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?