Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Year of Healing

My version of New Year's resolutions is One Word.  I choose one word to direct my coming year.  It's a from-the-gut choice.  I toss and turn it over in my head and heart for days or weeks, working with God to choose what I need for that year.  I've been doing it for a few years now, and it never ceases to amaze me how my year looks in retrospect wrapped in that word.

My word for 2015 was HEAL.  I went into the year not knowing how that would play out.  In most cases, I just tucked that word away in my heart and went about my life.  But once in a while something would happen and I'd notice it.  I'd notice it was an element of healing.  I was healing.

I just went back and re-read my post from the beginning of the year, when I chose this word.  I read through the list.  And I noticed things, areas of healing that had happened, that I hadn't noticed before.  I'm so grateful for that.

But, truly, the biggest change has been my body.

I've got health issues.  Nothing major, just enough to keep me from being and doing what I want.  Enough to force me to see other ways of being.  Others ways to be of value.

I started the year off very unhappy with my body.  With its size and shape.  With its open rebellion against me.  With its struggle to control me, to make me submit to its whims.  Honestly, I was frustrated that I even had to have a body, because I felt it limited me in so many ways.

But things changed.

I don't remember exactly how or when it happened.  It might have started last year.  In fact, I think it did.  Last November I decided I wanted to add some color to my hair.  Not regular color.  Purple.  And early in December, I did.  I got about six inches of the bottom of my hair bleached and dyed bright purple.  Much brighter than I'd anticipated.  And more inches than I'd planned.  (Due to my own miscommunication with my fabulous hairdresser.)  All of a sudden my hair was troll doll purple.  My Little Pony purple.  No longer subtle at all!

I'd spent years hiding in plain sight.  Trying to be subtly present in the room.  Mostly because I was very unhappy with the weight I'd gained and the way I looked.  I felt miserable and it showed.

I loved having bright hair!  It gave me such a lift.  But I wasn't prepared for how others would react to it.  Suddenly, when I walked into a room, there was no question people would be looking at me.  It often made me uncomfortable.  But I have always tried to stand behind my decisions, even if they don't seem to make any sense to anyone else.  I've tried to live by the principle that I shouldn't make any decision, take any action, that I wouldn't be okay if it were exposed to the world.  Stand behind my choices - that's me!

So I decided to embrace it.  I decided to embrace me.  I shared photos of my hair on Facebook.  It was fun seeing how it faded and sharing that, too.  But I hated pictures of my face, so it was tricky to share my hair unless I had someone else take pictures from behind.  I have lots of picture of the back and sides of my hair, with my head leaning so that my hair fell mostly in front of my face.  Because I didn't like my fat face.

Again, I don't know the exact day it happened, but I decided to stop hiding from pictures.  I decided to allow pictures of myself, even some I didn't like, to be seen.  I decided the picture was just a moment.  Even if I didn't like how I looked in that moment, I liked who I was.  And I wanted to remember that moment and have evidence of my presence.

And in the midst of this, there were other changes happening.  I was healing in other ways.  Invisible, inside ways.

In February I heard the words that changed me forever.  In February I found the key that turned off the self-harm switch inside me.  I February I gave up self-harm for good.  Something I knew I was supposed to heal, needed to heal, but didn't want to heal.  I trusted.  I was healed.

This year I came to a healthier relationship with my dad.  I found my footing.  Mostly through taking care of my mom together, he and I have found a new respect for each other.  A new gratitude for each other.  Healing

I've come to a much healthier place with my mom as well.  As she's changing, as her world is changing, I'm finding my footing there as well.  It's been a tough slog.  It's going to get tougher still.  But I understand and accept it better now.  And that helps.  I feel less burdened and more compassionate.  And I feel love toward her.  The kind of love that's been missing for a while.  A healing love.  I'm grateful for that.

But the most noticeable healing I've experienced has been physical.  At the beginning of the year, I was a slug.  I could move and get things done, but everything exhausted me.  Everything was a huge burden.  I'd do what needed to be done and head straight back to bed.  I was so tired and miserable and uncomfortable in my own body.

Again, I don't remember exactly when it happened.  But I know it started before my physical.  As I was approaching my physical, I was evaluating things and had decided I wanted to get off one of the medications I was on.  And, dang it, I wanted to talk to my doctor about losing weight.  My body wanted to move.

Now that I think about it, I think that was how it started.  My body ached.  I lay in my bed aching, and I knew it was because my body wanted to move.  And my brain wanted my body to move.  But I was so exhausted.  Completely depleted.  I had nothing more to push my body with.  Gravity was pulling so hard.

But I wanted to move.

So at my physical, I talked to my doctor.  We made a couple of medication changes.  And I made a plan.  Eat better.  Move.  That was the gist of it.  And that's what I did.  I changed how and what I ate.  And I started walking.

Since then I've walked three 5ks; I ran a little in the last one.  I've injured myself (plantar fasciitis and shin splints), because I pushed too hard too fast.  (Hopefully, I've learned something and will do better now.)  I added bodyweight exercises.  I did some yoga.  I've done some Just Dance.  A little of this, a little of that.  I shared it all on Facebook, to keep myself accountable.  Exercise is now something that's a part of my life.  Part of who I am.  Part of who I want to be.  I want to be a runner!

And, let me just tell you, those are words I never thought I'd say.  I had no intention of running.  I started out walking.  I walked and walked.  Miles and miles.  (Which in and of itself was amazing to me and everyone around me.)  It was in my last 5k, the one where I pushed my body too far and it rebelled.  The one where I ran some.

Hurting.  Crying.  My body ached.  But not because of the injury.  My body ached to run.  I ached to run.  Weird.

I'm still working toward that.  It's a two steps forward, one step back thing.  My body doesn't recover like it used to.  I can't just decide I'm going to go push it for hours and hours and not pay for it like I could in high school.  These days, the cost of pushing is a bit higher.  But not too high.  Not so high that it's not worth it.  And if I pace myself instead of diving off the cliff, which is my inclination, I can do it.  Baby steps.  I'm working on that.

Since May I've lost 33 pounds.  I've gone down a pant size.  I've lost inches here and there.  My face has thinned.  And all of that's great.  But it's not what's most important.

I feel like I've found me.  Like my body and I are working together again.  I've proven I can do this.  I'm not at complete peace about my body all the time, but I'm doing so much better.  I'm so much happier.  I feel more whole.

Like each year in the past, I will carry this word forward with me.  It will remain in my heart.  It will continue to drive me in ways I won't notice until I look back.

And I'm so excited to share my word for 2016!  But that'll be tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Land of Irritation or Depleted or Something Else

You bug me.  Yes, you.  Whoever you are.  If you're reading this, you bug me.  And so does everyone who's not reading this.

Right now almost everyone and everything irritates me.  A lot.  And I don't know why.

I'm severely limiting my social interactions, digitally and in real life.  Because I can't keep up the facade.

I can't pretend the things you're saying or doing or wearing or eating aren't making me crazy.  It takes so much energy to be polite and smile when I really just want to go off on a diatribe about how ridiculous I find you.

I absolutely know how self-centered this sounds (because it is).  I understand how un-Christlike this sounds (because it is).  I get it.  And in my heart of hearts I don't feel this way.

But in my nerves I do.  I don't want to.  I'm working on it.  But right now I do.

And my isolation is for both of us.

I'm certain my facade will eventually break down when we're together, and I'll tell you how whiny I think you are.  I'll tell you to quit complaining and either do something about it or just shut up.  Which will hurt you.

Which will hurt me.  Because I will feel your hurt and carry the weight of that in my heart and on my back.  And I just don't have that strength right now.

I think part of the reason everyone and everything is bothering me is because I feel like it's my job to fix all the problems.  All of them.  All of them in the world.

