A Meditation

I was pondering the state of the union last night (i.e. thinking about my marriage).  This blog covers a lot of ground.  Keeping the magic alive is easier when you aren’t caregiving.  I’ll be honest.  Caregiving sounds almost pleasant.  Even when I think about caregiving, I picture bringing a piece of pie to my grandmother.  That’s what the word conjures in my imagination.

Say the word ‘caregiver’, and I see myself offering gentle care to quietly needy people.  Or, nurses offering water to patients.  Or even mothers and their young children–the primary caregivers.  These images are not congruent with reality when it comes to giving care to an individual with mental illness.  I don’t know what life is like for someone else.  I can only speak for myself.  Mental illness is a game changer.  A permanent mental health illness diagnosis like schizophrenia is a life changer for everyone.  Schizophrenia diagnosed in a child? Our entire family has been changed by Grace’s diagnosis.  Doireann’s personal essay for college entry was about how her life and Weltanschauung had changed since schizophrenia entered our family.  She, too, has been a caregiver.  Eadaoin has been a caregiver.  Even Milly has been a caregiver.

We have all had to learn to offer care to Grace despite our own abilities in the moment or even desires.  We’ve all had to give things up.  Caregiving becomes 24/7, or, at least one parent has to step into that primary role.  That’s me.  I am the case manager, caregiver, and on-call emergency contact at all times.  I can makes plans, but those plans are subject to cancellation at all times.  There is no family to call for back-up.  My husband is my back-up, and if he’s out-of-town or unavailable…

A few years of this creates bone-deep exhaustion, and my husband and I just want to lie down and vegetate.  We’ve achieved something spectacular if our feet touch.  “Oh look, our toes are touching!”  It takes concentrated effort to make knees touch.  Caregiving is exhausting when you’re the therapist, the case manager, the heavy, the parent, and the end all and be all for a vulnerable person.  It’s even harder when there are others standing in line behind that person who need you, too.

But, this is life.  How do we make our circumstances work for us to propel us forward rather than oppress us? This is a question that I ask often.  Not everyone cares for a mentally ill child or even a child with special needs, but everyone has a battle to fight.  Everyone.  Every single person with whom you cross paths has a personal dragon to slay.  Some have more than one.  Some people’s lives are overrun.  In any case, this is what makes humans alike–suffering.  Your station, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and anything else don’t preclude you from suffering.  In this, we can all come together and agree.

The view I have chosen to take then is one of personal development.  It’s easier to see it in my children than in myself.  My daughters are now keenly aware of the mistreatment of others particularly those who are vulnerable.  Doireann, who learns empathy through experience, is now almost ferocious when others make ignorant remarks about mental illness.  She has made it her goal in life to educate others admitting that she was once a person who knew nothing about mental illness.  Eadaoin has always been sensitive to social exclusion, but she is far bolder now with her friends if they mistreat a peer in school with special needs.  She goes out of her way to befriend and express affection to her special needs peers, educating her friends and acquaintances on how to treat everyone.  Milly is the biggest surprise to me.  Milly has begun to defend her special needs peers at school.  Elementary school is very difficult socially for anyone who is different.  It is not uncommon to see children running away from a child with Down’s Syndrome yelling, “Monster!” Something like this happened in front of Milly, and she scolded her neurotypical classmates explaining that all special needs children were just like they were.  They just had different needs.  It was wrong to mistreat them, and then she played with one of these children during recess.  She explained to me that one of her friends apologized for making fun of a particular child and never did it again.

Compassion.  This is the fruit of suffering.  There is really no other way to learn it.  Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes.  Compassion is the drive to do something about what you feel after you’ve done so.  It is active.  It is never passive.  Suffering and ordeal grow compassion in us.  When we can approach our painful circumstances through the lens of character development rather than a “Why me?” paradigm, then we are far more empowered to move forward rather than stagnate.  The members of our family who are as affected by those circumstances can learn to see themselves as empowered as well.  Suffering can be looked upon differently–a portal to greater understanding, kindness, patience, and personality development.  We can’t really give that to our children.  Life develops that in us, but we can frame it for them so that they can see it more quickly in themselves and others so that ordeal becomes valuable rather than loathed.

If we are looking for opportunities to become better and more mature with a better developed character, then suffering is your gateway into that process of development.  This is what I’ve learned.  Resisting that process leads to more suffering.  Embracing it and going with the flow quickens our development leading us to the most unlikely place.  Gratitude.

At some point, we will actually be grateful for the events that we once tried to escape.

