Thursday, January 21, 2016

I'm Well, and You?

[Insert obligatory apology / explanation / self-flagellation re: shocking length of time since last update here]

I write this in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, sitting in a sunny café. In a while I will go to pick up HB from school, but for now my time is 100% my own, and that feels delicious.

I left my job some eight months ago, and it was one of the best decisions of my life. It took about four months to decompress, which goes to show you how very very compressed I was. In retrospect I see I was responsible for a jaw-dropping amount of stuff; while in the midst of it I sometimes wondered if I was just wimpy. I know, I know!

One of the first things I did was reschedule my trip to Guatemala. I didn't even re-research it - I had the credit for the trip I'd canceled a year before so I just picked a date and went. I spent the whole time firmly planted in a small semi-remote town, practicing Spanish half the day (outside, next to the lake, one on one) and wandering, taking pictures, and barflying the rest of the time. It was glorious beyond words. The view from my room:

Aside from that, I've been hanging with my kid, really wandering the streets of my city for the first time ever, slowly rehabbing / running, reading, surfing the web, catching up with friends, fixing All The Things in the house, saying goodbye to one sweet old cat and introducing a sassy new one, barflying, sewing, and many many many therapy appointments (mine and HB's). I've done a little work filling in for people I used to work with (but not in my old location and not a lot). My students approached me to do homeless outreach with them, which is pretty cool. (This week a homeless guy's tent had fallen down and I had some duct tape so I helped put it back together. What merit badge is that?) My students also asked me to lead a creative writing workshop, which was a blast.

We budgeted for me not working and that's going ok, so I'm waiting to see what possibilities come along. I truly adore teaching and will do that one way or another. HB asked me not to work full-time again, and whatever I end up doing I'll respect that.

HB has come SO far. Day to day it can sometimes be hard to see the improvement but when you zoom out, well. First off he's not suicidal (!). Second, he no longer worries about the future in the extreme - and extremely specific - way he did. Third, he spends much less time angry and is even often chatty and polite to people. Fourth, he mostly likes school. You'd think that he'd love it every single day since there are ZERO REQUIREMENTS, but there is a pretty firm social contract and he pushes against that regularly, resulting in "sentences" (e.g. no using the computer room, extra cleaning, etc.). He mostly gets in trouble because he wants the older boys (15-17 year olds) to respect him so he does macho crap (which doesn't work).  But on vacation he wishes he were at school, and when I pick him up he's playing with a gaggle of kids.

I've come far in my therapy too, but I think I'll leave that topic for another time.

I will say that I have had to repeat my own Maggot Instructions to myself many, many times over the past couple years. That shit is good advice!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Out of the Woods, Into the ... ?

I love our lawyer. And not just because she got our money back (and got us out of the remaining $14k) but because she was therapeutic to talk to and wrote a kick-ass letter detailing everything that went down. (We had a cataract of emails proving everything, which helped.) They might have given us our money back without a lawyer, but her sending the letter to everyone concerned I hope will make it less likely that this will be swept under the rug. They were so awful that we felt a duty to try to prevent other kids from going through anything like this.

HB went through a really rough spell. Worst were the nightmares, which hed never had before, amazingly enough. In one of them teachers were torturing him with whips and axes. And he did chew his nails off again.

As for what to do with him ... he really didnt want to stay home. He was bored, and it made him feel like damaged goods. But the very idea of teachers and homework etc. gave him panic attacks. So I went on a hunt for a school without those things.

And I found one! Just two miles away! Its new, small, and total mayhem: no curriculum, no grades, no formal instruction, no homework, no report cards ... but it does have a really good drum kit. Its like it was made for HB. Hes about as self-directed as they come, but I truly do not care if he learns another shred of standard curricular crap at this point. They had room for him, he started two weeks ago, and the nightmares are gone. Hes still ... “clingy” doesnt really describe it; hes like a baby kangaroo hunting for my pouch. And the rages are still happening, but they are spreading out more and more, and I’ve seen him smile and even laugh.

And he just came in and made me watch this:

HB's Theme

Meanwhile, I quit my job. I had to give six months notice so its not quite as dramatic as that sounds, but it’s a pretty big deal after 12 years. But thats a post for another day.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Of Baiting and Switching, with Many Footnotes

Thank you for all of your support and advice, on and off-line. I kept planning on updating here but then something would change and it seemed premature to post. And maybe just too painful.

So, June and July … he was able to go to and enjoy camp once the psychiatrist wrote a note saying he couldn’t participate in swimming.1 He made great advances in discussing his feelings rather than just getting angry. But he still couldn’t bear the idea of school in any fashion. Couldn’t go to a new school and face new kids. Couldn’t go back to his school as is. Couldn’t go back to his school with accommodations or repeat 4th grade rather than moving up to the middle school because he didn’t want the other kids knowing he was different. (He is determinedly different in that he has hair to his waist and wears only yellow, but these are the differences he’s chosen and that to his mind make him appear better; he doesn’t want to seem weaker, especially since he’s the smallest and youngest in his class.2) He wasn’t asking to stay home – he understood he had to do school somehow, and he gets bored at home anyway – he just couldn’t think about it without panicking.

But then in early August it was like a switch flipped. He started really talking. He said he was happy sometimes. He even quit biting his nails. I don’t know what did the trick. Likely a big factor is that I asked my husband to give up on this year’s racing season, which he had thrown himself into even more OCD-ish than usual – which is saying a lot. The medication dose was adjusted, though HB seemed better even before that. Really I don’t know what did it, but I was so relieved.

He was even willing to talk about school, but the only option he thought viable was to go back to his old school if they could make allowances for him to ease his anxiety. So our psychiatrist contacted the school psychologist to see if that was even possible (he goes to a private school; IEPs etc. don’t apply). And the psychologist said it would be no problem. The main things agreed upon were 1) that the teachers would not publicly call him out (something a couple of them were known to do on occasion) if he did not turn homework in during the first weeks of school or if he was not writing things down in class and 2) that he would leave a cell phone (purchased for this purpose) in the nurse’s office and if he was panicking, he could sign out of class and go down to text me. He was not allowed to wander the halls, leave class without notifying the teacher, text in places other than the nurse’s office, or generally disrupt the other students.

