Category Archives: Mental Health

Major Engine Malfunctions – Personal and Vehicular

 

 

The irony of the flashing message on the dashboard of the car did not escape me.

We were about to leave the parking lot of the Massachusetts motel where we had spent the night to drive to Connecticut to see family on the way home from our Vermont vacation. My husband turned the car on and there it was in bold flashing blue letters –

Major Engine Malfunction. Reduced Power. Get Service Now.”

I would have laughed, but couldn’t summon up even a slight smile. For the first time ever, my sense of humor had left me. Perhaps it went on a vacation of its own? Somewhere restful like the beautiful deep lake in Vermont where we spent a few days in mid-August. The peace of which I could not fully appreciate because I was also experiencing a ““Major Engine Malfunction” of my own. My aunt and uncle and cousins in Vermont were kind to me. They sensed I was operating with “Reduced Power.”

My long-time therapist labeled it Depression – which I have never before experienced.

Anxiety, yes, that is a familiar condition for me. Years of it. (SEE the title of this blog.) But Depression? That’s been something new this summer. Feeling flat. Low energy. Sad on the sunniest of days. Not enjoying spending time with my grandsons at the beach (my usual happy place.) Dull, no interest and little appetite.

And I couldn’t write. Not a word. For weeks. The space formerly occupied by my creative self was blank. Not so much a writer’s block, but a nothingness.

The Depression kind of crept up on me in June, then steamed full ahead in July and by early August my therapist decided I should try a new medication. Which I did. And experienced a full set of horrible side-effects (which luckily for you I will not enumerate.) Poor timing as they put me in distress during my longed-for few days in Vermont. The lovely lake, the green mountains, the quiet of the woods, the water rippling at the dock; none worked their usual magic on me.

My therapist agreed I could taper off the new medication but wow, its side effects were persistent. I was still feeling awful on that bright morning in my old college-town in mid-Massachusetts when the car’s error message of “Major Engine Malfunction. Reduced Power. Get Service Now” eerily matched my own condition.

In the good news department: the car’s engine did not erupt as we slowly drove to Connecticut where the car got the service it needed.

My 94-year-old Dad always says that a problem is not a problem if it can be fixed by money. Lucky for us the engine was still under warranty and we spent little to have it repaired.

If only our personal engine malfunctions could be so readily resolved.

I am working on mine with the help of a new med, my therapist, my patient husband, and understanding friends and family.

And as soon as the space formerly occupied by my creative self resumes functioning, I will get back to writing – and taking classes and volunteering and enjoying the sunshine.

Waiting also for my sense of humor to return from wherever it went on its own apparently needed vacation. I will keep you posted.

 

 

 

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Filed under grandchildren, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Travel, Women, Women's Health, Writing

New Beginnings and Better Endings

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You don’t have to be Jewish to love the tradition of dipping apple slices into honey.  This Sunday night we celebrated the start of the Jewish New Year – a/k/a Rosh Hashanah (rosh = head; ha = the, shanah = year. thus endeth my Hebrew lesson.)

The custom of dipping apples into honey is to express our hopes for a healthy, sweet and fruitful new year. Since I’m way too old to be the fruitful in the biblical sense, I will settle for a sweet and healthy new year instead.

Unfortunately, the new year in my family has gotten off to a rocky start. My friend Liz reassures me that if your year starts off poorly, it can only get better. I am relying on her prognostication abilities.

Let me also take retract what I just said about not expecting this to be a fruitful year. Not in the sense of producing human offspring (now that would be a miracle) – but in the sense of producing another kind of product. You see, this fall I returned to school. Not just “taking a class” but I made the leap to  formally enroll – with the photo student I.D. to prove it – in a university graduate school program to “pursue” (such a lofty word) a M.A. in Writing.

I am thrilled to be back in school.

If only there had been a high-paying career called “student” where I could have earned a salary to go to class, do homework diligently and study hard for exams, I would have done that instead of becoming a lawyer. Studying is something I find fun. Learning is even better. And wow, am I learning.

The class I am taking is called “Techniques of Fiction”. What, I can hear you say, there are techniques involved in the writing of fiction? Yes there are. Moving right along in the syllabus from character, setting/place, plot and structure to scene v.s summary, point of view, voice, dialogue and description – and I am loving every classroom minute of it.

The great irony is that while I am taking a course in the writing of fiction, my real life seems to be blurring a bit into the territory of fiction. Or what I wish was fiction (e.g. events that really did not happen to me.)

My fabulous (she really is) professor told us that it is acceptable to steal from your real life to write fiction.

