Meghan Tells It

Just another WordPress.com site

When Death Shakes Your Own Soul November 9, 2016

Filed under: Thoughts — Meghan Hamilton @ 4:00 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Yesterday Craig and I attended the funeral of a 48 year old man. We weren’t super close to him, but he made a significant impact on Craig and we are both better people for having known his kindness.

Despite not knowing him well, his death has hit me hard. You see, he struggled with his mental health. On several occasions, his wife and I would have impromptu group therapy sessions in the grocery store or wherever we happened to run into each other, because being married to someone with a mental illness is hard. Though they had different diagnoses, it was similar enough to feel safe talking about it with each other.

So as I thought about this particular death, I knew it could just as easily have been Craig’s funeral. The thing that people don’t like to acknowledge out loud in front of other people is that mental illness can be a terminal illness. Whether a person takes their own life because the pain inside has become overwhelming, or they do something utterly stupid in the throes of a delusion, death is not uncommon. It can feel like it is waiting at the periphery of our lives on a daily basis, looking for an opportunity to snatch away our loved ones.

Those of us married to people like Craig find ourselves wondering if treatment will be accepted. Then we wonder if it will be effective. It’s not always effective. The man who was buried yesterday fought valiantly for his sanity. He loved his family deeply. I doubt he wanted to hurt them with his exit from this life. When my friend was presented with the flags involved in the military ceremony, I heard her weep. My heart wept with her. I can only imagine her pain right now. I hope to never feel it for myself. But I’m not counting on it.

Craig fights every day. Still, there are days that I wonder if he’ll arrive home safely after he goes out. There are days I wonder if I’ll arrive home to him still in one piece and the house safe from a kitchen fire. There have even been days that I wished it would be over so that I could stop wondering. Those are the most terrifying days and the ones no one wants to acknowledge.

Today I still have my husband. Today I will tell him I love him because I don’t know if I’ll get the chance to tell him tomorrow.

*Note: I don’t wish to ignore or minimize the impact of mental illness on the lives of other family members. But my experience is that of a spouse, so that is my focus today.*

 

Healing a Young Heart October 6, 2016

Filed under: Family,Homeschooling — Meghan Hamilton @ 4:32 am
Tags: , , , ,

When Alex was a toddler he had no reason to think about other people’s opinions of him and what he liked or didn’t like. Then he went to preschool. Did you know that peer pressure starts in preschool? It does.

Until he went to preschool, he had no feelings or associations with colors. He simply colored with whatever color suited his fancy in that moment. At preschool he learned that pink and purple were for girls. No amount of reassuring him that colors are for everyone would convince him to use those colors for the next four years.

When he was in kindergarten, my husband and I grew out our hair to donate. Alex tried, but the other kids teased him for having girl hair. So he insisted that we take him to get it cut.

By first grade he was a basket case. He was so worried about what his classmates would have to say about his clothes, his hair, the way he played a game, anything really, that he cried when it was time to go to the bus. Somewhere along the line he had lost his sense of self, and with it, his self-worth.

By October 2014 I decided enough was enough. I convinced him to hang in there until Christmas. Then we began our homeschooling journey. He continued to worry. He was mean to a lot of kids for a while. He had a lot of healing to do.

In the homeschooling world people talk about “deschooling.” It’s the process of letting go of the public school mindset and model in order to make the education fit the child rather than making the child fit the education. For Alex, this went deeper than adjusting to a new curriculum and schedule. This process went to his very sense of self. Educationally speaking, the rule of thumb is for every year in public school, it takes a month to switch gears and adjust. For Alex, changing the education plan went reasonably well. But it took a year and a half to undo the psychological damage.

He first showed signs of his true self being rebuilt when he voluntarily started choosing to use pink and purple in his art projects. Then at the start of the summer he chose sparkly gold flip-flops to wear for the season. I warned him some people might have a problem with that. He didn’t care, “Because who doesn’t love gold sparkly shoes?” I held my breath. If anyone gave him a hard time, I didn’t hear about it and he loved those shoes.

Jpeg

Here he is, not blending with the crowd.

