The Power of Unconditional Love

Listen, I don’t pretend to be a perfect practitioner of unconditional love. I wish I was. My loved ones would have had such better lives, had I had any notion of what unconditional love could do.

For example, on July 20 I bought a skinny, sick, fearful dog, for a ridiculous sum of money. I was in a terrifically needy state, having lost my beloved dog Aress to a freak accident. I looked into this pitiful sick doggie’s soft brown eyes, paid the sum, and took her home.

It was clear that she had never been in a real house before. OK, I don’t really live in a “real house,” since I make my home in a fancy van. But it is undeniably a home, and it was clear that she had never been in one. She lived in a kennel outdoors, was taken out to train, and put back in her kennel. From her lamentable condition, it was also clear that nobody had ever paid much attention to her.

In the six or so weeks that I’ve had her, she’s become a sleek, happy pup who loves almost everybody except people she deems untrustworthy. This is her job, and she does it well. She’s affectionate to the point of occasional annoyance, since there are things that must be done (according to me), like writing, doing chores, paying bills…but to Atina, these are annoyances to her, for damn the torpedoes, the play must go on!

An old buddy of mine stopped by to camp for a few days (hi, pal, in case you’re reading this!). I showed him the picture of Atina when I first got her. You could count her ribs and all her vertebrae, and the bones of her pelvis stood out like a sick cow’s. Her coat was dull and ratty: so much so that I had her tested for mange.

My friend asked me how I had managed to rehabilitate her into the sleek, happy girl she is today. I shrugged.

“Love,” he said quietly. I nodded, tears stinging.

Although he gets furious when I bring up the topic and vigorously denies it, my son is a very high functioning autistic. He learned to speak before the age of one, and before that, he developed his own version of sign language. By 19 months he could count to 19, and by three he could tell you the names of every dinosaur known to man, where they had been discovered, and what they did, their diets, their habitats, and what era they lived in. By four he had taught himself to read and do basic arithmetic via “Reader Rabbit” and “Math Blaster” on our desktop Mac.

On the other hand, he hated anything to do with other children, refused to participate in preschool, and whenever possible isolated himself in corners, absorbed in a book or playing with his plastic dinosaurs or action figures. At three, he was already seeing a child psychologist. We managed to get through private kindergarten in five-minute segments. If he cooperated and sat in the circle with the rest of the children for five minutes, he got to go to his corner and be alone for fifteen minutes. Later in the year he discovered the school office and became enamored with the laminating machine, so he became more motivated to sit for five minutes so that he could run to the office and laminate for fifteen.

First grade was a bust, as far as the teacher was concerned. We enrolled him in a progressive Quaker school: small class size, emphasis on art and music, compassionate teachers–what could be better? Nothing, I guess. Literally nothing. My son staidly refused to cooperate with anything whatsoever. His teacher, a caring and earnest young man, could not get him to do anything. He retreated to a corner and refused to come out. Somehow he managed to ace all the tests, though. But he would not come out of his corner, nor would he speak a word. The teacher called me on a weekly basis.

“He refuses to participate. What shall I do?”

I was busy, harried, frustrated and sleep deprived, so my stock answer was, “You’re his teacher. YOU find a way.”

This did not work.

Finally I had a brainstorm: “Make him the class scribe. Give him a tape recorder, and have him sit just outside the class circle and record everything. This way he’ll feel like he’s got an important job and is not simply one of the (muggles, but that word had not yet been coined by Rowling).”

It worked. We managed to make it through first grade without any further conflict.

In later years, I experienced what happened when I tried to force my son into anxiety-producing behaviors using negative consequences. He either withdrew, or else he simply sat down on the floor and crossed his arms, earning him the nickname “Sitting Bull”. When he got older, he became threatening and intimidating. I was not about to knuckle under, so I upped the ante, and so did he. Soon a full-blown war was in progress.

Now, I don’t believe in accepting bad behavior, not even from a “special” child. But there are ways, and then there are ways.

My moment of epiphany dawned upon reading Karen Pryor’s amazing book, Don’t Shoot the Dog. Pryor was the head porpoise and Killer Whale trainer at Sea World for many years. Now, you can’t make a large sea mammal do anything it doesn’t want to do. You have to make doing the desired behavior so attractive, that said mammal would rather do it than just swim around and play, like porpoises like to do. You have to make it fun to do what you want them to do.

Pryor’s book, as its title implies, carries this philosophy over to dog training. At the time her book was published, most dog training was based on negative reinforcement: You don’t do what I want, you get your neck jerked, you get yelled at, you might even get hit with a rolled-up newspaper for doing your business where you’re not supposed to.

Pryor applied what she had learned as a sea-mammal trainer to dog training. Thus, lucky dogs found out that doing the desired behavior resulted in treats and praise, while negative behaviors got them…nothing. Ignored. Exactly what a social mammal desperately does not want.

Of course, psychology students already knew this from getting rats to do things that humans had a hard time with, by simply having a tasty treat at the end of the maze. But applying methods that worked with “lower life forms” to humans? How insulting. Humans ought to just know that what they were doing was good or bad. Adam and Eve, right? Tree of knowledge of Good and Evil, and stuff like that.

