Thursday, March 5, 2015

Finding me again

A year ago this week, E tried to kill herself.  I don't remember if I ever posted that here in the blog, and given the desire to protect her privacy, its likely that I didn't.  But, she did, and she nearly succeeded.  The combination of her mental health struggles, her overwhelming grief for her brother that was re-triggered by moving south, and struggles in her school situation made the world seem to hard for her to handle, I guess.  What I know is that she was nearly successful and a year ago this week I was sitting in an ICU room wondering if I was about to bury a second child.

She survived her pain.  She fought, despite being a hard road for her to journey, and today very little of that hurting, lost child can be seen today.  She still grieves.  She still has issues to address.  She is still herself.  But, she's functioning, thriving, and most of all she's alive.

A year ago, I was terrified that I would lose her before this year was over.  Instead, we helped her find herself again.  But, I lost just about everything else that I thought was precious to me outside of this family in this year.  I lost a long-term community where most of my friends and support came from.  I lost my sister.  She didn't die, she cut me out while drunk on Bourbon Street.  Not surprising, of all of the siblings she's a dead ringer for LMB and I simply quit tolerating her verbal abuse.  It was only a matter of time before she did cut me out.  I lost my best friend in this year as well.  That one was surprising to me. It was a painful curveball I never really thought would happen, and it happened anyway.  And I may never fully be able to explain why it happened.  Its kind of hard to know what happens when a best friend suddenly refuses to ever speak to you again to even tell you why.  I also lost my religion.

But at the same time, I finished my second bachelor's degree.  I started nurse practitioner school and will wrap up my second term this month.  I had surgery to lose weight, because I wanted to finally be healthy, and I found not merely healthy but the last shreds of me I have been trying to find for the last five years.

I faced some hard truths about II and I, that the infidelity is not the only part of struggles that will destroy a marriage.  I stopped tolerating behaviors that I used to beg to stop and then emotionally hide from.  I don't know how strong our marriage is today.  I don't know what the future holds for it.  We're still here.  We're still a work in progress.  Five years ago, I thought I had to succeed, and letting the marriage fall apart was failure.  I'm not in that place anymore.  I'm here and trying but I'm not afraid and I don't see ending a marriage as failure now.  So, the future will be whatever it is.

I set on a journey five years ago to refind the woman I lost in those years.  I couldn't remember who she was, and I certainly was convinced she didn't exist anymore.  I remember her laughter, her strength, and her vitality.  But, five years ago, she was a distant memory and something I thought was gone forever.

Today, I realize the thing I found the very most in these years was that woman I had lost.  There was nothing easy about the journey to find her.  She's changed since I saw her last.  She's stronger than she was.  She's also more confident.  She's beautiful, inside and out.  She's a powerhouse of protection for those she loves, especially her children.  And she's got scars that all of these years left on her.  She's not afraid to fail, but she's not so hardened that she won't reach her hand out to love someone else either.

When I look at my marriage and my children now, I don't think I cannot meet their needs.  I realize I can.  I can be what they need.  I can do what I need to do.  I want my marriage to find a way through this pruning, but if it doesn't being alone won't be the end of the world for me either...not now.

When I look in the mirror, yes I can see I am literally half the woman I was a year ago (and still shrinking), but its far more than that.  I see kindness in my eyes, health in my body, and strength in my soul now.  I'm a good mother.  I'm a good wife.  I'm a good friend.  I'm a good sister (my sister's opinion not withstanding).  I'm a good nurse.  The person I see today isn't lost.  She still has hurt, but she channels that hurt into strength again. 

I've thought about shutting the blog down.  But, people who know my story still seek me out.  People who are hurting and lost themselves still ask me can you find the person you lost in the journey.  So, I'm going to leave the blog.  I can't imagine that I'll update again.  I started this because I knew I had to find myself again.  I accomplished that and so much more in five years.  I didn't just find the woman I lost.  I love the woman I have become.  I love every scar and imperfection about my life, because they are what make me ME.  I have found that woman I lost, and embraced the woman she became.  Whatever the future brings, it won't be where I've been.  I will never again sit and cry, so lost and hurting that I cannot remember how to breath, so betrayed that I cannot remember who I am.  I'm not that person anymore.  I shouldn't have been her at all.  I shouldn't have surrendered myself to a relationship to a point that I lost me.  No relationship can be healthy if either partner abandons who they are to be in it.  Relationships have to be melding two people into a unit that honors both of them, and strengthens them, not demands they give up their identity to the relationship.

