Lifting the Fog

My Own Depression

In my last post, a little over a month ago, I shared that I was dealing with my own major depressive episode. The reason I haven’t posted is that, frankly, I haven’t felt able to write until today. Depression is one weird state of being. I’ve been here, but haven’t felt here. I’ve been going through the motions, doing the things I’m supposed to do (well, most of them) when one is depressed. I’ve been keeping my engagements, eating as well as I can, getting out for walks, trying to get enough sleep.

The thing is, no matter where I’ve been, or who I’ve been with, I haven’t felt present. I’ve laughed, but I didn’t feel the humor; I went to dinner with friends and talked, but I slowly disappeared from the conversation as I found it more and more difficult to interact. I slept, but I constantly felt as though I could fall right back to sleep.

Therapy. I went to therapy, too. Twice. The therapist was nice enough, but I don’t think that she understood the depths of my despair. My office mate, a seasoned child psychologist, says that she believes we psychologists make difficult patients. We know how to avoid, we are critical in the consulting room of what we are experiencing, and we are thinking ahead of the therapist we are seeing. Maybe that’s all true. So I’m looking for someone who can really call me on my stuff – someone who is more experienced as a therapist and parent than I am.

A Little Light

At the same time, just yesterday I experienced a little lifting of my mood. Even the hubby noticed it. The reason, I’m pretty certain, is that I found something that’s given me just the tiniest bit of hope, and the belief that there is something we can do to begin to make changes with what’s been going on with Blake. I feel just a little bit empowered.

A few weeks ago, while I was at a professional conference on anxiety, I met a very experience therapist at dinner one night. As we got to know one another and shared about our respective children, I shared a bit about what we are experiencing with Blake – days where he doesn’t get out of bed, his despair about life, his frequent missing events that would have been important to him.

“I’m not letting you go through this alone,” she said, reaching out to me, as she shared a bit of her own personal story. “This isn’t going to continue. We are going to get him help and I’m going to stay with you through the process.”

That evening, we plotted and planned. We agreed on who I should call. And I promised to stay in touch and follow through. Within a week, the hubby and I had an appointment with Blake with a longtime expert on kids and young adults who, like Blake, have a mixture of depression on top of OCD. What’s more, he’s had lots of experience with treatment refusers. We went with hope that, this time, Blake would agree to getting help.

Blake Rejects Treatment

Blake rejected treatment – no surprise there. On the way out the door he claimed to understand how “desperate” his dad and I are. He promised he would change things, but offered no concrete example of how he would do so. And then he fell asleep at 7 pm that very evening, missing dinner and sleeping until 3 pm the next day, forgetting he had a lunch date with his grandparents who were in town. And then he did the same thing the next day, missing his beloved grandparents once again.

Meanwhile, the hubby and I haven’t given up. Yesterday, we saw that expert on our own. He is prepping us to gradually work to increase the likelihood that Blake will enter treatment willingly and ready to work. We don’t know if it will actually work, only that we have several assignments to do ourselves over this next week. We also know that this will be itty bitty steps. Yet, I left the office yesterday feeling just the tiniest bit better. I have something to do, a direction to go in.

I noted to the therapist yesterday that the saddest part of the last two years is that we’ve been repeatedly told that there is nothing to do if Blake doesn’t want treatment. He shared with us his belief that the population of depressed/anxious young adults (and teens) whose lives are spiraling rapidly downward has long been neglected. For now, the hubby and I will be the catalysts for possible change. I understand that it is going to be a difficult road – but I’d rather be moving toward something than sinking deeper into the the muck that I’ve been in.

The Fog

I’ve experienced four major depressive episodes in my life (if you don’t count the postpartum depression after I had each boy). One was when I was a teenager – maybe 15 or 16 years old. The second was when I was 30 and my aunt (a close confidante) and uncle were killed in a freak accident. The third was when I was 38 and struggling through some major life issues. The fourth is happening now.

Mental health issues are abundant in my family. My siblings and parents struggle with various forms of anxiety and depression. One of my aunts died by suicide – one of many cries for help that had a permanent outcome. Another aunt in my grandparents’ generation was hospitalized multiple times for her depression and went through several rounds of electroconvulsive therapy. I remember stories of my grandfather locking himself in his room for days. I could go on. Suffice it to say, it’s no surprise that the hubby and I have passed on anxiety, OCD, and depression to our own offspring.

