This Is How I Nest

I think it’s safe to say that I’m officially nesting. It looks a little different than I thought it would, though.

Rather than focusing on cleaning and organizing (although I’ve done a little off that, too), I’ve been working on getting projects completed. It started with creating a baby book using Project Life products (PL Baby Book example found here). That didn’t take long (since the baby isn’t here yet), so I moved onto hanging pictures on the walls.

We’ve lived in this house two years now as of last week and most of the walls were devoid of pictures even though I had a ton of stuff already framed. So I took care of that (pic 1 and pic 2).

Most recently I’ve been working on migrating photos from the albums that our dog destroyed when we first adopted him into new albums. I’m using Project Life for this, too – I had two photo albums full of pictures from my trip to England and France 10 years ago (10 years ago this month, even!), 8 pages worth of journaling, and a pack of souvenirs that I’d saved. I still have to transfer the more of the journaling into the book but I have all of the pictures and memorabilia set up in the album now. (David does not understand this at all – he thinks I’m spending way too much time putting together an album that I might take off the shelf and look at once a year or so. To him I say PFFFT.) I feel accomplished.

PL-europe

On the more traditional nesting front, this weekend we visited a furniture store that just opened up nearby and took care of getting one of the TOP things on my list of “I NEED this for the baby!” – a rocker recliner. Initially when I mentioned that I wanted one, David was totally opposed (due to the cost and the space it requires) but I ignored him because I’ve been through this before and I NEED a comfortable chair for rocking and nursing a newborn baby for hours on end! So he good-naturedly accompanied me to the furniture store and watched the World Cup while I negotiated with the salesman and made the purchase. Et voila:

chair

Now I’m focused on trying to find a place within a few hours of us to have a nice little getaway before the baby is born. So far this task has proved to be very challenging, as August in northern California means an influx of tourists and tons of local events (making everything much more expensive!). We don’t want to spend a ton of money but we really want to do SOMETHING before the baby is born (especially since our anniversary is 6 days after my due date). Hopefully we’ll stumble upon a deal or a quaint, little-known town to visit.

Or maybe a generous benefactor will come out of the woodwork and offer us something. WILL BLOG FOR VACATION! (Don’t worry, I’m not holding my breath on that one!)

Mental Illness, Mass Violence, And A Brick Wall

I’ve written about my brother Daniel previously here and here. Both of those posts are very much worth reading to understand our family’s story.

Here in the US it seems we are dealing with mass shootings on a regular basis now. It may or may not be due to an increase in the actual number of shootings, but for whatever reason we are becoming more aware of and focused on the problem. Some people blame misogyny, others blame gun laws, and still others place the blame on the media for sensationalizing the gunmen. Many (if not most) of us are at a complete loss as to what to do to address – and hopefully prevent – more violence.

By Francois Polito (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Francois Polito (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t have a solution to the problem, unfortunately. I wish I did! But I hear people asking why these things happen and I do have some insight to offer in that regard – on the individuals who are violent, mentally ill, and left completely unchecked due to enormous flaws in our legal and mental health systems.

First, let me make a few things clear:

The diagnosis of a mental illness should not be a grounds for denying a person rights by itself.

The vast majority of us living with mental illness are not violent and present no danger to those around us.

The fact that a person suffers from a mental illness does not mean that he/she cannot make good decisions.

With that said, there are those out there that are both violent and mentally ill – and they are not receiving sufficient treatment. Further, there is no recourse for those around them – there is only brick wall after brick wall standing in the way of getting their loved ones help. Family and friends have to sit and watch while the illness continues to eat away at everything that was good about the person.

After each shooting, we are lambasted with details about the shooters and their families. In most of these cases, so many aspects are eerily familiar to me. The recent shooting near Santa Barbara by Elliot Rodger, which was mostly blamed on misogyny, struck a huge chord with me – the big similarity being that my brother has made many of the same statements as Rodger regarding women. Like the shooter, my brother believes that those around him are to blame for his lot in life. If he were to go on a murderous rampage that was aimed at women, a person might say that his misogyny was at the heart of it and they wouldn’t be completely off-base.

But, here is the thing – over the years as Daniel’s illness has gotten progressively worse, he has also made horrible, violent statements about actors, people of color, doctors – even babies. There is no guessing who his derision will be aimed at next. Any violent acts he commits could happen to occur while he is focused on any of these groups of people. This is how his mental illness works.

Remember: not all mental illness works that way and most who suffer from mental illness (or even the specific illness my brother suffers from) are NOT violent. Individuals are different and that means that the ways in which mental illness manifests in each person will be different, even if they have the same diagnosis.