I don't know under what circumstances I would come back though.  I found myself in this journey.  I know who I am, and I don't expect that to make life magical, but I know how precious it is to have found me again.  I don't intend to ever lose me again.  Its not a lesson I want to face twice  Once in a lifetime is quite enough for me.

I hope the words and years I leave behind can find their way to help the person sitting here, lost and wondering how to find their way back from disaster.  It is possible, no matter how lost you feel, to find your way back to who you were, and the journey will make you stronger, wiser and even better than the person you were when you got lost.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Surviving Graduate School

     I have two weeks left to my first term of Nurse Practitioner school.  Finishing cannot come soon enough.  Today, it appears in the actual academic class, I will score a solid A, and in the mandatory writing class I will finish with a solid B. However, the writing class has to be the biggest joke I have done in a long time.  We are literally penalized for paragraphs in our writing which use less than three sentences or greater than six sentences.  In the major research paper, not only do they give us a list of topics we must remain within, but they give us the journal articles are permitted to use.  Furthermore, we are penalized if we write less than three pages or greater than five pages. I could have found better articles on the topic on my own.  We are also penalized if we do not have the topic sentence as the first sentence of each paragraph, as if this is somehow the only way to write well.
     The condemnation that I will be including in my course evaluation is really quite simple.  In addition to the insanity of demanding that graduate level students conform to writing five paragraph essays, in addition to the reality that all of the course information states over and over again that a five paragraph essay is a minimum standard of writing for an undergraduate freshman, the basic reality is simple.  I have scored perfect scores on every single writing assignment for my actual academic class, while the same writing is earning me Bs in the writing course, only because I write "skillfully crafted prose style" and that is not at all what the class standards demand. (And yes, that was the exact comment from the professor grading my last paper included along with the trashing of my writing because it was too high standard for the criteria set forth for the assignment.)  The course fails to teach the standards of writing expected in the actual academic coursework for the program.
     I will be very glad when this term is over.  Its been a learning experience, for certain. I have thrived in my academic class, and despised attempts to teach me how to write, yet again.  I entered this program with the goal of not earning a single B in graduate studies.  I am finishing this class with the decision that if I earn a solid B, but my writing remains intact and not damaged by their inferior standards, then I'll accept one B in graduate school as acceptable.
       It has been a learning experience for the entire family as well.  Poor II has had to learn how to take over as the primary caregiver of eight children.  He has taken over the cooking, managing the afterschool homework, the cleaning, the bedtime routine, and even the holidays.  I come up for air in the afternoons and interact with the children until bedtime.  But, I am not the same parent I was three months ago.  Writing, assignments, deadlines, balancing work and school, meeting emotional needs of the children, and even paying attention to my marriage and self care are constantly running through my mind now.  I suspect I will be greatly relieved at the end of these three years, when I am able to simply BE again.  But, for now, I am a full-time graduate student, and my world has changed for this season, as has my children's world.
      I get two weeks for Christmas break and then I go into three courses, Nursing Research, Professional Role of the NP (a theory course) and Biostats and Epidemiology.  Its going to be a BIG term, and it precedes what is affectionately referred to as "Hell Term" that I will take April/May/June when I take Patho, Pharma, and Physical Assessment.  Now that I am nearly done with this term, I am looking forward to the next year of didactic coursework, even as I am terribly nervous about facing clinical year next year.  One thing is for certain, I am not the same person I was when I started three months ago, and I will never be that person again.  This journey is already shaping me into someone I am excited to know but not sure I fully recognize.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Self care is not a bad word

