The Day I Knew- Part 3

Part 1 and Part 2 here.

There was another and important reason to keep communication open Julia and help her get well…my sister had a 3-year-old daughter, Mikayla.

My sister, Debbie, kept the lines of communication open.  She worked tirelessly to care for Mikayla during weekend visits when Julia came over.  There were good days and bad days during the next few years.   Julia was able to hold a job as a skin care specialist answering questions about products and problem solving over the phone.  In the hours she was working, my mom cared for Mikayla.  During the years between 2010- 2012, she managed her illness with medication, however, the medication she needed wasn’t covered by her insurance and a sequence of events in an already fractured mind, began another downward spiral into her illness.

At the beginning of 2013, we all started to get worried again.

Balancing Mikayla’s care became ever more intense.  Many discussions about how to care for her well-being consumed our thoughts and family conversations over the next several months.

Through a turn of events in July 2013, and after much prayer, Debbie and I and our spouses, decided that Mikayla should come and live with us in LA County to provide a bit of distance and create a sense of normalcy for her.  She began her 2nd grade year in our home.  She was 6.

It was heart-wrenching for everyone.

I’d love to say it’s all been roses, unicorns, and rainbows,  but it hasn’t.  There have been many hardships in this transition. Court visits, attorney fees, custody arrangements, counseling appointments, adjustments to our new 3 child family and how it impacted us, and many, many tears.

I coped with my emotions the best I could. I’d try to rest in the understanding that God had this.  That He was taking care of her and us. But there was always that looming question, “Why? Why’d Julia have suffer like this?”

Some days the questioning and doubt became overwhelming and I’d cope, with comfort food.  The Day I Knew soon became many more days of knowing our lives would be forever impacted by this terrible illness.

Love you loves.

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March was my month to attempt a blog post almost every day.  Now that I’m headed back to work, post-surgery, beginning April 1, I’ll publish my posts on Fridays.

The Day I Knew- Part 2

Link to Part 1.

She was having a psychotic break.  I knew I needed to help her.  But how?

Years as a social work major in college had taught me many things, but not how to prepare for a sibling with schizophrenia. (At this point, of course, she hadn’t been diagnosed, but I had my suspicions that this it what it was.) These tragedies happen in other families, not mine.

That weekend in September of 2010, we gathered, all 15 of us, my brother- Mike, sister- Debbie, mom, brother- in-law, sister-in-law, and all the first cousin kids, ranging from ages three to ten, and Julia*. (Yeah, try having an intervention with 5 little boys and 2 little girls running around. God, we tried to keep things as normal as possible for all the kids.)  We brought all adults together downstairs to intervene and encourage her to get help while the kids remained upstairs.  There was tons of texting going back and forth between all the adults so we could make decisions without whispering.  Whispering would likely make her more paranoid, so texting became our lifeline to communicating.

We knew we needed to be delicate.  We knew we needed her to believe we still loved her.  We also knew she needed help beyond what we could do.

That intervention was basically a presentation of facts that could clearly not have made logical sense.  We assured her that there was no family law case pending or otherwise. I don’t remember the words spoken during our intervention, as I often do, I remember impressions and emotions.  She wasn’t accepting our intervention.  Her delusions were fixed.  She was convinced that we were against her and her delusions were real.

It was like her mind was divided.  At times that weekend, she’d rave and rant about all the wild delusions she was thinking.  I went for a walk with her and she proceeded to tell me about every relationship with a man that she’d ever had, confession-like.  She held onto my arm as we walked.  I was her eldest sister.  I had held her as a baby, when I was 14.  I had pushed her in a stroller.  I’d watched her grow.  I had such hopes that her life would be different.  That day, she became obsessed with herpes and needed reassurance that she didn’t have it.  “My doctor implanted me with herpes at the hospital when I had Mikayla*.”  (Uh, no he didn’t.)  I assured her that I was there at the birth of Mikayla and this didn’t happen.  “But I need to see pictures just to make sure.  Please, Joy, help me.”  Laptop in hand, I went outside with her and looked up pictures of people with herpes. (Yes, yes, I did.  I needed to wash my eyeballs. Actually, fortunately, I don’t remember those images. Thank God for a dusty laptop screen and glare from the sun.)  I do recall how frightened she was.  She really believed that she had herpes.  I tried to convince her that she was okay.  Her fear was very real and she was undeterred from any other line of thinking.