Life is so brilliantly odd that way.

 

 

Advertisements

IEPs and Sexual Predators

I had a very interesting day yesterday.  I want to share the good news first.  I’m not sure if I’ve posted here that I open-enrolled Milly into a different school district this year.  I removed her from our home district at the end of the first semester of her third grade year in order to enroll her in a virtual school where she would no longer be subject to the culture and mistreatment of our home district while also preserving her IEP.

Simply put, our home district wouldn’t implement her IEP.  These days, it feels like it takes an act of God through the appearance of Moses himself to get a district to give you an IEP.  It’s as if they view themselves to be Pharaoh.  Entirely above the federal law stated clearly in IDEA and explained even more clearly in the Federal Registry.  At least that’s how my district behaves.  They finally gave Grace an IEP after our state’s Department of Education, at the bidding of The Office of Ombudsman for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities appointed by our governor, rang them up early one morning and slapped their wrists for “bad behavior”.  Illegal behavior really.

Milly wasn’t ready to return to a brick and mortar school last year, so I did the unthinkable.  I homeschooled an autistic girl.  She needs social interactions to reinforce social thinking scenarios as well as practice, but her anxiety was so high that she wasn’t able to socialize much if at all.  So, we pursued academics at home while we worked on skills independently.  Finally, at the end of her fourth grade year, she told me that she was ready to return to a public school environment, and she was even ready to go somewhere new even if it was hard and meant making new friends.  So, that’s what we did.

But her IEP had expired which meant that we had to start all over again with evaluations.  I hate IEP evaluations.

Yesterday, I went to Milly’s IEP meeting wherein we discussed the evaluation results.  She got her IEP! What’s more, everyone at this school is there to help her.  This school is nothing like her former school.  Her teacher adores her and fully understands autism spectrum disorders.  Milly takes her breaks in the principal’s office with the principal who helps her with breathing exercises.  The environment of the school is validating and cares for the well-being of children.  I feel so much better sending my daughter there knowing that she is cared for and about, and she will now be guaranteed services appropriate to her needs.

One topic that was raised during the IEP meeting was the notion that Milly had good boundaries around adults which was unusual for a child her age.  She was reluctant to disclose information about herself, and she did not willingly go with staff members whom she had not met to another place in the building even if said staff person insisted that they were trustworthy because they were a teacher or school employee.  Milly was suspicious because they were a stranger.  It was pointed out by the autism specialist that this was an important quality to have particularly for an ASD girl.

Special needs children and adolescents are often targets for abuse particularly sexual abuse because they often cannot read social cues or discern the intent of another person.  They are often too trusting of others–even strangers.  Or, due to an inability to communicate, they are abused simply due to predator hubris–“I’ll hurt you whenever and however I please! It’s not like you can tell anyone!”

This was on my mind yesterday when I left the meeting.  I have four daughters.  I have and continue to raise them to be aware of themselves and others.  The world is full of good people, but there are people out there who are not good.  People who mean to do harm to vulnerable innocents.

And, wouldn’t you know, I met one yesterday at my local Caribou.  I took Milly out for an afternoon coffee beverage.  She thinks the Vanilla Coolers are fairly awesome so she begs me to take her to our local Caribou almost every day.  I had a jones for coffee (my constant state of existence) so I relented.  That local Caribou has become my Cheers.  I dropped my grey pashmina in there last week, and two employees yelled my name while waving it in the air.  I was both embarrassed and comforted.  First of all, how often do I wear that thing, and, secondly, how often am I there? Everyone really does know my name!

While I was licking the whipped cream from the top of my coffee drink, I noticed a man staring at me.  Not glancing.  Ogling.  With his mouth hanging open.  I made eye contact with him.  He continued to stare.  He stared at my mouth.  He was seated in such a way that his back was supposed to be to me.  In order to watch me drink my coffee, he had to turn his entire body around.  I felt more than a little disgusted by his behavior.  As soon as Milly started licking the whipped cream from her straw, his eyes darted to her mouth.  He leaned in to his stare and shifted in his chair.  She’s 11 for crying out loud! I watched him watch my daughter drink her coffee beverage, and I felt anger with a mix of fear.

This man didn’t hide.  Oh no, he started rubbing himself as he watched my daughter continue to lick her straw.  Right there in a public place! He shifted and rocked and rubbed all the while staring with his mouth hanging open.  He never blinked.