The weeks running up to school were an anxious time, but he said he was “nervous and excited – nervcited!” He got his nails and hair done for the first day.

And then he marched in and followed the plan. It wasn’t easy for anyone, but he did what he agreed to do. He went in to school every day and stayed the whole day. He participated in class discussions, did some of the homework, and tried not to disrupt any other students. He sent me texts a couple times a day, but they were all asking for ways to handle his feelings and help him get back to class or about boredom with the curriculum (which did look boring and inflexible, rather different from what had been described in the middle school parent orientation last spring).

Some classes went great, though it seemed that not all of the teachers were on board; for instance, HB was berated in front of the class for not bringing in his reading log and was questioned a few times about going to the nurse’s office. Since we had met only with the psychologist prior to school – he said he should be the go-between rather than have us all meet – my husband now spoke with each teacher and reconfirmed with the psychologist the nurse’s office text plan (the psychologist even said – in front of HB – that he could take as long as he needed to text, which was a mistake on his part in my opinion, but what can you do). Toward the end of the first week my husband and I were to meet with the psychologist and the principal to go over how things were going and ways to make it smoother – or so we thought.

The first sign of trouble was when I complimented the principal’s skirt (I really did like it!) and she snapped, “Hmph. Thanks.” The psychologist then asked us to describe how things were going. I summarized events and said that while it would probably have been better had HB had another few weeks before school started, since that wasn’t an option, we hoped that the accommodations he had would help ease him in, tamp down his anxiety, and allow him to get back to his old self and participate fully after a little while, and that while it had only been one week, things seemed to be a little better for him already.

But I could tell the principal was waiting to talk rather than listening, and the minute she opened her mouth it became clear that not only was she not supportive of the plan, she was furious about it and at HB. She said that his not turning in homework was disruptive to the other kids “because it’s not fair.” She was outraged that he had missed any class time to text. She said that his not writing things down during a class was “disrespectful to my teachers, who trained hard to do what they do, and they do it very well – they’re not psychologists.” Then she said that “honestly, he’s just being, well, bad.”  “Bad?” we asked.  “We haven’t heard anything about any bad behavior.” So she said that in addition to not doing the work and leaving class (um, those were on the plan?), one day he didn’t clean up his lunch tray, another day he grabbed a ball from someone at recess, and once he fell asleep in study period. Then she threw a folded piece of paper across the table at me and said, “and now THIS.” I opened the paper thinking, oh god, did he write curse words or make a penis joke? only to find a worksheet on which he had written … wait for it … “I like pie.” “He handed this in,” she hissed. (He had been instructed to go through the motions like this if he felt frozen, so that the other kids wouldn’t be curious and therefore “disrupted.”)

I couldn’t help mentioning that he had been at the school for five years without a single disciplinary incident and that this was the first time we had requested accommodations of any kind, and the principal rolled her eyes.

By this point I knew that this was a horrible and hopeless situation, but I figured the best course was to not escalate. I said that HB should certainly clean up after himself and not take balls. The falling asleep was harder because he was having a lot of trouble sleeping given his anxiety over the beginning of school, but we’d let him know it was not allowed. And then I asked what her thoughts were as to the next steps?

Whereupon she announced that he was no longer allowed to text except during one break and during lunch (times when, of course, he is not panicking). He had to do the work exactly as instructed in class (because he was, presumably, faking his panic?). She would not ask the teachers to treat him any differently than the other kids if he didn’t do the work (and, she said, none of them would publicly shame a child anyway; “that’s his perception; that’s not what happened”). And this whole time the psychologist, who gave us the whole plan in the first place, is nodding to everything she’s saying.

We sat for a moment, stunned. Then I said, “This is very very different from what was agreed upon, and it’s going to be a lot for HB to process. From your perspective, if he’s too anxious to do all this, is it less disruptive to the other kids if he is just kept out sick?” Her reply was to shrug and say, “Well, my son sometimes just can’t face school and I say okay, but that’s maybe three days in a year.”

My husband and I were both wanting to shove the table over on top of her and rush to HB’s classroom to rescue him, but I merely said, “Fortunately we have an appointment with the psychiatrist after this. Originally it was just going to be a parent meeting, but now I’m thinking it would be a good idea for HB to come too.” The principal shrugged again, and the meeting was over.

When we signed HB out, he whispered, “Mom, I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to leave just because I’m having a tough day.” “That’s not it, sweetie,” I said. When we got home we told him simply that the meeting hadn’t gone as well as we’d hoped and gave him the new rules. The look on his face broke my heart. “I can’t do that,” he said. “That means I’m done with that school. And they’re liars.” We couldn’t disagree.

Had the accommodations not been in place we never would have tried to send him back and would have explored other options; now we’re weeks into the school year and have no place for him to go.4 And he’s been set back miles; he gets furious if any sensitive subject is even touched upon (though later apologizes, weeping). We’ve told him none of it is his fault, that there’s nothing wrong with him, that we didn’t realize the middle school administration was so different from the lower school, and that they were the ones who went back on the agreement, not him. But he’s not buying much of that, I can tell. He’s clingier than ever and no longer wants to be in the performance part of his rock school (maybe because it’s called a school?). It doesn’t help that I’m a mess over it; I try to hide it from him, but he’s perceptive. I find it hard to concentrate on anything else. Sometimes I think, stop it, there are people whose kids have life-threatening illnesses. Then I remember that so does HB. At least there’s been no suicide talk recently. And he still isn’t biting his nails, so there’s that.

I feel stupid and guilty. We knew beforehand that this psychologist was someone who liked to be in the center of everything and overstep boundaries, but we didn’t insist on meeting with the principal ourselves. And we assumed that the middle school would be like the lower school without properly checking it out. We took a vulnerable little boy and dropped him into a viper pit.

