PART III OF V ISBN: 0-7611-2132-3

 

What to Expect When You're Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway

What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway

 

THROUGHOUT YOUR PREGNANCY

 

You want to talk about fear? You want to talk about facing your inadequacies head on? Nothing makes you examine the true nature of the self quite like being faced with the knowledge that you will soon be a parent. As the news of the pregnancy sunk in, I began to analyze and unravel all of my flaws. What kept coming up over and over was the idea of selfishness. If the child decided to scream at seven AM would I be able to get out of bed and change diapers and do feedings without feeling resentful or angry? If it threw a tantrum at the grocery store, would I be able to calmly reassure the child that I loved it? Or would I yank it by the arm to the restroom to give it a good yelling followed by a sharp slap as my parents did to me so often in my childhood? Would I always have control of my emotions, and be able to set them aside for another?

I didn’t think I could.

I deeply understand some of the mistakes my parents made with my siblings and me in the past. I could easily put myself in my parents’ shoes time and again without judgment and see how and why they would behave the way they did. I have forgiven and continue to forgive their neglect and abuse. Of course, no one ever wants to do those things to children; looking back I can tell my parents carry immense amounts of guilt. I asked my mother once, how come she insisted on keeping us in her care when she was obviously incapable of raising children. Call it selfishness. Call it having mixed up priorities. Call it whatever. Her answer?

She just didn’t know that about herself. And in her own way loved us.

I never asked my father the same question, but I think he thought at times he was doing the best he could. I think he thought he was raising us right. And the times he realized he was doing it all wrong were so filled with anxiety and guilt he coped by substance abuse. So it was a cycle.

Add in a stepmother who makes Lady Tremaine seem sweet. The type of woman, who if she read this, would instantly bring libel charges against me. Complicated, huh?

My parents divorced while my mother was still pregnant with me. In the years following, my siblings and I were the unfortunate pawns in a Game of Thrones like feud between our families. My mother’s side blaming my father’s. My father’s side blaming my mother’s. By the age of five, I was familiar with the court system and social workers and DCFS. And the mess, it was terrible. Kids should never be exposed to that. The family built cases against one another and pumped us children for information. We had to listen to them talk about each other in front of us, and that was confusing. Being asked at age seven to pick sides. Being told that the people you love were awful.

People get viscous when children are involved. Get righteous. Get pious.

As an adult, I know it all comes from love and justice. But the child part of me, the one that needs all this therapy, emotionally she’s still not healed. I go through regression, and disassociate, and turn to flight mode when I’m triggered. Sometimes the terminology is post-traumatic stress. Most times? I look like a spoiled brat when I don’t get my way or an adult who can’t just let things go.

And for a long time I wanted to change that about me. I was going to start standing up straighter, stop dragging my feet when I walked, go to the gym more, be a positive role model, handle arguments reasonably in the moment by setting aside my emotions and probing deeper into the emotions of the other I argued with. I was going to do things I did not like doing—like watching a dumb movie or going to the zoo—with friends if they asked, and I wouldn’t complain about it or pout when it sucked because that is what a good friend would do.

I was going to be a better person. Now.

But that now part is really unrealistic. I had to figure out the hard way that first I had to accept who I am. And not just accept it, embrace it, and love it. For someone with low self-esteem, that feels like hiking the Grand Canyon without water. I recognized my inadequacies. I embraced them. I made a vow that this year I would be a villain. This year I would say nasty things and not feel guilty. I would cut people off in traffic because I think turn signals are optional. I would allow myself to gossip about friends that hurt my feelings. I would scowl as much as I pleased. I would huff in long grocery store lines. And you’re damn right I’m going to pout if you drag my ass to the circus and force me to watch clowns make balloon animals or go to a movie with more explosions than love scenes.

I’m not the type of person who can go to the circus and focus on the cotton candy, if you get what I’m saying. Life is too damn short, and my time in reality too precious to waste getting freaked out by metaphorical clowns. Haven’t you people ever read It?

I wouldn’t abuse anyone, not if I could help it. But I wouldn’t stop being a bitch. And best of all, I wouldn’t feel bad about my sense of sarcasm. Maybe I’d try to curb it in front of people who I knew it could offend…maybe. Like, maybe, you know, showing my religious mother-in-law my “SHUT YOUR WHORE MOUTH” needle sitch was going a tad too far. (I just have the kit. My hands can’t be bothered with actually using a needle.)

Embracing the villain in me, knowing my inadequacies, being unsure of the pregnancy, and having first hand knowledge of the court system had me asking myself: what is best for this child?

Even the happiest of marriages fail. If my marriage failed, what would it look like? I surely would want to return to Chicago, and Husband to South Dakota. What would split custody look like? If I became attached to this child, and had to give it up—even for weekends—would I get vicious? Selfish? Would I drag it through the court system fighting to keep it under my care? Would my sense of abandonment resurface to cloud my vision to do what was genuinely right for the child? Would I ask it at six, or seven, or eight to choose a side?

Would I be able to change in nine months?

Would I, would Husband and I, be able to get our marriage and child rearing views on the same page, making compromises for both of us that seemed fair? And not little compromises like bedtime or whether to feed the baby carrots or peas with dinner. Big stuff like religion, schools, where ultimately to settle down. Would we become strong parents but awful partners, awful lovers? If that happened, could I live in that life?

Could I live in it happily?

I didn’t know if I could.

Raising a healthy child would be hard enough, but could I raise a child that had serious mental or physical retardation? I grew weak and overwhelmed with the thought. Minivans and wheelchairs. More psychiatrists. I had a hard enough time going to doctors’ office visits of my own. I have a friend who has a son with Downs Syndrome. This woman is a total tank. She is busy with speech therapists, special doctors’ visits, physical therapists, constantly worried at feeding times he my choke because of the low muscle tone in his throat. She researched the best preschool. He is undoubtedly the love of her life. For her, there was no other option but to become a tank because she is a single mother raising him alone. I couldn’t imagine the world without him in it, and yet…

I knew I was no tank.

So when the scare came in after a random blood test that the baby may have Spina biffida—chances going from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 15. I got scared. Real scared. After the call, I stayed in bed to let the news sink in. I couldn’t even cry. The sadness that came over me was so deep and full I thought I would break apart. If the test came back positive, I would terminate the pregnancy. There was no question about it. Even though Husband is pro-life to the max, ultimately it was my body.

And then, for the first time, I felt the smallest of flutter in my stomach. The baby moved.

And I thought awe shit you stupid fetus. You really want to live that bad?

And then I spent a good part of the afternoon crying before I could get out of bed and write.

About this time the depression came back, and it got real. Remember the long string of silent months from this blog? Then one popping up about suicide? That was the thick of it. It got dangerous. Looking back, I should have been hospitalized and had my medications changed. But asking for help is hard; especially when I was afraid to change my medications mid-pregnancy, even though I knew the benefits would outweigh the risks.

A text message from a friend who suffers from depression:

TM: You can’t keep doing this to yourself.

That message came on a night when I set out all my medications and seriously contemplated taking them. I cried in my tub, going through the list of friends I had, one by one, texting. I knew I had to fight, and start fighting harder, but the only thing that kept me from taking those pills was that I literally didn’t have the strength to move. I could not get out of the tub even when I wanted to. There were a lot of other messages that came after which kept me sane enough to get through the night. Just as I need constant reassurances that delusions are not true at times (No, Charlie, the Dalai Lama is not talking to you mentally), there are times when I need similar reassurances that challenge depressive thoughts (No, Charlie there is a point to life, and although you may not see it now, you will in time).