Her delusions weren’t harmful at that point.  She was definitely not making sense for how we knew her to be, however, to an outsider, some of her delusions could have been explanations for real events.  She wasn’t harming anyone.  She was still driving. All things seemed normal on the outside.  She was a gorgeous blonde blue-eyed 23-year-old.  If she didn’t share her delusions to people she didn’t know, then it became challenging for professionals to believe her family, me.

A dear friend of my mom’s who worked at Sharp Grossmont Hospital was able to give me a psychiatrist, Dr. Ganadjian’s cell phone number. (Miracle!)  (I hate making phone calls.  I never feel fully prepared and always think of 2,000 other things I could have said better to express my thoughts.)  I left a voice mail and described all her symptoms and delusions, and based on those facts, asked if he thought she could be put on a 5150.  After all, she was my sister, I had to get her help.  She was in a crisis.  At some point I did speak with him over the phone and he said, “You need to get her to come in.  She will probably have to agree to be here voluntarily.”

She didn’t want to go to the hospital because she was afraid everyone was looking at her.  I had an idea, since I knew she wouldn’t be convinced that she needed mental health support, I said, “Julia, since this body odor problem is really bothering you, I think we should go see the doctor.  I’ll go with you.”  Believe it or not, that worked.  To keep wandering eyes from looking at her, I suggested she wear a hat.  So when we explained to the intake nurse why she was there, Julia explained why. She even knew the scientific term for body odor, bromidrosis.  I gave the nurse some ‘knowing’ looks, like, Yes, she is not in her right mind, please help.  It took hours, maybe 12, for a bed to open up on the behavioral unit at Sharp.  As we waited in the Emergency Room there were intense episodes of psychotic laughter.  At one point as the nurse walked away, Julia said, “She’s a white witch.”

These statements and many others were, disconcerting and heart-breaking at times. There was another and important reason to keep communication open Julia and help her get well…my sister had a 3-year-old daughter, Mikayla.

Meanwhile back in LA County, I was missing my 2010 Back-to-School Night. Fortunately, my principal was supportive.  I entered that school year in full blown exhaustion mode.  I was completing a rather intense master’s degree online program with deadlines every Sunday and mid-week assignments.  It was a crazy intense time.  So, guess what?  To self soothe, I…(you guessed it) ATE.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

That’s all for now.  Until tomorrow–Part 3.  Love you loves.

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The Day I Knew- Part 1

Days leading up to September 7, 2010, were excruciating.  We knew something was wrong with her. Something wasn’t right. She’d been hearing and seeing things that weren’t there.  She thought there were cameras in the Golden Spoon taking pictures of her daughter, she slept in her car overnight paranoid that there were devices planted in the house, she was making wild connections between people on Facebook, she thought everyone could smell her body odor, she thought we were all involved in a family lawsuit, she thought her doctor had implanted her with herpes during the birth of her daughter.

This uncertain time was what I’d prepared for in theory as a young social work college student and intern at Pacific Clinics in Pasadena and Irwindale.  I’d seen my share of people with this debilitating illness called schizophrenia. I’d read the book Surviving Schizophrenia by E. Fuller Torrey and attempted to understand how to help clients, like Joyce and Thomas to live more quality lives off the streets.

As a rarin’ to go employee in 1995, I’d met with groups of mostly middle-aged men who’d suffered with this illness or others like it, and who’s lives had been turned upside down. I wondered, “How did they get this way?  What were there lives like before mental illness?”   Thomas, a bright faced long haired client in his late 40s would spend every cent of extra money he had writing extensive legal briefs on a typewriter no less, and then spend all the extra money he had that was intended for food on sending these legal briefs to government organizations.  He preached against the sodomy of children…and many other injustices in these briefs.