The Behaviorist School of Psychology, pioneered by B.F. Skinner, showed that positive behaviors rewarded with positive reinforcement produced more positive behaviors, while negative reinforcement inhibited negative behaviors. A third strategy was called “extinguishment.” You do what I want, you get left alone to do what you want. You don’t do what I want…nothing. The behavior “extinguishes,” for want of reaction. In many cases this worked better than negative consequences such as electric shocks. (N.B.: a rumor somehow began that Skinner experimented on his own child by placing her in a “sensory deprivation” cage. This is not true.)

Pryor capitalized on Skinner’s Behaviorist School of psychology and its “behavior shaping” model in her sea mammal training program. She then morphed it over to dog training…and concluded her book with a chapter on shaping the behavior of humans.

I can’t say that I ever mastered behavior shaping, either in dogs or in humans, but I have tried to incorporate it, when I remember.

What I’ve learned through the years, though, is to assimilate and practice the art of “Love the person, even if you hate the behavior.”

I have always loved my son, completely and passionately, even when I was dodging head-butts when bear-hugging him through an autistic melt-down, or once again leaving a cart full of groceries in the checkout line when all those people were just too much for him, or agonizing through the time he was in and out of countless outpatient and inpatient addiction programs as a teenager, or sitting up nights worrying when his stepmother threw him out and he lived in a drug house, on the street, in a homeless shelter, in a psychiatric ward zombied out on legal drugs.

Finally he got arrested, and this was my chance to save his life. I called the judge, whom I knew from my work with the court system (yes, this was taking advantage of my position), and begged him to remand my son to long-term inpatient care. The judge reprimanded me for calling him, but honored my request.

After a long period of searching, we found the perfect place. The students were held to a strict policy of personal accountability. Positive behaviors were rewarded with increased privileges; breaches of the rules resulted in suspension of free time, which was instead spent writing a paper examining the undesirable behavior, why the kid did it, what the internal meaning of the behavior was, and why this was counterproductive to the kid’s development as a productive, independent, successful individual. The student then presented the paper to a mentor, who helped process the ideas and helped the kid internalize them. There was still a consequence in terms of loss of privileges for a finite period, and a defined way to regain the lost privileges.

In this way the teens learned that self-determined productive behaviors resulted in more freedoms. In addition to these interventions, the kids had daily group therapy, thrice-weekly individual therapy, a staff mentor who was always available for processing issues, family therapy monthly, and many other interventions. It turned many lives around. It gave my son tools that he is still using, ten years later.

For me, it reinforced that the power of unconditional love moves mountains and saves lives.

Amen.

Fear and Guilt Will Keep You in an Abusive Relationship If You Let Them

Such an incredibly important article for those of us who grew up in emotionally abusive households, and especially for Adult Children of a Narcissist (ACoN).

Taking breathing time for yourself, just to feel who you actually ARE and not live in the prison of the Narcissist’s defined role they’ve assigned you, can give you a taste of the freedom you’ve lacked, perhaps all of your life.  Then you’re going to have to face the incredibly tough question, “Now what am I going to do?”

 

This is where your therapist comes in.  Having the right therapist is vital, because you are going to literally be reborn when you cut the cord that binds you to your abuser.  Make sure your support system is in place, and prepare yourself for the possibility that until you begin rebuilding your life, your only support might be your therapist–because the Narcissist will make sure all your family and friends think you are a lowlife creep who abandoned them.  And since a Narcissist thrives on praise and adulation, they often occupy positions of high responsibility in their communities, are always the first to jump to the aid of extended family members in need, and are generally idolized by all.  Their position of power makes it easy to demonize anyone who defies their dominance.  This is what keeps so many of us locked up in the prison of great, the fear of the consequences of being ourselves.

 

But in order to actualize ourselves, break away we must.  This article, and the resources it quotes, will help you get started on your journey to your genuine self.

The article comes from the incredibly helpful website, The Invisible Scar, which is directed toward adult children of emotionally abusive parents.

 

Fear and Guilt Will Keep You in an Abusive Relationship If You Let Them.

Bunny Boiling Close Call

If you aren’t yet familiar with it, “Bunny Boiling” is a term referencing a scene in the movie Fatal Attraction.  The movie stars Glenn Close as a person who is supposed to have Borderline Personality Disorder.  (I don’t agree with that assessment, but that’s the consensus.)

There’s a scene in the movie where Close’s character, Alex, in retaliation for a perceived slight from the object of her affection (Michael Douglas), takes his family’s pet rabbit and boils it on the stove.  No, I haven’t watched this scene.  I would freak out or throw up or something, so I leave it to others to write about it.  I learned about the term on the excellent site Out of the Fog, which provides support and resources for people in relationships, whether chosen or unchosen, with people with Personality Disorders.

What it boils down to (sorry, bad pun) is that the disordered person, for whatever reason/non-reason, takes something that is precious to the person they want to hurt, and breaks/destroys/kills it.  It’s not a pretty thing.

And that’s one of the reasons I don’t think “Bunny Boiling” is a feature of Borderline Personality Disorder.  In my experience, Borderlines rarely if ever take out their anguish on other people in planned, complex ways.  Borderlines turn their pain in on themselves, via self-harm that may either be physical such as cutting/overdosing, or in exposing themselves to danger, usually subconsciously.  Some Borderlines have rage attacks and level their explosive anger at people they love, and some hit or throw things.

But they are usually contrite and filled with self-loathing after these spontaneous outbursts, and that’s when self-harm becomes a risk.

Please note: The characterizations of Personality Disorders you will see here are a combination of my own clinical experiences, cross-checked with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V.