For those who don’t understand depression, it’s like getting the worst phone call of your life: your mother died, your spouse was in an accident, you have cancer. That moment when your stomach drops, your heart stops, the shock, the fear—that is depression. That moment on repeat for every second, every minute, of every day for weeks or months. It’s like having the flu, those aches, the sullenness, and the tiredness. All day. Every day.

In a past DBT session, I broke down, and explained it as thus:

ME: I feel like those blank pages in Twilight where Edward left Bella, except I don’t even get to pine away for someone.

Joking aside, even the fighters sometimes lose. Not to be dramatic, but it’s fatal. It’s dangerous to make it seem like that is inevitable. But it’s also dangerous for someone to think that your mind is in a right frame when the thoughts come. People are very accepting and understanding of mania. If you tell someone you think you are the Queen of England, they may scoff, but ultimately they’d recognize something is not right, and if you were in a better condition you may not think that. It’s not so easy to recognize suicidal thoughts as delusions and have the same understanding or to take a place of no judgment. Those thoughts seem like a choice from the outside. Just like it may have seemed that I had a choice to believe I was pregnant sooner.

It takes an awful lot of work to recognize what is real and what is not. Because if you could, trust me, you’d never choose to be manic. You’d never choose to be depressed. Insanity is not knowing the difference between my reality and yours.

Well, at least the baby and I had one thing in common. We both were familiar with the fetal position.

And here we go again. No matter how hard I fought against the depression it was here. And in the midst of recognizing negative thought patterns or cognitive distortions I was dealing with post traumatic stress once again, this time reliving my childhood experiences with my mother and her struggle with bipolar.

Why is mommy in bed? Why won’t she get up?

For years I was pissed at her. Why couldn’t she just suck it up, become that tank? She looked so much like a quitter. It was like she wasn’t fighting and she chose to stay in bed. But now, I understood why she stayed in bed, and found myself sleeping in later, and later.

Was I equipped to have this child? Again. Was I equipped to have this child? Again. Was I equipped to have this child? Again. Again. Again. Again. Again.

Husband and I had to have those hard, hard talks. Just because you have a mental illness does not mean you shouldn’t have children. You can be the best mother in the world who just happens to have a mental illness, because they are treatable and manageable.

There had to be plans in place. What if? What if I got suicidal again? What if I got horribly manic? Those things weren’t explained to me right when I was little. Mommy was just ‘sad’ or ‘sick’.

H: How do you wish it were explained to you when you were little?

ME: For mania? I wish, I wish, someone would have said, “mommy was just dreaming, while she was awake. Just the way you dream when you go to sleep. And do you know where dreams come from? Some scientists think it’s a way for us to figure out the events of our day. Mommy’s funny brain is just trying to figure out her days in a different way than ours, right now…And depression? Same. Mommy is still dreaming, only this time it’s a bit more like a nightmare, and her body? It’s so tired it thinks it has the flu! Can you imagine? Isn’t the body interesting? Let’s go to the library and look up stuff about our bodies…did you know your skin is your largest organ?”

H: So why can’t we just say that?

Yeah, why can’t we just say that?

The next trip to the doctors’ office revealed that the baby did not have Spina biffida.

MATERNAL FETAL SPECIALIST (MFS): It’s not Spina biffida…the egg sack broke off and never dissipated properly. It attached itself to the placenta and turned into a mass. This accounts for the high level of AFP.

ME: And that means?

MSF: It’s like a tumor.

ME: Well, I’ve had a tumor growing inside me for four months so I’m fine with that.

MSF: Nothing to worry about now. It’s not cancerous.

ME: Okay…

MSF: The potential risks are that the placenta may not be able to accommodate the size of the fetus. It can affect its growth, resulting in an early delivery. Nothing to worry about now. We’ll do ultrasounds every three weeks for the rest of the pregnancy to keep track of it. After delivery, the placenta will have to be sent off for testing.

ME: Can it still be used for stem cell research?

MSF: I’m not sure. We can check into that.

I took the news of the tumor in stride because it wasn’t Spina biffida, and I told myself I wasn’t going to worry about it anymore until it became necessary to worry. But because nothing was guaranteed, I still fought my attachment to the fetus.

I still questioned myself. What were all my options? Husband and I had another hard talk. If I genuinely could not take care of this child, would he take full custody?

H: You’re going to abandon your child? How does that make you any better than your parents? Why can’t you just accept your responsibility and change? It’s not like any of this wasn’t our choice. We didn’t exactly do anything to prevent the pregnancy in the first place. How could you even consider this? How is this even an option?

ME: (Silence) (How was death even an option for me? Not a few days ago…) (Processing his shock. Processing his anger.) (Recognizing those thoughts, the same thoughts I had that led me to the depression. He is the voice of my depression now. What do I tell my depression? How do I make my depression understand…what can I say? He doesn’t understand where I am coming from…)

H: You can have a good life if you choose it. Why can’t you just put your past behind you?

ME: (This is anxiety. This is fear.)

H: Well?

ME: I don’t know.

H: I will take care of it. If you make an honest attempt, your very best attempt at this, and you just can’t do it. I’ll understand.

ME: Thank you.

My stomach started to protrude further by this time, and while I still wasn’t ready to announce the pregnancy, I was right around the five-month mark. I was going to physically have the child, even if I couldn’t or wouldn’t keep it. People blindsided me three or four times by touching my stomach without asking and making those friendly inquiries. Those celebratory remarks. And when I couldn’t match their enthusiasm, their faces would crumple in pity. Sometimes confusion. Judgment.

I needed to visit home. I needed to remember I had a place where, if everything fell apart, I’d be welcomed, loved and understood, but I couldn’t take another blind side moment. Friends and family would have to know. And since I thought the news of a pregnancy could possibly be hard for anyone, I sent out baby announcements. The thought of writing personalized E-mails or making all those phone calls and explaining it all over and over seemed too exhausting.

In therapy, I was working on boundaries, what they were and how to set them. What ones were healthy and reasonable. In DBT they had this worksheet where you marked what was most important when setting boundaries: your health or your relationship with the person you were setting the boundary with. When it came to the topic of the child, it was important to me to set clear, healthy boundaries without compromising relationships that mattered.

I was still vulnerable and fragile. My head was a total mess. The topic started me instantly crying, and I knew I could get set way, way back by talking about it before I was ready. I wanted a break for a week or two. The depression was clearing enough for me to start to analyze this, and I felt like, if I could just get happy again, really happy like in October, I’d find the strength to do this. However I chose to do it.

So after I sent out the announcements, I asked my friends not to talk about it or bring it up.

JUST ABOUT EVERY FRIEND WHO KNEW: Why can’t you talk about it?

ME: I’m not ready.

And that was the end of the conversation because that was the boundary I had set. It sounds silly, but just as I didn’t have the strength to get out of the tub that day, I didn’t have the strength to add to that, ‘I haven’t processed this yet. I need some more time, but since you would see me and it could no longer be hidden, I felt everyone had to be informed of the situation.’

