Back to School, back to school….

I know I’m not the only writing about this but I need to get it all out — I’m worried about my kids starting school tomorrow (Aug. 12).

They go to a private preschool and are starting earlier than the public schools, which are doing virtual learning until September. My daughter will be in Kindergarten and my son will be in the Pre K-3 class.

The school has a list of safety protocols that they started for summer camp from June to July. They’ll continue these, plus they are asking kids in the 3s, 4s and Kinder classes to wear face shields.

I trust the school to do every thing they can to protect the kids, but I’m still scared to send them back. Corpus Christi is being hit very hard right now with hundreds of new Covid cases and a handful of deaths every day. This past Sunday, we had more than 1,000 cases.

Having the kids at home has been nice in some ways but it’s taken a toll on my mental health. That and not having a routine or access to my usual self-care practices has stressed me out, increased my anxiety levels and forced me to turn to unhealthy coping skills at times.

I need a break from the kids, even if it’s just a few hours while they’re at school. I need to recharge, go to therapy and have some “me time.” I would be lying if I said all that didn’t go into the decision to send my kids to school. While I feel guilty about that, I know I’m not alone in feeling what I’m feeling. Every parent is battling this.

But the kids are suffering, too. Isla and Eli miss their friends. I’m sure they miss socializing at school and having contact with someone besides each other and their parents. I’ve also noticed that Eli has regressed a little with writing his name and other words. At the beginning of the quarantine, I had elaborate lesson plans for the kids but that has deteriorated into more screen time and outdoor play.

Eli’s only 4 so I’m not worried so much about him but I’m a bit concerned with Isla. We work on her reading daily but I want her to improve and be in an environment that cultivates academic growth. And I’m also worried about her testing into the gifted and talented school. She’ll take the test in January and I want her to be prepared. It’s something that David really wants (because he attended the same school), so I support that — as long as she’s good with it, too. 

This all might sound selfish and maybe it is. Of course I do not want my kids or the rest of the family to get sick. It’s a hard decision to make and I pray every night that it’s the right one. I just want what’s best for my family; I know we all do.

I support every parents’ decision, whether it’s keeping kids at home, virtual learning or in-person learning. I pray for us all during this uncertain and scary time. 

I know we’ll get through this somehow, I’m just hoping it’ll be with as little damage as possible. No doubt this pandemic will leave scares on us all, especially children.

I’m also praying for teachers, administrators, parents and students. We are all in this together, no matter what decision we make.

Hindsight: 20/20

7th grade photo

I remember it like it was yesterday, which is a feat because I don’t remember anything from all my ECT treatments. I was in the nurse’s office having left my 7th grade computer class. The nurse, who had seen me several times that month, called my mom from her office. I couldn’t hear everything but I did catch this, “Your daughter is in the nurse’s office again. I believe she has school phobia.” Little did I know that was the first “diagnosis” I would receive in the years to come. And there have been many.

The 7th grade was a difficult one for me and looking back I can see the first signs of an anxiety disorder and depression – extreme sadness, intrusive thoughts, and of course, anxiety. I thought it was normal to feel that way so I never thought to tell anyone about these symptoms. I can remember being scared, and it is scary to experience those thoughts and emotions, especially at the age of 12 or 13. My anxiety included being worried about dying, scared my family would die and I got nervous and agitated about school, fretting about projects due, homework and tests. Some of that is normal but what I remember is the sense of dread that went along with it. Every Sunday night (read my Sunday Night blues blog here) I would get anxious and my stomach would hurt. On top of that, I developed a phobia of thunderstorms. I began obsessively watching The Weather Channel, checking the radar and barometric pressure for signs of storms even when it was nothing but blue skies outside. When the weather did get bad I would experience more stomachaches and stress.

I also remember intrusive thoughts interrupting my daily life. I constantly prayed to God that my family or I would not die because my brain was telling me it was going to happen. There were milder thoughts like, “You’re a loser. Nobody likes you.” Thoughts that still plague me, even at 36 years old.

A lot still plagues me, including intrusive thoughts, anxiety and depression (I was diagnosed as having Major Depressive Disorder in my 30s). Even though it’s been more than 20 years, I still battle all of this every day. I might not be depressed every minute of every day, but it is a fight. Sometimes, a very hard fight. I still feel like that little girl, worried and anxious, trying to quell her thoughts. Only now I’ve traded little girl worries for big girl worries but at least I have support and a treatment plan.

It saddens me when I think of the kids struggling now – the ones who can’t verbalize their pain. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 3.2 million 12- to 17-year-olds have had at least one major depressive episode (A depressive episode is characterized by low mood and other symptoms of depression that lasts for two weeks or more. Some episodes can last weeks to months). NIMH also says that depression in teens is on the rise.