A few weeks ago his Halloween costume arrived in the mail. I asked him to try it on. Not only did it fit, but he loved it so much that he wanted to wear it everywhere. It’s a bright yellow Pikachu body suit. There is no blending into the crowd when wearing it. He wore it to the playground. Some former classmates were there and started their teasing. I watched to see how it would play out.

Alex stood up for himself. He told them they were being bullies and that he didn’t like them. They left him alone, then soon left the area. He continued to wear the outfit after they left. No one would rain on his Pikachu parade. Most people love seeing him wear the outfit and smile and say so. If you see a kid wearing something outrageous, say something nice. It helps them more than you know.

Jpeg

Making his project without worrying about the other kids.

Today we went to a homeschool program where he was acquainted with a few of the other kids, but most he hadn’t met before. (We were in Providence, about an hour away from home and away from our usual group.) He knows one of the kids well and they don’t get along at all. He wasn’t distressed about it. He didn’t try to prove himself worthy of her attention. He just went about the business of doing his project.

I used to scratch my head in wonder about why it was so important for him to impress people who really didn’t like him. It takes so much energy and is generally fruitless. To see him put his energy into enjoying himself was wondrous!

As a parent, I want my child to have confidence. I want him to do the things that make him happy without worrying about everyone else’s opinion. I’m happy to see him becoming himself.

 

In Sickness and in Health September 13, 2016

Filed under: Family — Meghan Hamilton @ 2:49 am
Tags: , ,

I wrote a really long post about my August. Then I deleted it. It was too long. I’ll just summarize. I was really sick. A bug bite turned into a raging skin infection in my left leg. I spent some quality time with the fine folks at my local hospital. Then I got to see a bunch of visiting nurses who came to take care of me at home.

Through all of this, I went from not walking to barely walking. Craig, my dear husband who seems unable to care for himself, cared for me and Alex. Our friends brought us groceries. He cooked and hand delivered meals. He stood by as I was washed my hair in the sink in case I tipped over or needed anything. He helped me change my clothes. There are too many things to list here.

I still require a lot of rest and can’t walk far. Apparently the infection took a bunch of my energy with it. He continues to do many of these things.

I am profoundly grateful to have a spouse who doesn’t complain about helping me out.

(Alex has helped a lot too. He is an excellent delivery person. I lost count of the drinks he brought me and how many dirty dishes he took to the kitchen for me.)

When we got married we went with fairly traditional vows. There are times when a phrase like, “… in sickness and in health…” really stands out in your mind. This was one of them. He was up for the task. I’m ready to get back to health though.

 

Simply a “Parent” November 11, 2014

Filed under: Family,Opinions No One Asked For — Meghan Hamilton @ 6:55 pm
Tags: , ,
Alex at the Beach

I was here and Craig wasn’t. I win Parenting! Right?

I read two blogs this morning about being the “Default Parent.” You can read the original here and another response here. In both cases, I felt a nagging problem with the whole idea of someone being the “Default Parent.”  The first article, published in the Huffington Post made me angry.  The woman unsuccessfully attempted to say she appreciated her husband’s role in their family while complaining the entire time.  The second one fell more in line with how my family works.  Yes, one of us does the bulk of the hands on parenting duties, but neither of us has more or less work to do in the family.  Neither of us is superior or even thinks of ourselves as superior.

My stance on this matter originates in my own childhood and my perception of my parents.  Their roles evolved over time according to who had what opportunities available to whom.  Like many families, my mother ultimately ended up doing the bulk of the hands on work.  I won’t pretend to know how she felt about that.  But as one of the children, I don’t remember ever feeling like this made Dad the “back-up” parent, waiting on standby for my mother to fail to do her job at which point he’d turn on and be the parent.  If my dad was at work when I needed to be driven somewhere, it was so that he and his family would have a roof over their heads and food on the table.  Pretty important stuff if you ask me.  Never did I feel my parents were on unequal footing when it came to taking care of my sister and me.  Both gave everything they had to give to the family, and continue to do so.

