Teenage Turmoil

Sometimes I can’t believe I wrote something. I went back to read the blog I wrote last week about Jason. I got a little teary and wanted to click “Like” on it, then realized that it’s kind of bad etiquette to like your own post.

Last time, I told you, “The primary medical treatment is through pharmaceuticals and anxiety control. I’ll try to discuss this soon when I talk about why the last year has been hard for Jason sometime this week.”

Jason has always had a little bit of a hard time making friends. Kids are harsh and tics are not the norm. It’s hard for children to look past a constant motion like that. On top of that, Jason’s always been extremely sweet. This didn’t work in his favor with young children. He was easily hurt and often went running back to the adults crying “Bully”. There were a few good apples that were very sweet as well. We had them over as much as possible.

This outcast persona in his life, Jason tried very very hard to make friends. He was pretty impressionable and fell to peer pressure regularly. As parents, none of us knew what to do. You’d think with 4 of us, we’d be able to come up with something. Alas, we kept playing defense on the latest scheme he and his friends came up with.

When a child is this easily swayed, they tend to fall in with friends that may not be the best choices. As children get older, these choices of friends start to create situations that may lead to bad choices in behavior. These bad choices in behavior can lead to addictions, whether it be drugs, sex, stealing, or fighting.

Jason fell into some rough crowds. As parents, we were happy he had friends, and unhappy with which ones they were. We tried to keep him safe by allowing less overnights and asking him to have them over to our house instead. We met the parents and discussed what the rules at our houses were. We pried into his life in ways that make all teens irritated and all parents more anxious.

No matter what we did, Jason out smarted us. You see, this sweet young man is also fairly smart. The IQ tests say he’s high average, but I know better. He’s good at playing dumb. It’s gotten him a lot of what he needed in his life. His mom felt needed because he couldn’t remember things. His dad felt like a protector because he “couldn’t take care of himself”. And he got out of doing wrong things by “forgetting” or “I didn’t mean to.” I’m not saying that every one of these times was a play; I just know that many of them were put on to keep us complacent.

Complacency is something all parents crave. We don’t want to nag, be anxious about your behavior, or check into the person’s alibi. We want you to be trustworthy in all you do so that we can just ride through parenthood without a hitch. And we all know that no one is perfect. We all make mistakes, especially when learning about life.

Learning about life is something Jason’s done his share of in the last 2 years. We’ve run into mental health issues, drug issues, stealing, and some questionable choices in how he handles school and other responsibilities. I don’t think these are uncommon. We’ve done the best we can to field the challenges as they come. Jason’s mom took most of the paperwork and agonizing because he’s lived with her most of the time for the last 3 years. We tried to help when we could, but there’s only so much we can do without undermining the other parent, which still happened from time to time because we’re not perfect either.

I want to go back to the sentence I brought forward from the last entry: The primary medical treatment is through pharmaceuticals and anxiety control. I’ll try to discuss this soon when I talk about why the last year has been hard for Jason sometime this week.

When a child starts extreme medical intervention at a young age, they generally start using different pharmaceutical drugs very young as well. Prescription drugs such as sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medicines are some of the most abused substances among teens. The availability of these drugs makes it that much easier to abuse. Plus, once you’ve realized that some substances affect you much stronger than other substances, you might start to try to find the “one” that “fixes” you.

Experimenting like this happens very commonly with children that have medical issues. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) published an article in 2010 about Prescription Drug Abuse. Here’s what presenter, Nora D. Volkow M.D. had to say about teen drug abuse: “Nonmedical use among children and adolescents is particularly troublesome given that adolescence is the period of greatest risk not only for drug experimentation but also for developing addiction. At this stage the brain is still developing, and exposure to drugs could interfere with these carefully orchestrated changes. Research also shows adolescents abusing prescription drugs are twice as likely to have engaged in delinquent behavior and nearly three times as likely to have experienced an episode of major depression as teens who did not abuse prescription medications over the past year. Finally, several studies link the illicit use of prescription drugs with increased rates of cigarette smoking, heavy drinking, and marijuana and other illicit drug use in adolescents and young adults in the United States. Thus, prescription drug abuse may be part of a pattern of harmful behaviors engaged in by those at risk for substance use and other mental disorders.”

After some scrapes with the law over domestic violence, stealing, running away, and e-cig usage, Jason went into a residential treatment program last October. He was there until June. During that time, he was watched pretty much 24/7. It was grueling and transformative. I think all 4 of us parents started to feel like we had our caring, sweet Jason back.

Jason went from treatment back to his mom’s house. It went well for a time. He was part of an intensive day program for the summer, he got a job, he even had a girlfriend for a while. His mom dealt with all of this in stride for the most part. Once the day program was over, the county still hadn’t set up some of the services they had been going to get before the move home. Jason and his mom both struggled to keep it together. They did well for the most part.

Then, a few weeks ago, Jason started school. The added stress of school, work, and pleasing his parents seem to have become too much. Just over a week ago, Jason was found unresponsive by a friends’ parents. He had taken some prescription drugs from his friend’s prescription pills. Thankfully, he did not take enough to kill himself, but he was in the hospital for a night and his parents were terrified that he might not make it.

When they were done at the hospital, Jeremy and his ex wife decided it might be better for Jason to live with us. That is how we acquired our new resident. He is enrolled in a high school that is 45 miles from where we are parked right now. Getting him to school at a reasonable time before we have to go to work has been the biggest struggle. Picking him up after school has been just as hard.

With all of that, we are doing pretty well, though. There has been disagreements about rules, screen usage, and space. Those are bound to happen, no matter how much space you have or what your teen’s been through. I think those are natural discussions at all households have. But we love each other and all 3 of us are working really hard to gain trust and put the past behind us. We’re hoping to move The Girl Next Door closer to Jason’s school without taking us out of range of the jobs that we currently hold. It should be an adventure. With that adventure coming, we’ll see you on the road.