Oh and, by the contract we had to sign, the school still gets their $25,000.
He’s a good swimmer but hates it – being skinny he gets cold, he has a phobia about the 6-foot mark due to an incident years ago where he thought he might drown, and while the camp overall is completely relaxed about joining or not joining in on activities, they apparently contract the swimming instruction out to soldiers of fortune.

We never got the memo way back when that most kids with June birthdays were being held back a year from kindergarten unless they were so gigantic they would look absurd. Wish we’d done it then; I suppose he might have been a little bored since he was always academically ahead even being the youngest, but since his emotional and physical age are on the young side could’ve been protective. Oh well.

And he came up with an amazing analogy. He was asking about when he’d have a growth spurt and we got to discussing how there are different types of maturity and some you couldn’t do anything to rush. He mused on this and said, “I think my intellectual maturity is pretty high … but my emotional maturity isn’t.” I agreed and said that a lot of kids with that combination struggled with anxiety and depression, because they can understand things intellectually that other kids don’t notice, but they aren’t emotionally ready to process all that knowledge.
“It’s like being carsick,” he said. “When your eyes tell you you’re not moving but your brain tells you you are, you feel sick. When I know something but don’t know how to handle the emotions I have about it, it’s like feeling carsick.”
“That is an awesome analogy,” I said, “And you know I’m going to bring it up when you’re freaking out, right?”
“And you know that it will probably piss you off when I do?
“And after you calm down you’ll tell me I’m right.”
“Yeah,” he said, and chuckled. And it totally worked. Even in the midst of an outburst he’d say “I know this is a carsick thing!”

For a number of reasons, our local public school is not an option even if we had an IEP. There are a few private schools that might be able to deal with his anxiety and have the flexibility to allow for his being advanced in many ways and behind in others; we’ve got calls in and visits planned, but it’s not clear there is space for this year. We could home-school him if we hired someone to do it (and that may end up being our only option), but it would be immensely difficult not least because he trusts so few people – fewer now – and he’d be forced to be alone with a stranger much of the day.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Nothing Is All Right

I’ve told people when I see them in person, but it has been too painful to make an effort to reach out, so I feel I should put an update here. Short story: over the last couple months of fourth grade, my son became more and more anxious and upset about school despite there being no bullying or any trouble with his friends nor any difficulty getting his work done – in fact, he was ahead of the game most of the time. He also became furious at us over anything at all. We tried to listen/diagnose/encourage/help but the situation devolved until he finally refused to go to school at all and confessed that he was living in a gray world, things would never be better, and he felt that it would be best to commit suicide. He had a reasonable plan as to how to achieve this.

Enter psychologist, psychiatrist, low dose of an SSRI, removal from school, working from home as much as possible & family leave for my husband so that my son would never be alone. Hospitalization was considered but not ultimately deemed necessary.

Also enter guilt (about my role in his nature and his nurture), fear, grief, and constant worry every moment of every day and night.

My job is very hard at the moment and there is literally nothing that can be done about that short of quitting (which I’ve contemplated but that would create so many other problems), so I’m just doing a crap job on everything. I have told my bosses and they’ve been great, but there is only so much they can do. Oh and my assistant went out on extended sick leave.

My son refuses to talk with the therapists. He will go under protest but sits there angrily. (My husband and I are also going without him to develop strategies.) Things have gotten somewhat better. He says he is no longer suicidal (though we are of course not leaving him alone). He has continued to do his music throughout and with enthusiasm. He is voicing some of his feelings instead of just being angry all the time. But he started his day camp, which he usually loves, this week. The first couple days went well, but it has gone downhill and today he refused to go.

I am not shocked that he would have trouble – this child has always been so intense and dark that I feared he would have to face some of these things eventually – but he only just turned ten. I figured we had a little while left before the demons he was born with started to torture him in this way.

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever faced and I’m afraid it will only get worse from here.

Monday, February 03, 2014

How To Make Your Cat Skinny With This One Weird Tip!

Do you have a chubby tabby? Have you bought all the diet cat food in the world with no results?

I can help.

I’ve had a lot of requests to explain how I got my cats to lose weight. I’ve coaxed two lardos into the realm of the svelte.

The first subject: Moth. I went to the shelter and requested a “large male cat,” and they said, “Oh we’ve got one of those!” I went home with this:

He was 7 years old and weighed around 21 pounds. 6 months later he was under 14 pounds and jumping on top of cabinets.

The second subject: Foosa. After Moth died (at age 17) and my other cat was delirious with grief – or with the unpleasantness of being the only feline in the house, who knows with cats – I went looking for a cat I felt had a similar, um, spirit to Moth. Enter Foosa:

Foosa was one of those cats you sometimes see on the news. He topped the scales at 35 pounds, at which point his owner restricted him to one room of her house for a year to keep him from eating the other pets’ food but still only got him to lose 4 pounds. Her husband convinced her that he needed a new home, and I staggered away with him.

9 months later, Foosa was Half Foosa:

He went from being unable to jump onto a bed or clean himself to being, well, a regular cat.

So what’s the One Weird Tip?

Cats don’t have opposable thumbs.

If your cat is fat, it’s your fault. (Or maybe your spouse’s or your mother’s or your next door neighbor’s  – but the point is, it’s not your cat’s fault.)

Here’s what to do:
  1. Start regular – not diet – wet food. Yes, wet. Dry food has too many carbs. It’s like feeding your cat donuts and potato chips. Okay not really that bad but think of it that way. Got it? REGULAR not diet, and WET not dry.
  2. Get a kitchen scale and weigh the food before you give it to your cat. For a few days, just find out how much your cat is currently taking in.
  3. Decrease the amount you calculated above by 10%, and feed the cat ONLY that amount every day.
  4. Weigh the cat every other day (if you have a good human scale you can hold the cat and do the subtraction method). If the cat is not losing about 1-2% of its weight per week, decrease by another 10%. If the cat is losing faster than 2% per week, increase a bit.
(If you want a lot more seriously in-depth info, go here.)


