Saturday, August 30, 2014

The visceral pain of anxiety

I have just begun reading Huck's Raft:  A History of American Childhood.  I decided I needed to read this to have a better perspective on what childhood has really been like throughout time.    Too often I get sucked into the notion that I am not providing a "good enough" experience for my own kids.  I worry that they are playing too many videos games or not getting outside enough.

I'm a only a little bit into the text, still in the 1600s, but I am struck again, as I always am, by how much death was very much a large part of life.  A large percentage of children died before age five.  Diseases were neither understood nor particularly treatable.  Spirituality focused much more on the hereafter than on the here because, I suppose, the hereafter was going to be a much longer stretch of time.  It is hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that this is still the case in so many parts of the world.  I live such a sheltered life.

I think on this because last night I suffered a bout of panic that I was not expecting.  It hit me quickly and its full strength passed quickly, but I still feel sensations of it inside me.  The squeeze, the tightness gripping my chest and abdomen.  It is as if a tender bruise has been left in that space.

When that feeling hits, it is like a wind smacking one's chest.  A horrible Holy Spirit of terror seizes one's heart, and it takes minutes for the brain to understand what is going on.  For the brain to start thinking rational thoughts, to parse through all the irrational shreds of ideas that tear through one's mind.

N left this morning to go to the lake with her grandmother, my MIL.  She is spending the weekend with my MIL, my SIL, BIL and niece.  She has done this numerous times over the past few years.  I don't realistically think anything bad will happen.  If N was in peril of drowning or anything, my MIL would go down with her in the act of saving her, which wouldn't make me any less sad but I know my MIL is vigilant.  It is not who N is with or where she is.  It is that she isn't with me.

Perhaps my worry is based on the fact that N was sick this past week with a viral infection.  Two days home from school, and she is still sniffly.  My mind wanders, and I imagine her sniffling amoeba-contaminated lake water up her nose, developing a brain infection and dying.

Perhaps my panic is less about her than about the month-long struggle with M's ear, which we now know is fungal.  Per the ENT visit yesterday, his ear is looking better since Monday's visit, and we will continue on this Rx for 10 full days.  M still may require surgery to clean out, again, all the funk of this seemingly never-ending saga of ear crud.

Perhaps my panic is knowing that my children are slipping away from me.  My baby will be 5 in October, a fact that would make Puritan families rejoice.....that a child had survived that long.  A fact that makes my heart weepy.

When I hear of people discounting anxiety, depression and other mental issues, saying people who suffer under these aren't "strong enough," I wish I could make them feel the gripping pain of anxiety, that physical sensation of brief but intense panic.  It is more physical than the early stages of diabetes or other chronic disorders ever feel.

It feels utterly devastating and leaves a residue of sadness in its wake.  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Goings on of a spiritual / flaky religious person

I don't call myself a Catholic, and I don't call myself a Christian.

I haven't attended Catholic masses (other than a baptism or first communion) in close to 20 years so that label doesn't work anymore.  I've only been attending a Christian church for not quite two years so I don't feel comfortable applying that label either.  Plus, to be completely honest, whenever someone says they are a Christian my brain goes into neutral and I briefly lump them into the "potential-psycho-proselytizing-anti-gay-anti-science-talk-about-Jesus-constantly" category.  Then I get to know them and figure out that they aren't this way at all (or much).

The police engage in racial profiling, and I tend to religious profile, although attending a small Disciples of Christ congregation and teaching at a Christian cottage school have helped me do this less frequently than I used to.

In all honesty, I don't want a religious label of any kind, although I think the spiritual / flaky religious person idea from the title of this post works best for me.

Next month I will be trained to facilitate Worship & Wonder on Sundays with the children aged 3-8 in the church.  This is what the boys participate in when I take them to church.  It helps introduce them to God in a way that I am unable.  My introduction to God would go something like this:
"Boys, there is this big thing I don't understand.  Now you go try to understand it.  Good luck."

Ms. J at preschool (who also attends church) thought I'd make a great W&W person and told me so.  She has seen enough of me at preschool parties to know I like kids and have a way with them.   Having known me for 7 years she also probably knows I am a sucker for compliments and will gladly agree to nearly anything if someone tells me, "Oh you'd make a great such-and-such."

(This, however, will not work if PTA people do it to me.  I'm not falling for that.)