My last major depressive experience was before Blake was diagnosed with OCD. I almost forgot what it feels like…but I recognized it as soon as it started settling in. There’s the thick, thick fog in my head that makes me want to lie down with its weight, and the lack of enjoyment in just about everything I do. I feel myself going through the motions, but I’m distant, falling deeper into an abyss as I see this shell of myself move through the days. And then there’s the vacillating from just not giving a crap to being seized by moments of rage – to hearing myself pop off at those I love the most.

I Know What Prompted This

I can pinpoint the catalyst for each major depression I’ve experienced, and I know what it is for this one. Yes, there’s the fact that I just lost a friend to cancer. I promised I’d go see her – and then I didn’t follow up to that last text message that she didn’t answer…and she died. And there’s Michael. Sweet, competent Michael, who is on the other side of this country so stressed out by what he’s taken on that he can barely see straight. But I can handle either of these – alone or together. I can be the rock. There’s this one thing I can’t be the rock for anymore.

Basically, I’m watching my almost-adult son fall apart – at least in my eyes. This bright, funny, sensitive young man who the hubby and I have invested so much love, time, and attention in cannot seem to manage the basic skills of living day to day. Blake’s sleep/wake cycle, which we have worked so hard with him to regulate, is more messed up than ever. He sleeps until six in the evening and is up all night. When he does wake up, he is down on himself and upset. Then, of course, the schoolwork doesn’t get done. Two months shy of graduation and I’m not sure if he will finish his coursework.

Just this past week, we were supposed to take a trip to the school that is his first choice for next year – and where he was accepted. The place where he will train in the skills that are supposed to launch into the career he’s imagined most of his life. We told him this trip was a “must” in the final decision-making process. The hubby and I woke for our plane flight. Blake had already woken, turned off his alarm and gone back to sleep. The hubby went in to wake him again and let him know he had to be downstairs by the appointed time – a time that came and went and ended in the hubby cancelling our flight, our hotel, and our rental car. Moreover, it made us recognize that our son is not ready for this next step in life. I think I’m okay with that, and yet, I still grieve.

Time to Step Back

I look back over the years and I wonder how we got here. Perhaps I’ve propped Blake up too many times. One of the things that happens when you have a child who struggles with OCD is that you become fiercely protective. You make sure that people around him understand what is going on. You make sure that accommodations are in place where necessary. You push him forward when he cannot find the strength to do it himself. But the most painful realization of late is that, perhaps, I’ve done more of the pushing than Blake has. I may have prevented him from developing the skills he needed to be ready for this next step in life. I haven’t allowed him to fail and pick himself up.

You see, while Blake has been struggling with his sleep this past year, it’s really been me who has done all the work. I’m the one who has set up all the protocols. I’ve been the cheerleader. I’ve been the one who has emphasized how important it is to learn this skill. I’ve been the one who has gotten him out of bed and prevented him from missing the really important things. And I can see the future if we keep propping him up and then send him off to college next year – in an apartment out of state, no less.

It is all but destroying me watching him go through this. It’s like watching some suspenseful series, constantly rooting for the hero, seeing him fail over and over, and not knowing where this story is going to end up. Even as I pull away, I sink more into my own depression. To make matters more stressful, Blake is watching my every move, as he always has. He is sensitive to my mood, wanting to know what is wrong. His OCD tells him he must take extra care of me. If I scream out the things I really think and feel, I will only set him off and send him spiraling.

I’m Getting Help

I tell him that I am struggling with a big episode of depression, as he’s heard me talk about having experienced in the past. I tell him that it is not anybody’s fault; it’s how my body works. I tell him I am getting help. I have an appointment with a therapist next week. I hope that I am being a role model by getting help when I am struggling. What’s more, I really need the help right now. I need a place to put all that I’m feeling somewhere besides on my hubby’s shoulders. I need a neutral party to look at this situation and guide me. And I need someone to hold me back before I say something stupid or jump in and try to “save” my boy yet again.

