Mental health isn’t just one day…

Every year, in Canada, Bell Canada has a “Let’s Talk” event. It runs for one day at the end of January and is supposed to stimulate conversation about mental illness. Which is great but mental illness doesn’t exist for just one day.

I had a rough day with Colin but it didn’t start today, it started back in August when he came home from his psychiatrist and informed me Dr. A was going to be away for a while. My first thought was summer vacation. It was the right time of year to go.

School and family and appointments went on until one day, I said to Colin, “You haven’t seen your doctor in a while… like a really long time.  Did you make an appointment with him?”. Colin reminded me that he hadn’t made an appointment because his doctor was going away. I remembered that conversation from months earlier. Surely he had to be back by now.

That was when we got a message from the pharmacy saying that Colin’s prescription had expired a while earlier and the doctor was not responding to their faxes or returning their calls. They could no longer extend his prescription and it was ending the following week.

I had a psychiatrist’s appointment that week and Colin’s grandmother was dying in the same hospital so Colin left school a little early on the day of my appointment and came up to meet me. The receptionist informed us that his doctor was on leave and Colin should have received a letter in the summer with his temporary psychiatrist’s name and a request to make an appointment. He didn’t get a letter. There was nothing they could do other than schedule an appointment now but the earliest date available was the end of March. This was the middle of January. We made the appointment. What else could we do? It turned out we could go down to the ER and speak to the on duty psychiatrist.

Colin visited his grandmother, while I politely waited in the hall, then we went down to the ER to wait for the psychiatrist. Well he did. I was struggling with anxiety and went home. He came home quite proud of himself after talking to the doctor and we both breathed a sigh of relief that the prescription had been filled. At least until two weeks later when his blister pack of medication didn’t arrive. We were informed then that the ER doctor only prescribes enough medication for one week. That was when Colin said he wasn’t taking his medication anymore. It didn’t make a difference and he wasn’t going to sit in the ER every single week. I knew it would make a difference but had to admit I wouldn’t want to sit there each week too. And it wasn’t like I could force him to go.

Sometimes it’s not just one thing but a bunch of little things that cause mental health issues. Colin was stable on his medication until those little things piled up and toppled him off. And, to be honest, he wasn’t very compliant with his medication to begin with, something people struggling with bipolar disorder are notorious for. I quickly took over his blister pack, doling them out three times a day, until the pills ran out. Because if I left it to him he’d “forget” two out of every three pills. And we bumbled along until, thanks to a bunch of things, the pills ran out. Then, over a week or two the meds slowly left his body.

For me, today started at 3am when Colin woke up and turned on his videos in the living room. I think he was in the living room, I didn’t even open my eyes, let alone get up. “Emma?” I called. “Can you please turn that down or put on headphones?”

Medicated Colin would have complied. Medicated Colin would have turned down the video or stayed in his room with headphones on because 3am is fricking early. Not unmedicated Colin.

“No! The video isn’t on that loud and I’m working on several different computers so I can’t wear headphones. You just need to learn how to tune things out.”


“Tune it out Mom!”

I ended up drifting back into an uneasy sleep, never knowing when I was going to get woken up again. At one point Colin frantically asked how far our furniture had to be away from the patio doors as our building is having all with windows and patio doors replaced.

“Umm, three feet,” I replied sleepily. “But they’re on-”

“Okay,” he interrupted.

“Emma,” I continued. “They’re on penthouse right now and they’re only doing three or four apartments a week. It’s going to be spring before they get to us.”

“But we only have 24 hours,” he told me earnestly. Sure enough, I got up to find all our furniture moved away from the windows. We can’t use half our table but the windows are clear.

Then came school. He’s started a program at our local college, which isn’t far from us, maybe 5 minutes by bus. He decided not to buy a bus pass this month, instead he’s going to walk or bike. A laudable choice but it’s February. One thing we can count on is snow and slush. I figured it would take him about an hour to walk, giving him time to wade through unshovelled snow and slush.

He wanted to get to school about a half hour early today, which is fine, but he didn’t start getting ready until after 9am for a 10am start. I’m honestly not sure what he was panicking about as much of it was aimed at himself and a bit indistinct due to yelling. He needed a water bottle, maybe a plastic disposable bottle or maybe a reusable one. I told him where we keep our refillable bottles but there wasn’t one. Chances are they’re all in his room somewhere but that didn’t stop the complaints.