I think, though, that learning the W&W stories will help me in a way that a Bible study wouldn't.  I have zero interest in doing a Bible study.  Though I will discuss and analyze literature all the livelong day, I don't want to do it with the Bible.  I fear I would leave a Bible study group as I left Catholic masses when I was in my early twenties:  with a headache and extremely pissed off.

Of course, I didn't think I'd be taking my kids to church so time and feelings change, and I reserve the right to backtrack.

N has aged out of W&W so I am trying to figure out a way to keep her engaged since sitting in a pew can be so.effing.boring.  I listen happily to sermons as a 40-something, but I very much remember my years and years of attending Friday school Mass and Sunday Mass and sometimes Holy Day of Obligation Mass on a Saturday which meant I was at church for 3 days in a row, which I thought was tantamount to torture.  (And still might if someone made me do it as an adult.)  Sharing the tales of my childhood woe helps minimize the once a month or so that I drag her to church.

Last night G asked, in between dinner and dorking around on computer games, "How do you know if God is talking to you?"

This is what I both love and hate about this kid: he gives absolutely no warning that he is gonna slam me with some deep, existential, theological question.  I usually just sorta stare at him for a minute, going "Uhhhhh," until my brain clicks back into the on position.

Tonight's question after he told me what he did in PE today was "Will we really see God when we die and go to heaven?"  This kid is 6, so I cannot even begin to imagine what kinds of thinking he will do when he is 12.

Now my initial thought was, "Ahem, if you end up in heaven," but I kept that to myself.  I said, "Well, I assume we see God because I think that would be one of the benefits of being in heaven.  Actually getting to see God."  He said, "Well, I'm not sure."  And that was that.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Stories from little worriers

When G was a baby, he was a smiley, extremely happy boy.  Not especially fearful of noises or dogs or anything unexpected.

When he turned three, though, he seemed to change a bit.  Perhaps it was that his imagination started to work differently than it had before or maybe his genetic predisposition to anxiety clicked to the on position.   He started waking every night, needing to check in with me for whatever reason, a need and/or habit that continues to this day.  He has been clinically diagnosed with mild anxiety.  He is what I would call a "scaredy cat" most of the time.  I can say this because I was as a kid and still am a scaredy cat.

One day last week he told me about what happened when he was on the playground.  His school is in the middle of a neighborhood, and he noticed a policeman talking to an old man at one of the houses.  G said an ambulance was there too.

He said he thought the old man was telling the police officer that there was a criminal who escaped from jail.  G said the criminal had a bracelet on his wrist with a chain attached to a ball.  He explained that the criminal broke into the old man's house and started taking all his precious treasures, like his wife's picture and jewels.

G continued saying that the criminal stood above the old man when he was sleeping and hit him in the neck with the ball hanging from his wrist.

I asked G if the old man he saw talking to the police officer was in a wheelchair or had bandages on his neck (which one would expect assuming someone would even survive being bashed in the upper body by a ball & chain).  I was trying to figure out what exactly about this conversation between the two men would lead G to such vivid and unpleasant imaginings.
He said no.  No bloody bandages.  I don't even think the old man had a cane.
He said he just thought this is what they were talking about.

When I continued asking gentle questions G said he almost cried when he saw the men talking because he doesn't want other people to get hurt.

Who knows the truth?  It could be that the police officer was an EMT who stopped in his ambulance to visit his grandpa who lives near the school.

It is at once so sweet to know that G is concerned for others and sad that a 6-year-old kid gets himself upset because his anxiety runs away from him.  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

I'm a Seinfeld-ish person

The last television show I watched regularly was Seinfeld.  During the height of its popularity, I remember someone saying she didn't like the show because the characters were mean.

I never thought the characters were mean.  Odd....yes.  Pathetic......yes.  Hilarious.....yes.

Maybe I have a weird sense of what meanness is.  To me, meanness is intentionally trying to make someone else feel like a piece of crap, and I tend to think that most people are not mean.  People may make others feel like crap but for a whole range of other reasons, like distractedness, obtuseness or tiredness.  I try to be forgiving when someone seems mean because usually it has everything to do with something other than them intentionally trying to be an asshole to me.  Usually they are so obtuse or distracted or tired they don't even realize that they came across as mean.

I think sometimes people think I am mean, but I never intend to hurt someone else's feelings.  I always try to be civil and kind, but I also feel that I must be true to myself.  Maybe I read too much Walt Whitman in college?  I also try to be funny in my honesty because that generally tends to take the edge off.

