Time to Simply Be

The gifts are wrapped, my toddler is wearing his Christmas Eve pajamas (there are other pajamas for Christmas day), the food is purchased, my plans for assembling his big toys tonight after he goes to bed for the morning surprise are in place… Ultimately, my son’s second Christmas is coming together.

I have mentioned previously that I made a promise to myself at an early age to create a holiday experience for my own child that was different than my own childhood experience. It had to do with creating something special. More importantly, it had to do with creating a festive environment and making the effort for my child to know he is special. It is not the size or value of the gift, it is the consideration as a parent to make the child aware that their experience is valued. For myself, that was never communicated.

This is not always easy. With my diagnosis, some days are not given to festive creation. But, every little thing adds to the atmosphere… such as singing Christmas carols to my toddler in the grocery store the other day as we zipped through the aisles. The smile on his face as he sang in his toddler-ese was evidence of the festivity spreading.

But, now it is Christmas Eve. Time to just calm down and be. Time to enjoy the moments. He will never get another childhood. I will never have him at just under twenty months old reveling in the amazing fun of ripping paper to find a new toy.

It is time to simply be.

Happy holidays to one and all… may you find that time to simply be.

Breakthrough

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You can follow your treatment regimen and take your medication as directed and somewhere along the way, there will be a breakthrough. A breakthrough of your symptoms flaring loud and overwhelming your day, days, or week. Last night, my breakthrough began. Today, my breakthrough continues.

With schizoaffective disorder, you live with hallucinations and delusions… it is the “schizo” part of the blended name. Last night during my shower, I began to think that a dear person to me was dead- that she had died as a result of my negligence. My heartbeat rose and self talk though the irrationality could break the hold. Then as I exited the shower, my right ear felt suddenly full- as if something was implanted. This is when the noise began and it hasn’t left. I have dealt with a constant static noise since then that will ring back like feedback from a microphone at loud noises. In fact, I told my husband that I am thinking there is a microphone in my ear. Though, I don’t know why I have it or how it got there. I have tried lying on my right side, utilizing q-tips, and nothing relieves this feeling, the thoughts, or the overwhelming noise and sounds.

My mind is battling right now. It is asking if my thoughts about the microphone are true or if, like my husband assures, I need to take additional Seroquel. I am tired. And it is loud.

So today, things are simpler. Intentionally simpler. My son and I had a frozen meal for lunch. We are playing quieter, and moving quieter and a bit slower.This is what happens during a breakthrough, the dial is dialed down.

I think we use the word breakthrough because living with a chronic psychiatric illness is like walking on a frozen lake.  Every once in a while, there is a crack. And every once in a while, that crack breaks though and you touch the icy water. You have to move smartly and with metered control to climb back up on the ice. Nonetheless, the risk is always there.

So, here I go moving smartly by relying on my husband to help me reality check and continue with my treatments and, also, moving with metered control as I climb up from this breakthrough.

Freedom’s Advent

ADVENT

noun

1. a coming into place, view, or being; arrival:
It is December and the world over people are celebrating and commemorating advent. They are awaiting the celebration of the arrival of Christ. But, December and advent both have another meaning for me. It is still the celebration of an arrival… or having come into place. However, this advent is not in reference to Christ. This advent is in commemoration and reflection of my arrival of freedom and it finally coming into place.
On December 10, 2001, I wrote a short and succinct letter to my parents stating that they were no longer welcome in my life. I wished them no ill will, but I was claiming my life for myself and moving forward from the dysfunction that surrounded our relationship. My life to that point had been spent within their abusive ways and feeding into their cycles of dysfunction. I had in the past tried to break away and had been unsuccessful, but this time was firm. And this time, I broke free. It has now been thirteen years with no contact as I have moved forward.
Of course, my freedom’s advent brings bittersweet tones with it. I am stronger, healthier, and able to provide for my child what was never provided for me. But, this is December and I am parentless by choice. This is a time of year when we see the dream of familial love more clearly and find this dream very close wherever we go. There is also a guilt that can pull at your core of how you are diminishing their holiday experience through your actions… a co-dependent calling card from years gone by. Almost like I have to fix everything as an adult like I did as a child. Nonetheless, I rationalize and I reflect on freedom and why I had to put that freedom into place. And I remind myself that families exist in many forms, and your true family would never dim your freedom.
There is, of course, the most important reason for me to reflect on my freedom’s advent and maintain the boundaries that I have established. That reason is my son. As his momma, I am to protect him. At his tender young age, he deserves a momma with freedom put into place and who is free of dysfunction so she can provide the most loving home possible. And this is reason to celebrate my freedom’s advent.
To you, as you read this, I wish you joy this holiday season and a reason to celebrate the coming into place of something wonderful.

