Why I Don’t Blog Anymore

Last night David asked me why I don’t blog anymore. I don’t have a great answer, but I suppose some sort of explanation might result in a blog post, so here goes.

My brain seems to have trouble staying focused long enough to string multiple paragraphs together coherently. It’s hard for me to determine the exact cause for the current state of my brain, but it has been a steady problem over the last couple years and three situational things could be the culprit: having a second child who is a lot of work, relearning life after a child’s cancer treatment, changing careers into something that requires quite a bit of creative energy.

Likely any of the above could be to blame. I’ve also had struggles with managing depression and anxiety over the last couple of years, and I was diagnosed with ADHD fairly recently. Finding the proper medication to manage these conditions has been a nightmare and I’ve mostly given up. I’ve thrown my hands up in the air and I’m just muddling through with subpar depression medication and zero ADHD medication. Which is exhausting.

Needless to say, I am thoroughly frustrated with life and the fact that I often can’t seem to get my words out (other than through a litany of complaints) doesn’t help. As David pointed out to me, though, writing is (was) my outlet and it seems to be a need for me. So even if this is a disjointed litany of complaints, it will at least be beneficial to me (hopefully).

If you’re reading this, thank you in advance for bearing with me through this.

Motherhood is Maddening

I don’t like being a mother. There, I said it. Don’t get me wrong: I love my kids. My heart bursts with love for them. I’m not sure who I would even be without them. I am grateful for their existence beyond anything.

But the role of motherhood is maddening. I am terrified of losing my kids, whether it be through cancer or some heinous crime like violence in schools or trickle down effects from an insane orange dictator. Fearing for your kids’ safety constantly is crazy-making.

Motherhood is exhausting. It is primarily up to me to monitor my kids’ food intake, to stay on top of their vaccines and appointments, to make decisions about schools and IEP goals and assessments and extra-curricular activities, to keep track of clothing they grow out of and replacements of said clothing. I know I should ask for help more often, but regarding that I point you to You Should’ve Asked.

Motherhood is staring your own failings in the face every day. Jack is struggling with depression and anxiety. Despite telling myself that he at least has a mom who gets it and can help him navigate it all, I am still constantly heartbroken over it. I am a contributing factor. I knew going into parenthood that there were risks and that mental health problems run in my family. I should be doing more to help him. He needs better therapy (Kaiser just doesn’t cut it) but I can’t seem to find the time or funds for it.

Even as I’m writing this, I’m telling myself, “You are only one person and you are doing your best. You love your kids and that’s what matters. You don’t have to be a perfect parent. Your kids will be fine regardless.” Even that adds to the crazy-making!

And let’s talk about my second-born for a moment. I struggle with him. He is highly active and into everything and doesn’t sleep. Since Dez has been born, it has become RARE for David and I to sleep in the same bed. Bedtime with Dez is long and drawn out and exhausting, often involving tears and anger and throwing things. It has gotten better, 3 and a half years in (at least he sleeps through the night most nights), but that is all relative. (Please, do not give advice on this. We have tried everything. EVERYTHING. EV.ERY.THING.)

Dez is the type of kid who will purposely do something after you told him not to. If you try to discipline him, he will laugh right in your face. He is a limit-tester and he gets away with too much because we are simply beaten down. We’ve taken him to two different events recently and each time only stayed an hour because it’s just too exhausting to manage him. Even when it goes well, we head out early because anything could happen.

Dez is also smart and sweet and funny, but damn! He is a tiny terror and has me completely relearning and questioning what it means to be a parent.

Being the Parent of a Cancer Survivor

While Jack is much easier than Dez in many respects, he clearly has his own challenges. Obviously, cancer is to blame for the biggest challenge of them all!

It’s been over 2 years since treatment ended and life has improved dramatically. Jack has had only 1 absence from school all year, a huge change from the years where he rarely made it to school a full week. He is rarely sick and when he does get a cold, he recovers more quickly than any of us. (Caveat: I still freak out inside when he does get sick or is feeling “off.” I’ll never get over the cancer diagnosis.)

But the fallout is rough. Mental health issues, learning disabilities, and a general feeling of being different from others around him. He is having quite the existential crisis and asking questions about the meaning of life much too early.

The needle phobia, on which we spent thousands of dollars on a therapist who specializes in exposure therapy for phobias, never fully went away and only got stronger after we quit therapy (partially due to finances but also due to having made significant progress).

