April 25, 2011

Moody Beauty

Have y'all noticed that people are making a big deal about Catherine Zeta Jones revealing that she has bipolar disorder?  Don't get me wrong.  I think it's great when celebrities open up about their diagnoses.  It helps lessen the stigma attached to mental illness.  And bipolar disorder needs a big ol' batch of destigmatizing solution.  While attitudes about depression and anxiety disorders have relaxed over the past few decades, there is still a significant stigma attached to bipolar disorder.

Which is why I don't usually talk publicly about my own experience with it.  Even though it's a success story.

(I can't have my discerning blog readers thinking I'm CRAZY, now can I?)

What I don't get is why Catherine Zeta Jones is getting such a warm reception (She's so brave!) when other bipolar celebrities (Britney Spears!) have been ostracized.  She's hardly the first bipolar celebrity to talk about it openly.  These celebrities have also acknowledged that they have bipolar disorder:

Pete Wentz
Richard Dreyfuss
Jane Pauley
Demi Lovato
Axl Rose
Linda Hamilton
Jim Carrey
Carrie Fisher
Patty Duke 

I think one reason the bipolar stigma sticks around is because the public at large only hears about the extreme cases.  When celebrities shave their heads, or refer to themselves as aliens, or go on drug binges.  Most people with bipolar disorder have quieter, less dramatic struggles.  We fly under the radar--especially if we take our medications like we should.  Which far too many bipolar folks don't do--because the medicines can take away some of that creative spark, the heightened emotion, the MOREness that characterizes the up times of the disorder (mania).

It's been 9 years since I was diagnosed, and I've never stopped my medication.  Sanity is a good thing.  I'm fine doing without the up periods, because I know they only lead to the down times.  There's always a crash.  And those down times can be dangerous.  About 15% of people with bipolar disorder commit suicide. 

Perhaps what makes Catherine Zeta Jones so brave is that she sought treatment before she got out of control.  And she's willing to do what's needed to get and stay well.

And she's doing it all with a beautiful, shiny head of hair.

April 15, 2011

Top 10 Most Annoying Things People Do (Part II)

Back again, folks, with more annoying things people do. (On a side note, making drawerings about annoying people has quite a therapeutic benefit.  Take note, Shrinky Dink!)

5.  When caseworkers/gatekeepers of services are rude/incompetent.

One of my absolute favorite parts of caregiving is all the paperwork involved.  I especially enjoy when I've spent weeks compiling required documents in order to gain access to some service that my grandma clearly qualifies for, yet the caseworker/receptionist person has neglected to do HER part, so I have to completely start over again with updated documentation.

I've been trying to get my grandma Advantage Waiver services (services designed to keep people out of nursing homes and in their own homes) through the Department of Human Services for a few months now.  Her incompetent caseworker has been completely unreachable by phone, and the few times I've received a letter from her, it has a deadline for required documents that will expire in like, two days.  If the paperwork isn't received by The Incredible Disappearing Caseworker by the deadline, the application is automatically denied and the case for services is closed.

It seems to me that the caseworker is setting it up so the application is denied before she ever has to go through the paperwork to verify everything.  Less work for her! 

4.  When people ramble on with guesses instead of just saying that they don't know the answer to my question.

This bothers me because it's a waste of time.  I don't know the answer, so I ask someone else.  If they don't know the answer, I want to move on and find someone who does.  I have no patience for listening to postulations and pontifications for what feels like an eternity.  So you don't know everything.  Let it GO!

3.  When people cuss in public.

My son was 5 when he learned the F-word in a checkout line at Walmart.  Interestingly, he heard it from another mother who happened to be cussing out her teenage daughter.  Now, as I've mentioned before, the grandmas in my family let choice words fly on a regular basis, so my son has heard 'em all by now.  (He is very rule-oriented, fortunately, so he doesn't say them himself.)  So perhaps it shouldn't bother me when people cuss in front of him any more.  But it does.  And it happens everywhere--movies, sleepovers, the mall, restaurants.  (Which reminds me again that I need to tell you about the Golden Corral Incident.)

