Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Meaningful Coincidence

I was feeling lazy today, so I plopped on the couch and picked up the remote, scanning the guide for anything meaningful to watch. I never watch Dr. Phil—in fact, I have a strong aversion to his quick-fix psyche-show. You know what I mean: family members on stage, bawling about their problems and then his simplistic solutions. But maybe simplicity is exactly what I need right now because his show was about Eating Disorders and his guest was someone I spent time with when I was inpatient last December for my own ED.

Here’s the rub: I know I was supposed to be horrified by the examination of this woman’s life. There was even an almost naked photo of the woman—her breast blocked out by a yellow colo9r bar, her vagina covered by a blue triangle, the rest of her skin-and-bones body bared for all to see. I know I was supposed to see her body and instinctively should have shuddered. I mean, the entire audience was panned and all I could see were looks of disgust and horror. How could she? The unasked question. How could she think her body looks acceptable at 95 pounds? How could she not see herself as everyone else saw her: emaciated, wan, on the edge of death?

IT was watching with me and whispered, “Aren’t you in the least bit jealous of how thin she is? How few pounds are attached to her frame? Isn’t that what you secretly long for, the body-that-needs-nothing?

But then there was the other voice, that of Dr. Phil’s, yes, and he asked her, “Are you willing to do what it takes to get better?” Dr. Phil superimposed onto Dr. B., who is, thankfully, more complex and intuitive than Dr. Phil, but who has been asking me all these years, “Will you do what it takes to have the life you want?”

What is problematic about this question is IT doesn’t want me to have a life, at least a life that is worth its weight in pounds and ounces. Even when I’ve been inpatient at all of these hospitals for my ED, IT has traveled right along with me, demanding I secretly purge and exercise, while all the while I’m claiming I want recovery. So I’m a hypocrite, too. I want a life, a rich, full, purposeful life, and yet, at every turn I allow IT to undermine my faithful, honest efforts to recover. I see that woman on the T.V. screen and fantasize about being that thin, about letting go and handing my life over to IT. Which, by definition, equals assured death.

So. I’m watching Dr. Phil and the woman’s family members talking about how devastating the woman’s illness has been on the family—how they have been cornered by her IT, how they’ve had to give up so much to fighting or at least appeasing IT: money, time, friendships, love. And I think about my own family and my recent inpatients stay, about Christopher’s tireless efforts to keep IT at bay, about my kids’ questions about my eating and my “brain sickness.”

Just yesterday, my daughter decided she was going to have a dinner-lunch, swap meals. So she gobbled down a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. Then she turned and asked me, “Why don’t you have some, too? It’s fun to mix things up.” And all IT would allow me to say it, “No. I’m going to sti8ck with a lunch-lunch”—which means, of course, my measly bowl of yogurt and granola and blueberries. This is what IT takes, my ability to be spontaneous, and my ability to find joy in expected and unexpected places.

Dr. Phil. 3pm. Snack time as ordered by my dietician since I have apparently lost a good deal of weight while inpatient. It w3anted to find a way to get around eating that snack, even considered lying, claiming that a granola bar had been consumed. But in came Dr. B.’s voice, arguing with IT: Do what it takes to have the life you want. So while I watched this woman on T.V., a woman much like me, a woman who I once sat down with to eat our precisely controlled portions, who I once went through daily weigh-ins with, who I struggled alongside, I decided I was going to follow the plan instead of IT. I grabbed a jar of peanut butter, spooned out a few mouthfuls, sliced up my apple, and ate my snack while watching her on the T.V.. Eating what she refused. Eating what felt like too much, but which was exactly enough. Eating for recovery.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Impatient Inpatient

I’m back after a two week stint in the psych hospital. Mania plus suicidal ideation (plus a small cut and a burn on my forearm) apparently got the best of me. Which evidenced itself, in the hospital in a combination: lying in my soothing white room on my white sheeted bed, wishing I could die because I was unable to feel anything anymore—neither joy or pain. Alternately, pacing the hallways, religiously counting off one hundred laps, two to three times a day. Somewhere in between the two, I reached a sort of détente: dissolution of ambition and imagination.

The first few days are lost to me. Mania knocked flat on its back by a new combination of drugs: Lithium, Zyprexa, Remeron, Wellbutrin, Klonopin, Vistaril, and Trazadone. I have a fleeting memory of my friend Jennifer visiting me, my mouth stuffed with the cotton of meds; she gave me her Burt’s Bees chapstick (since it felt like my lips were peeling off). Then there’s a flash of my parents’ visit; my mother generously offering up a six-pack of Diet Coke—not realizing that caffeine was banned. I drank one anyway, even when a nosy fellow patient tried to remind me of the rules. Beyond that? Nothing. Kerry as slug.

The doctor finally realized that my garbled speech and inability to form coherent sentences might be the result of over-medication. So dosages were lowered and I began to emerge from my haze. This is when the pacing began, the obsession with counting off the laps. At one point I was walking so fast and furiously that a doctor poked his head out of a room and asked me to stop as I was interrupting their meeting. So I waited for the meeting to break up and resumed: thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five, ad infinitum.

The eating disorder barged in, too. Every day, for every meal, I ate the exact same thing: two yogurts, one small cup of cottage cheese, and an assembly of sliced cantaloupe, grapes, and strawberries. Even this felt like too much, so sometimes I’d skip a yogurt or skim just the top of the cottage cheese.