I know it's not.  In my head.  But in my heart I feel differently.  Accountable.  Responsible.  At fault.

And I want the world perfect.  I want the world to be the way I want it.  That includes the people and their behavior.  And if I'm accountable, at fault, then it's my job to fix it.

But it isn't.  And people get very irritated when I try.  (As well they should.)

So I'm just going to pull back and give myself some space to get through this.  It's kind of like taking my ball and going home because you won't play what I want to play, only a bit more mature (I hope).  You can keep the ball.  I'm just going home.

Monday, August 31, 2015

It's Time to Write

It's time to write.
It's time to write.
It's time to write.

I've told myself that so many times over the last few months.  And, yet, still I haven't.


I'm not sure.  I have lots to say, but I just can't make myself write.  I even know how I want to say the things in my head.  I just can't make myself do it.

Maybe it's because the things I plan to write aren't the things I need to write.  My heart isn't exploding with the ideas.

In fact, I'm sure that's what it is.  It's amazing how things can become so clear when I just start writing.

See.  I was right.  It was time to write.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What I Learned From My First 5k

Let me start by saying I walked the 5k.  Let me follow that up by saying I was doing almost nothing physical before that.

Some of you will remember my last post, the one where I owned my weight (216 lbs.) and said I was ready to do something to change it.

I went to the doctor on May 18th and talked to him about my weight.  I wrote about it on May 20th.  And May 23rd I walked a 5k.  My first ever.

Was it wise to go from almost no activity to a 5k?  Maybe not.  I was hurting a lot afterward.  But I honestly think it was the best way for me.

Why did I do it?  Let me explain.

First, I was motivated by my weight (ugh!).  Second, I had a bit of a rush from knowing some of the meds I was on were likely making me gain weight and I was getting off almost all of them.  (Seriously, being able to blame the meds was a nice lift.)  Third, the last two years we've walked in the Chiari Walk Across America (because my daughter has a Chiari I malformation), and I had walked over two miles both times, and a 5k is 3.1 miles.  So I was pretty sure I could do it, even if I had to take it very slow.  But the biggest reason is because I wanted to so bad!

This 5k was in honor of the daughter of a couple I went to high school with.  She died in an accident when she was just 15 months old.  Her name is Elle and this was the Live wElle 5k.  I'd known about it for three or four years.  I'd wanted to participate in it ever since I heard about it, but I knew I couldn't.  I knew I wasn't ready.  This time I was.  And the title seemed to indicate it was the right one to start with.  I am trying to live well!

It was amazing!

But it was also hard.  And I learned a lot.

Before the race, with three of my kids.
That's me on the right, with the dark blue jacket and gloves.  It was very cold.  I was also wearing my yoga pants (because you have to wear comfortable pants, right?).  I wore my hair down for warmth, and curled it because I knew I'd see people I know there and didn't want to be hideous.  I brought a clip to pull it up as I warmed up.  I figured I'd just tie my jacket around my waist as it got warmer.

Me at the end of the race.
That's me on the left at the end of the race.  That was the only time I jogged, and it was because we were near the finish line.  You have to run across the finish line, right?  Oh, by the way, it's tough to run (or jog) when your feet and legs are numb.  Just sayin'.

Let me tell you what's wrong with this picture.  No matter how cold it is when the race starts - NO JACKET!  Seriously.  I found out I hated walking with something around my waist.  A few blocks is one thing.  Three miles is quite another.  And my clip kept slipping.  Seriously, pull that dang hair up in a ponytail.  No one cares what you look like.  No one.  And don't wear boot cut yoga pants.  Or a t-shirt of material you don't like, even if it's the race shirt.  Or heavy tennis shoes.  (Okay, those were the only tennis shoes I owned, so I really didn't have many other options.)

I was really excited.  I was totally stoked!  I knew I was going to rock this thing.  And then, two blocks after I started, this thought went through my mind, "What the hell have I done?"

Two blocks in.  And I've still got over three miles to go.  There's no way on this earth I'm going to be able to finish.  But, dang it, I spent money on this.  And I want to do this for my friends.  And, seriously, how humiliating would it be to have to be rescued?  So I kept going.

That first mile I thought I was going to die!  Probably not literally, but I thought I might pass out and have to be tended to.  Even though I was being careful and going at my own pace.

But guess what.  I didn't die.  After about a mile, my legs went numb.  And things got easier after that.  When you can't feel your legs and feet, they don't hurt.  Plus, passing that one mile sign is awesome!  Not nearly as awesome as the halfway sign, but still awesome.

Once I hit the halfway point I stepped up my pace.  I was feeling pretty good now.  And, gosh darn it, I was pretty sure I could pass some of those people right in front of me.  I went into the race planning to just walk my speed.  What was comfortable.  Not compete with anyone.  But since I'd paced myself well in the beginning, I had a bit more to give in the second half.  And I could see others slowing down.  And it's just possible my competitive side kicked in.

I picked up my pace and passed many people.  That was cool!

I ended up finishing in 53 minutes and 38.1 seconds.  I was thrilled to have done it under an hour.  Yay me!

And two weeks later I did another one.  This time I finished in 48 minutes and 43 seconds.  I took almost 5 minutes off my time!  Yay me again!

And this is what I wore for that race.

Much better clothing choices.
New, lighter shoes.  A lot less clothing.  Boy, was that a more enjoyable race!

But the most important thing I learned from that first 5k?  I learned I could do it!

We did it!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

No More Weighting

Let me start by saying I know how difficult this topic can be.  I know there are many psychological hot buttons involved here.  I know many of us are struggling, many struggling more than me.  Please know that when I am saying something negative and judgmental here it isn't about you.  It has nothing to do with how I perceive you.  It's all about me and how I feel about myself.  I hope that makes sense.  Now here we go.


"Are you freaking kidding me?!"  That's what I thought when I looked at the scale.  I had my annual physical a few days ago.  We all know what that dreaded first assessment is going to be.  "Can I get you to step up here?" the 20-something, size 2 nurse asks me.  She was sweet and kind and just doing her job, but I really want to turn to her and say, "Do I look like someone who wants to step on a scale?"

But I did, because we do.  And I felt like I'd been punched in the gut.

And to follow that up, when my blood test results came back they showed quite a spike in my cholesterol levels.

And I'm not okay with that.

I'm not sure whether it was the weight or the cholesterol, but now I want to do something about it.  Really do something.

So here it is.  - deep breath - 

I weighed in at 216 pounds.  I am 5'4".  I'm just going to let that sit there for a minute while it sinks in.  While I get comfortable with owning my self.  216 pounds.

I'm not comfortable with it.  Not at all.

I've seen lots of people, mostly women, blog about weight loss and openly share their weight.  I swore I would never do that.  Funny thing.  Now that the decision is made to move in a healthier direction, I can say it.

For years I've told myself I wasn't sensitive about my weight.  I knew I was getting heavier, but I was still able to do most of the things I could before, so how bad could it be?  My skin never felt flabby.  (Yeah, it never does.  It grows with the enlarging mass growing under it.  Duh.)  There was always someone larger than me.  That helped, although it shouldn't have.  It really had nothing to do with me.

But it did bother me.  I'd say it was about being healthy, not about how I looked.  Bull!  What a lie.  One of those self-deception things that helped me get through a situation I felt powerless against.

It was bothering me before I went to the doctor.  I addressed it with him as part of my physical.  "I used to have no appetite and could easily go 24 hours without eating (not healthy).  But now I'm hungry all the time.  I'm more physically active than I've been in a long time, but I'm still gaining weight.  Could it be menopause?"  (I had a full hysterectomy last year.  So even though I'm only 45, I'm in full-blown menopause.)

