The morning started out all slow and soft. Just enough warmth of spring allowed a walk through gardens without even a sweater and snapping of photos without her knowing.
She’s back. Sort of.
No longer delusional, thanks to some powerful medication, she’s not quite herself and she knows it. The quick and easy smile isn’t so quick or easy. She’s drowsy and weak and she misses her “hyper”.
I’ve worked with many who love the mania and put up with the depression just so they can feel the adrenaline rushing through their veins for a time—till they crash, inevitably. And then they land in that psych unit with me telling them for the umpteenth time how important it is to stay on their medication and that moderation is the goal—no extreme highs, no extreme lows.
“But the meds make me not ME!” they complain.
I’ve heard it time and time again.
I heard it this morning.
“I LIKE being hyper!”
“Yeah. I know. But look what happened—how sick you got—where you had to stay for twelve days.”
“I know. I need to learn what’s healthy and what’s not.”
She’s motivated. Who wouldn’t be after twelve days of being caged to be cared for?
Are we ruining their lives with medication? Are we taking and reshaping their personalities, even their identities?
But I know the pain I saw in her eyes last week—the desperate cry for help. I’ve seen the wild eyes and experienced the confused minds too many times to count in my professional world of long ago.
Somehow it seems vastly different when he or she is your own—your loved and adored—your family.
So what do you do when YOUR child, now a young adult, is not quite herself do to a legalized cocktail of drugs that are stabilizing her brain but just maybe stealing her soul?
I don’t know what others do and I’m not in the position to judge. But here’s what we’re doing.
First and foremost, we are praying for wisdom, for discernment, for guidance. We do believe in the Divine and we do believe the Divine is intimately acquainted with each of us and wants what’s best for all of us. We do believe we can tap that source of transcendent wisdom because the Divine wants to be tapped, to be called upon, to be invited into intimate relationship with the created. So we’re calling out, crying out, expecting divine direction. God has never failed us before and, because of perfect track record, we do believe God will not fail us now.
Second, we are going to use the brains God gave us. I have a doctorate in clinical psychology and studied neurobiology and psychopharmacology for such a time as this, I do believe. I understand neurotransmitters and can talk shop with psychiatrists humble enough to listen to me, a mother, who knows my daughter best and who knows how these drugs work.
So we are going to work as a team to figure out the best plan for her current constellation of challenges.
And we are going to be patient. We must. Because psychiatric medication isn’t like prescribing an antibiotic for bronchitis. There’s more trial-and-error involved and discovering effectiveness can take weeks, even a month or more. And if the current med doesn’t work or has intolerable side-effects? Back to the drawing board. Back to the prescription pad.
In the meantime, it’s hard to tell the suffering they must be patient. And how patient should one be?
I tell her I think I know some of her feelings. I tell her the story she already knows, but with some details she didn’t, till today. I tell her to give her hope.
I have had my own chemical imbalance issues to contend with over the years. When healthy lifestyle stopped managing anxiety and depressive symptoms passed down from a parent, I found myself, mid-thirties, in a full-blown major depressive episode, practically catatonic, sitting on the floor in front of the dishwasher I started just to drown out the sound of life in the house. I knew enough to go get help and I did. And medication saved my life, literally. For me, the first medication worked within two weeks. No side effects either. I felt normal and began functioning again as well as I had before.
Then after a couple years, the meds just stopped working. For some reason, some people experience a burn-out effect and have to switch to a different medication. Following the advice of my doctor, against my own intuition, I started a different class of meds. Her written prescription might as well have been a ticket to Hell because that’s exactly where I found myself stuck for months, trying to crawl my way up and out of an impossible abyss.
My doctor told me to be patient.
I told her I was done being patient after three months in a drug-induced destination. I told her I was done being treated like a guinea pig—that I knew my body—that I know the meds—and why wouldn’t she just WORK with me? It wasn’t as though I had no idea what I was talking about, after all.
“Because this is the way I practice.”
She didn’t even look up from her chart where she was writing copious notes, probably about my agitated behavior—which was—damn right!—AGITATED—but not because of depressive OR anxious symptomology, I do believe.
Oh. And I told my doctor one more thing . . .
I told my doctor she was FIRED (in a few nicer words than that).
I told her I would not be back, that I intended to find a medical practitioner who was willing to listen to me and work WITH me, not ON me. She probably closed my chart with a five letter word beginning with “C” and ending with “Y” and really, I don’t care because we the “patients”—we the “people”—we know a thing two about our own bodies.
So I drove myself back to my general practitioner, told her what happened with my medication change, told her I knew what class of med I needed. She listened with empathy and actually made eye contact and didn’t even write one note the whole time I was with her. And thankfully, she agreed to follow my suggestion because it made sense to her. I got my square slip of white paper with the prescription to a better destination.
I drove straight to the pharmacy, turned in my “ticket”, and started my return trip from Hell—which only took one week. And I haven’t been back to Hell since. I wouldn’t recommend the place, quite frankly. The food is quite tasteless, the people are highly annoying, and there are no dogs with fast enough tongues to lick off all your tears. Need I say more?
So what’s the point here? How can my husband and I help our daughter best in her own dark time? How can you help yourself or someone you love should you or they land in such a scary place?
Realize that prayer is powerful. But also realize that medication is too. The mind and body and soul are not separate and we need to treat all wisely. So don’t be close-minded. But don’t be too open-minded either.
Medication can save a life. And it just might be cruel to deprive the suffering of some relief. But medication can increase suffering too so we must never, ever put doctors so high on pedestals that we think they are gods. They are called “practitioners” for a reason. They PRACTICE medicine. They have not PERFECTED the PRACTICE of medicine.
We the people—the “patients”—must listen to our own bodies and to the bodies of those we know better than any professional. We must be proactive, advocating for ourselves and our loved ones. And if we find our medical “practitioner” unwilling to include our voice in our own treatment plan, we should fire them and hire another, politely of course. We are consumers, after all, not medical lab rats.
So we are heading back to her doctor soon. We want her well. But we want HER, not some drugged into a stupor shadow of a soul.
I told her how I know the hell of medication trial-and-error. I told her how sometimes we must be patient and sometimes we must work for change and how ALWAYS we must pray for wisdom and discernment, trusting God’s promise to give.
Because He does.
I am living proof, standing here today, symptom-free, testifying to this truth, holding hope for our daughter.
Anna found a small gift today, sitting out back by the window. She yelled for me.
“Mom! There’s a bird here on the deck and she can’t move! What should we do?”
I rushed down barefoot from the loft and found the poor creature sitting there vulnerable.
“She’s probably just stunned. Let’s go pick her up and put her in a safe place till she can fly again.”
Anna followed me out. Gently, I gathered the frightened bird and placed her in Anna’s cupped hands.
Gently, tenderly, Anna held the bird and then, ever so slowly, she opened her hands.
The bird stayed.
She sat in the safety of a caring hand until she was ready—until she was able—to fly again.
Then upward she fluttered and landed, just long enough to pose for a picture.
As we stood side-by-side, mother and daughter, watching the tiny bird fly free once again, she turned to me and said, in her distinctly soft and lyrical voice . . .
“Remember what you always say Mom? There’s no such thing as coincidence.”
We both understood.
She WILL fly again.
And we will hold her gently and safely, until she is ready.
Postscript: For anyone wondering . . . Yes, our daughter reads these pieces before I post. She encourages me to write honestly, transparently, even when my writing includes her experience, because she says, “I want others to learn and grow.” Don’t know about you, but I call that a humble sacrifice of love.