I had seen him before.  I brought Eadaoin, Grace, and Milly to Caribou a few weeks ago, and he sat behind them in a corner.  He had done the same thing then, but I couldn’t see his hands.  I saw him shifting, rocking, and staring then, too.  We actually left because we were so uncomfortable.  He wouldn’t stop staring at us.  I had hoped to never see him again.

In the middle of his predatory ruminations, three high school girls came in, ordered coffee, and sat at a table just a few feet from him.  He looked like he might explode.  He was undressing them with his eyes.  He ogled their behinds, their chests, and continued to shift and rock in his chair.  Then a girl who looked to be about 10 years-old walked by him, and I saw him wrench his body in his chair to stare at her.  He behaved like a starving kid in a candy shop.  I wanted to vomit.

I stared at this man.  He made eye contact with me numerous times.  Milly asked me if I was okay.  She said I looked like I was going to kill someone.  Finally, I texted a friend.  I needed to do something.  He told me to tell the manager.  It took me a moment to find my courage.  I’m a survivor of sexual abuse.  There was a part of me that was irrationally fearful of him.  Instead, I pretended to text someone and took a picture of him with my phone.  I know the manager, and she was there! I walked over to her.

“Pretend that I’m showing you pictures of my kids and laugh,” I said quietly.

She looked alarmed.

“Just do it.  Laugh.”

She laughed.

“There is a man in here watching women, young women, and girls.  He sits in here, pretends to work on a laptop, watches these girls and women, and rubs himself or gets off by rocking and rhythmically shifting in his chair.  I’ve seen him do it today, and I saw him do it another time.  I’m going to show you a picture of him now.  Tell me it’s cute because he’s probably watching.”

She looked sickened but tried to follow along.  As soon as she saw the picture, she said, “I know who that is.”

I saw her jaw clinch.  She looked as angry as I felt.  I could tell that she was trying to figure out what to do.  The assistant manager is a male.  She was going to start by alerting him.  Most of the employees are women.  I then told her to laugh as I walked away.  It had to look like we were talking about something funny.  So, she laughed.  I laughed.

I went back to the table, got Milly, and left.

That’s not an easy thing to do.  I was trembling when I left.  It’s easier to walk away.  It’s easier to never return, but that’s my place! I go there! I’m not going to allow a sexual predator to “window shop” and do nothing! I also want my daughters to know that we can do something.  We don’t have to sit there and take it as women.  If a man is behaving in a predatory way, then we can and should say something.  We are right to do so because young girls and adolescent girls often don’t notice or notice but feel helpless to do anything simply because they don’t know what to do; or, they’re too scared to do anything.

I pondered the possibility that this could be a misunderstanding.  What if this man simply had a scorching case of jock itch and lacked any and all social skills? Then, someone needs to school him on how to behave in public:

  • It is not appropriate to scratch, rub, and rock oneself in public.  Go to the bathroom if you must repeatedly touch your crotch.
  • It is never appropriate to stare at people to that extent particularly while rubbing one’s groin.
  • Men should not ogle little girls, adolescent girls, and women.  If a man wants to stare at women for hours on end, then pay for that privilege and go to a strip bar.
  • If a man has an STI or some kind of health issue that affects “groin comfort” to the extent that he cannot even sit still, then stay home while the issue is being treated.

All in all, it was a very interesting day.  I hope today is boring.

 

 

 

How To Wake Up A Teenager

Like most teens, Eadaoin ignores her alarm clock.  She hits the snooze button several times every morning.  It’s sort of endearing the first few times it happens.  As an adult you see yourself in this.  “Aaaw, look at that.  We’re related.”  After a few months of this, it’s not cute in any way.  It’s just annoying.  “Look at that.  She won’t get up on her own for anything.  Wild horses probably can’t drag her out of bed.  We’re related.”

Well, I don’t have any wild horses around to attempt to drag Eadaoin out of bed, and I’m tired of tromping up the stairs every morning to poke and prod her.  “Eadaoin…Eadaoin…Eadaoin…Eadaoin.  Wake up.  Wake up.  Dear Lord…Is she dead?”

When asked later why she ignores her alarm, she justifies herself with an answer we adults have all used.  “I sleep through it.  I don’t hear it.  I can’t help it.”  What am I going to say to that? I slept through Hurricane Alicia when I was 8 years-old and three ensuing tornadoes! Who am I to criticize?

So, how do you wake up a teenager?

I figured it out.  MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh boy, did I!

Every adolescent I’ve ever met is programmed to one sound.  They’ll hear it a mile away.  “I have a text!”  That sound.  The sound of incoming flirting, socializing, and gossip.  Ah the text notification.