Fast forward to today.  My husband and I have a son.  As is typical, I do the bulk of the hands on parenting.  But that in no way diminishes Craig’s role as a parent.  He is always a parent whether or not he is actively engaged with Alex.  He isn’t some sort of back up parent in case I fail.  He is there for Alex as much as he is capable.  No more, no less than me.  We both give our all to this parenting thing.  Like any relationship, it’s not about keeping score.  Who cares who changed the most dirty diapers?  Were they changed?  Good.  Mission accomplished.  Who cares who gave the most rides or kept best track of the schedule?  Did Alex get where he needed to be?  Good.  Mission accomplished.  Who cares who put in the most hours with homework help?  Did Alex get the homework done?  The list can go on and on.  The point is, whoever claims parenthood should be helping in whatever way he or she is capable of helping.

I know quite a few single parents.  They amaze me.  They do all of the things that need doing without a partner.  I can’t begin to express my gratitude for those moments when I was about to fall apart because Alex was projectile vomiting and needed comforting as much as clothes and bedding and floors needed the vomit cleaned off of them.  Craig was right there ready to help out.  Those times when I’ve been sick and Alex still needed feeding and clothing and maybe a ride somewhere, Craig has been all over it.  Single parents don’t have that luxury.  There is no keeping score, because it isn’t a competition.

Craig is not the back up parent.  I’m not the default parent.  We are both parents.  We aren’t in a competition to beat each other to some imagined finish line.  We’re in a partnership to care for this person that we brought into the world.  I’d like to think that other parents are doing that as well.

 

Expectation vs. Reality: Marriage February 7, 2012

I don’t know about you, but I always have expectations.  They rarely match up to reality exactly.  Some things come close and some things are vastly different.  I suppose that is what makes life interesting.  It can also make life vexing. 

Today I want to talk about my expectations of what my marriage would be and what the reality of it has turned out to be. 

Expectation: Mr. Man would work and support the family financially.

Reality:  His bipolar has progressed to a level of severity that prevents him from working.  Fortunately he qualifies for Social Security.  But it isn’t enough.  So I must work.  I like working, but juggling it with a toddler is a challenge.   

Additionally, this means that I have him at home all the time with all of the ADD symptoms that often accompany Bipolar Disorder.  So, his clothes, dirty dishes, books, trash, and anything else he has recently touched, are dropped wherever he happens to be when he turns to the next item of interest. 

Why is this a problem?  I am already struggling as a housekeeper.  His ability to destroy a clean space in under thirty seconds is beyond frustrating.  I can not keep up.  Add in all of the toys our society seems to think a small child needs, and our apartment looks like the pictures of tornado victims’ homes.  Really. 

Expectation:  We would sleep in the same bed and have sex regularly.

Reality:  We started out in the same bed, but due to his resuming smoking and snoring, I sent him to the couch.  When he resolved those issues, he decided to stay on the couch.  I do not like sleeping alone.  So, I have not forced my son to go to his own bed when he decides to sleep with me.  Apparently, he doesn’t like sleeping alone either.  As you can imagine, this has had an impact on our sex life. 

The other major impacts on sex?  When Mr. Man is off meds, he is, to be technical, “hypersexual,” which means that he really can’t get enough.  His demands had become so strong, that it pushed me away.  (Not to mention that the smell of smoke to a non-smoker is very very very nasty and a major turn-off.)  When Mr. Man is on meds, his sex drive is all but turned off.  In some ways this is a major relief for both of us.  But somewhere I would like to find a happy medium. 

I have learned that even though I don’t get as much physical affection as I would like, this does not mean he doesn’t love me.  It just means that he is not at a point in his life where he can express himself physically.  Part of living with his illness is that he changes drastically from time to time.  That means I must change with him or end things.  At the moment, I am changing and adjusting.  No need to end it.

Expectation: I will have to do most of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc…

Reality:  He wanted to learn to cook!  I taught him and he loves to cook!!!!!  I can not say how much of a relief and delight this is most days.  I can cook, but it is a chore.  Because I taught him how I like things, many dinners are made to my tastes.  All I have to do is mention it!  Hooray! 

Laundry is split between us.  I have a bum knee and have difficulty going up and down stairs.  We live on the second floor and the washer and dryer are in the basement.  Mr. Man takes care of lugging it up and down for me without complaint.  I fold and put away most of the time.  All right, we often live out of the baskets, but hey, at least we have clean clothes to wear on a regular basis without further wear and tear on my aching joints.