We finally tried medication to try to address the needle phobia and steadily increasing anxiety, but that was disastrous. I knew that Jack had odd reactions to medications when he was on treatment, but those odd reactions have continued. One med meant to help with anxiety and ADHD instead made Jack extremely anxious and suicidal, and another had him falling asleep and nearly fainting at school.

We decided to that perhaps we would wait until he is older to try any other medications…

And finally, after over 6 months of torturous failed attempts to get a blood draw that left us all dejected, Jack’s oncologist said we could stop trying. That doesn’t eliminate the problem (he will need a blood draw at SOME point), but at least we’ve gotten a reprieve.

Now that we aren’t managing cancer treatment, we are managing school. In many a childhood cancer survivor’s case, that means things like special education through an IEP. Due to the timing of Jack’s cancer, we have no idea if he would have had these issues if it was not for the cancer. I try not to dwell on that thought much, but it creeps in from time to time.

We recently went through a triennial evaluation at Jack’s school where Jack was evaluated to determine whether services were still needed for him. This is routine for all IEP students, but it is still nerve-wracking for parents. It was suggested by the school psychologist that services may be reduced or taken away because Jack was doing so well (nevermind that he was failing at the beginning of the school year and the IEP is what keeps him afloat), so that was a big stressor. Finally the school psychologist changed her tune when she heard from Jack’s math teacher and his special ed teacher that he often gets overwhelmed in class and hides under his desk. In the end, we were able to keep all the resource hours in Jack’s IEP and the team added a weekly check-in with the school psychologist.

Based upon the fact that my child is getting overwhelmed and his response is to hide under a desk, combined with the atypical results in the educational assessments (along with the odd reactions to medications and a few other niggling things), I finally crawled out of my place under a rock and decided to get Jack assessed for Autism Spectrum Disorder. I have no idea what the results of this assessment will look like. I go back and forth on whether this is a giant waste of time, but in the end it’s good to at least rule it out, I guess? At least we’ll know whether Jack is just unique or if he has more significant neurological differences that aren’t explained by what we know so far.

Hence, Why I Don’t Blog Anymore

Between the overwhelming number of things to manage in life, the sensitivity of the topics I am addressing, and the sheer fatigue to overcome…is it any wonder I don’t blog anymore? It all comes out as emotional vomit.

I want to write, though. I am going to try, but I will make no promises. There’s a lot of living to be done.

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Helpful Books for Anxious Kids

Coming out on the other side of a life-threatening medical diagnosis and the ensuing treatment takes a lot of ingenuity and resources. We’ve run the gamete looking for ways to help Jack deal with anxiety and depression during and after his bout with cancer, including various types of therapy and a whole lot of books.

While there is no substitute for a good therapist (particularly if you are a worried parent who is also trying to deal), books are enormously helpful on a day-to-day basis. For the other parents out there dealing with anxious kids, I thought I would share some of the books that our family found helpful. Please note that the below photos contain Amazon affiliate links.

Story Books for Kids with Medical Challenges

Little Tree

Age Range: 4-8

Franklin Goes to the Hospital

Age Range: 3-8


Story Books to Help Children Deal with Emotions

Is a Worry Worrying You?

Age Range: 4-8

When I Feel… Series

Age Range: 4-8


Workbooks for Kids with Anxiety or Medical Challenges

My Feeling Better Workbook

Age Range: 6-12

What To Do When You Worry Too Much

Age Range: 7-12

Digging Deep Journal

Age Range: 12+ (Artistic kids and mature kids as young as 8-9 could do great with this, in my opinion)

Do you have recommendations to add? I would love to hear about more, particularly any books specifically for tweens and teens!


These books are helpful for anxious kids between the ages of 4-12 who are dealing with big emotions and medical-related anxiety.

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Trying to Figure it Out

Recently my doctor said he thinks I have ADHD. He said I could get a full assessment to be sure, but that the first treatment he would suggest to treat some of the depression and anxiety symptoms I’ve been struggling with would also address ADHD issues.

I was taken by surprise. At this point in my life, I hadn’t expected to add yet another thing to the list of labels and acronyms assigned to my mental health. The implications of this felt a bit overwhelming, and I wasn’t sure what to think about it.

I don’t like surprises.

I did some reading to try to process it all. Processing takes a while for me, even for things that seem simple. I have to gather tons of info, jumble it all around, chew it up, poke at it, and look at it again and again. That’s how I work and at this point in my life I’m mostly used to it. My first answer to a lot of things is often not the true one; it’s the reflexive one. I’m still working on my reflexes. I’m still trying to integrate my emotions and my intellect, two seemingly opposing forces.