My cat cries all the time and it breaks my heart not to feed her.
Grow a pair! Your cat probably cried all the time when you DID feed her all day. You can have a yowling healthy cat or a yowling obese cat. And this is what cats are born to do: hunt. Not eat; hunt. Nothing wrong about a hungry cat looking for food.

My cat hates wet food.
He will get used to it if he is really hungry.

My other cat needs to eat! I can’t stop the fat one from stealing all her food!
So separate them. Get creative. You can figure this out. Simplest is to lock the fat one up (with litter box) while the skinny one takes her time. The skinny one may need to be offered food several times a day, but not ALL day. (If it’s really ALL day – which it’s not, but whatever – put the skinny one in a room with food and her own litter box while you’re gone.)

My cat wakes me up to feed him.
This is one of the only tricks you can train a cat to do: wake you to feed them. You train them to do this by feeding them when they wake you up. Fortunately, cats are not very good at remembering tricks, so if you don’t feed them when they wake you up, they quickly forget. Always do something else first besides feeding the cat when you get up in the morning.

My cat steals my food! I can’t turn my back for a minute!
Don’t turn your back. Clean up when you’re done making and eating food. Or, lock the cat up and enjoy your meal in peace. Buy earplugs if necessary.

Will this work on a dog?
No clue. I do know that dogs don’t have opposable thumbs either.

I hope you enjoyed this non-running, non-PTSD post! Perhaps there will be more. Perhaps not.

Addendum: I forgot the chart I made!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Winged (Hipped?): A List

Haven’t posted not because things are terrible but because I feel like I keep saying the same old things, and who wants to read or hear that? Everyone likes lists, though, right?

10 Things That Happened In the Last 5 Months
  1. I injured my hip and can’t run. CAN’T. RUN. You all understand the terrible blow this is to me. I ignored my own advice (unfortunately not an unusual occurrence) and ran even though it made it feel worse. I kept going until every time I ran it felt like I was a deer futilely trying to escape a hunter despite the arrow hanging from my flank. I got an injection, which helped a tiny part of it, but it seems to be a much bigger problem. More specialty visits are in my future if I can pull myself out of my funk to actually schedule them. However, the injury did lead to one good thing:    

  2. Namaste! I have taken up yoga with a vengeance. I’ve been doing 90 minute classes two to three times a week, and it’s the bomb. (Why am I using all these aggressive words? This is yoga!) I’ve known for ages that I needed this to help with my flexibility and my core/upper body strength and evening out my crooked self blah blah blah and there’s a great studio blocks from my house but the injury was the push I needed. One of my best friends, on hearing of this, messaged me: That is unexpected. Instructor: “Serenity now!” You: “... no.” And sometimes it is like that. But OMG does it make me feel better. I’m not bendy in general but the hips, they are absurd. They are less flexible than a fundamentalist with lockjaw. The other day the instructor said “one teacher I had said that the hips are where the things we need to say but don’t are stored” and how I laughed. (I actually don’t mind the woo-woo stuff, the instructors are pretty noncommittal about it.)

  3. I feel embarrassed about how slowly therapy is progressing. I know, I know, I KNOW, it’s not a race, I can only deal with things at the pace I can, things that went on for years and then were suppressed for over three decades aren’t likely to be dealt with in the blink of an eye, Rome wasn’t built in a day, a watched pot never boils, ’tis not good to bruise an injury till it were full ripe … but still. I feel like I have therapy dyslexia.

  4. Therapy IS progressing. Per my therapist, the trickiest part is not to replicate the abuse by forcing the therapy, but we have established that he may be a little too gentle and things are getting more intense now.

  5. My therapist asked why I’m not doing the things now that I’ve always wanted to do and I said “uhhhh …” so I am learning Spanish for real and planning a two-week solo trip to a language immersion place for my birthday in the summer.

  6. Also, tentatively planning a big tattoo of a jellyfish on my back. Why a jellyfish? Because jellyfish a) get to float gently on the warm waves, going with the flow; b) are beautiful; c) pack a secret weapon. And why a tattoo? Mid-life crisis.

  7. HB now has hair to his waist and has thrown himself into guitar and drums at rock band school and has paid for a bunch of equipment with his own money. His stage name is Lemon and he wears as much yellow as he can. He is also doing well at school school, where he continues to be a class clown (still amazes me given his angry angry first five years) but is also making a name for himself with his writing ability (!).

  8. I cry at movies.

  9. The cat who lost half his weight has stayed at his goal (and the thin cat has not starved, though this takes some strategizing).

  10. I visited my mom over Christmas and it’s oddly reassuring to see again that I’m not imagining how weird it was to grow up with her: she’s like a lamp with a loose wire, flicking on and off, all there and then all gone. Sample exchange, as she’s writing a list: “I’m going to the supermarket. What will the boy eat?” “Chicken nuggets and Bubba Burgers.” When she returns: “I'm surprised he wanted Boca Burgers - they're vegetarian!” “I said Bubba.” “No you didn't.” “Look at your list.” “I lost the list.” “How come you didn’t call?” “I forgot my phone. Oh and they didn't have chicken nuggets.” And they still can’t lock their house because she loses every single key. They only lock it when the cleaning service comes (which, thank goodness for cleaners) and then my mom can’t get back in unless my stepdad is with her.

Did I miss anything important?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

There's One Tiny Running Tip Near the End

Near the start of all this therapy crap, I tried to think of something that gave me pure joy to do, and came up with: concerts. At a good concert my forebrain shuts its judgemental trap and my hindbrain just does its animalistic thing. I decided that to reward myself for doing therapy, whenever I had the opportunity I would buy tickets to any band on my running mix.*

Well, there have turned out to be so many opportunities that for my own health I’ve had to pass up a few. I’ve now seen about half of the artists on my current mix­—several of them twice—and a bunch whose songs have rotated off. I knocked off a few of them at a music festival where my forebrain switched off for three days straight, which was almost frighteningly divine. If it were possible I might just live there.

