Don’t Read the Comments

The last week has been really weird. Awesome. Overwhelming. Scary. Cool. Annoyingly Navel Gaze-y.

Through a friend of a friend of a friend of mine from high school my last post was put up on the Huffington Post on Tuesday. My friends on facebook were amazing about sharing it. After a couple of days it had a more than 1000 likes and 200 shares. It was crazy. It was definitely the widest audience any post of mine has ever received.

And then last night A Mighty Girl shared the post on their facebook page. Suddenly the piece had 15 thousand likes and more than 1700 shares on facebook.

Let’s be honest here. People don’t blog because they want their words to go into a vacuum. We want to be read. I’ve been very happy with my teeny tiny and very kind readership over the last 4 years. But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t wondered what it would be like to have a post read by a shitload of people, if I hadn’t hoped for it.

It would be disingenuous to pretend it isn’t a head rush of an ego boost. Turns out the reality is also deeply unnerving. I do not have a thick skin. And I read the comments.

For some reason the ones that hurt the most were those that thought I’d made the interaction up. You guys know honesty is my deal. I’m a lot of shitty things, but liar is not one of them.

Hey, these problems are pretty good ones to have. The bottom line is I’m thrilled this has happened. Next to that joy is also some trepidation. I can’t explain to strangers that I really love my kids and try to be a good mom. They only see the little slice I’ve given them. And if I don’t explain myself clearly enough in that slice it is my own damn fault.

I’m scared to write another post. This note doesn’t feel real because it is just an extension of the last one. I’m scared the last post was a fluke. I’m scared I’ll be influenced by the larger audience, scared my writing will change because I’m trying to reach more people.

This is what I’ve wanted. This is really cool. I also sort of fear I bit off more than I can chew.

I know the endless self promotion is gross, but tomorrow morning at 10:35EST I’ll be doing an interview about the piece on HuffPost Live. Did I mention how surreal this has been?

In other good news (Why do I feel so guilty about all the good news? Oh yeah, because I’m crazy) that academic conference I was terrified of presenting at? It happened on Thursday. The panel I was on could not have gone better. And I only had horrifying diarrhea once during the whole trip. That actually might be the absolute best piece of news of this crazy damn week!

freaks geeks

Z’s Father’s Day present. Hand lettered by Syracuse artist Cayetano.

z and e play

Last weekend Z and our dear friend E rocking out at Art on the Porches.

leonard cousins farmers market

E and G are visiting for the week. Leonard cousin time!

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.

 

Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb

A couple of days ago my friend made a facebook group for people trying to run/jog/walk 1000 miles in 2014 and then posted a status update about it asking friends to let her know if they wanted in. There is no way on god’s green earth that I am making it to 1000 miles this year. My jogging has been a solo endeavor. It actually needs to be a solo endeavor. I’m an introvert with a severe anxiety disorder. The thought of jogging with another human makes me want to puke.

So joining a running club or finding an informal crew to go out with isn’t really an option for me. I like being alone. People have explained to me that they chat on their runs with friends and it cracks me up. I’m gasping for breath the whole time. I cannot imagine carrying on a conversation.

All of that said, I know next to nothing about training. The idea of an online community of actual runners appealed to me-I could learn a thing or two. I wanted in.

Yesterday I was poking some fun at my slow running times and another person in the group suggested speedwork to increase my pace. I had to google it. I also was introduced to the fabulous word fartlek (Thanks, Kelly). Obviously the highlight of my day.

I found an article explaining speedwork for beginners and I decided to do it this morning. You want to know one of the most stupid and ridiculous things about an anticipatory anxiety disorder? I was so nervous to try intervals, so uncomfortable about stepping outside my established jogging routine, so frightened to try something new that I had the shits all morning. Like full on IBS diarrhea. The boys were almost late to school because I had to run back to the bathroom for the 12th time.

