Tag Archives: post-traumatic stress

A perfect storm

Actor Robin Williams took his own life today. By all accounts an extremely funny, extremely intelligent person, he lost a battle with depression. I’m probably more upset by this than I have any right to be — Mr. Williams being an actor and a public figure whom I enjoyed does not mean that he belongs to me in any sense. It doesn’t seem right to eulogize someone I have never, and now will never, meet, despite his featuring prominently in the entertainment landscape of my childhood. Maybe it’s just that his humor resonated with me, because I see similarities to my own sense of humor… and maybe because his actions today resonate with me, also.

Seems to me that it goes something like this: A good sense of humor is an indication of intelligence. Intelligence is a predisposing factor to depression and mental illness. People who are depressed are also more likely to be humorous, probably as a result of their higher intelligence and perhaps as a result of coping mechanisms developed to mitigate their depression.

Smart people are also marginalized in our society. Those who suffer with depression and other mental illnesses are likewise stigmatized. We use humor to deflect and cover up our wounds, and then we suffer quietly. Alone. As we spend more time alone, we are observed to be introverted. People who are introverted, on the whole, seem to be less desirable companions and are therefore sought out less by their peers. In the end, you get a bunch of smart, suffering, funny people with no close friends.

And then we kill ourselves because human beings aren’t meant to be islands (Bon Jovi had that right) but what choice does a person have when their territory is being colonized by naysayers and doubters and people who, in general, just want to make you feel bad for being who you are and enjoying what you like.

Seriously. Fuck those people.

This is what being a Stigma Fighter is about. Standing up to the unenlightened masses who would prefer to see a greatly homogenized culture instead of embracing and celebrating our differences, mental illness included. I wonder if Mr. Williams, had he known about our mission, would have joined us. Something tells me he might have done just that.

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Adventures in Parenting: When the doctor asks follow-up questions.

This post has been a couple weeks in the making, because, you see, I wanted to have some facts, some answers, before I told any part of this story. Otherwise too many people would have read this and then agonized right alongside me as I waited for a neurologist’s consult, a test, a diagnosis — all the things that follow the heart-stopping moment when your pediatrician starts asking too many follow-up questions.

Let me explain:

M had her six-month check up on the second. We went over the usual stuff: height (50th percentile), weight (50th percentile), head circumference (95th percentile… kid’s got a big melon). Then we talked about her eating habits and her development. That’s when I brought up the funny “head-dipping” thing that Moira had been doing the last few weeks — she’d be playing or sitting in someone’s lap, what have you, and then her head will drop until her chin hits her chest. She’ll stay like that a moment or two, then pick her head up and carry on doing whatever it is that she was doing before. I thought it was a kind of funny, idiosyncratic thing that she was doing — until our pediatrician released a litany of follow-up questions while furiously typing information into her computer. “How often is she doing this? Are her eyes open the whole time? Does she respond to her name?” When I thought about it, it was happening at least once a day. Her eyes were always open, unblinking. She didn’t always pick her head back up when we said her name.

And that, my friends, is when the red flag went up.

Once she had asked all the questions she could think of, our doc slowed down long enough to say that it looked like M was having petit mal seizures, not uncommon in children her age and mostly benign. She was going to get a neuro consult and get back to me. So we went home and waited. Ultimately, it would a week for Moira to get an EEG and another few days for the results. And thank God, or Buddha, or the Great Powers That Be: she’s fine. Nothing on her EEG to indicate that she has any kind of seizure disorder. Hallelujah.

But first, Moira got to try on a snazzy new hat.
But first, Moira got to try on a snazzy new hat.

It was a learning experience for me: coming to terms with the possibility that something could be wrong and managing to respond without the fight-or-flight response. A great deal of my anxiety stems from losing two parents to cancer and the ensuing post-traumatic stress. I’ve always been a worry-wort, but when my stepdad and later my mom got sick and died, it did a real number on my ability to codify which fears were rational and which were not. There I was at 21, living in another state far from my remaining family, having just lost both parents, just as I always feared I would. What does it do to a person to have your worst fears realized and come out on the other side? For me, it confirmed (in my addled, depressive state) that the worst possible thing can, and will, happen — so you had better be on guard at all times. That heightened sense of impending disaster became the background music to my whole worldview. I was always — always — waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I’m proud of myself for beginning to come out from under that cloud of anxiety. It’s evident in the way I responded to Moira’s potential diagnosis — I didn’t panic. I didn’t obsessively search the internet for every vague disease that she could be suffering from. I was certainly nervous, and yes, I cried a little when confronted with the possibility that my child was ill, but I handled it. And the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.

Yup, here we are, and I'm keeping my shit together like, "Whoa, I'm the mom now..."
Yup, here we are, and I’m keeping my shit together like, “Whoa, I’m the mom now…”