Too Many Anxieties

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The hubby and I have just returned from a two week trip to South America. We are celebrating 25 years of marriage and it is the longest we have gone away from our boys. They’ve just held down the fort for two weeks, Michael exercising his young adult wings and grandparents checking in on them.

It has been a long day; it’s nearly 8 p.m. here and the hubby and I have been up and traveling since the equivalent of 2 a.m. It’s hot and we are hungry, yet all we want is to spend time with our young men. We pick up food and take it out onto the patio. It’s cooler here than inside the kitchen. Michael and the hubby start to swap stories. Michael shares what he learned about how difficult it is to run a house. The hubby talks about traffic in a country south of the equator. I notice that our table is not complete. Blake, who was preparing his own meal, has not materialized outside. I peek inside the kitchen and see him sitting by himself at the table.

“Blake?” He is quiet. “Blake, are you going to join us outside?”

Blake’s head is down and he is somberly eating away, appearing more like he is forcing himself to eat than enjoying any of it.

“We’d love you to join us.”

“I…I can’t. Bugs…”

“There aren’t any bugs that I can see tonight.”

“It’s just. I have so many anxieties. Eating outside brings up too many. I don’t want to stand up to them tonight.” He places his head in his hands.

“You don’t need to. Thank you for telling me. I’ll miss you. See you after dinner.”

I go back outside to join Michael and the hubby, who are still engrossed in conversation. Blake finishes his meal alone at the kitchen table. I ache just a bit for the piece of our family that is not here and for how I can see that Blake is struggling. Yet I’m glad he could put it into words, without screaming, without melting down as he might have in the past. He is learning to put his struggles into words. He is learning to share that he is anxious and that he doesn’t have the strength to challenge his fears right now. That is growth. Perhaps another day his strength will win out.

“I’ll Try”

Image courtesy Gualberto107 at freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy Gualberto107 at freedigitalphotos.net

“Why haven’t you posted on your blog in a while?”

My hubby poses this question as we sit at dinner with Michael. I stop for a moment and ponder his query. The truth begins to make its way out; I’ve held it deeply inside for these past months.

“I haven’t been able to write since Collin died,” I say. The three of us sit in silence for a moment. Michael’s friend and classmate since kindergarten was killed in a tragic auto accident in February (see “The Phone Rings in the Dead of Night“). Although the young men mostly moved in different circles, and though our contact with the family had dwindled to meeting up at Open Houses and Back-to-School nights with agreements that we needed to get together, in the aftermath of the accident our community suddenly seemed much smaller and intricately interconnected. The air felt heavier. Little things mattered less…and my own personal struggles felt insignificant.

“I have my sons,” I say. “So Blake has OCD. So he struggles with depression. It just seems insignificant to write about that when Wendy and Jay would probably give anything to have Collin there, even if it was to have an argument. Maybe I was just wallowing in my own stuff. We have a good life.”

“Yes, we have a good life,” the hubby acknowledges. “We also have this very real thing going on in our life. It’s not insignificant. OCD and depression are not insignificant. If you don’t write about it, you don’t acknowledge the realities of the people who read your blog to connect and to have hope. You also don’t acknowledge our reality. Your writing isn’t wallowing.”

“You need to write, Mom,” Michael encourages me.

“I’ll try,” I promise.

So, it would seem, I am trying. Let’s see where it goes…

 

The Phone Rings in the Dead of Night


IMG_1971[1]Saturday morning, February 27, 2:31 AM

  • I am woken from my slumber by our home telephone announcing that Michael is calling us.  I quickly do the calculation in my head.  It’s 5:30 AM where he is. Michael is not an early riser.  Something must be wrong.  I race to the phone and no one is there.
  • My hubby and I call Michael back from each of our cell phones.  Voice mail. We text. No reply.
  • I start to hyperventilate. I picture an awful accident. How can I go back to sleep? The hubby pulls me into a tight hold in our bed.
  • I remember I have a “Find My iPhone” feature on my phone.  I’ve promised to only use it in emergencies.  I think this qualifies.  I locate the phone in his dorm.
  • I fall asleep around 4 AM with vague images of campus shooters in my brain.

Saturday morning, February 27, 6:38 AM

  • A text from Michael.  “Sorry my phone has been having trouble with voice control. It must have called you while I was asleep. I love you!”