He left then came back for something then left again then finally came back. I began to wonder if the door was revolving.

“The sidewalks are wet and slippery,” he yelled. This wasn’t news to me. I’d told him that when he suggested biking in the first place. I thought he was going to walk.

“I need your bus pass,” he continued as he rummaged through my coat.

Then came more yelling. I was horrible and mean for not getting up to help him. It was my fault he was going to be late for school because I didn’t help him get ready. I pointed out it was his school and his responsibility. He stormed out only to call me at 9:59am.

“I’m going to be late for school and it’s your fault,” he informed me. “I’m taking my computer monitor back. I only lent it to you.”

I pointed out that he built me a computer with a monitor but it was pointless to argue. He wasn’t in a position to listen. And besides, there’s no telling what mood he’ll be in when he gets home. He could be angry, exhausted, euphoric, or just simply happy about school. What I do know is the anger will come back and keep coming back until he’s on his medication again. Uncontrolled anger is a symptom of bipolar, along with the swinging moods. It’s a rage that breaks through giddy happiness and blends in with unchecked depression.

“You don’t care,” he’ll sullenly inform me. “You only care about your book.” Or my blog, or Facebook, or whatever I happen to be doing at the time. “I could kill myself and you wouldn’t even notice!”

The only difference between the two rages is his up rage is more vocal and direct while his down rage is more quiet and manipulative. But either way it’s there.

People joke about being crazy  like it’s fun. Sharing memes about driving the crazy bus and being close enough to walk. About using the fine line between creative and crazy as a skipping rope. But it’s not fun.

Crazy is screaming at 3am because the rage is bubbling in your soul and has nowhere else to go. It’s being so happy you’re floating above the world and can see eternity… until you come crashing down. It’s lying in bed unable to get up because it’s pointless. Every single day is exactly the same and nothing will change. You will live and die in ennui until the end of eternity or until you get the guts built up to jump and end it all. But you don’t have the energy for that either. It’s the little voices that whisper and pick. You’re stupid and worthless. You don’t matter. When people say they like you they’re lying. You’re a horrible friend. It doesn’t matter if they’re in your voice or in voices of their own… they sit on your shoulder and jabber away. Crazy is not fun.

This year’s “Let’s Talk” is done. The Facebook messages and posts are over for another year. And many people will settle back down in their lives and not give mental illness much thought until the blue splashed messages appear again.

Let’s talk. Let’s talk real. Let’s talk ugly. Let’s talk scared. And, most of all, let’s listen. We’ll be here waiting.

hope says try

Life doesn’t get easier, just messier…

I walked out of my bedroom clutching a little bag of everything I thought I might need for the hospital. A bottle of water. Chapstick. My phone. Kleenex. My health card. I had to inch past the pile of Jeremy’s laundry in the hallway then around zir boxes of stuff outside the closet. I didn’t want to see the living room, even though Jeremy was thrilled about something.

“Look what I bought!” zie proudly proclaimed as I walked into the room.

A large shelving unit, complete with glass doors, sat in front of me. It blocked most of the entrance to the kitchen and a good chunk of the front hall. The rest of the hall was blocked by an old side table, the kind with a separate shelf for a corded phone.

“They’ll help me clean up,” Jeremy added.

I looked past zir to the bins of tangled wires, tumbles of computer parts on the couch, and piles of plant pots, loose screws, and other odd bits strewn across the kitchen table. I hadn’t been able to sweep the floor since Easter. At least I’d washed the dishes the day before so the counter was clean. I’d had to wash them, we had no clean dishes. Jeremy was supposed to wash them while I was at work but zie was sleeping through my whole shift and doing them after work interfered in zir computer time. Besides, it wasn’t fair in zir eyes that zie did the dishes while I sat. Work didn’t factor into zir equation because zie didn’t see me work so, in zir mind, it didn’t exist. It certainly existed in my mind. I came home almost too tired to eat. Dishes were beyond my ability.

I couldn’t help zir clean either because I “didn’t do it right”. And cleaning it for zir meant months of zir ranting that I’d messed everything up, put it all in the wrong place, and broke zir things by throwing them into the closet. This comment was usually followed by zir raging and throwing zir things into the closet. Zie’s never seen the irony in this. Plus, if zie couldn’t find something, it was guaranteed zie’d need to search for it long and loudly at 3am… knowing I needed to be up at four.