Somehow I loved this man with the out-of-this-world ideas and fractured mind.  I was there to help him with the practical things, managing his money and making sure he ate.  I took him shopping once and gave him tips on how to spend his weekly budget for food. He was very grateful hearted, but it stood against reason for him to spend money on food when he had this mission to send legal briefs to government agencies. This was much more important.  I tried to encourage him to take medication for the delusions, but, the medication was a conspiracy to control him.  Since he wasn’t hurting anyone or himself in a violent way, there was little I could do to help, other than listen and try to love the best I could.  I’d think, “Where is his family?”

Joyce was a 50-something homeless woman whose skin was leathered from the many days of living outdoors.  She was unable to carry on a sequential conversation, unable to share her history, fragmented sentences and thoughts reigned in her brain. She was vulnerable. She came regularly to Union Station for a meal and we eventually located a Board and Care home for her.  She was another client who would not take medication consistently and lived in the delusions in her head.  I asked her once, “Joyce, what’s so funny?”   As she pinched her pointer finger and thumb together in the air repeatedly, she said, “I see balloon people. I’m popping them.”  She was the sweetest innocent woman I’d met.  She once made me a wooden placard with a clown on it. I still have it as a reminder of her.  I’d wonder, “What was her family like? Does she have kids?  Do they wonder how she is doing?”  After several months at the Board and Care room she’d been living in, I went to visit and check on her.  She had completely disassembled her microwave to its smallest components. It was hardly recognizable as an appliance.

I went away from that job feeling completely ineffective, discontented, and depressed.  It was so hard for me, at that time, to understand that kind of brokenness and work within a system that seemed so unable to make intense positive change in these complicated lives.

Fast forward 14 years, my sister, my youngest is spiraling downward into the abyss of mental illness.  I know this.  I’ve seen it before.  Now those same questions that I asked about the families of Joyce and Thomas,”How did they get this way?  What were there lives like before mental illness? Where is his family? What was her family like? Does she have kids?  Do they wonder how she is doing?” became instantly answered.

Now I was one of those family members.  I knew I loved my sister.  I knew I needed to help her.  But how?

These desperate emotions drove me to cope in the best way I knew how…try to eat away the sadness.

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Continued tomorrow.  Love you loves.

 

Ugly Duckling: Part 2

Oh, Dan White with your blonde feathered hair parted perfectly down the middle, how I love thee. You’re so dreamy. Those jeans, Gloria Vanderbilt, they make you walk taller.  Forget the Guess Who jeans (as I called them at the time because the symbol for Guess jeans had a question mark underneath word Guess, so I called them Guess Who. We were too poor for Guess Who jeans), you look amazing in Gloria Vanderbilt, don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

The time came for a musical that all of 5th grade would perform.  I auditioned for the part of a ballad.  When I auditioned my whole class saw me in a different light.  They were like, this quiet girl can sing?  Wha?  Hours and hours, days and days, of rehearsals followed for the musical called How the West Was Really Won . (Oh the internets, I found a clip of someone else singing the same song.)

The lyrics I remember vividly from the song were, “The white man is coming with iron horse and track, to carry the warrior away.  I stand with my eyes at the top of the hill.  My people will perish, they soon will be gone.”  (My 43-year-old version of what I remember in the sound clip below.)   As I hear those lyrics I am immediately taken back to 1982 or so, wearing Native American garb and a wig that my mom put together.  Every time I would sing the solo in practices, my spelling teacher (who gave us what seemed like 12 dictation sentences a week and whose attention to detail was unmeasured) who was as strict as a southern Whitehouse, Texas teacher came, would begin weeping.  It wasn’t difficult for me to tap in to sadness.  I was the Ugly Duckling, remember?

At the end of the musical moment of stardom, I was so happy, briefly giving high fives and celebrating in the classroom that we’d done such a great job on our performance. So much work over several weeks, had now come to an end.  This new girl in a new school had made her mark.  I was feeling confident.  I’m proudly wearing my Native American costume foraged from whatever scraps and change my mom could scrounge up.   Dan White, my best crush is standing just a few feet away.  (Did he notice me? Did he notice how great my solo was?)  He looked over in my direction, (Oh my gosh, oh my gosh he’s looking at me!)  He looked straight at me and flippantly said,  “Joy, you look better as an Indian*.”

