The Monster of Mental Illness

Pugsley
Pugsley The Boston Terrier

He steals my bras.

Such an annoying little morning ritual.  I’ve been in the habit of laying out my clothes pre-shower but since the arrival of Pugsley I can no longer arrange my ensemble on the edge of the bed.  Thinking I can outsmart twelve pounds of canine, I place the intimates squarely in the center of my queen size bed, reasonably sure it’s out of reach for the dog I routinely lift to bedtime. But there’s no safe place. Some crazy flying pooch springs into action the moment the shower door creaks shut and by the time I step out of the steam my Victoria’s Secret is strewn across the floor with one rambunctious Boston Terrier chewing the heck out of it.

Sweet Jesus…dinner and a movie before you take my underwear!

I dress for the day realizing that the edges of my intimate things are wet and warm from dog saliva.

TheFrog copy
Pugsley and the huge Green Frog

Our dance moves over to the make-up mirror where Pugsley hauls his gigantic plastic frog to my feet, madly throwing it up and down in the air.  My puppy is able to toss it almost shoulder-high, causing it to rebound off my body, but I’m unmoved as I brush on the Bare Essentials.  Alli Simpson’s song ‘Roll ‘Em Up’ featuring Jack & Jack blares on repeat in the background and the overall rhythm of my apartment is alive and happy.

I named him Pugsley after the famous little brother in The Addams Family.  On more than one occasion Megan called me Wednesday Addams because of my uniform black dress, deadpan expression and ultra dry sense of humor.  A raised little smirk was my version of joy, but these fall days one can hear me laugh from across the room, head thrown back and eyes genuinely glistening.  My Uncle Bob is right that “Life is really a giggle if you sit back and look at it” and I now carry that mantra into my activities and writing.

But that’s not always been the case.  For a decade there was a monster in my closet.   Depression looms deep when your daughter is dying;  an even darker chasm when you bury a child.  The scenario is positively frightening for any parent;  your job is to protect against things that go bump in the night and when you can’t it turns into slow mental torture even for the emotionally strong.  From the day the diagnosis came down I laid awake at night wondering what ghoulish thing lurked in my heart to cause Megan to have a deadly cancer which occurs just one in a million.  At the time of her diagnosis the only treatment was a trial study with rat poison.  The world steps in with haunting words like “Did she drink a lot of diet pop?”  because someone must be held responsible.  Adrenal cancer is a beast and it’s cause elusive.   The odds weren’t ever in our favor.  I didn’t need anyone to list my shortcomings as I’d already scoured the Gehenna of my soul.  That madness was sadly fueled by well-meaning people who assured me that “Everything happens for a reason,” which translates to say that there must be a major flaw in my character that needs to be worked out and the only solution is to take the life of my daughter.  I’m not alone in that perception.  Another mom who lost her daughter says it best. “She shouldn’t have to die to teach anybody a lesson. She was my baby not a learning tool.”

Thankfully Operation Mental Health began about a year into Megan’s battle with adrenal cancer when oncologist Dr. Bob stopped me in the hospital hallway and told me he wanted me to go see the therapist on staff at the Methodist Cancer Center.  I flew on my broom down his throat with a “What?  Do you think I’m crazy?”  Fatherly in his approach, his response was nonetheless chilling:  “No, but I know what lies ahead.”  He knew I needed help and accurately predicted the horrors ahead and the toll it would take on my mind and body. I knew a comment from him was not a suggestion and I called immediately.

My life was complicated.  A mix of faith and science – hope and reality.  No one wanted a miracle more than me for my daughter, but for forty-four months I was also the caregiver that had to navigate her physical care in declining health.  Psychiatrist Dr. Jane and Counselor Stephanie gave me life in the midst of death.  So did friend Lisa who kept me on schedule to see the duo.  Sadly, the circle of support for my mental health was alarmingly small.  Believe what you want, but just saying the word psychiatrist causes many Nebraskans to twitch and purse their lips in order to hold back random thoughts from escaping from their mouths. If people uttered words it was “You mean a shrink? Don’t they prescribe meds?” not “I’m so glad you are taking care of yourself.”

