June 5, 2009

A Year In Real Life

It's June. Last June we began a plan of healing, having found a place that seemed an appropriate, if not perfect, program to address the problems our son was having with anxiety and depression. It had been a silent, black winter and we were hoping for hope. A small light in the midst of fear and blackness and confusion feels like the sun and you want to dive into its warmth and shove all your chips to the middle of the table in the ravenous hope that the big winnings will pore in. It's a reckless hope, one that absolutely neglects truth and reality and God. Unaware at that time that our son had begun to paw around in his darkness only to find and to put his hope in a dangerous source of relief, we transported him to therapy, we joined him in therapy, we anticipated results of therapy, we depended upon therapy, we paid for therapy, we tolerated therapy, we hoped in therapy. We didn't know that a threatening issue was simultaneously growing, complicating matters, all the while being discussed and hidden behind the closed doors of his therapy. Therapists don't need to tell parents that children are threatened by or addicted to...anything. While he was in hours of therapy I made camp in a bookstore nearby, buying and reading every memoir on depression and mental illness and any nonfiction book on mental health that seemed to apply. I spent many hours reading on my front porch and at the pool while the younger two played.

By the grace of God, we became aware of the problem and our child not only cooperated, but wanted healing. He revealed to us the things that had darkened his life even further. So we got about healing that too. It's like one of those cartoon balls of stuff rolling down a hill with arms and legs and dust and things sticking out all over, gathering more in its path. There is no good way to stop it without creating a commotion, but it must be stopped or controlled or directed in a safe path. The commotion becomes secondary. Who wants a commotion? But who wants a growing, plummeting disaster waiting to happen?

The winter was hard. I sat. The winter of 2008/2009 was the winter I sat. I got a laptop for Christmas and it became my companion. I googled words. My eyes passed over information. Major depressive disorder...addiction...attention deficient disorder...severe anxiety...complications of low thyroid in pregnancy?...complications of stress on the unborn child?...signs of anxiety in children...rehab...acupuncture... suboxone... zoloft...vyvanse... So many options, so many outcomes, so much to gain, so much to lose. It felt like a crapshoot. Each possibility of hope came with a possibility of devastation, each disease/condition description held mystery and questions. Would it be lifelong? Is there a cure? What are the exact symptoms? Does he have them or are we imagining it? Is he just being dramatic or is his description of his mind "mass confusion" an actuality, all he knows? I came to know little else in my life than what was going on with him...and of that, I really knew nothing at all.

With my laptop stationed before me I watched movies. We had all these free Fios movie channels because of mistakes they had made on our bill and I watched them almost daily in between loads of laundry and obligatory chores. I watched the same ones over and over again. I cried at the same parts - and most of them were comedies. I welled up with tears over the silliest things, knowing every scene, every expression. French Kiss. Darjeeling Limited. Chocolat. Juno. Dan in Real Life. Dan in Real Life. Dan in Real Life. They all have love at the end and laughter in the middle. Meg Ryan gets whisked off the plane by Kevin Kline in French Kiss. The three brothers learn to love each other in Darjeeling Limited. Johnny Depp comes back to the chocolatery to fix the squeak in Juliette Binoche's door. Juno and her boyfriend find the meaning of love after they give their child up for adoption. And Dan marries Marie in real life. There is trouble in all the stories, but in the end your wish comes true. There are smiles and their faces have peace. Stone cottages, cheery songs, dancing, hot chocolate, laughter - no surprise endings, only perfect ones.

Dan in Real Life ends with a charming silent scene of him going after his beloved while his voice reads the words of his latest newspaper column. He says that we should tell our children not so much what to plan in life, just that they should plan to be surprised. The credits roll over a blissful scene of an outdoor wedding and I glaze over, look back and wonder, resuming the analyzation of our lives where I'd left off two hours before: Should I have been surprised? Were there clues? Did I miss something, or worse - aggravate something? Cause something?  Sure.  Who knows?   

I remember a near nervous breakdown during my pregnancy with him, significant to his doctor along with my undiagnosed low thyroid. May result in neurological problems in baby...this is always where my mind opens the box of puzzle pieces. I remember a boy who would cover his ears in anxious anticipation for the toaster to pop his Eggo waffles, along with tens of other stimuli he tried to block out. Back then I joked. Now I can only wonder. Missed clue, along with those tiny baby fingers that splayed out at every sound or sudden movement. Missed opportunity. I remember my own frustration and meanness when I couldn't see through the veil of confusion that kept my bright son from doing the obvious (to me) or behaving calmly. If I had known then...I remember having passing thoughts and having him verbalize them back to me when he was a toddler. Yes, he verbalized my thoughts. Then I was stunned and thought he was amazing. Now I see he was burdened by a mind that perceived everything. And he carried that burden to a public school, spending day after day highly tuned in to 25 other adolescents.

He chose that and I could not have forseen what trouble it would ignite. Or could I have? And did it ignite the problem or only complicate it?

Guess what? God. You've just read the "Real Life" story, the typical life surprises that we insist shouldn't be happening to us, my earthly brain chatter and the stuff that I've floated in and out of for one year, but - God. He doesn't promise that we won't have struggles, He only promises that it will not be useless struggling if we embrace Him in the midst of it. I have a confession. I never understood, never knew where it counts, the meaning of putting God before all else. I've been a mother for 17 years and those kids have been in the forefront of my brain all 17. This winter I noticed a shift. I began to see that whatever was going on with my child and however horrible I felt, there was a place I could go where I found peace and true light. These did not come in the form of a promise that every thing some day would be okay....and all of my dreams would come true. There was only one promise: God Is. Real. Life.


rosemary said...

Here in a public forum, and only in yours Jennie will I say that my all grown up child is suffering and me right along with that child. I can't help that sweet child of mine. After all, grown up is grown up and they want and need to find their way....I think anyway. I am trying to pray every day multiple times and asking God to lift this horrible burden that will shatter a family and break hearts beyond repair. I read the prayer that Sue sent me that begins....I am not made to pray. I close my eyes and float among the spots behind my lids......I am sad and sadder. I hope that Light comes soon.

Jennie said...

Well thank you for sharing. I am sorry that you are all going through this pain. It's a pain, I've found, that only those going through it seem to understand. I have supportive friends, but stumble upon a person who has been there (like a parent of a kid on Sean's team) and there is a deep deep understanding you share that no one else can touch. I guess it's the same with anything. But issues of mental health and addiction are a mystery easily ignored and belittled by those who haven't been there. It's simply not simple. Pull yourself up by your boot straps and all that.... "What bootstraps? The ones that keep breaking in my hands?" Some are made of leather, some are frayed cotton. Some have been lost. The world is no place for sensitive souls.

rosemary said...

love you, Jennie

Paul Nichols said...