Contrast that with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, where the person does not feel disordered at all.  Rather, s/he expects the world to put her on a pedestal and worship her.  If she thinks she is not getting enough adulation, she will attempt to emotionally cow everyone in her inner circle, using an arsenal of weapons such as intimidation, gaslighting, temper tantrums, physical and/or emotional abuse, and disregard of boundaries.  She is not above stealing from her own family, and she is not above….Bunny Boiling.  Outside the family, she is all smiles and sunshine, usually a pillar of the community, craving (and getting) admiration and accolades at work and in the community.  The family is powerless to gain support from the community, because if they try to get help no one believes them, because the disordered person is SUCH an angel, anyone who speaks against her must be the devil incarnate.

I’ve noticed some overlap here with Antisocial Personality Disorder.  Both Narcissists and Antisocials tend to have no remorse for the sometimes heinous deeds they do.  They will willingly steal, and feel that it’s merely what they deserve to have, after all.  They both use others for their own designs. They lack empathy.  Neither type has any problem with destroying things belonging to other people, although they do it for different reasons.

Narcissists will destroy things belonging to loved ones because they feel they are not getting the attention or adulation they deserve; therefore they will steal/break/destroy/kill something of special value to the loved one or family.

Antisocials don’t need a motive.  They do destructive acts because they enjoy it.  I have had some horrific experiences with Antisocials, and have observed them torturing animals and getting sexual pleasure from it.  I’ve had Antisocial children in my pediatrics practice as young as five or six, who purposely set the house on fire or set the family cat on fire, etc.  Therapy did not help.  It’s tragic and terrifying to see this developing over time in a youngster.  I know that some of you who are reading this will be angered by my characterization of Antisocial Personality Disorder, and accuse me of demonizing it, but what I am describing is from my direct experience, so I can’t soft-pedal it.

I have written a lot about my mother and my anguish at trying to escape her abuse, only to get sucked back in.  I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself around this, and I am starting to see the way the roles have played out over my lifetime.  My mother is the Disordered One who has absolutely no remorse about tormenting me, kicking the dog, breaking precious fragile one-of-a-kind handmade objects, and saying shockingly denigrating things about my father in front of selected other people.

I am the scapegoat, the one she takes her anger and frustration out on, and then is furious that I don’t adore her the way she envisioned being adored by her child.  For my part, I desperately seek ways to appease her and make her love me, or at least accept me, or at least stop treating me like a contemptuous piece of shit.

My father is the “Winged Monkey,” a term taken from the Wizard of Oz.  The Wicked Witch of the (East or West, can’t remember) had a band of Winged Monkeys that she sent to retrieve Dorothy and crew when they escaped.  In a Personality Disordered family/relationship, a Winged Monkey is the person who, after the scapegoat has fled, goes to her and explains that Mom really didn’t mean to say what she said, she was tired, she was aggravated about something at work, she had her period.

And the scapegoat, not wanting to believe that Mom is such a mean person, capitulates and returns to the abusive situation, hoping that this time will be different, and resorting time and again to appeasement behaviors to try to make Mom proud, so that THIS time she’ll be as nice to me as she is to everyone else.  And since this is just another cycle-of-abuse situation, there is often a “honeymoon” period where everything is lovely, because Mom really didn’t want me to leave–she just wanted to throw me out.

I’ve tried all kinds of strategies to get away from my mother.  I’ve been in therapy since 1984.  I’ve utilized the Geographic Solution, even moving to the other side of the world to get as far away from her as I could.  Hell, if they offered a one-way trip to Mars I’d jump at the chance.

There I was, on the other side of the planet, enjoying myself immensely, assuaging my guilt for enjoying life by calling Mom on Sundays and Thursdays.  Then the Winged Monkey struck again.

He didn’t mean to do it.  He just got awful sick, and they are awful old, and I couldn’t just let them flounder.  Could I?  So I packed up my stuff and came back to the States after four glorious years abroad, and moved into the barn.  No bathroom, no kitchen, but it’s a roof and it has heat, and I’m damned well not going to live in the house with THEM.

Except now, as of about a month ago, it’s not THEM who live in the “real house,” because my Winged Monkey has moved into the nursing home, and it looks to be for the rest of his life.  It is a tragedy.

Last Tuesday I was visiting him, as I do every day, and I brought along Noga, as I do every day.  She has become the unofficial Therapy Dog at the nursing home.  When we finally get to my dad’s room, after greeting all the residents and staff along the way, she cuddles up to him in his bed,

Noga, the Angel Puppy

Noga, the Angel Puppy

and he buries his hand in her silky fur.  Sometimes he cries.  If nobody stops her, she will lick his ears till he convulses with laughter.  She is his angel.

Last Tuesday Mom was looking distracted and a bit agitated.  She asked me if she could take Noga for a walk in the park that adjoins the nursing home.  I didn’t see any harm in that, and I thought it might be therapeutic for Mom, as it was a beautiful day for a walk.  I handed over Noga’s leash, and turned my attention to Dad, who was having a rough day as well.

Half an hour later, Mom came striding into the room with Noga gunny-sacked under her arm.  Her hair (Noga’s) was a mess and her harness hung around her neck.  I took her–she was shaking and grabbed onto me with her claws, terrified–and I noticed that the part of the harness that was hanging from her neck was a part that normally goes over her leg.  The harness had been completely off, and hastily thrown on–not put back on properly.

“What happened?” I asked Mom, keeping my voice even.

