Tuesday, December 24, 2013

One hell of a week

I've had stressful weeks, but last week was as close to 2004-level anxiety (as in breakdown) as I've experienced.  Eating to survive.  Poor sleep.  And a viral respiratory infection for good measure.

There was the window installation which ran into a kink on Tuesday morning, when I was at M's preschool Christmas party.  Apparently, the lintel at the front of the house that holds up the brick wasn't installed properly.  When the windows guys took out the old dining room window, the lintel fell.  Off.  Completely.  Not good.  And so began my limited appetite.

So I had to call a mason.  For $500, he said he could fix it the next day (Wednesday) at 9:00.

Wednesday morning I took G for a visit with our family doc to get a referral for occupational therapy.  When I returned at close to 10:00 am, there was no mason.  And there was a mix-up in the window company's scheduling so they had to leave before the mason showed up (which he did, although very late).  The plan was to fix the lintel and finish the windows today, Christmas Eve.

That Wednesday night continued the limited appetite along with aches and absolute feelings of exhaustion.

Thursday and Friday I felt pretty punk and tried not to do much, but I had M all day both days,   Thursday afternoon was our meeting with a psychologist with G, and Friday was class parties.  G was a tantruming mess every day of the week except Friday.  

My head congestion eased up a bit this weekend, although I am still not 100%.  I'm doing only what I have to do and trying to sit, read and rest as much as possible.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Night crawler Christmas

I don't remember too many of my childhood Christmases, but one that does stand out in my mind is what I refer to as "Night Crawler Christmas."

I don't know how old I was, probably 9 or 10.  I don't know what I received as Christmas gifts.  I don't even really remember that it rained a lot that year.

What I do remember is my dad, my younger brother and I walking the streets of our neighborhood with buckets in hand, picking up some of the thousands of worms that sought relief from the over-saturated ground by crawling onto the roads.

The neighborhood in which we lived didn't have curbs as we do in our neighborhood now.  Drainage wasn't as engineered so the worms didn't have to do as much work to get to the pavement.  The roadways were absolutely covered with worms.

I don't remember what we did with the worms, whether dad saved them for future fishing excursions or if we dumped them in the grass once we had finished trolling the neighborhood.  But I can clearly see us meandering the empty streets, my brother and I excited with every wiggler we delicately lifted from the concrete.

As a mom, I worry that my children will remember every little thing I do or they experience, specifically all the things I fuck up in my job as mother.  The times I yell and am not especially nice.

So memories like this are soothing in that they are a nice reminder of how much I don't recall of my childhood.  I don't remember all the times my parents lost their tempers with me or did things that I thought were completely unjust and mean (although now I understand those decisions were likely completely reasonable and justified).   I don't remember every unpleasant experience that life threw at my childhood self.

My memories of childhood are dim, feathery shadows with the occasional clear outline of true remembrance, like the night crawler Christmas.  I remember the oddities of my childhood experience, the unusual, the unplanned.

Probably most people's memories work like this, or perhaps this is one of the blessings of the OCD brain.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

My Advent struggle (thinking on Mary)

For someone who doesn't feel particularly religious/spiritual, I find myself thinking such things often.

As I've been struggling through these weeks of December, with my usual Christmas bahhumbug-ness coupled with home improvement disasters and the emotional roller-coaster of G and his current issues, I have thought to what a shitty time Mary must have had.

There was that pesky angel visitation.
There was the donkey ride at 9 months.
The birth-giving in a stable instead of an inn.
The getting the hell outta town and into Egypt.
And the son who didn't exactly do as "normal" Jewish boys did.

Maybe that is the point of Advent for me.  Perhaps because of my personality, my own limitations in the joy category, my anxiety, I'm not going to be one to savor the anticipation, the waiting on the king.  Maybe I need to look to Advent as my understanding of the struggle, the difficulties inherent in the king coming.

