The Happy Pill Hypothesis

The past couple of months have been pretty difficult for reasons I don’t quite understand. 

  

Wait. That was a lie.

I have, without the consent of my GP, gone off my antidepressants gradually and am now off them completely. I have been off and on meds to keep depression and anxiety at bay since baby #1 was born.

Baby #1 just turned fourteen years old.

Two months ago I was unhappy and couldn’t even verbalize this emptiness to myself, let alone my spouse. Nothing filled this void. Not food, not shopping, not talking about it, not sleeping.

Nothing.

I thought there was something wrong with me. 

But how could there be?

  

My husband was finally living at home. He retired from the Navy two years ago and has gone back to school to study art. My family was happy and healthy. I had a great job. My health was fine.

Or rather, my physical health was fine. My mental health is still sorting itself out.

I finally made the connection of this new and serious bout of depression when I realized that I hadn’t taken my meds in over a month. The slow taper off of them was deliberate with the understanding that I could go back on them if I wanted to. It was no one’s business whether or not I was on them. Fuck them, right? 

I’ve tried talking to others including family members about depression but I’ve given up. Sometimes they look at me as if I’ve announced I was a serial killer or a failed science experiment. Others have bombarded me with questions and comments and I feel like I have to defend why I feel the way I do, why I am the way I am. It’s frustrating and exhausting.

  

This post, like my mind, is all over the place but really, it’s a peek into my head. Do you know the feeling when you’re having a very important conversation with an equally important person and you can’t think of the right word to say? And not just any word, the exact word that is somewhere in your brain and the word that was probably invented for that moment… Only you forgot the word.

That’s been me. That’s in my head.

All day, every day. 

I even dread going to bed knowing that Mr. Sandman will skip over me as he has been for weeks. I wake up a couple of times a night and feel such a huge panic that I can’t or won’t be able to fall back asleep. Or if I eventually do fall asleep, I don’t get the amount or the quality of sleep I enjoyed when I took my happy pills. It too is frustrating and exhausting. 

But I’ve gotten really good at pretending. Hell, I should go back and get my doctorate in giving the impression that I’m alright. Maybe I can earn continuing education units while I’m at it. 

  

I’ve had dark moments that I don’t care to go into right now. Perhaps when these moments occur with less frequency I’ll shed some light but for now, it’s time to try to get some sleep. 

  

Happy New Year! 

Hope you had a wonderful holiday season! We have been fortunate to spend time with family and friends, near and far. 

Right before Christmas, we drove to Los Angeles for a much-needed vacation to the happiest place on earth… Disneyland! Because of the new movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens, there was so much excitement in the air. I tried to cosplay as a StormTrooper but was quickly shot down by security, no pun intended. Evidently their rules had changed in the last 48 hours to a ban on cosplay for adults. 

   
 
I was able to quickly get these pics before I got kicked out! No, I didn’t get kicked out though I wonder if the kids will say to each other, decades later, “Remember the time we went to Disneyland and Mom almost got removed from the park?” 

Noticeably absent from the pics is my husband R, partly to save money but mostly because he just can’t handle the crowds anymore. He expressed his dismay and believes that he is getting worse but really… Everyone hates crowds! Even I have to take a break from it all and return to our hotel room to take a breather. My happiness and adrenaline level probably outweigh my disdain for crowds. Maybe one day he’ll join us but it’s not something I push or make a big deal over.

While I love seeing my family on Christmas, I hate traveling so we opted to stay home. We went to church on Christmas Eve so I could assist with the CFF classes when they performed during mass. 

  
At the Grand Californian Resort in Anaheim, CA

The spirit of giving is very much alive in our home. L, at only 8 years old, gave all of us handmade Christmas cards. A, who’s 10, used her own money to buy all of us chocolate bars even though they still had plenty left over from Halloween. She even bought cat toys for our old tabby and a chew toy for our dogs to share. And while the boy didn’t give us anything to open, his kind manner sets the tone for his younger sisters. For that we are grateful. 