“I don’t know, she got out of her harness,” says Mom, avoiding eye contact.

“Did she get scared and pull back?  Did she see a rabbit or something?”  I was hopeful there would be some rational explanation.

“No, she just got out of her harness,” Mom repeated.

I got a chill in the pit of my stomach.

First it was a group of four little shot glasses my dad had made, that he and I used to use every afternoon.  They disappeared, and I found them behind the refrigerator after much grilling.  Two of them are still whole, but the fridge is huge.  I’ll have to wait for someone to help me, but for now they’re safe.

Next it was a really beautiful porcelain vase that my dad and I collaborated on–he threw the vase, and I painted it.  It disappeared from its place on the shelf, and all the other pieces of pottery have been rearranged to fill the gap.  She “doesn’t know” what happened to that either, and she’s not budging on this one.  I think she sold it.

And now, I can only be grateful that whatever occurred to induce her to bring Noga back to me intact–whether it was a moment of remorse, or fear, or whether Noga simply would not leave her–she brought my Angel Puppy back to me.

Although I don’t fool myself that there will be no more “Bunny Boilings,” I will do my best to keep Noga safe, and not to let my own pattern of appeasement deliver her over to….her.

 

Depression Comix Reblog: Coke Whore, to me

This is exactly how I used to feel after waking up next to a stranger, in my coke-whore days. It took about two years of coke addiction to figure out that since I couldn’t afford the stuff, I would sleep with the dealer (or anybody else who would turn me on to a few lines) in order to get it “for free.” Problem was, the stuff completely made my depression go away….until I came down, and then I felt like the girl in this comic. Finally I figured out that I was actually prostituting myself in order to get the drug that only temporarily made me feel better, and when it wore off made me feel dirty, slutty, and suicidal–and I quit cold turkey, because I couldn’t stand being enslaved to a drug habit that required prostitution to maintain. Thanks again to Clay for bringing back this memory of the “bad old days” that needs some processing.

Depression Comix

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Back on the Ketogenic Diet, Modified Atkins Variety

I’m disgusted with a lot of things: my meds, my perpetual brain fog (meds?), my recent 15 pound weight gain, which, on my 5 foot tall person, is a lot and is quite demoralizing, adding to the general feeling of gloom in my environment; my lack of energy, my lithium-induced tremors and muscle weakness, and I’m sure there’s more, if I could only think of it.  Oh yes, that’s it: word-finding difficulty.

At one point in my bipolar journey, nothing was working, med-wise, and my shrink planted an idea in my brain that had consequences I don’t think he intended.  There is a great deal of similarity between bipolar illness and seizure disorder: both share the phenomenon of kindling, where a little spark gets going and if it’s not stopped, it spreads until it causes generalized dysfunction.  In Bipolar-land we usually call that a trigger, but there is functional MRI evidence that demonstrates similar changes in brain metabolism during the moments leading up to a seizure, and the moments leading up to a bipolar decompensation.  So it should be no surprise that anti-epileptic drugs also treat bipolar symptoms.

When my son was a teen going through a bipolar meltdown, his psychiatrist told me, and showed me clinical papers to back his words up (which unfortunately I do not have and am not in the mood to dig up), that if, in the young brain, bipolar disorder could be suppressed for a two-year period without a breakthrough, it could be considered cured, just in the same way as epilepsy.  The theory is that in the growing brain, suppressing the kindling effect for that long gives the brain a chance to literally “grow out of it.”  My son, now 28, recently went through a battery of neuropsychiatric testing which showed that although he does have Major Depressive Disorder, he has no remaining features of Bipolar Disorder.  Bingo.

Back in the olden days before they had anti-seizure drugs like Depakene and Tegratol and Lamictal, there was very little in the anti-epilepsy arsenal.  The ancient Greek physycians noted that if you fasted a person with epilepsy, the seizures stopped.  Eventually, over a couple of thousand years, this observation led to development of the Ketogenic Diet.  If you look at the Wikipedia article under this link, it will tell you as much as or more than you ever wanted to know about the Ketogenic Diet.

The basic idea is that the brain can function on only two kinds of fuel: glucose, which is a product of sugar and carbohydrate (and in some cases protein) breakdown, and ketone bodies, which are small molecules that result from the breakdown of fat.  Ketone bodies also have the ability to regulate blood sugar, so if the balance of glucose and ketones is correct, the body literally shifts from a glucose based metabolism to a ketone based metabolism.  This has a wide range of effects.  The Atkins Diet  works on this principle: if you stop feeding the body carbohydrates, then it has to break down fat to get ketones to feed the brain and the rest of the body.

For reasons still unknown, ketone metabolism, or ketosis, suppresses kindling in the brain and controls seizures.  It can be a miraculous thing.  If you read through the Wikipedia article you’ll be astounded at the numbers.  I was, anyway.  The only problem is, it’s a very difficult diet to do.  You have to really be committed to it, and one little slip-up can set you back weeks.

So, at the time when meds were not working to suppress my bipolar fire, I was a little overweight anyway so I decided what the heck, I’ll try the Atkins diet, and do the most extreme version just for kicks and chuckles.  It was a bitch to do.  It’s a fat and protein based diet, so you have to pretty much live on eggs and cheese and (at that time I was not religiously observant) bacon, which was my staple food, cheeseburgers (God, I miss those), mayonnaise all over everything, heavy cream (for a treat, I would whip up a carton of heavy cream and eat it), cream cheese, and lots of leafy greens.  Oh man, it’s hard.  But: my BP symptoms stabilized, and I lost 30 pounds in the bargain.  I stayed on the diet for three years, then got religious and couldn’t eat bacon or cheeseburgers anymore, and started eating challah and kugels instead.  The thirty pounds came back, and my brain went wacko again.  Hmmm.

