The Promise

The turkey has been gobbled, the Black Friday has dawned into Saturday, and we are facing a new holiday season…

In response, my Thanksgiving decorations have been promptly stowed and my Christmas decorations have started to adorn my home. Now that I am mother, this is increasingly important to me. It is making good on a promise made to my younger self, a little girl self, that my adult home that included me as a mother would also include the care to celebrate life and holidays.

To explain, my own mother lived with her own untreated mental illnesses. She was never fully present and would swing in and out of consciousness barely recognizing the world around her. She reacted with paranoia, accusations, anger, irrationality, and was far from celebratory of life. She knew family members were conspiring against her and that the holiday was a conspiracy in itself. My childhood home at the holidays were drear and unpredictable because there was also another side to the coin. That side was my father. A man whose violent mood swings were never treated, and he provided an exquisite unpredictability.  One moment he was of the thought that Christmas only came once a year and we should throw caution to the wind… and the next moment, he was berating me on how I would never understand the value of a dollar and desiring a Christmas tree was pure selfishness.

Simply, as a child, holiday cheer was elusive. I made a promise early on to myself that as a parent I would do different. I would celebrate the season. My child would not feel dreary as a result of my actions and I would not provide the eggshells for that child to walk on. They would be allowed to be a child and experience holiday cheer.

So, here I am. I am a momma to a nineteen month old boy and I made sure that my home is decorated. And while my decorations are not worthy of a Pinterest pin or spot in a magazine, there is a heartfelt desire behind why I do this. I want to cultivate cheer and a celebratory spirit in my home for him… and for me. We both deserve it.

I also do something else. Just like my parents, I am mentally ill. In fact, I have the illness that is the blending of both my parents’ diseases. But, there is a major difference, I receive treatment and have support. I am intentionally stopping the cycle.

So, my friends, may your holiday season have cheer, jolly moments, and sweet times together. And may we remember the power we have in cultivating the experience.

Santa

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Facing the Cycle

I have fought acknowledging this reality for a while now. I had been able to surface for a few moments, take a few gulps of air. But, it is here. I have accepted it. I am in the downswing of the cycle. I am in depression with the increased psychosis.

This is the trademark of schizoaffective disorder. You have the extremes of mood and the schizophrenic disorder weaving its way through the roller coaster.

Over the past several weeks, when I would stop for a moment, the depression would grab me. I would cry, weep, and then push forward. Gradually, these moments became more severe, containing in them intensely dark thoughts about myself. Thoughts that weighed down on my chest and created despair. But, as I mentioned earlier, I could seem to surface here and there… find that gulp of air.

Then this past week arrived in slow motion. I would walk, but I was walking though water. My mind was full of dark cotton with everything dulled and no true sensory experiences. Everything around me ran together. I have made sure my son was safe and cared for… myself? not so much.

And then there was the volume of the noise The noise that I only I hear that accompanies me and that I can never free myself from was elevated. As I would try to lie down, the noise would rage in my ears. The quieter I tried to make my home, the louder my noise would roar. And the paranoia was growing and touching on sensitive areas. It was fostering intense insecurity and creating more reasons for tears. Just a hint of the insecurity, and tears were there.

But this evening, as I slowly walked down the hall, a small glimpse of clarity appeared. This is the cycle. I have cycled again. One would think after so many years with this disease that I would understood this progression. But, I couldn’t. Several weeks down this path before I understood. The fatigue, loss of functionality, increased psychosis, dark obsessive thoughts, and sadness were telling me something.

So, what so I do now? First, keep taking my medications. Next, tell my husband. Of course, call my doctor. And, I have to care for myself.

Cycles are a part of this illness. This will happen again. But, I have to face it and work through it.

I Feel Like I Forgot Something

I have all the supplies for the big Thanksgiving meal. Today, my boy and I ventured out and rented several DVDs for my little family of three to enjoy over the long weekend. There are decorations- leaves swinging down from the ceiling and festive decorations on the French doors.

But, I feel like I forgot something.

Fifteen years ago this holiday season, I severed my relationship with my parents. It was both the correct and best decision I could have made. Furthermore, now that I have a son, this decision is even more resolute. I wish my parents no ill will or harm, but they are not welcome in my life. Of course, this makes me parentless by choice.

Many ask why when they learn of this aspect of my life. I generally try to be as vague as possible out of respect for them. I will now say that my childhood was abusive in varied ways. I can also say that the dysfunction within my relationship with them was so extreme that they were, in actuality, toxic for me. Even as an adult, I would be pulled back in so easy; feeding into the dysfunction and manipulation. It truly is best for them to have their life, and me to have my life. Parentless by choice is the healthiest choice for me.

But, I cannot deny that you feel a loss through this process. It is not necessarily that you miss that exact parent, but you have to let go of the dream that somehow the parent you deserved was going to emerge. The loss of a dream is difficult. There is a unique grieving process involved. And after you have worked through that grieving process, you can still sometimes feel like you are missing something… or forgot something.

