To There and Back Again

Six months ago in the wee hours of a Sunday morning I dreamed about my oldest son. In this dream, a police officer told me that my son had been hurt and was taken to the hospital. I kept asking over and over again, what happened? Was he going to be okay? There was never a response, just a click and then a dial tone on the other end.

A mother’s intuition can sometimes be unsettling and I woke up with a terrible sense of foreboding.

The next morning I received a phone call with the caller I.D. displaying West Virginia. Normally I don’t answer calls from another state because more times than not they are solicitors. However, I knew from the dream that I had that this call was going to be different. From my solar plexus, I knew that it wasn’t about my daughter overdosing again on heroin. I thank my lucky stars every day that she has gotten her life together and our relationship has blossomed because of her recovery. No, this was definitely different and I knew that I wasn’t going to be prepared, dream or not, for the news coming from the other end of the line.

I was relieved to hear that he was fine and that he was going to be okay, but he was in the hospital.

And then the story unfolded with information that I found difficult to process.

It was Two weeks before the incdent that he called me. He didn’t need money or anything, he just wanted to talk. He was living less than an hour away from us in Portland, but his daily life was busy with working full time and going to college.

I knew that he was stressed, his girlfriend of three years went off to college out of state and the long distance thing wasn’t working out too well. It was on again off again for 6 months before they officially ended it. He hated his job and had taken on too many classes. Add to that, he was having to deal with his alcoholic father who called him incessantly, all hours of the day and night while in a drunken stupor asking for favors that my son would inevitably give in to.

This was a 20 year-old who had reached his breaking point, but I never knew just how bad it had gotten for him. Yes, I knew these things were happening in his life, but the more I pried, the less I knew. He was careful to omit the sordid details; details that would eventually be revealed. He was always one who didn’t want to burden others with his problems, so he kept the conversation light, thanked me for listening and told me he loved me.

A few days later he just up and left at 3 a.m. He packed his car and headed to Kentucky of all places, to visit “friends” he had met on an online game. When he called me from Missouri, I was shocked, but he was an adult. As hard as it was, I bit my tongue. I couldn’t very well ask him what the hell was he doing or demand that he come right home. He was in good spirits and sounded happier than he had for several months.However, this journey he was on wasn’t all he had hoped it would be. He realized that no matter how far he went, he wasn’t going to be able to escape his problems.

So he had decided that there was really only one solution to his misery. After some quick research, he found what he was looking for. He got in his car and drove four hours east. With a Sharpie he wrote his first and last name on one arm (to make sure his body could be identified) and the password to his phone and laptop on the other. He then climbed out onto the ledge of a bridge that is known as a hot spot for suicides. People are drawn to this place with its impressive height and view of the Appalachian Mountains. It was a sure thing to extinguish feelings of hopelessness.

It just so happened that on this sunny day a sheriff’s deputy was on patrol and saw a car illegally parked alongside the bridge. This usually meant only thing, and sure enough he was found standing on the 3 foot wide ledge. This situation was very personal to the deputy because she lost her sister to suicide just three weeks prior. She called for backup and they were able to talk him into being helped from the ledge and taken to the psychiatric unit at the hospital.

The next 5 days were a blur as we caught a flight across the country to West Virginia. We got his car out of impound, and met with the doctors at the hospital. The relief that I felt when I saw him walking down the hall overwhelmed me. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t help the tears that flowed. My hands were trembling when I hugged him. Through his own tears, he kept apologizing for what he put us through, just as he had apologized to the sheriff’s deputy for causing a traffic jam on the bridge. At that time, I could only tell him how much he was loved, and how happy I was that he was still “here”.

The drive home was more of a rollercoaster ride for my emotions, and we sought intensive outpatient care as soon as we got home. We also began family counseling, where we learned that he began thinking about self-harm at 11 years-old. By the time he was 12, he was cutting himself on his upper thighs where the wounds would be hidden.

But he seemed so happy! He laughed; a lot. He played with his younger siblings who were 9 and 10 years his junior. He loved sports. He had lots of friends. But deep down, where we couldn’t see, there was a sadness that grew and grew. We have talked about why he didn’t come to us then. He explained that with the chaos and anxiety surrounding his older sister and her addiction, he didn’t want to add more to our stress. So he kept it in. We didn’t see. We never knew. Not until it was almost too late.

Fast forward 6 months and we are still trying to navigate the choppy waters. The treatment is ongoing and he is still living with us. He recently got a new job that he likes and has begun to think about his future in constructive, positive ways. He now will talk honestly about his emotions and we can only take it day by day, dealing with the ups and downs of life. We notice and appreciate the small victories. But then there is the underlying fear that my husband and I share. I’m not sure if it will ever truly go away. It’s a familiar fear, but it’s a different sort of vibe, because each child is unique. Things are far from perfect, but I see subtle changes in all of us and how we connect. There is now hope where once there was only invisible hopelessness.