There wasn’t any time for me to clean at this point. Karen was waiting for me downstairs and I didn’t care much if I ever came back. From there I went to my parents’ house and Jeremy assured everyone that zie would clean up and adamantly refused my Mom’s help. My Mom was upset that I said to let Jeremy handle it. Meanwhile I didn’t want to put her in a situation where she’d driven her 70 year old self over to have Jeremy put a chain lock on the door and threaten to call the police on her. Jeremy has a great love for zir collection of assorted components and wires, apparently more so than for the flesh and blood people in zir life.

And zie did clean. Not completely but a decent amount. Meanwhile I collected all eight loads of zir laundry to wash, dry, and fold then came home briefly to wash a week’s worth of dishes from zir. And then, finally, I came home.

The next day Jeremy angrily informed me zie couldn’t see why zie should care about me being suicidal. After all when zie was suicidal and crying because zie didn’t want to wash the dishes since there were sharp knives and Jeremy was scared zie’d kill zirself with them. Apparently I told zir to suck it up and wash them anyways.

To be fair, I did tell zir exactly that except Jeremy never said zie was suicidal and wanting to self-harm. I knew zie was depressed, got zir help, and regularly touched base with zir… asking Jeremy to tell me if zie ever had a plan or specific thought on how to kill zirself. Jeremy never did.  I knew zie was scared of sharp knives, zie has been for years, but Jeremy also knows that zie doesn’t have to wash them. They aren’t even put in the sink.

My issue with the dishes was that zie wasn’t doing them. Every day brought a different excuse. Too tired… too hungry… too stressed from school… sad from school… why wasn’t it my turn… but zie’d washed a load two days ago. Then I’d spend my day off tackling Mount Dishes. So when zie’d complain (again) that zie was crying because zie was stressed while I was sitting on a crowded bus after an 8 hour shift, I wasn’t exactly sympathetic.

I watch Jeremy as zie cracks jokes, plays Minecraft with zir younger cousin, and cuddles with the cat and then I watch the other Jeremy who threatens to destroy my computer if I throw out any of zir broken stuff and wakes me up (while I have a stomach bug no less) to rant about Anita Sarkeesian’s speaking fees. I’d never heard of her but apparently she charges $20 thousand per engagement. Good for her.

And then I have to deal with the external judgments. I just never taught zir to clean. I must have done it all for zir… or never cleaned at all. I must cave in to zir all the time and never taught zir the word no. Zie’s been hearing “no” zir whole life. I know zie acts like it’s a newly discovered word each time but that doesn’t mean it’s new. Depression isn’t known as a time of positive thinking so every round of criticism occurs on top of the self-criticism I’m already heaping onto myself.

The hardest part is I know Jeremy’s depressed. I know zir medication isn’t working. I know zie needs help. I know zie’s having mood swings. Our family doctor is out of his depth and he knows it. He’s a general practitioner, not a psychiatrist, and he doesn’t feel comfortable prescribing anything further. Which is why he sent a referral to a psychiatrist. And then said referral got lost (on top of apparently having the wrong number). At this point I have no idea what’s going on with Jeremy’s referral.

If I was a better mother, I’d take my anxious, depressed ass and start phoning people and networking and get zir help. But I’m not. I have no idea where to start or who to call. I don’t have some magical insight into the mental health field, let alone a file of numbers to call. I know suicide hot lines but that’s it. And, ironically, I couldn’t even call a hotline for myself because that meant picking up a phone and dialing.

I have an appointment on Tuesday with someone who says she’ll be my case manager, whatever that is. Hopefully she’ll be able to help.

Insert title here…

Some days parenting is less “I love my kid so much” and more “I cannot strangle my sprog. I’m too weird for prison”. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jeremy but that love gets buried when I walk in the door after a 9 hour shift to discover zie’s done nothing around the house (again). Especially when Jeremy’s excuse is that zie was too tired followed by a retort that zie doesn’t see me at work so zie doesn’t count it as me doing anything. Seriously, this kid is 18 years old and still thinks I disappear out of zir life and do nothing until I appear again.

The excuses I hear for the lack of help are varied. Basically zie’s much too tired/dizzy/overheating/headachy to wash dishes, pick up zir stuff, or take the recycling downstairs to the blue recycling bins. However Jeremy has more than enough energy to rearrange zir room, shuffle around computers/monitors, and rearrange zir plant stand (including moving the entire 6ft shelving unit). As you can imagine, my patience for zir varying issues has faded appreciably.