That seems like cheating to me. Although right now it seems appealing to base a short story or novel on deeply upsetting real life events where you get to change the way the characters behave, modify the plot and write a totally different ending. That would be a form of therapy, I guess.

But I don’t view writing fiction as therapy. I am taking this Fiction course in order to learn a craft, to become very good at it and to produce work that other people will want to read because it is well-written, not because it is an endless, Nancy-filled, woe-is-me-story.

We all have our problems, don’t we?

If you had looked at me last Saturday night when my husband and I attended the wedding of the daughter of a close friend, when we were dancing to every song the d.j. played, raising our hands in the air to the music and pretending we knew the words, you would likely have never guessed we were going through such rocky stuff in our non-dancing lives. The photos taken will no doubt prove I had a big smile on my face.

And I bet others on the wedding dance floor who were also smiling were doing so despite whatever personal difficulties they are enduring.

So here’s to a sweet, fruitful and healthy new year for all – whatever you celebrate – and also to the reading and writing of fiction.

Now back to my homework.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Family, Female Friends, friendship, Holidays, Jewish, Mental Health, Midlife, Second Careers, Semi-Retired, Women, Writing

NEW BOOK: “Parenting Through the Storm – Finding Help, Hope and Strength When Your Child Has Psychological Problems”

 

No, I did not write this NEW book – but I wish I had.

Or, to be precise, I wish it had been written when we first needed it – say, about a decade or so ago.

But, I am VERY happy to let you know that this book is now available in the U.S. and I had a small (very small) role in making that happen.

Parenting Through the Storm” is written by Canadian author, Ann Douglas – an “award-winning parenting writer and the mother of four children who have struggled with a variety of psychological problems – and are currently thriving.”

(Lucky her, I say to myself – re-reading the last clause).

Lucky me too because Ann Douglas contacted me last year to ask if I would assist her in customizing the original Canadian version of her book for American readers.

Big issue there, as you can probably guess, is that Canada has a rather (understatement) different health care system than we have here in the United States. While much of Ann’s amazing guide focuses on parenting  – and is written for parents wherever YOU live – to help deal with and find support for the stress that comes with raising a child, teen or young adult with mental health struggles, many of the topics covered by the book – for example, topics such as:

 

  • Obtaining a Diagnosis
  • Starting Treatment
  • Advocating for Your Child
  • Working with Your Child’s School (& College)

 

.. the information and advice for these subjects needed to be modified to reflect the (IMHO, sad) realities of how mental health care works (and doesn’t) within the U.S as well as the way we do things in our educational and legal systems.

Working with Ann to customize her Canadian-audience book for American readers was a wonderful experience. Can you tell how proud I am just to be mentioned in the Acknowledgements and to be quoted on young adult and college-related mental health on a few of its’ pages?

NOTE: This blog post is NOT meant to promote Ann’s book in any commercial manner. I’ve not been asked to plug it nor do I get any financial benefit if you purchase it. I just admire the heck out of it and am thrilled it is now available here.

What makes it special? It is a nuts-and-bolts guide but also a how-to-help-yourself-guide. Ann addresses not only the specific “What do I do now?” questions –  but also gives solid advice on how to take care of yourself at the same time. And if you don’t practice self-care as a parent of a challenging child, believe me it won’t go well for you or for anyone in the family.

You may not need this book – but my well-educated guess is that you know a parent (or a grandparent!) who does. Or will some day. One in five children and teens are affected by mental health struggles. These kids hurt – and so do their parents.

Please share the news of its’ U.S. publication widely – and if you are the one “parenting through the storm”, as Ann says, you are not alone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, College, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Moms, Parenting, Reading, Women, Young Adult Mental Health

Overheard – and Understood: “Syria” at the Hair Salon

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I always enjoy going to get my hair cut – but likely not for the reasons you may think.

Although I adore my fabulous hairstylist and champion colorist, Katie (who is guiding me through the just-started process of letting my for-years-dyed-brown hair go “natural” – a story for another blog post – although if you see me on the street and notice my blindingly obvious rapidly-growing-in white/gray roots, do feel free NOT to comment) –

Wait, where was I?

Ah, yes, I was talking about one of the reasons I like going to the hair salon.

Because of the excellent eavesdropping opportunities!!

NOTE to the wise: I have very good hearing – and if you are sitting next to me at a restaurant, on a plane or at the hair salon – I will be able to listen to your conversation. Apologies in advance.

There are often some wonderful tidbits of life to be over-heard.  That perhaps will make their way into this blog in a slightly-disguised fashion – or into a piece of fiction that I write (this fall I am taking a graduate school class on “Techniques of Fiction”).