I have used it for evil.  Eadaoin has a very annoying text notification sound.  It’s a fairy from The Legend of Zelda saying, “Hey listen!” It drives Doireann nuts.  “Hey listen! Hey listen! Hey listen!” Every time a text arrives.  “Hey listen!” This morning, I got up and realized that Eadaoin had once again ignored slept through her alarm.  She is supposed to get up at 6 AM.  She was still in bed at 6:35.  I decided to do something different.

I grabbed my cell phone and sent twenty texts to her phone.  “Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey…” I could hear her phone from downstairs.  “Hey listen!” repeatedly.  I heard Doireann yell, “Eadaoin! Your phone!!!!” I heard Eadaoin’s feet hit the floor.  She ran down the stairs holding her phone and saw me innocently sipping my coffee at the dining room table.  “Mom! Why?! What…Mom!” “Oh good.  You’re up!”

If looks could kill…

She returned to the table a little later dressed and obviously upset.  “You sent me over twenty texts.  Doireann is mad.”

I just sipped my coffee feeling a bit of Schadenfreude.

“I’m getting up on my own tomorrow.  That is a horrible way to wake up.  I don’t wanna wake up like that again.  I wanna throw my phone into the sun.”

I just looked at her while I sipped my coffee.  My husband looked at me with admiration.  Doireann looked at me like I was evil incarnate.

That’s how you wake up a teenager.

Hooked on A Feeling

Ever since we saw “Guardians of The Galaxy” Milly has been singing songs from the soundtrack particularly Blue Swede’s “Hooked on A Feeling”.  As soon as we get in the car, she grabs my iPod, hooks it up, and selects the song.

Aah yes, the familiar strains of “Hooked on A Feeling”.  I’ve always felt bad for the studio singers, wondering what they looked like standing there singing the opening chorus with such commitment and feeling:

“Ooga-Chaka Ooga-Ooga Chaka-Ooga Ooga-Chaka…”

This song is like Milly’s cup of morning coffee.  She cranks it up as I’m driving her to school, and then she car dances to it.  She doesn’t hide her car dancing in any way.  She looks like she’s having a seizure, flailing around in the front seat.  I have to drive with a straight face, or she’ll think I’m laughing at her.  ASD kids often think this way.  Truth be told, I would be laughing at her a little bit because it’s funny.  She’s hilarious but trying to explain the nuance to her isn’t worth it.  So, I keep it together.  It’s not funny.  Ahem.

The part of this scenario that is a little unsettling to my maternal DNA, however, is the singing.  Milly belts out this song like a drunken bar maid.  Have you listened to the lyrics? I never paid attention.  Lyrics have never been something I really noticed.  Case in point, “Greased Lightning” from the movie “Grease”.  “Grease” was my all-time favorite movie until I saw “Xanadu” at which point that became the best thing I’d ever seen.  I had every song from “Grease” memorized and could sing them on command.  Prancing around the house at six years of age, I would jump on the couch like John Travolta and shout, “The chicks’ll cream, for Greased Lightning!”  When I watched “Grease” at a friend’s house during my senior year of high school, listening to “Greased Lightning” was a revelation and a shock to my system.

“The chicks will…CREAM? Are you kidding me? I sang that when I was in Kindergarten! What the what?! And what’s with Kenickie’s condom breaking in the backseat of his car with Rizzo? This isn’t a kids’ movie!”

Well, “Hooked on A Feeling” isn’t a kids’ song either.  Listen to this!

Lips as sweet as candy
Its taste is on my mind
Girl, you got me thirsty
For another cup o’ wine

And this!

All the good love
When we’re all alone
Keep it up girl
Yeah, you turn me on

It’s a classic pop song full of sexual innuendo, but it sounds so weird coming out of my 11 year-old daughter’s mouth as she does her morning calisthenics car dancing when I drive her to school! I wonder if that’s how my mother felt listening to me sing “Greased Lightning”?

Yesterday, as we were out enjoying what is likely to be one of our last really wonderful autumnal days, Milly had once again decided to be the car DJ.  She was scrolling through all the artists and came across Ginuwine.  I winced.  I honestly can’t remember how Ginuwine got on my iPod, but I knew exactly what song it was.  “Pony”.  The lyrics were suddenly right there.  Oh Lord, let’s not play that song.

“Ginuwine.  That’s Donna’s cousin on ‘Parks and Recreation’.  Can I listen to this song?”

