Who You Are

“So how do you feel?”

“Better. Good. I mean, I still cry a half dozen times a day…”

“What makes you cry?”

“Oh, you know. News stories. Stuff I read on the web. Every single time I watch Frozen.”

“But that is just who you are.”

It was a throwaway comment on the part of my therapist. At the moment I didn’t realize how much it would affect me. “That is just who you are.” The new medication is going well. And yet I am still who I am. What a tremendous relief.

One of the reasons the mentally ill are loathe to try drugs is because they don’t want to become someone else. They don’t avoid drugs because they think that their crazy defines them, or makes them unique, or gets them attention which are the reasons a lot of people assume are behind drug reticence. It is because they don’t want to lose who they have been at their core for their entire lives. I don’t want to lose who I am. It’s not like I’m so fabulous. But I’ve been me for 37 years. I’m used to myself.

With the right drug/s (and yes, finding the right drug/s can be a mighty struggle) you are still yourself. Just a functioning version of yourself.

Yesterday this post about a mother’s internal struggle with medicating her 10 year old who needed help showed up in my facebook feed. My heart ached for the anonymous author and for her son. As someone who needs drugs to function and sometimes to survive, as someone who worries I have passed my anxiety along to one of my sweet sons, I viscerally empathize with her.

At the same time I felt sick to my stomach by the time I finished the piece. I felt embarrassed and defensive and angry and hurt.

How do you give your child a controlled substance, addictive drugs, and act like it’s a normal thing to do?” she asks. She writes with brutal honesty about her struggle and I admire the hell out of her for it. But that question made me feel small and broken. I take an addictive controlled substance. I have every day for over a year. It is normal for me. I mean, what the fuck is normal anyway?

This mother. She is thoughtful, she is doing whatever needs to be done. “But on the other hand, how do you not try everything in your power to help your child who struggles every day of his life with demons you cannot beat down through sheer force of will and all the therapy money can buy?

Part of what hurts so deeply about the piece is she nailed it. All of it. How frightening and awful mental disorders can be. The fact that resorting to drugs makes you feel like a failure.

Psychotropic medication is a land mine of a topic. Controversy surrounding the over medication and diagnosis of kids with ADHD or adults with depression is well documented. And anecdotally who among those of us who went to college in the 90s or 00s didn’t know a dozen people who were given prozac at health services? The issue is real and a concern, but that isn’t what I’m talking about here.

I have mild asthma. When I occasionally have an asthma attack I use my inhaler and my attack stops. Every night I take a pill for my asthma/allergies. It effectively prevents attacks from happening the vast majority of the time. In fact, it is so effective that I started to believe I was taking it unnecessarily and let my prescription lapse. Two nights later I woke gasping for breath in the middle of an attack.

Brain drugs don’t work that way. Each brain responds differently to the type of drug, the amount, the time of day taken. And many drugs are prescribed off label, which means not for the use they were approved for originally. We just don’t know as much about the brain as we know about asthma.

Beyond the clusterfuck of finding the right drug is the fact that even if you have struggled with mental illness for years you have the nagging thought that you aren’t really unwell. You are just lazy and a coward. Progress is being made, but the idea that you should pull yourself up by your bootstraps and simply stop being sad or anxious or manic is prevalent in our society. Self loathing goes right along with many mental illnesses and it is hard not to buy into that, hard not to believe that you are making it all up.

And then there is the “what did I do wrong?” or “this is my fault” component.

During my lifetime I hope we get to the point where being treated with drugs for a mental illness is destigmatized and perceived as “normal” as using an inhaler for asthma. I hope it for the mother who wrote about her son, I hope it for that boy who is struggling, I hope it for myself.

mothers day

My sweet T and me on Mother’s Day.

c cow

Z took the boys to a big truck event at a local park yesterday.

t truck

T looks like a different kid with his short hair.

2 and 4

Two and Four for a little while longer. 2 wouldn’t look at the camera and 4 is doing all sorts of poses for the camera these days.

 

Butt Burn

We are in the middle of a late season cold snap. Temps fell well below freezing on Monday and according to the 7 day forecast we have at least another week before we reach that magic 32F. It’s winter, it’s Syracuse, it’s cold. This isn’t a shocker. But our resistance is worn down. We aren’t asking for much, we know where we live. We don’t expect 60F in late February. We would be happy with 32F. You wouldn’t hear a peep from us till April.

On top of the cold it seems I’ve developed a bit ‘o the minor depression. It’s been a decade since the void and nothingness of major depression nearly smothered the life out of me. I pray to any and every god that I will never experience anything near to it again. These days I still feel. I feel everything. The feeling hurts. Even the love for my wonderful little boys is the kind that pierces me with pain. Some days joy is mixed in as well. Some days I can’t get there. But I’m grateful for the feeling, for the frequent tears that are constantly threatening. Feeling is infinitely better than nothing.

It’s cold and I’m sad. Which means I spend the majority of my time hunkered down on the heat register next to our fireplace. After a while of sitting directly on the heat it becomes too much and I move around giving my butt a break and warming my legs and hands. I also like to see how much I can bear. It’s a relief to feel too hot. Who cares if my butt hurts a bit?

Our thermostat is set to drop down for the night at 10pm. The register grows cold and I head to our bedroom which holds onto the heat much longer. Last night I was grabbing some water in the kitchen when I noticed my butt felt weird. I grabbed my cheek and felt a rather large bump.

“Z?” I called. “Can you come and look at this?”

He joined me in the kitchen and I pulled down my drawers.

There was a long pause.

“Oh Karen…….Your ass…….oh man.”

“What?” I shrilly demanded, panic rising in my throat. “What’s wrong?”

He started laughing. “It is red. I mean bright red. And the pattern of the register is deeply imprinted. Here, give me your phone. I’ll take a picture and show you.”

I handed it over as body shaking and uncontrollable giggles erupted out of me. I could barely hold still for the picture.

Sweet Mary. The picture. Suddenly my laughter was so out of control I was crying. My ass was scary red. And the rather art deco-ish pattern was ridiculous. I was branding myself with a heat register.

Listen, being I do still posses a small shred of decency the picture was immediately deleted. See? There are lines that I won’t cross. But I’m a little bummed not to share it with you. It really was fucking hysterical.

This morning Z told me if I got cold I should sit on the sofa with a blanket. “Oh yes,” I told him. “Absolutely.”

Guess where I am as I write this post.

The red butt is worth it. Haven’t laughed like that in a while. And man, it felt good. Really good.

heat register

If you need me I’ll be here.

boys do it too

They are only allowed to have brief sits.

bathroom window

Outside our bathroom window last week.