It is so embarrassing to admit how incapacitated I am by doing new things. Even after all these years of living with anxiety I am still deeply shamed by how hard it is to engage in normal activities. Before every class I take I feel sick to my stomach. My brain is generating a list of possible excuses to get me out of going until the moment I step into the classroom. We went to a birthday party this weekend at a gymnastic place. As soon as T joined the group he ran off to an area he wasn’t allowed to go to, one of the instructors telling him to stop. I yelled at him and immediately felt like a parenting pariah.  I blinked back tears as I stood there with the other parents, unable to make eye contact. Next month through my class I have the opportunity to attended two days of the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN in New York City. It is a huge deal. And I am so scared that I simply cannot bear to think about it other than to hope I am hospitalized with a non-life threatening illness so I don’t have to go.

But.

The classes have been fantastic for me. I am hoping to become a matriculated grad student. I have new career goals. My self confidence has been positively impacted. T and C had an amazing time at the party. I’m glad I got to see it. We are going to start T on gymnastics classes there next month. What a bizarre stroke of luck that I have a professor who is on the board of the largest Right to Food NGO in the world! Who gets to do this shit as a part of class?

So yes, my fear and discomfort when faced with normal life is suffocating. But the difference between the me of three years ago and me now is I am fucking doing stuff anyway. I am putting myself in situations that are uncomfortable because the long term payoff is worth it. Was the fear and discomfort any less three years ago when I was struggling to engage? Nope. It was not. I’m going to have it no matter what choices I make. So why not fucking try to enjoy life? Why not make sure that I get to see my boys’ faces light up with joy as they ran around with a pack of kids and have the best time they’d ever had at a birthday party? Why not GO TO THE UNITED FUCKING NATIONS?

Why not run intervals for the first time?

Because there is a difference between facing fears and being a fucking moron.

The roads were not very clear here in Syracuse this morning. Actually worse today than yesterday because we are in the city where alternate side of the street parking means today’s driveable part of the road wasn’t really plowed well at 9:30am. The side with cars on it was pretty damn clear, though. So I wore my amazing and trusty yaktrax. And found about a .2 mile stretch of flat blacktop. And realized when I got home that I hurt my foot. Yaktrax are magic. I can jog in snow without slipping at all. But trying to sprint in them? Let’s just say that I’m a fucking idiot.

Being an idiot is really the easiest way to get hurt while jogging. As soon as I hit the road I knew it was dumb to try speedwork. But I didn’t want to wuss out. Thankfully tomorrow is my rest day. We’ll see how the foot feels on Thursday….

********************************

P.S. I called the doc’s yesterday. Have an appointment for March 10th. Kinda proud of myself.

C jumps

C is missing the fear impulse. It was so cool to see him flying through the air.

hat hair

Short hair = amazing hat head.

swing

The swing actually resting on the snow.

Kids Being Kids Part 2

The afternoon following T’s haircut I posted this on facebook: Quote of the day from T, “Um…I forgot to tell ya. I’m not a fan of short hair.” Oh dear. I told him he can grow it back if he wants….

After a bit of digging it became clear that he wasn’t a fan of short hair because someone told him his hair looked ugly.

Listen, it would be easy for me to be mad and defensive that T’s feelings were bruised. I love my kids so fiercely that anytime they are hurt I see red, it is a biological response.

I let myself have that pang of anger. And then I let it go.

Because as we were having our conversation I could imagine another family in that very moment having a similar discussion about something T said that hurt one of his classmates feelings. And I bet that those parents were seeing red and thinking all sorts of terrible things about my boy.

Kids are mean. Because they are trying to figure out what they can get away with. Because the concept of “social niceties” are way beyond their comprehension. Because they didn’t get enough sleep the night before or they are adjusting to a new sibling or they are having a growth spurt.

I’m more interested in talking to T about how he felt when his feelings were hurt than worrying about the other kid. I want him to remember how he felt the next time he decides to say something mean to anyone else. And people are going to be mean to him for the rest of his life. The sooner he develops some tools to deal with it the better.

