So the Baby Has Reflux

April 23, 2011

It’s not that I thought caring for a baby would be easy. I just never imagined it would be this hard.

We found out the other day that poor little David has “silent reflux.” Basically, after he eats, his stomach acid comes up and burns his throat. He rarely spits up, though, so the acid would do its thing on the way up and down.

It’s a relief to know there’s actually something wrong. From the day after he was born, we knew the kid could cry. Shriek, actually. Things that he’d enjoy one day—like playing on his activity mat or sitting in his bouncy chair—would make him scream in agony the next, so we couldn’t get a handle on what, if anything, was wrong.

When I’d mention how unhappy he seemed all the time, people would say, in an irritatingly offhanded manner, “Oh, all babies cry.” And being a new mom, I thought maybe he was just a loud little guy who needed to be carried around on my shoulder all the time.

But he was also sleeping poorly, and then his breathing started sounding odd—sort of wheezy or gurgly, as though he was choking on phlegm.

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Can a Marriage with Mental Illness Survive a Symptom Cop Spouse?

April 7, 2011

A few weeks ago, the Weightless blog published an interview with Susan Schulherr, author of EATING DISORDERS FOR DUMMIES, in which she explains the distinction between a symptom cop—someone who tries to control your symptoms—and a truly supportive friend or family member. The interview, of course, focuses on eating disorders, but it got me thinking about how to best offer support to a spouse with any type mental illness.

Being in recovery for an eating disorder myself, and being married to a man with bipolar disorder, I have experience with this issue from both sides of the fence. Interestingly, when I was in the thick of my illness—bingeing and purging multiple times a day—I didn’t think I’d recover unless I was being monitored/controlled by a symptom cop.

I daydreamed about getting locked up on eating disorder ward, joining the army, even going to jail—all because I imagined that in those places, finally, with someone else dictating what and when and how much I ate, I would lose weight and be okay.

At one point, I tried to enlist my mother as a symptom cop. I told her that having sweet foods in the house was bad for me. She understood, and stopped buying them. Of course, that pissed me off, and in the end, it only served to reinforce my sneaky behavior around food.

In my experience, relying on someone else to fix you never works.

When it’s your spouse who suffers from a mental illness, however, it’s hard to remember this fact.

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Sex, Discipline, and Mental Illness

January 6, 2011

No, this isn’t a post about S&M, women in leather cracking whips, or anything like that. It’s about an interesting post I read on a blog called Project M that discusses the link between monogamy and prosperity.

As the United States struggles to emerge from the depths of what many have deemed the “Great Recession,” regaining economic prosperity is an issue that’s top of mind for many. Unfortunately, many of us also have some serious doubts about this country’s ability to recapture its past glory as an unmitigated financial success.

After all, with an education system that places our students far behind those in Asia, it won’t be long before the best and the brightest begin relocating to areas like Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, and Japan. In fact, this “brain drain” has already begun.

My parents have lived in Hong Kong for three years now, and another one of my friends just joined their ranks. Hong Kong’s economy—like the city itself—is vibrant, fast-paced, and exciting. It was far less affected by the downturn than the U.S., and it has recovered much faster.

I won’t be surprised if—just as the U.S. took the superpower mantle from the British after WWII—China, led by Hong Kong, takes it from us now, in the wake of the Great Recession.

But I digress. Back to sex.

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Christmas Chez Whistler

December 25, 2010

John and I married in 2006, so this is our fifth Christmas as a married couple. It’s also our third time spending Christmas by ourselves.

The first year we were married, we couldn’t leave the States to go to Canada due to Green Card issues. We were living in Boston at the time, and we spent the holiday on Martha’s Vineyard at a quaint, old inn.

It was my first Christmas without my family, and I had a hard time with it. Although we went to Christmas Eve mass in an adorable church, had a lovely holiday brunch, and saw a cadre of wild turkeys while touring the island, I cried when I spoke with my family on the phone—I missed them so much.

Two years later, John had his breakdown. He came out of the hospital on December 15, and I just didn’t feel comfortable going anywhere. (I’m glad I listened to my intuition on that. He was definitely psychotic again by Christmas Eve, and he ended up checking back into the hospital on New Year’s Eve.) He also was happy to stay put, as Christmas with his mother (who was an alcoholic) was always stressful for him. I still missed my family, but that year I was more focused on John, so there were no tears when I spoke with them on the phone.

Last year, we made it up to Canada. I’m grateful for that, because it was my grandmother’s last Christmas. She passed away in July.

This year, we were all set to go home for the holidays, but my appendicitis got in the way. I was having contractions for a couple days after the surgery, so it wasn’t just my weakness that convinced us not fly anywhere, but also concern for the baby. I’m not even disappointed that we’re not in Canada today.

Of course, it would have been nice to be with the family, but I suppose that after four years, John and I really are our own little family. Mini Whistler has also developed quite the karate kick, so he/she makes sure we don’t forget that baby’s about to make three!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Being the Weak One

December 12, 2010

Last Sunday night at 11:00 pm, I woke up with a bad stomachache. I’d been having minor stomach pains at night for a few days prior to Sunday, but I wrote them off as some kind of normal, pregnancy-related thing.

