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.

 

Back in the Saddle

If you’ve been kind enough to read here for a long time you’ve basically read this before. If you are my friend you have heard this before. I’m bored with this subject even before I begin writing…

The anxiety is really bad.

I’m having a hard time.

I hate myself.

I’m ashamed that I need drugs to function as a human being.

I feel like a bad example for my boys.

I feel guilty for occupying space in this world.

Someone as privileged as I am does not deserve to have a mental illness.

I’m trying a new drug.

Are you yawning yet?

I’m not doing very well. But the flipside is I’m kind of fine.

I’m taking care of the boys. I’m keeping up with my schoolwork. I make dinner. We host gatherings at our place regularly. When Z was part of a demonstration with Kronos Quartet I went and then went out to dinner with them all. I sat next to David Harrington and made small talk. I went to a fucking conference at the UN. I spent an evening with one of my best friends in the world and laughed and talked and felt….happy. Ok, so the jogging hasn’t been going well for about a month and a half. Last week I was only out once and this week twice. But god fucking damn it is March 23rd and right now it is 21 degrees with a biting wind. There was an inch of fresh snow on the roads this morning. And twice this week I took my kids to the doc’s (strep) instead of going for my jog. Life happens. And this weather is…well come on.

It would be easy to just wallow in how awful this disorder makes me feel without giving myself credit for progress. But I’m a Mom now, I cannot afford to be that self indulgent. I have worked hard and I am fighting back. It would be easy to stay in the place where I just hate myself and berate myself. Self loathing is one of the most comfortable states of being for me. I believe it with my whole heart, I’ve had years of practice.

This anxiety disorder isn’t something that I can fix or cure. It’s as much a part of me as my brown hair and freakishly pale and moley skin. That doesn’t mean I give up. In fact, I don’t give up anymore. I am in a really bad place, but I am fucking getting shit done. Do I cry a twenty times a day? Yup. Do I go to Z and tell him I can’t I can’t I can’t do it? Yup. Do I spend evenings after Z comes home in bed sure that I have strep myself, or a stomach bug, or cancer? All the time.

Do I finish my readings for class? I do. Do I turn in work late? I do not. Do I pay our bills? Mostly on time even! Do I make sure my boys feel loved and cared for? You bet your ass I do.

Things are not great. Z has to bear the brunt of it and I feel awful, guilty, ashamed. But I am also getting shit done.

The anxiety disorder didn’t just happened to me one day. It’s something that has always been. T has recently learned to say “Excuse me” after he burps or farts. I remember learning the same thing when I was his age. I also remember feeling terrible guilt and dread about all the times I burped and farted before I knew about the excuse me thing. After my parents tucked me in at night I would whisper “Excuse me” over and over and over to make up for those times I didn’t. I thought something terrible would happen unless I made up for my unknowing rudeness.

So it is a chronic condition. It kicks my ass over and over and over. It’s been kicking my ass since I was a little girl. And now I’m kicking ass right back.

The drug thing is the hardest part right now. Historically trying new drugs increases my anxiety. Ironic, huh? SSRIs, the class of drug most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression list increased anxiety as a common side effect. That’s how crazy people meds work. It is a guessing game and what is supposed to help you can make you much much worse. Abilify might have augmented the SSRI you were taking beautifully. It made me think I was losing my mind.

I was supposed to try a new drug after last winter’s experiment didn’t work. There was excuse after excuse-C wasn’t weaned, we were traveling, the fall is a really stressful time, the winter is a really stressful time, the spring is a really stressful time. Well, I put my big girl pants back on. New class of drugs, increased anxiety not a common side effect. In scary side effect world there just might be a rash that lands me in the hospital. I know one person who has taken this drug. After a couple of months that person’s hair started to fall out in clumps. But if this one works bald and crazy might be better than a nutjob with a full head of hair. And my Mom told me she’d buy me a wig.

The drug crapshoot began three days ago. If it doesn’t work we will figure something else out. Because even though I’m not doing alright I’m doing alright.

cheese

This little stinker. When he saw me grab my phone he shouted, “Cheese!”

hiding

My poor guy was hiding in the closet because he didn’t want to take his medicine after we got home from the doc’s office. I feel him. That violently pink “bubble gum” stuff smells disgusting.

boys better

Enough meds in both boys so they are no longer contagious or in pain. Strep sucks.

un pass

My UN pass!