2.  When people call me too early in the morning(!).

I am an inveterate night owl.  And I'm crabby in the morning if someone wakes me up before I'm ready.  This happens most mornings.  Usually it's a phone call from some doctor's office reminding me of an appointment (that I already have entered in the calender feature of my phone). 

Sometimes I want to stomp on my phone.

Sometimes I want to stomp on my doctor's office.

My husband thinks it's ridiculous that it bothers me to get a call before 10am.  He's all, "The REST of the world starts operating at 8.  Deal with it." 

He doesn't say this to me before 10am, however.

And the number one most annoying thing people do....

1.  When people are cruel to animals.

See, I don't even PLAY when it comes to animal abuse.  I don't keep quiet like I do in some of the other annoying situations.  I don't try to confuse the idiots with witty banter.  No, I create a physical barrier and face the bullies down.    

I have no problem being labeled The Pet Po-Po.

I don't like punks who throw rocks or poke sticks at dogs in fences.  I don't like people who harass (or watch while their kids harass) wildlife.  I think people who torture grasshoppers need to spend some time in an inpatient facility.

And there you have it.  A veritable guidebook on how not to get on my bad side. 

You're welcome.

April 13, 2011

Top 10 Most Annoying Things People Do (Part I)

If you're like me, stuff gets on your nerves a lot. So I've compiled a Top 10 List of the most annoying things people do. Because I'm such a gracious blog hostess, I illustrated each one using examples from my life.  That's a lot of drawerings, y'all, so I'll have to list them in two installments.  (Click pictures to enlarge.)

10.  Letting their dogs roam the neighborhood.

This just happened yesterday.  We live a few houses down from an antisocial young family with a stinky, mangy, um, unaltered bulldog.  This bulldog somehow frequently manages to get out of the house without anyone knowing.  He then proceeds to sexually harass the female dogs on the street, peeing and pooping indiscriminately on the way.  Bolt (his real name) pushed his way into our living room yesterday when my son opened the door to tell me the dog was out again.  Bolt is way too interested in our 9-year-old (spayed) female lab mix.  Although she responds with, "I will CUT you!", Bolt doesn't seem to want to take no for an answer.  To demonstrate his displeasure, he took a dump in my front yard while I was waiting for his owner to come get him.

9.  When a crowd of people stops to chat right in front of the exit. 

This is a common occurrence.  You're in a crowded place and foot traffic is proceeding in an orderly fashion.  Suddenly, some idiot decides that he can't walk and talk at the same time so he stops right in the path to the door.  Then the flock gathers 'round.  Perhaps it's due to my impatient nature, but this peeves me. 

8.  When people offer their unsolicited opinions about my family size.

Sometimes when we're out in public, people I don't even know ask me if my son is my only one.  When I affirm this, they ask if I'm going to have any more children.  Why do they need to know this?  Is it a clue in a scavenger hunt they're participating in?  Are they brushing up on their trivia for a future Jeopardy game?  When they ask, I usually feel compelled to explain that I have secondary infertility.  I guess I could just say, "Nope."  But then I worry that they'll think I'm so disappointed with this parenting go-round that it's soured me to future child-bearing.  And my kid is awesome, so I don't want to misrepresent!

Even worse was the time a neighbor told me straight to my face that she thinks having an only child is a horrible thing to do to a child.

She's lucky I'm medicated.

7.  Interrupting me when I'm reading.*

Last week I was sitting in the waiting room of the chiropractor's office, happily reading my favorite magazine, Real Simple.  A lady sat down next to me and picked up a copy of Hippies R Us Magazine (or some such) and began making noises of interest and revelation over the contents.  When I didn't express an interest, she forged ahead anyway and began talking to me about diatomaceous earth.  I made noncommittal sounds, avoided eye contact, and hunched further down into my magazine.  She persisted.  Not only did she persist, she went on tell me that she hadn't taken a shower in three days, she doesn't usually wear flip flops out in public, and her mom used to call cleaning yourself in between showers "taking a bird bath". 