But I need to live “there” no matter what I’m doing, right? So I plod on.

It would seem that just about everything you all told me about therapy is true. It’s a rollercoaster, a slog through mud, frustrating, enlightening, frightening, boring, encouraging, too slow, too fast, all of that.

Right now it’s going well. I’ve divested myself of a massive amount of guilt. I’ve discovered how much I’d restricted my emotional range, and I’ve made (baby) steps toward opening that up, without turning into the crazy person I thought I might. I’ve discovered a lot of triggers and some things finally make sense. I’ve told secrets that I’d never told a soul and I didn’t burst into flames like a Spinal Tap drummer. And I’ve finally, finally started to address my habit of reflexively beating myself up about being upset over something I should “just get over.” But I have a long way to go still.

It’s a bit hard to open up when you are brought up to believe that mentioning anything bad is dangerous, that being upset about anything is feeling sorry for yourself, and that feeling sorry for yourself is by definition a bad thing. Add to that decades of insisting to myself and others that I was not a victim of anything at all, and, well, I suppose it makes sense that I move rather slowly through all of this. And: a major component of my abuse consisted of the abuser cajoling me into telling him shameful secrets and then, if I rejected him, using them against me. (A highlight of one of my therapy sessions was my usually measured, calm, and mild therapist bursting out with “he was a fucking sadist!”) (Okay, maybe that sounds weird, but it was apt at the time and to me it was tremendously reassuring.)

Through it all everyone has been beyond great, my husband most of all. He somehow manages to say the exact right thing to everything.

In other news, our exchange student has flown home, which was sad (and which I let myself be sad about!) but also freeing­—turns out teenaged girls can be a lot of work, who knew? The job is insane still but I have terrific people to work with and have not had to have dealings with the icky guy, and I am shedding my guilt about not working a zillion hours a week. Also my boss said nice things about me in my annual review, which doesn’t hurt. What else … my on-the-spectrum brother is getting married, which no one EVER thought would happen, and to an awesome woman. (He’s usually had terrific girlfriends, but he always kept a very separate life. This one he moved in with a couple years ago. She even got him to quit smoking.)

And running, ah running. Summer running is the best. Well, up till about 95 degrees, maybe a little hotter if it isn’t too humid. Here’s the running tip I promised: before you head out in hot weather, run a cloth napkin or kitchen towel under water, wring it out slightly, and leave it curled on a plate in the freezer in the shape of a large croissant. When you get back it will be the perfect shape and temperature to wrap around your neck or forehead. (Try to do this in private unless you are a Brett Michaels fan.)

*Aside: my new favorite running song is Joseph Arthurs “Saint of Impossible Causes.” “Harper Lee” by Little Green Cars kind of cracks me up because it reminds me so much of therapy. And the pomDeter mashup “Call Me A Hole” never fails to make me give up any grumpy thoughts.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Running Away Is Still Running

Yes, those tired jokes: The only time you'll see me running is if I'm being chased, etc.

Well you know what? It's okay if you're running because you're running away from something. In a metaphorical sense, at least.

Jennifer posted on the Facebook page:

I read some of your blogs & I'm gonna try for 2 months. I used to run..... It's what got me through my divorce. I loved it then but now when I think about it I think Yuck!! I think now I'm just lazy.

My reply:

I don't know about lazy. I definitely love running MORE when I really need it: after a bad day, during a stressful time, etc. - so during a divorce it would likely feel heavenly. I wonder, though, if part of the "YUCK" is that in your mind, running is now associated with that bad time? If so, doing it a little bit - slowly! - now may unhook it. (Also, if you're a stress runner, you might try it on days that are sort of sucky - you'll probably like it more.)

One of the best things about running is that it makes you feel better. And sometimes the worse you feel, the bigger the benefit.

Lately I've been racking up more and faster miles than I have since, well, probably since I ran my marathon more than a decade ago. When I'm feeling mellow and happy (hey, it's happened), I sometimes have to force myself to run. Afterward I usually feel mellower and happier, but the absolute difference between before and after is a lot less. These days the delta is huge.

So my advice for today is: if you need motivation, think of something that gives you angst, and then go running.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Newest Recruit: My Therapist Is a Maggot!

I have recruited many surprising Maggots, but I think this is my biggest catch of all. I am drunk with power. Okay, maybe it had nothing to do with me, but let me think so.

Backing up: my therapist from time to time gives details about himself - very carefully, I'm sure; he does not say much that is not intended to further the therapeutic relationship. Some three months ago he mentioned that he used to run five miles a day but had stopped. Of course I couldn't help but blurt out "You should have only run every OTHER day!" He said yes, he knew that - his ex-husband was a running coach. (I'd already assumed he was gay - which made things easier for me.) Let me say, it is very hard to imagine my therapist running. He looks more like he was the kid who tried to get out of gym every day to play Dungeon & Dragons under the bleachers.

Last week as I waited to be called back for my session, I started feeling guilty about the fact that I am always the last appointment of the day, and therefore the one who extends his day (I know, I know, this is ridiculous, of course it would be someone else in this spot if it weren't me, but the time spent waiting for the session to begin is a particularly easy time to get lost in self-recriminating musings). Then I thought about how he should be spending his time instead of talking to me: running, of course!

When the session starts I usually say the thing that's uppermost in my mind, so as I sat down I said, "I was just feeling sad that you don't run anymore."

He gaped at me, then a delighted smile spread across his face. "I don't know what to make of you sometimes," he said. "How do you do that?" Then, at my evident look of confusion, "I just started running again this week."

I was so happy and proud - then promptly chided him for running every day again. Then he chided me for turning the attention onto him, and then we talked about how I am not in fact responsible for his long days or, in fact, for All The Bad Things In The World.

But let me think I'm responsible for some of The Good Things, including for him running, because every new recruit makes me feel great.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

How I Became A (Slow) Runner

I don’t believe I’ve ever told the story of where I originally got the idea of starting to run by going slowly. In fact, it’s slightly embarrassing. But since I’m learning to tell the truth, I will admit it now: I got it from Jane Fonda.

