Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Down(,) on the Farm

Back in May, before I left all three kids home with Ren for 25 days, I promised each of them we’d do something special together once I got back. They jumped at the idea.
“I want to go to farmer’s market and eat Mexican ice, pet animals at the pet store, and then go read at Starbucks!” announced Pink.

“I want to stay up late with you and watch Star Wars,” said Sky.

“Let’s buy candy!” exclaimed Stow.
First of all, awwww.

And, second of all, geez, they have low expectations! When I told them I was thinking about doing something more substantial, they each just kept adding to the list of things we already do, somehow making me feel bad that we’ve worn them down to the point of expecting not much at all. 

In fact, we do take them to do some pretty great things, but it’s probably also true that they couldn’t fathom what I meant because I’d never been able to imagine going away alone with one of them before now. After all, until this year, taking one of them while Ren stayed home with the other two seemed impossible. Ren’s back has stabilized some, though, so I decided to try it. 

When they realized I would take each kid somewhere special for a night, Pink wanted to go to a farm, Sky wanted to go to Chicago, and Stow just wanted to go to a "ho-tower" (his word for hotel)--it didn't seem to matter where. To his credit, Ren agreed to this plan even though I hadn't consulted with him in advance. Thank goodness Ren's cool like that!

Last night marked step one in this new experiment; Pink and I stayed at a farm B and B. The B and B is a place I'd visited it as part of preliminary research for a student project, and since the farm has cows, sheep, goats, chickens, pigs, dogs, and cats, I immediately decided Pink P would love it there.

Helping look for eggs.
The two of us arrived at the farm just after lunch time. By dinner Pink had located and named all seven of the farm cats, found a bunch of chicken and duck eggs, fed the calves, and helped corral a particularly skittish sheep. For dinner, we managed to find a pizza place that had a gluten-free option. Sure her pepperoni pizza with no cheese cost $18, but apparently that's the cost of quality time away when your kid has food allergies! Over dinner, we laughed harder than I’ve laughed in long, long time as we talked about all the crazy things Stow has done lately, so I guess that pizza was worth it. 

Giant dogs soon became Pink's BFFs.
When we got back to the farm after dinner, there was a fire going in the fire pit, so we stayed up late roasting marshmallows and making new friends. 

S'more fire.
In the morning, after helping with chores and eating an allergy-friendly fresh farm breakfast, we headed back to "civilization." When it was time to go, Pink cried. She was going to miss the animals and the alone time with me.....but mostly the animals. We both were going to miss the reprieve from daily life with two brothers on the spectrum. 

Pink's anxieties about going home were well-founded; within five minutes of stepping into the house, Stow had a massive meltdown and pulled Pink’s hair hard enough to get a fistful of it. In fact, he's been out of sorts every since we left--it's funny (and really, really hard) how the slightest changes impact him so. The immediacy of Stow's meltdown served as a stark reminder of the limits to what I can do for my kids, but it also reinforced for me the importance of giving each kid time to decompress away from the fray.
Farm bedroom

Morning on the farm.
In general, I’ve come out on the other side of the severe depression. But, I’m still not sleeping all that well, and I'm still struggling to keep my head above water. While being at the farm with Pink made her tremendously happy, it also helped me see I still have work to do until I am back to where I was a couple of months ago. So, you know, one step at a time. In the meantime, I'll keep looking at these pictures of sunrise and sunset on the farm and listening to good music and getting up in the morning and facing the new day with as much resolve as I can muster. For now, I guess that'll have to be good enough.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Sleep

The last time I really slept was more than a month ago. Most nights, like tonight, my brain spins with problems I need to but can't solve, and my body tells me I can't sleep until I fix at least SOMETHING. But, I don't even know which parts are broken much less how to fix them, so I wander--literally and figuratively. On the worst nights, I drive, hurtling further and further into the darkness in search of answers. Most nights, though, I spend wandering through the rooms of our house or into remote corners of the internet.

Wandering in late-night Kyoto.
In college, when my depression was undiagnosed and unmanaged, I avoided real sleep and chose instead to  string together a series of 20-minute naps over the course of any given night. When I did try to sleep longer than that, I found it easier to relax on the floors of friends' dorm rooms far from all the things that were worrying me. After I moved to Japan in my twenties, I had a standing invitation to use the hammock my fellow teacher had strung across her living room. She lived 10 miles away along windy mountain roads, but I still found myself there often. I can't think of a more generous act than letting someone sleep with you like that.

These days, it's a little harder to accommodate my wandering sleep habits. In fact, these days, a lot of of the self-preservation techniques I developed the LAST time I struggled with depression 25 years ago feel completely out of reach. Special needs co-parenting with a disabled spouse has shown me that ignoring my needs is the best way to get through most days, even it is a terrible idea.

Despite the reappearance of my symptoms, everyone else's needs haven't suddenly and miraculously disappeared. Ren still loses hours and days to pain and depression. Stow still melts down and engages in risky behavior. Sky still goes into anxiety spirals and wreaks havoc with his lack of empathy. The kids still need to get places and do things. Dinner still needs to be served. Clothes need to be washed and bodies bathed. And, of course, someone needs to make some money to keep the whole thing running. Who has time to be depressed? I mean, really!

Ironically, this experience will probably turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. Constantly running myself ragged and ignoring my own health is a terrible way to parent. I've known this for awhile but didn't see a compelling reason to change. Funny*** how depression has a way of forcing me to.





***By "funny," I probably mean "this is totally irritating and completely annoying," but since I haven't had much sleep, it's really hard to know.

Also, if you haven't read it, I recommend the short story "Sleep" by Murakami Haruki. It's in a collection called The Elephant Vanishes. "The Second Bakery Attack" and "The Elephant Vanishes" in the same collection are also pretty great.