6.  When doctors treat patients like crap.

I've seen a doctor or two in my day.  It's another gift that autoimmunity brings.  Most of them are nice, but some of them are buttholes.  Some specialists in particular seem to have God complexes.  In my experience, it's been gastroenterologists (hee hee, I said buttholes earlier) and psychiatrists.  Years ago at the end of an initial appointment with a new psychiatrist, I asked her what her impression was.  And I got the response in the drawing above.  I was younger then, so I just kept quiet and never went back to her again.  If that were to happen at this point in my life, I'd probably respond more like the cartoon me.

And that's it for today, folks.  Stay tuned for the second installment!

*YouTube sensation Julian Smith made a hilarious music video about this very topic.  Check it out.

April 10, 2011

My grandma says hi.

My grandma's doctor decided to admit her to the hospital for testing on Friday (her feelings about which are illustrated above).  He hoped that the tests would make clear why she sometimes works so hard to breathe, yet her blood oxygen levels are always completely normal.  It was determined that her lung tumor is taking up space in an upper lobe, and that makes her feel like she's not getting enough air (even though she is).

That makes sense.  And it sucks.

It's hard to be a caregiver.  Sometimes my brain is a big tumble o' guilt/anger/sadness/hope/frustration/fear/sympathy/resentment/loyalty/exhaustion.  The love never goes away, but everything else flashes in and out.

Caregiver whiplash.

April 06, 2011

A bleeping addendum

I've cooled down a little, thanks to my caregiving rant and two bowls of buttered pasta. 

As I was discussing my day with Shrinky Dink, I realized that there were moments that were actually kind of funny.  (As with OCD, crazy is only funny after the fact.)

Speaking of crazy, my overdeveloped tendency toward guilt is what keeps me from opening the flood gates upon you, dear readers.  You see, I've long been afraid to say negative things about old people because THEY MIGHT DIE AND THEN HOW WOULD I FEEL?

Prior to accepting the mantle of caregiver, I was under the illusion that all older people are nice and sweet and gentle and right all the time.  That fantasy persisted through jobs at a nursing home, a retirement community, a hospice, and as a geriatric case worker. 

What I finally learned is that people are who they are no matter their age.  Old age doesn't make a person nicer or gentler or more trustworthy.  (Did I mention the time an old guy slipped me some tongue?)  Many older people are wiser, but some are still the bullheaded, cantankerous churls they've always been.  (Not talking about a specific person here, y'all.) 

I think my belief in the superiority of old people originated from the love and nurturing I received from my grandparents.  I know I complain about my grandma now, but she was exactly what I needed growing up.  Loss and depression and illness and a little dementia have brought out some qualities that I never glimpsed as a child or teenager.  I just knew that my grandparents were my heroes.  That's why I decided to study gerontology in college.  I knew the need was there, and I felt comfortable around older people, so it was a natural choice.

Caregiving has grown me up.  No more illusions.  And I liked my illusions.

If I tell you what set me off today, you'll think it's funny.  And it is.  But it wasn't at approximately 5:30pm Central Standard Time.

Nature Boy and I picked up my grandma today and we went out to lunch.  Then we went shopping.  She wanted something more to eat, so I took her to Braum's.  They handed all 92 pounds of her a giant banana split.  And I'm not lying, y'all, she packed that sucker away.  I was impressed.  But wait!  As she pushed the remains of the behemoth away, she said, "A hamburger would have tasted better."  Sigh.  It is well known among my family and friends that my grandma complains about meals at restaurants EVERY.SINGLE.TIME.  It doesn't matter how fancy the restaurant is or how much money you spend on her meal.  It's never good enough.  I gritted my teeth a little, and she got her hamburger.  AND DIDN'T EAT IT!  Anyhoo, that's not what ticked me off.  That was just typical Meemaw.

