Tuesday, September 23, 2014

When our child is in crisis

Being a parent is a miraculous thing.  There are moments of pure unadulterated happiness.  Your 5 year runs to the door after your long day at work, screaming with glee "Mommy's home" and flings his arms around your legs for a hug even before you can shut the door!  There's that moment when you watch your baby girl take in the wonders of the flower garden, smelling the flowers and trying to catch a butterfly, and you realize how intermingled your joy is with hers.  The day she first rides her two wheeler without training wheels and your heart expands with pride as she yells "Daddy, look at me, I'm riding my bike!"
It's wonderful, it's hard, hard work.  There are the nights when all the kids have the flu and you're washing bedclothes all night as they take turns vomiting.  Or the late night homework projects that you both work on til midnight.  Exhausting, but it's still wonderful, because it is the natural order.....what life and the human race are about.

Until it isn't.  

Ask any parent who has gone through trauma with their child -- mental illness, chronic illness, serious medical conditions, trauma.   Or the unthinkable, the death of their child.  It feels like an invisible hand ripped open your chest, and tore your heart right out, then said "Ha! Now live with this excruciating pain for a while" (or months or years).  Everything else melts away.   Work doesn't matter.  Relationships don't matter.  You can't read the news or care about the RedSox anymore.  You hyper focus on your child's problem.  You find the strength somewhere to do what is necessary.  You climb into that ambulance, you sit by the bedside of your child with tubes and machines hooked up, and pray for the least worst outcome.  You drive your child to the psychiatric hospital that looks from the outside like a haunted mansion from a gothic novel, and you're filled with unbearable fear, while hoping they can keep her safe and help her heal.

Then you have to go on, somehow. You have to work and make a living, even though you want to spend every waking moment protecting your child, from the mishaps at the hospital, from the cruelty of the other kids, from themselves.  You have to keep making dinner for the family and find some way to sleep at night.  You have to deal with an equally traumatized spouse and somehow not kill each other because no one thought to do laundry.  

If the situation is long term, the stress a child's protracted mental or physical illness has on the family is excruciating.  The other kids need attention too.  They need you to go to their games, and arrange play dates, and care about playing ball in the back yard.  I swear, most parents I know are miracle workers, because they manage most of this too.  But the other kids notice that your attention is rote, that you're distracted or worse.  Sometimes they develop  symptoms too.  They don't do it consciously, but their developing psyches do what they need to survive.

I've watched many parents reach deep, deep inside themselves for the strength to keep the anxiety at bay, so they can function productively for all their children and themselves.  Usually they are doing something to relieve the stress......going to therapy, writing a blog, keeping up with exercise even when timing seems impossible, having weekly coffee or lunch with a trusted friend.  They are doing what the plane attendants always tell us to do. "Put on your own oxygen mask first, before you help your children put on theirs".  (Because if you pass out from lack of oxygen while trying to help them, you all die.). This is counterintuitive to most parents.  From the time our baby is born we put out own needs second.  The baby is crying, I must get up and feed her. Going back to that nice dream isn't even an option that enters your head!   But taking care of yourself during your child's illness or crisis is ultimately what will give you the strength and clarity to do what your child needs and what your family needs.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Psychological pain

Emotional pain has no regard for race, gender or social status.  It's strikes the famous and the homeless, young and old.  Many of you will recognize the description below:

You wake up before the sun, not with the sleepy urge to press the snooze button, but with a jolt of dread, or angst, or deep sadness.  It's physical and acute.  When you feel it, it's unmistakable and seems inescapable.  You're sure no one would understand or care.  All you want is for the pain to go away.  The worst part is that it's invisible to the rest of the world.  If you're lucky someone in your life is tuned in to you enough to see the strain on your face or the distraction.  But most won't, because it hides itself well, deep in your gut, in the lump in your throat or the invisible vice around your head.  You go through the motions of living, but it feels like you're operating on 2 cylinders instead of 4... or maybe even 1 cylinder.   Thoughts of running away, going back to bed, or even "checking out" float through your consciousness.

We've all felt this way some time.  For many it's a recurring misery.  For an unlucky number it's almost constant. It can be triggered by awful life situations, or almost nothing.  Either way, it's just as real and painful.

The way out is slow and counterintuitive.  Move, get out from under the covers, out of your isolation.  This requires incredible will power because the pain has it's own muscles fighting you.  Exercise can help.  Therapy can help.  Medication can help.  Support groups, DBT, yoga, mindful meditation can help.  Coffee with a friend can help.  Mostly, there's no magic, instant cure, but some relief from the acuteness.  The road to recovery seems possible.   Staying alone in your pain may make it fester and grow.  Sharing it can be a huge relief.  It takes time and hard work to manage or overcome these feelings.  It is a sign of strength to seek help, not weakness!

Then, miraculously, the pain subsides, for an hour or a day.  And when it's gone for even a day, you forget how bad it can get, and you laugh at someone's joke, or marvel at the stars on a clear night.