Cleaning is mostly up to me.  But he does the dishes and cat litter boxes most days.  I take care of the bathroom and vacuuming and changing of sheets and whatever else needs doing.  Not a bad split.

Expectation: We would be able to have open and honest communication at any time.

Reality: While I am always honest with him, and he with me, communication is sometimes difficult.  Bipolar takes Mr. Man deep inside himself and he has difficulty coming to the surface to see and hear what other people are saying or doing.  Literally, he can’t always see and hear other people.  Crazy Boy and I often repeat ourselves, shout, and repeatedly tap him to get his attention.  So sometimes things go unsaid.  It’s just not always worth the effort to get his attention.  I know it isn’t because he doesn’t care, but this is one of the ways his illness affects our lives.  If I need love and understanding in a tangible way, I seek out a friend more often than my own husband.  The times that he is able to see and hear me are made more sweet for knowing what an effort he is putting in to be there for me.

Conclusion:  Just because the expectations and realities are not always a match, sometimes reality is livable or even better than the expectation.  Mr. Man and I don’t have a traditional marriage.  We don’t have a marriage like either of our parents have.  But we do have a relationship that seems to work for us.  Isn’t that what it’s about?  Making it work? 

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.  Feel free to comment below, or find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/meghantellsit for a quicker response. 

 

I am not a saint February 4, 2012

People like to tell me that I am a saint for staying married to my husband, but I am rather inclined to disagree.  Is it easy to be married to someone with a mental illness?  Heck no!  The divorce rate for people with bipolar disorder is two to three times higher than the national rate (which last I checked was about 50%).  So, am I a saint to stick with him through the psychosis, the depressions, the manias, the general nuttiness he experiences?  No. 

What I have, in my mother’s words, is a strong ability to “compartmentalize” my feelings.  This doesn’t mean I never deal with my feelings and emotions.  It means that in most cases, I can put them in a mental box, deal with the situation at hand with a calm and (hopefully) clear head.  Then, when I am alone and have a few minutes to myself, I let my emotions out.  This may amount to sobbing in the car.  It may amount to writing angry words in a journal.  It may be going to my husband when he is stronger and letting him know exactly how hurt, angry, sad, disappointed, etc… I feel.

Is this sainthood?  No.  It is coping.  It is simply what I have always done.  Sometimes I have taken this too far and packed my feelings away too deeply and ignored them for too long.  That has landed me on a counselor’s couch several times.   (That has been very helpful by the way. Don’t be too timid and afraid to try it if you can’t figure out stuff for yourself.)

Other people who have been through similar experiences have also been helpful when I needed to know that I am not alone in my experiences with my husband.   NAMI has discussion boards for all manner of mental illnesses.  They serve both patients and their families.  I also know people personally who have loved ones, or who have split with loved ones, with bipolar disorder and other illnesses that are much like it.  Sharing our stories is an amazing experience.  Just knowing that I am not alone makes it much easier to deal with issues as they come up.

My family is way more understanding than I could have ever expected.  They also put up with my husband’s irrationality.  They offer love and support when I need it.  My in-laws have watched our son many times when I call at the last-minute because I have to work and my husband is just not able to do it.  Friends let me complain about my husband when I am overwhelmed. 

Support has been key.

Will my marriage last?  I hope so.  To paraphrase the pastor that married us, “No one gets married expecting to be part of the 50% that gets divorced.”  In our case, the number might be closer to 90%.  Is each day we spend together a miracle worthy of sainthood?  No.  It is me and my husband each choosing to stay with an imperfect person because the rewards are greater than the trials. 

Will I have “Saint Meghan” inscribed on my tombstone?  Probably not.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.  Feel free to comment below, or find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/meghantellsit for a quicker response. 

 

Beauty Pageants and X Games January 28, 2012

I have been pondering beauty pageants lately.  A mom on Facebook asked if she should allow her daughter to participate in a beauty pageant.  She had been in one as a child and loved it.  But she wasn’t sure if it was really appropriate.  It would also be a great expense.  She received differing opinions on the subject.  But it got me thinking. 