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We have a New Resident

I think middle school and high school teachers are saints. They work very very hard to come up with engaging, thoughtful lesson plans and are often met with eye rolls and inattention. When they try to talk to the parents about it, they’re often met with “Well, maybe you’re just not teaching it well.” Still, there will always be that one kid that gets something out of a lesson; that one kid who participates and loves that class. Every teacher has one kid who inspires them to keep going.

It’s no secret that I’ve never had any plan to have my own children. Something that many don’t know, though, is that I have always taken care of children that were birthed to others. I babysat from the time I was 11 years old. I taught Sunday School and I visited my mother’s kindergarten class regularly. As an adult, I even had a job doing personal care work for 14 years, in which I often ended up having children as clients. I knew I would probably raise kids, but I knew I wouldn’t have biological ones. I don’t even know if I could; I just never felt a leading to be a biological mother. I assumed that I’d probably adopt or be a foster parent. I never dreamed that I would be a stepmom.

I don’t know if ANYONE ever dreams of being a stepmom. Disney movies have made it very impossible for young girls to think of stepmoms in a good light. Between Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Rapunzel, and Snow White, why would anyone want to be the villianess? Disney stepmonsters not-withstanding, this woman would have to take on the job of mom in a household without any of the recognition because the biological mother is given that recognition very naturally. Who really wants to clean, cook, and nurture the household of someone else?

Now that I’ve been in this household for 11 years, I’ve learned that it’s not someone else’s household. I have helped raise 2 young men. I met these guys when they were 5 & 10; we married a year later. Now, at 21 and 16 I have moments where I see the lessons I have tried to teach them come through and feel a small amount of parental pride. As they get holder, I have more moments like that and less at the same time because they are not around as much. The 21 year old rarely sees us anymore; he’s a man who’s too busy for his parents. The 16 year old is finding friends and moving toward driving and has a job. Plus, they both have been living elsewhere; the man where he wants, the teen with his biological mother.

That changed this last week. Jason, who’s the 16 year old, has moved into The Girl Next Door with us. Jason, Jeremy and his ex have decided it is in everyone’s best interest for him to be in our household.

You see, Jason’s had a hard year. I mean, all teenage years are rough. Teens brains are growing and changing. My sister says that it’s like road construction: While one part of the brain is developing, it may be closed down and take some detours for different thoughts to get through. This is where the moodiness, “laziness”, inattention, and indecision of teendom come in. “It’s a little like a traumatic brain injury, only the hormones make it happen,” is what my mother said. Her Masters degree is in early childhood development, but she definitely has a unique perspective on the development of teenage brains because of her 35 years in teaching.

Jason’s hard year came after a pretty hard childhood too. Development is something that really gets stung hard in children of divorce and Jason’s parents split when he was only 2. Along with the divorce, his father has a mental illness that greatly effects the ability for relationships and healthy coparenting.

To put some icing on the cake, Jason was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome when he was 9. Tourette’s is an anxiety related disorder that creates tics through shorts in the brain’s wiring. Much like OCD or ADHD, it is led by compulsions, so it can be hidden for a time. Jason hid his all day at school, then had to let it go at home or he would have exploded. At 9, he was diagnosed and began medical treatment. The primary medical treatment is through pharmaceuticals and anxiety control. I’ll try to discuss this soon when I talk about why the last year has been hard for Jason sometime this week.

For now, I’ve run out of time to type. I’ll pick up again sometime this week, but just know that 2 have become 3 and we’re loving having the boy we love sleeping so close. Have a great day and we’ll see you on the road.

You can’t be Cancer

No one ever tells you that you are pneumonia or cystic fibrosis. You are not rheumatoid arthritis or heart disease. You have diabetes, eczema, PCOS, or a row of stitches.

And for some reason, you are bipolar. You are borderline. You are Schizophrenic, depressed, OCD, or “mentally ill”. Once diagnosed with mental illness, it becomes part of your identity in most circles.

That’s one thing that bothers me in the public eye and I think it’s part of the stigma. When I was first trained as a personal care worker, I was trained that my clients are people first. That means that “He’s a person with autism” was a perfectly acceptable statement in that company; “He’s autistic” wasn’t. It was a model that brought dignity to the people that I was there to help. It allowed this person to decide if they were going to identify themselves as their illness or as something else. With this model, the person with mental illness can be anything they want to be still. If they want to be depressed, they can. Or they can choose to be a ballerina, an artist, or a lump in bed. If they want to be crazy, they can. Or they can choose to identify themselves as a person with mental illness and explain that they’d rather not talk about their diagnoses.

I like this model. I like seeing people be able to identify themselves how they would like to. I especially like it when people choose to identify as other than their illness. It gives us more purpose than to focus on our pain.

Focusing on our pain is happening this week. There’s a lot of reasons that may be throwing our lives into a tailspin. I kind of lied to some of you because of it. I cancelled appointments and shut down friend time because of a “family emergency”. That family emergency was an emotional dysregulation that has turned dangerous.

Recently, there’s been a lot of stress. 2 months ago, we moved into our RV and parked it at a couple of friends’ place. They helped us immensely to improve The Girl Next Door to at least a running status. A few weeks ago, they asked us to leave so that they could better serve their customers, who come to their business at the house. We were in the way, where we never had wanted to be. So, Jeremy fixed the fuel pump and we were on the road within hours of it being fixed. It was 2 days after they asked and way before the date that they had told us we had to be gone. Jeremy’s emotions started to get out of control then: when he took one sentence said as him being “unwanted”.

You see, when Jeremy starts to go away and the monster of his illness comes up, it usually starts to happen the most prevalently when he’s rummenating on something that can easily be misunderstood or taken the wrong way. You didn’t say anything wrong, or even mean. His dysregulated brain latches on to anything it can to torture him. Then, it plays that thing over and over again for over-analysis. He probably won’t say anything about it right away. He knows, logically, that his brain is being a jerk.