If there is anything a person can trust in me it is that I am honest, but I am most honest about those things within the human character that no one likes to admit to.

Like the ALS Ice Challenge.  I hate it that people suffer with this disease.  I think if people dumping ice water on their heads raises money, then great!  I videotaped my neighbor and my daughter and didn't mind doing it.

But am I going to dump water on my own head?
Even if I'm challenged?
Still nope.
Am I going to write a check?
Nope on that too.
Even though I videotaped my neighbor and my kid did I read with a little bit of glee this blog post and share it?
Well, yes.
Mostly because it was so stinkin' honest.

And I'm not saying any of this because I'm mean.
I am honestly saying that I think ALS is a terrible disease and I'm glad people dumping water on their heads is helping raise awareness and/or money, but as with Harry Potter and Fifty Shades of Grey and everything else that becomes wildly popular and has everyone and their grandma on the bandwagon for days and days and days that feel as long as years, I am none too interested.

And when I think about George, Elaine, Jerry and Kramer, I think what made them funny (and not mean) is that they would jump on a bandwagon even if they really didn't want to, especially George, just to try to win someone over or make a good impression, but it always, always fell apart.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Preemptive empty-nest thoughts

No one would ever accuse me of procrastinating.  If I could get something done three days before I even realized it needed to be done, I would do it.

So it is no surprise that a full year before my youngest starts full-time school I am already reflecting on and missing what will have been my 11-and-half years as a stay-at-home mom.

This past weekend, in an effort to make more room for new photographs, I began going through our cache of photos on the computer, deleting blurred ones or those in which someone's eyes are closed.

My entire life of the last decade is in these pictures.

Every pregnancy, every birth.
Every MOMS Club event.
Every preschool party.
Photos of N and G playing in the rain with their umbrellas and boots before all the construction was done near our house that eliminated all those fine puddles.
Photos of family walks with the kids decked out in their ball caps and sunglasses.
Photos of visits to a local nature preserve, hiking through its trails, petting the horses, flying kites.
Photos of sledding and snowmen and visits with grandparents.
Photos of babies asleep in their high chairs.
Photos of first smiles, first crawls, first walks.
And I have been here for it all.
I have seen every milestone first-hand.
I have missed nothing.

I don't know if that matters to my children.  They probably take it for granted because I have been around for it all.  Having mom near is just no big thing.  It is the way it has always been.

But it matters to me.  It fills my heart to the tip of its brim to have all these wonderful memories, to have written down all the sweet sayings and milestones and moments in the journals I keep.  To have photos of so many random days, so many simple activities that weren't trips or outings or anything monumental.

It is the best thing I have ever, ever done and will ever, ever do.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The ear saga continues

I had blogged two weeks or so ago about M's surgery.  He did fine.

After a phone call and email from me, and then another email from D directly to his HR people, we discovered that the children's medical center, which we were told by the insurance company is not in network, is not only in-network, it is the 1st tier so we shouldn't be looking at an outrageous amount of money since we've met our family deductible.

Which is fortunate because it seems our health-care dollars are going to be used for awhile longer on this ear situation.

When I took M a week ago for his post-op appointment he still had infection in the ear.  The ENT said it wasn't much pus and mucus, but it wasn't dry and clear like he wanted it to be.  So he said to do the ear drops (different from the ones we've always used before following surgery) for 10 days instead of 7 and to pick up an oral antibiotic.  And to come back in two weeks for another check.  Dr. B said he was going to keep close tabs on M until this whole thing is good and gone.

Friday was the last night for drops, and his ear is still draining.  He has been on Bactrim since Monday.  Dr. B said if this doesn't do it then we'll have to do ear flushing with boric acid or some such thing, but at the point he told me there was still infection I went directly and without stopping at Go to collect by $200 into panic mode, similar to what I had been in during vacation in Florida.  Anticipating the worst....more surgeries, likelihood of deafness, potential for death.

You know, typical Carrie thinking.

I decided to go ahead and get M tested for allergies, which we'll do this coming Friday.  Four sets of ear tubes in four years, plus adenoid and tonsil removal, and he is STILL having problems.  As much as I hate the idea of allergy testing and shots, I'm also ready to see if that might get us out of our family groove of a surgery every.single.year.  

M is most certainly his mother's son when it comes to Eustachian tube disfunction.  As a kid, I had at least 3 sets of tubes, surgery to repair a perforated ear drum, and allergy shorts for ten years.  As an adult, I think I've been on shots now for almost 15 years.