We talked about how the person that said his hair was ugly might not have even meant it. S/he might have been having a bad day, or s/he might have been confused that T looked so different, or s/he might have not liked that T was getting a bunch of attention. We talked about how we need to feel bad for someone who is being mean because they are often unhappy themselves. We talked about how important it is not to be mean to people. And by “we talked” I mean I talked at him. Remember, dude is 4. We will probably have the same conversation a million times before it even begins to sink in.

T and this kid seem to bring out the worst in each other. I’ve watched them interact and been shaken by T’s behavior. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned to Z that at least they won’t be going to kindergarten together. Z pointed out that there will always be that kid in T’s class. Even if it isn’t the same kid. Hell, T will be the that kid for someone else’s family. Zeke was right.

And I was really ashamed of myself for wanting the easy way out.

Shouldn’t we face dealing with the realities of how kids treat each other (and again, T is culpable. His behavior in this relationship has been unacceptable at times) rather than hoping the problem will go away when the kids don’t spend time together anymore?

Smart parent friends: how have you handled this with your kids? Seems like I am lucky enough to know a ton of people with compassionate and loving children. How did you parents do it? You guys are my fucking heros, by the way.

short haired boys

All my boys watching a movie.

big kid legos

Does he look older with the short hair? Or does he look younger? I can’t seem to make up my mind.

hotel view

The view from our hotel patio last week. Man, do I miss being warm.

Kids Being Kids Part 1

Walking the tightrope between respecting my sons’ privacy, writing honestly about issues I’m grappling with, and respecting the privacy of friends and acquaintances is becoming more difficult.

The readership of this blog is tiny, not even a blip in the blogosphere. But over the last year or so I’ve connected with more local people on social media. It would be wrong to assume those people are now reading here, but it stands to reason they have at least seen a link to a post float by their feed on facebook.

If I want to write about an issue concerning a friend I ask. If the friend isn’t comfortable with it I don’t do it.

I am friends with some of the teachers and other parents at the boys’ school on facebook. So I’ve been going back and forth about writing about a particular issue all day. Here’s where I’m at: I am not friends with the parents of the kid in this story, but if his/her parents were to come across the post and were able to identify their kid I feel confident that I’m not writing anything hurtful or unkind. That said, I am nonspecific enough that I’m pretty sure the parents wouldn’t identify the kid in the first place.

The issue I want to discuss isn’t really about T and his classmate. It is about how we react when our kids face hard things. It is about recognizing that no child is an angel all the time, just as no kid is “bad” all the time. It is about coming to terms with the fact that your kid is going to be the one doing the hurting at times.

I’m trying to face that ugly fact. T (and C when he is gets a bit more language) will be (um, probably currently is) hurtful to other children. The sooner I accept that the sooner I can take steps to guide him towards being a kinder human.

Sweet Mary, raising another human being is hard.

Part 2 will be coming along tomorrow.

twins in tub

Today I asked T who was in this photo. “Two Charlies.” he said. I pointed to him and said, “No, who is this guy?” He pointed to C, “That is Charlie 1.” And he pointed to himself, “And that is Charlie 2.” I’m going to start calling him Charlie 2. It really is crazy how much they look alike now.

cute kid

This kid has plenty of personality not matter how long his hair is.

Undermined By the Bitch

Sometimes I am jealous of bipolar people.

I know. That sounds insane. It sounds like I don’t understand what a terrible and serious disease bipolar is. I do understand. Really. And I promise I don’t have munchausen syndrome.

I have a chronic and pretty severe anxiety disorder.

If I’m stuck with a chronic mental illness seems reasonable that I’d fantasize what life would be like with some of the other mental illnesses out there. For the most part I think that many of us who wrestle with unrelenting crazy learn person specific coping mechanisms that make getting through the day a little bit less painful. Over a year ago there was an interesting thread on a friend’s fb wall about dealing with mental illness. People seemed happier that they had their own specific illness rather than some other variety-me included.

Kind of stands to reason.