“Uh…well, hmmm.  I think there are….”

And she hit play.  That grinding bass started and then Ginuwine’s singing, “I’m just a bachelor lookin’ for a partner, Someone who knows how to ride without even fallin’ off…”

Eadaoin was in the backseat.  “Why is this song called ‘Pony’?”

“I think that we should find another song.  This song is too sexy for younger ears, Milly.”

“What’s so sexy about it?”

The more I make a big deal out of something, the more she’s going to want it.  So, I have to play it off like it’s nothing.  This is human nature.  I, however, do not want to explain the meaning of this song’s chorus to my daughter!

“If you’re horny, let’s do it.  Ride it, my pony.  My saddle’s waiting.  Come and jump on it!”

I asked myself why, in fact, I had that song? Why?! Then I remembered.  It’s Channing Tatum’s fault.  I went out for a girls’ night to see “Magic Mike”.  Channing danced so…er…nicely to this song that I was inspired to buy it.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.  Beyond that, what I knew for certain is that I did not want to be asked: “What does horny mean?” I hate that word for one, and I also…just didn’t feel like it.  She can hold onto her childhood a little longer.  She can be in middle school when she learns what ‘horny’ means.

In the middle of my maternal ruminations, Eadaoin shouted at me.  “Mom! I know what this song means! I know why it’s called ‘Pony’! I’ve figured it out! That’s disgusting!! Mom! How could you? How could you have a song like this on your iPod! Mom!!! Just…MOM!” she said in an obvious shaming tone.

I grinned.  She obviously doesn’t want to know what ‘horny’ really means either.

And I’m so happy about that.  I will wear that badge of shame applied to me by daughter with pride this morning as I take Milly to school and NOT laugh at her as she, once again, car dances and sings her heart out to Blue Swede’s “Hooked on A Feeling”.

I know I’m definitely hooked on a feeling.  I love my girls.

 

So Proud

Our phone just rang.  I didn’t recognize the number.  I decided to screen the call.  I listened to see if I recognized the caller.

“Hello, this is James Anderson calling for Doireann…” (I picked up the phone overcome with curiosity.  Who is James Anderson, and why have I not heard of him?)

“Hello? Yes, hello?”

“Hello? Yes, hello, is Doireann available?”

“May I ask who’s calling?” (I’m very formal when I’m demanding to know what male is calling for my daughter.)

“Oh, of course.  This is James Anderson calling from the U.S. Navy.  I am calling to talk to Doireann about scholarship opportunities available to her through our ROTC program.”

I had to bite my tongue to squelch a guffaw.  The U.S. Navy? Doireann and the U.S. Navy?

Doireann.  My daughter.  Doireann.  In the Navy.  My response:

obama_laughing

They would give her a scholarship not to join.  She would be dishonorably discharged for sheer impertinence and unwillingness to do push-ups or follow basic orders.  They would call us a few weeks into basic training and beg us to take her back much like that scene from “Private Benjamin”.  Or, she would just go AWOL.  Much like that scene from “Private Benjamin”.

Private-Benjamin

 

I kindly took James Anderson’s information and informed him politely that I would pass on his number to Doireann.  I then knocked on Doireann’s bedroom door, cleared my throat, and announced, “Don’t say I don’t love you or that I’ve never done anything nice for you.”  At this point, my other three daughters had followed me up the stairs due to my maniacal laughter.  “Mom, what’s so funny? Who called? What’s going on?”

Doireann looked suspicious.  “Ohmigod.  What? Who called? What…?”

“The Navy.  James Anderson wants you.  Here’s his number,” I said with a smirk.

A moment of shocked silence from everyone followed by uproarious laughter! All the sisters doubled over.  Doireann’s mouth hung open.

“WHAT?! Me?! No!”

“She would be dishonorably discharged! Don’t they know anything?” Eadaoin squawked between laughs.

Grace snorted.

“You would have excellent upper body strength from all the push-ups they would force you to do from all your defiance.  You do hate following orders,” I observed.

“No, I wouldn’t! I wouldn’t do a push-up no matter who told me! That’s sort of the point! I can’t believe the U.S. Navy called here for me.  That’s just…funny,” Doireann laughed.

“He was very polite to me on the phone though.  James Anderson was a well-mannered dude.  I liked him,” I said as I left the room.

“Oh no, Mom.  Navy boys are well-mannered.  They are very polite to mothers,” Doireann emphasized.

I stopped and looked at her. “How do you know that?”

She didn’t answer.  She just walked backwards into her room.