This Jane Fonda:

As opposed to the Barbarella, Black Panther, Hanoi, Keffiyeh, Ted Turner, or Christian Jane Fonda. (I just learned that her given name was Lady Jayne Fonda. Could explain a lot.) (I like Feminist Jane Fonda, just for the record.)

Anyway, the year after I graduated from college was a not great time for me, and it occurred to me that getting fit might help things. I was not overweight, but I was definitely not strong. One day I found an old Jane Fonda book (not even sure which one) lying around my mother’s house. I briefly tried a few of the exercises, but they felt absurd and rather useless. Then one very small paragraph caught my attention: she mentioned that running is a good way to exercise, but that you should make sure you don’t run so fast that you have a hard time talking.

Well, I had always liked the idea of running, but whenever I tried it, I found it miserable. I was gasping, cramping, and unable to go for more than a few minutes. It had never occurred to me that running didn’t have to feel this way. So I put on some crappy shoes and vaguely exercise-appropriate clothes and went out the door. I was shocked to find how slowly I actually had to go to feel like I could still converse. (Mind you, I was not conversing. I made sure to do this someplace where no one I would know could possibly spot me.)

And this time, I could do it. I walked some of it, sure, but at the end of 30 minutes, I was exhilarated. I think by the end of that very first run, I was hooked. (Aside: I am writing this via dictation because I have a wrist injury* and it kept transcribing “f—ed” instead of “hooked.” Maybe I should have left that uncorrected.)

The rest was trial and error. I quickly figured out that if I ran two days in a row, something started to hurt. I discovered that running on a track gave me knee problems, probably due to running on a slant/turning corners constantly. I found that if I tried to track my time too closely, I ran too fast and burned out before the end, and that I shouldn’t speed up until the second half of a run. I learned that eating candy before a run was not wise. I figured out that I couldn’t run early as I was too stiff in the morning, even in my 20s.

And I got rid of my chronic headaches. I became strong. I found muscles in my legs I didn’t know existed. I was better able to manage my anxiety. But most importantly, I was a runner, and having that identity somehow made me feel so much more confident and able to face life.

So thanks, Jane!

*Said injury due to bad luck, not deliberate self-injury: I was trying to move a large picture when the frame fell apart and the glass slid out. Turns out if you slice the inside of your wrist open, the staff in the emergency department get quite worried. I also found out that showing up to your therapy appointment with a wrist wrapped in gauze can cause quite a stir. The receptionist couldn’t spot my name in the appointment book at first, and suddenly four people were running around reassuring me and chasing down my therapist (who was in the bathroom, poor guy). I didn’t even know that many support staff worked there. In the session my therapist asked what the heck THAT was that all about. I showed him my wrist and he was like, “Ohhhhhhh, right.”

Monday, March 18, 2013

May I Have a Copy of the Agenda Please?

This sure is some freaky, tiring shit. Bad week overall. Much crying (though I suppose that could be seen as an improvement as I had been well-trained not to do so?) and leaving of work.

It’s like a civil war inside me, and I don’t know who is winning at any given moment, or even always which side I’m on. So much smoke and fog and pain and I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing and I just want it to stop.

On the one hand I’m thinking: I have achieved so much, I have such a great spouse and friends and kid, and I like myself. I’ve developed ways of living in the world that make me feel like a good and valuable person. Clearly whatever happened in the past can’t have affected me so much, right? Can’t I just forget it? And then I remember that I have nauseating panic attacks at the very thought of romantic physical affection, which, hm, seems odd and unfortunate, and even before that was true there were things I strangely hated (e.g. making out) and places that hurt, and I have spent years and years approaching a sense of being truly present in the world without consistently or even frequently achieving it and wishing I could be like other people …

Not that I have a choice at this point. There’s no un-knowing something. Once the connections had been made, the game was up. But I wish I had a schedule, you know? Like when you’re at a kid’s concert and you think you’re going to die from boredom interspersed with embarrassment but at least you have the program and can check off each performance and know that there will be an end to it.

I have the feeling that I have so successfully cut communication off between the bad bits and the parts of me I like that I might have, er, a bit of a struggle opening those channels back up. But in the meantime the tiny chinks that have broken open are leaking this noxious gas out and there aren’t any windows to open.

Work is, surprisingly, going okay, especially considering I’m giving approximately 50% effort. I see now that my need to keep constantly busy is likely not the healthiest thing, but I also become overwhelmed with guilt when I don’t work as hard.

My husband is being so great. Sample text exchange:

Ditto my friends, who in addition to supporting me in innumerable ways send me things like this:

I showed that to my therapist and he cracked up.

And you all. Thank you so, so much for listening and advising and not being judgmental. This blog is probably as valuable as the therapy. And a lot cheaper.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

If You're Feeling Anxious, I Probably Didn't Mean You

I am worried that I have set off a storm of self-recrimination among the mothers. Let me reassure:

When I say I "keep the house clean," I mean:

  • No one in the family has fleabites all over
  • I do not have to worry that my child will realize in the middle of the day that the cat pee smell is coming from his own shirt and spend the rest of the day trying not to sit near anyone
  • There may be dirty dishes on the table or counter or in the sink, but not in the cupboard
  • The washcloths and dish sponges are not usually rancid
  • There is never mold on the bread, cheese, bathroom, and dishwasher all at the same time
  • I don't yell "if I didn't have KIDS this house would be clean"
  • I don't leave cigarette butts and ashes all over
  • My eight year old doesn't have to wash and fold his own clothes if he wants to wear something clean

When I say "I don't freak out," I mean:

  • I don't start banshee howling when I miss an exit on the freeway
  • I don't break things when I'm mad
  • I don't jump in the car in a fury and drive away in a spray of gravel
  • I don't engage in road rage that ends in being pulled over
  • I don't shut down every tough conversation

When I say "I don't lose my keys all the damn time," I mean:

  • I am neurotic about knowing where my keys are all the damn time because I hated hated hated being stranded someplace while my mother did a banshee howl and turned her purse inside out and tried to figure out who she could call to get us
  • I can lock my front door because I don't lose my keys, which means my kid does not come home to interrupt burglars in progress (yes this happened)

When I say "making sure there is enough money," I mean:

  • The bank account is not overdrawn every month
  • Creditors are not harassing us all the time
  • The gas and electric are not shut off

These are not things that will individually (or even all together) ruin a child. Children are tough. These are things that made me especially upset given everything else that was going on. I overdo these things because I am so fearful of under-doing them.