I know that I've learned much more from struggle in my life than from any easy roads on which I've traveled.  I have lived the experience of a breakdown being a breakthrough, and so I need to look to these weeks of discomfort, of fear, of bone-tiredness, as the difficult path that will eventually, at some point, lead me to greater compassion, greater understanding, and hopefully greater fulfillment.  

At this time of year, I think on the sacrifice of Mary who, after the event, is pushed into the background but is assuredly the backbone of the story.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

When life hands you lemons, you freak the f*ck out and don't compare yourself to the third world

I am all for gratitude.  I know where my bread is buttered, and I am thankful my life is as easy (in the grand scheme of things) as it is.

But I am struggling in the midst of a rough spell, and I have to remind myself that it does me absolutely no good to compare my struggles to those of a person in the Philippines or Haiti or anywhere else where the problems are those of survival, of meeting basic needs of food, water or shelter.

I hate standardized testing in public schools because the tests compare what totally different sets of kids from totally different backgrounds in totally different years learn from totally different teachers.  The expectation is for everyone to be proficient in spite of these differences.  To know the same stuff with the same level of understanding.

Why, then, would it make any sense to compare my stress and/or suffering with someone who is completely different from a totally different background in a completely different culture under totally different life/economic circumstances and say whose problem is better or worse?

It makes me feel like shit, and I don't need to feel guilt-like shit on top of feeling overwhelmed-like shit because of the stress life is throwing at me.

Because of my personality, because of my OCD, because of my GAD, I do a piss-poor job handling things.  Period.  Whether I'm here or somewhere else.  Whether I'm rich or poor.  I could drop myself into any situation, and I would handle stress suckily.

My stressors are what they are, and I tire of knowing that I handle things poorly and feeling guilty that I handle things poorly over issues that are of no "real" consequence anyway.

If I believe my life is of value, then I have to give value to not only what I experience but how I experience it.  My life has to be as valuable as the value, the seriousness I put on the struggles of those whose struggles are different than mine.

To discount my own struggle is setting myself up for nihilism.

And OCD, GAD and nihilism seem like a very, very bad mix.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

OCD to benefit my son

I generally don't think of OCD as being beneficial in any way, but perhaps it is.  When I obsess about something, and I often do, I "get 'er done."  I don't know if this is my coping mechanism, but I don't just sit and stew; I take action.  

The other day I called a children's therapy practice about getting G some occupational therapy for his sensory issues (the food textures, the clothing/shoes stuff, etc).  But January seems a terribly long time to wait for someone to give us some tips for helping him.

It occurred to me that G's issues might not just be sensory.  Perhaps a large part of his problem at the moment is the anxiety of December.  When I bought G presents for his birthday in September and told him I had surprises for him, he lost it.  Crying and very upset.  He begged me to tell him what I had bought him for his birthday, and so I did because it just wasn't worth him being so off the chain.  It dawned on me that maybe he is experiencing this same thing with Christmas looming.  Plus, his whole routine of school has been messed up these two weeks.  Two snow days (non-consecutive) and his class preparing for a musical performance in front of the school.  I should know how anxiety-provoking changes in the routine are because I suffer from this same problem tremendously (even on medication).  

So I called the mental health side of our health insurance to see what I needed to do to have G see a therapist.  I see a psychiatrist for my OCD, and I have lived the benefits of therapy, so I thought maybe we should do this while we wait for January.  

Yesterday I spoke with a psychologist who will evaluate G this week.  She said the difficult part with doing specific psychological tests on a child his age is that she could give him one diagnosis based on those tests and then in a couple years, when he, his emotions and brain have changed, he could have an entirely different diagnosis.  I told her I really don't care what his diagnosis is; I just want tools to help him and us cope better with whatever it is that he is experiencing.  

The evaluation she will give him will be less time-consuming and costly.  Based on our discussion of G's behavior and difficulties over the phone, she said it sounds a lot like OCD. 