Seriously, how does she know that?

Steve Rogers Probably Got Bad Grades, Too

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, then you know that I have four daughters three of whom carry a diagnosis.  Eadaoin has a severe anxiety disorder coupled with a possible mood disorder.  Her psychiatrist is careful to watch for the development of the mood disorder because of Grace’s diagnosis.  It’s Eadaoin’s crippling anxiety, however, that is her nemesis.

Her most maladaptive coping skill is magical thinking.  If I believe something is true, then it will be.  If I avoid something, then it won’t exist.  If I retreat to a fantasy world in my head, then my life will become the fantasy that I crave.  The consequences of this strategy fell directly on her head yesterday when I sat down with Eadaoin to help her with Music Theory.

Eadaoin struggles with math. Consequently, she struggles with all things related to musical notation.  She took piano lessons when she was young, and, upon turning 11, she insisted that she quit.  Why? She had never learned to read the music.  She couldn’t.  She had been memorizing the songs.  The notation made no sense to her.  It never had.  Eadaoin, however, attends a performing arts school now.  Music theory is a requirement.  If you are going to pursue vocal performance, then you must learn to sight-read or at least have a sense of what you’re singing.  Her way around? Pretend that it doesn’t exist.  Fake it.  Tell me that everything is fine, and then proceed to fail the class.

As if I won’t find out.  Ha!

Let me be clear.  I don’t give a shit about grades.  I don’t! One of the biggest lies our teachers and parents ever told us was that if we put our minds to it, then we can become anything that we want.  Just try hard enough.  You will succeed.  That’s not true.  Not everyone is going to be an astronaut or a chaos physicist or a ballerina or an NBA basketball player or even a mother or father simply because they tried really hard to be.  Authentic effort combined with blood, sweat, and tears will get you far in life, but it won’t get you everything you want.  Sometimes sheer effort and will aren’t enough.

Just look at the plot behind “Captain America”.  Steve Rogers wanted to join the army and fight for his country with all his heart.  In fact, he had more desire, integrity, and loyalty to the cause than just about any soldier out there.  He tried harder than anyone, but he didn’t have the body or physical health to match those qualities.  He would have been a detractor.  Enter the “magic serum” to give him the body that matched his heart, and Captain America was born.

Sometimes our best efforts don’t get us where we want to go, and we fail.  I failed geometry in ninth grade.  Proofs!! It wasn’t because I didn’t try.  It wasn’t because I wasn’t paying attention in class.  I simply didn’t “get it”.  So, as a parent, I understand what it’s like to do your best but find that your academic best isn’t good enough.  The grade didn’t reflect the effort.  It reflected my understanding.  I had a 69.4% understanding of geometry, but I had given it 100% effort.

imgres

Doireann is a senior this year.  She begrudgingly applied to Harvard.  Why? Because all the Ivies are pursuing her relentlessly, and she wasn’t going to apply to any of them.  She doesn’t want to leave the state for college.  So, we told her to pick one.  Apply to one.  Just for fun.  She doesn’t have to try very hard at all in school.  Two daughters.  Different brains.  Different skills.  Different efforts.  Different results.  It’s hard for Eadaoin.  Living in the shadow of an older sister who’s applying to Harvard.  Just for fun.

One can’t pretend that real problems aren’t there though simply because it’s hard particularly if there are resources present.  Yesterday, it all came crashing down.  I sat down to help her with her homework and saw a failed test in her folder.  She could have retested but chose not to.  She had pages and pages of homework that were incomplete and improperly done due to lack of understanding.  She had been lying to me when I asked if she needed help.  So, this is why she has an ‘F’ as her midterm grade.  It’s not the grade I care about.  It’s how she got it that matters to me.  Can you imagine what the rest of her life would look like if she continued on this path? If she let her anxiety rule her life rather than taking responsibility for herself? She has to start somewhere.  It may as well be this class.

It wasn’t pretty.  The conversation wasn’t fun.  I felt like a member of the SWAT team.  I hate that.  Like an enforcer.  Like a true disciplinarian stripped of all maternal and nurturing softness.  To discipline means to teach.  It doesn’t mean to punish.  I was not punishing her.  I was trying to teach her what her choices had led to and what continued engagement in avoidance behavior would lead to.  Pain and loss.  And she could change at any moment.  We would help her.  I would help her, but she had to start being honest.