It was a beautiful day outside.  We enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine.  Food, shopping, what more could a woman want, right?  The answer, folks, is MORE.  I picked her up in response to our typical phone conversation:

Me:  Hey, Meemaw!  How are you doing?
Her:  Oh, I'm OK.  Just sitting here.  Bored.  Nothing else to do.  Everybody has their own lives, I guess.
Me (ignoring the complaint):  What did you have for lunch?  Did you play BINGO today?
Her:  Some soggy fish.  No, I didn't play BINGO.  The prizes are things like toilet paper and hand soap.  It's just a waste of time.
Me:  But you were saying that you're bored, so I thought...
Her:  Yeah, it gets really lonely here.  No one to talk to.  Just the idiot box to watch.  It's depressing, really.
Me:  Well, that's why I figured you'd go play BINGO.  You can make friends with other women there.
Her:  I just didn't feel like going.
Me (changing the subject):  Well, I've had a busy day.  I'm about to go to the grocery store...
Her:  That reminds me, I need milk and bacon and ham.
Me:  I just bought you bacon and ham two days ago.
Her:  Well, I must've ate it all.
Me (saying goodbye to my peaceful solo Walmart trek):  OK, I'll come and pick you up.

So after a nice afternoon, we went to her senior apartment and as I'm putting her groceries away (and noting that she does, in fact, still have the bacon and ham that I bought her two days ago), she started melodramatically sighing and saying things like, "I don't know if it's worth living like this." 

And I'm like, What?!  We just had a nice afternoon and all of a sudden there's suicidal ideation?

My husband says that's just Meemaw being Meemaw and I should just ignore it. 

He's such a man.

A 37-year-old man, as of today!

Happy birthday, Tree Guy!  (I heart you, even though you have no clue about girl drama!)

April 05, 2011


I first entitled this post Mu%*$#*!~&er!  It really captures my current mood.  But there is a standard for appropriate mom behavior here in the Bible Belt, and I don't want to piss off offend my fellow homeschool moms.  Not that we're all paragons of virtue.  We get mad and jealous and catty and irritated like every other woman on the planet.  It's just that some of us are better at hiding that fact.  Me, not so much.

So it is with great effort that I say in a sweet and gentle way that I am a little angry right now.  It has to do with caregiving.  Well, more that just caregiving.  Guilt trips, manipulation, never being satisfied, and all manner of crappy stuff that caregivers often deal with on top of the actual caregiving responsibilities.

Stepping up to be the (usually) one person who helps often means serving as a toxic waste dump for all the unhappiness, grief, loneliness, depression, anger, and helplessness that the person you're caring for is experiencing.  The irony of this is that the rest of the family gets off nearly scot-free.  No extra work for them and freedom from all the extraneous emotional stuff that comes with frequent contact with an unhappy person.

And that's not fair, y'all.

I think people become caregivers for three reasons.

1.  There's literally no one else.  Maybe the rest of the family lives far away and Mom doesn't want to move, or you're an only child and your parents don't have the money to hire someone to help.

2.  Guilt.  "I can't turn my back on him after all he did for me."  "If I don't help, I won't be able to live with myself after she's gone."  "What kind of person would I be if I leave his care to strangers?"


3.  A total lack of awareness of what caregiving entails.

Perhaps caregivers would have an easier time if they entered the role with a realistic picture of what the life of a caregiver is like.  Because one of the most painful parts of being a caregiver is the shattering of the illusion of the ideal.  You think, We'll grow even closer!, or, It will feel great to be able to help Grandma.  For some people, that might be true.  But another truth is that your relationship with your ill family member will never be the same.  It gets very complicated.  Sometimes the relationship breaks down completely, and then there's a loss (of a close relationship) before the final loss (death).  Caregiving isn't for the faint of heart.   

As a public service, I've created a job description for family caregivers.