If I could go back and tell myself it would be ok, that it would get better, I would in a heartbeat. More importantly, I would tell myself to come clean to my parents about the anxiety and dark emotions I was feeling so I could receive the help I needed.

It is my hope by blogging about my experience others will realize this can happen to anyone, at any time. I had a wonderful childhood and amazing, supportive parents. I always felt I had everything that I needed. Still, depression struck. It doesn’t discriminate, doesn’t care who you are and apparently, it doesn’t care how old you are either. Such a cruel disease.

That’s why support from family and friends is so important, especially for kids and young adults. If one of your loved ones is struggling, please reach out. Do research about depression and anxiety and educate others who might still buy into the stigma surrounding depression.

Here are some things to look for when it comes to adolescent depression:

  • Irritability and moodiness
  • Abnormal sleeping habits
  • Isolation, especially from adults and family members
  • Low energy

Something to note about depression in teens is that symptoms vary by age but also by gender. According to a study published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, girls report feelings of sadness, guilt, worthlessness, punishment, tiredness, low energy, where as boys report irritability, depression and suicidal thoughts.

According to the CDC, only 20% of youth suffering from a mental health disorder receive treatment. That means 80% or 12 million youth are undertreated or not treated at all.

There are more alarming stats but I’m going to stop here for now. I know all the aforementioned symptoms may sound like “normal” teenage behavior but hopefully this blog and the studies I mentioned earlier will give you insight into teen depression and encourage you to support a loved one if you see them flailing.

Depression is difficult and ravaging for adults, let alone kids and teenagers. Let’s focus on supporting and taking care of each other. Thanks for reading.

Stay in the light.

My Father

The other day I blogged about my mom – how she was cut from a different cloth and how she was an extraordinary woman. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my dad, as well. He too is cut from that same cloth – he works hard and has created two businesses, both successful. He is smart, though he is a quiet man until he gets around his family, then he’s silly and goofy.

One of my favorite memories is him telling me (fictional) stories about him and his brother going to Africa on safari. I also enjoyed him telling me stories about his pet monkey, Peanuts – which turned out to be true. Now my kids love to hear about Peanuts on the roof running from my dad.

As you may know, I’m an overly emotional person and because my father is not we would bump heads during my adolescence. But no matter what, he took care of me in so many ways. He (and my mom) paid for my college, enabling me to become a first-generation college graduate. He helped me pay for apartments after college because of course I didn’t pick a major that was accompanied by a big pay day.

He’s really done too much for me to innumerate. And I’ll always be grateful. I’m also grateful for how he’s shown me to be a good person. If there’s one thing he knows how to do, it’s take care of his family. I’ll never forget how he took care of my mom’s mom – giving her grocery money, helping her pay bills among other things. The goodheartedness of my dad for taking such good care of his mother-in-law, my beloved Mema, overwhelms me and makes me respect him even more.

He may joke and give me a hard time sometimes, but there is no doubt in my mind that man loves me, and now loves the family I’ve made.

I hope he’s proud of me, like I am of him, and knows how much I love him because it’s a lot.

But my favorite thing about my dad? He calls me every night at 9 p.m., which some people have told me was weird, but I love it. Even if we only speak for a few minutes, there’s actually more being said.

Loose Tooth, Loose Marbles

My daughter announced (rather dramatically) today that she had a loose tooth. At first, I was in shock. How could my baby be old enough for that? I didn’t have time to ponder the question because she suddenly started losing her ever loving mind. She was sobbing hysterically, she was scared and she wanted her daddy ASAP. After FaceTiming with him, he decided to come home briefly.

It was then I started to flash back to my first loose tooth. I was at my Mema’s house snacking and I felt something hard and I think I swallowed it. I don’t remember what exactly happened next but I do remember I stopped talking. I wouldn’t even swallow, I’d just spit out my saliva. I was so traumatized that I wouldn’t even go to my Kindergarten class, not even as my mom drove me up there to talk to my teacher. I refused to talk and later spit more saliva out. This went on for two days and later when I would lose more teeth, it wasn’t as dramatic. But I still hated my dad pulling them, and thinking about pulling my kids’ teeth makes me want to hurl.

When Isla’s dad left to go back to work, I suggested that she wiggle her tooth. That obviously was a bad idea, given the terrible looks she gave me. She started crying again, saying it hurt so I told her I could try and pull a bit to see if it were ready. More crying. Then she asked to call her best friend. Her tears disappeared and she excitedly told her friend she had a lose tooth. She chattered on and on and when she got off the phone, I was met with more daggers in her eyes even when I told her the Tooth Fairy’s going rate these days was $5 – don’t get me started it was David’s idea.