We came to some agreements.  She would go to her teacher this morning and be very honest about just how behind she is in her understanding.  She would ask for help.  If there are opportunities for extra credit work, then she would do that.  She would practice self-advocacy by asking for help every time she didn’t understand something rather than pretending that she did.  She would also review what she learned with me daily because of her learning disorder just to make sure that she truly learned it.  That’s what I’m here to do–help her.  This class increases her anxiety.  By building in consistent actions around it, she will learn to deal with it and make it manageable rather than avoid it and increase her anxiety around it.

Then, we had tea and cookies.  It’s the only thing I could think to do.  She had been crying.  She was so disappointed in herself.  I have the blessing of life experience on my side.  This is a moment in time.  Make a better choice, learn from it, and something like this becomes one of the best things you ever did because it becomes a springboard into learning something vital about yourself and what you want.  Even if you don’t choose well, there will be another chance to do so because you’ll undoubtedly screw up again.

Success is wonderful, but mistakes are often better.  If we learn from them, they can launch us and give us the momentum we need to move ahead in life–much further than any success ever could.

An Ontological Discussion

I’m back! Where was I? My precious laptop died.  The hard drive failed.  My Mac was sent off to the Genius Bar for an entire week.  O the pain! My husband was very pragmatic about it:

“You’ll be fine.  We have three iPads.  Just use one of those, or use your phone.  You’ve got a Smartphone.”

My response?

“…..”

I feel the need to defend our possession of three iPads.  My husband works in the IT field.  He was given all those iPads through occupational opportunities.  “Show up at this event and get a free iPad!” He once went to a Microsoft roundtable discussion and walked out with a free laptop.  I don’t understand how that world operates, but I do appreciate the swag.  He was even given the MacBook Pro I now call mine.

Anyway, I am not 25.  I cannot write blog posts from an iPad.  I’m one of those old people who requires a keyboard.  Even a tiny Bluetooth keyboard.  Something!

It’s not a bad thing to go silent for a while.  I was cut off from the Internet essentially, and I was more present because I didn’t have the distraction of my shiny laptop.  So, what have I learned in the brief time that I was offline?

Milly is finally seeing a pediatric psychiatrist.  When I step back and read this I shake my head.  I have three children seeing psychiatrists.  Good grief! Is that really necessary? Remember that neighbor down the street who was gossiping about my family with other neighbors? She yelled at me from her front steps and screamed “Munchausers!”  When she emailed me later to justify her behavior, she told me that she knew that all my children were medicated; she didn’t agree with that.  I must have “Munchausers” if I’m medicating all my children.

Her obvious ignorance regarding factitious disorders aside as well as the perpetuation of misinformation amongst the women down the block, there is a valid point hidden here.  Is it good to medicate children? Grace is medicated.  Eadaoin is medicated.  Milly is medicated.  Doireann is not.

I used to think like my neighbor.  I refused to take medication myself.  My mother took so many drugs.  I didn’t want to be like that.  I grew up around myriad pill bottles.  My mother had Multiple Sclerosis, and she had a pill for everything that ailed her.  In the early 80s, there weren’t a lot of treatment options.  She also struggled with a major depressive disorder in addition to a personality disorder.  I grew up around mental and physical illnesses.  I wanted to walk a different path.  I wanted to be my mother’s foil in every way.  So, when I got my first migraine at 27 years-old, I didn’t want to take medication for it.  Surely there was a better way to manage it.

I went to a homeopath.  I went to a naturopath.  I saw chiropractors.  And, I suffered.  Everyone had different opinions as to why I had migraines, and they were all adamant that they were right.  I tried to do everything that everyone told me to do.  I never improved.  Eventually, I began to experience 20 migraines a month, and my OB practically dragged me to a neurologist.  I needed medication and testing.  I was terrified.  I hated neurologists having been forced to see them when I was younger due to a seizure disorder.  I wanted to be done.  Thus began my journey into the weird world of the brain and better living through chemistry.

If epilepsy runs in your family, as it does in mine, you have almost double the risk for developing migraine with aura.  Oh.  Well, that sucks.  Maybe I should have visited a neurologist sooner for my migraines.  I have a seizure disorder.  Migraine with aura in women causes white matter lesions which can permanently alter brain structure.  Uh…that seems important.  So, taking Excedrin for Migraine and sleeping it off isn’t a sound practice? We should not be doing that? Why? Those structural changes can put you at risk for stroke later in life.  Add an autoimmune disease like SLE to the mix and the results can be even more serious.  A migraine is not a headache.  It’s a neurological event that requires the care of a neurologist.  Not the dude at Walgreen’s stocking the analgesic aisle.

