Entries in Parenting (1)

Saturday
Jan252014

Balance by Anonymous

I haven't been writing on my blog consistently over the past couple years. The thing that stopped me from writing has been difficult to articulate. It's a thing so big that the thought of stopping to write about it trivializes the magnitude of it's impact on my son's and my life.

I've had time to write, plenty of time. But instead of writing, I've been immersing myself in coping strategies: going to therapy, knitting, reading, walking my dog in the woods, doing countless sudoku puzzles. I've worked my job and volunteered for worthy causes and have tried (and likely failed) to connect with my friends and family.

I've tried.

As I start a new year, I'm finding myself wanting to roar a little bit because the quiet (and not so quiet) battle that's been waged in my home every day for the past 18 mos is the stuff of miracles. I know I can't do it justice, but perhaps I can write a little with the hope that other folks going through this won't feel so alone.

This big Thing I'm trying to write about it mental illness. My only child, a high school senior, experiences symptoms of bipolar disorder every day. Even though we're fairly open about it, the stigma around mental illness manages to slap us in the face constantly. I spend some time with NAMI and other advocacy groups to get support for myself and my family. I know that when I'm no longer in the thick of it, I will move on to advocacy more publicly. But for now, while my son is symptomatic and still in my care, I do what I can in my quiet way.

For the past several years, symptoms have been creeping into our household. They show up as cast of characters, all with personalities of their own - unwelcome in my quiet life - yet they barge into my home with little to no warning. 

Mania usually shows up when the seasons change. Mania is outwardly goofy and silly, has amazingly complex views on the world and is outrageously creative. Mania is pissed off at people who can't think as fast as he can and swears at folk with such brilliance that it would be awesomely funny if it didn't cut so badly. Mania doesn't need to sleep, has to move all the time, and can sometimes walk for 20+ miles before realizing how far he's gone. Mania recently lost over 20 pounds in a month's time (he's not that hungry). Sometimes Mania's mom calls to check in and he finds himself three towns away near no recognizable landmarks. Mania sometimes makes wild and dangerous plans, packs his bags in the middle of the night, and simply disappears. Mania (and his pal Depression below) often turns off his cellphone after he leaves the house so no one will bother him. 

Mania is a jerk, but is sometimes so fluidly brilliant it's like being in the presence of a the most inspiring motivational speaker you've ever seen. Mania has dancing eyes, paces a lot, and talks super fast. He's kind of a rockstar, if he weren't so sick.

But, Mania often self-medicates and sometimes ends up in the ER. Every so often, Mania needs the police to come calm him down, and rarely (but still too often) Mania needs to go hang out in a hospital for a few days to get back on track.

Once, in 2012, Mania brought his friends Paranoia and Psychosis. I can't even type about those guys. They're terrible and frightening. They convinced my boy that the people who loved him were conspiring with the government to control his brain. Angels from places I didn't even know about swooped in and got those symptoms under control. I got my boy back two weeks later, beat up and scarred, but alive.

People who don't see these symptoms everyday really can't comprehend how the staying alive part is such a miracle. Most people who throw around words like psychotic and paranoid truly don't understand the pathology of those words, and they should consider themselves blessed that they don't ever have to see the close up.

When Mania is around, I often pine away for the calmer cold days of winter, until I remember the unwelcome guest in Depression. Depression usually shows up during the shorter darker days. He is also a jerk and sometimes hangs out with Hypomania - who is just chronically pissed off. Many of us think we know Depression, and foolishly encourage him to load up on Family Guy  episodes or a dose of John Stewart. Some people pshaw at the melancholy and don't understand how he can't appreciate all the gifts he has in this world. Depression laughs at this shit. He's a pretty powerful guy and even though it looks like his regular routine is sleeping a lot and sighing heavily, he's often behind the scenes, insidiously convincing my boy that it's too hard, that this planet sucks, and leaving is the best possible choice.

Again, the staying alive part? Miracle.

My child is in there. He beats the shit out of all of these symptoms on a regular basis. He throws a routine at them, a good sleep schedule, medications, solid friendships and family relationships and an amazing school full of folks who get it. He gets up and goes to school every day even when he doesn't want to.  Though my son is brilliant and was on a college prep track years ago, my silent mantra during his high school career has been "alive and graduated...alive and graduated." (psst: he's set to graduate in a few short months - if you're the prayerful type - remember us.)

His will to survive is awe inspiring, even when his mom doesn't feel inspired when a random f-word gets thrown her way. (During symptomatic episodes, a one f-word day is a good day.) I've had to seek my own therapy to stay balanced enough to support my boy, and when I joke and say I have PTSD due to all we've been through, my therapist reminds me that it's no joke. 

Every day in our house we scrape and swear and peer through the fog reaching for rungs on the stability ladder, but it's still a battle. NAMI teaches a course called Family-to-Family that helps family members support their loved ones with mental illness. That class likens the onset of symptoms to a bomb going off and the rest of the family experiencing collateral damage. The shrapnel in my family is everywhere. Cleaning up after an episode is nearly as exhausting as getting my son through a manic or depressive phase. As I begin this new year, I find myself with an almost stable child, cleaning up an excessive (excessive, I tell you) debris field.

I wanted to write here anonymously because, well, I need to protect my son's privacy - it's his decision to disclose his disease. That's a tough call for me because I don't want to contribute to the culture of mental health stigma, but I know I'll be out there one of these days. 

I know many Derfs are on their own journey and even though I don't participate much here, I felt inspired to write in this safe community. 

Be grateful for your mental health and the balanced brains in your family, Derfs, and if you or any of your people need help - get it.