Of course, while I'm wrangling with all this, stewing with mother worry, I visited with a mom friend who had moved to DC but is now back in my area.  Her toddler has had pneumonia about 3 times since December, had brain surgery, and is believed to have a mitochondrial disease that could put his life expectancy at around 15 years of age.  Oh, and her husband is stationed in a tiny corner of the world.

Hearing about her son's medical issues certainly gave me pause and made me feel thankful that M is as healthy as he is, but I had to stop myself when that voice started to suggest I shouldn't worry, that my problems aren't really real or significant or bad enough to let them bother me.  That I had no right to feel worried because on the continuum of problems mine are minor.

I had to shut the voice down.

I had to remind the voice that my children's illnesses, however minor, are still worrisome to me because they are my children.  That while M is dealing with this ear thing, I've also been dealing with G, his OT, therapist visits and sensory problems and paying for those.   That I have my own underlying anxiety issues that make every stress feel more stressful.  That I feel what I feel.  That other people having it worse doesn't negate my own experience.

That hearing about my friend's son doesn't mean I need to add guilt to my list of feelings of the moment.

That it can offer me perspective.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Terminal depression

There are a many things I hope my kids never get, like Ebola or your run-of-the-mill STD.
But the two things I really, really, REALLY hope they never get are childhood cancer and terminal depression.
Those two diseases are life-threatening, not always easily treatable, and likely to manifest themselves over and over during the course of a child's life.

There is a pretty good chance my kids will never get cancer (at least as children).
Or Ebola.
Or an STD.
But their chances of getting depression are pretty high, especially since their mother has a diagnosed mental health condition, and there have been other episodes of depression (or depressive tendencies) among family members.

I've never been clinically diagnosed with depression, although I suffered from it during my days of untreated anxiety.  Comorbidity is not uncommon when it comes to lots of diseases, including mental illness.  

It is not pleasant to remember those dark days, but I can't help but remember when I went to breakfast with friends when I was being treated, but the medication hadn't reached its full effectiveness yet.  I was more or less non-responsive.  Nothing was funny or enjoyable.  My usual jovial, chatty self wasn't there.  I felt like a shell of a person.

And unlike Robin Williams, I was not a good enough actor to convince people otherwise. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Sanibel and surgery

It's funny.
I will talk freely about my antidepressant use and sex and all the realities of parenthood, things that most people generally feel is an invasion of their privacy.
What I feel is an invasion of privacy is for people to be able to track my comings and goings.
Which is why I've been quiet on here.
Also, my children don't give me a single moment's peace in the summer.

We were headed to Sanibel Island, FL at the end of July for a week's vacation, although anyone with young kids knows that what vacation really means is doing almost all the same tiring, monotonous parenting stuff except in a different location.

Still a different location can be refreshing in and of itself, except when your 4-year-old's ear starts draining the morning you are supposed to drive off.

The boys have had numerous sets of tubes so I know the drill.  After two treatments with Ciprodex, their ears have always stopped oozing.

Not this time.  M's ears drained to the extent that I was embarrassed to have the hotel staff see his sheets (big wads of cotton ball in his ear didn't hinder the flow of funk).

They drained so much I took him to a clinic in Florida to get checked out the Monday after we arrived.
They drained so much I called the ENT at home to schedule an appointment upon our return.
They drained so much I wondered whether and worried that he would require yet another surgery to deal with the infection.

Two days ago, on Tuesday, we saw the ENT.  Dr. Brown has always been very laid-back, of the conservative, "I'm ok with waiting and seeing" variety.
On Tuesday, he said, "We need to deal with this infection this week, like tomorrow."
When Dr. Brown, or any physician, is concerned enough to want surgery the following day, any one in her right mind (which I may or may not be) also gets concerned.

But this meant going to a facility that was not in network and where apparently no one knows the "price" of ear tube surgery.
So aside from my concern over my son and his ear and the risks of surgery (however slight), I also have the concern of him having surgery and not having any f*cking clue as to what it will cost us.  Health care is absolutely insane, but that is a post for another time.

So my "vacation," though fun and memorable, was not in the least even remotely relaxing.
And my return to real life was considerably more stressful than it might have been.
And this is the last week before school begins which means I have listened to my kids fight enough and, under the most perfect of circumstances, would have zero tolerance for listening to them anymore.

I found that on the trip I obsessed about the manatees that swam in a canal near our condo.  It gave me something else to focus on besides the ear, I suppose.