Next stress: Jeremy found out that his oldest son was in a hit and run accident 4 MONTHS AGO!! We didn’t know anything about it. He’s an adult and totally free to keep his secrets. What hurt Jeremy the most was that his parents knew about it and kept it from us. While his son wasn’t hurt, it reminds Jeremy of his ignorance of his son because his son chooses to cut us out and use Jeremy’s parents as a shield of sorts from life’s consequences. That hurts Jeremy; it reminds him that his adult child doesn’t trust his reactions. It also reminds Jeremy that his parents are coddling this adult child; that hurts too. Pain like this is a big stressor for any parent.

Jeremy’s younger son came to stay with us from Friday to Monday of the Memorial Day weekend. This may not seem like something out of the ordinary for most of you. However, this child has been dealing with mental health issues of his own. This is the first time in almost a year that he’s been in our house for more than a few hours, much less an overnight. There was anxiety on everyone’s part, Jeremy and his son the most probably. We all want a successful relationship. The trust that was lost last year is slowly rebuilding. I don’t know about them, but I want it to be back, darnit! I’m tired of learning how to forgive and how to renew the relationship. I can only imagine how the two of them feel about it. So, for 4 days, there was the constant stress of being a good parent and learning how to trust and how to earn trust again.

On top of all of this, Jeremy’s doctor changed his meds last week. That means that this week is when we’ll start to see some of the changes that this new dosage should bring about. In the past, on this medicine, there is an initial spike of mental illness activity when there’s a change. Eventually, it evens out and Jeremy is back to himself again. And while we’re in this week and maybe next week, there will be some loss of stability with the change. This will be happening for Jeremy for a long time. He and his doctor started him back on this med back in December. He’s been very slowly and steadily increasing the dosage since then. It’s a hard place to be, the middle of a med change.

Some medicine changes happen very quickly. When Jeremy went off of Lamictal before, it was an instant thing. His doctor told him to discontinue immediately and come in for a consultation. They changed him to Lithium and that was that. Some happen more slowly. Sometimes, finding the right medicine for anything takes forever. Jeremy was on Lithium for 4 months last year. It didn’t help; in fact, it may have made things worse when he was on it. Imagine that happening 2, 3, maybe even 4 times with different medicines. This can be a multi-year process for some.

This week has erupted beyond our normal feeling of “off-balance”. Every day there is usually some uncomfortable feeling of anxiety or neuroses from one or both of us. Usually, we’re able to pull the thought train back to forward and make life work. On a normal week, it’s hard to get day-to-day life finished, but not impossible. The laundry may pile up for a few days, the bills may get paid only after a reminder letter, the dishes look icky for a whole 2 days instead of getting washed daily. It isn’t usually so off that we can’t live.

Over the last month, that hasn’t been the case. We’ve been living on bought meals and restaurants because we don’t have the foresight to make dinner. We’ve been allowing the dishes to overflow the sink. Our laundry took 5 loads the other day and I still have a basket full of dirty. We could really use the help of someone willing to help us organize, get things done, and lift our spirits. Let’s face it, isolation is another side effect of mental illness breaking down. It’s not as simple as just having the people we need in place to help. There’s arranging that needs to be done if those things are going to happen. Neither of us is up to that task. So, this week, it has all come to a head and we’ve had to try to hold the pieces together.

In the end, the month of May was extremely stressful on both of us. Jeremy hasn’t been able to regulate his emotions like he wants to. He doesn’t want to have outbursts and breakdowns. In turn, I respond by pulling inward, letting my self-care go, and riding the depression train. Neither of us wants this; we want to be happy and healthy. We are working together to find a way to make that happen. Hopefully, once we’re through this hard time, we’ll be able to go out and see you on the road again.

In Need of Progress Reminders

I think that sometimes, God reminds us of how far we’ve come by sending us back to where we were for a short time.

This weekend was an awesome weekend for the most part. Friday was a day fully dedicated to working on The Girl Next Door. I’ll write a whole entry about this week’s work on her soon. Let’s just say it was a lot of work and very satisfying.

Saturday, we worked on her in the morning. After doing as much as we could, we left to attend the Minneapolis RV vacation & Camping show. We had a TON of fun there. Next year, we will probably take either one whole day or come back for more than one time. We really enjoyed looking at new models of Class A, B, C motorhomes and travel trailers. We’re not much for pop-ups or 5th wheels, so we stayed out of them. We dreamed about what we might buy in the future and got a few ideas for The Girl Next Door. Catch us in 10 years when we’ll buy the 2017 Thor Vegas RUV Class A or a 2016 Pleasureway  Plateau XLMB Class B. They were both glorious. Plus, we were super excited to get to meet The FitRV after months of watching their videos.

After the show, we had some yummy food at Good Earth. We have found very good paleo options at stores that celebrate local suppliers and organic food. I had a wonderful blood orange smoothie, a Go Green lemonade (kale, spinach, & honey added), and some yummy BBQ pork chops over greens. Jeremy had a chopped salad that looked delish. And when the delightful dinner was over, we went to see one of our favorite local bands play. Dancing the night away is just as fun at 34 as it was at 21. I just don’t drink anymore, so I enjoy the music that much more. Good for Gary plays so many great dance tunes that all 4 of our party got on the floor. There was even a return of the BackStreet Boys that Jeremy danced to. What a goofy guy on the dance floor; that’s why I love him.

At 2am, we rolled into our friend Sarah’s place to stay the remainder of the night. All 4 of us quickly passed out, not being used to this kind of late night. We all slept pretty soundly and woke by 9am. Erin and I went to a local church, Hosannah! Church in Shakopee. It was definitely a style of church that I enjoy and I think I might go back the next time we stay over at Sarah’s too. Church gave way to breakfast; Wampachs had a great special for both of us: cajun eggs benedict. Yum. After some more hanging out at Sarah’s house, Jeremy, Erin, and I headed to a late lunch at Merlin’s Pub where there was mussels, tater tots, and sausages galore.