Mic drop.

Heart broken.

That beautiful moment of triumph at having performed in front of an audience turned in a second, to sadness.

My Joy was stolen.  I was still the Ugly Duckling.

There were many more years of trying to earn approval.  Many more “Did he notice me?” moments.  Being crushed by my crush made my heart close a little that day.

How does this connect to weight loss surgery and food?  (Do I need to draw you a map?)  Food became a comfort, a way of coping when things were sad.

*Disclaimer: I think Native Americans are gorgeous.  The fact is, I couldn’t be one.

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WARNING Potty Humor:

Real deal of Weight Loss Surgery (WLS). The first poop: Uber constipated (even without taking narcotics which make it so much worse).  I got to relive my first poop out of the womb! Cheer for me!  Tar poop. Dark like the darkest night and just ew!  So afterwards, I thought, “Oh yeah, that’s why the nutritionist recommended Milk of Magnesia.”  Downed a 2 tablespoon shot and I must of looked like a toddler eating her first lemon.  Have you ever had Milk of Magnesia?  Oh, my oh, my ew!  When I bought it at the pharmacy, I thought, “$2.36, what a deal!”  Now, I’m like, uh, that is $2.36 wasted because I am never going to drink that again, nor will I subject my family to it. GaWH!   7c4d9a01e3f866a199ea2b1e0d533547.jpg

Ugly Duckling

I’ve never been a fan of the princess fairy tales, even at a young age.  I was always drawn to the Ugly Duckling.  I’d read that fairy tale over and over, hoping that someday, one day, I might become a beautiful swan.  I identified deeply with the duckling’s sad eyes, the feeling of not fitting in with the other ducklings, with my freckles, wild hair, gap-tooth and chub-chub.  If only some day, I could see my reflection in that pond as a gorgeous swan.  If I played the gorgeous swan scenario out, I might have wanted to look like Farrah Fawcett from Charlie’s Angels, or Daisy Duke from the Dukes of Hazzard, because these were the shows I watched at the time.  I just wanted to be attractive, because that’s what you do when you’re a female, and you grow up and ‘get beautiful’, right? 

Fast forward a few more years, to 4th grade, gah! the awkward years, as I like to call them.  That year, I went to a private Christian school where God forbid, we had to wear the most hideous uniforms on the planet, brown jumpers with pale yellow cotton shirts, brown knee highs and brown shoes.  Did I say enough brown?  I felt like puke and dung that whole year, and it wasn’t just because of the uniform.  I was still that sad little duckling trying to fit in.

We had these unbelievable cubicles, like an office space, where we couldn’t see our neighbor, apparently because talking was from the devil.  (I can’t help but think of Kathy Bates in The Water Boy when I say that phrase.)   There was a Christian flag and an American flag in each cubicle and as we finished our work, in these workbooks, we’d raise our flag and put it in a etched out hole at the top of the cubicle, so our teacher would know we needed help.  I remember no, yes-no, direct instruction from a teacher that whole 4th grade year.  This Ugly Duckling lived for recess that year and though I had really no friends, I played at the edge of the property line near the honeysuckle. I’d pick the honeysuckle and put the sweet nectar on my tongue and escape for just a moment from my cubicle.

Thank God the next year, in 5th grade, I went to a different school.  My teacher was Mrs. Hamilton and her breath smelled like coffee and cigarettes.  (I’d smoke on my breaks too, as a teacher, if I knew it wasn’t bad for me.)  She was a teacher, a real life teacher, and she taught me how to diagram sentences and renewed a joy for learning that this Ugly Duckling craved.  Recesses were chaotic.  It was okay.  I made friends that year, and had the best crush on a feathered hair boy who wore Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, Dan White.  He’s in the top row of the featured picture…the boy looking down or the one he’s covering.  He didn’t walk, he swaggered.  That was the beginning of liking boys who didn’t like me back. I was an Ugly Duckling, and was later told as much, by my crush

Part 2 tomorrow.  Love you loves.