My brother has been diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder and, in his case, he exhibits violent tendencies when he is at a low point (despite the fact that aggression is not listed as a symptom for the disorder – for him, it IS a symptom that his illness is flaring big time). His understanding of his life story differs from the generally accepted reality. His understanding of events and people differs from reality. His understanding of language and the meaning of words differs from what is agreed-upon by society. He lives in an alternate reality, one that is not truly representative of what is actually going on around him.

His behavior is not the result of societal attitudes – his behavior is due to the way his brain processes information. Because of this, he latches onto things that he hears and sees around him that fit into his own twisted view of the world – many of those things happen to deal with racism, sexism, conspiracies, etc. – anything having to do with extreme displays of emotion or radical ideas. If something doesn’t fit into his ideas about the world, he will either dismiss it completely or reframe it to fit into his own way of thinking.

Unlike my brother, most of these shooters haven’t been diagnosed with a mental illness, but that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer from mental illness, does it? In the case of Elliot Rodger, he had seen several therapists and his parents had called the police because they were concerned about his behavior. Having no prior knowledge of the weapons he had stored in his home or his many internet rants (which could have provided important information about his mental state), the police walked away when Rodger assured them that he wasn’t going to do anything violent.

We ask why we didn’t this coming, but even if we did – what could be done about it?

I can’t tell you how many specialists my brother has seen over the years who never diagnosed him with Schizoaffective Disorder. (He has diagnosed with ADD at one point as a child, which was clearly a drop-in-the-bucket of what was really going on.) Many of us who suffer with mental illness can tell you that RARELY does anyone hand over a piece of paper with a diagnosis on it, even if they are more than willing to write a prescription to treat symptoms – and it’s extremely common to be mis- or under-diagnosed. Each type of mental illness can manifest in so many different ways and symptoms can change drastically over time. In my brother’s case, the longer he goes untreated, the more his disease seems to progress and take him further from reality.

The presence of mental illness is one piece of the puzzle, but we have to ask whether there are adequate systems in place to address violent mental illness and prevent that violence from being directed outwardly and at the public.

Due to my family’s experience (and the stories of others who have shared their own struggles to get help for ill family members) I can say with 100% confidence that NO, our system is absolutely NOT set up to handle these issues in any sort of helpful manner. And there is very little that is being done about that fact, despite the growing concern over occurrences of public acts of mass violence.

My brother has talked again and again about inflicting violence on others – family, strangers, whatever. He has described in detail what he would do in an attempt to get away with it, stating that he would leave various body parts of his victims in random, separate trash cans. He has spoken positively of concentration camps. He is paranoid, delusional, and has hallucinations. He has made threats directly toward people, destroyed property, and, most recently, he has physically assaulted members of my family. He has published his rants all over the internet – just as Elliot Rodger did, and countless other perpetrators before him – and our family’s attempts to get help for him, to prevent his aggression from escalating violently and publicly, have gone nowhere.

The police have been called many times over the last 6 years or so, but only the most recent incident led to any criminal action – when he punched my mother in the eye, he was finally arrested. My mother moved to an undisclosed location and got an order of protection against her only son, as much as that killed her to do it. My brother was quickly released from jail and assigned a court date. In lieu of more jail time and felony charges, the court ordered him to participate in a “mental health program,” a program that doesn’t require that he take medication, be supervised by anyone, or be admitted for in-patient care. He simply has to attend counseling.

So, to recap, we are talking about an adult male with a diagnosed mental illness that he refuses to treat (or even acknowledge), numerous violent outbursts that have required police intervention, jail time, and restraining orders, plus detailed plans for other acts of violence against the public. Is counseling going to cut it?

My brother can easily obtain a gun or guns LEGALLY. After all, he has no felonies on his record and has never been held as an in-patient at a mental facility (my mother tried to have him admitted – they wouldn’t take him because they didn’t have enough beds, he didn’t appear out of control, and he is over 18 and didn’t want to be admitted) – which in California is grounds for denying the purchase of a gun. Apparently his therapist has insufficient evidence to show he is a threat toward anyone – his sense of self-preservation is still strong and he tends to not mention his violent thoughts to those with authority. My mother has done everything she could think of to give the therapist, the police, and the court the information they need to address my brother’s problems, but there is only so much she can do while also keeping herself safe from him.

My family members and I can tell you that my brother wouldn’t think twice about going on a shooting spree. He doesn’t really understand the emotions of others, and in fact seems to enjoy seeing emotions played out in extreme ways. It clearly doesn’t matter what his family members say, though – we’ve exhausted the system.