Michael and I talk once I’m fully awake.  He tells me that, while he was sleeping, his phone randomly dialed our house phone, a girl from junior high, and a friend from our religious congregation.

“You know what’s weird, though, Mom?  At the same time I managed to call everyone, I was feeling overwhelming panic.  The last time I felt that was when Kat died.  So, I thought maybe Uncle L had passed away.”

What Michael is referring to is that he had a premonition a few years ago at nearly the same moment a close family friend died.  And, right now, the hubby’s beloved uncle is gravely ill.

“Uncle L is at home with family,” I say. “No one died.  Maybe you just felt my panic at receiving your call and not being able to reach you.”

“Maybe.”

We are both wrong.

Sunday morning, February 28, 1:33 AM

  • In my dream, there is a chime. Then another. I wake to see light shining from under Blake’s bedroom door.  Maybe that’s what woke me.  I wander in the dark to the restroom.  I have a vague memory of a chime in my dream.  Maybe it wasn’t a dream.
  • I check my phone.  There’s a text from Michael: “I found out that Collin X* died yesterday in a car crash.” “Do you want to talk?” I reply.  “Sure.  I’m just confused right now.”
  • Michael calls me from the hall outside his dorm room.  It’s just after 4:30 AM where he is.  Everyone is asleep. Michael has known Collin since kindergarten. Collin was killed shortly before Michael began sleep dialing last night. Michael is dazed and in shock.  Suddenly, he begins to sob.  He can’t believe this is happening, and he is so far away.  I tell him it’s okay to let it out.
  • Alone and sobbing in the hallway, Michael develops a gushing nose bleed. He takes me with him into the restroom and I wait silently for the bleeding to stop.  Finally, it does.
  • Michael talks until he is ready to try to sleep.  I promise to contact him when I know more facts.
  • I lay awake looking for news that can tell me if, indeed, this is true.  The facts I can find all point in a bad direction.

Sunday, February 28, 9:06 AM

  • Can you talk? Just heard some news.” reads the text. “Collin?” I reply, hoping the sender doesn’t know what I’m talking about.  If she doesn’t, then maybe it wasn’t him. “Yes,” is the reply.
  • Joanna is crying on the other end of the line. She’s in a social group with Collin’s mom. The worst is confirmed. Collin was riding home with friends when illegal street racers on the highway caused a horrific accident.  A big rig was sent careening into the car Collin was riding in.  The big rig driver and two teens, including Collin, died at the scene.
  • When I hang up the phone, it’s my turn to cry.  I’ve known this family for years.  I cannot begin to imagine their pain.

The hubby and I have an event to attend. In my numbness, I dress myself, try to go through the routine. I give Blake some instructions about what he is to accomplish today.  A couple things to catch him up in school.

“Great.” he moans. “Now I have nothing to look forward to.”

Blake doesn’t know about Collin yet. I don’t want to share this news on the way out the door, however, his words strike me.  I want to shout at him.  You think life is awful because you have a couple of assignments for school?! Collin won’t ever get to go to school again! 

I keep my mouth shut.  Blake is still struggling with depression, still not wanting help for that or for any mental health issue.  I’ll talk with him later.

Sunday, February 28, 10:40 AM

  • As we drive to our event, the hubby’s phone rings. It’s one of the dads from the group of kids who’ve grown up with Michael.  He’s known the hubby since childhood.  He and his wife want to visit with Collin’s family later today.  Will we go with them?  Of course we will.
  • We arrive at our event and a friend innocently sits down next to me.  “How are you?” he wonders. I burst into tears in front of him.

When we get home, we tell Blake about what has happened.  We offer to answer any questions he might have.  He doesn’t have any.  We ask how he is doing.  He says he is fine. We tell him Michael is having a tough time and would probably love to hear from him. He says he has nothing to say. We mention his comment about having nothing to look forward to and we talk about how there are blessings for us to find in each day that we are here.

“This doesn’t make me feel any better,” says Blake.