The more reading I did, the more it all made sense to me. I reviewed the symptoms of ADHD and wondered how in the world I hadn’t seen it sooner (and why my prior doctors hadn’t suggested it). I talked to a friend who was surprised I hadn’t already been diagnosed – she had assumed I had because it was clear to her.

I have always thought I was a pretty self-aware person but this new information made me doubt that.

As I started looking at my struggles in a new light, I though about Jack and his struggles. And I felt guilt.

I should have found this out earlier. I should have known this about myself. And why didn’t I take it more seriously when Jack was diagnosed? Why didn’t I do more reading then? Why have I let him deal with this all on his own?

Intellectually I know why I didn’t do more reading and why I didn’t take it more seriously when Jack got the diagnosis a year and a half ago. I couldn’t. I was overwhelmed and wrung out after getting him through 3+ years of cancer treatment. Not to mention, I had a newish baby to take care of and was looking for a job. I couldn’t handle another thing at that point in time. I needed to take a breath.

That breath has lasted a lot longer than I anticipated.

As I said, my intellect and my emotions don’t always get along. They seem to each have their own separate timelines. So this may take a bit more time to process, but I will get there…I hope. In the mean time Jack and I will talk about our challenges and our strengths and maybe we’ll figure a few things out together. I’m sure he’ll teach me a few things along the way, as well.

Sometimes the challenges your kid faces are the very things that give you the kick in the pants to get your own shit together.

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No More Kids, Man

I thought it would be different this time.
I thought I was prepared.
I had doubts, sure. I started worrying as soon as I knew I was pregnant. But I reassured myself, and David reassured me.

In some ways, I prepared well. I was careful to stay on my anti-depressants. I said ahead of time – I would only breastfeed if it wasn’t torturous like it was the first time around. I took three months of maternity leave, instead of 6 weeks.

And many things have gone more smoothly with this second child. Labor was fairly easy, as was recovery. Dez has been a pretty easy-going baby. Breastfeeding hasn’t been nearly as horrid as it was the first time.

But I’m still me; I don’t function well on inconsistent sleep, and I haven’t slept a full night since early pregnancy. I still have a sharp limit on amount of physical touch I can handle – and that is far surpassed on a daily basis (and all.night.long) by a clingy toddler.

I still give everything to those I love and forget about myself until I’m depleted and just going through the motions. And thus I no longer make time to craft or read or hang out with friends without a child to care for at the same time.

Look at how long I’ve gone without writing!

A few months ago, I changed jobs. I left a decade+ long career as an executive assistant (aka taking care of grown men) because I felt like I could no longer take care of people all day and then go home and take care of my family, too. Some people can do that (nurses!), but my tolerance for that type of work withered during Jack’s treatment. So now I am starting all over at the bottom with a new career and I enjoy it much more (minus the lower salary), but I feel like I’m still in the negative on my caregiving stores.

So, my kids aren’t bathed enough and their nails are too long. Jack is overdue for some health-related tests, and Dez doesn’t quite know what a toothbrush is yet (or a dentist, for that matter). My house is in a constant state of disaster. Anything that doesn’t walk right up and take what it wants from me is being neglected – my pets, my husband, my friends, myself.

I don’t know how to fix any of it, but I know how to prevent this from happening in the future – no more kids! I love Jack and Dez so very much, and it seems to be to my detriment. I’m sure it will get easier, but right now it’s awfully hard and I can’t survive it again.

***

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago on my phone and emailed it to myself to post when I got to it. And I didn’t get to it until today. I’m in a better place now mentally compared to where I was when I wrote it, but I do think it’s a good idea that I’m done having kids. That makes me sad, but I’m coming to terms with it. I love my family and I need to figure out how to keep myself on the up and up for the long haul!

Mom and Dez

Dez and me (’cause cute photos are a must).

Have you made a decision on whether you are done having kids or not? How did you come to that conclusion?

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Cancer is a Thief

Another school year has begun. Jack’s fourth grade teacher seems likes she knows her stuff. Right from the start she walked the kids through how to organize their day so that there are fewer opportunities to “forget” homework; they carry a binder with a planner inside and dividers for each subject. Every day the class reviews what is to be done that evening and writes it in their planners. Ms. A is helping them establish executive function skills, an area in which Jack has a lot of trouble thanks to cancer treatment.

