If you give a Mom a popsicle…

When Daisy was a toddler, we had a fluffy calico cat named Scarlett O’Hairy. Daisy adored her and wanted to be just like her. She’d sleep like a cat, all curled up with Scarlett in a patch of sun on the floor. She tried eating like a cat (but even her love for Scarlett couldn’t convince her to take more than one bite of the foul-smelling food). Once, in the wee hours of the morning, Daisy saw Scarlett jump off my bed and decided to do the same thing. While Scarlett landed gracefully in the laundry basket, Daisy fell into the dresser and split her forehead on a sharp corner. This resulted in a trip to the pediatric emergency room, and four stitches. Another time, Daisy took up Scarlett’s favourite pastime – digging in the houseplants. She ripped leaves off the plants for Scarlett to eat and crammed mouthfuls of potting soil into her own mouth. This resulted in a call to poison control, and a decision that maybe a baby brother or sister would be a safer companion than a cat.

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Scarlett O’Hairy: on Wednesdays she wore pink.

 

We’ve spent a lot of time in the emergency room over the years, for cat-induced and other ailments: ear infections, kidney infections, strep throat, croup, broken bones.  Eventually, toddlers pass out of the Walking Germ Bag phase. Trips to the emergency room become so infrequent that the kids actually look back on them fondly: misty watercolored memories of being safe and warm, wearing brightly coloured johnny-shirts and wrapped in warm flannel blankets, and being treated by kind people who gave them popsicles and stickers and cool-looking bandages. 

My memories of those visits are equally nostalgic. Maybe that sounds strange – I mean, what parent looks fondly back at illnesses and middle-of-the-night trips to the ER? But like my kids, I don’t remember the illnesses much. I’ve thankfully forgotten the vomiting, the search for clean sheets in the middle of the night, trips to the hospital through dark streets with time standing still. What I do remember is how we were all treated. My kids were treated with compassion and kindness. I was also treated so well. Everything was well-explained, follow-up instructions and appointments were clear, and the health professionals seemed as concerned with how I was coping as with how my kids were managing. Once or twice, I even got a popsicle of my own.

I’m nostalgic for that, because these days my visits to the ER are for Puck’s mental health crises — something that can’t be treated with stitches or antibiotics, and is a genuinely terrifying kind of pain. And when we get past this, my experience with the mental health emergency room is not a memory on which I’ll look back fondly.Read More »

Mental Health Week (or, “At least you’re not really sick…”)

This blog is still in its infancy, but people are asking me why I’m doing this. Why am I putting my family out on public display, even with thinly-veiled identities? Am I brave, or irresponsible, or in need of therapy?

(Well, ‘yes’ to all of those.)

But really. I can tell you why I’m doing this: stigma. I have spent decades of my life pinned down by the stigma of living with anxiety and of having recovered from an eating disorder. I have felt invisible and fake, and convinced that people wouldn’t like me if they knew who I really was.

Enough of that bullshit. This is who I am. I am not perfect. I am not particularly strong, or brave, or smart. I am flawed but surviving, and I can do that better if I tell the truth about my life. Our society, in general, will do better if we all tell the truth, and smash through the stigma that comes from living with mental illness. Mental illness is isolating enough without having more isolation imposed on you by society’s stigma. I don’t want Puck to feel the isolation I’ve felt. I am committed to working for change.

Things are better than when I was Puck’s age, for sure. Somedays, though, the stigma shows up where it’s least expected.Read More »

Talking to Kids About Anxiety (or, how to destroy The Clam)

When Puck was diagnosed with anxiety a few years ago, he drew a dark but beautiful picture to show what it felt like. The picture shows a dark, stormy world, and little Puck off to the side, trying to get to the safety of his home. It looked scary, and I felt sad when I looked at.  One thing I’ve learned about mental illness, though, is that what looks sad sometimes isn’t. And what looks funny and entertaining is sometimes scarier than you can imagine.

Recently, I asked him if it still felt like that for him. He thought about it for a minute.

“No,” he said. “It feels like I’m The Clam.”

“The Clam?”

“Yeah. The Clam costume,” he explained. “I feel like I’m in it all the time. I hate it. But I have no choice because that’s part of being at school. I’m trapped inside something I hate, but it’s all anyone can see and they think it’s who I am. I can’t wait to get it off and never see it again, but I’m trapped.”

At Puck’s school, the kids put on elaborate plays each year — plays they create themselves. They write the scripts, make the props, and choreograph the musical numbers. It falls to the parents, alas, to create the costumes for the sometimes odd characters the students develop. One year, Puck’s role in the play was The Clam.fullsizeoutput_27f

The Clam costume was a triumph of my glue gun and some craft foam. I was so proud to have created something that actually resembled a clam. Puck, however, was not thrilled. Being in a play was anxiety-inducing enough. Having to wear a costume in which he felt ridiculous made it worse. He wore it because he had to, but he was miserable. To this day, he despises any reference to The Clam. So when he said he felt like he was trapped as The Clam, I knew he has been feeling very miserable, indeed.Read More »