And that is where I am at. I am all prepared to celebrate the day of thanks with my husband, son, sister-in-law, and father-in-law… and that sneaky forgetful feeling nags a bit. But, that is okay, I have my family from scratch. Nothing forgotten.

May we all give thanks this week for the family we have… whether that family is blood, marriage, partnerships, friendships, or any other kinship relation. May we give thanks for those we trust, love, and value.

The State of Being Shocking

I woke up from what seemed to be a vivid dream in a room that was foreign to me. I looked around and the only thing familiar were a few items of clothing on the nightstand. I slowly crawled out of bed and walked to the hallway to be greeted by a red haired man with a stethoscope. He knew my name and I assumed he must know what was going on. So, I asked him where I was. He explained that I was in Denver, Colorado (not the state I lived in), that I had entered a fugue state after my last treatment of electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) and driven my car to Denver, and now had frontal lobe brain damage from the ECT treatments. And the thing was, I could not remember any of this. In fact, the previous three years were pretty much gone.

From what I have been told, at the end of the Summer of 2005 I entered into a severe depressive episode. This episode escalated into a quasi-catatonic state. My husband had to help me dress, eat, and engage in basic daily life tasks. My treatment team found me to be medication resistant and ECT was suggested. After a consult with a psychiatrist that performs this procedure, he also agreed to this course of action. Next, I received eleven bilateral ECT treatments before my unplanned Denver trip.

But, there is one other issue with this treatment. The psychiatrist performing the ECT was concerned early on that my electrical shock induced seizures were not strong enough to be beneficial for my illness (Schizoaffective Disorder). He augmented my treatments by going beyond the recommended voltage for the bilateral shocks. Whether this contributed to my fugue state or my frontal lobe damage, I will never know. I do know we signed a waiver before the treatments started, so the issue is rather mute.

Furthermore, the ECT didn’t seem to help alleviate the depressive episode. When I was finally released from the Denver hospital and returned to my New Mexico home, I was re-hospitalized within two weeks for suicidal ideation and depression. Eventually, the episode cycled and medication began to assist me. But, I also have to state I have hospitalized since then, as well.

What the ECT did impact was my memory and also changed some aspects of my personality. The three years I mentioned earlier are still pretty much gone. I really only have a few moments recovered. And now that my Schizoaffective Disorder has led to a Cognitive Disorder, my memory is even shakier- including long term, short term, and working memory. Everything from spelling to daily tasks to conversations are impacted. I describe my long term memory as the “Nixon Tapes”… it goes along, then nothing. As far as my personality, some of my preferences in music were completely and abruptly altered. Also, certain behaviors developed, such as gum chewing. In addition, my “mental filter” is sometimes non-existent. Want to know my opinion? I may give it to you with some profanity for good measure.

Some have asked me if I regret agreeing to receive ECT. And I do not. I have no regrets. Schizoaffective Disorder is very difficult to treat. You have a blending of Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder. Sometimes, there are risks to take. And unfortunately, not all risks pay off. But, you do at the time what you think is going to help in your desperate situation.

I also have to look at the positive side. Yes, I have frontal lobe damage. Yes, my memory function is impaired. But, my frontal lobe damage is not so severe that I cannot be a wonderful mommy to my beautiful boy. It is not so severe that I cannot be a life partner to my dear husband. I’m still here… home with my family.

For Him

Some days, I just tire of taking medications. I tire to my core.

Other days, I think I can manage my dosages, maybe skip a dose here or there, or just go raw.

Of course, not taking my cocktail of medications has drastic repercussions. And I have witnessed some of these repercussions in myself and in others.

One person whom I witnessed living with an untreated severe mental illness and who left massive repercussions in her wake was my mother. A woman who lived in paranoia, a manufactured reality, obsessive behaviors, narcissism, and mood swings, my childhood with my mother in her untreated state was Hell. She could not mother and she  was abusive. Her behavior was erratic and unpredictable. There was no trust, no connection, and a bond was never established.

I remember the confusion when she would report back lies about my behavior to my father (he also was untreated, but that is another story for another time). She was so certain in her reporting of falsehoods that doomed me to punishments. Now, I see it was part of her skewed mental chemistry left to its own devices. Also, she wouldn’t provide for me the basics, such as clothing, so my grandmother would buy me clothes for school or dresses for me to wear to church. I will never know her reasons, but she would either give away the clothing or take them to consignment stores for money. I was not allowed to keep to the clothing. Nothing was permanent- anything could be taken away. Add in her issues with Munchausen by Proxy, and my childhood became a shell. I counted down the years until I was eighteen.

Now, I am here nearing forty and I am a mother. A mother of an eighteen month old boy. An innocent little being who relies on me, trusts me, and is fully bonded with me. So, while I tire intensely from my medication cocktail; I push forward, not just for me, but for him as well. While I sometimes think I could alter my medications to gain a little more energy or handle things “better”; I don’t, for myself, and for him as well. I can be a true mother living with my illnesses, but I have to learn from the lessons I have witnessed.

So, for him I take care of me.