Missed Day

The whole time we were away visiting family over the holidays I didn’t miss a single jog. Timed my rest days as travel days, made it happen no matter what. Five days a week I was out there. And I had some big breakthroughs. Both my parents and in laws live in very hilly neighborhoods. The hills kicked my ass, but they also helped push me over the edge and under a 10 minute mile. Consistently. I’ve been chasing that goal since I did it once in October and it feels pretty damn terrific. One day I even jogged both miles under 10 minutes.

Now on to the next goal. Hopefully by spring I’ll get closer to breaking 9 minutes.

Because of obligations today, our first day home, I didn’t have a two hour window to get myself and the kids to the Y for a jog. The only time I had childcare coverage to go for a jog in our neighborhood the temp was 2 F with a windchill of god knows what, and call me a baby but I couldn’t hack it. I know it is a really small thing to complain about, but I’m pissed. I’m pissed that after two pretty difficult weeks of making the jog happen no matter what I failed on the first day home.

Of course it is bigger than than. I’m scared if I give myself permission to miss one day I’ll give myself permission to miss lots of days. I’m scared that the jogging is the only thing that is holding me together. My anxiety was pretty bad on the trip, traveling is always rough for me. The anxiety is under control when I stick to a routine. The chaos of figuring out sleeping arrangements for our growing families and siblings, the different routines all our kids adhere to in regular life tossed away, the decades of family…stuff. Well, frankly I’m historically a mess the week before we see family, during, and the week after.

(At this point I’d like to make clear that the travel is more than worth it. T is finally old enough to have meaningful relationships with the oldest cousins on each side of the family, and it is an indescribable joy to watch him and AG or him and G have fun with each other. Also all of our siblings are also playing the compromise game when it comes to the needs of their kids and they play it with an enormous amount of grace.)

This trip I felt like the jogging was a lifeline. It was a release and time just for me. It tempered the anxiety. Whenever I find anything that works against the evil bitch that rules my existence I clutch it in a death hold–yoga, pills, therapy, Z, jogging. Intellectually I know that I’m in there as well. I’m doing the work to get out from under her as she tries to suffocate me.

As we were pulling out of Z’s parent’s neighborhood yesterday morning I asked Z if he remembered a long car trip we took with his Mom and sister. He and I were probably recently married. It was well over a decade ago. Before we even left the boundaries of Winston-Salem I had to have them stop at a friends house so I could have horrific anxiety diarrhea (please, consider the humiliation of THAT little house call) and then right after we hit the highway I made my mother in law pull to the side of the road so I could scramble into the woods for another round. As Z and I (yup, he came with me) emerged some time later I saw a cop car pulling away-you are never supposed to stop on the side of a highway. I hated myself. It was an awful way to live. And it was absolutely normal for me. When I look back on that now I can queasily laugh at what a literal shit-show I was.

Sometimes the IBS is still terrible, but mostly I’m in a better place. I’ve done years of therapy, tried every drug under the sun, learned to trust that Z really does love me and doesn’t just stay with me out of obligation and pity.

The grip that I have on this life feels so fucking tenuous. Yes, I’ve done the work. Yes, I’m a mostly functioning member of society. But those who have suffered from a major depressive episode are statistically more likely to suffer from another. I mean dude, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I have the capacity to be actually fucking insane. The worst of it could come roaring back and there would be nothing I could ultimately do to stop it. Sure, we’d recognize the signs now. I have help already in place, I might not bottom out in such a spectacularly ruinous way. None of that means it won’t come back. I can’t prevent it. Z can’t prevent it. My shrink can’t. The love I have for my boys can’t. It is my most overwhelming fear.

Jogging has become a life preserver to me. I miss a day and in my addled mind I am a step away from a major psychotic episode. Um, how much better am I really? Don’t answer that. You better bet your ass I’m making it to the Y tomorrow, though.

last jog of vacation

The final jog of vacation.

leonard cousins

All the Leonard cousins.

cordano cousins

All the Cordano cousins.

skateboard

T was pretty excited about his Christmas skateboard.

