The “Aha” Moment

About 10 months ago, we made the decision to start my son on medication to help manage his anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. Since then the type of medication has changed, an additional medication has been added, and the dosage on both has been increased several times. It’s been a process.

At the beginning of that process, the psychiatrist told us that one day we would suddenly realize that things were better. 10 months ago he promised us a date somewhere in the future when we would suddenly look at each other and just know that we’d made the right decision when we chose to medicate. He promised us an “aha” moment.

Days, weeks, months passed. It wasn’t an instant fix, and we knew it wouldn’t be. Truth be told, the worst days in our son’s slide into the black hole that was anxiety/panic/depression came after he started the medication. There were days and weeks where we feared for his safety, and there were days and weeks where we feared for our own safety. But we kept on.

Medication levels were adjusted. He continued his weekly therapy with a psychologist, and also began spending time each week with the counseling intern at the school. There were several points along the way where I wondered if we’d ever see that day the psychiatrist had promised us, but there were also several points along the way where I saw glimmers of calm and joy in my son that fueled me with hope.

And then it happened.

That “aha” moment we’d been promised came earlier this month, in both an unlikely and wonderful place.

February 21, 2016. (About 2 months before we began medication)  That was the day last year our son’s Cub Scout pack celebrated their annual Blue & Gold banquet, and that is where our son had his first panic attack. Although at the time we didn’t know what to call what was happening – he would later describe it as feeling too hot, and dizzy and not knowing what was happening right around him – looking back now we know that was the first (and far from the worst) of a long series of panic attacks. All we knew at the time was that he was in distress, that we had to get him out of that room, and that the trouble we had seen brewing for over a year had reached a new low point.

Fast forward. February 12, 2017; this year’s edition of the Blue & Gold banquet but this time with no panic attack. In fact, it was actually the most enjoyable large group activity we have experienced as a family in more than a year.

That was our promised and long-awaited “aha”moment. I lost track of the number of events or places we either avoided or left abruptly in the past year,  because the place or the people triggered either panic or explosive behavior. He missed out on a lot. We missed out on a lot. But we just kept trying, and working, and praying, and loving and searching for that “aha” moment. And when it came, it was shiny and beautiful and dripping in hope.

I am coasting on the beauty of that victory for as long as I possibly can. As much as I celebrated the arrival of that long-awaited moment, I also know there will be a time in the future when we are waiting for the next “aha” moment to arrive. On the same day the psychiatrist told us we would get that aha moment, he also told us that our son is most likely dealing with a lifetime of fragile mental health. While the medication levels and therapy have helped him find some equilibrium, that equilibrium can be blown in an instant and we could find ourselves back at the beginning once again. That’s not a pretty thought, but it’s a realistic one.

So we’re learning together how to extend the good moments into good hours and days and weeks and months. And we’re celebrating the small victories and figuring out how we can trade those up for larger victories. And most of all, we are making sure he knows how much he is loved and that he will always have a safety net in our arms in the spaces between the aha moments.

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MFEO

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.

My son announced last week that he wasn’t going to take Valentine cards to school this year. He said he just doesn’t care about it anymore. He’s in 5th grade, so the announcement didn’t really surprise me (although I did double-check today that he really, really meant it and was prepared to do a last-minute run to get whatever was left on the shelf at Target – but he is standing by his decision).

My daughter has spent much of the last week preparing cards for her classmates and personalized gifts for her besties. She doesn’t “do pink” anymore, but my guess is she’ll be decked out in red and hearts when she heads to school tomorrow.

My husband heard our son talking about the Google Doodle being new for Valentine’s Day this morning and had a moment when he thought today might be February 14th and checked with me to make sure he hadn’t missed it.

I have little gifts stashed away for my husband and the kids. My husband will actually be on an overnight business trip tomorrow night, so I will probably take the kids out for dinner between afternoon therapy and evening aerial. If my husband was home, the only way the day would look different would be a quick dinner at home between afternoon therapy and evening aerial.

This will be our 24th Valentine’s Day together. And while the holiday has never been a day we marked with grand romantic gestures, the celebration has certainly scaled itself back over the years. While I would adore a date night out with my husband, at this point in my life I actually cringe at the thought of having that date on Valentine’s Day in a crowded restaurant, while also paying the “parent tax” for the babysitter and pizza back at home.

All that said though, I am feeling a bit more sentimental this year. The little gift I got for my husband is a nod to a younger version of ourselves and also a glimpse of what our future selves may become. It’s sappy and a little goofy and won’t make sense to anybody but us. It’s perfect. And for the first time in a long time, I found myself wanting to find something perfect for Valentine’s Day.

Life has become a kind of hard that our 18-year-old, or 25-year-old, or even 35-year-old selves could have never imagined. And while the days are a little easier now than they were at this time last year, we know there are still tough times ahead. But there is something our 19-year-old selves knew, that remains true to this day, and it is what gets us through the darkest of dark days.

In 1993, our 19-year-old selves saw the movie Sleepless in Seattle, and as a couple we became infatuated with the idea in the movie that certain people are M-F-E-O….made for each other. Corny. I know. Even back then I knew. But I’ve decided I need a little more corny and sappy and sweet and lovely in my life. In a world where so little makes sense and so much is heartbreaking, my husband is my rock. It hasn’t always been easy – we haven’t always been easy – but that’s all a part of our evolving love story. In 24 years worth of Valentine’s Days we have cycled through several versions of ourselves as individuals and as a couple, but the constant is love and even though we don’t need an “official” holiday to celebrate that love, it is a nice excuse to remember and share a little bit of our love story.

So this is for Him. The man who is my partner in life and parenting,  my biggest supporter and by my side as we navigate this journey. It’s not always easy, and I’m not always easy to love, but we were MFEO.

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