Anyway, I got up that night and sat on the living room couch for an hour or so, to see if being upright would help the pain go away. It didn’t, so I woke up John around midnight and told him what was going on.

He phoned the on-call OB, who told us to go to the hospital to have everything checked out “just in case.” Before we left, I threw up.

On the labor and delivery floor, I got hooked up to two monitors: one to measure the baby’s heartbeat, and one to see if I was having contractions. Everything looked normal, and the nurse suggested it was probably just a case of food poisoning. Before she took us down the ER, I vomited again.

As soon as we got into the ER, they slapped a blood pressure cuff on my arm. My blood pressure was 70/35, and all of a sudden, there was a whirlwind of activity around us. People hoisting me onto a gurney, drawing blood, inserting an IV drip into the crook of my elbow. I threw up again, and then again.

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Surviving Trauma in Your Marriage

December 6, 2010

Seeing your spouse suffer is a terrible thing. You want to make things better. You want to take away the hurt.

So much of the time, though, you can’t. Or at least not fast enough, and not to the degree you’d like.

A recent post on Marriage Gems references the book HEALING TOGETHER: A COUPLE’S GUIDE TO COPING WITH TRAUMA AND POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS. Marriage Gems quotes the authors of the book as saying, “Trauma puts up a wall that for a time locks a couple out of their familiar world and leaves them frozen in the traumatic event. Suddenly there is no past, and the future feels impossible.”

God, can I relate.

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I Love My Husband #743

November 28, 2010

John and I were playing cards the other day*. After losing a hand in a somewhat distracted manner, he turned to me and said, “I was daydreaming about teaching Mini Whistler about engineering.”

My sweet husband is going to make an awesome dad!

*We play cards a lot. Lately I’ve been losing. I blame it on baby brain.

The Impact of Mental Illness on Marriage in “The Madonnas of Leningrad”

November 17, 2010

When I picked up THE MADONNAS OF LENINGRAD last week, I wasn’t expecting to read a novel about mental illness. I was expecting to read about life in Russia during WWII. I got both.

Gorgeously written, the novel shifts back and forth between the present day in America and wartime in Leningrad. But these shifts aren’t merely the author’s way of telling the story; they mirror how life is experienced by Marina Buriakov, the elderly protagonist whose Alzheimer’s disease relentlessly pulls her from the present into the past.

It seems odd to me, but I rarely hear Alzheimer’s discussed as a mental illness. Because it’s a disease that tends to strike people as they get older, there seems to be less stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s, more acceptance of it as a neurological disease than conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. (Or maybe it’s just that, in our culture, we expect older people to break down, and we don’t pay that much attention.)

But take a look at the Alzheimer’s Association’s description of the symptoms of the disease and you’ll see how closely it parallels the symptoms of psychosis:

The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information because Alzheimer changes typically begin in the part of the brain that affects learning. As Alzheimer’s advances through the brain it leads to increasingly severe symptoms, including disorientation, mood and behavior changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers; more serious memory loss and behavior changes; and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.

Living in the past means living in another reality. That alternate reality might not be as shocking to others as an invented reality based on hallucinations and delusions—there is, after all, some basis in fact for Alzheimer’s-induced visions—but it separates people from their loved ones nonetheless.

For the spouse of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s, life becomes a lonely road.

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Love, Mental Illness, and Vulnerability

November 8, 2010

As a teenager, I told myself that I didn’t want marriage, I didn’t want kids, I didn’t want a family. In reality, I was afraid I’d never get them, so I tried to deny the desire, cut it off at the root before it blossomed into something I couldn’t control.

Fat, bulimic, and depressed, I didn’t think I was attractive enough to find a man. I didn’t think I was good enough to have a family. If people really knew me, I reasoned, they wouldn’t like me. Why should they? I sure as hell didn’t.

When I met John, I’d been in recovery for four years. I’d stopped doing things that made me hate myself, and I’d gone back and cleared up the wreckage from my past. I knew that I deserved good things, and I wasn’t afraid to admit I wanted them.

It sounds cheesy, but I was ready to fall in love.

When John and I married three years later, I spent the day in a blaze of happiness. I felt blessed, and I prayed only that, whether John and I experienced times of joy or heartache, our love and commitment to each other would remain strong and be used as a foundation to help others.

I never imagined that bipolar disorder would be God’s answer to my prayer.

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Work’s Role in Harming Healthy Relationships

October 29, 2010

A few years ago, I had the great privilege of hearing Clay Christensen speak at a conference. A renowned author, consultant, and Harvard Business School professor, Christensen radiated intelligence and humility, and I later learned that he is a man who is extremely committed to his faith.

I was impressed. In my experience, a lot of professional people are agnostic or occasional churchgoers, looking down, just a little, at people who rely deeply on their faith. It was inspiring to see an example of someone living according to spiritual principles who still had a very successful professional life.

It was with great interest, then, that I read his latest essay in Harvard Business Review, HOW WILL YOU MEASURE YOUR LIFE? The article addresses the tendency of achievement-oriented people to “underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers—even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.”

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