I ignored the flood of texts, and E-mails, and Facebook well wishes. I would deal with them when I was ready. When I felt like I knew more. When I was genuinely ready, not just because I had a fat stomach and people were gossiping, asking…

 

(I will post the next installment tomorrow.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Children, Life, Love, Marriage, Memoir, Mental Disorders, Non Fiction, Parenting, pregnancy, Writing

PART II OF V ISBN: 0-7611-2132-3

 

What to Expect When You're Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway

What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway

 

 

NOW THAT YOU ARE PREGNANT

Husband took me to San Francisco in October for my birthday. We took the coast to the National Red Wood Forest and spent a night in a historic hotel northern town of Eureka. We saw a Celtic band. I made jokes about ghosts and thought up new short stories. We went hiking through Fern valley, and the weather stayed warm enough for us to take walks along the beach without jackets. For the first time in a very long time, I was happy. I was also something like one and a half months pregnant, but still didn’t think it was true.

Even after having a horrid vaginal ultrasound and seeing pictures, it didn’t seem real. To me, the ultrasound pictures were fakes.

I was good, however, about doing what I was told because if you live with a delusional mind, like it or not, you have to trust what others tell you is real. I took prenatal vitamins, and stopped taking over the counter things like Ibuprofen. I didn’t smoke or drink, so my life style didn’t change all that much. I thought pregnancy meant morning sickness or swollen tender breasts or strange cravings. I was still 100% me. Symptomless.

By the end of the vacation, I felt strong enough; maybe it was the genuine happiness, but I felt like I could finally face my fears. The last weekend of my trip I began to accept that the pregnancy was real, and maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as I thought. Maybe I could deal with it. Maybe I wouldn’t leave my child in its car seat on top of the car and drive off. Maybe I’d get used to not having sleep for a little while. Maybe I’d be okay with it once I got that little thing in my arms.

Then, the Monday I returned home I started spotting, which is never a good thing in any pregnancy, but something that is totally normal. So I went about my week like nothing was wrong, and I allowed myself to consider the positive aspects of having a child. By Saturday I had bleeding, or what seemed to me, full-blown menses. I called the clinic. They told me was likely experiencing a miscarriage. Since I had an appointment on Tuesday the following week, they advised me to wait it out and go to the ER if the bleeding or cramping got very bad.

Numbly I hung up the phone, pulled out a notebook, and full on sobbed, all the while handwriting an outline of a short story as therapy. For something like three hours I absolutely accepted the situation. I dug deep and examined all the reasons I ever wanted to have a child. I dug deeper and faced the loss, the confusion, and my next moves.

Miscarriages are hard enough on normal people, but simply put, I have abandonment issues. That sense of loss, of something I had dared to let myself actually want (even if only for a week) was so utterly profound. At first, I was sure it was my fault. I hadn’t been careful enough because I didn’t think it was true. I let myself get too stressed. I hadn’t learned coping mechanisms fast enough. I often thought of therapy as a waste of time and if I had only taken it more seriously this thing wouldn’t be happening to me now.

Husband and I couldn’t really talk about it as for so long we had opposing views of pregnancy. I grieved alone, or what felt like alone, until Monday morning. Then it occurred to me once more: this pregnancy wasn’t real. The program was giving me hormones. This was a normal period. They were trying to make me deal with the realities of kids. I was a fool to have grieved, a fool to have wished and wanted. I had fallen for their trap.

By Tuesday, I knew the ultra sound would turn up nothing, and the doctors would tell me all about miscarriage. So I was fine, completely sane and in control of my mind.

And totally unprepared for the ultrasound technician to happily announce that there was still a” little pea” inside of me, very much alive.

Wait. What? I’m still pregnant? No, I wasn’t. Because you see I had already let it go, and went back to the comfortable place of hating kids and not wanting them. This was just the program throwing me a curve ball. Whatever. I wasn’t pregnant. I couldn’t be.

I was still the girl who held up Froot Loops underwear in Target and announced loudly, “Give me some milk, daddy!” How could I possibly be a parent? Have you seen my ass? It sure as hell wasn’t made for mommy jeans.

Mommy culture is just not for me. I’m talking about the women whose lives revolve around their children. They read hundreds of motherhood books, they make mommy friends, and they scoff at the childless that ‘just don’t get it’. They think their children’s teachers are often wrong or unfair when their kids’ grades slip. They clog the interwebs with blogs and crafts and designed around children. I value my education and want to continue to use it. Just as child rearing is those mommies calling, my life’s purpose is to write. I know this. I’ve always known it. The thought of it taking a backseat to a small creature in a tie-dyed, baby wrap makes me wince. If anything, I’m aiming to clog the inter webs with pictures of my cats and odd short stories.  Eating a  placenta and putting the bloody mess of a baby on my body immediately after birth for “skin to skin” contact?

Bitch. I pass out at the sight of blood.

I think its funny to ask my best friend to push me down a flight of stairs or get a coat hanger. You can’t joke about that stuff with mommy friends. They’ll scowl and hand you Revolutionary Road.*  Yikes!

When you find out you have a mental illness, doctors and therapists are super quick to remind and reassure you that you are not the label. You are not bipolar. You have bipolar. You are still you. It makes dealing and coping a thousand times easier. You keep your identity, and the bipolarness just becomes another layer of your identity.

But pregnancy? Oh no. You ARE pregnant. The pregnancy IS you.

Be prepared for it.

People will see your fat stomach and know. Just as one of my aunts recently pointed out, you can’t be a little pregnant, either you are or you aren’t. It’s not like a mental illness where on good days when you have enough composure to not burst into tears in public strangers will assume you’re ‘normal’. In pregnancy, you are no longer just a woman at the grocery store minding her own business picking out carrots. You are now someone a stranger feels they have the right to talk to. And the topic? Your body. And get ready for it—

Because people are going to touch you.

Yes. People will be compelled to touch your stomach. Even if, you have very good reasons for not wanting to be touched without permission by people whom you love—LET ALONE strangers. They’re still gonna touch you. That woman you talked to a few times at the gym? She’s gonna touch you. You’re husband’s co-workers. Touch. Touch. Touch.

By the time my stomach started sticking out a bit, right around four to five months, I was getting touched both outside and in.

There could be no ignoring it. No more delusion. I was pregnant. Of course, the program still existed, but they had been right about the pregnancy. It was real. The miscarriage scare was real.

By the time I genuinely accepted this, it was a few weeks shy of the illegal date to terminate the pregnancy. The procedure would be hard and traumatic even for someone who genuinely, truly wanted it with all of their heart, or someone who needed it for medical reasons. I won’t get into the shame and stigma associated with abortions here. All I can say about that, is you never see billboards that say something like, “Abortion is a hard choice to make. Don’t feel guilty. It is your body and your life. No one has the right to judge your medical choices.”

I was still confused. Like it or not, I would have to carry the fetus to term.

I had to accept it all and face new fears… And motherhood? I’d no longer be Charlie. To someone growing each day inside me, I’d forever and always be mom.

 

(I will post the next installment tomorrow.)

*That book had me upset for days. God, RY, why you gotta break my heart for?

**Obviously the posts are not in chronological order. They sort of swim back and forth in time with month/week markers best as I can remember them. Hope you’re not confused.

 

7 Comments

Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Children, Life, Marriage, Memoir, Non Fiction, pregnancy, Random, Writing

PART I OF V ISBN: 0-7611-2132-3

What to Expect When You're Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway

What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway

ARE YOU PREGNANT?