(Giving physical affection, not hitting, and not routinely mocking or shaming a child for being upset? Non-negotiable.)

Monday, March 11, 2013


Getting a lot of testimonials on the video I mentioned in my last post. Check it out if you’re having running issues. One way I check myself as I run is to see if far-off objects are bouncing up and down, which means I am. A little bounce is inevitable unless you’re sprinting, but you shouldn’t be pogo-sticking.

I’m also getting a lot of women telling me that they have some of the other kind of issues that I do. As I said to a friend: it may be the curse of the smart responsible woman – many of us were forced into this role in some ways (usually by insufficient – or worse – parenting plus something – or things – really bad happening). Not that I think my personality isn’t mine, but my overwhelming sense of failure and shame if I don’t take care of everyone and everything perfectly? That I could do without.

As for what exactly happened to me, I know I’ve been vague. It’s hard to spell it out (duh – it took over 30 years). Part of that is because my mother, whom I love dearly and who has grown into an amazing person, does not come off well. And part of it is because in some ways the exact things that happened don’t really matter.

But (some) of the story is: My brother and I were unwanted, to the point where my brother went 10 days without a name after he was born (because they hadn’t really believed it would happen, I guess?). My mother was immature, resentful, and lonely. My father was older, aloof, and moody. My parents took no pictures of us – I mean NONE. They rolled my crib into the bathroom and closed the door when I cried because I would wake my brother up (this is a “funny” family story). I felt amazed and lucky when either of them held me any longer than necessary. My father was sometimes fun and loving but sometimes violent, somewhat toward me but much more toward my older brother, who would have been diagnosed as being on the spectrum were he growing up these days. My mother was enraged by my brother too. I became hypervigilant and spent a lot of time trying to help him avoid punishment for typical Asperger behaviors. I tried to be perfect so as to avoid punishment myself. I drew picture after picture of a man spanking a child until my mother told me it was weird and I should stop.

That was the first 5 years. When I was 5 my father died in a motorcycle crash. Chaos of a different kind ensued, including a mother who intermittently did not parent and a tenuous financial situation. When I was 9 we moved to a new house where we were rather isolated. When I was 11 or 12 I was molested by a family member who was living with us for a time. I told my mother and the behavior stopped but she never discussed what she'd said to the person, nor did she discuss it with me any further. When I was 12 a boyfriend of my mother's moved in with us. He tortured and molested me over the next year and a half or so. He left and came back several times; I never knew when he would be there. I tried to tell my mother but she did not hear me. From the time my father died, I had been terrified of losing my mother too. I did what I had to do to keep the family from being broken apart.

My family was partly salvaged by my sane, responsible, caring stepfather, who entered the picture when I was 15. It took years, but my mother grew up eventually. She has apologized to me and my brother in a genuine way. She ended up caring for my grandparents despite having always insisted she couldn’t and wouldn’t, and she set out quite consciously to be a nicer person overall. I was very angry with her for a long time but when I forgave her, it was (and is) real. (Her ex-boyfriend I doubt I will ever be able to forgive. I do not know what became of him and it is probably best that I don’t know. He should be old enough at this point that no one else is in danger.)

Many of the things my mother did I liked. I kept a mental list of what I did and didn’t want to do like her. And in fact I have stuck to that list. The main things I do differently (aside from watching for abuse, obviously): giving my son as much physical affection as he wants; not saying “you’re just feeling sorry for yourself”; not spanking; less criticism of everyone and everything; not freaking out in front of my kid; being willing to talk about sad things (ahem - aside from my own); making sure there is enough money; keeping the house clean and vermin-free; and not losing my keys all the damn time.

If you look at the risk factors for and symptoms of “complex PTSD,” I can check too many off. But I have compartmentalized things amazingly well. My self-image in most areas is pretty intact. I have avoided most self-destructive behaviors (workaholism being the hardest one to kick). I did have severe somatization (aka hypochondria) for a while but running seemed to cure it. I can trust people - thank heavens, because I have to trust a lot of them/you. And all of the good changes that I have made over the past few years are robust.

Hearing how I have taught people to become runners makes me happy because I know running is partly why I am as sane as I am. It has been one of my lifesavers. That's why I'll keep saying it: get out there, Maggots.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Catching My Breath for a Minute

I finally found a video I like on improving your running form. I've gotten a lot of questions on barefoot running, and my opinion at the moment is that barefoot running probably forces people into better running form, but the actual barefoot state is not required. Some of us run the "right" way naturally, and running slowly is more likely to reinforce good habits, but take a look at this to check your technique.

In other news. The past few days have been ok. Whereas last week was AWFUL. So awful that I texted my therapist. This was not a big deal to him or probably to most people but the barrier of not wanting to be That Patient is huge to me. That Patient being the one who is so dependent and needy and unwilling to take steps to help themselves that you cringe when they contact you. I realize that sending one measly text in, what, a couple of months is about as close to being That Patient as sending a fan letter is to being John Hinckley Jr., but in my bad moments my ability to zoom out is harder to accomplish than it is on Google maps using 3G, and the bad moments were many.