Sunday, February 28, 6:40 PM

  • We meet at Joanna’s house – the hubby and myself, Joanna, and the other couple. We walk over together, looking for emotional strength in our numbers. Will they even be wanting visitors. We will respect what they want. We each bear gifts. I’ve baked. It’s all I know how to do when there’s a loss – bake, cook.
  • As we approach the door, we slow down. Who will go first? Do we knock? Ring? Our friend’s wife is the brave one. She rings. The woman who answers the door motions for us to come in. Collin’s parents come up front to see who it is. Our connected lives instantly plug in. Their tears start to flow when they see us. We all hug and cry for what seems endless moments.
  • I wander into the kitchen and set down my baked good. As I make my way back to the front, I see Collin’s dad, our friend, and my hubby locked in one big man embrace – three manly men crying in each other’s arms.

When we return home, I ask Blake if he will please come walk the dogs with us. It’s been a long, difficult day and I’d like to walk together as a family, even for just this little bit. He argues with me about not wanting to come, but I ask him to please join us. As we walk, he stays about a half block ahead. I wonder with the hubby if Blake is struggling, angry, or simply detached. I never know lately. When we get arrive home, Blake is waiting to get into the house. I have the key.

“Thank you for coming, Blake,” I say.

“I hope it made you feel better,” he says and he walks inside and places his headphones into his ears. I try to hug him and he shakes me away, telling me he doesn’t want to be coddled. There’s really nothing for me to say. I’ve been reminded today that, no matter what is going on in their lives, we parents must cherish the moments we have with our kids. Yes, we will have struggles and difficult emotions, but each is a blessing in their own way. I try to remember that as my son demonstrates he wants nothing of this.

The hubby and I finally climb into bed. He holds me more tightly than normal. We hope for a night without phone calls or text messages. We think of Collin’s mom, trying to call and text Collin, much as we tried to call Michael when he accidentally dialed us in his sleep the other night. We imagine locating his phone and finding it, instead of in a dorm, at the scene of an accident. Nauseated and numb, I finally fall asleep.

* As always, all names have been changed for privacy.

When Psychiatrists Disagree

Image courtesy blackzheep at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy blackzheep at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m sitting in my car.  I check my e-mail, then I check the clock. Eleven-thirty a.m. Finally. I dial Dr. X’s number on my cell phone, not really expecting him to pick up. He’s told me to call at this time, but he must still be finishing up with a patient.  I’m just anxious to hear what he thinks and take the next steps.  The phone rings.  Dr. X picks up.

“I have just a few minutes,” he tells me.  “I haven’t heard back from Dr. Z yet.  Tell me what he had to say.”

Dr. Z is the psychiatrist we met just the other week.  He’s the head of adolescent psychiatry at a major university, a close colleague of Dr. X, and someone we consulted with to see if there is something different we can be doing to help Blake.

“He said that he sees Blake as being affected by dysthymic disorder – a constant low level depression.”

“What about his OCD?  Does he disagree with that?”

“He agrees that he has OCD.  He just doesn’t see the OCD as the cause for the depressed mood right now.  He thinks we should change to the other medication I mentioned.  Try a trial for a time-limited period.”

“Here’s the issue,” Dr. X says.  “Dr. Z has always liked that other medication better.  The down side of it is that it can cause greater amounts of anxiety in kids like Blake who already have high anxiety.  The other problem is Blake.  How does he feel about it?”

“He’s willing to give it a try for a time-limited period.  He is doubtful that it will be helpful, but he’s willing to do it.”

“Look, I know Blake’s history and we have to take that into consideration.  Blake has a negative view of the world and he doesn’t have much motivation to change things right now. I’m concerned about putting all our eggs in one basket, putting everything on the hopes that this medication will change things.  If Blake isn’t really on board, and if this medication is a failure – which it is likely to be if he doesn’t want it to work or believe that it can work – then it just becomes more proof that the world isn’t worth it and that he’s right to have the world view he does. He really needs to want to get better.”

My stomach is sinking at this point. This is an issue that’s come up over and over in the past four years. Blake has to want to get better. It doesn’t matter what anyone else wants; it matters what he wants. The truth is that it is still me who cares more than Blake about how his life is going. It’s me who wants to jolt my son into giving a damn about the world.