Yes, but please think twice before spazing out in a high-pitched squeal and tossing confetti. Withhold your well-meaning private Facebook messages gushing with affection, and the E-mails and texts about the glory, the miracle, and the wonder of motherhood. Not every woman welcomes a pregnancy. Just as not every woman believes in God. So if you have either the instinct to grab a Bible or a Target shopping cart (onsies!diapers!rattles!thislittlegadgetthatkeepswipeswarm!)—Don’t tell me about it.

At least not yet…

Probably early last summer, during my DBT sessions, I was working with a therapist about the concept of pregnancy. At the time, I genuinely didn’t feel ready for something like it. I couldn’t even imagine myself as a parent. But it was a necessary topic that needed to be covered in therapy since the very idea that I was pregnant was what led to my second horrible reality juncture*…And pressure from my husband to have our first child was growing into a huge monster that led to daily disagreements.

He, coming from a healthy, caring, conservative, family saw childrearing as a right. As in, ‘if you don’t have a family then you become a priest/nun’. Those seem to me (outside looking in) the only goals in his family. Aside, of course, from being upstanding American citizens with NRA memberships. Trips to his family farm were maybe the worst. How he would hold my hand and stare out over the thousands of acres of rolling grassy pastures, and grin—

H: Can’t you just see our kids playing out there?

ME: If you mean, getting tick infested and shooting harmless animals for sport, no. There’s like abandoned houses down there and trucks that haven’t worked since the 1930s. All the tetanus and glass…

I, coming from…well the Southside of Chicago, had a different type of family. One with free-spirited, bleeding heart liberal aunts and a chain smoking southern grandmother that was prone to taking off her shoe in grocery stores and swiping my bottom with it when I misbehaved. A grandmother who, when she found bugs in the macaroni and cheese, just scooped them out, boiled the noodles as usual, and fed them to us. My dad once had the idea to create a basement out of the crawlspace, so he made the four of us kids (ages 6 through 14) climb down there amongst the spiders and dig up the dirt with garden spades and plastic ice cream buckets in assembly line fashion, dumping the dirt in our yard. I think we actually dug enough for our youngest brother to stand down there, which is kind of funny and impressive now, until I remember my dad’s motto: work will set you free.

So, no. I couldn’t really see myself with kids. Even on days when I wanted to.

Everyone—friends, family, especially my bossy DBT therapist—knew this about me. But Husband? He was sure I could overcome my fears with the strength of his love, commitment, and dedication. Plus, his friends and brother seemed to be popping those things out like gumball machines. The poor guy had a bad case of baby fever.

The DBT therapist, fresh out of school, was just plain honest: DO NOT HAVE KIDS. It was her mission to make me say no and give up on it forever. How easy of a client would I have been then? Just wake up and say, “Oh, you’re so totally right! This thing I’ve been struggling with since I was, twenty-three, you are so right! I’ll just get a divorce today—because it’s that easy when you still love someone.” She’d have been a miracle worker if she could have done that. Feminists would have rejoiced. I could have written a celebrated memoir about it.

Instead, I insisted on exploring these childrearing fears. The therapist, between head shakes and long sighs, suggested I start by setting random alarms in the middle of the night. One of the things that freaked me out the most about babies was that they got up at all hours and messed with your sleep. For someone with bipolar, heck, for anyone, protecting his or her sleep is genuinely important.

The false alarms didn’t just mess with my sleep. They started more and more arguments between Husband and I.

First, I hate kids. Not teenagers. Love them. They annoy the shit out of me. Anyone under the age of twelve requires a type of saintly patience that makes me sometimes feel like a flip out over wire hangers is totally normal. Have you ever seen a two-year-old eat? Three-fourths of their meal lands on the floor, which is fine if you have a dog, but I’m a cat person. And I love my friends, but hanging out with the ones who suddenly had kids was sometimes a chore. We had to be on the baby’s schedule. Instead of going to an art exhibit or concert, our options were limited to The SpongeBob Square Pants movie or McDonald’s play place. God help us all if we missed nap time.

I’d look at the women who rammed their immensely large strollers, or should I say fire hazard carriages ‘cuz who are we kidding here no one is going to be able to make it round that much plastic and metal when the sprinklers go off, into the back of my foot at the department store and think, there’s nothing pleasurable about that, as I trotted off with my lace panties and seventy dollar makeup purchase.

Diapers? Cartoons? Bottles? Give me Vegas, stilettos, fast cars, novels, sleeping in on weekends until noon, long stretches of quiet time, followed by a mid-week concert at First Ave.

But sometimes, I’d think, well maybe if… maybe if I got along better with Husband all the time. Maybe if I was able to get over the strange past I had. Maybe if I hit thirty-five my priorities would change…

Maybe I could adopt at forty.

To Husband adoption was not an option. He could not be swayed with my arguments against overpopulation.

ME: There are 7 billion people on earth. 7 billion! It’s just not ethical. Orphanages are overflowing—

H: It is ethical if you take care of the two you have. And it is the most wonderful experience you will ever have in life.

ME: You’re stupid. Everyone knows the most wonderful experience in life is getting on the New York Times best-seller list.

Needless to say, the bossy DBT therapist and I didn’t click. We parted ways. The second DBT therapist was nice, helpful even, genuinely more compassionate and understanding of my view, but I quit DBT not long after I got the news of the pregnancy. Why did I quit? First, it seemed like marriage therapy was more important, and I didn’t have the energy to go to triple therapists weekly (my private one, the DBT program, and the marriage therapist). Second, I didn’t think the pregnancy was real. I thought it was ‘part of the program’ to make me directly deal with my fears.

What am I talking about? Well, it felt like everyone already knew about the pregnancy, like everyone was in on it. One DBT exercise had a worksheet of kid’s faces and we were supposed to mark what we thought the kid was feeling in the box. I remember my hands sweating profusely during that exercise thinking, they’re recording me. They’re testing me. They want to break me. Because, instead of ‘dealing’ with delusions, I’ve learned to mask them pretty good, to act normal in public, to smile, to continue conversations without missing beats, to laugh when I’m supposed to laugh. That is until the delusion is sparked to a point when I’m so agitated I slip up with a comment like, “Why are you people doing this to me?”

But yeah, for the first three months of the pregnancy I was convinced I wasn’t pregnant. Wait. What?

After over a week of having missed a period, my DBT therapist helped me realized (as opposed to told as the first one may have done) that I had to take a pregnancy test. So I went to Target, and got the most smashed up generic test box I could find. Why? Because I thought ‘the program people’ would have known to come to this Target—they follow me with my phone GPS, duh—and switch out all the tests they thought I would be likely to choose with false positive tests. But they would never think I would try the Target brand box with a hole on the top, as if someone desperately wanted to peel out a stick and try it in the bathroom without paying. I got home. Set the box on the table and took a walk with Husband. After, I felt a bit better and took the test. It was positive. But since I had left the box unattended for about an hour, I thought ‘they’ switched it.

Later that week, again with urging from my therapist and Husband, I made an OBGYN appointment for a blood test confirmation, but I was so far gone by then that not even my new doe-eyed-Polish-I-will-make-a-difference-in-the-world-young-obstration could convince me. Even with her hand over mine, and her honest tone, her genuine understanding of bipolar and continual reassurances that she would not judge me, not ever, I still did not believe her. In fact, I got a little scared. You see, to me, the program picked her, matched her up with me. She was Polish, like my best friend, and looked a lot like a doctor I had in the mental hospital that I liked. Plus, she had experience with bipolar disorder and she was smart—valedictorian in college (I looked her up). ‘They’ were sure I would believe her. Trust her.