In addition, she is starting off the year with light homework that is mostly review material. Which is great…

Except that Jack is struggling a bit with even this small amount of homework. He is fighting increased anxiety and having bouts of depression. By the second week of school, he was difficult to rouse in the mornings. He drags his feet getting ready to leave and is incredibly slow and distractible when doing any task. He complains of stomach aches or nausea a lot. He speaks of the pressures of being in fourth grade and he despairs about growing up.

My son has turned into Peter Pan.

Last week I met with Ms. A and the school’s new resource teacher to review Jack’s IEP. Afterward I felt exhausted and defeated. I’d tried to explain the issues we’re dealing with but they didn’t seem to grasp it. I guess that’s not a surprise – I feel like I am gaining new understanding all the time about why Jack’s experience with cancer has had such a profound impact on him academically and emotionally. The territory we’re in – that of a childhood cancer survivor – is relatively new in the grand scheme of things. Schools and even our oncology team are still learning what the long term effects of cancer treatment are.

As a parent of a survivor, I get a unique and up-close perspective (lucky me!). I’m only now really coming to understand that cancer is a time thief. This effect feels more pronounced with a child – a treatment that spans three and a half years impacts many more developmental phases in a child as compared to an adult.

Jack Kindergarten

Jack, age 5, first day of Kindergarten

In school and outside of it, Jack spent much of the last three and a half years in a haze. Compared to other kids his age, he didn’t play much of the time – he didn’t have the energy. He went from being a happy-go-lucky five-year-old to an intense and conflicted nine-year-old…he didn’t have much opportunity to be a kid in between those two points in time. He didn’t admit it at the time, but he admits it now: he was afraid of dying.

Academically, we are observing that Jack is missing some key building blocks for math. This past Thursday, we spent at least an hour together going over a fairly simple problem – 3,000 divided by 10. It was as if he had never divided before. And while he can answer 5×3 relatively easily, 5×30 is a whole different ball game. He hasn’t been able to connect increasingly complex math concepts with the basics.

Some of the building blocks are missing due to frequent absences from school for treatment or side effects from treatment. He missed half of kindergarten and started first grade a couple of months late because he had no ability to fight off illness. Once he was given the okay to go back to school, he rarely attended a full week until sometime in the later part of third grade. Generally if he was too sick to attend school he was also too sick (or just plain foggy-brained) to do any schoolwork at home. We did our best, but he was going at a snail’s pace while his fellow students sped along at school. When he did make it to school, he felt lost and like an outsider.

Other building blocks are missing due to the effect of chemotherapy on the brain. One of the key chemotherapy drugs Jack was given went into his spinal fluid and is known to cause learning problems in things like math and executive function. We were warned about this, but it’s not something we had the time to worry too much about because we were so busy going to and from various appointments and dealing with administering medications or battling side effects. We had limited emotional capacity for worrying about that, in any case. It was always in the back of my mind, but I had no choice but to push it aside and carry on.

Now Jack is faced with trying to catch up in an environment that barely acknowledges that he has fallen behind. He has to work much harder to stay on track – both to fill in the blanks and to learn the next thing.

Meanwhile, he has boundless energy, almost like he’s been saving it up all these years. He wants to PLAY and EXPLORE and TALK. But fourth grade is stricter, harder, has one less recess, and more kids per class. Fourth grade demands more maturity out of the kids and it just happens to coincide with a time when Jack is trying to shrug off the very thing that demanded maturity of him too soon and attempting to, essentially, recapture his youth.

Jack DC Ball Pit

Jack, age 9, in a giant ball pit in DC

Jack feels a sense of unfairness and has articulated it in his own way from time to time. “I’m dealing with cancer; why do I have to do homework?” is one line I’ve heard on several occasions. And there is the repeated refrain, “I don’t want to grow up! It’s too much pressure!”

It has taken me some time but I understand now. Three and a half years of treatment left Jack with only vague memories of what a carefree existence was like. He has his life, thankfully, but he also has PTSD and lives with so much fear. He can’t get time back – cancer has stolen his innocence and so much of his childhood.

Many nine-year-olds struggle with school and homework – in that, Jack is not alone. But Jack is the only one in his class (and, as far as I know, the only one in his school) who is dealing with those things while trying to make up for years of lost time and heal his soul. The school faculty have no idea how to help him.

Neither do I, really, but I won’t stop trying.

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