“I understand what you’re saying,” I  say, as my heart turns into a knot in my throat. “It’s just that I’m the one who has to wake him up every morning – over and over. I’m the one who doesn’t get to work out in the morning, or schedule patients before the afternoon. If I leave the house, he sleeps until three pm.”

Dr. X continues, “I really think that Blake has not experienced the full consequences of his refusal to get better and to join the world. It’s a tough time for this, but it’s important that he feel the consequences of not getting out of bed. I had another patient where the mom finally had to tell the son that she’d changed her life enough for him and she had to go back to work. We call it ‘family accommodation’ when family members change their behavior so that the one who is ill does not have to suffer as much…”

“Dr. X, you know that I know what you’re talking about. I work with this with my own patients and their families all the time. It’s just so hard to know what to do when it’s your own child. You’re telling me that I have to let him experience the consequences of his not getting up and not getting involved in the world.”

“Look, Angie, if Blake is on board and wants to, I’ll order a test to see how he metabolizes medication. That will help us know what medications are or aren’t likely to help him. However, Blake has to really want it. I’ll wait to hear from you about when you’d like to meet. I’ve got to go; that’s my next call.”

I sit in the car, alone in thought, for some time. I had been so hopeful. I’d wanted to put faith in the idea that a medication change could make my son see more that is positive in the world, maybe help him find a little motivation. Now I’ve been brought back down to Earth. I am reminded once again that a key ingredient is Blake. I’m also reminded that I probably make life a little too easy. Do I have the guts to stop waking him up and let him face the consequences? Will he even care? There are definitely no easy answers for me.

A Second Opinion

Image courtesy pandpstock001 at freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy pandpstock001 at freedigitalphotos.net

“This form is about what we do with your information.  This one is about our e-mail policy.  Please sign here – and here.”

Blake, my hubby, and I are crammed into a little couch that was probably only meant to hold two.  I’m halfway on, halfway off.  The psychiatrist in front of us is quietly, methodically having us complete new patient forms.  He’s part of a major university and the forms are in abundance.  The hubby and I are hopefully anticipating that this doctor’s opinion will help us find a way to improve Blake’s mood.  Even more so, we are hoping he will see how devastating Blake’s inability to stay awake is, and that he will think of something that we, and his other doctors, haven’t yet.

Blake is really just along for the ride.  We talked this over at the dinner table last night.

“Frankly, I’m not hopeful at all,” Blake had said.  “I’m not expecting anything.”

So he is here because mom and dad have made the appointment.  Now, as we begin to share the information about our son – how he cannot stay awake in the morning no matter how much he sleeps, how he sees little future for himself, how he believes his life has been a wasted sixteen years – I’m feeling a little foolish.  I watch as the psychiatrist puts his head in his hands, pulling his hair back from his face.  He gets the information he needs from the hubby and I, then he asks to meet alone with Blake.

“Sure,” we both chime when he asks us to leave.  I’m curious if Blake will share more than the vague one or two word answers he has been giving so far.

“I think the psychiatrist thinks we’re nuts,” I half-jokingly say to the hubby.

“He doesn’t think we are nuts. He’s analytical.  He’s just thinking,” the hubby says.

Within minutes we are back in the office.  The psychiatrist explains that he believes Blake has a dysthymic disorder. That is, he is plagued by a low level depression that colors the way he sees the world.  It is punctuated by days or moments that are worse, but it is mostly this low level of depression.  He does not think that Blake’s OCD is the cause for the depression.  He recommends changing medications. He thinks this other one might be more energizing, especially in the morning.

Blake is doubtful.  He doesn’t like medication to begin with. He doesn’t want to try another and have it fail, but he is willing to try on a time-limited basis.  The psychiatrist wants Blake’s psychiatrist to be the one to prescribe.  He invites us to have him call so that they can talk.  We drive home with Blake saying it was just like what he thought.  Nothing earth shattering or even helpful in his mind.  The hubby and I want to believe this can help.  We want more from life for our boy.

I text Blake’s regular psychiatrist and tell him the outcome of this consultation.  He plans to contact the other psychiatrist.  I’m ready to begin the change right away, but I have a nagging thought.  He didn’t say it, but I don’t think Blake’s usual psychiatrist likes this idea. Now I’ll need to wait to see if I’m right.