That was the extent of the wonderful weekend we had. Once we got home, things got hairy. On the way home, Jeremy had some conversations with his son and ex-wife. This tends to get him on the defensive in the first place. The anxiety of co-parenting can often be overwhelming. On top of the anxiety of this talk, he got more than one instance yesterday of his decision making ability being undermined by other adults. When he got home, the stress had taken over his ability to cope. He lost control of his temper and went into a tailspin. There was some yelling and swearing. I was not devoid of responsibility when it comes to the ramped up state of things. Between both of us not sleeping as much as we should and both letting go of control of creating our own food, we did not take good care of our bodies. I was caught very off guard by this turn of events.

You see, I had begun to take Jeremy’s good state of mind for granted. For over a week, he’s seemed very stable. He brought me breakfast in bed three times last week. He laughed, danced, and joked around. He worked hard, played hard, and slept when he could. We had a phenomenal weekend of happy times, fun work, and building our future. It’s easy to fall into a feeling of security in that. It’s easy to miss the early signs of a trigger. It’s easy to take for granted the stable times when they last for a few days or more. That state of complacency makes the meltdown that much harder.

Boy, it was hard for me. I did not deal well the way I have in the past. As a result, Jeremy and I spent the night struggling alone. Trying to be around each other was way too hard. We did apologize to each other; our mental health and relationship were able to turn around after some cool down time. It was just too tense to spend the time together. We’re lucky to have quite a few options when it comes to nights like that. We have friends and family that understand our situation, we have an office that gives us some space to cool off, and we have a whole bunch of great places to stay in our town. Right now, we also have a second bedroom in our apartment. We’re lucky enough even that The Girl Next Door even has extra beds in the living area of the coach, so we could sleep separately if we need it. That was one of the selling points for me: extra space if we need to sleep in more than one bed, whether that is for guests, the boys, or a night break.

We are still both very blessed to have each other. We are good at apologizing; we are both good at making amends. Over the years, we’ve learned to forgive. That’s part of our faith, but even more, it’s necessary to keep our marriage afloat. When mental illness is rampant in a marriage, forgiveness becomes an every day event. There are times that the forgiveness is small; there are times it is very very significant as this one was. Sometimes it is as little as forgiving the dishes only getting half put away or dropping something on the floor. Other times, one of us is apologizing for a major monetary hit from damage done in a rage or in an anxious outburst. Sometimes we risk our relationship by saying hurtful things. Other times we are remorseful for our massive insecurities stemming from past abuses. No matter what is going on, we have both agreed to communicate and forgive. I am bone-of-his-bone and flesh-of-his-flesh; we are united by marriage and need to work through those inconsistencies until we are one.

No matter what kinds of things hurt you, be ready to forgive. That is something that will always help both your mental and spiritual health. Embrace letting the desire for revenge go. Open yourself to new opportunities by releasing cherished wounds. Let yourself chase your dreams and we’ll see you out on the road.

How does genetics fit in?

Genetics is the study of inheritance; it’s finding out what traits are handed down from lineage and what is environmental. Everyone is affected by genetics because we all have parents, who we got our genetic traits from.

Many factions of scientists track genetics through the generations. Most use a “genogram”for a reference for their research in one line or for one person. A genogram is like a family tree in that you put all of your ancestors, siblings, and relatives into the chart. Then, you track who had the trait in question and who may have had the trait but was unconfirmed. The creator may use interviews with family, birth & death records, as well as criminal records and past diaries to fill in the blanks. This is usually a good way to find out if a trait is environmentally induced or if it is genetic.

Talking about and noticing these types of traits gets me jazzed. I have my Bachelors of Science in Chemistry with an emphasis in DNA analysis & Criminalistics. Genetics was my favorite college course because the connections are so interesting. When you know a lot about a subject, it becomes more interesting. Plus, genetics is kind of a puzzle with clues as far as I’m concerned; it’s like a mystery novel.

It got even more interesting for me when Jeremy and I started talking about mental illness. He and I are both strong believers that mental illness can be both genetic and environmental. How this is described in the scientific world is usually comparison of expressivity and penetrance. In layman’s terms, expressivity is how much an individual displays a given gene trait and penetrance is how many individuals in a genetic pool are likely to have the gene for that trait.

This is where most average people hit a wall right now. There hasn’t been a phenomenal wealth of research done on the genetics of most mental illnesses. There are also a lot of barriers to proper diagnosis of mental illnesses because of the lack of research.

The National Institute of Mental Health, a division of the National Institute of Health (NIH) is trying to remedy that. They have greatly increased their research basis in the fields of mental health in the last 10 years. As a result, new medicines, treatments, and diagnosis protocols are being created every day.

Now, we are hoping to be a part of some of the research. The NIMH is currently running a research study called “Investigating the Genetics of Bipolar Disorder in those affected and their family members”. Finding this study has really opened our eyes to how our family members, primarily Jeremy’s family of origin, may be affected by Bipolar disorder. We’re hoping they will also partner with us to help with this study.

To really understand why we’re interested in it so highly, we need to talk some about Jeremy’s illness. He was diagnosed at 28 years old after years of struggle. He was divorced, had two children, worked the same job for 8 years, and had recently lost another relationship. When first treated, he was treated only for depression. He was given Effexor. As was common with this medication, when Jeremy still didn’t feel “well”, they increased his dosage. The more they increased it, the more his symptoms grew. He started having days and weeks of mania, very high anxiety and agitation, and delusional thoughts. One day he couldn’t take it anymore and he was taken to the hospital.

He ended up in an inpatient psychiatric treatment program. This is what you’d do for anyone with a severe illness; for severe pneumonia, they’d go to the PICU; for an infection they’d stay in the ICU. Think of inpatient treatment as the Intensive care unit for psychiatric cases. While there, he participated in many tests and many group sessions, as well as individual counseling. The psychiatrist determined that his response to Effexor was because he wasn’t depressed; he has bipolar disorder or cycling manic-depression.