I asked her whether I should keep our appointment with our family medicine doc this week to get an order for OT.  She said when a child has sensory issues like G's, she does recommend OT, so we will proceed, and she will work with whomever does the OT to coordinate his care. 

I feel better having done all this until I start to question whether I'm just overreacting to G's behavior.  Am I making more of an issue than what it really is?  

But since May, I've had 2 different people ask me whether I've considered having G seen by a professional, either because of the sensory issues or because of the tantrums because things aren't "just right" for him.  And if his behavior (and/or my being upset as a result of his behavior) is bad enough that other people have questioned it, then maybe I'm not just making a mountain out of a molehill.

When I went through my breakdown episode in 2004 and thought I was going crazy, someone said to me, "If you suspect you are going crazy, you probably aren't."  I try to remember that when I have moments of "Am I engaging in Munchhausen by Proxy Syndrome? Am I making up G's stuff for attention to my own mental health?"  The fact that I'm worried about engaging in the behavior hopefully means I am not.  

My issues make it harder for me to handle G's issues, and I need help.  OCD is making it easier for me to find that help.  

Obsessive persistence.  It's a good thing.

Friday, December 13, 2013

If I made a Christmas list

I am the worst gift giver.  Whether I'm buying for myself or someone else, I always ask, "Do I (or they) really need this?"  Although this question is good for keeping one a minimalist, it makes for some really dull gifts.

Like socks.

(I am, however, a very awesome old person gift giver.  I get my husband's grandfather, who is 89, postage stamps, peanut butter and honey for Christmas.)

I generally think I'm an easy person for whom to buy gifts because virtually everything is a treat to me.  One of my students gave me Bath & Body Works hand soap.  Something that smells pepperminty and looks festive is a treat, especially since I reuse the same off-brand soap dispenser with whatever cheap antibacterial soap I can find.

If I were going to make a Christmas list this year, this is what I'd write on it:

1. House slippers that encase my foot.  I have some house slippers that N got for me for my 36th birthday (and in preparation of having M at the hospital and needing some slippers).  They do not have backs, and though I took dance lessons for like 8 years, I cannot manage to walk up and down steps in them.  I am forever tripping over these shoes.

2. Small tissue packets.  You know the kind you put in your purse?  I cannot seem to remember to buy these for myself when I am out.

3. Soap crayons.  There is something about the shower that makes me remember all sorts of stuff I need to do.  But as soon as the water is turned off and I pass through the shower doors, everything that was clear becomes a fog once again.  I keep a notepad at my desk, one on my bedside table, and one in my car, but I think I also need to be able to jot down ideas on the shower walls.  But this is sorta like small tissue packets---I either don't remember to purchase them (because I forgot after I walked out of the shower) or I feel like I shouldn't get them because they are kind of a luxury.

4. Long socks for winter.  The kind that I can pull up to my knees.  I now wear them to bed because my feet get so cold.

5. Any of the books on my goodreads list, but especially these two (preferably used)
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

If a person isn't unconscious after reading this, I think a sleep study is in order.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Crying "uncle"

Today I made the call.
In January, I'm going to have G evaluated for sensory processing disorder.

I kept thinking, "He doesn't do this at school.  He can hold it together."  He got all Os (outstandings) the first two grading periods.  I had contacted the school district in May about his sensory issues and my concern that they would impact his time in kindergarten, but I now know that they won't even look at him.  Why would they?  His grades are terrific, and his teachers adore him.

The problem is at home.  Maybe he is working so hard to keep his stuff together at school that he can't do it at home, where he knows we will always love him.  Maybe I'm the problem.....his tantrums that are excessive and come from out of nowhere set me on edge.  Though I try to remain calm, maybe he is picking up on my sensitivity to his sensitivity and that is making it worse.  If he is a "spirited" child, I think it is safe to assume it was me from whence this came.

It has come to the point where I simply can't handle it anymore so I'm doing the only thing I know how to do, and that is seek help.  Find someone who knows more than me, who can look objectively at G's personality and behavior, at my reactions to his personality and behavior.