Now my brain isn’t wacko, really, thanks to Seroquel, but the problem is, with the Seroquel I just don’t feel anything.  I’d like to feel happy, or sad, or excited.  I was just walking by the river here which is just a couple of feet from flood stage, and in fact did flood last night, and I kept thinking, jeez, I should be feeling fear, this thing is so awesomely powerful and out of control.  But all I felt was, I should feel fear but I don’t.

So I decided to go back into the land of Ketosis, just to see what will happen.  At the very least maybe I’ll drop those two pants sizes I picked up over the winter, and if I’m lucky, my brain might start working better and I might be able to drop part or all of the Seroquel so I can feel things again.  Stay tuned!

Earth Day, And I Am Alive And Well

Earth Day  has always been a challenge for me.  Some of you may be old enough to remember the very first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.  It was a big deal: there had been an environmental consciousness movement rumbling beneath the earth’s crust, and suddenly it broke through in fire and smoke into a real above-ground popular movement with a “Day” all its own!

But that’s not what was happening for me.  I was a misfit 16-year-old, lonely and depressed, and somebody liked my legs, and I got dragged into a dark musty basement and violently raped.  The physical and psychological (not to mention sexual, oh no) consequences have followed me like an unwanted companion all of my life.

Hence, every April 22 since 1970, that would be 42 of them not counting this one, I have had a relapse of the off-the-charts PTSD symptoms that I got courtesy of the events of that day, plus a large dose of depression to go with them.

But.

This year I have been hard at work writing my novel, which is based on the events of that day and the seven months following it.  I have written that scene many times, minutely, going over and over it to make it perfect.  I have submitted it to a few contests as a short short fiction piece, and had it rejected because it was too graphic.  Victory!  I am not pulling punches.  I am not turning away in fear or disgust.  I am writing it like it is, like it was.

And today is once again April 22nd, “The Unhappiest Day of the Year,” as I used to dub it.

But guess what:  I’m not unhappy!  I’m not keyed up with the tension of waiting for the “big one,” the giant wave of PTSD to hit, pulling me under and keeping me inundated until it decides to leave me bedraggled and panting on the sands of release.

I just feel normal.

I grant you, I am a little suspicious of this, but I’m going with it, you betcha.  If this means that all of the agony of describing that day in living color time and time again has allowed it to flow out of my head via the miracle of touch-typing, then I thank all the gods and goddesses there are, even the ones I don’t know about.

Happy Earth Day, people.

It’s Not Easy Being Brilliant

Last night I had the strangest dream.  I was walking down alleys in some foreign country–it might have been Morocco, judging from what I saw in store windows.  I have never been to Morocco, but I went to the Moroccan restaurant in Disney World and had some fantastic food.  And a store that I frequent in Jerusalem, Rika’s, carries Moroccan stuff, everything from clothing to solid brass mortar and pestle sets, which I regret not getting when I moved to the States.  Never mind, I’ll get one when I move back 🙂

Anyway.  Back to the dream.  I was consumed by anxiety because I was supposed to meet with someone at a restaurant somewhere around there, and I couldn’t find it and my cell phone had turned into a wristwatch, courtesy of Dick Tracy I’m sure.  So I had no way to locate the place, or to tell the people I was going to meet with that I would be late.

In my growing state of panic, I turned out of the narrow lanes and found myself in a cityscape not unlike the South Side of Chicago, which is where I did my undergraduate work.  Dreams, right?  I decided to just let my intuition guide me, since I had no other guidance, and found myself in an underground mall full of fast food joints and cheap clothing stores.  I wandered through the passages in the mall until I found the restaurant: a shiny, upscale place full of chrome and stainless steel, very unlike the people I was going to meet.

And those people were:  my ex-husband, his wife, and my ex’s sister’s husband.  I joined them and apologized for being late, but they were very understanding.  We got right to the reason for the meeting, which was:  my ex was having a breakdown because of the guilt he suddenly felt for how he believed he had treated our son when our son was little.  I was shocked, because although they didn’t have a lot of contact for a few years, I didn’t think he had done anything more than most parents do in the way of mistakes, and he had already been forgiven for those.  But there he was, crying and begging me for forgiveness.  I didn’t know how to feel.  Ah, dreams.

In a few days we will celebrate our son’s 28th birthday.  In the Hebrew system of numerology, 28 is the number for “strength.”  I bless our son to have lots of strength, for now and for many, many healthy years to come.

He was not an easy child to raise.  The brilliant ones never are.  He always wanted more, and better, and faster; but at the same time he would get overloaded and have classic melt-downs, needing to be bear-hugged until he calmed down enough to go to his room and totally wreck it.  And he wasn’t so good with children his age.  In kindergarten he absolutely refused to participate.  I went to the child psychologist he had been seeing since age three, and together with the teachers we worked out a behavioral contract: for each five minutes that he cooperated and participated in class, he got to do whatever he wanted for fifteen minutes.  At first that was reading to himself in a loft they had in the room (he had taught himself to read when he was three).  Then he discovered the laminating machine in the office, and fell in love.  All of his out-of-class time was spent laminating things for the teachers and staff.  I joked that they should have paid him.