He told me two of the medications I am currently taking cause weight gain.  Wonderful. :(  Actually, I liked when he said that because it gave me a bit of deniability.  "I would totally be losing weight if I weren't on these meds.  It's the meds' fault."  And that's probably partly true.  But not entirely by a long shot.

I'm getting off one of the meds, for other reasons, and cutting the other one by half.  Finger crossed this helps.  And with my new thyroid medication and the Lamictal I have more energy that I have in years.  (Not a lot, but enough to feel like a tired human instead of a rock.)

This is it.  This is the time.  It's only going to get harder if I wait.  And I'm sick of hiding from friends and from pictures.

There are people I used to work with that I avoid seeing, even though I like them and would love to see them again, because I don't want them to see how much weight I've gained.  And I've hidden from pictures for years now.  There are way fewer pictures of me for posterity than there should be.

Because I'm embarrassed.  There.  I said it.  I'm embarrassed about how I look.  I want to say I'm not.  I want to not care about what others think of me.  But I am.  And I do.

A basic history:
  * Other than being shorter than most people, I was never really petite.
  * In high school (which was the first time I remember even knowing what I weighed) I weighed 140 pounds and wore size 8 jeans.  I was not skinny by high school standards.  There were so many girls around me who were just tiny.  Thin little things.  I was absolutely not that.  I knew I wasn't that but wanted to be.  I developed substantial hips at 14.  I have thoroughbred thighs that run in my family.  I was not tiny.  But when I look back at those photos now I realize how small I really was.  Go figure.
  * I only gained 20-25 pounds with each baby (5).  With my first, I lost the weight quickly and even dropped some extra.  I was very active.  I dropped to 130 pounds and a size 6.  That was the happiest I'd ever been about my weight and how I looked.
  * After each following baby, I kept about ten pounds.
  * In the spring of 2001, when I weighed about 180 pounds and my baby was almost three, the world feel out from under my feet.  By June I was in bed.  All the time.  For the next year and a half.  I was able to function just enough to keep my children alive.  I would lie on the couch and watch videos with them or watch them play.  I would talk my oldest daughter (10) through getting them food.  At night I had a tiny amount of energy and would put together sandwich bags of food for the next day.  Cheese slices.  Carrots.  Crackers.  My attempt at taking care of my kids.  Because that was seriously all I could do.  I couldn't move.  I was so tired it made me cry.  And giving up all the things I did, all the volunteering at their schools and coaching of their teams and taking them to the park - all gone.  I never got a definitive answer about what was wrong, it just gradually got better.  But I've never felt well again since.  I go through times when I can function better than others.  And I go through times when I'm flat in bed.
  * I have no idea how much I weighed in between that time and the next time.  We didn't own a scale.  We still don't.
  * In 2010 I wrote "A Weighty Issue," a blog post about being unhappy with my weight but not ready to really do anything about it.  It really shook me today when I looked back at that and realized it took five years for me to be ready.  I honestly don't remember what I weighed then except that I'd probably just broken 200 pounds.  I'd sworn to myself I'd never let myself hit 200, but I did.  And it devastated me for a few days.  But I shook it off, blamed it on still not feeling well, and moved on.  Seriously, if you can barely get out of bed, how could you be expected to exercise?
  * In 2012 I went to my psychiatrist for the first time.  She asked what I weighed.  I said about 200 pounds, which was hard enough to say.  But it wasn't even true.  Because I had just recently had a physical and the scale said 206.  Stupid scale.  But I wrote some of that off as premenstrual water retention.  You know what I mean; right, ladies?
  * And now, three years later, I weigh 216 pounds and wear size 16 jeans.  Like I said, I had a hysterectomy.  So the excuse of premenstrual water retention is off the table.  I am finally able to move enough to clean my house and function almost like a real human being.  And I know how to do it.  I really have no excuses anymore.  (Well, I still have some flat in bed moments.  But I could work out on the other days.  Which I don't.)

So here's my action plan.  Eat better.  Move.  That's it.  It's more defined in my head, but that's the gist of it.

I don't intend for my blog to suddenly become a weight loss blog.  I may or may not report as things progress (because they will progress, dang it!).  And I don't have a before shot of my body.  Honestly, my fat body hasn't been what's bothered me most or kept me from being in pictures.

It's my fat face.

You can hide your body behind other people, but if you hide your face there's really no reason to be in a photo.  And I've got a big head - like 7 3/8 big.  So when I'm in a photo with other people, my head dwarfs theirs.  I look like Andre the giant.  That was even true before I got so fat.  (Luckily, my husband's head is even bigger than mine.  Thanks, honey.)

But I'm ready to own it.  I'm ready to move on.  And in order to move on, I have to acknowledge where I came from.  So here are some of those photos.  (Sorry I don't have better photos.  Not only do I hide from the camera, but I also haven't digitized many.)

My wedding day - 1990, 25 years ago.  This is the oldest digital photo I had of myself that you could see my face in.  This was two years after I graduated.  I think my face looks pretty good here.
Five kids later - probably early 1999, 16 years ago.  I'm not thrilled with my look here.  My hair is pulled up in my "softball/cleaning" ponytail; not super flattering.  But there's no double chin yet.
I'm guessing this is about five or so years later - let's say 1994, 11 years ago.  See how I'm throwing my head back.  At this point I'd started to notice a double chin in photos and was trying to avoid that.
2009 - 6 years ago.  My daughters are super cute, but that's about the only thing I like about this photo.  See how I'm hiding behind them?  Still trying to tip my head up and back a little?  See those flabby arms?  See that double chin?  Yeah, not cool.  But I got in the photo.  For that, I'm proud of myself.
2011 - 5 years ago.  By this time I'd decided I needed to start being in some of the photos.  I'd also learned that being cheesy in a photo made it less bothersome when I didn't look great.  Okay, I look kind of like a drowned rat here because of the rain, but also notice how round my face has gotten.
2012 - 4 years ago.  This is a photo I both love and hate.  It's a picture of me teaching at church, which is something I absolutely love to do.  It was a wonderful time in my life and I'm glad I have a record of it.  But, seriously, can you believe how fat my face is?  How fat I am?  Oh, my heck!  I about cried when I saw it.
2013 - 2 years ago.  Hiding behind someone again.  Tilting my head away and back a bit to try to hide that double chin.  Failing miserably - Ugh.  That double chin.
2014 - last year.  I'm kind of proud of myself for just letting the shot happen.  I'm not hiding or tilting my head back.  I've come a long way toward acceptance of my true body size by this time.  But, oh, how huge my head is.
2015 - last week.  This is me now.  I voluntarily took a photo of my face and put it on facebook.  I own it.  This is me.  I'm a fat girl.
I'm ready to move forward.  No, I don't want your help.  Yes, I'd love your support.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Talk with My Dad

Open, honest, heartfelt communication has never been a thing in my family.  Especially with my dad.  He's always been very honest and direct, but never touchy-feely.  When I was young, he was emotionally abusive and I was very scared of him.  There are times even now when I am scared of how he will react to something and am not truthful with him because of it.  He's 72 and I'm 45.  I thought I'd be over that by now, especially with nearly ten years of therapy off and on.

All of that is so you'll understand what a big deal this story is.  My dad is my mom's primary caregiver.  I'm her secondary caregiver.  She isn't currently diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's, but we've been helping her care for herself for about five years now.

The other day I was finally able to sit with my dad and have an open, honest, heartfelt discussion about how my mom is really doing!  I'm so proud of myself for that.  It was very difficult, but I did it.  For me!  Because I needed it.

I worried that he didn't think she was as bad as I do (and everyone else does).  I worried that he still thought if she could just get off all the meds she takes she'd be okay.

But that's not the case.  He did not flinch when I said I thought she was in the early stages of dementia.  (Trust me, if he disagreed with me he would have said so and probably told me I was stupid to think so.)  He is an old cowboy and really doesn't get stressed.  He just rolls with things.  He suggested the best way to deal with the situation is to just take it as it is and not be sad about it.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could do that like him?