At this point it seems that his case is a lost cause and he is a ticking time bomb. And when it goes off, the police and even his therapists will probably say there was no warning or that the evidence was insufficient to do anything to prevent his acts of violence.

But clearly there is evidence…there is just no solution to this glaring problem.

Random Notes – aka CliffsBlog

After today, Jack has three lumbar punctures left before the end of treatment (March 2015). That makes me happy. I’m trying to focus on that and not the fact that yesterday, I noticed Jack has tiny scars on his lower back from all the lumbar punctures over the last couple of years.

I’m 24 weeks pregnant and I’ve gained 3 lbs total. I don’t know what to think about that! (When I was pregnant with Jack, I’d gained 20 lbs by this point.) The baby is clearly growing, though, so my doctor says it’s fine.

We haven’t decided on a name for the baby yet. I am (irrationally) worried this baby will never have a name. It’s not that there are a lack of names out there but nothing seems to be “the one.” It feels weird to not know what this baby’s name will be.

Make-a-Wish is coming out to our house on May 22nd to start the interior design phase of Jack’s room makeover! Yay!!!

So far, Jack is physically doing okay with the increase to his chemotherapy dose. Mentally, things aren’t so great and his anxiety has ramped up along with homework (math) difficulties. We found out at his appointment today that the chemotherapy dose is being increased yet again (that makes increases 3 weeks in a row) because he grew a bit since he was last in. And his ANC came back SUPER high, which really made me nervous at first but the nurse case manager said that it’s likely just a sign that he has finally gotten over whatever hit him so hard last August. So yay for that!

We are very much looking forward to the end of the school year in FIVE WEEKS.

Jack is wearing new shoes! He actually has two new pairs! He hasn’t put those freaking fur-lined boots on in over a week. Instead he’s trading off between Crocs and a pair of New Balance sandals. He wears them both with socks, but hey! I’ll take it!!!

This weekend we’re going to Camp Okizu (a free camp for families dealing with cancer). That will be a nice break for us and allow us some time to connect with other families in the cancer community. We’ve heard a lot about how people meet other families at the hospital/clinic but that hasn’t been the case for us. Generally the patients don’t mingle at Kaiser. We’re rarely in the waiting room with other families and the clinic booths are separated by curtains. So anyway, it’s nice to be able to chat with other families at camp who’re going through the same things as us.

Lastly, I had a wonderful Mother’s Day. David brought me fresh Starbucks, a donut, and made me breakfast in bed. He pulled some poppies from our backyard and put them in a vase for me, as well. I got to nap a bunch and then I took Jack to Build-a-Bear. We finished the day off by having Japanese delivery for dinner and watching Game of Thrones. I am cherishing the relaxing day because next year will likely be more chaotic with the baby in the house!

Over Halfway There

I’m in my 22nd week of pregnancy now. We’re over halfway there! We had the baby’s anatomy scan about two weeks ago and it went pretty well. The baby was not being all that cooperative – as I had thought, the kid prefers to tuck himself deep into my pelvis, hence the hip and leg pain I’ve been having for a while now. It took some work on the ultrasound tech’s part to find out the gender because our baby’s little pretzel legs kept getting in the way, but about halfway through we saw undeniable evidence that this one is a boy.

Jack totally called it a few days prior when he said, “I want it to be a girl, but I think it will be a boy.”

I had mixed feelings upon learning the gender, to be honest. I love having a boy already and it seems like boys are a bit easier to raise (with lower-pitched voices). At the same time, my boy is very attached to me and I know girls tend to be more attached to their dads – it would be nice to have someone in the house not obsessed with me (we also have three animals that are males and all gravitate to me)! There are no guarantees, of course. Who knows, maybe this kid will think I’m boring as hell.

Anyway, I’ve gotten used to the idea of having another boy now and all is well on that front.

So, with that, we’ve stopped disagreeing about girl names and turned our focus to boys names. We have two picked out that are tied for first place but I keep hearing one of them pop up all over the place so I don’t know that we’ll go with it. I can’t quite cross it off the list, though.

Last night I dreamed about the baby and saw his face. Unfortunately that didn’t help sway my opinion of either name. Bah! (Maybe I should put the baby’s name up to the a vote – ha!) Hopefully it will all become clear when the little dude joins us in the outside world.

David finally felt the baby move over the weekend! He’s been moving around for weeks but the kicks were inconsistent and I think maybe the placenta is toward my back or something. The kid is getting stronger, though, and loves to be active right at bedtime. Maybe that’s why I continue to suffer from fatigue, headaches, and SERIOUS pregnancy brain!

