Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Little Ears and Hearts and Minds

According to a recent article in The Archives of General Psychiatry, children with a bipolar parent are 14 times more likely to have bipolar-like symptoms and 2-3 times more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety or mood disorder. Holy F-ing Shite.

Can I say, "Terrified?"

Now age-appropriate tantrums, sugar-induced manias, the after-school tears become, in my hypervigilant mind, evidence that I have passed on The Very Worst of Me.

Though to his credit and long suffering patience, Dr. B. has been pushing me not to vilify this disease but to find a way to be grateful for it. No fall-to-my-knees-Praise-Jesus!-how-grand-it-is-to-be-manic-depressive hyperbole. Rather, a genuine acknowledgment that gifts do come along with the diagnosis. One of which I am exhibiting right here on this blog: writing, perhaps, impulsively, with no thought to future fallout or reputation. Which is to say, I am in exactly the same position that mania and a few drinks used to lead, only now it is a sober energy, channeled into words of honesty (no words of wisdom--I am a long way to that).

But there are still those horrifying statistics and so my antennae try to pick up on the frequencies (and frequency) of my kids' behaviors. Good sense no longer tells me what might be a normal variation because of course, I'm sure that when I was a kid, I appeared normal, if hyperactive. And as a teenager? I hid my devastating depression, which started at the age of 14, from everyone. And cutting? I managed to hide that, too, beneath reams of bracelets and thickly-applied facial foundation. No one knew for 4 years, and even after my self-injury was discovered, no one knew that my rage and despair were more than a passing teenage phase.

So my antennae are tuned in because I want to know if, when things begin to spiral out of control for my kids.

Of course, it's not just the Bipolar Disorder that my children can inherit, but the Eating Disorder, too. Just Like Mommy. At least this is the phase my daughter is in for now. She watches me, inspects me, takes her cues from me ("Momma, why do you chew your fingers? Was this thumb bleeding? Momma, you have to stop!"). Which is why I was devastated a few weeks ago when I found her on her bedroom floor, a pair of jeans in her lap, her hands pinching her thighs.

"Momma, my legs are fat here. These pants make me look fat."

Up until this point, I'd believed I'd done an adequate job at shielding her from my anorexia. I never talked about weight in front of her, never let on how much I loathed my body. And yet, her antennae were tuned into my frequency. ("Momma, did you eat breakfast," she asked a few days ago. And when I came down with a cold this past week, she looked at me, serious and seriously worried, and said, "You won't have to go away to the hospital again, will you?")

Dr. B. suggested that I take these statistics and use them as a motivating force. Bipolar disorder is believed to be both genetically and environmentally based. So I am becoming a more stable, healthier Mom, in order to give my kids a stable, healthier home, an environmentally-friendly home. So I eat and take my meds and begin to write gratitude lists.

Here is my list for today:

The kids are flanking me on the couch—my daughter busily cracking and crunching on pistachios; my son's head resting on my shoulder.

Icicles on the house are melting.

The sun is shining—the gray lid has briefly lifted.

Soon, a woods walk with the dogs and kids.

16 days to Jamaica.

A brain that nominally works, that has something to offer to my students semester after semester—that I’m someone from who one can learn.

That I am crawling my way back into language, into writing again.

That I woke up in my own bed, beside my kids and husband instead of in some antiseptic, lonely hospital room.

That I am putting one foot in front of the other, surviving IT, keeping as even as I can.