The last time he left town (for a much needed respite, a golf tournament with my brother, which I fully supported), things were the worst they've ever been with my mom.  My adult daughters were supposed to stay with her and take care of her.  (Before that week, all that would have meant was driving her around, helping her get food, and maybe doing some laundry or shopping for her.)  But she was in severe pain, needed an MRI (which I took her to) - which made her pain worse because of the way the technician adjusted her, and tried pain pill after pain pill to get some relief while waiting for her appointment for an epidural injection.  Her anxiety was through the roof.  Because things got so bad, my girls were not enough.  She needed me, like a scared toddler needs her mom.  She was clingy and scared.  All of a sudden I needed to be with her 24-hours a day, including having her take over my bedroom and sleep in my bed because she emotionally couldn't go home (she has some PTSD issues with that house which flare when she's bad).  It was a horrible week that broke me time and time again.

Because of our lack of open communication, I never told my dad how hard it was on me.  But someone did, because during our open conversation I could tell he knew and is doing what he can to not leave her again.

I was able to tell him, very honestly, that I think I could do it without it being nearly so bad now.  My perspective has shifted.  First off, it wouldn't hit me out of the blue.  Now, if he has to leave town and leaves one of my daughters in charge, I will schedule my life knowing I might have to take over at any time (including always having a bag packed, ready to stay with her for a couple of days at the drop of a hat).  But most importantly, I've learned to see the things she does as the illness, not her.  She isn't the one making my life hell, the illness is.  She isn't the one yelling at me, the illness is.  She isn't the one refusing to cooperate and follow through on the things she said she wanted to do that I worked so hard to make happen, the illness is.  That really helps.

Thinking of myself as her caretaker has changed things.  Choosing to be her caretaker, because she's my mom and I want to help, has made all the difference.

She may not ever be diagnosed, as long as my dad is alive and fully able to care for her.  He said he doesn't see any point in it.  He doesn't want to know what's coming; he'd rather just face it when it does.  Why spend more time worrying?  I'm a planner.  I would like to know what's coming so I can be ready.  But I can honor how he feels.  All the testing would be so hard on her.  She really struggles when she has to have any kind of testing done or make it to doctor's appointments.  And I understand what he's saying about just living where we are in the present moment.

So he can stay there, and I'll do my research.  I've joined a group on Facebook for people with dementia and/or caregivers of those with dementia.   This group is about information and support.  Mostly support.  And sharing their stories, which help me and others find possible solutions for those moments that leave us frantic.  And answering questions of those who are now where they've already been.  I read what they write and try to remember it for the future.  I can see so much of what they say in my mom.  This group has already helped me so much.  They strengthen me through the dark times.  It helps to understand more what it is.  It helps to see some of what may be coming.  It helps to hear them speak with concern for their loved ones when I'm just feeling put upon.  But mostly, it helps to know I'm not alone.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How Am I Doing On My New Medication?

I was diagnosed with Bipolar II on October 30, 2014.  Within a week I was on a mood stabilizer.  My primary reason for this post is to examine how that's working for me. 

However, that's not the only major change recently, so I offer this background on my health and meds.  While I have no way of knowing for sure what treatment caused what effect, my gut tells me.  So I will tell you what my gut says (knowing I could be completely incorrect).

Each morning I take:
  • A multivitamin for women over fifty - even though I am forty-five, because the complete hysterectomy and oophorectomy I had last year put me into instant menopause
  • Vitamin D - because I don't get nearly enough sunshine and it can help with depression, especially during the winter (which it feels like we didn't even have here in Utah, oh well)
  • Estrogen - because I am in menopause an estimated ten years early and my doctor wants to protect my bones and I don't like the idea of breaking a hip when I fall
  • Gabapentin - which is often prescribed for anxiety, but that's not why I take it; sometimes my skin hurts for no reason, and gabapentin can help with neuropathic pain; I've been on it since April of 2014, I think;  does it work?  I'm not sure; my skin was hurting a lot over the last week; it feels like a first degree burn, but there is no discoloration and I haven't been burned; I'm going to talk to the doctor about getting off this one at my next physical
  • Lamictal - the mood stabilizer I've been on since the first week of November, 2014; the reason for this post
Each afternoon I take:
  • Gabapentin
  • Vitamin D
  • Omeprazole - a proton pump inhibitor that I take for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); otherwise I often have stomach acid that comes up my throat and makes it so I have a chronic cough, chronic sore throat, chronic hoarse voice, and so I can't sleep; without this medication it will often wake me with a burning in my throat that can't be soothed
Each evening I take:
  • Gabapentin
  • Melatonin - because I don't sleep well, like at all; I need all the help I can get, but everything else I've tried leaves me super groggy the next day; and melatonin is what our bodies naturally produce to induce sleep
  • Armour Thyroid - which is pig thyroid glands "dried and powdered for therapeutic use" (according to Wikipedia); I take this because I have hypothyroidism, which means my thyroid doesn't do it's job very well anymore; I used to take a synthetic thyroid medication but never felt better on it; I found out about this through a thyroid health group on facebook; I had to fight my doctor for it because it isn't as consistent a dose as synthetic, but I have felt better on it; I started this in April of 2014
(I also have Xanax that I take for occasional anxiety and Meclizine that I take for occasional dizziness and nausea associated with my headaches.)

So as you can see, I have gone through many health changes over the last year.  How would I compare where I am now to where I was a year ago?  I am better.  Much better.

I do not have the constant, intense pelvic pain I had before my hysterectomy.  I have more energy on the new thyroid meds, although still subpar for sure; I can get out of bed and do things more often than before.  I don't go through intense PMDD/PMS every month; my moods are more in flow with what's actually happening in my life instead of attacking me out of nowhere.

But, most significantly, I haven't had any episodes of severe depression since I started the mood stabilizer.  I was initially put on it to control the hypomanic episodes that can come because of Bipolar II.  Those were hard to give up.  They were days of extra energy, lots of extra energy, when I didn't need sleep and could get lots done - all the stuff I didn't have the energy to do most days.  When I first met with my psychiatrist I asked her why I would want to give those up when they're so great.  She told me they cause brain damage.  Oh.  Okay.  I'll give them up.

As I researched Lamictal I read that it can often have the side effect of also helping depression.  I held a tiny spark of hope that this would happen, but not much.  I've tried so many meds for depression over the years and had so much therapy, but none of it took away the depression for good.  The meds didn't work at all or made me suicidal.  And the therapy could sometimes get me through a tough moment if my appointment happened to hit during an episode.  But usually the black dog (as depression is referred to by those who suffer) would just come out of nowhere and pin me to the ground.  And I just tried to survive until he let me up again.  I couldn't fight him off.  I just had to wait until he was done with me and moved on.

Since I have been on the Lamictal I have not been pinned to the ground by the black dog.  Not once.  He's chewed on my leg on several occasions, but I haven't gone completely dark at all.  There was one time when I'd say he knocked me to the ground pretty hard, but that was situational, and I recovered from it much more quickly than I normally would have.

So here's the deal.  And I hate to say it for fear of jinxing it.  But I believe the Lamictal is helping with my depression.  For real.  And it's kind of amazing.

Just as my psychiatrist said it should work, I have ups and downs, but they aren't as high or as deep as they were before.

And there's still a part of me waiting for it to come back and hit me in the head.  I've sometimes gone through long periods without depression before, only to be dragged down again; what if this is just one of those?  Depression has been a part of my life since I was a teenager.  The idea that it could finally be under control is something that's difficult for me to wrap my brain around.  I feel like it's an "I feel better so far, but we'll see how it plays out" thing.

