” When you know that you’ve once experienced a reality that, to you, was very real but was, in fact, not real at all, then you will question reality and your perceptions of it frequently.  This is the root of Grace’s anxiety.  She questions her perceptions a lot and engages in checking behavior which looks like obsessive behavior.  Did she really take her medications, or did she just imagine it?

I, therefore, wanted to come up with a strategy to help her.  I am currently taking a Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills class with Eadaoin.  It’s 25 weeks long, and we are learning, in great detail, DBT and how to apply it to our lives.  What I noticed about Grace’s statement is that she had applied a judgment to her thoughts.  She had “bad” thoughts.  Not just thoughts.  And the nature of the thoughts is what kicked off her anxiety.  What if I could introduce her to mindfulness, a core component of DBT, without telling her what I was doing? What if I could teach her Step 1? Just Step 1?

“Grace, would you be willing to think differently about your thoughts? What if your thoughts, when you are not psychotic, are neither good nor bad.  What if they are just thoughts.  What if, instead of judging them, you just watched them go by like clouds? So, imagine yourself on the hammock looking up at the sky watching the clouds pass over you.  You see a cloud shaped like an elephant.  You don’t say that it’s cute or big or good.  It’s just an elephant.  You then see a ball.  Then, a raindrop-shaped cloud.  Then, a kitten.  Then, a face.  Then a cloud shaped like a horrible monster who frightens you.”

“I don’t like that!”

“Well, no, because normally that is not something that you want to see.  There are intrusive thoughts that we don’t want to think, but now instead of applying a judgment to the cloud and labeling it as a bad cloud simply let it pass.  ‘That’s a monster cloud.’  It’s neither good nor bad in this moment.  It’s just a cloud.  Then, you see another cloud shaped like a candy cane.”

“That’s hard, Mom.”

“Yes, it can be, but it’s not impossible.  It’s just a new way to think about thoughts.  We can be so attracted to one idea that we often don’t realize that there are other ways to think.  Instead of judging our thoughts and categorizing them as good or bad, we can simply let them pass.  They don’t have to be either.  You can be an observer of your thoughts rather than a judge of them.  The funny thing about doing this exercise is that once you start observing your thoughts, you will notice that you start to feel different in your body.  You will start to feel less anxious because you aren’t assessing yourself all the time.”

Grace agreed to try this.  This practice is called observing or wordless watching, and it is step one in practicing mindfulness.  It is not easy, but it’s doable.  I’ve been practicing mindfulness for a few years, and I can say that it’s worth learning.  Your inner state of mind changes for the better as you increase your practice which changes your outer affect and relatability.  As you learn to stop judging your thoughts you will find that you stop judging others which is, to me, a miracle.

Keep in mind, mindfulness is a practice which means that as you begin it will not come easily.  The more you practice, the easier it gets.

Also, there are many, many mindfulness exercises, but here’s one that I find quite fun:

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click the image for the link

In addition to this, you can print mandalas which are fantastic for practicing mindfulness and a wonderful excuse for breaking out the markers, colored pencils, and crayons.  Here are some useful links for free printable mandalas and a brief overview of the mandala:

 

 

 

 

The Bickersons Discover Romance

I have not disappeared! I have a guest! She arrived last Tuesday, and she’ll be with us for another two weeks or so.

We met about three years ago in Devon at a mutual friend’s wedding.  I was in the wedding party seated next to the father of the groom (and having a fantastic time hearing his stories), and she was seated next to a dreadful guy who wouldn’t stop sharing–and demonstrating–his views on women.  Suddenly, she appeared next to me and begged to sit next to us citing the horrible behavior of her table companion.  I’m not sure if we broke any precious “wedding” rules, but I wasn’t going to send her back to that table.  That guy had been pestering me all night as well except he kept touching my bare shoulders while trying to imitate what he thought was an American Southern accent.  She and I sat together and ate lemon posset while doing our best to avoid Terence the Ironically Misogynistic Lech.

We can thank Terence for his rude behavior, however, because we got to be friends because of it!

So, she took her first grand adventure across The Pond to our house.  My husband asked before she arrived, “Does she know what she’s getting herself into?” I told him that I thought that she did.  At least I was pretty sure that she did.

She has done splendidly simply being in our home, but our home is intense.  I take it for granted just how, well, annoying my kids can be, and I say that with maternal affection.  Grace and Milly are always setting each other off.  Grace is sensitive to tone, and Milly delivers information with the tact of a nuclear bomb which translates to constant bickering.  Eadaoin is high affect and loud so she sounds like she’s yelling all the time, and everything is one, big drama.  Doireann is the family executive so she, too, comes off as autistic in her delivery style i.e. she would make a terrible diplomat.  I am accustomed to all this bickering, but a guest is definitely not.  Putting myself in her shoes, I suddenly felt stressed out! Good grief! I wanted to move out! It’s like living with The Bickersons.