Five years of learning to do self-care and one week of graduate studies and I forget every lesson I have learned.
I didn't eat this week. The level of reading requirements are crazy high, and the pace just as high. Everytime I though I would just finish one more thing...I went way past that one thing and never ate. After weight loss surgery, you must get a high protein diet. You can only fit approximately 1/2 cup of food in your stomach, but you must have a minimum of 60g of protein daily. Skipping even one meal can make that goal nearly impossible. Not eating until dinner time is far worse. Not drinking the water bottle sitting at arms reach is even worse.I also did not stop to exercise this week. Lack of movement causes arthritic joints to get stiff. Add to that the issue that Psoriatic arthritis is highly sensitive to stress. I feel like an 80 year old woman today, just one week into the next three years of my life.So, I am working to develop better plans for better attention to self care. Not only did my arthritis flare badly in the night, but my vision is blurry now. I cannot possibly read the long list of reading requirements if I cannot see from blurry vision. So, by failing to practice self-care, I have sabotaged my study efforts, and created more stress for myself.So in addition to focusing on the mandatory work I must finish before I can call it quits for this weekend, I am working to develop some better routines that will fit into graduate studies but will also put self-care back as a high priority. I am buying protein powder. If I need to rely upon drinking a protein shake instead of eating lunch for awhile, at least it contains both calories and protein to keep me functioning. I will exercise at least three days per week, without negotiations. I will shower and dress and not study in my PJs simply because I *can*.There is more that I need to work on, but these basic steps are where I need to focus. If I don't practice self-care, I will not be able to stay healthy and functioning and I won't be able to finish this journey before me. I have cost myself and my family more in the total shut down I am experiencing today than I would have cost to practice self-care every day and prevent myself from being here.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Living with mental illness

There's more than one child in this household living with mental illness struggles. However, for most of this year, there's one child who has struggled, who has not done well, who has at times held the household hostage with the struggles they have faced. I'm not going to name which child, that's not the point of what I'm writing. I don't even feel comfortable posting details of those struggles because while I'm fine with putting my information out there, I am not okay with putting all of their information, not even anonymously.

Since moving back south, one particular child has caused me to lose more sleep, has been in and out of treatments, interventions, therapy, and generally left me wondering when or if they would come through this current struggle. I realized today that like so many other things, you cannot see a corner turned in the moment that it turns. It is only in a post-analysis that you see patterns and trends and realize something has changed for the better and sustained that change long enough that you can identify it as improved.

The last several days, I have realized that my struggling child is starting to thrive better. Two of my children with significant issues I know will have to pay attention and seek health and self care for the rest of their lives. My mother's heart longs for some miracle that they might way up one day and not face these challenges, but intellectually I know that will not happen. I know my job as their mother is to provide care for their mental health now, but also to teach them how to advocate and care for their own needs so that as they become adults they will be able to take over those needs themselves.

I'm also realistic that not everyone with these struggles does succeed. II and I have plans in place that if ever either of these children cannot live independently, we know how to renovate this house so that we can create a studio apartment with a separate entrance for them to live and function as independently as possible while still under our protecting and guidance. We hope to never have it come to that for either child, but I am keenly aware of the percentage of homeless Americans who suffer mental health issues, as well as the fact that simply putting them in a bedroom in our home would infantalize them and stress us to levels we probably cannot comprehend. It is my genuine hope that if either of them does need to come as adults, then it will merely be a temporary measure, a safety net so that neither of them ever have to face homelessness. Thus why we want to renovate so that they have their own living space and retain some independence if they need us for that safety net.

With the spiral and struggles of this particular child this year, I had nearly given up hope to bring them back from the stress that this last move did to their psyche in pushing them over the edge. In July, we were discussing out of home placements for intensive therapy options for them. This week, I was able to tell their therapist that they had a good week and there was nothing concerning to report for the week. They may still need more intensive services. They might even need some time out of the home for intensive therapy. We haven't stopped all of the wheels that have been turning this year to provide as much support and options to help this child simply because of a good week.

Yet, I'm looking back over the last two months and I'm realizing that its been a slow upward trend since July. There are no overnight miracles here. Yet, there is interactions and behaviors in the home that are better, less out of control, less disrupting to the rest of the family. There are grades that are passing and even some that are returning to excelling levels. There are peer relationships that are normalizing instead of being chaotic. There is a child who when they had a complaint about treatment, rather than resisting and fighting they verbalized their complaints and we and their team responded by immediately making changes to respect and respond to those complaints.