I’ve made my point, right? I was an idiot to wait so long to see a neurologist, but I was afraid.  I was afraid because I’d been forced to see neurologists before, and they were all asshats.  That’s right.  All of ’em.  Neurologists, in general, tend to treat patients like walking brains.  They are known to have a terrible bedside manner largely because they are so smart.  Neurology is a very hard speciality, and it draws the clinically-minded physician who should probably be in a lab dissecting brains rather than interfacing with humans with pulses.  I wasn’t properly diagnosed with a seizure disorder for years because my seizures were idiopathic.  A brilliant neurologist finally diagnosed me based upon posturing in my left hand.  From that posturing she knew the type of seizures I had and predicted that my EEG would be “clean”.  Up until that moment,  I felt crazy, and I was weary of being examined and sent on my way with a clean bill of health even though I knew something was wrong.

But we keep trying.  We are tenacious.  We don’t give up just because we don’t like it or because we are scared or because it’s hard.

This is what it’s like with our kids and even ourselves when we talk about mental health.  There are some horrible mental health care providers out there.  Let’s just say it.  There are! I’ve met some really bad therapists and psychiatrists.  There’s a reason One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was written.  I’ve met my share of Nurse Ratcheds and sadistic psychiatrists.  Do we let them determine our progression in life or our choices? Do we abandon our path and camp out somewhere just because we’re afraid? Do I refuse to get help for my daughters because I’m afraid of what other people will think of me or even them? Do I cower or let my daughters shrink because a few women down the block gossip about us?

One day, medication may not be the right answer for Milly or Eadaoin, and I’m open to that.  I am, however, out there in the world banging on doors.  What is going to move them up the spectrum of functionality? Three weeks ago, Milly was crying every day, overwhelmed with fear and anxiety.  Today, she isn’t.  She’s able to try to take risks.  She has moved up the spectrum of functionality.  Can she self-regulate? Well, she tries.  It took her an hour to calm down last night after a disappointment, but she did calm down eventually.  She is able to talk about her feelings with more ease rather than hide under her desk in her room.  On a very basic level, this is why we use medication in terms of treating mental health issues.  We are attempting to augment a deficiency so that we become more functional in hopes that the side effect profile of said medication will not add to our deficiencies.  While the drug is in use, we take advantage of therapy in order to learn new skills that will compensate for our natural deficiencies so that when we stop using the drug we will not feel our deficiencies as much as we did before.  The drug is a buffer and a life preserver of sorts that allows us to learn to properly swim in whatever sort of sea characterizes our life.  If our life is like choppy waters, then we must acquire the skills to swim in that.  If our life is like that of a vast ocean, then we must acquire the skills to learn to swim in that.  If we live on an island with few resources, then we have to learn to live there.

Why would we deprive our children, ourselves, or anyone else from acquiring functionality or judge someone for attempting to engage in this growth process? Why should we fear? My neighbor judged me harshly because she insisted that schizophrenia was really just caused by a food allergy.  I was the stupid one for consulting a doctor.  I had “Munchausers”.  I should have been seeing a chiropractor who specialized in applied kinesiology.  She is entitled to her opinion but not her judgments.  None of us are.  I don’t walk in your shoes, and you don’t walk in mine.  I have no right to hold your decisions against you when I don’t even know how you arrived at the space in your life that you now occupy.  I’m not privy to your deepest desires or the movements of your heart.

What I do know is that it’s far easier to judge someone than to love someone or even come alongside someone who is suffering.  But, I think that goodness is the answer for what ails us.  It will always trump judgment.

I was at a conference last year, and a speaker pondered:

“What if the problem today isn’t drugs or terrorism, unemployment or poverty but rather the lack of goodness in the world?”

It’s an interesting question, and you don’t have to agree with the conclusion.  I, however, see more and more that cynicism, criticism, anger, and fear-mongering don’t bring lasting change in my life, the lives of my children, or even the world at large.  Goodness? Kindness? Moving away from always trying to be right to attempting to understand? You may not see change right away, but, on a foundational level, it feels like a better way to move through life.  It seems like a more appropriate response to life’s weightier circumstances.  It seems like a way through when we’d really just like to go around and avoid altogether.  Life, however, can’t be avoided, can it? We must all stand and be counted at some point.  And, if we have vulnerable people depending on us to care and advocate for them, then our reasons for standing up become that much more significant.  Defining ‘goodness’ isn’t easy, is it?

Take my laptop away for a week and this is what happens. Ontology strikes again.