Our New Year’s celebrations have always been low key as we’ve found the older we get, the less alcohol we consume. We actually stayed up until midnight with family and friends, a first for the two younger kids.  

   
On Monday the girls go back to school. They’ve been off since Thanksgiving break so I can imagine how difficult it will be to wake up… Even more so for R and I though! We’re going to have to be more awake than them to wake them up!

The boy and I go back on Tuesday. I’ll make sure I have my coffee machine ready then.

In the meantime, happy new year from all of us, wherever you may be. Here’s to a prosperous and blessed 2016!

   
    
 

What Veterans Day Means to Us, 2015 Edition

We are so happy to see another Veterans Day with our veteran. If you’ve been a reader of this blog for a while, you already know why. There were many times we celebrated holidays without him.

  
There was even a time we thought we lost him. But he survived.

  
In the past couple of years since he’s retired, R wants no fanfare, no free coffee at Starbucks, no free meals at chain restaurants. In fact, you’re more likely to hear me asking, “Erm, do you give a military discount?” because it never hurts to ask and I don’t have a fit if they say no. 

This year he is in school today and the kids and I are not. So what do we do if our favourite veteran is away on Veterans Day?

We go to the movies to see the new Peanuts movie!

  
Happy Veterans Day!

The Weight Lifting Vortex

Late last night I decided I was not going to accept a sub job for the following morning. I was experiencing anxiety from which I was medically immune. I needed time and an empty house to sort through this anxiety. 

  
I am wholly thankful and grateful that I have this opportunity to step back and be able to decide I didn’t want to work an extra day if I didn’t have to. 

I went to see my general practitioner a few years ago, this really cool dude who happily shared a picture of a grapefruit-sized cyst he removed a few moments earlier. He spoke to me about the regular information: eating right and possibly losing poundage to alleviate the knee pain I sometimes experience. At the time, I was running regularly and could stand to lose thirty pounds. It was this extra weight that was cause for concern. I mean, I don’t mind it usually so long as I’m still muscular. I thought for sure that my blood tests would reveal that I’d need a cocktail of blood pressure or cholesterol medications.

But I didn’t need medicine. I was healthy and I could tell that my doctor knew I was disappointed. 

I didn’t know why I was disappointed. Maybe it was because a lot of my friends were starting to take medication for one reason or another. Maybe it was because I carried more weight, therefore I felt I should neutralize this load with chemicals. Maybe I felt like I didn’t deserve to BE healthy if I didn’t LOOK healthy. I guess it was hard to accept that despite my body shape and size, my body shape and size were fine. 

The doctor then approached the medical cocktail I was already on. Did I want to still be on antidepressants? Did I want to reduce my meds?

I felt my eyes water as depression was a topic even less approachable than fatness. I couldn’t face life without my pills. They were a cushion to a harsh reality, making the pain far less than what it was and demagnifying the joy so as not to be drunk on endorphins that make the bipolar sect like myself look like we’re on speed. 

My doctor, being sensitive with all of that information revealed in a single tear, said that I didn’t have to change a thing and that being on antidepressants could be like a prescription for glasses, one that I could need all my life. Those statements saved me that day. I knew that life was ever changing and while I had adjusted my prescription in the past, I would do it when I was ready. If I was ready.

A couple of months I felt ready. I started taking my pills every other day which was not too bad.

Initially.

There was a week were I started to feel unbearable anxiety. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t articulate how I was feeling, I was moody and irritated with everyone. If I didn’t sleep, I didn’t function. 

I didn’t like myself. I wanted to go back to MY normal. I didn’t like feeling that I was always about to say something important but nothing ever came out. Nothing ever came to mind. 

Somehow I got through that. When I’m cognizant about the negative emotions, I tell myself I have to face them head on. If I need to take a nap because everything is too overwhelming, then I take a nap. I needed to do something with this anxiety, to channel it for good. 