There is no direct path through mental illness, especially in this nation. I certainly never imagined when I started down this road that somehow mental health issues in older children was going to become my forte. I never, ever imagined that every appointment with the children's Psychiatrist would begin to feel like a job interview as he tracks my personal progress through NP school as if he is contemplating adding a mental health NP when I become available to practice. I never imagined I would walk into a Psychiatrist's office and report this symptoms is becoming an issue, I think we need this specific medication. I don't want to try these other three options because I am concerned about these side effects impacting this specific child, so do you have a better idea or should we could with my assessment. I imagined even less that such a Psychiatrist would affirm my assessment and we would tweak and adjust treatments based upon my eyes and ears in the field with these children. I knew exactly what the Psychiatrist was doing when he trained me to be those eyes and ears for Micah. I just never imagined I would be facing using those skills in perpetuity for other children with other struggles.

Despite all of that, we are here. My children have hurts and struggles that I cannot ever fully wrap my brain around. They need me to be strong and assertive to support them in their struggles. They need me to remember when they are at their low points that it is temporary and they will move beyond them. They need me to remember when they are at their high points that falling into struggles again will not be the end of the world, that this is not a sprint we walk but a long, twisted journey and I am here to hold their hand every step of that journey.

Today, the mental illnesses are not what is winning in our house. Today, a child who has struggled the hardest in our move back south is better. Said child is not perfect, not miraculously healed, but better and trying to fight back to stability. This is all we can hope and ask for, and we celebrate in these small steps. When I realized a few days ago that the trend is going up, I told II I needed to remember that today this child is OKAY because tomorrow they might not be, but that won't take away from the fact that today they are.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Growing roots

When II lost his job last year, we knew we were going to have to move again. I was thrilled at the idea of getting out of New England, but I knew it would devastate the children. This was precisely why we had decided to remain in New England and raise our children there previously. The job situation meant we had to go where a job became available and that was most likely going to be out of New England. The only thing I could promise the children was that I was throwing away the boxes and I promised I would not move them again.

Three weeks ago, I looked up from working on schoolwork and noticed there were six children running through my house and yard that were not part of my household. In addition to L's best friend who lives over our back fence, most of the children have at least one friend who lives in this neighborhood. Some of the kids have multiple friends around us. Baby J's classmate, the little girl he has a crush on, lives on the other side of the back fence next to L's best friend. This weekend, some child I had never seen before not only hung out with Ch but stayed the night.

There are children running around my house constantly. There are friends and coaches that often offer to help the high schoolers get rides to where they need to go. II is happy at work. I have both a volunteer position that I love, and a paying gig that helps with the heavy expenses that these children incur.

In short, this family is growing roots in this community. This is a good thing, since I am still serious that I have no intention of moving again. Yet, I see it everyday. I see it in the lines of children that go running through my house, often leaving me asking, "Who the heck is that?" I see it in the schools that love my children. I see it in the co-workers and bosses that affirm that II is great at his job, and that I am cherished in my work environments. I see it in the warmth we feel here in this community, and the settling and thriving that most of this family is experiencing now.

This is what I hoped for. This is what I truly wanted to see happen. I just wasn't sure that the children could overcome the trauma of this forced move to thrive again. When we got here, they were so hurt, so devastated, so struggling. Today, all but one member of this family is thriving and growing and making this place a home.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

It wasn't me

For the year I worked at the infusion center, I was constantly belittled, put down, told I was incompetent and occasionally yelled at by my boss. Given how long I had worked non-traditionally in nursing, I truly questioned if it was me. I even struggled with starting with IVs, something I am typically one of the best at accomplishing. There was one day that I struggled to start an IV on Ch and II understood just how badly I was struggling with the job. It was so horrible, if we had not moved I would have sought employment elsewhere just as soon as I had finished my Bachelor's degree and could do so seamlessly.

I got back to the south, to an area known for a strong good ole boy network, and spent months not finding a paying job. I knew what the problem was, but I couldn't accomplish anything to change that. My resume and my entire background read like an outsider. For most jobs I applied to, I didn't even make it past the first screening. For the few I did, the position was given to someone else.