The Bravest Thing

The bravest thing I have ever done

has dark brown eyes that shine bright like the sun and

smiles with a smile that overtakes his whole face.

And the bravest thing I have ever done

studies his surroundings with a keen curiosity and

touches with world with a intense purpose and enthusiasm unrivaled the world over.

The bravest thing I have ever done

carries my strong personality with its intensity and breadth and

reflects it back to me like a crystal clear mirror of my core and soul.

And the bravest thing I have ever done

has the powerful and calming streaks of his father, the love of my life, and

tempers his reflection of me with his father’s keen reflexive soul.

The bravest thing I have ever done

was to finally say yes to the proposition that society and

myself had always said no to entertaining and pursuing.

And, ultimately, the bravest thing I have ever done

calls me “momma” and

is a part of me forever walking the universe as my son.

I am okay, today.

Today, I am okay.

Today, I am better than I have been in several weeks. I am not 100%. However, for the past several weeks, each day I have wondered if I needed my husband to take me to the hospital. Everything has been in slow motion wrapped in paranoia with distorted thinking accompanying my constant overwhelming feelings.

But, today, I know the hospital is not necessary. Today, I am okay. This morning’s dawn came a little easier as I rested a little easier through the night. Today, I have been able to enjoy my toddler a little more as I have been able to relax and step back from the cloud that has been following me. So far, I have been able to tackle a few items on my to-do list without crippling under the overwhelming thoughts. My son and I went shopping and I was able to drive, pick out my items, and check out without paranoia, taxing rumination, or finding myself overthinking to the point of not being able to buy anything on my list.

I also know that today is okay and not perfect. I need to let it be. No grand life changes or big decisions today. I need to let my cycle happen as I come up for air as I have been drowning. It is as if the brain is opening back up to the light and you don’t want to push too hard and scare it back shut.

Nonetheless, today I am okay and it is good to be okay. I don’t need the hospital today. I can function today.

And tomorrow? I am hopefull will be okay, too.

One of my greatest blessings…

As I venture on my mommahood journey at diagnostic code 295.7, there is a partner that helps make it possible. He is my caregiver, the father to my baby boy, and the love of my life. He is my husband.

For many years I would not consider motherhood. Then late one Summer, I had an epiphany. My husband was not my father. He was the complete opposite of the man I grew up fearing. Also, my husband had cared for me over the many challenging years. He managed my medications, accompanied me to doctor appointments, brought me supplies when inpatient, and looked out for my well-being in every way possible. Furthermore, my husband was loyal. He had demonstrated that quality by remarrying me several years ago when I had divorced him during a whirlwind of mania. This was a man I loved and could raise a child with safely. The only thing stopping me, was me.

So, I took a leap of faith and received an amazing baby boy in return.

But, I have something here that so many others facing severe mental illness do not have. That is a caregiver that works with me as a partner in my journey. Too many are expected to manage this illness on their own… fighting a battle where your brain is working against you. It not only works against you, it tricks you.

One of my greatest blessings lies in my husband. He monitors my medications, checks in on my symptoms daily, supports my needs, and often knows what I may be needing before I am ready to admit it. He has been there through twelve in-patient hospitalizations, eleven treatments of electroconvulsive therapy, one month of partial hospitalization, a suicide attempt, and the past eighteen years of treatment. I am blessed. No other word.

As a society and as a medical establishment, I wish we could learn the power of support and caregiving. I wish we would allocate funds and personnel to such endeavors. I wish we would reach out and help each other, not just place everyone on an assembly line of “care”.

Bottom line, no matter who we are, we need support… we need a caregiver.

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.

My Brain is Failing Me

I receive the questions periodically…

“When will you finish your doctorate?”

“Are you going back to teaching in the future?”

“When are you going to work again?”

The fact is, I have made peace with not finishing my dissertation and, therefore, never have the initials Ph.D. after my name. I have also made peace with the reality that my future does not include teaching again or any other career. I consider myself to have entered early retirement from my career as a college professor and I have done the mental work to accept my shift in status as I embrace my life as a stay at home mother.

Why?

A major portion of the answer to this question is that my brain is failing me. Or, I have entered into what is technically termed as cognitive decline or impairment and the diagnosis of Cognitive Disorder has been added to my records. This is very standard for someone living with a schizophrenic disorder. One’s immediate working memory in conversations or tasks becomes impaired and unreliable. Remembering conversations from the previous day (or earlier that same day) is highly difficult. Following conversations can be overwhelming. The ability to follow through on tasks without a detailed list becomes impossible. And so much more as it progresses. Basically, the simpler… the better. And the less stress… is even better.