***This event made me aware of how preventative measures are desperately needed to close the communication gap. There needs to be a willingness to talk about depression and other mental health issues between parents and children and the teachers that we entrust them to. There also needs to be a willingness to listen and give support. Enough of the avoidance and looking the other way. Uncomfortable as it may be, learning about depression and feelings of self-harm should be just as important as the (sometimes controversial) 5th grade health films they show our kids in school. These issues need to be included in the topics covered in said films to hopefully lessen the stigma for those who reach out for help.***

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To Start Where I Am

Since chronic pain came into my life 9 years ago, I’ve been trying to deal with a new way of living and with it a whole new way of thinking. And I’ve done a lot of thinking in the past few weeks as I’ve hit some highs and then some low-down lows.There were times in the past week and a half that I couldn’t get out of bed. There have been days in the past week where light and sound were excruciating to my senses. Two days ago I dropped a dinner plate when my hand spasmed and all I could do was helplessly look at the shattered pieces on the floor.

The feeling of helplessness just builds up…and up…and up….

When I’m having a really bad episode and all I can do is lie in bed and stare at the ceiling, I notice a cobweb in the corner. I’ll turn my head and see an empty water glass that needs to be washed. When I turn the other way I see that my closet is messy. For days, sometimes weeks, (at one point about five years ago it had been almost 6 months) my eyes and mind will focus on all the imperfections in my home and see it as a reflection of me as a person. Me as a wife and mother and how I cannot care for those I love the most.

Then when I begin the upswing of good days, I can’t simply snap my fingers and make all the stress disappear. I fill up with anxiety every time I see my overloaded inbox, the empty refrigerator, and the giant piles of laundry. Then I’m like a lot of chronic pain sufferers in that when I have one decent feeling day, I will run around frantically trying to catch up. I’ll clean like a maniac in hopes I can get it all done before the pain returns. And it always does, and at that point it’s usually pissed.

Even after all these years, I’ve yet to fully come to terms with my illness and pain. I’ve read countless books on my conditions and have seen the top specialists. I’ve been coaxed into getting reacquainted with my body (a body that seemed to no longer like me) in order to be more in tune to our (its) rhythm. I’ve learned about energy management and how to create a schedule that works for me. I have seen the need to pattern my week so that I have active days followed by more restful days. I know I have to to do a little bit at a time to prepare for holidays, vacations, or long, hectic days. (I’m eternally grateful that things were good for the California trip) I’ve been schooled in the ways of expressing what my needs are and how to drop my pride when I have to ask for help.

Easier said than done.

I readily grasped the idea to make an outline for my life. I’m excellent at brainstorming ideas and making plans and schedules, but I’m absolutely terrible at following through. You see, I’m a list-maker. I LOVE to make lists. I have a list for nearly everything. Things I need to do, things I want to do, things I need help with, menu planning lists, shopping lists, need to follow-up on lists, home project lists, and on and on it goes.

During the bad times I’ll have short-term memory issues and terrible brain fog, getting easily confused (especially with dates and phone numbers). So I have spiral bound notebooks in every corner of the house (and in my project studio, but let’s not even go there) so that I can jot down ideas and plans as they come to me. Then when I get too many of these ideas and lists and sketches scattered about, I will tear them out and slip them into clear sheet protectors and then place them in the correct three-ring binder, complete with labeled tabs.

Then after I have everything in order, I don’t know where to begin. Which binder was the kids’ back to school supply list in? Where was the list for treatment plans? Where was the mind-map for my dream week? This eventually leads me to the fact that the current organizational system isn’t working.

So I’ll spend time flipping through the shiny plastic coated papers and sort them into new categories. Then I’ll begin to rearrange the tabs, like I’d like to rearrange my life.

I know what you’re probably thinking. That I’m a control freak. Anal. OCD. Manic. Micro-manager. Perfectionist. Hypercritical. Persnickety. Wonder Woman Wannabe.

I raise my hand in surrender. I’m all of the above…most of the time.

So here I go again. I have pared down to one small binder and I’ve put the other binders away. I am back to the basics with my original, simple day to day plan. I know it works because some of my best months in the past few years have been when I followed it. The problem has always been easing back into the routine after being out of commission for more than a few days. The perfectionist in me doesn’t want to just jump in where I am. I want to start with a clean, perfect house. I’m even sure there is such a thing. Or I think it’ll be best if I start at the beginning of the month. Or after ___________.

Well it’s Monday. I suppose it’s as good a day as any to start. I got out of bed and showered. I even followed my ‘routine’ for the day. I’ll be honest. I had a little bit of difficulty following my plan today. It wasn’t hard remembering what needed to be done, but hard to pace myself. To not panic. To not work ahead. To make myself stop between things. To not do two things at once. To have realistic expectations. And to celebrate the small successes as long as I was making progress.

Today wasn’t perfect, but I think I can call it a success.

Many Blessings on your Journey )O(