First grade was a wash-out.  It was a lovely Quaker school, and each morning the children had a meeting to cooperatively decide what they would learn today.  No dice: my son staunchly refused to participate, and stationed himself in a corner like a wooden Indian.  But somehow managed to get perfect grades on the tests.  Countless phone calls from the sweet young teacher later, I said to him, why don’t you just give him a job?  How about giving him a tape recorder and making him the class documentarian?  It worked.  He followed the class everywhere with his tape recorder.  That was his role.

Second grade was better because the new school had a pull-out Gifted Student program, and not only did he get one-on-one instruction, but he had peers with whom he could interact, that were on his wavelength.  They did stuff outside of school together too, like observing our goats having babies and speculating about how the babies got in there.  Then they observed our stallion in action, and that answered that question.

But then there was the constant bullying, because my son was weird.  Time after time he’d come home crying with a new bruise he’d acquired on the playground or the bus.  Countless phone calls to and meetings with the school principal bore no fruit, as they insisted that the incidents had to be witnessed by an adult, and of course the bullies were smarter than that.

So one day when we were at wit’s end, I said to him, look, the next time someone hits you, you hit ’em back!  And indeed the next day some kid whacked him upside the head while standing in line to get off the school bus, and my son turned around and decked the little bastard.  Oh, didn’t that precipitate an uproar!  The kid’s parents called the principal and threatened to call the police (on a seven-year-old?), and my son was suspended for two days.  But the bullying stopped.  That time, anyway.

After a few years of relative peace, we moved to another state, and there the bullying started anew, and my son stopped doing school.  He went, yes, but once again he stopped participating.   There was a dominant religion there, and the boys used to follow my son around yelling “You’re Jewish and you’re going to hell!”  One day my son turned around and said, “Fine, at least you won’t be there.”  Suspended again, two days.

Things progressed from bad to worse.  He was in seventh grade; I took him for educational testing and he turned out to be working at college sophomore level in reading, and college freshman level in math.  No wonder he wasn’t interested in seventh grade.

But he began to have behavioral issues similar to what he had had as a three year old: tantrums, but now with a simmering anger that frightened me, as he was literally twice my size.  His alternating angry outbursts and silent gloominess had me worried about depression.  We have a long family tradition of depression, and he certainly had both situational and genetic reasons to be depressed.

So I took him to a psychiatrist.  He would not say a word.  The psychiatrist recommended a psychologist, but the same thing happened:  arms crossed, staring at floor.  After five iterations of this, I gave up.  But then I found the suicidal note that “just happened” to slip out of his notebook.  Terrified, I got him into the car by means of screaming threats of calling the ambulance, and drove him to the emergency room, where I showed the note to the doctor and they sent for the psychiatrist on call, who read the letter and asked him if he felt suicidal now.  He shook his head.  Question repeated, response repeated.  Recommend follow-up with regular doctor in the morning.

Please, I pleaded, please just admit him for a 24 hour observation.  This note is really serious.  (As a pediatrician myself, I was trained that there are two kinds of suicide threats:  serious, and more serious.  And this one was more serious, because it specified a plan.)  They sent him home.

Then, it seemed moments later now, the Columbine school shooting happened.  Panic shot through every school in the country.  Some went on lockdown, some installed metal detectors.  Many started conducting regular routine locker searches.  Our school was one of those.

When they searched my son’s locker, they found it stuffed with papers.  Most of them were his homework papers that he never turned in: all done perfectly.  Some of the papers were more concerning: images of guns and missiles and ominous, dark poems about death and mayhem.  They called me in, showed me all the stuff, and threw him out.

It was at this point that I sent him to a wilderness therapy program, one that he couldn’t get out of until he started seriously dealing with his “shit.”  That is a whole ‘nother story, but it was the first of many outpatient and residential treatment programs.  He got into drugs, much more seriously than I had any idea of, as he told me later.  At the age of sixteen he had failed many programs and torn up the family, and his step-mother–I had sent him to live with his father because I couldn’t handle him anymore and thought that being with his dad might help–threw him out.  He went to live with a bunch of gangsters and sold drugs until they thew him out, and then he crashed where he could and ate cold pizza out of the dumpsters.  Somehow we got him into an adolescent psychiatric hospital, and they drugged him into a stupor, and there he lay on couches listlessly watching TV, until some kid started bullying him and he picked the kid up and threw him into a refrigerator, and they threw him out.  So he went to live in a homeless shelter, back to dealing drugs.

Then, serendipitously, he got busted for a small amount of pot.  I called the judge–I worked with the courts in that county a lot and knew all the judges–and begged him to remand my son to long-term residential therapy.  I knew that if I didn’t do something before he turned 18 that he would be lost, in jail, or dead.  The judge did me that favor, and I found a wonderful therapeutic boarding school that helped him find his way out of the hole he had fallen into and discover his wonderful talents.  He also got started on the right antidepressants, and thrived.

And now, bli ayin hara (a Jewish prayer against the Evil Eye, just ignore it), he is working on his Ph.D. in Medicinal Chemistry, doing things with the insides of cells that no one else has done before.  I am so proud of him!  He has taken charge of his mental health issues, working with a therapist and doing DBT.  He consciously cultivates hobbies that round out his life so that he’s not spending all his time in the lab, which he knows he would do if he didn’t do something on purpose to change it.