 

 

 

 

The Hospital Stay

Five stab wounds later, my stomach is now the size of an egg.  That’s a horrible way to describe it, Joy.  Well, that’s what my upper belly looks like.  Each incision is about the size of the width of a pink eraser (shout out to my teacher friends).  

I was hoping to just stay over night on March 23, but I ended up staying one night longer, until Friday, March 25.

I wasn’t able to keep the liquids down.  When I was given watered down apple juice on the 23rd, I couldn’t tolerate it, and proceeded to throw it up.   I ‘ate’ ice and water for 48 hours.  I am 5 pounds less. That’s it?  Yes, I thought it would be more too.

Food smells so good.  I just want to eat. Even though I don’t feel hungry, I’m dealing with the thoughts of food, the textures of food, the joy of it.  I’m just gonna say it, in case it wasn’t obvious enough, I love to eat.  Cheetos, nachos, french fries, any kind of junk food, I’ll eat it.  I also love to cook and I’m pretty darn good at it.  Soups, hash, paninis, pastas, any recipe on Allrecipes.com, give it to me, I’ll try it.  I’m no chef, but I can make food people will eat, and those peoples happen to be my husband, boy, middle, little and our neighbor who is always here.  I cook for a family of 6, and I love it (most nights).  Food is sustenance.  It’s gotten a bad wrap.  Food isn’t bad.  It’s how we eat it and use it to mask other things that creates unhealthy events and strain in our lives.

I’m not going to stop eating.  I’m just relearning HOW to eat.  I’ll tell ya, after 2 days of ice, I’m looking forward to protein shakes and jello (not so affectionately called HELL-o in my housephase 2.jpg now).  So now I must drink 4 oz. of liquid every hour I’m awake, so I made it more fun using these 1 oz jello shot cups.  (I can pretend.)  I’ll be in Phase 2 for two weeks.  See details on the left.

shot glasses of water.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

The nurses and assistants were so good to me at Huntington Memorial Hospital and Dr. Lamar and his team of assistants were thorough and kind.  I told Dr. Lamar, “Thanks for not letting me die.”  That was my biggest and most vulnerable feeling going into surgery,
Dying.  I think God must want me to stick around a little longer.  Hopefully a lot longer.

 

 

 

 

 

Gastric Bypass Today

I can’t sleep.

I wanted to keep sleeping because I can’t drink or eat anything for the next 12 hours.

When I started this awful No-Chew-Diet-From-Hell, I didn’t think I could do it.  All I’ve had to ‘eat’ for 13 days is: protein drinks (Pure Protein and Isopure*), chicken broth, herbal tea, Bai drinks, Vitamin Water, sugar free popsicles, & sugar free jello.

I don’t recommend it.  If I were to start eating normally tomorrow, I’m fairly certain I’d gain it all back in 13 days or less.

I’ve lost 16 pounds in 13 days, from 250 pounds to 234. Some might say, if you could lose that much that fast, why do you need to have surgery?!  Because I still have diabetes and I know that this isn’t a sustainable pattern of eating that I can maintain. (No shit, Sherlock.)

You know you all wanted to know how much I weigh…  I hesitated, because there are some things that are meant to be private.  Guaranteed, you’ll see no staged pictures of my BEFORE look. I like myself now, so I’m not going to be the token poster mama and show you my ‘fat pants’ and then show you my ‘skinny pants’.  I am much more than my pant’s size. Can I get an Amen!?

I’m off to surgery in less than 10 hours.  Surgery is at 2:30.

I’ll leave you with a song from a man who’s struggled with his own demons. He also has amazing eyebrows. This song is apropos.

I think I need forgiveness
I think I need more than the rest
I think I need just not to know
I think I need a hospital

I think I need not to go there
I think I need a heart to share
I think I need just not to know
I think I need a hospital

I think I need to love you more
I think I need to lock the door
I think I need to pay the toll
I think I need a hospital

I think I need to write this song
I think I need to sing along
I think I need to quit this job
I think I need a bank to rob
I think I need another show
I think I need some place to go
I think I need to let you know
I think I need a hospital