The other patients? Most of them took wide latitude with the meal offerings each day, ordering double meals and desserts, their trays precariously full. Mine, in comparison, looked like the meal of some crazed ascetic. One patient, a recent Bosnia émigré, inhaled both the hospital’s meal, and then an hour later when his boatload of visitors arrived, ate a second home-cooked meal, replete with fruit and cake and chips and and and. Secretly, IT was proud of me, proud of my resistance. That extra cookies leftover from someone else’s tray? I declined, even though they looked good to my hungry self. That cherry cheesecake I ordered as a challenge to IT? Purged.

Slowly, slowly the mania subsided and now I am home, buffered by my retinue of medications, feeling placeless, feeling like I have lost my words, lost myself. Am I too low? I know that one of the descriptions the doctor used in regards to me was anhedonia: the inability to take pleasure in things that were once pleasurable. Today, for instance: I shuffled around the house, collapsing on my bed, staring at the walls, listening to my kids laughing, listening to my husband rattling around in the kitchen while he made pomodoro sauce from the tomatoes we picked yesterday and all I could think was, simultaneously: I don’t belong here anymore and How do I find my way back inside joy? And how do I do it when I am stuck inside a depressive inertia? Everything seems insurmountable, from feeding and bathing the kids to feeding and bathing myself. Squirting toothpaste onto my toothbrush feels is a herculean task. Getting dressed? A monumental necessity.

But I’ll do it because I want to live. Which is why I went to the hospital in the first place. Before the crisis, as a preemptive strike against IT. Now I need to summon up the reserves and carry on, one hour at a time, impatiently of course, because I am also counting the time I’m losing to IT—the hours and days and weeks and months and all added together? Years. The joy that I’m missing out on. The laughter with my kids. The pleasure of a big meal with my husband—foie gras, tagliatelle, seafood risotto (not in that combination). A me that is brave and bold and brimming with imagination and overflowing with words.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Shitty Momma Day

Shitty Momma Day. While I am filled with agitated energy (energy that insists on waking me at 4am to contemplate both the outline of my book-in-progress and potential methods of suicide, energy that compels me to go running even when I’m shuffling my feet like some thorazined inpatient, energy that keeps up the ruminating assault of negative thoughts), it seems I don’t have enough energy to smile at my son or read him books.

Last night, my son was restless, refused to stay in bed, kept coming downstairs interrupting MY couch time.

“Momma, I’m hungreeee,” he said.

So I handed him a tube yogurt.

“Momma, I’m thirsteeee,” he crooned.

I poured him a glass of water.

“Momma, I’m scared of the bad man who wants to hurt kids.”

“Upstairs to bed,” I thundered. “I’m tired of this nonsense.”

Nonsense? No mother in her right mind (I’m not), would send her child to bed when he’s scared of the bad man. A real bad man.

Back up: We arrived home from our vacation to a stack of mail and one very terrifying, homemade flyer. Apparently, we have a Dangerous Sexual Predator (convicted) living down the block. In my immediate, horrified rush, I showed the flyer to my kids, demanding they study his face, and, if he ever approached them (he shouldn’t as that’s part of his parole), they were to scream and find us.

“But Momma,” my son cried, “I’m scared of the bad man.”

I sighed and got my ass off the couch. Comfort and reassurance were what was needed. My own whining and irritation would have to wait.

I scurried upstairs with him and tucked him back into bed.

“Momma, would you read me a book?” he asked.

Here’s the thing: when I am approaching a manic episode (as I think I am), the smallest requests become major irritations. All I want is for the chatter of others’, even my own children's, to go silent. Everything in the manic brain becomes chaotic and muddled: voices seem louder and grating; simple clutter (socks on the floor, a pile of magazines askew) feels like the stash of a hoarder; other people needing you and loving you feels claustrophobic. All I want is to be left alone. But that’s impossible because I have accepted the responsibility of being a wife and a mother. I am part of a family, not an island unto myself. But as I told Dr. B. today, what I’d like is to be left on top of some barren piling in the North Sea.

The question remained: Could I read him a book.

“No,” I said. “I’m too tired.”

He looked crestfallen and I felt immediately guilty. I am, after all, a writer. I write stories for a living. One of the greatest pleasures in my own life was when my own father would read books to me at bedtime—chapters and chapters of Nancy Drew books. And here I was saying “No,” to my own son.

“Momma, snuggle with me,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. “Five minutes and then I go back downstairs.” If I could turn off my stupid manic head, I might be able to hear my heart which was saying, “It’s okay. Just let yourself go and fall asleep beside him, with him. You know you’re exhausted.”

But no, five minutes and I was sticking to it. Before I got up, my son cupped my face and started laughing. Insane cackles.

“Laugh, Momma,” he said.

I managed a few lame chuckles.

“No,” he said. “Laugh.”

So I forced myself to laugh and immediately his face lit up.

“Now keep laughing,” he said.

If only I could. But these days, all emotions are flat. Joy, happiness, excitement, even sadness have to be summoned up with great struggle. I plaster my face in the emotion so other people will believe I am present and listening and feeling. But I’m not. I feel alone and far away. Like I’m in another room, another house entirely. No, I’m not even in a house—because that would imply warmth and comfort, that would suggest that I am inside, part of the heart of a home. Not me. I’m locked out of the house. I can see the lights on inside, inviting me in, but I can’t find my key anymore. Instead, I’m alone in the wintry garden, arms and legs snagged on a thorny bush, snow up to my knees, teeth chattering.

I held my laugh as long as I could, then gazed down at my son, into his big brown eyes, eyes that said, “I love you. I trust that you will protect me from the bad man. I know when I wake up you will be here loving me back.”

I kissed him, and trudged back downstairs. This is the awful truth: Mania can even make me tired of love.