Yesterday at the hair salon a woman came to sit in the next chair who looked familiar. I glanced her way several times and realized that yes, she was the wife of a lawyer with whom I once worked. Or more accurately, for whom I once worked. Because I knew her –  although I’m pretty sure she had no idea who I was – I tried my hardest NOT to over-hear her conversation with her stylist.

I failed.

I learned (not to my surprise) that Lawyer Wife (a) is still happily married, (b) travels to nice places (c) has adult kids doing well and (d) has grandchildren.

Lawyer Wife wasn’t bragging or being snobby about her contented-sounding-life. You probably also know people who, from the outside anyway, seem to have fewer problems than the rest of us.

After Lawyer Wife’s hair was finished, she left the salon. I was not yet done because trying to go from having dyed hair to letting the white/gray grow in is a more arduous process than I had realized. Involving significant use of those crispily-irritating, little silver foil squares to highlight the few non-white/gray strands that are left to make the quickly multiplying white/gray strands less noticeable. If you have questions about this process, let me refer you to Katie.

The woman who followed Lawyer Wife into the chair next to me, let’s call her Attractive Middle-Age-Woman – started to tell a story to her stylist about one of her adult kids, or maybe it was about a niece or nephew. Sadly, I couldn’t quite hear every word of Attractive Middle-Age Woman because as she began to talk, my own hair was being blow dried, which hindered my ability to eavesdrop.

(I did briefly think of asking Katie to put her blow-drying of my hair on pause so I could better follow the interesting conversation of Attractive Middle-Age Woman, but decided not to do so, knowing that Katie, quite the stickler for salon etiquette, would not be amused by my request. And I like to keep Katie amused.)

From what I could hear above the noise of the loud blow-dryer:

The adult child that Attractive Middle-Age Woman was discussing had “issues” – he or she was troubled,  a source of distress to her family.  Another member of the family kept asking questions of Attractive Middle-Age Woman about the troubled adult child which her mother was reluctant to answer. This member of the family was rather persistent, she kept “probing for pain” (as a psychologist I once heard at a lecture describe it.) Finally the mother of the troubled adult child told the other family member to stop asking questions, explaining something like this:

She’s like Syria, get it? A messy situation of long-standing. Lots of conflicts, brief flare-ups of peace, but mostly ups and downs. Too many factions involved trying to figure it out who don’t have effective solutions. And it continues on and on.  Painful. Sometimes I don’t want to be asked or talk about it. It’s hard enough to have to live through the situation without being asked questions that have no good answers.”

At this point, Katie had stopped blow-drying my hair and was applying the finishing touches, whirling me around in my chair so I could admire her lovely results. I had no choice but to pay the bill and leave the salon so did not get to hear the finale of the Attractive Middle-Age Woman’s conversation.

But wow, how I identified with her analogy of her adult child’s situation to a constantly war-torn nation.

There are times when I do feel like talking about the young-ish adult in our family who causes us major concerns, and other times when I get angry if family and friends do not ask questions – and do not offer to help — but there are also many, many times when I don’t want to answer any questions!  Similar to the ongoing conflict in Syria, a trickily difficult situation with no clear solutions.

My Message to Attractive Middle-Age Woman:

———if it seemed like I was eavesdropping, yes, I confess I was. But particularly because what you were talking about resonated with me. I so get your analogy to Syria. And likely others do too. It is hard enough to have to “live through it” without having to answer questions.

That is one of the reasons it is so soothing to escape to the hair salon. To have your head ministered to by hair wizards like Katie. To try to forget all about your Syria while your hair is being washed and your head massaged. To admire the results and have people tell you as you are leaving how good your hair looks.

A brief and welcome respite.

Which is (one of the reasons) why I like going to the hair salon.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, Communications, Law firm life, Lawyers, Mental Health, Parenting, Talking, Women, Writing, Young Adult Mental Health

Reflections on the Horrific: Thinking of the Parents

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 A quote of which I am quite fond tells us that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

(Thank you, Soren Kierkegaard for this bit of philosophical wisdom.)

Perhaps that was the thinking behind Facebook’s latest gimmick – to offer up “Memories” of posts you have shared from years prior. Mostly you laugh at your old photos or think about how young you once looked (sigh.) But sometimes you think, wow, I was pretty profound.

Last week a “Memory” popped up on FB of a post I wrote four summers ago.

I was deeply upset by the July 20, 2012  mass shooting in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater by a young man named James Holmes. My understanding (looking backwards for understanding as Kierkegaard suggests) is that he acted without cognitive understanding while in a psychotic state due to his untreated severe mental illness.