I started to declutter EVERYTHING. I donated toys and clothes we no longer used. I threw away so much  that I filled seven garbage bags. My kids had a knack for saving last year’s homework, toy packaging, dried markers, broken barrettes, and pencils too short to salvage. I donated books that my children no longer read and organized what was left of our books into nonfiction and chapter books. I consolidated all of my teacher and craft suppplies into drawers and even labeled these drawers! 

Pretty soon I realized that I was only taking my antidepressants twice a week. 

I’m realizing epiphanies during this med cocktail reduction.

1. Sometimes I don’t like myself, particularly when I’m a bitch to everyone around me. The best way for me to combat this is to acknowledge my bitchy ways and channel this into something productive. Write it out. Get on the bike. Watch crap TV.

2. Life is really difficult without antidepressants. It’s cringe-inducing and sometimes I want to go back to taking my prescription daily. I constantly tell myself that if I do have to go back, I am not a failure and really, it doesn’t even mean anything. 

3. Life is really amazing without antidepressants. I can feel wholly and without regard. It’s scary for someone like me who’s been semi-feeling for the past fourteen years. It’s intense and unpredictable which brings me to my next epiphany.  

4. I live in constant fear that I will say something that I regret. I feel like I experience emotions more intensely and probably at a thousand times more than a person who does not have depression. If at any time I articulated any negative emotion to anyone, especially as magnified as I felt, I could probably crush someone to the tiniest shred of humanity and then flick them away without a care in the world. I would never forgive myself if I verbally obliterated anyone. 

I am really lucky to have someone like my husband R in my life who knows exactly what I’m going through, having weaned himelf from antidepressants after the accident. 

This morning I went to the gym after dropping off the kids at school. I lifted weights for the first time in weeks and still feel powerful hours later, sitting here at Starbucks and writing away my anxiety. I realized that as I was leaving the gym that it was far easier for me to feel feel guilt.  Guilt for not running in a race in a year, not running at all for the past few months, not going to the gym in a month, for eating too much sugar at yesterday’s San Francisco Giants game, for eating too much PERIOD. 

And then I stopped myself. Why was it so damn easy to tear myself apart than revel in the joy of feeling strong and powerful? 

It was too easy.

So now I take it back. I take that guilt back and hereby replace it with the feeling of accomplishment and strength. Now I smile and feel it. 

Follow Up to the Junior High Juxtaposition

I finally had a chance to visit my son’s school during Take Your Parent to Lunch Week. I, along with dozens of other parents, were able to bring a nice (meaning fast food) lunch to share with their angsty junior high offspring. 

My husband was able to join him on Tuesday and I was able to dine with him on Wednesday. On that Wednesday after lunch, a boy had joined us, telling my son M that he couldn’t find him all lunch period. 

I couldn’t wrap my head around what had just happened. Was this the same kid who hated school and couldn’t wait for lunch to be over everyday, apparently deciding that no friends were better than mean friends? 

I found out the next day (yes, I went back the next day) that this kid was in one of his classes. His mother, who joined us as well, revealed that their teacher actually introduced the boys because he said my son was looking for friends. 

So the email to the counselor and his English teacher worked. I did not tell them about the assault and it pained me to keep this information from the faculty but I shared everything with the boy’s mom who listened to the word vomit that spewed from my mouth in under ninety seconds. I felt a huge sigh of relief knowing that someone else knew M’s story.  

 

I was able to meet with M’s counselor that week. His teachers were concerned for him and for that am immensely grateful and humbled. The counselor told his teachers that they could not tell M that I initiated this conversation but a couple of teachers had already acted on this cry for help from this concerned mother.  His counselor asked the right questions and was happy to know that the behaviors of keeping to himself to the extreme at home and at school have subsided. I expressed my confusion regarding how my son’s behavior had changed so dramatically but agreed to monitor him and take him to see a family doctor if these behaviors return. I don’t think it will come to this but I am prepared to take him if necessary. 

[We aren’t strangers to therapy. When my husband R was recovering at the VA of Palo Alto, he and I saw a family therapist a few times and when R and I were given a few hours to hang out in his hospital room, the “babysitter” was the same therapist. In complete honesty, I tried to see one a few years ago since why the hell not? Our insurance covers it and I was in dire need of a life gutting experience. 