Pay: None
Hours: On-call 24/7; active duty - a little longer than you're willing/able
Benefits:  job security; familiarity with Medicare, Social Security, and Depends way before your peers; the satisfaction of doing the right thing; self-righteous assurance of your own moral superiority
-gently but firmly steer family member toward safe choices (use walker, no smoking while on oxygen, accept help while bathing, etc.)
-remind and then demand regular bathing
-endure regular guilt trips and occasional verbal abuse
-fight occasional food battles (family member may refuse to eat if you are not present)
-accept the expectation that most of your plans will include your family member
-accept the fact that although you are the only one providing care, you will be the bad guy
-endure complaints and criticism made about you to other family members
-constant availability for emergencies
-constant availability for grocery store runs
-wait at appointments
-wait on hold with various agencies, companies, and offices
-pay bills, do paperwork, run errands
-remain silent when you are told by other family members that you have done more than anyone expects and that you are not required to do anymore (note absence of offer to help)
-endure complaints about food no matter who cooks it, how good it tastes, or how free it is
-accept a lower sex drive and less tolerance for the needs of the other people in your life
-accept that what you do will never be enough
Special Skills Required:
-excellent organizational skills
-superhuman tolerance for manipulation
-100% confidence that you will not go postal on your loved one--ever
-the ability to maintain your own capacity for joy

I know that family caregivers are absolutely necessary.  I consider it an obligation.  And more than that, I believe that it's what God wants us to do. 

But that doesn't make it easy. 

Next on my reading list:

April 01, 2011

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Last year I played an April Fools prank on my husband and mom (we'll call her Buffet Brawler*). It worked so well that I wrote a blog post about it to prank the readers of my old blog. Here it is.

This morning my son and I stopped by Petsmart to buy dog food. There's an adoption event going on, so I had to park pretty far out. Before getting out of the car, I plugged my cell phone in to charge. While I was doing that, a man opened my passenger side door and poked his head in. I had just seen this guy out by the main road. I remembered him because he was wearing a chicken suit and holding one of those signs that says, "OUT OF BUSINESS SALE! EVERYTHING MUST GO!" The Circuit City next to Petsmart is going out of business and has had guys in costume holding up those signs and dancing around to draw attention to the signs for weeks.

The guy said in a low voice, "Get out of the car." I said, "What?!" My son said, "He said to get out of the car, Mom!" I have to admit that there was a moment of confusion for me. The guy didn't look threatening. Especially in a chicken suit. He didn't have a weapon. My first thought was that this was a practical joke. Nature Boy however, wasted no time in getting out of the car. I'm sure it was only seconds, but it felt like minutes as my mind put together what was happening. I grabbed my purse (I am a tad paranoid, so I didn't want to give him access to my driver's license) and got out. I was so intent on leaving with my purse that I didn't think to grab the keys out of the ignition. The guy scooted over to the driver's side, and my son and I hightailed it up to the store to call the police. (My cell phone was charging in the car, remember.)

On the way, I looked back and saw the tail end of my car as it turned out of the row I had parked in. I was starting to freak out, but I tried to hold it together to avoid upsetting Nature Boy further. Right as we reached the walkway in front of Petsmart, the guy pulled up. He had just circled around the parking lot. I jumped in front of my son and yelled, "GET IN THE STORE!" He ran inside and I prepared to use my purse as a weapon. Chicken Suit Guy got out of the car and yelled, "Never mind! Sorry!"

And then he ran off.

In his chicken suit.

My son and two store employees came out as the guy rounded the building. I told them what had happened and they offered to call the police. I told them I would call, but because I'm paranoid, I got in the car to make sure the guy hadn't taken anything first. I turned my cell phone on to call the police, but wavered while waiting for it to boot up. I had 15 minutes to get home before the exterminator was supposed to show up, and I knew filing a police report would take much longer than that. Besides, all the guy really did was take my car for a spin around the parking lot of Petsmart. And it's not like I could identify him what with the chicken suit and all. So we just drove home.

So here I am. And the exterminator is late.

Can you believe this prank worked? I submit that it was believable only because I included several nonessential facts that rang true to my mom and husband. They were familiar with the Circuit City chicken suit guy, they know I'm paranoid, I mentioned an adoption event at Petsmart, etc. Also, the story was so ridiculous that they thought it was an April Fools prank on me.  (Tricky!)

Have you ever pulled off a successful prank?

*Stay tuned for the story of the Showdown at Golden Corral.