‘They’ were underestimating my stubbornness, my rebelliousness. I would not be fooled.

You might be wondering, how could this happen? Who wouldn’t believe they were pregnant? To see me, I seemed fine. I wasn’t foggy or out of control with spending or up at nights trying to paint a recreation of the Sistine Chapel on my ceiling. I was functioning. In all other ways, my reality would have matched up with yours.

But prior to the news, I made a long trip to Michigan and Chicago to see friends. The trip didn’t go well. I was a few days late with my period and suspected that I may be pregnant, but I wasn’t quite ready to talk about it. At that point, I did think it was real. And I was scared. Considering abortion. Thinking about divorce. This time for real because I couldn’t face my fears fast enough to stay in the relationship. No matter how much I loved Husband.

Then I got in a fight with a friend and had to leave early. On the long drive back, my mind slipped into that place that none of it was true. The fight was staged to sync with a long ride to recreate conditions that set me off the last time I was ill. The pregnancy wasn’t real. The “friend” was never a friend, but had been put in place in my life from the program coordinators years ago. But to play it safe, I couldn’t let on to how much I really knew about the program. I had to act like ‘they’ weren’t getting to me because if I did they would increase the stress of the program and start to put false ideas into my head. Not literally put the ideas there, but manipulate my friends—the few I thought were real—with ideas that if they said certain things it would be utterly harmless to me and be a good indicator of my mental state; it was the perfect way to help me cope with delusions. I couldn’t quit this revolutionary new type of therapy the way I could conventional therapy or medication. The people of the program were powerful. Convincing. It was all for my own good.

They were going to make me face my fears once and for all…and I’d be a pretty big jerk if I didn’t see how much everyone loved me and was trying to help. If I got low or suicidal, then I was a quitter. I was, essentially saying EFF YOU, to the program, my friends, and my family. Because in the end, they were only trying to help me as best they could…

(I will post the next installment tomorrow.)

*Reality Juncture is a term I prefer to mental break / manic episode. The linguistics of it makes me feel better because it justifies that the reality I experienced is 100% real for me during that period. Even though my reality doesn’t align with the reality the mass of the population experiences, the term more effectively implies that when my reality split from the masses, like a fork in the road, it still was very much just as true a reality (for me) as the one the rest of the populace continued to experience. It’s a nuance of detail that can get lost in the term “went crazy.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Non Fiction, Parenting, pregnancy, Writing

ISBN-13: 978-0544003415

Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

There’re a few things I have to talk about before I launch into a digressive blog about Lord Of The Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. The first is to address my online absence. I’ve been away from the blogging sphere over the holidays, but fear not, for I’ve still been reading, writing, thinking, and traveling. In fact, I’m in Chicago now, at the Common Cup in Rogers Park, forcing myself to write this blog when I’d much rather write a new short story.

Can I say that I love Rogers Park? The rent here is dirt cheap, which may explain my cousin’s toilet—it is literally hobbit sized. I have aptly dubbed it Rumplestiltskin’s throne. And yeah, her apartment got broken into once, and uh, it is a four-story walk up, and nocturnal critters live in the walls and freak me out when I’m trying to sleep on the futon, but the place has a faux fireplace and is steps away from the lake! Public art is everywhere. I passed a sculpture of a Monarch butterfly erected from four bike frames on the way to this coffee shop. And okay, so every other storefront along the Red Line is vacant, but amazing smells (pizza anyone?) and interesting people (DANCERS!) fill the windows of the small business that are here. This neighborhood is ripe for artists and students. Just carry mace and be sure to write in your Aldermen’s name on the election ballot…

Second, I’ve utterly failed at my original goal of the blog, which was to read all the books I own without buying or renting anything new, unless it was for research. Just how bad off am I? Well, on Thursday I checked out four library books, and yesterday, I bought another. Technically all five of these books fall under research, but I still harbor a small bit of guilt about them. Key word being small. On the other hand, I recently sold a whole mess of books I’d either read or realized I would never have time to read, at least not in this decade. I can’t explain how hard it was to stand in the bookstore while they checked over my order and not buy something else with my thirty dollar refund.

Now, without a smooth transition or further delay—Lord of the Rings: one of the worst reading experiences I have ever had in my life. Allow me to explain.

It’s one of Husband’s books, but being how it was in the household and I am writing a fantasy saga I thought it would be an important read. A lot of famous writers, people I trust and respect, rave about the trilogy. It can be career altering. There’s top-notch characterization and imagery. Varied sentences. Epic battle scenes. Normally I make it a point to never say anything bad about books. But.

 

But.

But.

But.

 

To be honest, reading this book was equivalent to striking my head on the wall seventeen hundred times and then being locked in an elevator with Michael Bolton blaring uncomfortably loud on the Muzak and a two-year old that hasn’t napped…all week.  One day I spent seven hours—seven hours—reading forty pages.

This was me reading LOTR

This was me reading LOTR

I can’t find any reason for that much exposition. It took everything in me not to take a pen to the thing and start cutting and chopping all the unnecessary. Why does almost every character have to have a confusing name? I mean, honestly, dude why do your two antagonists have like, practically the same name? Ask me if I care what land this tribe of people are from or what absurd lineage they have or what allies they had seven thousand years ago. Husband told me to just skim or read ahead, but I’m not that type of reader. I had to make myself go over every single sentence in that book. In order. No glossing. No skimming. Except for the songs and poems. I seriously just skipped those. Italics? I think not.

Give me more elves.

And Lord please, why are there only three women in the book? Two are strong, so that’s a plus. But. But. But. One of the strong female leads only goes into battle because she’s in love with a dude, and then she throws down her sword to get married. I mean, WTF. And the other strong female lead just gives the heroes gifts to help in battle. What’s the point of that? It’s like, you set up this bad ass chick only to make her give the male leads like a bottle of star dust, excuse me, starlight and a bag of seeds. Really? Really? Because she could have put the wreck to that Sauron.

And, yeah, if you’re gonna write an evil villain and basically give him no screen time, what’s the point? He’s just a vague puppet master. I read over a thousand pages in itty-bitty font and still had no real clue about the guy. He was just there. And bad. One-dimensional bad.

But whatever. It’s a hero’s journey story. I get it. Back to my Joseph Campbell notes, I guess.

Making matters worse, all the books were bound into one big hardcover copy. Lugging that thing around gave me a backache, and I had to be real careful with it since it was one of Husband’s most prized possessions. That meant no dog earing, no eating while reading, no picking my nose and wiping the buggers on the cover, being careful with the spine, no tea drinking near it. No leaving it open on the coffee table without being scolded to use a bookmark.

You may be underestimating Husband’s love of the tale at this point. Please don’t do that. He has an exact replica of Gandolf’s sword hanging on his bedroom wall at his parent’s house. It was his favorite Christmas gift of all time. He told me he went to see the movies in the theater like twelve times or something; I wasn’t really listening. I made the mistake of watching one of the movies with him. This led to a nonstop quoting marathon on his end and a “it didn’t happen that way in the book” whine fest from me. Also,he paused the movie several times to explain bonus features—

Aragorn’s scream sound realistic? That’s because Viggeo Mortensen broke his foot kicking that helmet! It was real metal. See that banner over there? The one that just flew off? That really happened and Peter Jackson just went with it! It was a windy filming day.