I have had once severe depressive episode in my life. It sucked me into the nothingness, I wanted to escape this world, I was robbed of emotion, of feeling anything except profound self hatred. The depression lasted for about a year. The thought of another depressive episode scares the shit out of me, I have no idea if I’m strong enough to make it through again. Anxiety on the other hand has been my constant companion for over 20 years. Naturally my coping mechanisms are much more sophisticated in that arena.

It was comical in a rather macabre way to read this thread-the depression people saying they would much rather deal with that than anxiety, those like me grateful they didn’t have to deal with depression.

But. All day Friday I was sick to my stomach with anxiety.

On Friday night 9 (would have been 10, but someone was traveling-we missed you J) of us met at a local restaurant for dinner. Without kids. Ok, there was one kid. But she was barely a month old and as every parent knows that doesn’t count.

Please do not get me wrong, I wanted to go. I couldn’t be more thrilled that we have found a group of friends that we enjoy so damn much. The majority of the time we all hang out at our place. Our friends are always thanking us for hosting. But the deal is doing it at our place means I get to enjoy myself like a normal human. The anxiety is still there, but it is muted. I feel unencumbered by my sickness.

Of course we had a fantastic time. Of course I am glad I went. Hell, I can’t wait to do it again.

But I really fucking resent the anxiety for causing me so much discomfort on Friday. I am really sick of being hog tied by fear.

We are at my folk’s house right now. We flew down yesterday. On Tuesday morning Z and I will drive to the airport and fly to Miami. We’ll fly back and pick up the boys on Sunday. It’s our first chunk of time away from them since we became parents.

I’m so excited I don’t know what to do with myself.

I’m sick to my stomach with anxiety.

Am I going to ruin this amazing trip for myself? Is that bitch anxiety going to win? Will I ever get out from underneath her?

The bipolar thought occurred to me this morning as I was jogging. During our trip down south for the holidays I made fantastic strides with the jogging. I was also better rested than I’ve been in ages. Z let me sleep in almost every day. There were a lot of naps. Z went to work the day after we got back home and worked through the weekend as well. For the last two weeks I’ve been sleep deprived, which is my usual state. The jogging improvement evaporated. Today’s 5 miles were an exercise in frustration. Every step was a fight. I’m tired, compounded not just from lack of sleep, but because of the anxiety. Anxiety steals energy and leaves emptiness in its wake.

I got angrier and angrier at the anxiety for slowing me down. Why can’t I harness that energy into something worthwhile? Why can’t I be fucking manic for a bit? Why am I stuck with a condition that takes and takes and takes?

Ok, I don’t really want to be bipolar. Manic episodes are unpredictable and can cause terrible upheaval and hurt in the lives of those who suffer from bipolar. But the energy that I spend on the anxiety…I need that energy. I fucking want it back. I don’t want to fight this fight anymore. I want to be better. So I can enjoy the anticipation of a great night out with friends or a vacation with my husband. So I don’t have to move through the world encumbered by what feels like a 100lb coat made of my fears. I am pissed off at that bitch anxiety and how much she controls me.

But there isn’t a cure. She isn’t going anywhere. She is as much a part of me as my mousy brown hair and blue eyes. The only way I will ever get the best of her is to fight through her bullshit. To go out to dinner and have a fucking awesome time after a day of lightheadedness and diarrhea caused by the bitch. To enjoy Miami even though this morning I woke up with an anxiety attack so bad that I had to take a chill pill immediately. To continue my jog even though my body is screaming at me give up. To keep trying. For Z, for T, for C, for myself. I will live my life in spite of her, hell I will live my life to spite her.

sleepy travel companion

My adorable traveling companion.

plane nap time

Z quietly sang C right to sleep after we took off.

bad jog

Pissed off jogger. Sometimes we have bad days. Feels pretty honest to document them as well.

Risk

Early this week a friend from high school posted this status update on facebook: “Friends who are parents, especially parents of children still in car seats: Would you leave your toddler, strapped into their seat while you ran into the post office? Car is turned off and your quick dash is at least 4 minutes long. It’s 55 degrees and you’re in a suburban/city area very close to a major highway. I’m especially interested in (names removed for privacy) thoughts as they live in very similar areas.”