Looking back on this post, it’s amazing to see how many paragraphs of difficulty and heartbreak it took, to get to this last paragraph of triumph over desperation and despair.  And what I’ve told you is just the tip of the iceberg.  And he still has to work constantly to keep himself on an even keel, and living a healthy life.  But he’s doing it, thank God.  It isn’t easy being brilliant.

 

 

PTSD, Asperger’s, Therapy, and Therapists

I’ve been in therapy since 1984, with a few breaks.  That’s longer than some of my readers have been alive!  I first entered therapy in a panic in 1984 when I was 5 months pregnant with my son.  I had had a miscarriage the previous year, and I was very connected with my 5 month old fetus baby.  One night I realized with a bang that if I didn’t do something to end the generational pattern of abuse, it might continue in my generation–and I would be the abuser!  I was horrified by that thought, and the next day began looking for a therapist.

I had no idea how to find a therapist, so I picked one out of the Yellow Pages.  I will NOT go to a male therapist because of my history of serial rape and sexual exploitation, so I chose the only female one in the book, called up and made an appointment, and showed up at the appointed time.  She had a kind of icy exterior, but I was used to that, being in academia at the time, where everyone was in competition with everyone else and even the feminists with whom I worked tended to circle one another like female dogs sizing one another up.  So I thought that’s what it was.

Now, I didn’t realize at the time that my inability to judge character was in large part due to the fact that I am an Aspie (person with Asperger’s).  I’m notoriously bad at reading people, and it has caused me a lot of grief.  I should have just turned around and walked out of her office.  But I stayed, and answered her angry questions.  Since it was my first experience with therapy, I though perhaps that’s what therapists are like, and I should try it out for a while before I made any judgements.

As I was walking down the street on my way to my second appointment with The Cold Bitch, I suddenly doubled over in pain.  I knew what it was: a Round Ligament spasm.  The Round Ligament is part of the apparatus that holds up the uterus, and when the uterus is growing, it sometimes goes into a spasm that can be excruciating.  Mine was.

Since there were no cell phones at that time, I crawled the block back to my house–luckily it was only a block–and called The Icy Bitch to tell her that I was unable to arrive at her office because I couldn’t ambulate.  She scolded me for breaking the appointment–for ANY reason–and told me she would be sending me a bill.  I told her she was fired.

The next day, I did a more sensible thing and called up Student Mental Health, since I was a student.  They gave me an appointment with the most wonderful therapist I have ever had.  She explained to me that I am deeply wounded by the abuse I lived with as a child, and still lived with whenever I had anything to do with my mother.  She helped me immensely, and I stayed with her until I graduated from med school/grad school in 1987.  Leaving her felt like pulling a wisdom tooth without anesthesia.

After med school I started my residency, with a husband and two year old in tow.  The two year old was having trouble with his mom working 120 hours a week, which was standard in those days.  And the husband, who was emotionally a two year old (I have never been a good judge of character, but he had seemed very benign), was completely lost, as he suddenly became a single parent, essentially.  It took me two years to get him to go to therapy with me.  I told my husband that I felt we were having problems in our marriage; he asserted that I was the one with the problem.  It’s true that working 120 hours a week is very bad for bipolar disorder, which had not yet been diagnosed.  I had been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and was on medication for that, but it seemed to me that that made it even more important that we get couples counseling.  I had to choose between individual and couples counseling, because working 120 hours a week did not leave time for both.

So we went to the Ph.D. psychologist that Student Mental Health gave us.  She was a very strange one.  She dressed in low-cut, short dresses with dark stockings and high heels, not your usual professional attire; but I didn’t judge her on that.  She also had a love-seat instead of a chair, and no desk, and she sort of curled up on the love-seat during our sessions, which made my husband very uncomfortable because he became involuntarily aroused by this behavior, and to tell you the truth I did too.  I didn’t know what to think of it, myself, and tried to focus on what she was saying.

After a few months of this she announced that she felt our marriage was unsaveable.  I had been sure of that for quite some time, but it felt validating to hear her say it, even if she was a bit unconventional.  We stopped seeing her and tried to work things out on our own,  but the marriage eventually disintegrated.

Therapists came and went after that.  I experimented with my bisexual identity, and got a Lesbian therapist for a while, who completely confused me.  A succession of unmemorable ones followed.

Then in 1998, I moved to my present location (from which I have moved several times, but am now back due to filial duties) and over a three year period had a complete breakdown in slow motion.  I was in an insane relationship with another bipolar person at the time (I had been diagnosed, at last, and taking Lithium), and we were planning to get married because when things were good (meaning when we were both hypomanic at the same time), things were outrageously good, and we thought that we could weather the bad times.  But we wanted to get some premarital counseling so that we would be better equipped for our predictably rocky marriage.  I asked my shrink for a referral, and he sent us to B_, who specializes in couples counseling.

We had one session with her, and as we were walking out the door she asked if she could see me alone for a minute.  I stayed and she shut the door on A_.  She pulled herself up to her full four-feet-eleven and said, “I normally don’t do this, but I would like to see you individually.”  I made an appointment.