But the handful of therapists I reached out to were either out of the office or didn’t respond to my messages. 

I took that as a sign. 

But I digress.] 

Weeks later, they are still friends and this kid’s friends have embraced M as one of their own. I wonder if he’s being a good friend to them. I wonder a lot if his arrogance (okay, he might get it from us) prevents him from seeing potential friends. I wonder if his old friends feel abandoned. 

It takes a lot of self-control but I have to wonder from afar. I have to trust that he’ll make the right choices. I have to trust that he’ll come to my husband or me if or when the time comes. I have to trust that he’ll be aright. 

The Ocean Beach Vortex

  
I wasn’t always like this. I used to be pretty flexible when it came to traveling. My friends and I would show up to clubs whenever we felt like it. We were on The List. It didn’t matter when we arrived; it mattered only that we did. After R and I got married, we didn’t have a care in the world so long as one of us was the designated driver. Like Kesha says, the party don’t start ’til I walk in.

All of that changed though after having children. These adorable monsters (kid and pet, alike) woke us up at the crack of dawn so why wouldn’t we head to our destination early? Parking would be easy, no lines, no crowds, and that would mean we would get to leave early as well. 

We took a day trip to “the most wonderful city in the world”, according to our middle daughter. We wanted to go to the San Francisco Zoo but we needed to get there when it opened. About a year ago, I wanted to take the kids to the zoo since we were in the city anyway. That didn’t happen. There was absolutely no parking and there were people everywhere! I could barely drive by the zoo, let alone find parking. 

Less traffic on Labor Day meant that we were almost two hours early. No matter though. We got free street parking, ate a delicious breakfast at Ocean Beach Cafe, and spent a beautiful morning at the beach. 

The weather was amazing. Just a tad warmer than “chilly”, not a cloud in sight. 

  

I told the kids to not get wet but I knew that would fall on deaf ears. They dug for sand crabs, watched sea gulls fight over giant crabs, and played in the crashing waves like I did throughout my childhood. 
Here’s a little bit of the Pacific Ocean for you.

  
R and I didn’t count on the zoo being so huge! We were exhausted by the time noon rolled around and we still had a lot of zoo to see. One of the most memorable exhibits was the Primate Discovery Center. Please keep in mind that the animals were not engaging in certain inappropriate behaviors while I was filming. 

Eerie Sounds from Primate Discovery Center at SF Zoo
   
    
    
    
    
   
The sound was deafening at times and eerie at most. I’m glad I caught a sound byte because it is difficult to describe. 

We had promised lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf and that was an utter fail. No parking, so many people. We still were able to get a delicious meal but we know better for next time. 

   
  

The Junior High Juxtaposition 

I had no idea. I thought he was going through the same issues as last year in seventh grade: discovering what true friendship really means, being the big fish in an even bigger pond, and realizing that you’re “over” this whole school experience. 

When my son M first told me one of his friends (who were no longer his friends) was being an asshole and said he was too good for my son, I felt extreme sadness for M. I didn’t know how I could help; unless he was being bullied or targeted, this was something that he was going to have to go through on his own.

I reminisced about my own formative years in junior high and came to the conclusion that I too was miserable. I had a small clique of two or three girls with whom I lunch but they turned on me within the first few months. What had I done? Was it because they realized I still didn’t wear a bra in eighth grade? (Why would I? There was nothing there until college!) Was it because unlike them I had zero interest in the opposite sex? 

 
 They were my friends one day, my enemies the next. These girls had gone so far as to flip me off repeatedly in class when the teacher wasn’t looking and even put an ad in the weekly school newsletter addressed to me: IT’S HIP TO BE SQUARE. 

It has been almost thirty years since junior high and I had forgotten all about that. Even now, I am friends with a couple of these girls on social media. They never apologized nor had I ever sought one. 

Why had I forgotten about these terrible experiences? How did I manage to let these memories slip from my mind? Were they that bad? How did I overcome the behavior of these bitches?