Eventually 40 responses were typed. I’ve read them all and haven’t been able to get the thread out of my mind. In fact, my thoughts are so scattered that this is my third go-round in trying to write a post about it. The responses were given with an assumption of some sort of privacy, so I’m not going to name or quote anyone.

Two parents copped to doing it. Most everyone else said no. What surprised me was the number of people who cited their parental love or the preciousness of their children as motivation to not leave them for several minutes. The implication was those who made the choice to run into the store loved their kids less, were inferior parents, were exposing their child to a catastrophic risk.

A staggering 258,000 children were kidnapped in a single year according to an oft cited report issued in 2002. The vast majority of those children, 200,000 of them, were abducted by family members. 58,000 were taken by people they knew or strangers, but according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children non family member abductions were least common. Of the 258,000 kidnappings in the report 115 were “stereotypical” kidnappings, which means “the child was held overnight, transported 50 miles or more, killed, ransomed or held with the intent to keep the child permanently“.

I am not trying to make light of kidnapping. As a parent the idea that someone would take my child from me is my absolute worst nightmare. It does happen, it is real. In 2002, the year the kidnapping report was released, there were 72.9 million children in the United States. Less than 115 of them were killed by a kidnapper.

In 2010 approximately 171,000 kids were injured in car accidents and more than 1,200 were killed.

Yet, I don’t break out in a sweat when I’m strapping my kids into the car seat.

Fear distorts risk.

Do you guys know about the blog Red Wine and Applesauce? The author is a mother and a journalist who specializes in vaccines, parenting, and prenatal and child health. Last week she wrote a post about the flu vaccine in pregnant women. According to the latest peer reviewed scientific studies health benefits for mother and child were found when the mother was vaccinated against the flu. She also included an anecdotal account of a friend who lost one of the twins she was carrying after contracting the flu. I had never commented on her blog before, but the inclusion of an anecdote bothered me enough to voice my opinion.

I am pro vaccine. Even after C experienced an adverse reaction to the chickenpox vaccine that eventually snowballed with other illnesses to land him in the hospital I am pro vaccine. Based on the results of varied research studies conducted within the academy and published in peer reviewed journals I believe the risk of disease is greater than the risk of the vaccine itself. I believe in herd immunity. I believe that it is my responsibility as a member of this society to vaccinate myself and my children in order to help protect the vulnerable who are unable to be vaccinated due to health or age.

The anti vaccine movement often relies on anecdotal evidence to prey upon the fear of parents. The “studies” produced by the movement are not published in peer reviewed journals, which require adherence to scientific method and ethical data collection and use. It bothered me that a writer that I respect would also use anecdotal evidence to bolster her point.

I’ve been to the anti vaccine sites. Not going to link to them here, but you could find them with a simple google search. I’ve read the heartbreaking stories of families affected by adverse reactions to vaccines. Those reactions can’t always be conclusively linked to vaccines, but sometimes they can. They are not to be dismissed. They are tragedies and my heart aches for the families. Still, I vaccinate my children. Because the risk of disease is higher than the risk of injury. Because although I fall prey to fear on a regular basis in this case the science and statistics speak louder than the anecdotes.

Back to the kid left in the car. Would I do it? No. But I’m sort of envious of the person who did do it. I honestly don’t think it is a big deal. My parents did it with us as kids. My Mom tells a story about running into the dry cleaners with a baby me in the car in which I stole her fries from the bag of fast food and chowed down.

I wouldn’t do it mostly because I know you can get in trouble for doing it. And do you know what I do fear disproportionately? Authority.

***Kidnapping, vaccines, issues that get us hot under the collar as parents…if you disagree with me I do welcome your comments, if you agree with me I welcome your comments. I am going to ask if anyone decides to comment that that we all keep it respectful. It doesn’t do a lick of good to name call or act superior. Whether you agree with me or not.

overalls

There should be a law that two year olds are required to wear overalls.

new slippers

Amazing alpaca slippers from Uncle A and Aunt B! Perfect for Syracuse winters.