And there's a part of me that doesn't want it to completely work.  Depression is part of my self-definition.  It's part of who I am.  If it works, I will have to learn to be me all over again.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Self-Harm and the Words That Made Me Want to Stop

***This post contains material that could potentially be triggering for anyone with a history of self-harm.  Please do not continue if you aren't safe right now.***

I purposely and knowingly hurt myself for the first time on December 14, 2006.  I used a broken plastic spoon to scratch three deep lines into my forearm.  Later that night I burned myself with a candle.  And it felt good.

There is no way for someone like me to explain this to someone like you if you haven't been there.

My brain says it shouldn't feel good.  My brain says it's not something that's okay to do.  And my brain knows it will bother the people around me.

But it does feel good.  And it doesn't feel like a big deal.  And in that moment of darkness, I don't care how others feel about it.

At least that's the way it's been.  In the past.  It's been a little over eight years since I first did it.  And while I understood it wasn't a healthy coping mechanism and I should probably stop, I have never wanted to stop.  Not once.

I tried to want to.  I wanted to want to.  But I just didn't.  I didn't want to give it up.  And, honestly, I just wasn't fully converted to the idea that it was important for me to give it up.

Last October (2014) I burned myself.  I mean, I really burned myself.  And it ended my relationship with my therapist.  Which led to me seeing a new therapist.

As my new therapist and I got to know each other I told him about how many therapists I'd seen over the years.  There have been many in my life.  I go for a while without seeing anyone and then, when I know the issue I'm dealing with is too big for me alone, I pray and ask God which therapist is the right one to help me through this moment.

This is the point when my new therapist asked me what I was seeing him for.  What was he supposed to help me with, whether I wanted to do it or not?

And, boy, wasn't that final qualifier just the clincher for me?  Didn't that phrase tell me I was with exactly the person I needed to see?

I looked him in the eye and told him he and I were to heal the self-harm problem I have.  That I didn't want to give it up.  But that I would work on it with him because I believed God wanted me to.

And I didn't see how I was ever going to want to give it up.

I have been seeing him about every two weeks since early November.  We've taken various approaches.  We've found things that I believe will help me and a few that didn't really fit.

And then, on February 17, he said something in passing that was a game changer for me.  I don't remember the exact words.  He was talking about helping me get more tools in my toolbox so I don't pass the trauma on.

And that was the moment.  I heard in my head and wrote on my paper, "When I self-harm, I pass the trauma on."

I am causing trauma to my children.

And that was the slap I needed.  I am in therapy to heal for them.  I am working so hard to make their world better.  To find the answers they will need in the future by doing the work myself.  And to end a long line of dysfunction.  My goal was to make the trauma stop with me.  I had hoped that I would be its last victim.

But when I hurt myself, it hurts them.  And that's just absolutely not okay with me.

So I'm done.

I can't promise I won't engage in any other unhealthy behaviors as I continue to work my way through my incredibly tangled past.  But I will never, ever purposely hurt myself again.

And that's a promise!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Our Wedding Day

A day late and a dollar short - or a week late and a completely different post.

Last Monday, March 2, was our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.  I had a post in mind that I wanted to do and have up on that day.  Then my life got kind of complicated and it just didn't happen.  That post is still to come.  But I wanted to get something up for our anniversary, even if it's a week late, so here you go.  Wedding pictures and a bit of detail about our wedding day.

Bill and I met working at McDonald's.  Our first date was November 2, 1989.  We got engaged on December 27, 1989 - my twentieth birthday.  We planned to get married the following fall.  We soon realized we could either get married in the fall or in the temple (Mormon joke about not being able to keep our hands off each other), so we bumped the date up a bit.  We got our wedding license on Valentine's Day of 1990 and were married on March 2, 1990 - his twenty-third birthday (four months to the day after our first date).

Because we bumped it up, we had about two and a half weeks to get everything pulled together.  When I called my Grandma in Reno and asked what she was doing in two and half weeks, she guessed, "Coming to your wedding?"  Yup.  Then she offered to get me a dress and make my veil.  Cool!  She asked what style I liked and what my measurements were.  She said she would have my dress to me in time for the big day.  It arrived in the mail two or three days before our wedding.  That was the first time I'd seen it - and it was perfect!  Exactly what I would have picked out, and she had even lined it for the temple.

And that's pretty much all you get except for pictures and captions.  It was pretty uneventful, except, you know, we got married and had a reception.  I guess that kind of happened.

Now here are your pretty pictures.

We were married in the Salt Lake City temple.  It was overcast that day.  I love this photo because it doesn't just capture our temple, it also captures our flag (well, both of them because Utah's flag is in there, too).
We had a chocolate wedding cake.  It's chocolate inside, too.  We ran out of the sheet cake we were serving and had to serve this as well.  Bill and I only got one bite each, the ones we fed to each other as dictated by tradition.  We did freeze the top layer and each had a bite of that on our one year anniversary (also following tradition); that bite wasn't so good.  There's another layer in the back that you can't see.  The layers went around the center like a spiral staircase.  Our wedding topper was a crystal Salt Lake Temple on a round mirror.  I still have that, although it got broken in half by one of our children when she was small.  I'm not going to name names.
As you can probably tell from the cake photo, we had our wedding reception in the "cultural hall" of our church.  That means we had it in the gym.  We were fine with it at the time.  It was free and looked beautiful when decorated.  But the background of this photo has always bothered me just a little.  I wish we had a photo of the cake with a nicer background.  Oh, and there's no photo of us feeding each other the cake.  Our photographer was gone by then.  Our friend took a picture, but his camera freaked out and the pictures came out all blurry.  No big deal.
These are all of our family and friends who were able to make it to Salt Lake.  Several of the people in this photo have passed on now, which increases the tender feelings in my heart for it.  The guy on the right with his arm on the shoulder of the lady with dark hair is my husband's twin brother.  Fun fact: he had hernia surgery the day before.  But he still made it there to support his brother, and I'm grateful for that (even though he was angry at me for years for stealing his birthday; he might still be).
Only some of them were able to come inside for the ceremony.  In order to enter the temple, each person must have a temple recommend.  In order to have a temple recommend, you need to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and be living by the standards required.  It's a long list.  If you want to know what's on it, I suggest you go to and look it up.  As far as I knew, no one that was unable to come in was upset about it.  They understood and respected our beliefs.  My dad wasn't able to come in, but he fully supported me getting married in the temple anyway.  In the temple we are married legally and sealed for time and all eternity spiritually.
I'm pretty sure these alcoves were designed just for photo opportunities like this.
And this.  Isn't it pretty?
It is a little tricky to get into and out of though.  This is a picture of him helping me down.  It's quite significant because I was stubbornly independent back then and rarely let anyone help me with anything.  Thanks, honey!
These doors are another must-have photo spot.  They are gorgeous and somewhat imposing in real life.
I call this the dreamy-filter shot.
Notice how the grass is all brown.  It was very early March in Utah, we were lucky to not have snow on the ground.  But I honestly didn't even notice it that day.  I'm not one of those girls who spent my whole life planning my wedding and cared about every little detail (as evidenced by the dress story).  On my actual wedding day I wasn't stressed about details either.  As long as he and I both got to the temple and got married, nothing else mattered much.
Same shot, only this time we're dreamily gazing into each others eyes.  Or something like that.  Knowing my husband, he was probably doing everything he could to not laugh.  Remember the episode of Friends when Chandler and Monica are planning to get married and they're trying to get engagement photos taken but they all look horrible because Chandler can't smile for photos to save his life?  Yeah, it's like that.
This tree is another popular photo spot.  It was a beautifully shaped tree.  Unfortunately I had no idea there was that electrical box in the shot until after we got the photos back.  Really, I was so unconcerned with details I let my mom pick the photographer (and all the decorations and food, except for the cake) and we just let the photographer walk us around and take pretty much whatever photos he wanted.  Most wedding photographers weren't nearly as creative back then  - in the olden days.
Another dreamy-filter photo.  Man, we look young!
This is probably my favorite photo.  That dress really was gorgeous.  There was actually a small train, but I was able to button it up to make walking easier.  My mom insisted on this photo because she loved the detail on the back so much.  I'm really glad she did.  Didn't my Grandma choose well?  And that's the veil she made for me.
This is inside the church where we held our reception (in that cultural hall I mentioned above).  Doesn't it look pretty?  Okay, so in retrospect our backdrop looks like the backdrop for prom photos, but I liked it at the time.
His mom did the flowers.  We used silk flowers.  I wanted to keep my bouquet (which I wanted very small).  I wanted it to still look good years later.  I still have it and it does.  He was very excited to wear a tux and insisted on one with tails.
For years, Bill said this was his favorite photo.  I think it's because he got to be the focus for a change.  It also has that woman-behind-the-man feeling.  This is the first time I've noticed the metal folding chair and the curtains that sparkle like they're from an old gameshow.
Now this is his favorite.  It was my mom's favorite, too, and the only one she got a print of to hang at her house.  I like it now although I didn't when we first got them.  That whole incredibly-judgmental-of-all-photos-of-myself thing.
And that's all I've got for today.  There are a few more, but I haven't scanned them yet.  We didn't have groomsmen and bridesmaids in matching outfits.  We asked our friends to serve as honorary groomsmen and bridesmaids and told them just to wear something that matched our color scheme (black, white, and dusty rose - don't judge, we were just coming out of the eighties).  We didn't have a long formal line (as most people did at Mormon wedding receptions).  It was just us and our parents.  We initially wanted to skip the line all together, but my mom freaked out at that scandalous idea.  The much smaller line was the compromise.  Everyone who came through the line told us how awesome it was to not have to shake hands with and talk to a bunch of people they didn't know and then awkwardly stand next to them while waiting for the line to progress.  No, I guess they just thanked us for the small line, but that's what they really meant.