As a little girl, I watched Miss America and Miss Universe on television.  I loved to dress up in what I thought were glamorous clothes.  I loved to put on my mother’s makeup and wear high heels.  I would day-dream of walking down a runway in a formal gown.  My sister and I would have contests and ask our family who they thought was prettier. 

Although Miss America and Miss Universe are no longer a part of our lives the way they were a few years ago, the television show “Toddlers and Tiaras” demonstrates that these types of pageants are very much alive (if not so well) in our culture.  So many people claim to hate the show, yet how many hundreds of thousands watch every week?  According to Inside Edition, over 2,000,000 people watch each week. 

What about television in general?  I don’t have those numbers.  But the number above amazes me.  If you read their article, there are more amazing numbers about how much money some people spend on these pageants.

Why do we do this?  What is so wonderful about it?  Even those of us that don’t participate in beauty pageants often go to great lengths to look good.  How many of you reading this blog have ever been on a diet?  How many of you have been on more than one diet?  What was your motivation?  Was it to be healthy?  Be honest.  It was more likely that you wanted to look good. 

What looks good?  How do we know if something looks good or not?  Our notions of human beauty have changed over the years and across cultures.  But who determines what is “pretty?”  In our day and in American culture, we watch a lot of television and look at a lot of magazines with pictures of TV and movie stars.   

According to Nielsen, the Average American spends 20% of their day watching television.  That’s 4.8 hours.  If you figure that people spend 8 hours sleeping, that figures to 30% of our waking hours.  Where am I going with these figures?  And where do the X Games come in?  Bear with me for a moment.  If we are spending that much time looking at enhanced images on the television.  Yes, enhanced, enhanced by makeup, lighting, and computers.  These people do not look like this in real life.  Not even the so-called Reality Television stars. 

So we look at these people for a long time.  We might begin to compare ourselves to them.  You don’t?  Okay, let’s say you don’t.  Do you have children?  Do they see you looking at these people for 4.8 hours a day, give or take some time?  And how many hours a day do you spend actively engaged with your child?  All right, I am not trying to make you feel guilty – I spend plenty of time not actively engaged with my child. 

I am going to go out on a limb here, because I have nothing to support this hypothesis.  But what do you suppose our children are learning from this?  They are learning that the images on the screen capture their parents’ attention.  How should our children capture our attention?  By trying to look like the images on the screen.  How can anyone look like that?  Makeup?  There isn’t enough to quite get there.  Clothes?  Maybe it will help a little.  Lose weight?   That might help too!  Can some people’s distorted body image be traced to seeing what their parents thought was important and what captured their attention?  Probably. 

According to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, 8,000,000 Americans have an eating disorder.  That is a very high number. 

Our vision of beauty must change.

Here is where the X Games comes in.  They started in 1995.  Snowboarders, skateboarders, and the like were not recognized by more traditional athletes and the Olympics.  So what are talented people to do?  Put together their own event with their own medals and get a television network to cover it.  In 1995, this event first aired on ESPN for “alternative” athletes.  It is now huge.  Few people today would tell a snowboarder that they don’t participate in a real sport.  Few people today would tell a bicyclist doing tricks in a 20 foot half-pipe that they are not a real athlete. 

So what does this have to do with beauty pageants?  Why can’t we demand a change in what we deem beautiful?  By watching the shows that the television airs, we agree with the producers and program directors.  So how about we turn off “Toddlers and Tiaras” and most of the programming out there.  What if we host our own beauty pageants for our daughters and granddaughters and nieces and neighbors?  We can celebrate people’s achievements that contribute to a healthy society.  Did your child participate in a neighborhood clean up?  Get her on the stage proclaiming that.  That is beautiful!  Did your child get the highest math score for the year?  That is beautiful!  Did your daughter volunteer at an animal shelter?  That is beautiful! 

Why limit it to our girls?  How about the boys?  Get them involved.  Get all of the children you know up in front of a group of people and celebrate their achievements, not just their ability to put on makeup and stay skinny.  Don’t wait for their school to do it.  Show them how important they are by turning off the television for a few hours and planning a new kind of beauty pageant.  Maybe the television people will catch on and put on a new kind of program.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.  Feel free to comment below, or find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/meghantellsit for a quicker response.