Therapy After Therapy

Our babysitter pointed out that I keep threatening to have her over so Z and I can go on a date and it never happens. She was scheduled for late Wednesday afternoon and offered to stay longer than we needed so Z and I could grab dinner out. I was all set to tell her thanks, but no thanks. But I paused for a minute and thought about it. There were leftovers in the fridge for the boys’ dinner. Z and I don’t spend nearly enough time alone. He is leaving in about a month for a month. Why wouldn’t I say yes?

So after therapy we drove back home, ditched the cars in the driveway, and I linked my arm through his as we moseyed over to the self-proclaimed “Gastropub” that opened around the corner last fall. The restaurant was nearly empty which is perfect for someone with agoraphobic tendencies. And there is a big part of the problem. I’d make it more of a priority to go out with Z if going out wasn’t so damned hard for me.

A few weeks ago my parents, sister, and I gathered in the lobby of our hotel before getting in the car to head to my Uncle’s funeral. It ended up being a wonderful day full of love and family and hard goodbyes and gratefulness. As we were getting ready to head out the door I turned to my sister and said, “What is it like not being scared to go to an event?” She encouraged me and pointed out how great it was going to be to see everyone. But I was actually asking the question seriously. What is it like to not feel shackled by fear? Because every time I leave the house I wonder for at least a moment about how I can get out of whatever I’m doing. Even if it is something I enjoy. Before every class I have an excuse email composed in my head for my teacher. I have to force myself out the door and ignore the voice in my head that tells me I’m going to humiliate myself by participating in life.

Of course the vast majority of the time I end up enjoying what I’ve been dreading. I don’t humiliate myself. I feel glad I’ve engaged. Even when the experience outside the safety of my home is just sort of ok I’m proud of myself for doing it. Until I stop and realize that being proud of yourself for going to the grocery store is pathetic.

I’m embarrassed that the anticipatory anxiety disorder has made me into such a fearful person. I hate that I torture myself after every human interaction, sure that the person doesn’t like me, or that I said something offensive. And during a time when our marriage has taken a necessary backseat to getting through the overwhelming task of dealing with two toddler aged sons I despise that the disorder makes me even less likely to fight for time with Z.

During our meal we talked about having a quick date after every therapy session. “It’s like therapy after therapy.” Z said. Yup. And every bit as valuable as well as excellent motivation in terms of facing my fears about leaving the house.

Tomorrow morning Z and I are driving to New York. I am so excited for the trip. I am so scared of the trip. I hate that I want to bail on something I know is going to be incredible. But I’m fucking doing it. Even if it takes a truckload of imodium and lorazepam I am getting in that car. How is that for romance?

k and t haircut

When T and I got our hair cut a few weeks ago I showed this picture to Z. “Is that the woman who cuts your hair?” he asked. “Um, no Zeke….it’s me.” He insists it looks nothing like me. I fear that after nearly 15 years together he wouldn’t be able to pick me out of a lineup.

naked snacks

Naked snack time!

t and the princesses

He is obsessed with Disney Princesses right now.

Take Your Spouse To Therapy Day

A few days ago Z came to therapy with me, not to talk about us (we wouldn’t want to cheat on our couples therapist…), but as an extra set of eyes. He shared his thoughts about my increased anxiety and struggles with Buspirone and it ended up being helpful for all three of us. Evidently my crazy takes a village.

The upshot is Buspirone is not my patronus. And as much as I want to get by with just talk therapy it isn’t enough right now. So the search for the real patronus continues. I’m lucy to have help, a therapist committed to finding the right drug/therapy combo, a husband fully invested in helping me, insurance to cover the whole shebang. I’m lucky.

I’m also unable to stop feeling deeply ashamed.

My therapist (Let’s call her D) had such high hopes for this drug, I feel like I let her down by quitting, for not hacking the side effects. Every single time I swallow a chill pill or daily med I feel overwhelming guilt for needing help. The act of taking meds for anxiety makes me even more anxious, which would be kind of funny if it weren’t so infuriating.

As a group we decided to not try anything new until Z returned from Japan in June. Unsurprisingly, I’m anxious about him being gone for a month, although I’ll have tons of help-I’ll be with my folks for the whole time. Don’t get me wrong, I want him to go, I’m excited for him. This is great for his career. And of course I feel guilty because he knows I’m anxious and I don’t want to fucking ruin this trip for him.