The therapist had given me homework (at my request): "Try to think about The Events for 60 seconds only, just once." Me, ever the overachiever, thought I'd push a little harder and - bam! I was thinking about it nonstop. Pretty much every moment of every day that my mind was not fiercely engaged on another topic, I was thinking about this. Waking up, going to sleep, running, everything. Monday I texted my therapist. Tuesday I saw him, after which he offered extra sessions and wondered if he should speak directly with my psychiatrist and whether I had any anxiolytics available to me. THAT PATIENT! was shrieking in my head. "I'd rather you didn't, though I'm not sure why," I said. "Because you don't want people talking about sensitive subjects and making plans about you behind your back," he said. "Oh. Well, yes, that," I allowed. I did, however, make sure to tell people (including my husband) about it. So I've got people watching my back. Which reminds me of the time I got hammered at a wedding and a group of us went out afterward and I insisted on going skinny dipping in a lake in the dark. My boyfriend at the time (a nice one) and one of our friends, who were not drunk, did not think this was a good idea, but they humored me and swam out in a protective circle around me. This is a lot less fun, though. (Though that turned into the worst hangover ever ... one of those Lesson Learned episodes.)

Oddly enough, Wednesday was much better. (Hmmm. Could it be - the therapy?) (And I texted my therapist that I was doing well, thereby to my mind bringing my tab back to zero in regards to my text of last week.)

I felt better even before getting through The Big Meeting Wednesday about the future of my projects where I had to talk with the CEO, the Dean, the Chief, the creepy guy, etc. etc. This meeting was such a big deal that I just sort of gave up. E.g., I thought about wearing a suit or some such, but realized that I wanted to dress the way I feel comfortable. Hello bright yellow Target dress:

Oh and, the outcome of the meeting - at least in terms of plans for the next year - was ... pretty good. !! This will not hurt my state of mind one bit.

Aside: One of the Big Wigs, Botoxed to a fine sheen, entered the meeting laughing merrily and said "This is so funny! We're renovating our vacation house and had to gut two of the bathrooms - we're talking 1980s bathrooms! - and they mixed up the colors. The funny part is that after they fixed it they left all the wrong-color cabinets and things at the house and said 'Sell them on ebay or something'! What on earth am I going to do with them?" (There were a few strained smiles. "Habitat for Humanity?" someone suggested. Fortunately most of the people I work for are not entitled idiots. But you can see why I feel nervous about my shabby but honest educational projects involving trainees working with the underserved.)

And, in line with his perceptiveness plus tenacity, HB finally insisted on me telling him what was wrong. "Mom. You have been distracted, sad, in a bad mood, and you keep saying you're fine or that it has nothing to do with me, but will you please tell me WHAT IS GOING ON?"

He knows that sad things happened to me as a kid - mainly my father dying when I was five, and having little money - that aren't going to happen to him. So I sat down and explained that sometimes grownups who had something bad or sad happen to them when they were kids for some reason get sad all over again for a while when they're grown up, and that was happening to me, but it would go away, and I was talking to a counselor about it. "Like when you lie on a couch and everything?" "Well, no couches, just chairs." "Ok then!" he said. "Thanks for letting me know. That's very helpful." (I don't know what I would have told him had he not had some knowledge of my crap childhood. That would have been a much harder discussion.)

In the midst of last week I couldn't see through to how this would ever get better. Just what the hell is going on around here? Someone needs to shape this place up. Jeez. My ignorance as to all of this is epic. I've been doing some reading - knowledge, power etc. - and have been startled by a lot of things. I did not know, for instance, that my episodes of overwhelming anxiety/fear/self-loathing/etc. are flashbacks. I thought a flashback was always visual like a movie, not just a feeling. Nor did I know what dissociation is (though that's not a simple topic, apparently). In general, I kind of thought no one else felt this way. And I couldn't understand how part of me can be doing so great and part ... so very not. Very black and white thinking, which is odd for me.

I'm both encouraged and frightened to think about the things I might learn next. The chaos state feels like wading in a river and slipping on a rock and suddenly being swept into a fierce current and thinking you'll never find your footing again and you're going under and you'll be over the waterfall in a moment. Then the current slows and one foot finds a little purchase and then the other does and you can stop and wipe the water from your eyes and catch your breath. For a minute.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The What Goes Where?!

Friday night was like a cosmic test. HB suddenly wanted to know exactly how a P can fit in a V (he had realized that although he knew where babies come FROM he did not know how they GOT there ... "how does the sperm …?" and he got tearful when I tried to put him off). I started worrying I was going to give him a complex about it being shameful so I tried to launch into it but my explanations (and demonstrations with a toilet paper tube - what? I was desperate!) were going nowhere, so I went looking for visual aids. CAN YOU IMAGINE TRYING TO FIND THOSE PICTURES ON THE WEB IN ANY REASONABLY APPROPRIATE SETTING? With a kid trying to get squeeze behind you to see the screen - "Why won't you let me see?" "Because ... some of the pictures ... are ... silly"? All I got that I thought I could show him were those weird sliced in half drawings that even I can't make sense of and I was resorting to pictures of ultrasound wands in use (imagine highly puzzled, half embarrassed squinting on the boy's part - with me thinking yeah, that's how I felt at the time). So my husband entered the fray. He thought he'd found something that was clinical-ish and not disturbing but of course HB immediately read the caption on the top that TH hadn't noticed: "My husband with another woman!" - Oh. My. God.

We got through all that with everything seemingly fine, but my nerves were shot. Then as I was trying to get the kid into the bath I noticed the exchange student lying on her bed weeping. So I went in and spent an hour trying to talk her down from a pinnacle of teenaged angst (unrelated to the creepy situation from before). By the time I went to bed I was about five exits past Done.

I think I passed the test Friday, but the days since have been particularly tough in terms of it all being on my mind almost all the time. This PTSD crap is just bizarre. Denial was a pretty nice place to live until I got evicted. Although the landlord was becoming a little hard to deal with over the past few years.

Reading and rereading and rereading the comments, I realize how many incredibly good friends I have, IRL, here, and crossover - people I feel I can confide in and trust. Many many more than, say, fifteen years ago, when I had approximately - let me think - one. And she lived in another city. I can't imagine having to do this then.