Finding the right diagnosis makes it a lot easier to get the right treatment, but it is still not easy. Many of you have read my entry here about the mental illness in our life and the treatments we are currently seeking for it. There are hundreds more treatment options that we haven’t had to seek out yet. There are also a lot that we have tried that have not helped a lick. While in the hospital, the doctors tried many different medicines with Jeremy. Since going back on medication in 2012, there have been a few more added to the list. For some, they never find the “right” medicine for them. We are grateful that Jeremy’s found one that helped him.

Now, bring in the fact that his children struggle with illness too. The youngest is currently in residential treatment. Over the last month, the doctors there have reached out to see parallels between Jeremy’s evolution with mental illness and his son’s. In turn, they tried the medicine that’s been helping Jeremy. Lo and behold, his son has started to see some progress with impulse control and mood stabilization. That got me thinking of genetics.

When I started searching information on genetics and bipolar disorder, I found the study on the NIH site. Jeremy and I have discussed a little how his illness may be genetic. We have looked at his kids dealing with what the do, but we’ve also taken information from his family about some of Jeremy’s relatives and possible mental health issues.

Mental health is just becoming something that is viewed as a health issue instead of a stigmatized character flaw or weakness. In generations past, people were billed as “crazy”, “unstable”, or “psycho”. They were pushed out of society because of their odd behaviors or ideas. People with mental illness were avoided instead of being understood. There may well have been quite a few people who had some high functioning form of mental illness that were just outcast because of their odd life. Even in more recent generations, such as our parents, people with mental illness often didn’t seek diagnosis and treatment because of the stigma attached to it.

That’s what a genogram looks at. Jeremy and I both believe that doing this kind of exercise could be very telling for our family. We are hoping that this NIH study will accept him as part of the study; we are also hoping that some of his family members will join him in participating if they can. It would be telling to find out if there are genetic markers for bipolar disorder. To have a definitive way to diagnose this horrible disease would be one step in the right direction for a viable treatment.

Until then, we’ll keep doing what we can find that helps; we’ll be working on running the race that God has put in front of us. Stay safe out there, my friends. We’ll see you on the road.

When you fall off the wagon

We’re talking a proverbial wagon. Don’t worry; we did not go farm this weekend or anything. Although that would have been a great workout, had we done it.

A year ago, Jeremy and I were both very very dedicated to our health. As a result, he was at the lightest he had been in 20 years and I was at my strongest. We planned our meals ahead of time; we planned our exercise and followed through; we took our medicines daily; we spent time regularly doing self-care. All aspects of our life were kept at our healthiest options.

In March 2016, our youngest had some mental health issues start to take over his life. For the next 6 months, our life was filled with massive stress, doctors, and cops. The stress was too overwhelming for both of us. We doubled our counseling sessions. Jeremy and his doctor agreed that he probably should increase his mood stabilizer medicine. As a result of increasing too quickly, Jeremy got a dangerous rash and had to go off of the medicine that had worked for 2 years. This medicine is mostly to treat his bipolar disorder by keeping his moods in a “normal” range and help him focus better.

The new medicine to replace it was Lithium. Jeremy was on Lithium while he trained for the Twin Cities Marathon and I was training for the Rails to Trails half-marathon. A med change when there is little stress is hard. Noticing side effects and getting through the mood swings can be overwhelming. It’s triple hard when you have something that is a goal or some kind of stress in your life.

He made it through the marathon. He even had a pretty good time, even though he hadn’t trained as hard as he had hoped. For those that don’t do long distance races, there’s important information that you probably don’t know: the after crash of a race. Think of it like another life event: a wedding. You plan for months, you spend hours every day thinking of this event and planning for it. You may work to lose weight, make decorations, and pick out the perfect dress/DJ/location/cake. The day comes and you have a major high. You love your event and it goes off without a hitch. Afterward, you’re faced with a slight depression. You spend hours thinking “what do I do now?” and “There’s no purpose to my time anymore.” You looked forward to this event for months and now it’s just over. The same  happens with athletes after a major race/game/event.

Jeremy had that happen. On top of the medicine changes, Jeremy went through a pretty extreme depression. We don’t know if it was a side effect from the Lithium, a outcome from the kid stress, a downswing from going off of Lamictal, or the after-race crash. All we know is that his thoughts started racing, his self-talk got dark, and he became despondent about life in general. There were days that I had to help him get out of bed for work.

Needless to say, he was not doing any kind of exercise at that time. I was also still untreated for my depression. Between the two of us, it was hard for us to do enough thinking just to make ourselves eat, shower, and work each day. Eating healthy was the last thing in our heads. We were lucky if we made frozen pizza or mac & cheese; we weren’t even going to attempt salads.

So, what happens when someone is unable to be physically healthy? In our experience, not only does their physical health deteriorate, but their mental, spiritual, and financial health all suffer as well. It stands to reason that it’s hard to get out of that spiral. We had to keep going to work and we knew it. Thankfully, we were able to push through in that area.

We’re both pretty grateful that we have found some treatment that helped. I was put on Fluoxetine (Prozac) in December. It made it lots easier for me to get out of bed, do the work I need to do, and help him with what he needs. He also went back on Lamictal in December. This needs to be a very gradual process. Even though he is still at a very low dosage of this mood stabilizer, getting off the Lithium seems to have brought him up out of the suicidal thoughts and deep depression. We are functioning again, that’s the important thing.

Something to realize though is that “functioning” is not the same as “thriving”. It was something we talked about when we walked out on the land we plan to park on this summer. Jeremy’s lamotrigine dosage is still low enough that he’s not 100% stable. Counseling helps and the low dosage does help; it’s just not ideal yet. We are both about 30 lbs heavier than we would like to be. Neither of us are exercising as much as we need to. We’re still not eating as well as we’d like. Now that we’re functioning, we can start to address these issues that keep us from thriving. We may soon get back on track to be healthy in all parts of our life.