Predictably, the marriage plans did not work out (that’s another story), and I have continued to see B_ ever since.  That’s a long time.  All of this time I have been the good patient and spilled my guts weekly; but for some reason, for the past few months she has been pissing me off, and I have felt my PTSD kicking in, and dissociating.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  My conditioning as an abused child causes me to just want to run.  The thought of telling her how I am feeling about her makes my hair stand on end.  And yet, I know that’s exactly what I need to do: tell her that for some reason, suddenly she is pissing me off.  I just have to screw up the courage to do it, somehow.

Just Too Tired; Mommie Dearest

I don’t know what’s going on.  Maybe it’s a replay of the Cytomegalovirus Mono Follies.  Yes, that’s what it feels like.  Drained.  No appetite.  Last night I was shivering uncontrollably, thought perhaps had fever, took temperature with my Israeli thermometer and it was 35 degrees Centigrade.  That’s 95 Fahrenheit.  Hypothermic as all hell.  I think this virus does something bad to my thyroid.

So that was about 8 pm.  I put on my skiing thermals, took my nighttime meds and crawled in under a down puff and two fleece blankets with the heat turned up to 70.  Slept till noon today.  Spent the day in bed watching Mommie Dearest.  No, not the best thing for me to spend my day doing, but my psychologist has been after me to watch it, and I had time, and now I know why she wanted me to watch it.  For those of  you who haven’t seen it, I apologize for not summarizing it here; I’m just too tired.  Here, I’ll do it in one line:  Joan Crawford is a sickass narcissistic maniac who adopts two children so that she will have “something to love” and “someone to love her.”  She scapegoats the elder, Christine, smothering her with luxuries one moment and making her scrub the floors the next.  The girl turns out to be beautiful and intelligent, and Crawford’s jealousy spirals into violence.  There.

It’s a good thing, I think, that I was sick as a dog while watching Mommie Dearest, because when I am sick I become emotionally unhinged, and I was unable to slam all the doors and batten down the hatches to keep my heart out of harm’s way.  Or healing’s way, really.

I don’t think my mother ever beat me with a coat hanger likeJoan did Christine.  She preferred the fly swatter: it didn’t leave marks.

I just so relate to Christine’s conflict when viewing her mother’s glamorously fitted-out dead body: she really did love her, and yet she was so thankful for the pain to be over.

Now I finally  “get it,”  that a narcissistic person can want to have a child so that a) they have someone who HAS to love them; b) they have someone whom they can manipulate any way they want to, and whatever the outcome, it’s the child’s fault (in the narcissist’s mind).   But c) to their dismay they find themselves feeling threatened by the child’s beauty/talents, and feeling compelled to compete with them, whatever it takes.  Therein lies the trap.

I was interested to see that “Mommie Dearest” made a point to cut her two adopted children out of her will.  That took a lot of forethought and planning, more than I would expect out of your average narcissist.  But then Joan Crawford wasn’t your average narcissist.  What she did not foresee was that her brilliant and talented daughter Christine would write a memoir called Mommie Dearest that would become a hit movie starring Faye Dunaway.   That certainly turned out to be one case where outliving one’s abuser was the first step in sweet revenge.  The second was writing the book.

After the Hypomania Attack

Now I am exhausted.  I’m trying to do some research for an article to post here, but my brain won’t work.  I have to force myself to read each word, and then I can’t put the words together; and if I can, they seem meaningless.

What happened?  Only a few hours ago I was all fired up, making lists of topics to write about, designing an actual syllabus that I wanted to cover.  I still love the idea, but even the act of typing is wearing me out.

That’s how it is with me.  I guess it’s called ultra-rapid cycling.  Rapid cycling means you switch between depression and hypomania/mania several times a year.  Ultra-rapid means more often than that.  I think there’s even a term for people like me, who cycle several times a day.  It’s really a drag.

I did manage to do some reading on circadian rhythm and bipolar, and sure enough, there’s a gene (or more) that regulate circadian rhythm, and if you take mice that have been designed to have mutations on those genes, their circadian rhythm is messed up.  If you then give those mice lithium, they go to sleep and wake up when they’re supposed to.  So the authors concluded that there could be a connection between genetic malfunction of circadian rhythm and bipolar illness, which may explain the sleep problems many bipolar people have.  Maybe if I was one of those mice I could get some sleep, because the lithium does help with the cycling, or at least with the emotional reaction to the cycling, and that’s a good thing.

I also found out that I’m probably Bipolar I instead of BP II, because when I was untreated and working nights, I was also going to 6 am aerobics class, then going skiing for a couple of hours, then riding my horse for a couple of hours, then going back to work, and sometimes taking a nap.  I have never held a job for more than two years in my life, because they have all ended the same way:  I knew way, way, way more than the people in charge, and it always came down to “I quit/you’re fired.”  And I have never had a successful relationship either.  They’ve all ended in different dramatic ways, though, even though I don’t consider myself a drama queen, particularly.  The article said that BP I is characterized by hyperactivity, grandiosity, dysfunction at work, and dysfunctional relationships.  Oh, and hypersexuality.  That was fun, but since the relationships were fucked up it was just another battleground.  So I guess I’m BP I.  It was obscured, I think, by the treatment-resistant BP depression I had before rTMS.  Not that I’m no longer depressed; it’s just that the volume has been turned down on it (thank G-d), and now I can see all the other stuff that had been overrun by the enormity of the depression.

Ah me.  I am so tired, and yet I can’t sleep.  I think I might watch a movie, since I finished the four-volume set of Mary Stewart’s wonderful series on Merlin and the rise and fall of King Arthur.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll be coherent again, and get a decent start on what I hope to write.