Maybe the worst was that there was little opportunity for me to say “I’m afraid.” I mumbled it a few times.  Public response was swift. God won’t give you more than you can handle!  He only tests the best!  I hid under the imaginary bed, quickly knowing what was acceptable to say out loud without societal judgement.  If only people could have perceived how much the walls of my heart were shaking.  I desperately needed a place to be honest.

Lay aside any vision from The Dark Ages of me laying on a tufted leather chaise pouring out my heart and soul as a shrink takes notes.  My counselors were magic in the way they gave me tools to navigate through real life with cancer. The questions included:

  • How do I tell my 27-year-old daughter she can no longer drive?
  • How do I handle my parents who use my keyless entry to come over to help but then read my mail and look through my drawers?
  • I’m struggling financially.  Is there help available that I don’t know about?
  • How do I bring up what she wants for her funeral?
  • How do I completely rebuild my life after the death of Megan, a divorce, and the loss of my business?

I’m also gonna take off my Halloween mask and tell you that yes, antidepressants were involved.  I was told, “They are just a crutch!” When I broke my leg I needed crutches to walk and when my heart broke after my girl died I needed Prozac to get me up out of bed until I found new reasons to live.  And the comment, “You don’t need Prozac, you just need Jesus..”  Simply put, without apology, for a season both were the right choice for me.

Things are different now.  I have bad days, but not a bad life.  I’ve been off all meds for close to two years, but also know that I’m just a speed dial away from Dr. Jane.  I eat completely clean and exercise daily.  A host of friends watch over me.  My lingerie eating dog guards me.

What is it that you should do for your friend?

  • Give them room to say, “I’m afraid.”
    • Respond with, “I would be, too.”
    • or “I’m not leaving you in the journey.”
      • God’s response to fear is “Don’t be afraid, I’m with you.”  Get with the program.  Be an ever-present friend.
  • Trust their decision-making process in selecting physicians and healthcare plans of action.  Don’t be a know-it-all.
  • Encourage your friend to get the help and support they need….physically, financially, spiritually and emotionally.
  • You and your friend may have different political, religious, and mental healthcare views.  Support their agenda instead of campaigning for yours.

Most of all, be a treat when your friend comes to your door.  They need you to be home.  It’s a scary world out there.

Key Notes:

  • Dog saliva on underwear does not bother me.  People who don’t wash their hands after using public restrooms do.  You jeopardize the life of someone in chemo by not soaping up.
  • Lack of sleep contributes to depression.  In the 44 month battle, I often slept in short increments:  Megan’s medications were every four hours.  Until Hospice took over, her pain management depended on me being on time to the minute to bring the next round.
  • I’ve only recently stopped waking up at 4:00 a.m., and as of this week I’m back on a 6 a.m. workout schedule.  Sleep is a result of The Boss working me to exhaustion.  Thanks, Boss?
  • 41% of women surveyed cited embarrassment or shame as barriers to treatment (for depression).

On A Lighter Note:

  • Bravo Jack & Jack.  Just had my 40 year Westside High School class reunion (Class of 1975).  My pals and I wore short shorts in the day.  Thanks for bringing back that old magic feeling.  I play this every single morning!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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8 comments

    1. Oooh…to the woman that had the bird’s eye view of my struggle…I thank you. It’s no small thing, as you are a marker for my life as I move forward. Your words have powerful significance, now and always….most of all, you are my friend that inspires me to live in excellence. Can’t thank you enough.

  1. What do you expect from a cute little fella who loves Victoria Secret towels? Much like the one he proudly sits on. He has good taste in lingerie and obviously loves Victoria Secret. In all seriousness I loved this and believe whole heartedly this is EXACTLY what Megan would want you to be doing. Take joy in her heavenly nod, her heavenly smile over her mother❤️

  2. Well said Val! So many great points in that blog and I really don’t know where to stop or end. So, I will just say again, well said. Love you!

  3. Val- Love you so much! Your blogs are funny, honest and heart warming. Thank you for your insight into care giving and loss.
    XOXOXO
    Robin

  4. You are an amazing person who has the talent and heart to share with those who need and appreciate your words.
    Thank you for taking the time and opening your heart!
    God bless you in all you do ❤️

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Article by: Valerie Bourdain