I don’t remember confronting them about how they were treating me. I probably thought that that would make it worse. I honestly can’t tell you if I was a bitch myself. I can tell you that I never once feared that I was going to get physically harmed and for that I was prepared. My father taught me how to defend myself when I was in elementary school. 

The same cannot be said for my son.

Last week he revealed to my husband R in a top secret conversation that some kid who had been tormenting him for the past year both at school and at church (!) had punched him in the stomach! I was heartbroken, livid, and every other emotion you could think of yet R had told me that I could not do anything about it.

“What?!” I screamed. “Why not?”

“He told me in confidence and if you talked to him about it, he would never trust me again.” 

My self-control was tested at that moment… And still is. I WANT to tell the school about this kid, I WANT to find out who this kid is and have a presumably heated conversation with his parents, I WANT to tell my child to fucking defend himself if ANYONE lays a finger on him or his sisters. 

But I don’t.

I sent an email to his counselor and his teachers to check up on him without revealing any details but I have yet to hear a reply from anyone. I’m trusting my husband to take care of this. I’m trusting my other half– most times, my better half– to make this call. He should be able to after being away for so long.

Last week was M’s first catechism class at church. We changed his weekly meeting days to better accommodate his school schedule. And then it happened. 

This kid, this same fucking kid, was not only in his class but also in his small group AGAIN. This kid constantly asked kids in his catechism class if they had any markers he could sniff! In a church group, I know! Students tended to avoid him and if he’s so bold to ask for markers to sniff in his church group, I can see why. 

I had to tell myself to get it together. He doesn’t know you know. I said as calmly as I could, “You know, the director of your catechism is a friend of mine. I could ask her if you could switch groups.” 

Right away, he refused. He said that it wasn’t worth the trouble for just one kid. 

I was floored. This kid had assaulted him at school and caused him to go to the bathroom for his lunch period. Could it be? Could my kid see beyond the curse and doom of junior high? Or did he fight back? Did he feel sorry for this kid? WHAT HAPPENED?!

I don’t know the answers to this a dozens of other questions filling your mind and mine as well. One thing is for sure, I will be a more a listener than a reactor. Junior high is over halfway done for him, thank the Lord.

The Whale Watching Reaction

Earlier this month we went to Southern California and packed a whole lot of fun in four days. 

We drove to the Hollywood Walk of Fame where I quickly realized that my husband T still has extreme anxiety in crowded areas. I can, at only 5’2″, zip around and in between hordes of people while R, who at nearly a foot taller, cannot avoid oncoming people without feeling like he’ll accidentally run into someone. Needless to say, we had to leave quickly. 

That I can do.

I can also plan ahead.

For some reason, Universal Studios was open two hours earlier than usual and we took advantage of that! We got onto the Studio Tour right away and got a sneak peek of the Fast and the Furious attraction. It was so cool! The Studio Tour has changed very little since I was little. Here is a clip I captured of my favorite part of the tour: Universal Studios Hollywood Studio Tour– Jaws Only

The following day we drove to Long Beach to check out the Aquarium. We went on our first whale watching cruise ever and had a blast! We were so excited to see this pod of dolphins and then couldn’t believe it when the dolphins followed and surfed next to us.

We saw a couple of whales  

   
and had even more fun in the aquarium.

   
    
   
We live a couple of hours from the ocean so it felt amazing to smell the salty air and see and touch the Pacific.  

   
I hope we can make our way down to SoCal again soon! 

No Memorial Day For Us

I never know how to act when Memorial Day rolls around. This is not a day that we celebrate nor do I try to talk about it with my husband R.

He’s known too many people who have died, far too many for people in other careers. I know that R misses his friends more than actual places where we have been stationed probably more now than ever. He’s made friends here in California but can sympathize that there’s just something about living near a base. There is a sense of community that binds us together if we fight against it. Unspoken bonds like living without our spouses for months at a time and married-single-parenting. Civilians can try and want to understand but there’s nothing like knowing that every single person around you is going through something similar.