We start a new eating plan today with Clean & Simple Nutrition. We are hoping that a change in nutrition will give us a bit of a boost toward motivation. Within the month, we will both start training for our next races. We hope that you take some motivation to keep going, to get started, and to get healthy from our story. Stay safe and we’ll see you on the road.

To the running part

It’s the time of year when the gyms are packed, diet plans sell like hot cakes, and Weight Watchers sees a membership increase of up to 5% according to the Wall Street Journal. We are not immune to the hype that happens this time of year.

Last year, I started getting rid of things. I had read the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I took 8 garbage bags full of clothing to a clothing swap and got rid of it all. I still have a dresser and closet WAY TOO FULL of clothing. I believe I’ll go through again and get rid of half of my clothes again.

Last year, Jeremy made his goals for physical wellness. He planned the year of his 40th birthday to reflect the number 40. He participated in the 40th Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth in June. He also did the Twin Cities Marathon in October. His year-long goal was to swim 40 miles, bike 400 miles, and run 400 miles. He annihilated all of his year-long goals! He ended up with a grand total of 67.8 miles swimming, 1419.5 miles running, and 1238.6 miles biking. He also lost 40 more lbs throughout the year to reach that lowest weight of 215. Physical fitness was really a big deal to him last year and will continue to be in the future.

One thing that we didn’t make goals for is our mental health. We both view this as a failure on our parts. We found throughout the year that our mental health is really what went awry. I fought with depression for 5 months before seeing my doctor for a medication. Our youngest had a lot of instability because of some other issues. Jeremy had some med changes that lead to some instability as well.

I won’t be neglecting my mental health this year. I’m realizing how extremely important it is with moving into our motorhome. I will need to be able to face myself in this space and we will need to be able to communicate and live together well.

Yet, not neglecting my mental health means also not neglecting my physical health. Jeremy has always said that he needs to run to get rid of the crazy. There’s something to be said for how endorphins effect the brain after physical exertion. Not only that, when you’re exhausted it is very hard to over think things or pick fights that don’t need to be picked. It helps reduce anxiety and gives you a quiet time to reflect on your strengths. It also pushes you to gain some accomplishments, which can help self-esteem. I’m hoping to force myself into all of these positives.

I have a mix of health goals for this year. I hope to do 2 mud races this year: the Spartan Sprint race in Chicago, IL June 10 and the Tough Mudder in Plymouth, WI on September 9th. To get ready, I need to get back to running regularly, lifting weights, doing the local par-course at least weekly, and fuel my body correctly. For my mental health, I have a few goals also. I want to participate in at least 1 yoga or BodyFlow class a week and I want to get a 90 min massage each month. Both of these goals will obviously help my physical health as well. I do believe that eating correctly will help my mental health as well. A final mental health goal that I haven’t partaken in for a while is that I’d like to start reading my Bible more regularly again. I find myself relying on video sermons and podcasts to feed me spiritually, but I really need to spend some alone time with God more often.

Now that it’s posted publicly, I’m less likely to miss these goals. No, these aren’t my only goals for the year. There are financial goals, relationship goals, and housing goals that I have. I’m sure they’ll all come up at some point. This entry is so that you know that you’re not alone in your quest for something different physically. Start where you’re at and find people to do it with you. Find someone to push you (they’re a little bit farther than you), someone who you can push (they’re right where you were or they’re just starting or they have longer to go than you), and someone right where you’re at now (you’re about the same speed, same weight, some stage of goals). With these three people, you won’t be able to sit on your butt all year the way I did in 2016.

Our Journey to Health and Wellness is a never-ending quest. It’s something you’ll hear about often from me. Health and Wellness isn’t about being perfect; it’s not about being skinny. This journey is about becoming the best people that we can be. There will always be something else we can work on; some other goal to reach. We are hoping to take you along on the ride. Stay safe and we will see you on the road.

P.S.- The latest news on the RV is that we got a Mr. Heater Big Buddy Heater and tried it out in The Girl Next Door today. It worked great!! The whole place was comfortably heated in about 45 minutes. After wiping down the surfaces to remove condensation, we just hung out for a good hour to get used to our space. We haven’t really tried the furnace yet, but we will make sure of that next. Now we know we can live at least warm enough not to get hypothermia, even if our furnace doesn’t work. We wanted to make sure that we have a few alternatives no matter what. Heat; check. One anxiety down; 75 more to go. Adios!

New Year; New Life

I am the same person that I was yesterday; you are too. The only differences are that we’ve learned things that we didn’t know then. We may have learned good things: knowledge, love, efficiency, patience, kindness, wisdom, how to avoid cheesecake. We may also have learned bad things: pain, hurt, betrayal, anger, loneliness, and ignorance. In the end, we are still the same people; we have the same minds, the same bodies. We might have changed what we do on a daily basis or the way we wear our hair. All of these things aside, I am the same person today that I was a year ago with a lot of things I’ve learned.

I learned that my family was struggling so much more than they had let on. I learned that our kids were both struggling with drugs. I learned that my perception of what my husband and his children go through every day is not the whole story. I learned first hand what it is to have your brain attack you. It’s not a physical battle when someone is struggling inside their brain. Fighting with your own delusional thoughts is exhausting and hit my family this year. When you have cancer or diabetes, muscular dystrophy, or asthma, there are physical symptoms that show on your face, hands, and speech. You may slur, you may be unable to walk, you may throw up, you may have a hard time breathing. You may have to use a wheelchair or walker. Other people can see those symptoms.

When the war of mental illness is involved, it isn’t so visible. The vomit is an emotional vomit that often comes out sideways that has nothing to do with the person you’re spewing on. The slurring is in your inability to stay on one subject for long. The stumbling is in how you treat the people you love, even though you really want to show them love and respect. Your brain may tell you that it isn’t worth it to get out of bed today; that you are better off staying in the warm dark and letting your job fall away. Your illness tells you that your psychiatrist doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that the drugs do a better job than pharmaceuticals. There are no wheelchairs for someone who is so depressed that they are paralyzed. There are no walkers to help you find the thoughts that got lost somewhere in the racing conversation of your brain.

