Is That The School Bus I Hear? No, No It Isn’t

Since school became something done by “distance,” throughout each day I think I hear school buses drive up and down my street. They are not school buses just some form of a truck. There are no school buses because the buses have nowhere to go and no one to travel in them.

The swift and dramatic change may not have come as a surprise but that doesn’t matter as it did occur and is bringing our kids directly to the end of their school year. My daugher is completing 4th grade in a manner none of us ever imagined in our lifetime. And yes, there are consequences. So many consequences: educationally (kudos to my daughter’s school for being ahead of the game and literally beginning their distance learning when the call to close the schools occurred), financially for families, and, of course, our children’s mental health as well as our own. Yes, there are so many more consequences for our kids but I am focusing on the mental health aspect as it pertains to my family and our personal experience of this unheard of pandemic.

My daughter shows a brave face but I can tell there’s more going on inside her head, emotionally and internally. My husband and I, individually, talk with her alone and together, resetting our safe space, as a family and within our home. No bite. There have been two times since this began in March when she talked to me late at night, sobbing, that she wants things to be “normal” again. She wants to actually be in school and see her friends in person. I told her both times how much I want that for her, too, for all of us and I was clear that while I did not have answers for her, that the 3 of us are together and that her daddy and I love her so much. She was able to then go to sleep those nights after getting to a point of comfort and love (I hope and assume).

Her father and I are tired, weary, running on fumes but we get up every day just like we did before the middle of March and begin, what is, our routine du jour. We definitely have allowed her to play too much Minecraft, allowed some behavior slips, but, like every other parent out there, we are doing the best we can. Yesterday, though, my husband and I discussed that she can’t stay inside all day. When the school day is over (online), she needs to be outside. We had a good flow of this for a while but got off-track these past few weeks, again, her father and I guilty of allowing too much Minecraft. Today she’ll take a walk with me and probably play in the backyard. We have one child and a sibling would come in handy at this time! The 3 of us are it and it’s hard. This is cabin fever on steroids yet we will continue to follow protocol as we want to stay healthy.

What is the answer? What do we do? These are million dollar questions right now. I certainly don’t have answers to them and I’m a clinical social worker with a specialization of working with children and families! I do think opening the lines of communication, in an age appropriate way, is a good step. Kids want to feel protected, taken care of, loved and while that’s an everyday scenario, there may need to be more of an emphasis on that right now. Physical and emotional support means everything to a 10 year old as she leans on me while watching TV and I braid her wet hair at night while watching some painful tween TV show. I’m “holding” her in different ways but conveying the same intention, “I love you, I will do my best to keep you safe and I will always be here for you.”

I think using the very real idea that we are at home, together, for now, can be a good thing. My daughter and I were talking about this about a half hour ago and she said, “ you have to look for the silver linings.” I’m not sure if she heard that from someone or somewhere else but she understood it and proceeded to tell me how lucky I am to have her home all of the time (joke). What is interesting is that when I began writing a biographical description of my struggles with mental illness (circa 2016, not in the works currently), my working title was, Silver Linings.

She also talked about the weekends and being together and I mentioned how I’m not currently working therefore I’m home on Sunday mornings and how nice it is to be lazy together. We talked about our discovery of how much we like hiking and how we found a couple of great spots to do so. Would that have happened otherwise, pre-pandemic? Perhaps, but probably not in the same way.

We have each other in a very different way right now and I just want to hold on to her and my husband and be smart and safe. I want to continue to be honest with her that I simply don’t have all of the answers as I will not lie to her and I will continue to do my very best at keeping her safe.

I will not hear the sound of school buses, until the fall or maybe later. Look for the silver linings. I will hear the laughter of my 10 year old, see her develop powerpoint presentations on why she should be allowed a new Xbox game (yes, she does that), create and complete her own art projects and spend this time with my two favorite people in the world.


Hello, Bipolar Disorder

It sucks to have a reaction to a medication, whether it be for a medical or psychiatric issue. It also sucks when that reaction leads to a new psychiatric diagnosis. I now carry the diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder. These are some of the symptoms I have experienced since December 2019: insomnia, extremely restless, euphoric, agitated, unusually talkative, racing thoughts, low appetite, hopeless, helpless, sad, empty. Those are not all of the feelings and experiences I have had over the past months but are the majority.

I’ve always been the “depressed” one, the one who can be sensitive but smart. The one who became severely depressed in 2013 and had to have many invasive treatments including hospitalizations. I’ve always been that person, yet now, I am not. I have been hovering between two worlds: that of being depressed and that of being hypomanic. It is possible to feel sad and laugh at the same time. It is possible to feel very happy but cry at the same time. I have experienced this and I will tell you, it feels strange when I am aware of it. This is called a mixed episode where I feel hyped up and an hour later I am despairing on my couch. It can be within minutes. It can be taking a walk on a sunny 60-degree day and feeling powerful and euphoric to then feeling like I can’t believe what a failure I am.

It is utterly exhausting and I continue to contend with it while my psychiatrist keeps prescribing medication to alleviate these symptoms. It’s as if he is running a non-stop chemistry experiment with me and I am grateful to him and his experience. I ended up not doing well with the most well- known mood stabilizer, due to many negative side effects. I am now in an “in-between” phase where we will introduce a new mood stabilizer in a few days. I try not to think of the medication difficulties but I have endured them for years. My body is very selective in terms of what medications it will accept.

Honestly, it was important to be given the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. As a clinical social worker, I know the focus should always be on the symptoms and that diagnoses are for insurance companies, but I needed it. I needed it as validation of years of wondering, of being given so many other diagnoses that basically equal Bipolar Disorder. Even though the illness lives at a higher pitch than what I experienced before, I had to hear it and see it. I need to own my reality, as my blog states. While I wish the past months were different, in terms of my mental health, I can only move on from here, meet it head-on and do my best work with my treatment team (including my husband, family and friends) and move forward. This is not easy but it is the only choice I have and want. So…

Hello, Bipolar Disorder