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Oh, the bickering.  Bicker, bicker, bicker.

“She’s touching me, she’s looking at me, she said something in a tone, I don’t like your tone! Well, I don’t like your face! It’s just my face! Well, I don’t look like that! Well, your face is weird! Well, your mom’s face is weird! Wait, that’s MY mom! MooOOOooom! She just said that your face is weird!”

Not exactly the picture of relaxation.  So, we’ve been doing rather than being.  The less time spent indoors the better although my girls can bicker and argue anywhere.  They can fuss in church, they can fuss at home, they can argue in the store, they can bicker doing chores! They will not eat green eggs and ham.  They will not like it, Sam I Am!

We’ve dragged the girls around the city to all our favorite places, and we’ve had a good time.  The day before yesterday, we found ourselves at Half-Priced Books.  It was a welcome respite after showing our guest all the posh spots in the city.  As we entered the venue, she declared, “Now this is a place I like!”  The girls love Half-Priced Books, too.  It feels like a treasure hunt.  You never know what you might find.

At some point, Grace decided to randomly pull romance books off the shelf to mock the covers and titles.  I don’t know why 13 year-old girls find the covers of romance novels to be so titillating, but they do.  Granted, a title like Caught between A Jock and A Hard Place is bound to draw attention, and, admittedly, some of the covers are ridiculous.  The bodice-rippers are amusing to be sure, but some of these contemporary romantica covers with Abs McQueen posing and preening are eye roll provoking.  And the names for the male protagonists? Dare, Chance, Thunder, and Dawg? They sound like male strippers working at a club called The Acrotchalypse, and these dudes are the featured four horsemen!

As I was perusing the fiction section, I could hear Grace snickering.  Then, Eadaoin got involved so the volume increased.  “Ohmigod…EEEW!”  I started giggling.  What scandalous cover did they find? Was it a Harlequin novel? One of the older classics with real people on the cover with their 80s hair? Was it one of the newer books with a supernatural theme? A paranormal romance? A woman petting a wolf with a title like In The Heart of The Beast or Wolf’s Heart? There are those cowboy romances with very cheesy titles like Lassoed by Love.  That is not what ultimately led Grace and Eadaoin to shriek with embarrassment.

I finally wandered over to the Romance section in a feeble attempt to bring some order to their chaos.  We were in a bookstore after all.  Grace and Eadaoin were showing me various books with their idea of scandalous covers, but none of them were.  They were just mildly awful in that Fabio-Wears-A-Pirate-Shirt-And-Looks-Like-Captain-Morgan way.  They never actually found any truly sexy images until Grace pulled out this book:

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I had to take a picture of the book to immortalize the moment. Notice the title of the book next to Private Lessons–Dark Crossings. Another winner.

 

She took one look at Private Lessons, blushed beet red, and dropped the book on the floor like it was radioactive.  She immediately covered her mouth and started giggling and looking around nervously.  Eadaoin, of course, was drawn to the book.  She leaned down to pick it up, but as soon as she saw the cover she leapt away from it as if she might catch a virus by simply being near it.  “Ohmigod…uh…what…what the…Mom! They’re…look at his face! He’s…uh…they’re about to…what is this book about? Wait, are all these books about…? Are these romance books about…SEX?” And the light went on.  “You mean they aren’t about dating people? Like meeting people and going on dates? They’re about…sex?”

I was trying so hard not to laugh.  I wanted to throw myself on the floor and roll around.  Full on cackle.  In fact, I think I did because someone shushed us.  We were shushed three times! To say that Grace and Eadaoin were horrified is an understatement.  “Why would anyone want to read about that?!” More cackling.

Fortunately, Milly and our guest were nowhere near us when this went down.  We were able to leave mostly unharmed although now Eadaoin and Grace know that romance novels are really about sex in one form or another.  My curiosity was piqued when we returned home, and should any of you feel interested in reading Private Lessons, it is available on Amazon for Kindle.

Another day in paradise…

Resources (some beach reading perhaps?):

Private Lessons by Julie Leto

HE HAD A LOT TO LEARN….

Banker Grant Riordan was a bit of a stuffed shirt—until “Harley” showed up on his doorstep and sent his libido skyrocketing. Hired as the “entertainment” for a bachelor party, Harley dressed like an exotic dancer and had the eyes of an innocent. Unfortunately, after a little accident, she didn’t have a clue who she was….

Harley might not have known who she was, but she definitely knew who she wanted. Sexy, serious Grant made her heart race and her body tingle. But he definitely needed to loosen up—and Harley was woman enough to help him do it. There might have been a few holes in her memory, but she had no doubt she could give Grant some very memorable lessons….