Well, I hate to tell you, but no banner flew off in the book. I remain unimpressed. No offense but can we get some collaboration with Guillermo del Toro on some of these monsters? Orks and Uruk-hai sort of look the same to me. But, you know, the casting was spot on for the whole. So there’s that. I dug Gollum.

He was a book highlight. Wins the most interesting character award. Not gonna say anything about how a supporting / secondary character has more depth than the antagonist. No, I won’t talk about that here.

Nor will I mention, you know, that action chapter that takes place after the climax. That’s not misplaced or anything. I bet JRRT was like, ha, these fools have already suffered through a thousand pages of my writing, why wrap things up efficiently after the climax? Why not roll on for another few thousand words and add in another battle, just ‘cuz. I been to war! I don’t care about the rules of commercialism!

I wanted to full on like this book. I wanted to love it. I wanted to place it proudly on my shelf next to the other really influential books I’ve read, and maybe I still should if only to remind myself not to go on for thousands of pages about stuff that isn’t important to the story. I feel criminal for writing a blog post like this. But, I mean, when I had to pretend that Aragorn was Amazon, king of the booksellers, and fantasize he was ravaging small businesses instead of small towns, there’s something wrong with the book. I won’t tell you all the nicknames I made up for the characters and the more amusing plot lines I devised for them. Clearly there were multiple reasons for me taking seven hours to read forty pages…

And in fairness I liked the setting descriptions. I felt comfortable in the worlds, was never confused, and felt like JRRT knew a lot more than he was letting on. I took notes on Shadowfax.

 

But.

But.

But.

 

I just didn’t get it. A thousand something pages is too much for me to handle in one long read, if only for the fact that my bird like wrists simply cannot hold half a tree for several hours at a time. Which is why the next book I am reading is slim at 96 pages and that includes the preface, forward, notes, and glossary. Plus, I own it, so butt scratching and page turning can occur consecutively without worry.

 

*Being that I am traveling, this is not the ISBN number or book cover that I used. These are generic stand-ins taken from the internet.

6 Comments

Filed under Books, Fiction, Funny, humor, Life, Literature, Non Fiction, Writing

ISBN -10: 0-316-14347-2

IMG_2827

Do me a favor. Time yourself as you read this post. Start the clock. Right…now.

Aside from the title, this post has nothing to do with When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. He just happens to be coming to town this week and I am overly excited to see him.

This post is about suicide. I know, it’s not a thing most people feel comfortable talking about. That’s because there’s a stigma surrounding the issue of mental health, and it’s also because it’s heartbreaking.

What we talk about when we talk about suicide: depression. Most people can at least partially understand a sadness so raw one would do anything to make it stop. Sadness akin to being set on fire in the middle of the desert where there’s no water, and baby, you just got to watch your flesh burn.

Most people are all—Yikes! Get a therapist and some antidepressants. Problem solved, right?

Back to the desert, burning alive, now you’re given a shovel and told there’s a water table below. How fast can you dig? There’s no way to know if the water will be ten inches down or one hundred feet. You can barely grip the shovel’s handle after hours of digging and there’s still no water in sight. The hole you’ve created looks more and more like your grave, a comfortable resting place. This is when a stranger pulls up in a motorized swimming pool. They lean over the edge, slide their shades down their nose, and inform you what a big fat quitter you are as they drink a tall glass of ice water. Half your thighbone is exposed. The flames ate away the muscle. You used to be a runner.

Now a well-meaning third party hands you a garden hose. Feeling hopeful? It’s gonna take three months for the water to flow properly. You’ll get a trickle at best in a week.

If you stop digging BECAUSE YOU ARE ON FIRE AND IT IS TOTALLY NATURAL FOR YOU TO WANT TO STOP, the a-hole in the pool will tell you they’re ashamed of you, and you’re horrible for not thinking about the other people in your life, and how you shouldn’t be having any more problems because you now have hope of water.

Here we pause for a moment.

When we talk about suicide, we talk about depression. I’ve never heard anyone talk about anger—rage so concentrated you want to bash the a-hole in the head with the shovel and jump in his pool. Then kill yourself because of it.

When I was younger we used to sing this song, “Momma had a baby and its head popped off,” while holding a dandelion and flicking its yellow top off with our thumb. Earlier this summer, I had such blinding rage that I wanted to rip everyone’s head off just like those flowers. Standing in line at the grocery store took too long, as did the sleepy gas pump that clicked over twice as slow as usual. The TV played shows about armadillos. The radio played songs that reminded me of ex lovers nonstop. And Facebook…how I imagined punching a hole through my computer screen and not stopping until my fist blew right through Mark Zukerberg’s scrawny chest—then I’d send round house Chuck Norris style kicks to Moskovitz, Saverin, McCollum, and Hughes.

I’m not a violent person. To clarify, I’d never ever hurt anyone on purpose. I love Facebook and its creators. So all that anger went inwards and got bigger. My psychiatrist said this was increased irritability. Therapist agreed. Husband said it wasn’t so noticeable. Psychiatrist asked me if I didn’t want to consider taking boxing up again. Therapist questioned how I was taught to manage anger as a small child.

Therapist: What did your parents do when they were angry?
Me: Grab anything within arm’s reach and beat us with it.
Therapist: And you know it’s wrong to beat people, don’t you? It must be very hard and confusing not knowing how to manage that anger.
Me: You’re head is looking an awful lot like a dandelion right now.
Therapist: Do you think you can use a skill when you get angry like that? Let’s try taking a deep breath.
Me: Ever been hit with a block of government cheese?
Therapist: (who’s good at redirecting) Now, breathe away that anger and imagine eating the cheese.
Me: Should I imagine constipation while we’re at it?

Breathing sort of took the edge off of the small things, but it didn’t touch the fire that was burning inside. I wanted to get in my car and drive as fast as I could until my car exploded. Every day my mind replayed the glorious explosion—where I burst apart, one of my arms flying a hundred feet and landing slow motion in a grassy field. Rarrrrrrrhhhh. A leg here. An eye there.

I told my Sassy-Polish-Chain-Smoking-Best-Friend about it. About genuinely wanting to die, and more seriously, about knowing I could take my own life.

Me: I could do it. I really could. Because I’m not afraid like I used to be.
SPCSBF: So what do you want? A medal? Anyone can die. I could choke on gummy Lifesavers tomorrow. Air hole closed. Dead. Now pass me that second funnel cake. We’re eating our feelings today.

And people wonder why I feel so alone.

I have a list of well over fifty skills to employ in case I catch on fire and there’s no motorized swimming pool in sight. I stop and identify the thought. Drop it. And roll, and rolling looks a lot like distraction—take a bath, take a walk, watch a movie, paint my nails, pet my cat. In the meantime, I do what anyone who sees a fire does—I call for help. I have a list of ten people, friends, family, and a therapist that I can call at anytime. When one person doesn’t answer, I move right down the list, sometimes texting four or five people at a time.

