by Mary LoVerde
What To Do When Life Gets Sticky
You may have noticed that my newsletters and blog postings have been MIA in 2016. You know me…there’s a story to tell.
I always smile when my audience members remark how much they wish their lives were as perfect as mine. I am indeed blessed with a wonderful life. But it is actually the messy, sticky, uncomfortable, scary, nakedly human parts of my life that keep me passionate about helping people stay connected to what matters most.
In December of 2015 I ran headlong into one of those sticky parts. I’d like to share some of the details with you in the hopes that you might benefit through my experience.
Did you know that one in five people suffer from a mental illness? As a result, hundreds of millions of families deal with the confusing, complex, often heart-breaking and turn-your-life-upside-down results of those disorders.
Our family is one of them.
After a series of complicated family events over several months, Greg and I decided to take custody of our ten-year-old grandson. He needed a stable environment while things got sorted out.
It was quite an adjustment for me. At 63, I was once again driving to soccer practice, making sure the shin guards, water bottle and both soccer shoes were in his bag. I researched the best summer camps and monitored nightly homework. I hosted his 11-year-old sleepover birthday party for six rambunctious boys who told 83 fart jokes. (Some things do not change.) And, as any mother-figure worth her salt, I worried about whether I was doing enough.
We were knee deep in our family’s psychological, medical, pharmaceutical, logistical and tender emotional issues. My answer to almost every question became, “I don’t know, it’s complicated, and it depends.”
I turned to my core belief: Connection is the solution to just about every challenge we will ever face.” So instead of asking, “What do I need to do?” I asked a better question: “With whom or what could I connect?”
Here are my answers:
I connected with my partner, Greg. We committed that together we would make decisions for the right reasons and strive to do things in the right way. We understood that it would not be easy but we were “all in.”
But being all in meant I suddenly had another full time job. So it was important to communicate openly and connect with our families and friends, and explain why we were declining invitations and begging for both the coveted babysitter’s telephone number and the operating instructions for a multitude of electronic gadgets. Knowing the truth, they readily pitched in and we learned to respond to their offers of help with a grateful, “Yes, why thank you, that would be so very much appreciated.”
We created a wonderful partnership with the school. Much to my admiration and my chagrin, in the last two decades since I sent my kids to class many things have changed. My learning curve was a straight vertical. Math homework is now an ingenious, animated, on-line learning system. There are colored grading systems, IEPs (individualized education plans) and locked front doors. But the support we received was extraordinary. The teachers and administrators guided us and we often communicated on a daily basis.
Without a doubt the most interesting place we connected was with the psychiatric community. I learned about DBT therapy, drug combinations and side effects. We utilized genetic testing, (which now involves just a simple cheek swab), that told us which medications would and would not work, saving us lots of time and money in trial and error. We teamed up with Potomac Psychiatry where Dr. Mark Novitsky helped our family thousands of miles away via encrypted telemedicine. This connection was a game-changing, life-saving intervention for our whole family.
I also connected with my spiritual beliefs. For many months I felt like I was living in IHaveNoIdeaWhatIAmDoingVille. So I stepped up my own self-care, meditating, taking walks in nature and laughing daily. I focused on accepting “what is” and I practiced living on the one day, one moment plan.
Through this self-reflection, I had to face something I did not like so much: the stigma of mental illness. I procrastinated writing this newsletter out of my concern for respect and privacy. But I discovered that lurking underneath my concern for privacy was an uneasiness in saying “mental illness.”
I wondered if I would feel that way if I were discussing our family’s history of diabetes. Why would I be reticent to discuss an inherited brain chemistry defect that caused a mental disorder but have no hesitation writing about an inherited pancreatic chemistry defect that caused a physical disorder? I can even easily talk about my parent’s Alzheimer’s disease and my brother’s developmental disabilities. But when it comes to discussing the mental disorders that affect over 450 million people worldwide, I get shy.
The cure for ignorance is education. One of the best internet resources I found is a weekly tip written by Dr. Bruce Kehr, a renowned psychiatrist who is as brilliant as he is empathetic. Each week I now educate myself about bipolar disorder, cyberbullying, empty-nesting, dealing with trauma and humiliation and a host of other topics that help my family and me. He has also just written an excellent book, Becoming Whole: A Healing Companion to Help Untangle Your Heart. He reminds us that we are not alone.
There is a happy ending to this story. The boy’s uncle and aunt recently adopted our grandson, and he is thriving in the arms of a loving family. He made the honor roll list, plays catch with his new dad and enjoys Nerf gun wars with the neighborhood kids. He helps take care of his two little sisters. He is home.
I am well aware that many families do not have such a miraculous ending. I am also aware that more sticky parts may lie ahead for us. Nevertheless, Greg and I feel that for a brief time we were given the opportunity to participate in something grand. And as life always does, it reaffirmed to me that connection really is the solution to just about every challenge we will ever face.
PS: If any of this resonated with you please consider sharing this article. “One in five” means there are a lot of us who could use some help.