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.


I’m 45 and I’m Alive

Today I turn 45. June 4, 1974. I have always loved my birthday and always share my age. I never understand why people lie as if saying a lower number changes who you are and who you’ve become.
Five years ago I was extremely ill and, unfortunately, that continued. But now, even though my life is completely different than I ever thought it would be, I look around and see the same faces and that makes me smile. Ken and Iliana, my everything and my family.
My friends: from noticing when I need my roots done (EM), to talking and laughing about the oys and joys of life (IG), to meeting for a “fix” and talking and laughing (AK). To talk on the phone with my brother, Rob, and go over all of our ailments only to realize we sound like our parents, to talking with my brother, Jeff, who tries to tease me as if we’re still kids while his lovely wife, Jenn, yells at him to leave me alone and thankfully takes over the conversation.
To be able to live in a community and be part of a synagogue and school that is an extension of home has been a saving grace. I feel as if my family tree is bursting, with blood relations and my friends who simply are my family.
I’ve been through a lot in 45 years and that will continue. That’s life.
I’m grateful and proud to be 45 and alive.

My Family’s Experience During and After Illness

I have been thinking about this as I have been recovering from my most recent severe depression. These are important questions that often get ignored as the focus is always on the “patient.” The reality though is that while I am the identified patient and I was the one who was suffering in a way that no one else was, my husband and daughter struggled with being a part of our family where illness has been so prominent for the past 4 1/2 years.

**What happens to the caregivers of those with a mental illness? How does mental illness affect the immediate family of the one with the illness?**

My husband was constantly on guard and wanted to support me and most importantly our daughter. He was the one who did the physical activities with our daughter such as taking her to birthday parties, synagogue, play dates, etc. He was constantly “on” both physically and emotionally without any rest or break to the point of exhaustion.

Our daughter coped relatively well until last year in first grade. She exhibited extreme anger when she did not get her way at school and could not process disagreements for what they were and would become physical as her immediate response. These behaviors rarely occurred at home. We were constantly in meetings with the school counselor and the learning support specialist to navigate and help our daughter’s difficulties. At the time it was not clear what the precipitant was and while we did think some of it was her responding to my constant illness, it was such a difference from her “normal” behavior, there was concern there was more to it. It was this year that we realized it was due to my being so ill and emotionally and physically detached from her. Her anger was her way of trying to cope.

So where does that leave us now, not only as individuals but as a family unit? We have always referred to ourselves as a “team” and that could not be more true. I think that those who have not experienced a direct experience with a family member with a mental illness, or any illness for that matter, may not understand the gravity of what happens during and after the family member’s fight for health. During, there are constant issues for everyone, individually and as a family. Our family changed into individuals fighting for ourselves and each other, to be well and to hold on to that. My husband was tortured by my being so ill and felt extremely helpless. He watched me fade away in every possible way: his love, his best friend…his partner for life. My daughter desperately wanted to connect to me and there was not much she could do to feel that connection as I simply could not return it in the way I wanted to or she wished for. Our house felt like a pressure cooker, ready to explode at any moment.

It’s been a few months since I began to feel better from my most recent episode and I feel better than I have in years. I think more clearly than I have in my entire life. I am re-connected to my daughter in a physical and emotional way that I missed more than anything. She actually emotionally regressed a bit in August just as I was becoming more emotionally present and it is clear that she was scared. She must have been worried if this would last.

My husband and I are in a process of re-connecting. Although I’ve been the ill one, I now feel like I’m higher up than he is on the scale of feeling well. He has been seeing a therapist for what he describes as his “PTSD.” He is still trying to take in my health and not panic if I have a bad day, even though he fully understands that we all have bad days. He is in a word…terrified. He has watched me become ill, severely ill, four times within the past 4 1/2 years and therefore is completely terrified as there could be another episode, so I understand that he has every right to feel this terror. While I do not wake up each morning wondering when or if I will become ill again and am able to be in my life, he is not there yet. If I am irritable, he asks what’s going on and I have to work on not snapping at him telling him, I am simply irritable…I am not becoming sick again. People feel irritable at times. It happens. I know I must work on my patience and respect his working through. I cannot even imagine what this has been like for him as my “caregiver.”

Not everyone may know or understand this part of recovery and how it is not simply about the patient. I realize my illness did not only affect my husband and daughter but also our family and friends who wanted to help. I chose to focus on my husband and daughter here as this has been our 24 hour a day constant existence. I hope that others can take in how much of recovery involves the family system and is certainly not neat and simple. When I wrote in July, “Welcome Home, You’re All Better?” my focus was on the mere fact that just because I was discharged from the hospital, it by no means inferred that I was all better. This is an ongoing process that may take several more months.

I do hope that others may have a better understanding of how my family is experiencing this process and, yes, we are almost entirely focused on ourselves. Some may say that we are too narrowly focused on ourselves and not necessarily spending more time with other people in our life who are very important to us. All I can say is that this is working for us and we must continue to heal together. Honestly, we have been to hell and back and not only are we entitled to time together, we simply deserve it.