Rarely, have I ever told someone that I felt suicidal when I called them, and that I was calling them to be distracted from those thoughts. I just pick up the phone and chat about the weather or gas prices or how I’d like to be a rock in my next life so I can work on my listening skills. To be honest, I’m ashamed of the thoughts. They make me seem so ungrateful.

A few times now, I’ve gone all the way through my list and no one answered until the next day. I didn’t urgently call two or three times in a row, or leave messages that said this was an emergency please call back. I called or texted casually and got no response. You don’t want to know what depression tells you when this happens… no one really cares about you… it wouldn’t matter if you didn’t exist…

Am I still a quitter if I’m on medication, seeing a therapist, recognize the thought, try to distract myself, utilize an emergency action plan, and I still am blazing? Even with all of this help there are still times when I just. Want. To. Die. I want to quit the therapy. Stop the medication. Say enough with the skills. And die. Because I’m hanging on really hard, and some days I don’t even know why.

What about people who don’t have access to all of those resources, let alone a network of ten caring people they can call day or night? What if all they can manage is a lonely social media status at two am?

Will you offer them a lifesaver?

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Krisin Brooks Hope Center 1-800-442-HOPE (4673)

http://www.hopeline.com/

Maybe mental illness isn’t the most comfortable thing to talk about. But perpetuated stigma’s and silence costs lives. Suicide takes the life of one person every forty seconds—that’s one million people globally each year**.

You can stop the clock now.

*For the record I love SCSPBF. She’s saved my life many times. That conversation should have been with a trained therapist. It was unfair of me to put her in that position.
**Health Research Funding. Org http://healthresearchfunding.org/many-people-commit-suicide-year/

13 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

ISBN: 978-0-545-58295-7

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

I woke up early this morning with a short story coming at me fast. The characters were there, joking about things that weren’t funny, fleshed out and ready to come to life. I begged the story to go away for a few weeks. The timing was bad. I still have ten chapters on the novel to edit, and three AM is never a good time for anything other than dreams.

By six, I surrendered to note taking in bed. Surely I’d be able to fall back asleep as long as I didn’t open up the computer. When I finished, I set my notes aside and mushed my face into the pillow. In a few hours I’d wake up, the story would still be there, and I could go over my notes with Shadow, telling her the roughest draft, rewarding us both by the end with cheese.

Then I remembered, I couldn’t tell Shadow this story because she passed away last weekend.

Sleep never did come. Thoughts of the short story gave way to memories of Shadow. There would have been a time when I’d numbly make it to the shower before the tears. If sitting on the shower floor and crying until the water ran cold were an Olympic sport, I’d be a gold medalist. Today, however, I ate breakfast then went for a morning run. Part of my DBT goals is getting in three days of exercise per week. Smiling is also part of DBT, but this just wasn’t a smiling type of morning.

IMG_2306It rained hard last night, and the gravel road was still muddy, so ‘knees to chest’ was out of the picture. It’s that time of year when the corn is taller than me and the alfalfa fields are purple, county fair, sunflowers open time of year. I didn’t mind going slow. Watching the clouds roll over the fields is one of my all time favorite pastimes.

As soon as I got on the road, there were dog tracks in the mud. For a moment I thought Shadow was just over the hill, out scavenging early, looking for decaying cow carcasses to roll in, ditch birds to chase up, padding along in the mud sniffing at bugs. Then, for the second time today, I remembered, she’s not here.

It’s coyotes I told myself. Just coyotes.

I knew better than to look back at my tracks next to the paw prints. Coyotes. Just coyotes. Shadow and I once ran the gravel until it turned black top. She was fourteen at the time and barrel chested from congestive heart failure. I couldn’t help but to think of the grade school story that traumatized nearly every kid, the one where a boy enters his dog in the Iditarod race and the dog dies from exhaustion. That has to be the first story you read that doesn’t have a happy ending. All the way up until the dog’s heart explodes you’re at the edge of your seat thinking holy crap he’s gonna win this thing. I tried to tell Shadow to stop, but there was no chance she would. If I was running, she was too. She made it the two miles in over ninety-degree heat. How? I’ll never know.

The morning Shadow died I couldn’t believe Husband didn’t cry. It made me angry. My friend, K, told me I had no right to judge the way someone grieves. Some people laugh during tragedy. I wish I were one of those people.

My therapist said it was better to grieve privately. That’s why today Bob Seger is on repeat and I’m chugging caffeine free Coke, alone behind the desk, ugly crying. Doing what I least want to do: letting her go.

Shadow

Shadow

She and I spent most of our days going for meditative walks by the river. She let me tell her all about philosophy, listened patiently to the books I’d been reading, wagged her tail at times I got excited with breakthroughs with my work. I let her smell anything she wanted for as long as she wanted. In the evening, she sat patiently at my side during dinner giving me sad Sarah McLachlan eyes until I caved in and gave her scraps.

One time she ran away. She used to run away at Husband’s parents’ house all the time. They called it a walkabout. But this time she was old and deaf and nearly blind and wasn’t familiar with our neighborhood. Husband made flyers. Hung them in the post office and the gas station. A car could hit her. She could fall into the river. Husband worried she set off to die quietly on her own terms. He knew about these things, he had country instincts. I’m city. My city instincts said she still had a good nose. We found her the next morning sitting by our door, wet, stinky, and stiff. Pathetic as could be. That was the last time she went on a walkabout.

Another time we woke up to find her caught in the critter trap. She’d eaten a tasty can of sardines and took a nap until we found her. The raccoons lived another day because of her.

I moved my desk to the living room when the stairs to my office grew too hard for her to manage. Everyday from that point was an inch further in the Iditarod race; both of us knew how the story ends. And still I kept thinking, holy crap, maybe she’ll make it to sixteen.

I spent the night with her the day before she died. Cuddled up next to her in my sleeping bag and told myself she’d be able to hold down food in the morning. I don’t think either of us slept much. Her breathing had become far too labored, so much so that she’d have to wake herself up to get a lungful of air. She actually got up and went outside that morning. I fed the cats while she did her business, but found her splayed out on the lawn. I was sure she died then, but she was still hanging on, maybe more for me at that point. I got her up, and she walked back to the house. She took several breaks for those ten paces. When she came in, she took some water, which gave me hope that she might be able to hold down the boiled hamburger and rice that was now her diet. She made it to her bed next to my desk. Unable to lift her head, I knew it was time. We both knew this was the end of the race.

Husband drove her to South Dakota, so she could be buried at the farm. K and I went to the Spam museum. I did not want to believe this was happening, but I couldn’t stay in bed all day crying because one day could easily lead to two days, and two to three. At the factory, I read that the Hormel Company lost over a million dollars to a rotten employee who embezzled the cash to build a mansion with a giant dance hall. When suspicions arose, he claimed the money came from a dead rich aunt. That should have been short story gold, but instead of laughing, I’m pretty sure there’s a couple’s panoramic vacation photo with me sobbing in front of a giant can of Spam.

She’s buried by the house next to a food plot. She can watch the Egyptian wheat roll in the evening breeze, or smell the deer grazing on beans come fall. Maybe it’s the sunflowers she’ll like most. I want to ask her if she remembers watching the beekeepers pack the bees this past fall. We sat by the side of the road in the last of summer’s sunshine. I didn’t let her get a closer look, and believe me she wanted to be near the action. I was too afraid she’d get stung.