Anyway, Happy Anniversary to us!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

When the Parent Becomes the Child

I have no idea how to write this post.  I really don't.  But I know it must be written.  For me.  For her.  For others.

I try to always tell the truth.  My truth (because that's all I really know).  Especially when I write, because I know it will last.  It will stand as a testament to who I am long after I remember saying or thinking it.

But sometimes our truths intersect.  My truth crosses your truth.  Who owns that portion in the middle, that shared truth?  Who has the right to present that to the world?

I want to be careful about that.  I want to honor the person who shares that space with me.  But I also want to tell the truth.

I hope that by owning up front that this is MY truth and not necessarily THE truth, it's okay for me to share.  This is about me and my mom.

My ability to recall memories is not great.  I have vague images.  And pictures.  I have those, and they help.

This is me and my mom on my wedding day.

As a teen, I always thought she wore too much makeup, and I never understood the hair.  But she was always put together.  She wouldn't leave the house until she "put her face on" and "cleaned herself up."  How she looked mattered to her.

And she was so sharp!  She was the one who edited my papers.  She could type and take shorthand like nobody's business.  She was the Administrative Assistant to the President of the local state college and totally rocked that job!  She was loved and admired by all who knew her.  I don't remember ever hearing anyone say anything negative about her.

That was twenty-five years ago.  She was two years older than I am now.  And things have changed.

It's been gradual.  Little things here and there.  Her asking me how to spell things.  Her not remembering the proper noun/verb correlation.  Her not able to figure out how to use a new cell phone.

This is the profile picture she chose for her facebook account when someone helped her set it up five or six years ago.
She felt it represented well her many moods.  I liked it then. 

It's painful for me now.  It feels like a way too accurate representation of her current fractured state.

I have these vague recollections of her coming to my grade school to do an art presentation.  Of her taking me garage sale-ing on Saturday and then to Arctic Circle for lunch.  Of her telling me I was her saving grace.  The only daughter she got.  The one who could understand her in a house full of men.  I remember her being my best friend - so many years ago.

I don't have a picture of her now.  I'm not sure I'd share it if I did; it wouldn't be a happy picture.

She's seventy-two now.  Only seventy-two.  I wasn't ready for it to happen so soon.

Because she's not her anymore.

I still live in the town I grew up in.  And it's the town she grew up in.  So I regularly run into people who knew me when I was little and she was so capable.  I even run into people who knew her when she was young, long before I was around.  People who grew up with her.

Inevitably the moment comes.  They ask the question.  The question I don't want to answer.  "How's your mom?"

And the only answer I can give is, "Not good."  As I start to tear up.

They ask what's wrong.  I don't know the answer.  None of us do.  My dad.  My brothers.  Me.  Her doctors - many, many doctors.  We each have a guess; we think we know.  But we don't.

My mom has fought anxiety, PTSD, and PMS for longer than I was aware.  I remember when I was young and she discovered walking.  Walking stabilized her.  Walking cleared her mind.  Walking was the mental medicine she needed that made her able to face her life again.  And so she walked.  Miles and miles all over town.

Back then, when I would run into people, they would say, "I see your mom out walking all the time."  Back then it meant they saw their friend and she looked good.  Like she was okay.  It was said with positive energy.  Now when they say, "I see your mom out walking," it's said with sadness and concern.

My mom still walks, when she can (she's injured right now).  And those miles she used to walk pale in comparison to the miles she walks now.  She's tiny and frail, and she will walk ten or fifteen miles a day.  Maybe more.  Because she no longer has a driver's license and she can't stay in one place.  Honestly, it feels like she's trying to escape her own self.

She no longer leaves the house beautifully coiffed.  She doesn't always have her makeup on.  She can't smell well enough to know if her clothes are really clean.  As long as they don't have major spills on them and are the right warmth for the weather, she'll wear them.  And off she goes.  Pulling her little rolling suitcase behind her.  Looking like a bag lady.

I remember many years ago, as her own mother was aging and having difficulty walking and preparing meals, my mom said, "If I could choose between losing my mind and losing my ability to walk, I'd choose to lose my mind.  As long as I can walk, I'll be okay."

I'm afraid her wish was granted.

I remember when she was strong.  And healthy.  And competent.  And happy.  But just vaguely.  Because I feel trapped in this moment.  I feel trapped in her hell.

She is angry much of the time, maybe most of the time - usually at my dad.  She has difficulty keeping track of what day it is, even when I've told her three times already in the last hour.  She doesn't prepare meals for herself, do her laundry, or meet most of her own care needs.  And she still thinks she's independent.  Most of the time.

She feels abandoned by my brothers who moved to another state years ago.  She feels abandoned when my dad leaves town, for an occasional respite - which he so badly needs and deserves.  She feels abandoned when my adult daughters stay with her instead of me.  And she feels abandoned when none of these things are true.

She feels abandoned that we don't understand.  Like we've left her alone to her anguish.

She will spend hours upon hours reliving all the traumas of her past.  Over and over.  Telling me the same stories again and again.  Of her pain.  Of all the things people did.  Of all the ways they hurt her.  And they are all true.  They are her truth.  And she is trapped there.

But it hurts.  It hurts me.

When my dad leaves town I become her primary caregiver.  It's my job to help her get where she needs to go, even when she can't decide where that is.  Even if it means dropping everything and going to pick her up at her motel room (which my dad rents for her by the month, because she has to have somewhere to go other than her house).  For the third time that day.  Or taking her to my house, because she feels peace there.

But those are the good days.  If all I have to do is take her where she needs to go and listen to her tell me for two hours straight how horrible my dad is and was, that's a good day.

Lately they haven't been good days.