I know my limitations and weaknesses.  I've done the work on myself....I know what sets me off, and I've learned to handle that.  With my medication and the tools I learned in CBT, it is still all I can do most days to handle my own stuff, to live within my own head comfortably.

When I have an out-of-control 6-year-old screaming about his back itching or whatever "thing" of the moment sets him off, I move into "fight or flight" mode.  I want to run or I want to hit him, and neither of those are good options.

He's got classic sensitivity issues----tags in clothes, seams in socks, must have shoes tightened to the point of bondage, food texture issues, loud noises, dark spaces.  But he's also emotionally intense and terrifically persistent.

I've read books, but I honestly feel like I need to carry books around with me to refer to them every time G slips into one of his fits.  As much as I hate it, I know I need support from someone who can either tell me G is fine, and I'm the problem, or G has problems, and I'm just making them worse.

It always feels like failure to know you can't do it on your own, but I have to remind myself over and over that asking for help is strength.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

More paint puttering and creativity

We play a gift-exchange game at my mom's side of the family's Christmas party, and I always, always have a terrible time coming up with something to buy.  I'm so darn practical....I get things like flashlights (since we have a $10 or so price cap---or at least I think this is still in place).

I dislike shopping even when I know exactly what the other person wants, so shopping for the purpose of a "game" and not knowing who will choose my gift is somewhat like torture.

This year, I decided to milk this spurt of creativity and give homemade, handmade gifts.  I have always liked receiving gifts that people have made with their hands. I have drawings and paintings my deceased uncle made in my house, as well as a handwoven basket my cousin made.  I have a wooden toilet paper duck stand that D's grandpa made, as well as a whirly-gig bird he made in the yard.  I treasure these things and will not part with them (although I may paint them or modify them a bit when they look worn or to make them "jive" with my color scheme).

Anyway, I don't necessarily expect whomever got these gifts to treasure them.  They are middling, at best.

But I'd rather someone share the act of creativity with me than have any more stuff I really don't need, so that is what I wanted to give someone else.

This is the painting I gave as a gift (below). 
I also included some candy so it wasn't a total wash for the receiver. 

I gave this bowl with candy in it. 

How much do we know our children?

Sometimes I read other bloggers' posts and think to myself, "Wow, he/she really seems to have a handle on who his/her children are."  I, on the other hand, rarely feel like I know who my children are.  When I blog their annual birthday letters, I often feel I'm grasping at straws, asking myself, "What can I say about N, G or M?"

Sometimes I think I'm just not paying attention.  Maybe I'm too distracted by life, laundry, food prep and other adult responsibilities?

But I've recently considered that maybe the reason I feel like I don't know who my children are is because they really don't talk to me about how they feel or what they think.  I know what they do, how they behave, so I can characterize them primarily in these terms.  There are all sorts of sayings about actions speaking louder than words, so I'm not suggesting that knowing them by their actions is a bad thing.  John Locke said, "I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts."

Knowing them by their actions, though, sometimes feels like not enough.

Often as a parent my greatest disconnect with my children is that I am a thinker (a deliberate and annoying over-thinker) who would like to discuss, while my children are doers who aren't interested in mining the great depths of.....anything.  It is their ages, in part.  Developmentally they aren't going to talk to me about things that I would talk about with my same-age peers.  It is also that I am mother, not friend or confidante.

What sparked this train of thought was looking back at Christmas photos I have posted up of the kids, particularly N, as a baby, toddler, preschooler and younger elementary child and feeling like I don't know who she is.  Maybe it is that I don't remember who she was at those younger ages, which makes me feel like I have lost the complete picture of her.  If I have forgotten her from back then, how can I possibly truly know her now?

I know this existential brooding is a little off-the-chain.  I probably know know my children better than I think I do (although when they act like demons at home and angels everywhere else it do make me wonder.)

