Update on Waiting for the Storm

Just an update on a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago.  Hurricane Irma brought a lot of wet and windy weather to Michael’s university, but everyone seems to have fared pretty well. The students spent a few days indoors before the administration gave the all clear sign. No electricity was lost. Apparently, the students in Michael’s housing did a good amount of eating and baking. Michael caught up on a whole lot of sleep, too. The experience was a bit scary, yet a good learning experience for life for our young adult.

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Waiting for the Storm

I woke up this morning still trying to absorb my realization from this past week’s therapy session that Blake’s recovery will likely take longer than I originally had hoped. Blake continues to see treatment as something he is being “forced” to do, and he just has not recognized that our therapist is there to help him take the steps he will need to take to be ready for college in a year. So, in my mind, I’ve been working to readjust my expectations, and to hunker down for the potential long hall.

Creek below Michael’s university housing. I took this a month ago when I dropped him off at school.

Meanwhile, just as I woke up, I received the news that our oldest, Michael, will be doing some hunkering down of his own. His university reported that it will close on Monday due to severe weather. Students are preparing to “shelter in place” should the need arrive. Michael, a Resident Advisor (RA), took his residents to shop for supplies today, as he experienced his first ever tropical storm warning due to Hurricane Irma. As their wireless internet is already beginning to fail, he and his fellow classmates are anticipating losing their power, as many already have in this hurricane.

In a phone call this evening, I told my boy how proud I am of him and how much I love him. The hubby gave fatherly advice that included staying away from the creek that runs just below their living quarters. Now all we can do is wait.

Wishing my best to all who are affected by this hurricane, whether it be because you are directly experiencing its effects, or because you love someone who is.

– Angie

** Update on this post here.

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.

What’d You Do With That Cereal?

Where's that cereal been?
Where’s that cereal been?

It’s late in the evening and Blake is in the kitchen pantry. He pulls out a box of cereal and pours himself a big bowl. He comes over to show us. It’s remarkable only because Blake frequently avoids eating from already-open packages of food. Why? Because, well, who knows how that food might have been contaminated?

“It’s the after dinner snack of champions!” remarks my hubby, as he continues to watch the college basketball game on the screen in front of him.

Blake comes over and shows us how very full his bowl is. The hubby and I both admire it. Then he pours the milk in…and hesitates. His head peers over the side of the sofa.

“You guys don’t ever pour yourself a bowl of cereal and then pour it back into the box, do you?” he asks us.

“Of course not,” my hubby replies, glancing at Blake and then back at the screen.

I perform a little inner eye roll and realize how innocuous this little exchange would look to most, except to those with OCD in their family. Blake has just asked for reassurance. He is asking whether the food is contaminated or not. Hubby has just accommodated with his reply.

Reassurance is one of those things that can be so unobtrusive and simple, like the question Blake just asked and my hubby so quickly answered. Or it can be extremely frustrating and seemingly never-ending, such as when a child asks a parent over and over, “Are you sure you washed your hands? You’re sure, right? There’s nothing wrong with it, right? You’re sure?” However it happens, reassurance-seeking can be a compulsion for those with OCD. They feel uncomfortable and then need to seek out someone who can remove that discomfort. It’s one of those things a parent learns, in treatment, that they ought not to do.

So hubby has just reassured Blake that the cereal is fit for his consumption. I, however, am feeling playful. I want to upset this apple cart just a bit.

“Blake, I don’t ever pour out a bowl and pour it back, but I do sometimes take a taste and spit it back in the box when I don’t like it.”

“Oh, Mom,” he laughs…and he eats the entire bowl.

Room to Grow

Full grown wax palms in Cocoro Valley in Colombia
Full grown wax palms in Cocoro Valley in Colombia

Blake’s Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder has been in a calmer place for a while now. I say that as an outside observer. I really do not know what goes on in his mind; I only know that our family life has been much less impacted. I do know that there are still lots of little symptoms I observe: he utters a prayer multiple times (presumably because it wasn’t just right the first time), he repeatedly does a ritual hand washing, his entire hamper appears in the laundry room when it is only partially full (that means there is something in there that’s contaminated everything inside). Still, this is a far cry from the days his OCD kept us from going places or had him in a meltdown.

Most of the time, when I notice a little OCD symptom, I manage to keep my mouth closed and just let Blake manage it. That’s generally best for everyone. It was no different when we were recently in Colombia (yes, in South America) on a family trip. Michael was overjoyed to be practicing Spanish, his college major, with the locals and trying out different accents. Blake was there because he wanted to be with his brother while he was on winter break. It was tough for him to be in a very unfamiliar place, and there were trying moments, but he persevered.

One day, we visited a farm that is working to re-establish the wax palm which is a

Baby wax palm we planted in the Cocoro Valley, Colombia
Baby wax palm we planted in the Cocoro Valley, Colombia

national symbol of Colombia and has come to be threatened. One of our tasks there was to plant our own baby palm. Our guide brought our little palm over to us and gestured for all four of us to take hold of it and place it in the ground. I noticed Blake wince and hesitate to reach for the clod of dirt around the plant’s roots. Then I saw him reach out wholeheartedly, grasping the tree with the rest of us. Together, we placed it in the ground and covered it with earth. Blake immediately started wondering where there was some water so he could wash the dirt off his hands. Since we were in the middle of the farm, there was none immediately available, and he seemed to tolerate that just fine. He even walked off to get to know one of the nearby horses.