In order to contain the progression, my medication cocktail has been augmented to include a medication that is commonly utilized for Alzheimer’s patients. Being 38, it feels rather surreal. But, I look at my toddler son and the importance of trying this medication therapy becomes very real. He is not quite two years old, I have many years left to enjoy his laughter, smile, shining eyes, sweet hugs, and I must try anything at my disposal.

In addition, if becoming more realistic about my needs stress-wise and also simplifying my life are needed in order to preserve my health as best as possible for my child, husband, and myself, then that is what I must do.

So, becoming a stay at home mother… shifting my status… becoming more realistic… While it has been a true adjustment, it is a must for my health and a must for my future as a wife and mother.

On the Other Side of Fear

When one decides to become a parent, fear is a common emotion. Even before this decision is made, some fear invades our thoughts more often than not at the consideration. But, what is on the other side of fear?

As someone living with mental illness, and also as someone who survived an abusive childhood, the concept of parenthood often carried a significant fear factor for me. Fear of passing on faulty genes. Fear of repeating damaging familial patterns. Fear of basically damning another innocent person to my same troubled existence. Fear encapsulated me. There was no other side.

But, let’s look at the genetics question. First, I am not the Creator; nor do I possess a crystal ball. I cannot foretell the future. My theoretical offspring could never have mental illness grip their life. Furthermore, did I, personally, feel that anyone who carried any genetics for any disease give up reproduction?

No. Never. Not at all.

Plenty of individuals with diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, asthma, and countless other issues have reproduced. If they lived on the other side of fear, why wasn’t I willing, as well? It was because of fear.

But, on the other side of that fear is a parent with a husband who has seen it all in mental health care. We could both see the warning signs, if they appear. We could advocate, support, and provide care. And most importantly, on the other side of that fear is love.

Then there was the aspect of my fear that was concerned with repeating damaging familial patterns. A very legitimate fear as we tend to repeat what we have learned along the way. But, I had to consider something powerful about my journey. At the age of twenty-three, I pro-actively entered therapy. In addition, along that therapy journey, that ultimately lasted thirteen years, I severed my ties with my parents and created my own life. I had addressed my familial patterns- except for the pattern of fear.  I still needed to view the other side of fear.

I had to push past the fear to the other side. I had to find the faith in myself that had been sequestered since day one. I had done the hard, arduous work; and now it was time to allow myself to live.

And I did live… and found on the other side of fear is joy. There is a joy in the form of a beautiful boy who is my all and that I would protect with my all. I pushed past the fear and arrived on the other side.

I am Momma- standing on the other side of fear.  

The greatest of these is love…

“Aren’t you afraid he will get your disease?”

The question uttered by a colleague at a department picnic this past summer when I was still working as a college instructor. This colleague had known me for a few years. She had known me when I was still adamantly not going to have children. She knew of my diagnoses. And this was the first time she had seen me since giving birth. This was the first time she met my son who had just turned one year old.

And this was the question; a question about my fear of passing on my psychiatric illnesses. Not a question concerning the million other things that happens with new motherhood- a question of genetic loading.

I wanted to respond with my sarcastic self and give a blank stare and state, “why no, I never thought about that.”

Seriously, I waited until thirty-six to entertain motherhood. I had heard for years from psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers about my genetic loading. I had read countless articles about the increase in odds of a child being diagnosed with a mental illness when a parent is also mentally ill. I, myself, am ABD in my psychology doctorate. I think I may have visited this topic before.

Did this woman not think that when this little boy looks at me with his big brown eyes that I earnestly pray he will never know the torment of violent mood swings or the torture of psychosis?

But, at the age of thirty-six, wisdom had also joined in to calm my fears. Therefore, I did roll the dice and become pregnant. And here is why:

First, I know that with genetics, 1+1 does not always equal 2.

Second, I am so much more than my diagnoses. Yes, I live with schizoaffective disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and PTSD. But, I am also so much more than my illnesses.

Third, if my little man is afflicted with a mental illness, there is no one more capable than myself and his father to help him through the maze of that journey. We both know that maze forward and backward. We can be the support he would need and deserve.

And lastly, I love this little man with all my soul. And as we know, the greatest of these is love.

So, to my inappropriate colleague, I must say that it may happen. And if it happens, this little man has all the love and support in the world to fight every day for him to thrive.