Lately it's been her showing up at my door, pounding and pounding, hysterical.  Or calling.  Any hour of any day.  She's crying.  Sobbing.  "No one understands how bad I am!  I can't make it!  I just can't make it!  He doesn't care!  All he thinks about is himself!  No one cares!  No one will help me!"

And if I don't answer (because I'm not home and can't answer my door or I'm at church and have my phone off) then she feels abandoned by me.  And sometimes in those moments she'll turn to my brother in town.  And he'll help as best he can.

But usually it's me.  Often even when my dad is in town.  Because he and she have had another screaming match and she wants a divorce and her life will be all better if she could just get a divorce.

Because she can't see that he manages her world.  That he wraps his life around her and what she feels and what she needs.  That he drops everything, including his job, to come get her.  To take care of her.

Yes, they have an ugly history.  I know that.  I was there.  There were many years I prayed they would divorce because he was so mean.  So controlling.  So angry and unkind.

But he isn't that way now.  At least, not that I see.  I am sure there are times when he loses it and he yells back when she's screaming at him.  But not nearly as much as she is horrifically unkind to him.

Those rants I hear for hours and hours?  He gets them, too.  She just rips him up one side and down the other.  All while he is trying to help her.  Because sometimes she isn't clear in her expression of what she wants (when she can figure out what she wants).  And when he, or any of us, gets it wrong she says it's because we don't care what she wants.  We don't give a damn about her feelings.

A month ago, when she found out he was going to leave town to go golfing with my brother for six days (which we were happy about and fully supported, because he needs refueling - even if he won't admit it), she lost it again.  She showed up at my house - hysterical - and just cried and cried.  Not quiet I'm-so-sad cries.  Anguished end-of-the-world crying.  Lost.  Alone.  Abandoned.  Sobbing.  Screaming.  And somewhat slurred.

Because it turns out she took twice as many pain pills as she should.  Along with Ritalin.  And Valium.  And progesterone.  And whatever else she could think of that would take care of the pain and help her be calm enough to survive in her own skin.

I called my brother, who had prescribed the pain pills, and asked him what to do.  He sent her a text begging her to give me the pills.  He couldn't live with it if she died as a result of something he'd prescribed.  She gave me the pain pills.  And then I kept watch over her as she slept and watched Elvis in my living room for the next seven hours.  I tried to feed her, but the most I could get her to eat was half a banana.

You see, her teeth are very bad.  So bad that I don't think she brushes them anymore because it hurts.  She knows she needs to have work done on them, but her anxiety is too intense to sit through it.  So she can't eat anything that's not soft.  And she has gotten to the point that she usually doesn't even want to try.  She lives on Ensure and chocolate.  And water.  She will go days without having anything else.  I know this because I've lived with her for several days at a time.

That day when she took too much medication was a major turning point.  (Oh, who am I kidding?  I think she takes too much medication every day.)  Since then, she has needed nearly round the clock care.  Someone to be with her all the time.  Yes, someone to try to feed her and get her where she needs to go.  Someone to tell her when she can take what pain pills.  But mostly, someone to help manage her panic. 

She can't sleep well.  She can't walk much, because of her injury.  And the meds just don't manage the anxiety like they used to.  So she melts down.  And she needs someone there when she does.

This last week, which started with her pounding on our door at five in the morning on Sunday, was the most difficult for me yet.  There were at least five times in the four days I took care of her that I was sure we would be heading to the ER in the next five minutes.

I've taken care of a lot of people over the years.  I've acted as nurse to many people through surgery recovery, illness, and many emotional breakdowns.  I've raised five children (as a stay-at-home mom, so around the clock) from birth to adulthood.  I'm good at it.  I'm good at taking care of other people.  I am patient.  I am knowledgeable.  And I truly care.  I'm really good at it.

But this last week broke me.  Over and over.

When she showed up at five in the morning, my husband answered the door.  She was in a bad way again.  My dad had told her he was leaving town the next day and she'd lost it.  They'd gotten into another screaming match.

My husband was able to get her to lie down on our couch and try to sleep.  And then he let me know she was there so I wouldn't be hit with it unexpectedly when I got up.

I had a long day ahead of me at church, on my feet in an energetically demanding calling for two hours.  I hadn't had more than four hours of sleep the last two nights.  So when he told me she was there I tried so desperately to go back to sleep.  But, knowing she was there and was likely to throw off my entire morning (possibly the whole day) and bring that angry energy to my family and completely drain me on a day of rest, made it impossible to sleep.  I did stay in bed and at least try to rest.  Even as my panic and anxiety began to set in.

A couple hours later I got up and got ready for church.  I talked to her a bit as I put the evening's dinner in the crock pot.  Well, talked with her is not exactly right.  Two-way conversations don't happen much anymore.  She just talks and talks and talks and I just listen.  So as I walked around getting ready, she kept talking at me.  I have no idea what about, except how awful and self-centered my dad is.  (I would be lying if I said I don't sometimes tune her out while she's talking at me.)

Eventually I was ready and told her I needed to go, but my husband was there and would help her if she needed him.  I told her he could take her anywhere she needed to go.  And then I called him and told him he was on duty.  I could hear his heart drop in the answering sigh.

I went to church.  I had a wonderful, soothing day, as I almost always do.  And as I came out of church I checked my phone.

I had missed several calls from my mom.  And I had a voicemail.  The worst voicemail I've ever received.  Sobbing - "Robin, I need help!  I've made a mistake! I need you to come and get me! I need somebody to because everybody just doesn't think I'm as bad as I am! I can't make it! I can't make it anymore!!!  Please!" - followed by more sobbing.  I can't describe the emotion, panic, pain, and terror that I heard in her voice.

I also had a missed call from my local brother.  I called him back.  He was on his way to pick my mom up from her motel (where she'd had my husband take her).  My brother told me she had called my other brother, the doctor, and yelled at him about how worthless he was.  She also called my dad and told him she'd taken a bunch of pills and would see him in the morgue.  My brother was on his way to a job when she called and wondered if I could take over.  I told him I would meet him at her house.

You may be wondering why we didn't go immediately to the ER, after the statement about pills.  Honestly, she says a lot of things in anger that aren't even close to reality.  Especially to my dad.  She tries to punish him and strikes out quite frequently.  She wants to hurt him; she has said so.  But when I ask, she has no hesitation in telling me what she's taken.  As long as she can remember what she's taken.  So I knew the ER was a possibility (one I was terrified of), but wanted to talk to her first.  To assess the truth of the situation.  As it turns out, she didn't take a bunch of pills.  She didn't take anything other than her regular stuff.  She admitted she just said that to my dad because she was mad at him.

I stayed with her at her house for many hours.  (I wish I could truly convey what that day and those to follow were like.  It felt like she was an 18-month old child who is overly tired.  A child who is so tired but won't sleep.  She wants to be picked up and then when you do pick her up she hits you and wants to be put down.  She wants the toy but when you hand it to her she throws it back at you and hits you in the face.  You feel bad for her because you know she has no idea what to do with the emotions she's feeling but you don't know either and you're sure if she could just sleep things would be better.  And even though you feel bad for her your frustration at her unwillingness to comply grows.  And your stress grows.  And your sadness grows.  And you want to throw things, too.  You want to hit someone, too.  And you're getting no sleep, or even rest, because of her temper tantrums and she won't let anyone help her but you.  And it goes on for days and days.  It's a lot like that.  Except this toddler takes prescription medication [not always hers] according to her own whims and walks all over town any time of the day or night and has money and a cell phone to call a cab and is considered an adult who is in charge of her own life.  Oh, and she is completely verbal so she can tell you over and over how much you've failed her and how much everyone else who's trying to help has failed her and how none of you care and are all so selfish.  It's like that.)