Because of the fatigue, headaches, pregnancy brain, and overall less patience with the world around me, I’m in hibernation mode. I’ve been making dumb mistakes and forgetting a lot of things, which is super frustrating to me. I’m an administrative assistant, so the fact that I can’t trust myself and must triple-check my work is screwing with my self-esteem! But at least I’m flighty enough to only worry about it for five minutes at a time…

That’s the latest on this pregnancy business. Any questions?

Lions and Tigers and Auras, Oh My!

A few months ago Jack started seeing an intern therapist, D, who is supervised by a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MR.  MR was recommended to us by a friend and has a ton of experience working with kids. We see her intern because she operates on a sliding scale and is much more affordable (since this is not covered by insurance Рour HMO insurance has very limited mental health services).

So Jack meets with D every week, who then discusses his case with MR and gets signed off for her internship hours. Jack loves D and it seems like therapy in general has been really helpful to him. He told me just this week that when he got in trouble at school recently, he decided he wouldn’t punish himself and instead would sit with his feelings about it! This is HUGE.

Anyway, David took Jack to his regularly scheduled therapy appointment this week. When they got there, MR was in the waiting room and she asked, “Jack, can you see colors around me?” Jack said yes and identified two colors. MR looked at David and said she would explain more after Jack left the room. So Jack went into the office with D for his therapy session, and MR proceeded to tell David that Jack is a very special kid, has a rare ability to see auras/chakras, and that he was put on this earth for a purpose. She said she could refer us to an Intuitive who could teach Jack how to handle these abilities.

AURAS? An Intuitive? Whaaaaa? *blink blink*

What is your reaction? Ours was utter shock. We aren’t spiritual in the least and this is way out of our comfort zone!

Later that night, I casually asked Jack a bit about it (I didn’t want to make him feel weird about it OR steer the conversation) and he said he does see colors around people – but not all people. He said he didn’t know what it meant, although he said that he saw blue and green around me and that he thought that green probably meant I was interested in what other people are interested in. I asked if he’d ever talked to anybody about this before and he said no – not until yesterday when he talked to D about it. I don’t know if she brought it up or if it was on his mind because MR had asked that question.

David and I are struggling with this whole thing and are VERY skeptical. I personally don’t like the idea of taking Jack to see an Intuitive – that doesn’t seem right at 7 years old! Even if I didn’t doubt that it would be helpful, it’s definitely a spiritual approach and I want him to be old enough to think critically about these matters before he receives any sort of instruction on them. We treat religion in the same manner – beliefs are very personal and I’d like Jack to develop those on his own (as much as possible) when he is more mature and not as susceptible to suggestion.

We don’t necessarily think we should just change therapists, though – he is helped quite a bit by D and after seeing her for two months or so now, he’s developed trust and is opening up to her more. If we changed therapists that process would need to be restarted. Plus, we don’t even know if D shares this line of thinking or if it’s something she would discuss in her therapy sessions with Jack.

ne thought David and I had is that if, in fact, Jack DOES see colors, there is another possible explanation (a scientific explanation) that makes more sense to us. Jack is clearly an emotional and sensitive kid, and there is no doubt he is intuitive, as well. There is something called Emotional Synesthesia, where a person’s neurological system is wired so that their senses are crossed – and that causes a person to perceive colors when they have an emotional response to something or someone. The research on synesthesia, especially¬†on that specific type, is still very new, and from what I can see there aren’t resources for it as of yet – just studies to validate that it’s real and trying to figure out what it means and why it occurs.

I also don’t know that it matters whether he has this or not! It doesn’t seem to be a problem for him (unless that is why he has such a difficult time dealing with other kids at school getting in trouble and his teacher being in a bad mood). There doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about it other than to be accepting. And maybe nothing needs to be done – maybe this is just a special ability that makes Jack extra awesome. ‘Cause we all know Jack is awesome!

Regardless of her years of experience in therapy, MR could be completely full of crap. Or she could be interpreting something that is actually a neurological condition in a spiritual way, rather than a scientific one. Maybe (BIG MAYBE), auras exist and Jack can see them and an Intuitive can help him leverage that ability. I really don’t know.

This is such a strange situation for us and we still haven’t gotten over the initial “Whaaaaa?” reaction. I mean, is this real life? As much as we love science fiction and fantasy, this feels a little too surreal for us.

I would love, love, love to hear additional perspectives on this! What would YOU do if your child’s therapist told you that he/she has a special ability and recommended a completely foreign path to explore it? Especially if your child says he has this ability, as well? Would you explore a spiritual situation for your child that differs wildly from your own?