Here is what I wrote on July 22, 2012:

“The silence of the parents of James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, touches my heart. How stunned, how shocked they must be. Even if they knew that their son’s mind was slipping into delusions and derangement, probably they could not help him or convince others to do so. They join the parents of the young man known as the mass shooter at Virginia Tech as members of a club they never thought they would belong to. They are grieving, too.”

Four years later, and my sympathy is also with parents of adults who take incomprehensible actions.

So many mass shootings have taken place in recent months – with different underlying causes.

  • Some shootings caused by terrorists who did not, as best as I know, have any kind of mental illness, but sought to kill civilians for their own misguided political purposes.
  • Some shootings caused by criminals who did not, as best as I know, act under the influence of mental illness, but instead were propelled by some toxic combination of their overwhelming hatred of others, racism and/or anger.
  • Only a very few of mass shootings are caused by people, often – and sadly – young men – like James Holmes in the summer of 2012, with long untreated extremely severe mental illness whose emotions and thoughts are so impaired by the illness that they have lost all contact with external reality.

(For the record,  people with severe mental illness, especially when it is untreated, are much more likely to be the victims of violent crime, than to be the perpetrators of it.)

Through the media we read tributes to the victims, those who died and learn about their relatives who are left behind.

Rarely, though, do we read about the families of the shooters. Who are grieving too.

They, too, will have an empty chair at the next holiday table. All future family gatherings will be missing the one relative who has become famous for his notoriety, not for his good deeds. I always remember that he was someone’s son, too.  He was once well-loved. He had baby photos taken and admiring grandparents as he toddled around the house.

Then he grew up – and whatever the reason, ended up being one of those young men that we read about only when he does something tragic and terrible.

Try, if you can, when you hear about the latest mass shooting – and no doubt there will be more of them – to consider the parents of those who end up in the news for horrific reasons.

Can these parents ever, looking through a backwards lens, come to understand how their son changed from an adorable child to a very troubled adult?

Soren Kierkegaard had it right –  but perhaps only up to a point. We live forward, yes, but we can not always understand life looking backwards. Sometimes life is just too inexplicable to understand the reasons why our children take the actions they do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Spring of Staying Put (a/k/a Mulch Madness)

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Reader, we decided not to sell our house.

For those of you who are fans (as I am) of Charlotte Bronte and “Jane Eyre”,  you may recognize that I cribbed this first line.

In the writing workshop I took this spring our terrific teacher told us to get to the point at the beginning.

To let the reader of any story know the essential conflict with which the main character is dealing.

So I have.

And now, if you are patient (unlike a very self-important, senior lawyer at my first law firm who, when I launched into how I reached a conclusion in a legal research memo, would interrupt – “I don’t want to know your explanation.  Just tell me the answer.”) – here is what happened:

This past Sunday – instead of clearing every surface and hiding laundry in the closet in anticipation of our planned first “Open House”, we went out and bought mulch.

Lots of mulch. Dark brown chips of decaying “material” which my husband gleefully spread beneath the recently trimmed bushes in our front and back yards.

JP stood back and looked at his handiwork with a pleased grin:

The house looks great, doesn’t it? The lawn, so green because of all that rain. I’m glad we’re staying.”

I am too, sort of. Pretty much. Almost. Not as sure as he is. But the right decision – for now. I keep tacking the phrase “for now” at the end of every sentence when friends and family ask me why we changed our minds.

It took an intervention by friends to get me off the “Let’s sell NOW” track. My friends saw the blind spots I had that I couldn’t see. That I didn’t want to see. That I hoped would disappear if I tried not to think about them.

Well, duh, of course, I couldn’t see the blind spots – that’s why they have that name.

Everyone has blind spots, don’t they?

The friend who always says “yes” but doesn’t understand why she feels so exhausted.

The relative with the chip on his shoulder who doesn’t feel  its weight.

The colleague who thinks she is being helpful but comes across as patronizing.

My blind spot was taking expert advice without adapting it to our family as our circumstances evolved. The expert crunches the numbers, looks at the market, studies the spread sheets. It all sounded so reasonable.

But when we really dug down into those pesky numbers, when we drilled into the details and up popped the real-life problems moving would create vs. the problems moving would solve, we realized the timing wasn’t right. For the experts maybe, but not for us.

Two of my dearest friends reached this conclusion before I did (and they didn’t even have to research and write a legal memo to get there. lucky them!) They came over on Thursday afternoon as I was taking a last batch of family photos down off the walls. They escorted me into our extremely clean, dog-free living room. They admired our freshly-painted walls, the newly empty mantel above the fireplace and the tidy book shelves and told me to sit down.