R doesn’t stop watching the news and scanning news websites even after his time in the military. He has been to nearly every corner of the world and truly immersed himself with the people and cultures wherever he’s been. Why wouldn’t he want to know?

I would not. I stopped watching the news the first time R deplolyed. Perhaps in my naivete I believed that if I didn’t see anything bad happen on TV, nothing bad was happening to R. 

When quite the opposite was happening one deployment at a time. 

Whenever he came back, he was a little different like a tiny part of his soul was stolen. I didn’t notice it at the time but after his first deplolyment in many years, R came back in 2006 changed.

I couldn’t ignore his anxiety. He would involuntary shake when he heard a car drive too fast over the speed bump next to our house. I feel very fortunate that his anxiety never manifested itself violently towards me, our children, or himself. But in that moment I knew he was different. So many other new behaviors have manifested, so different from before. 

Different in a way that Memorial Day is to our family. In many ways I find it difficult to acknowledge so I don’t. I don’t complain about how Memorial Day should be about the fallen, not veterans. I don’t complain that we shouldn’t put Memorial Day and “celebration” in the same sentence. I waited for R to talk about whether or not we wanted to make plans.

He didn’t. We didn’t.

It’s probably best that way. 

The Battle of the Bay Repetition 

A while back I found bleacher seats for a pre-season San Francisco Giants. It was pretty exciting because the Giants played the Oakland A’s!

I was just shy of my fifteenth birthday when the Giants played the A’s in the Battle of the Bay in 1989. I remember laying on the couch with my dad and brother sitting on the other couch, waiting for the game to start. We heard the garage door open. Mom was home from work and she was parking the car inside.

Suddenly there was a loud grumble. Was my mom crashing into the wall? My father yelled for my brother and I to get out of the house and into our backyard. We lived right behind a school facing the gassy field. I looked over the fence and saw the baseball game played by a bunch of neighborhood kids was frozen in time and eventually they dropped to the ground. If I wasn’t holding onto the fence, I probably would have fallen down as well. 

I was less than an hour from the epicenter of Loma Prieta earthquake. My husband R said he felt the earthquake two states away in Idaho! 

Needless to say, see the orange and green on the field brought me back. 

This was our first time in the bleachers section and fortunately for us, I found the tickets for fourteen dollars each. I knew R did not want to come. He simply couldn’t. 

R has been to one other Giants game and that experience was too much for him. His PTSD and anxiety prevented him and all of us from having any fun. I tried to alleviate the stress by asking an usher if we could sit in the seats reserved for disabled ticket holders temporarily but it didn’t help. Still, that was a huge step and triumph for R and maybe in time he’ll be able to watch another game with us. 

L, who’s seven years old, did not come with us because she gets too cold and too tired at games! Poor thing! I’m glad she was able to stay home with Daddy and keep him company.

So we brought Grandma! 

My mom has never been to a game before so it was nice to bring her along. We stopped at the commissary to buy drinks and sushi (yes, sushi) and sandwiches and sunflower seeds. You name it, we brought it because I didn’t want to pay ball park prices. I did however wanted to splurge on garlic fries. Those delicious fries are normally nine bucks but because it was the first game of the season and the registers were brand-new, they weren’t working! So I got free fries. Yum!

We got to see the A’s have batting practice before the game in the outfield. Occasionally a ball would roll away from play and fans would beg for a player to throw them the ball. My daughter and I were happily watching from the backstop. 

A teenager asked to trade places with us so he could use his contraption (made of rope, duct tape, and a cup) to retrieve one of the balls. He was so cordial that I said, “Okay, but only until you get the ball!” A few minutes later I was shocked to see that a gentleman came with a similar invention. I thought, Come on! That kid was already trying for it! 

When the teen got the ball, my daughter and I cheered. The kid turned to my daughter A and asked if she has a ball yet. A shook her head.

Then he said, “Here you go!” and gave her the ball. 

I was floored. There are many times as an educator where I am disrespected and most times I shrug it off. However, there are a few times when a kid reminds me why I still have hope for the youth.