N turns 10 next year, a milestone of wonder for her and near desperate bittersweetness for me and, perhaps, this is setting off my momentary feelings of "I've missed SO MUCH, and I was standing here the whole time!"

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Things for which I'm thankful

Yeah, I know November is over, but this morning I feel particularly thankful.  I don't know why, but I'm gonna hop on board and ride this wave.

These are in no particular order.

1. I'm thankful for my next-door neighbors, H and T.  Yesterday D and I dug a french tile trench on the side of our house nearest them.  It looks terrible and will until spring when 1. the tile does its job and keeps the ground from being a soggy mess and 2. we can till it and plant grass seed.  H and T's kitchen table looks out on this, but they are cool with it.  They understand the drudgery that is homeownership.

2. I'm thankful for the 2 years we had with our beloved piano teacher, I.  She will be moving across the country in the next month and having her first baby a short time after that.  N and I adore her, and though we are sad to see her go, I suspect that for both her and us, this is probably one of those "door closing, window opening" situations.

3. I'm thankful for my best friend's baby, C.  With my own nieces and nephews, they are all so close in age to my own children, I didn't really get to enjoy their babyhoods because I was too involved in my own children's babyhoods.  With Baby C, I get to snuggle and love on her and then leave.

4. I'm thankful for my new windows, which will be installed sometime this month.  As much as I hate the paying for them, I look forward to the chill being reduced, clear, non-foggy glass and no mildew/mold in the sill drains.

5. I'm thankful that this has been a mostly pleasant Thanksgiving break, and my children and husband haven't aggravated the shit out of me.

6. I'm thankful the weird nagging feeling of "you are ignoring your children" has left the premises.  For the longest time (and by this I mean years) I felt anxiety whenever I just left my kids to their own devices.  If I wasn't interacting with them like every second, I felt pinches of guilt.  It was unbearable.  At some point, when I wasn't even paying attention, I stopped feeling that sensation.

7. I'm thankful for daydreaming about vacation.  Usually I start the daydreaming in January, but this year it began in November.  With my part-time teaching job, we should be able to start going on vacation every year, and for that I'm thankful as well.  Our vacation this past summer to Edisto Island was magical. I think my family is hitting that sweet spot where vacations don't feel quite as cumbersome as they did when the kids were more babyish.

8. I'm thankful I've started going to church on an unscheduled, half-assed basis.  It has helped negate that vague longing to just sit in a church community which I carried with me for many years when I stopped attending the Catholic mass.  Although I am attending a Christian church and still have serious issues with Catholic dogma, I'm also thankful for the new Catholic pope, who is radical and kick-ass in a definitely more Jesus-like way.

9. I'm thankful to be teaching again, and I'm thankful that it is part-time.  It has rekindled my love of literature and my enthusiasm for instruction.

10. I'm thankful for consignment stores, which allow me to buy things for myself that are pretty darn nice without feeling guilty spending a small fortune on clothes.  I was able to snag some Cabi jeans for $20 last week.  For a frugal freak like me, that is like theft.

11. I'm thankful M likes to sing.  It brings me a tremendous amount of joy hearing him sing songs from preschool in his squeaky voice.  I savor ever song he sings that he has learned from his LeapFrog Scout dog.  It won't be but a couple years before that voice has matured, and those songs are a thing of the past.

12. I'm thankful N is such a sensitive soul.  She feels things deeply and loves hard.

13. I'm thankful G is so darn funny.  It helps minimize the urge to strangle him.  The other night in the car he was talking (sorta to himself because I'm not sure M was listening to him) about building houses.  He was talking about the bricks, and D and I heard him say "you put butter on the bricks with scrapers."

14. I'm thankful D and I can appreciate each other's humor.  Like with G, it helps reduce the likelihood that we will kill each other.

Of course, there are many other things I could say I'm thankful for, but I've always enjoyed trying to think of things outside the obvious box.