I sat on a chair; my friends on the couch facing me.

The house looks great. It really does. You’ve worked very hard  in the past few months to get it this way.”

I beamed.

But don’t sell. JP is right. Now is not the time.”

I squirmed. Like any long married person (our 38th anniversary is this weekend.), I hate it when my husband is right – and I am not. (Thankfully, this is an infrequent occurrence.)

I let my friends list their reasons. I even listened intently without interrupting.

They pointed out the blind spots that I had failed to see. They saw what I knew in my heart but had trouble acknowledging. Moving now would cause tremendous upheaval that our family didn’t need. We already had enough turmoil going on. We didn’t need to pile on.

Not now. Not this spring. Maybe in the fall. Perhaps next spring. Perhaps not then either.

This ran against my nature – since I am quite excellent at creating a plan, making the “to do” list and seeing a project through to its conclusion. Check, check, check. I can focus narrowly and deeply. I do NOT like being thrown off course.

But circumstances changed –  our plan stopped making sense – my husband could see that, my friends could too – it was only me who had trouble changing directions.

The intervention didn’t last long. We hugged, they left and I went to the kitchen to make dinner.

Every day this week, I’ve been happily putting back up the family photographs we had taken down while “decluttering”. JP is trying not to gloat. We are staying home.

“For now.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, Aging, Baby Boomers, Empty Nest, Family, Female Friends, friendship, Husbands, Law firm life, Lawyers, Marriage, Mental Health, Midlife, Parenting, Women

“No Woman Is An Island” (Even When She Wants To Be)

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Twice last week I was reminded of the famous John Donne poem.

First, when I listened to President Obama use the phrase “No man is an island” while speaking before a U.K. audience alongside Prime Minister Cameron –  (and no matter what you or I may think about the foreign policy implications of “Brexit,” that word itself is fun to say.)

But I digress.

Second, when we read a stanza of the Donne poem in the Haggadah during our Passover Seder on Friday night. Friends put together a contemporary “Haggadah”  (the name for the Seder service telling the story of the liberation of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt.)  Modern versions of a Haggadah, like the one we read from last Friday, often include non-religious readings on the subjects of freedom and humanity.

Thus, we come to the British poet John Donne who in 1624 wrote, in part:

“No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent” – an ode to the connectedness of mankind (and womankind too.)

Yet sometimes connectedness can be over-rated  – as proved by my recent dreams about fleeing to a remote island where WiFi is unavailable .

Which is an odd thing, perhaps, to say for someone who is likely perceived by friends and family to be an “extrovert”, but lately I’ve had severe pangs of over-connection leading to fervent wishes to relocate to an island where no one can reach me.

(with the possible exceptions of weekly visits by my toddler and baby grandsons and the occasional conjugal visit from my husband.)

Or as Greta Garbo was to have said, “I want to be left alone.”

I think we all sometimes get to this stage – when we have given SO MUCH of ourselves to SO MANY PEOPLE that there is very little left and we just want to retreat and not hear, talk or write to anyone for a few days. Or maybe longer.

In my case it has been a confluence of the extraordinary neediness of a certain family member which has overwhelmed me, combined with having to deal with the many trivial “issues” that come up when trying to get a house ready to be sold. Too many demands, too long of a “to do” list and I long to cover my ears, hide my iPhone and escape.

Hence, the “island” metaphor. How good that looks to me at this moment.  Solo and selfish seems like a wonderful place to be.

And though we may want to run off with a small suitcase (for me, it would be very large, because I never have packed light and don’t intend to start soon) to a tropical island (or by a lake or near a mountain, you pick the scenery ) retreat where no one can:

  • irritate us with their ceaseless questions,
  • checks to be written,
  • deadlines to meet
  • calls to make
  • and responses to our emails that show us that they never bothered to read our initial email – for if they had read our first email with more care, they would not have responded with yet another dumb question…

(plea here: we have become a nation of skimmers. a bad thing! I urge you to read emails all the way through. with care. that will enhance our inter-personal communications. trust me on this.)

…we cannot really flee, because, yes, as Donne said, we are all inter-connected, on the same continent of life, and our personal relationships – even when they are mighty demanding – are what – in the end – hold us together and make us human.

So much for the island idea. I must comfort myself with the knowledge that we all go through these episodes of being overwhelmed by life’s demands.

Retreat isn’t the answer even if those tropical drinks with the little perky parasols (but who would be on the island to prepare and serve them to me?) do seem awfully appealing just about now.

 

 

 

 

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