We’ve had a lot going on so far this year. C’s illness, Z is very busy at work and traveling heavily this semester, I’m in a demanding class, two toddlers are a lot to handle on the best days. D said to me, “It’s been a very stressful time, so it makes sense to wait until things calm a bit to try another drug.” That made me feel guiltiest of all. The majority of people go though a stressful time and struggle a bit, but they don’t need a therapist and drugs to make it through. I feel like there is something so weak about who I am fundamentally. Why am I such a fucking delicate flower? Why can’t I just snap out of it? Where are those bootstraps I’m supposed to be able to pull myself up by? Why do I let myself be a drain on my family?

I feel guilty, I feel ashamed, I feel pathetic, I feel worthless, I feel ugly, I feel fat, I feel embarrassed, I feel like a failure. I feel like an indulgent, self absorbed ass. Then I feel guilty again and the cycle continues. About twenty years in and I still worry people will think I’m making the anxiety up. Hell, I don’t always believe it is real. I still think I should be able to magically rise about it.

The crap shoot that is psychotropic meds is well covered ground here. Talk therapy has historically been very successful for me, drugs tend to exacerbate my anxiety. But things can’t go on like this. The therapy is not enough anymore, I’m in a very bad place.  We are going to have to get creative with the drugs-SSRIs don’t do it for me, Buspirone is out, non-tricyclics like wellbutrin are out, Abilify is out.

The chill pills do work, I’ve used them as rescue meds for seven years. But they are highly addictive. My only addiction thus far in life has been nicotine, and I’ve been quit for more than five years, but I feel like a drug addict just because I have a prescription for lorazepam. I start every therapy session reporting on how many pills I’ve taken since the last visit because I worry D believes I’m a junkie.

Since the lorazepam does actually interrupt my anxiety without increasing it D has suggested I start using it more frequently in order to function over the next few months. She will closely monitor my use. And there are some antiepileptic agents we can fiddle around with in very small doses over the summer. So at least we have a plan.

Listen, yes, I agree that drugs are over prescribed. Yes, I agree that medicating away a little bit of sad is a really bad idea. On the other hand, when mental illness is interfering with a person’s ability to function day to day, well, drug intervention is often appropriate. I know I need help. It just sucks that psychotropics are not always straightforward like blood pressure medicine. Finding what works can be a mighty bitch.

batman t

He has decided he is batman.

eyelashes

Eyelashes.

A Few Thoughts

There is nothing better than a triscuit.

Monistat 1 sucks ass. A week later and I end up at the gynecologist’s anyway.

Saw a new doc. He told me he looked at my chart the night before. Me, “Oh, yeah, I’m kind of a nightmare.” Him, “I know! What is going on with your body?” Me, “On top of all that stuff I have an anxiety disorder.” Him, “Cool!”

It is barely going to get into the 30s. There is snow on the ground and in the forecast  Yet magically spring allergies have kicked into high gear.

We rearranged the furniture in our bedroom.

Totally forgot to share this gem in the stomach bug post: evidently I now pee a little every time I puke. Thanks sons!

Gave C a handful of M&Ms before 9am. I don’t know what is wrong with me.

On Tuesday the midterm was returned to us. With extra credit I got 85/100. Not proud of the grade, but was expecting much worse.

Two days ago I stopped taking my daily meds. They were making me even more anxious. I’m scared my shrink is disapointed in me. Which shouldn’t be what I’m worried about. But there you have it.

It seems everyone I know is a little anxious and depressed. The end of winter is the bleakest time of year. I’m sad for everyone, but it also makes me feel a little less lonely.

When I am unwell I think I have a terrible illness that is eating me from the inside and when I’m diagnosed it will be too late.

When I’m super duper unwell I think at least after I die I’ll be able to rest.

I’m currently super duper unwell.

I want key lime pie. So I bought the stuff to make key lime pie. Curtis, I’m waiting to make it until tomorrow so you can have some, too.

tuesday morning

Tuesday morning. Z felt snowblowing was a pretty shitty welcome home. I’ve got to agree with him. What is up mother nature?

triscuit

Triscuit. Seriously delicious.

Anxious Kid

“Do you think T is an anxious kid?”