To make life that much more complicated, I do think zie is struggling with serious issues on top of zir drama queen attitude (zie rocks a tiara for a reason). Jeremy’s sleeping is chaotic at best. Zie’ll spend several weeks going to bed early and sleeping all night then several more weeks will pass where zie sleeps in brief patches, often staying awake for 24 to 36 hours at a time. Some days zie’s chattering and happy, talking non-stop to anyone and pretty much anything.

“Who are you talking to hon?”
“Oh no one, just my laptop.”
“Okay hon. Umm, please let me know if your laptop starts talking back.”

While others will have zir staying in zir room almost constantly, playing video games and watching videos with headphones on.

Then there’s the days zie gets angry. Jeremy’s whole personality changes to the point where zie reminds me of zir father. Zie’ll barrage me with questions, give me no time to answer, then claim I can’t answer them because I’m a) too stupid and b) obviously lying. Zie’ll bring up purchases I made years ago to prove that I’m incompetent at buying things. After all, I bought a computer in 2013 that doesn’t have nearly enough speed for zir current video games. Plus zie knows zie could have fixed our old computer now. Zie’ll swear, call me names, and…

“Mom, I just want you to know I’m not rational when I’m angry,” Jeremy explained in an abashed voice. “It’s scary because I don’t even remember a bunch of the time I’m angry. There’s gaps in my memory.”

I asked my doctor for a referral to a psychiatrist back in September for both Jeremy and myself then double-checked that one was sent. Last Tuesday I decided to call the psychiatrist’s office myself to see where we were on the waiting list. His receptionist called me back while I was looking at coconut milk in the grocery store.

“I always call people within a month of their referral,” she assured me. “Oh yes, I see you now. I called you back in October and left a message.”

October. I tried to remember when I changed my cellphone. Was it October or November? I stayed with the same carrier but maybe the call happened when the phone were being switched. Could she have called right at that time? Did the voicemail disappear during the transfer?

“I have you down as number 905-240…” she listed off a number while I listened in disbelief.

“That’s not my number,” I replied. I changed my number with the doctor when I got rid of our home phone over a year ago. He’s called my on my cellphone to return test results.

We set up a phone interview date for me for the end of June, which I have to call and confirm because a) I was standing in the grocery store holding a tin can and no pen and b) the next batch of information knocked it right out of my mind. I asked her about Jeremy and it quickly became apparent they had no record of zir being referred even though the referrals were sent at the same time. Our doctor is great. He’s patient, friendly, a good listener, and willing to take time to discuss issues with his patients. He’s also really close to retiring. I have no idea where Jeremy’s referral went. The receptionist is going to check with the psychiatrist to see what they can do and call me back. She’s got the right number now.

As of this week I’m not arguing with Jeremy over chores. Zie knows what needs to get done and zie has the choice of doing them or not. The flip side is zie now has a sheet of financial responsibilities that come from zir disability cheque. Once the bills are paid, zie has exactly $100 to spend on zirself. Zie can buy junk food, computer parts, or save it. Meanwhile I have my money. If zie helps out around the house, I will buy zir treats (soft drinks, video games at Dollarama, yet another RC car from Value Village). If zie does nothing, zie gets the bare minimum. Basic healthy food, clean clothes, medication, and a home to live in.

The one chore zie’s not ready to handle is zir daily medication. I gave Jeremy zir pill organizer last week and zie lost it after one day and still hasn’t found it. Then I told Jeremy twice on Saturday to take zir morning medication only to be informed zie’d forgotten while we were at the drug store. At least that explained zir sudden dizzy spells and headache. The down side to me controlling the medication is zir pill schedule is not at regular times. Some mornings Jeremy gets zir pills at 4:30am and other mornings it’s closer to 9:30am, but it’s better than not taking them at all.

Both yesterday and today Jeremy worked on cleaning up zir balcony (we have two) and zie also went on a long walk through our local conservation area with me. Jeremy brought zir laptop and put a webcam on a stick then took pictures from varying perspectives. Hopefully the warm, spring air and sunshine will provide some energy and optimism to zir… and the lure of Dollarama video games and potting supplies will convince zir to wash the dinner dishes!

Colin on zir laptop3

Jeremy taking a picture of the other side of the tree.