Thankfully, we have doctors that are beginning to know how to help my family. This year, we were able to find some stuff that is finally helping. I got some antidepressants that help me feel like a real person again; I can actually get out of bed daily, smile when something’s funny, and I am  not having random crying sessions for seemingly no reason at all. Jeremy’s doctor and he have decided to go back to the medicine that worked for so long even though he got a rash from it. Hopefully they can increase it slow enough that no rash happens this time. He also found a chiropractor and nutrition doctor that is helping him do better to fuel his athletic pursuits. The current doctor for our youngest took Jeremy’s past into account and found a medicine that seems to be helping him feel like himself for the first time in 2 years.

This year, Jeremy learned that he can do so much more than his brain tells him that he can. He ran his first marathon in June. He did multiple half marathons, tons of 5ks, and Ragnar Great River. Jeremy participated in 3 triathlons, one duathlon, and hundreds of group fitness classes. He ran his second marathon at the Twin Cities Marathon in October. This year, Jeremy continued his weightloss from last year; at his lightest, he was 215. He’s learned that Lithium is not a med that will work for him. He learned by gaining 25 lbs on it and experiencing some pretty severe depression symptoms during his trial-and-error phase of his med change. He learned millions of hours worth of information about RVing, motorhomes, fulltiming, and heaters. His phone  has been stuck on YouTube videos for about 6 months. By the time we move in, he’ll be an expert at all things RV.

We learned to coexist in work and home life. We learned a little harmony in our life; we learned a little struggle. We learned that 1200 sq. ft. is just too much space for the two of us. We learned that we have WAY TOO MUCH STUFF!! We learned a little bit of Spanish by using the Duolingo app. We learned to lighten up and to relax some. We learned that we want to have a life, not just be alive.

We are looking forward to 2017. Both of us have some physical goals, financial goals, and household goals. Resolutions aren’t our thing, but we do review our goals regularly and today is as good as any day to do that. We hope that everyone has a safe New Year’s Eve. Stay warm and we’ll see you on the road.

Belated Christmas Tidings

Happy Holidays to all!

I realize that I’m a day late for those of you that celebrate Christmas, as I do. I figured that we have a whole season of holidays, thus there are lots of options to celebrate the season. Besides, no one knows exactly what date Jesus was born on and it was probably some time between April & August…. so it’s really just symbolic anyway.

We spent the weekend visiting our family. Jeremy’s parents hosted on Saturday. It is a nice, small family and was one short due to some mental health concerns with the youngest. We always enjoy a great meal, made better this year by some healthy sides and great steak cooking. Yum Yum. And the gifts are always fairly extravagant, or at least one person ends up speechless from emotion. We laugh, we joke, we catch up with everyone’s lives. It’s always a nice relaxing time together.

Afterward, there was a short lull before we took to the road toward southwest Wisconsin. That’s the region where my parents live and we wanted to make it before the rain started. Jake, our oldest, came with for the first time in years. It made it a pleasant drive and a great time to catch up with him.

We got to the homestead an hour or two before my mom told us to visit my dad’s father, who lives 2 miles away. We got there to a boisterous crowd of my uncles, grandparents, and family friends. Oyster stew, lefse, and cookies were served. We got to sit down with my grandma & grandpa who have been snow-birding for 25 years. It’s nice to pick someone’s brain about our future endeavors. It was a good homecoming.

On the way down, I was informed that my grandmother had been asking for me. She was diagnosed a few years ago with Alzheimer’s and has been struggling to remember family members for a while. Recently, she wasn’t feeling well and had to spend a little time in the hospital. So, first thing Sunday morning, my mom and I loaded up to go visit her in the hospital. My aunt was there with her husband and we all chatted a while about options after the hospital, as well as my Mexico trip. Check off seeing both of my dad’s parents for a Christmas visit.

Sunday at noon was my mom’s extended family’s Christmas celebration. They’ve started holding this get-together at a public community space just because there are so many people. This gives us enough space to decorate, have table space to eat, and let the kids run around without worrying about heirlooms being broken. Only one of us grandchildren was missing and there were 8 great-grandchildren present. There was ham, sweet potatoes, salad, cherry salad, tiramisu, and of course milk and coffee. The chaos was manageable and well managed by the hostess, my aunt Sharon. Pokeno was played and won as usual, gifts were uniquely distributed, and even a raffle made things interesting. Check off seeing both of my parents’ parents for the holiday. Double win!

Finally, on Christmas at 5pm, we started the festivities at my parents’ place. This is still a large group with 3 grown girls, all married, and all with children. The most fun part of the evening is always the meal. With 6 courses, each daughter takes 2 dishes to prepare this year and next. All other years, each daughter and husband gets to pick the courses. But, after 6 years, our parents get to pick for 2 years. This year, there were margaritas (and a supplement of brandy slush), shrimp cocktail, bakery made white and wheat bread, grandma’s apple pie, beef stroganoff, and waldorf salad. Delicious, every bite. Gifts were ripped into after dinner by the young grandchildren and the adults followed. Everyone got at least one thing that they loved. It was a warm, intimate time with much discussion, laughing, and reminiscing. We always miss this feeling inbetween our visits, but we realize that the distance is what makes these times special.

All in all, it was a successful Christmas for us. Please, feel free to share with us what your family does for the holidays? Do you go to any religious ceremonies? Do you celebrate solstice, Chanukah, or some other holiday? What traditions do you have that you feel are unique for your family?

A Mexican Nightmare… Finale

After Day one, things got better. In day 2, we went to see the doctor. My client got approved for the treatment that the doctor had first suggested. He even started treatment later that day.

Also, during day 2, we found a company that was willing to build a ramp for his wheelchair to be able to take some tours. This is a big accomplishment in Mexico. There are very very few people with wheelchairs there, much less people with power chairs. We were lucky to find a company with caring staff that built a ramp just for my client and took the middle seat out of their van so that we could go around San Miguel.