I snapped a photo of our little palm. With any luck, it will last longer than any of us as it will take about one hundred years to reach maturity. In terms of Blake, there were no words that passed between any of us. I don’t know if anyone besides me noticed that Blake stood up to his OCD in order to help give that little tree its start in life and it really doesn’t matter. They are Blake’s moments to savor and grow from, or not, while I get to delight in my own mind.

It’s Not Paris, But it Works for Me (Guest Post)

Today’s post is a guest post by my hubby:

imageWhenever we start a new endeavor, we have high hopes, anticipation, and curiosity as to where that endeavor or journey will lead.  It’s no different when our children come into the world.  Will he or she be a Nobel Laureate, a Hollywood heart throb, the next President of the U.S., or, perhaps, even more pedestrian, simply a good human being? Either way, we have expectations and curiosities about the journey, all the while anticipating that we will end up at the destination we envisioned. I liken this to traveling abroad.

When we board a plane to Paris, we expect that our journey will take us to…well…Paris. When we have children, we expect that our journey will take us to our metaphorical, “Paris.” More often than not, though, because life is just life, we find ourselves disembarking somewhere quite different than Paris – like Istanbul.  Then we wonder, “How in the world did I ever get here??” When we realize that didn’t arrive in “Paris,” we can chose to either appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of our new, unanticipated destination or pity ourselves and curse the gods of destiny; it’s completely our choice.

A couple of weeks ago, Angie came home from a trip to the market to find Michael, Blake, and I all in the pool.  Angie quickly noticed that, while Michael and I were in bathing suits, Blake, was fully dressed. Yep, jeans, t-shirt, and socks.  She just looked at me and I just looked back at her with a smile.

For a lot of families, a day in the pool would be no big deal, because that is just “Paris” for them. In our family’s case, we didn’t land anywhere near Paris. OCD and anxiety diverted that flight. Blake doesn’t like a lot of things.  He doesn’t like getting wet. He doesn’t like going outdoors. At times, he doesn’t like to socialize, even with his family.

My “Paris” was having a family like the one in National Lampoon’s, “Vacation.” I sort of planned and built our lives accordingly.  I intended us to be the Griswold family; the kids and Angie even call me “Clark” because of my family idealism.  I always wanted a home with a pool so that we’d have plenty of days playing there and making memories. Trouble is, especially with Blake’s dislikes and “rules,” it just doesn’t seem to happen much.

On that sunny day, when the boys and I were just livin’ the dream, the idea of Blake being fully clothed in the swimming pool didn’t bother me a bit. I just sat back and reveled in my trip to Istanbul, and loved every minute of it.  I hope that you enjoy whichever destination that you may find yourself.

A Moment for Feeling Grateful

Image courtesy of graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Five times this past week, I’ve been approached by friends or family members who follow this blog and wanted to tell me just how they are impacted by reading it.  Two of them cried as they shared their reactions.  Several times, the words were something like, “Wow!  I didn’t realize just what it is like.  I am so sorry.  I wish I could do something to make it all better.”

I found myself wanting to reach out and hug these people and comfort them.  I felt a bit awful for “making” them feel bad.  I never realized the impact my words and shared stories could have on the people who love and care about Blake and our family.  Each one assured me that they are glad to have this window into our world.  The few moments we’ve had to check in on what’s going on in our OCD experience apparently have done little justice to really helping them to understand what it is all about and now they have a way to connect in a different way than before.

Still, I feel compelled to share that our family life is not dominated by OCD.  Some days it feels that way, but that is just for the time being – and then something else moves to the forefront.  Our lives are full, rich and multi-faceted.  We have problems, as all families do – and OCD is just one of them. It happens to be one that provokes great emotion in me.

I am so grateful for this opportunity to share with our family, a few close friends and those of you in the world out there about our OCD struggle. Many times, I have felt so lonely as we’ve dealt with this disorder.  I started this blog as a way to give all these feelings, emotions and experiences a place to live that is outside of my own head.  And I hoped that someone out there might also gain or learn from it.  Writing has helped me to feel closer to those friends and family who are reading because they have a  little view inside that they didn’t have before and it gives us the opportunity to connect in a different way.

I am also grateful for those of you who I do not know personally, who take the time to read and comment on what I post.  I have received supportive comments and thoughts from many of you, and I realize that I have gotten something I never expected when I began – I have a support community.  I want you to know how grateful I am when you share your own experiences. I am grateful when you encourage me.  I am grateful when you tell me that you have a child who has been through this. And I am grateful when you tell me that you are struggling with OCD, whether because you have it or because you have a family member who has it.  And I am grateful when you tell me to keep on writing.  Thank you!

So that is it for now.  Just a moment to share that I am feeling grateful.  May your day be blessed with opportunities for gratefulness, as well.

Angie