Then, the local university was hiring for PRN positions in the student health clinic. The same university that runs the low income clinic where I volunteer and have for nine months now. Even so, I didn't hear anything back when I applied for that job either. When my NP asked me what happened to that job, that's exactly what I told her. I heard back from that job that week.

It took over a month for that job to interview, hire and start working. However, I just did my orientation this last week. They hired five PRN RNs for the clinic and are staffing two full time positions now, with the intention of staffing one full-time position and hiring one outright in the next month or so. It turns out, every single other RN they hired has personal ties to someone at the clinic. One is the best friend of one of the NPs. One is the former office nurse for the medical director at her private practice. One works with the husband of one of the NPs. One chats with the main nurse via text all day, so clearly has an established friendship. Then, there is me.

What is different this time is that no one is belittling me. No one is gossiping behind my back. I forgot to do something during my training and one of the NPs told the main nurse, who came and directly pointed out that I had forgotten to sign off like I was supposed to. Assured me she had reminded the NP that I was still straining and it was not a problem, just a reminder. The medical director worked one day and wanted to know an answer to a question. I confidently informed her that I was in my first week of training so while I did not know the answer to her question off the top of my head, I knew exactly where to find the answer. If she would give me a minute, I would look the answer up for her. I'm scheduled to work every week this month at the clinic. People ask me about myself. They communicate with me. They are friendly and assume I am competent instead of treating me as if I am incompetent. I am not even the only nurse there who took at break from traditional, wage earning nursing work at some point in time. No one acts as if my years of non-traditional work as a foster and adoptive mother was me *not* working. Rather, they express confidence that I am an experienced nurse.

I went through a lot of processing this year when I took my senior nursing management course for my degree. There were days I was raw and in tears to be required to learn academically how a nursing manager is *supposed* to behave and to compare that to how mine actually did behave. I realized in that class that my nursing manager in the infusion position meets the definition of an abusive boss. Last week, I realized it was never me. There was never anything wrong with my nursing, but with a pack of nurses so burned out that they should retire, and a manager so incompetent she should have never been promoted to management.

This summer, I've provided processing and emotional support for the assistant that worked in that infusion center. When I left, the manager and her hyenas turned their daggers at the assistant, who was an easy target for them. She started dating the manager's step-son mere months after she was hired for that position, and the manager continued to operate with that nepotism in place, threating this girl with her professional and personal relationships anytime the girl objected to the treatment she received. I have long encouraged my friend that she needed to seek employment somewhere other than under the authority of her boyfriend's stepmother. I have encouraged her that not all of nursing is like that microsystem in that infusion center. She went back to school with a dream of becoming a nurse herself, in spite of how those women treated her, and she told me it was because I had inspired her.

Yesterday, my friend gave notice. I was able to tell her how much different it is working under a better system, with different management and nurses who are not tolerated in the behaviors that occur in that infusion center. What happened there was not a statement on what kind of a nurse I am. In fact, it was my ability to impact the lives of my patients that kept me going when my manager was at her most abusive. In the nine months since I left, my non-paying nursing job has adored me. This last week, I knew for certain that it was never me. I no longer had to tell myself that. I saw it first hand.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Welcome to the south

The football team in town recruited my sons as players. My oldest got an unexpected reprieve when it was discovered the first of August that he didn't technically have eligibility. However, my second son is now a running back. I think that's what the position is called. I was so not athletic when I became a mother, and when A came home and was into soccer, I learned how to be a soccer mom. I have not learned how to be a football mom at all.

,p> Yet, Friday is the "BIG" game for the high school, as they are facing their cross town rivals. That means suddenly I have not only a HS team flag up in my yard, but apparently a sign with my son's jersey number and name. I would refuse, but it's my kid, and I absolutely have to support MY kid.

Much as I hate football, what I love more is that S is the child who was treated like a second class citizen until he came here. He played soccer but he felt he was lost in A's shadow there. As a football player, it doesn't really matter that he's not that good at the game. It doesn't matter that he's second string and hardly ever sees field time. He is part of the football team. Co-workers ask me for his jersey number so they can be sure to cheer for him at who don't have children who attend the high school but attend the football games because it's a community cohesion thing.

It's the south....and it's football. And for the first time in his life, my son is SOMEBODY. It is amazing to see my kid smile and feel special and important and.....NORMAL.