Day 3 we changed some money and got used to our surroundings. Day 4, my client got a double dose of treatment and we took a tour of the city. Our first stop was Atotonilco, a church with a rich history and great paintings on the ceiling. Our tour guide told us that it is considered the “Sistine chapel of Mexico”. It was beautiful. Then, off to a local high end artist market. There was nothing there for me, but my client got his wife a very nice necklace. While he shopped, our driver and I talked some. We got to know about each other’s families and life outside of this day.

After shopping, we returned to the hotel. My client got another treatment. Oh, did I mention that the doctor made “house calls” to our hotel? It was much easier than trying to treat my client in his office, as his office was on the upper level with no elevator. It was very nice of the doctor to be willing to do this. I know the concept of a doctor coming to your  house or hotel seems foreign in this day and age, but this doctor still does it.

I finally go to do some authentic shopping at a large market that evening while my client got a shave. It was an alley littered with vendors. Every ounce of extra space was taken up by booths filled with handmade and reproduced souvenirs and Mexican goods. Every vendor took USA dollars and would give change in pesos. About 75% spoke just a little English. It was nice to find a few things to bring home to my family and friends while trying out my Spanish.

Saturday, day 5, was probably the best day of the trip for me. My client was pretty tired from his week. He wanted to rest up for the next day, which was a travel day. While he rested, I got a spa treatment. For 155 minutes, I got a body scrub, a mud wrap, a facial, and a massage. I fell asleep half way through, which almost never happens. It was glorious. Thanks Norma for a great treatment. Afterward, I went to get some fried chicken for supper and hit another, smaller market. It was much more unique than the previous day. I found some great gifts to bring back, as well as some of San Miguel’s wonderful leather in some wallets and a bag.

All in all, I felt very at home in San Miguel. Leaving on Sunday was hard for me. For one, I knew that things would probably not go swimmingly on the flights. Second, I did not want to return to the -20 degrees of Wisconsin. Third and finally, I was really starting to feel like I was hitting my stride in touristing.

We left the hotel at 1pm. Thankfully, we got our sweet cab driver from the week to take us to the airport too. It was a leisurely drive that we stopped to get a melon on and enjoyed the scenery as we went. That was the best part of our return trip. Thanks, Freddy, for a great trip. If ever you get to San Miguel, look up San Miguel Magico tour company. They were more than accommodating and very helpful.

The airport was a mad house. The day previous, there had been a snowstorm in the Midwest USA. That meant that many of the flight crews were stranded there for extra days, which delayed everything. The Leon airport had multiple cancellations and every single flight was delayed. Yikes! On top of that, their baggage check area is the same as their customer service. As I said, madhouse. Our flight was delayed 2 hours, moved to a different gate, and renamed. We were just happy to be able to have a flight at all. But because of our delay, we missed our connecting flight by 30 minutes. Ugh. This time, we had to wait for them to bring the wheelchair to us behind immigration and customs before we could go to the hotel. It took over an hour for them to bring the wheelchair to us. At one point, they even LOST THE WHEELCHAIR!!!

For those of you that know me well, you know that I do not lose my temper often. In fact, I tend to be very very chill and patient. So much so that it is annoying to those around me. When they said they couldn’t find this chair, I lost my temper. Not just a little bit; my client was visibly a little scared of my new stance. This is not a manual chair that folds and can be stowed somewhere under something. This is a humongous 350 lb specialized piece of equipment. Eventually, they found that the staff from the tarmac had taken it to the domestic side, rather than the international side.

We got the chair back after going through immigration and customs, since they would be closing soon. Then, on to customer service again. They were swamped again, for the same reason that Mexico was. We waited. Once we were in customer service, we mentioned our horrible time last time with Houston airport. They gave us a special person to help us with our damage claim. Except there wasn’t really a damage claim. There was a number that lead to a confusing bit of badly worded explanations and no names of who to contact. We found that the number the supervisor had given us the week before was to the woman we were now talking with. This, along with updating the badly written damage claim, took a few more hours. By the time that we were done with all of this, it was 2:15 in the morning. We had to be back by 8 am to get ready for our 10 am flight. If we had decided to find a taxi with a wheelchair ramp or lift, then the hotel room we were supposed to go to, then transfer to the bed, then back up in the morning, find a taxi back; we would have maybe gotten 2 hours of sleep.

We decided to stay the night in the Houston airport. It was cold, it was uncomfortable, it was ridiculous. Every 30 minutes or so, I would wake with another idea of what could be done to gain back some dignity and care. I called about 10 numbers that night searching for information and help. I took a picture of my client in his wheelchair sleeping in the Houston airport. It shouldn’t be like this.

To top off my anger, at midnight it had become my 34th birthday. I was supposed to be home shortly after midnight. I wanted to sleep in my own bed. I wanted to be held by my husband. I wanted to wake up refreshed and enjoy my birthday.

A young girl traveling with her family was tired of being in airports. She didn’t speak English, so I told her in Spanish that it was my birthday. She felt bad for me and congratulated me on my birthday. Her mother and I spoke a little in broken Spanish and English. I told them to call me when they got as far as MSP. I’d love to see them again.

16 hours in an airport or on a plane on my birthday was not my idea of a great birthday. 1 hour of sleep did not make it a really fun day.  It absolutely could have been worse. I had my health, my client was not in danger, and my husband knew I wasn’t going to be home yet. While his anxiety was high, he also was able to understand that I was safe. It was an adventure that I came out of.

I came out of it with first class seats, some knowledge of how to get my client a possible refund on his seats, and knowing some helpful people in 2 states in the US and at Leon, MX BJX airport. Adventures like this don’t usually come easily. It’s the times that you roll with the punches that things become real adventures.

As we embark on our next adventure, I’m even more prepared to roll with it. So, if you get a chance, come visit where ever we are at. Good luck with your travels and we’ll see you on the road.