As I said, my mom doesn't sleep well.  Even when she's taken enough meds to put down a horse.  So it was a day of trying to sleep.  Pacing and panicking because she can't sleep.  Her calling and texting my dad about what to do.  Him trying to help from another state.  Him calling and texting me asking what's going on and suggesting other things to try.  And encouraging me to try to keep her from going to the ER (which she does at least once every month or so).

My 24-year old daughter came over to relieve me for a few minutes so I could go home and finish dinner for my family and get some food.  I was only gone about fifteen minutes.  I then stayed with her until my 20-year old daughter (the one my dad had asked to stay with my mom while he was gone) came over at about ten thirty to spend the night.

I went home, hoping that now that my mom was finally sleeping she would be a bit better and my daughter could cover for a bit.  But my mom showed up at my door early the next morning telling me she couldn't make it.  And it started all over again.  A couple more times thinking we were going to end up in the ER.  Then she called her therapist who said she could see her later that day.  I know this usually calms her, so I was eager for this to happen.  Even though I don't always agree with this therapist.  Or what my mom presents as the things this therapist says.

Somehow we got through that day and got to the therapist.  I was hoping to get her in and go lie down in the car for an hour.  I just needed a few minutes alone.  A few minutes of not needing to take care of her.  A few minutes of not having to calm anyone but myself.  But it didn't work out that way.

My mom asked if I wanted to come in with her.  I said I would do whatever she wanted.  Her therapist suggested they meet together first and then invite me in if they needed me.  Which meant I needed to stay in the waiting room.

Half an hour or so later, her therapist invited me into the room.

This was rough.  My mom had gone there to get help from the therapist on how to divorce my dad.  The therapist asked me how I felt about my mom divorcing my dad.  I told her I didn't care at all if she and my dad stay married.  I spent years as a child praying they would get divorced.  I truly didn't care if they were married.  And then I paused.  I am always as truthful as possible in therapy.  This was the moment I worried about.  This was the moment I had to tell a painful truth to my mom.  This is the moment I knew I would hurt my mom.  Just the first of many that would happen in that session.  I said I didn't care if they divorced, but I worried about who would take care of my mom if that happened.  He does so much for her that she can't do for herself.  And I couldn't take that load on.  I just can't.

Lots of other discussion.  Lots of other distraction.  More truths I told her.
*  When she rejects one of us, she says it's because she needs someone who sees reality.  I challenged her on that and said, "Your reality.  Your reality isn't the same as the reality I see or others see."
*  When she called my dad manipulative I challenged her on that.  "What about when you called him and told him you'd taken a bunch of pills and would see him in the morgue?  Don't you think that was manipulative?"
*  When she said my dad has everyone on his side because he gives them money I challenged her on that.  "I have never felt obligated to take his side because he's given me money.  None of us do.  We're not taking sides.  We listen to both of you.  We try to help both of you.  We are not against you."

There were other truths I shared.  It did hurt her.  She's brought at least one of them up again since.  The one when I said I couldn't take the whole load on by myself.  Later that night or the next day (things are kind of blurring together), as I was getting my stuff together so I could go back over to her house with her, she walked out the front door.  She didn't tell anyone she was leaving or where she was going.  She didn't ask for a ride.  She just left.  I sent my daughter after her.  My daughter came back and said my mom was unwilling to come back.  She just needed to leave.  It was cold and my mom was in no condition to be out walking to who knows where.  I told my daughter to go get her in the car and bring her back.  My daughter said she wouldn't come back.  I told her to just bring her to the driveway and wait for me, she didn't need to come in.

I went to the car and asked her where she wanted to go.  She said she guessed she had to go to her motel.  She just couldn't go home.  She couldn't be in that house.  I asked her if she felt like she could be okay alone at the motel.  She said what other choice did she have.  She couldn't go home.  I asked if she wanted to come back into my house.  She said I had said I didn't want her calling me with her problems.  She said I had said I didn't want to help her.  I said that just wasn't true and what was she talking about?  She said that I'd said it in her therapy session.  I tried to clear up what I'd said.  I do want to help her, but I can't take on the whole load without dad.  I again asked if she wanted to come back in my house.  She said yes, if there was somewhere private and quiet that she could be.  (So far, she'd been in the living room.  It's the center of the house and the only gathering room other than the kitchen - we don't have a large house.)  I said she could try my bedroom.

I led her to my bedroom.  I helped her get settled on my bed.  I made sure she had what she needed nearby.  And then I sat in the chair by the bed and listened again, for half an hour or an hour.  When she finally felt stable, like maybe she could sleep, I left and closed the door.  She must have slept because I didn't see her again for hours.  (You would think I would rest during this time, but not so much.  In those moments I'm still on constant alert listening for her and knowing at any minute I could be called on again to manage another crisis.)  She got up and went to the bathroom once, but then went right back.  Eventually it was bedtime and I just curled up on the couch, hoping she'd get lots of sleep and finally feel better.

She came out a few times starting at about three in the morning.  I pretended to be asleep, although I woke up each time.  I was hoping if she thought I was sleeping she would go back to bed.  It worked three or four times, until it started to get light and she could see for sure that it was me on the couch.  She woke me a little after six, in another panic and wanting to go to the hospital.  I spent the next hour trying to settle her enough that I could get my kids up when I needed to and another hour after that as I tried to get my kids out the door for school.

A couple more days like that.  One night when she actually let my daughter be in charge and I got some sleep.  And so much panic and anger and recycling trauma.  And so many hours of me suppressing my feelings so I could do what needed to be done without causing her additional stress - and then going into the bathroom to break down in sobs from the emotional weight of it all.

Near the end of her therapy session, her therapist had asked if she could talk to me alone.  My mom said that would be fine and went to the waiting room.  As soon as the door was closed her therapist looked at me and said, "Do you think your mom is competent?"  Without missing a beat I answered, "No.  Absolutely not." 

Her therapist said she'd seen a noticeable decline in my mom since the last time she'd seen her.  She was very concerned about all the meds my mom takes and the addict behavior she displays.  Then she said she wanted her to have a neurological evaluation, to have her competency assessed.  She spelled out how to do that, recommended who to call, and told me what could happen afterward.  She said if my mom and dad divorce or separate that we would likely have to put her into assisted living.  And she told me my mom would likely be very angry with me and with her.

And I felt another weight drop heavily on my shoulders.  I now have the expectations and wishes of the therapist.  And the feelings and needs of my mom.  And the feelings and beliefs and stewardship that is my dad's.  And my brothers.  And my own issues, anxieties, panic, and sadness.  And somehow I am supposed to balance all this and figure out what is right.  What am I to do?  My dad is her primary caregiver.  How am I to tell him?  Should I tell him, knowing how my mom feels about him?  How much do I involve my brothers, not wanting to place extra burden on them?  And honestly, not wanting them to make my job harder by disagreeing with me when they aren't here and don't see what I see.

She thinks if she could just get on the right meds she'd be her old self again.  My dad thinks if she would just get off all the meds she'd be her old self again.  I'm not sure what my brothers think.  I think her old self is gone.  I think the meds are a problem.  I think she needs to be in a treatment center where they can take her off all the meds and figure out which she really needs and teach her to manage them properly.  Or hand the management off to someone else.  But I also think her mental capacity is declining.  A lot.  I think we are past the point of no return.  I think she will never be competent again, no matter what we do.  I think we are on a downward slope and we will just continue down until she dies.  But I could be wrong.

So, for now, I am sitting on it.  I'm not making a decision about what her therapist said and what to do with it.  My dad is back and has taken over, although I'm still getting calls for rides.  It's only a matter of time until another crisis.  And she will turn to me.  Or he will.  Because I've managed them well in the past and none of us knows what to do and we all reach out for the piece of driftwood that will keep us afloat just a little longer.  And I am often the driftwood.

And sometimes I'm the one sinking.