Her death has me thinking about where we go after this. I talked a bit about it with K on the beach. K is the type of person who can let those questions go. What does it matter? You’ll never know. But I can’t let it go, not for a second. What if she’s gone, really gone, and exists nowhere but our memories? K soon grew tired of the philosophical. She didn’t want to hear about my dream wherein a book’s appendix had changed. Shadow would have.

The last thing Shadow ate was a hot dog. It’s funny to me, but I can’t say why. Death has a way of stirring up the mind, bringing forth memories and storing new ones as if suddenly everything is important.

I didn’t want to grieve alone because I’m letting go of the only one who understood loneliness the way I did. Shadow never left my side. Never. Not once. When I say she followed me everywhere, true to her name, I mean she followed me everywhere. She didn’t want to be alone either.

Our cat, Poe, sleeps in her bed. He’s taken to mewling around the house. A new habit I attribute to Shadow being gone. I don’t know what letting go really means. But I do know there will still be ghostly paw prints in the dirt road, her collar hung on the mount of the last pheasant she caught, and a space next to my writing desk for her, for always.IMG_0137

9 Comments

Filed under Animals, Bipolar Disorder, Books, Dogs, Life, Love, Memoir, Non Fiction, Random, Writing

ISBN: 978-0-545-58293-3

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I like to try new things, which means I’m often susceptible to well-meaning suggestions or new health fads. Last month someone told me if I drank a teaspoon of organic apple cider vinegar in eight ounces of water each morning, my acne would clear up. I held my nose and dutifully chugged the concoction every day for a week without seeing any results. It tasted worse than Kombucha, even after adding a teaspoon of honey to the mixture.

I see the dermatologist this Wednesday…

Right: disgusting apple cider vinegar Left: water with chia seeds

Right: disgusting apple cider vinegar Left: water with chia seeds

Then there were the magical chia seeds that supposedly helped one lose weight by making them feel fuller, thus requiring one to eat less. Just a handful of seeds spread over one’s meal, put in yogurt, or added to water, should work instantly. The seeds could be found in higher end grocery/health food stores in the bulk section, but beware – they’re expensive at $18.99 a pound (I didn’t realize this and dumped a full scoop into a bag). It turns out they don’t taste like anything. I love the texture they add to water; they remind me of little tapioca balls. Unfortunately, I never felt any fuller after trying them.

I now have a new gym membership and a workout partner. We meet on Mondays and Wednesdays…

Oh yes, and then there were the skin care remedies. If someone told you that coconut oil, bought in the cooking section of the grocery store would moisturizer your skin and make you smell like an Almond Joy, would you try it? What if the person was your best friend? If the same best friend suggested you try exfoliation with a green and yellow pot scrubber, would you give that a go, too?

IMG_2162Maybe I got the wrong type of oil, but I didn’t smell like any dang Almond Joy. And I felt slippery. Ick. I’m sticking with coco butter, but the pot scrubber works, if you soak in the tub first and lightly rub your skin…

In the spirit of trying new things, I signed up for a yearlong DBT therapy program to learn life skills that would help me avoid future manic and depressive episodes. The program consists of group therapy, which lasts for three hours each week, one hour of individual therapy also weekly, and daily journaling, tracking exercises, and homework.

According to the handouts from my treatment program facility, Healing Connections, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, is a type of behavioral therapy. Developed in the early 1990’s by Dr. Marsha Linehan, the goal of therapy is to reduce all types of dysregulation, from emotional to behavioral to relationship. Dr. Linehan first created the program for patients dealing with borderline symptoms and traits, but many therapists found the skills helpful for everyone.

The difference between the Prairie Care program I participated in earlier this year and DBT, is that DBT therapy is that it is behavioral orientated, as opposed to cognitive. This means therapists teach patients a variety of skills to employ in life without the focus on connecting distressing/unhealthy behaviors with their thoughts and feelings. So, it’s behavior based as opposed to thought.

On my first day, my new therapist gave me a huge five-section binder with Life Skills Daily Tracker sheets that had over 61 different life skills to mark. My therapist and I created an individualized plan to track additional behaviors like hours spent writing, working out, and sleeping that were not listed on the worksheets.

DBT daily tracker

DBT daily tracker

The first hour and a half of group session requires everyone to check-in, that is, summarize his or her week. During this time, other members of the group share which skills they heard being used by the patient. The following hour and a half consists of therapist-guided education. A time in which therapists discuss and teach the skills listed in the tracker.

Over the past five weeks, my group focused on the Distress Tolerance section. These skills help one, “tolerate and survive crises and accept life as it is.” So far I’ve tried chair yoga, blew bubbles, went for a walk, stared at a star light on the ceiling, practiced deep inhales and exhales, and stood outside for ten minutes to engage my four senses (touch, sight, smell, & hear – they didn’t want us eating in the parking lot). These exercises were part of the education portion of the program.

I can’t really imagine blowing bubbles in time of a crisis, but I could imagine taking deep breaths the next time I’m at the checkout and something rings up for an inordinate amount of money.

I couldn’t help thinking of how much Harry Potter could use the Distress Tolerance section. I mean, just think of how many crises he needs to survive and tolerate…

In spirit of the check-in, these are the skills from the Distress Tolerance section Harry used in his third year at Hogwarts (some book spoilers):

IMG_2165

Self-Soothe: sooth each of the five senses: Harry uses his sense of taste by eating chocolate after dementor attacks. Anything that soothes you can work. Taking a bath, for example, may appeal to the sense of touch in the water. Listening to an audio recording of the rain is another example.

One Thing: As opposed to worrying over all of his problems at once, Harry focuses on one thing, his lessons with Lupin, to learn how to keep the dementors at bay.

Distract: move away from misery: I would say his trip to Hogsmead was a bit of distraction from fretting over the dangerous criminal posing a threat to his life. This distraction keeps Harry from wallowing in his misery.

Accept Reality: you don’t have to like it: Harry accepts reality each time the dementors  force him to hear his mother’s last dying scream.

Pros And Cons: problem solve: Harry solves the problem of getting to Hogsmead without a permission slip. Although, he doesn’t break his problems down on paper the way I’m taught in therapy and he doesn’t spend too much time weighing the cons of his plan.

Vacation: brief time-out: I’d say Quidditch falls under this category. In therapy, a brief time out is exactly what it sounds like – taking a set amount of time to do something you want to do as a respite from misery or life. Other examples are watching a movie or reading a book for an hour.

Just look at all the skills Harry uses! No wonder he’s a hero.

Other skills from the distress tolerance section most people use every day without even realizing it are Breathe, Walk, Smile, Prayer, and Relaxation. I found that I used Imagery each night before bed. By visualizing a blossomed cherry tree slowing swaying in a breeze, I’m able to fall asleep faster and let each of my problems float away like the petals that drift off in the wind.

Although I’ve been known to laugh awkwardly when something goes horribly wrong, I still can’t imagine Smiling when, say, my dog dies. I can, however, take Imagery to an even higher level. Instead of only using the skill at night, I use it during the day to visualize locking up problems in a box or a filing cabinet and setting them aside for a time when I can deal with each of them without being overwhelmed.

So what’s the verdict for DBT therapy? It’s a better idea than trying celery-flavored soda, that’s for sure.

Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray celery flavored soda.

Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray celery flavored soda. Tastes like sugar flavored celery

Leave a comment

Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Fiction, Funny, humor, Life, Memoir, Non Fiction, Random, Writing