At this point I wouldn’t mind if she didn’t talk for two days, lol.

As much as I hate the thought of pulling teeth, I think I’d rather do that than endure her teenage years when her hormones really get going. I’m scared, lol.

Pray for me, y’all.

My Mother

My mom is cut from a different cloth. Even from a young age, she has always done what she needed to do. At 19, her father died. She didn’t hesitate to help my Mema with the younger kids. She took a job right after high school so she could help pay bills. My mother had seven siblings but the two older siblings were married and were starting families, so she helped take care of the younger five. Still to this day she helps her siblings, financially or otherwise because that’s who she is – a caretaker.

Skipping years ahead, she got married and helped my dad and his brother open a business. She was the first employee and she excelled at it, even though it probably wasn’t her greatest passion. Still she learned everything about truck accessories for heavy duty trucks and continued to work that job for years. After some personnel issues, my mom and dad decided to open a second store, this one with my older brother at the helm. It too was a success and it still didn’t bother her talking shop about truck bumpers, wheels and other accessories. Like I said, she always did what she needed to do.

I can’t speak for my brother but I’m sure he would agree – she would do anything for us. In middle school when I developed migraines, that at times were uncontrollable and debilitating, she became my advocate. She navigated a new world of medicine and therapies and triggers. Fragrances were a trigger so she stopped wearing perfume and bought special soaps.

Years later I finally told her I had depression – bad depression. This was not her field of expertise and although she was probably really scared, she learned the ropes and how to help me calm down during a depressive episode.

When I had kids my depression worsened. Some days I couldn’t find my way out of the overwhelming sadness. I would often want to harm myself. My mom, who had never experienced mental illness herself, dug deeper and supported me the best way she knew how. It must’ve broken her heart when I became suicidal and needed intensive intervention. I stayed at a psychiatric treatment center for 6 long weeks. But she was there, helping take care of my children, visiting me and encouraging me once again.

As I’ve now stabilized, I think about the calls I made to her crying, suicidal. Her love, strength and endurance has never wavered and she just listened, not knowing how to help her daughter stop being suicidal. I firmly believe she was meant to be my mom, to help someone who struggled daily with invisible demons. Someone who wasn’t cut from that seemingly magical cloth. But I have learned from her, too. My bouts with depression have taught me strength, most importantly, compassion. My mom has been my advocate, leading me to be an advocate for those who suffer from depression and anxiety. Maybe to those who haven’t had support and are afraid of speaking out because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. Maybe I’m more like my mom than I think. At least I’d like to think so.

Remembering

As y’all are all well aware, it’s been weeks since we started self-quarantining and though I feel stretched thin by homeschooling and being with the kids 24/7, I have discovered an advantage I have – my ECT treatments (for depression/anxiety) and the holes that they left in my memory.

I once read that (usually) people who suffer from ECT memory loss only lose memories around the time of treatment. That hasn’t been my case. My treatments have erased memories from years ago. I’ve forgotten people. I often have no idea how I’ve met my friends on my Facebook page. It’s been embarrassing and frustrating and that’s why I considered it such a burden in my life.

Until now.

To maintain even a modicum of sanity, I have turned to my favorite books, TV shows and movies. I picked up my favorite book last week (Summer Sisters, Judy Blume) and although I did remember most of it, there were delicious new details that I consumed – they felt new anyway. I was also able to watch one of my fave shows again. This time I couldn’t remember plots and characters. I have to admit, it was nice watching like it was the first time. I cried during the series finale, probably much like the first time I watched. Everything is new again.

I began to think – my memory loss isn’t such a bad thing. It was then I realized I could apply this thinking in other aspects of my life. Mainly, with the children. Being home with them all day reminded me of when they were babies. The days were long and hard then, too. And yes, they’re older now but I can rediscover parts of my babies that I otherwise might have forgotten.

Isla’s laugh.

Eli’s all consuming love for his Weerows.

How bright and tender hearted they are.

I’m memorizing their faces, gestures and little quirks that make them who they are – (hopefully) better versions of me and my husband. This time I’m documenting it all. I hope they remember the games we played during this time, the pictures we drew and stories we read.

I don’t know how my brain chooses to keep or erase memories. I’m sure some might want to forget these past few weeks forever, as thousands are dying and sick. And while I’m ok with blocking that out, I will remember that it was a privilege staying home with my family.

That I’ll never forget.