With zero hesitation Z replied, “Yes.”

I asked the question months ago, but the dread I felt when I heard his answer, the lightheadedness and tingling in my fingers feels fresh. Immediately I disagreed with him. And then something happened, I don’t remember what, but one of the millions of things that interrups any conversation we try to have now that we have two kids-one of them fell down, they started fighting, we heard a sound that meant trouble, we didn’t hear a sound which meant trouble, something happened and the conversation ended.

I mean the conversation ended between the two of us. It has continued nonstop in my head ever since. When I was pregnant with T I thought a lot about if it was appropriate for someone who suffers from a mental illness to have a kid. What if I was a shit mom because of my crazy? What if I passed my crazy on along with my blue eyes and tiny feet? How could I take the chance of saddling my illness on an innocent baby?

To us T was perfection when he was born. As his personality developed over the last few years we only fell more in love with him. He was an early talker, so we thought he was brilliant. His fine motor skills were off the charts-he could use a toy chisel and mallet when he was 18 months. When he started school after he turned two there wasn’t a single day of crying during drop off. He is happy and loves life and is eager to learn.

I’m not trying to sell him as the perfect child. His gross motor skills have never been great-he was a late walker and he fell down a lot. He wasn’t much of a climber or runner. He certainly has never been an angel. Since he started to smile there was something mischievous rather than sweet about him. But most of all he seems like a regular kid.

So he gets frightened easily. What toddler doesn’t? During his first hair cut he sat perfectly still in the chair, only his eyes following the woman who was trimming. He was trying not to cry the whole time. His first trip to the dentist was a disaster. The second trip a week ago was not much better. He is scared at night time. New things are overwhelming to him. He only likes certain foods-it took us a year to convince him to try chocolate ice cream–chocolate ice cream for fucks sake!

Isn’t all that stuff normal? Yes, we look at him and see a little genius because he is our child. He isn’t a genius. He is healthy and he is a regular kid. He is exactly what we hoped for.

Back to that dentist’s appointment last week. It was terrible to watch his fear. The latex gloves freaked him out, he kept begging the hygienist not to touch his face with them. He was frightened by the polisher, by the chair, even the napkin she tried to clip around his neck. He shook and wept and held his hands over his mouth. I encouraged him and tried to calm him down, but I was holding back tears myself. He was so anxious. And in my head the thought “Zeke was right” played in a loop.

dentist

The stillness that accompanies his fear cuts to the quick.

So new situations are hard for him. So he is particular and craves the familiar. So he is a little bit of an anxious kid. It doesn’t mean he will develop an anxiety disorder.

But when I was his age could one tell that mental illness would be a defining feature of my life?

We don’t know what he will become. We don’t know if the screwed up wiring in my brain was passed down to him. All we can do is wait and see. I worry that I will see a boogieman around every corner. That even if he is normal I’ll be convinced he has a problem. That my cloying attention will create anxiety that would be absent if I wasn’t around. That he will be unwell and it will be all my fault. That being my child will ruin him.

Here is what I do know. I do not want him to be like me. This morning I had a therapy session. Things are not going well in anxiety land right now. I can’t tell if the new meds are working, or if they are making things worse. I’m taking more chill pills than I have in months. I’m exhausted. From the meds? From pretending I am normal every time I leave the house? I feel defeated and desperate and scared.

My therapist pointed out that in the not too distant past I couldn’t even imagine taking a class. And now I’ve finished one and am in the middle of another. At first I felt so proud of myself. After the session that feeling quickly faded as I thought about T. Because how pathetic is it to celebrate doing something most function adults could do without a second thought? Why should I get a pat on the back from my shrink for acting like a grown up? How sad is it that I have to force myself to engage with the real world? I still find an excuse every time Z suggests I take the boys to the zoo or the museum or the playground. The boys are paying the price for my illness.

Worse than all that is the idea that T might be the same as me. He might hate himself. He might be too scared to engage. He might feel worthless and pathetic. My sweet boy. My perfect and frustrating and amazing little man. How do I protect him from becoming me? How do I help him? How do I not fuck him up?

dentist 2

Even when he is scared he is cute as hell.

alien daddy

I think the a big part of the answer to raising these kids is Alien Daddy here. I don’t know what any of us would do without him.