Family History: Uncle Hank

Our family has quite a few interesting characters. Whose doesn’t? Contributing to this is a persistent trait of mental health … quirks. My Great-uncle Hank was one of those quirky individuals.

When I knew him he was a sober and self contained older gentleman whose mother, my great grandmother Nell, lived with him. Nell was a firecracker, but there was always something a little odd about Uncle Hank. He was always thrilled to see us kids, but he just wasn’t a natural with us. That didn’t stop him from bribing us with his stash of hard candies until he was a favorite. Secret candy with no strings? Definitely cool.

I found out as an adult that the candy was my mom’s fault. Uncle Hank smoked like a chimney until Mom told him he wouldn’t get to see us unless he quit. POOF. He traded the cigs for an endless supply of Cherry and Butter Rum Life Savers. As I understand it, a generation earlier he quit drinking with the same efficiency. My granddad kept pulling him out of bar brawls when he came traumatised home from WW2. Eventually he succumbed to threats that he wouldn’t get to see my mom and uncle unless he dried out. So he did.

He was a seaman in World War Two, assigned to work on three different ships in the Pacific Theater. He survived the sinking of two of them. This is information I’ve gleaned, mind you, and is integral the image of the man as I saw him. It occurs to me as I wrote this that it may not be completely accurate. I don’t know what work he did aboard ship. I’m not sure anyone does. What information we have about it comes largely from records found in his footlocker that was uncovered when my great-grandma passed away and her house was sold. Looking back on memories of this time I was absorbing conversations the adults were having while my brother and I explored the upstairs of a house where we had never been allowed before. We were little I can’t have been older than 7.

Hank came home from the war with a tattoo, a drinking problem, and shell shock. We’d call it PTSD now. Then he was shell shocked, and a drunk, and maybe schizophrenic. Likely, he had trauma related psychosis having something to do with being on multiple battleships as they sank. He was in and out of hospitals, sometimes for long stays, until my mom was an adult. Family mythology says this included spans in the kind of hospital where they put lithium in the salt shakers.

After great grandma passed,we saw less and less of Uncle Hank every year. I didn’t know why until I was 18. We came into town for a visit; the first face-to-face visit in five years because we’d moved rather far away. Instead of the pleasantly stoic, awkward man I remembered, I was confronted by an angry soul. He yelled at my mother for things I’d never heard of and in some cases for things that never happened. He called us names, but never looked at us, and he left. It was heartbreaking. PTSD had given way to paranoia and dementia.
He passed away in 2012. There wasn’t much of a service, and I didn’t attend it. I was too sick myself at that point.

We are all more than our diagnosis. We are more than our treatments. I didn’t know Uncle Hank was sick until I was an inquisitive teen. It didn’t occur to me until even later that he lived with his mother because he couldn’t live alone. He was just him, and I loved him.

Opposite of My Urges

My therapist tell me that when I identify unhealthy urges I should make a point of acting in opposition to those urges. When I want to self injure, I should do some kind of self care instead. When I want to over sleep, I should try to do something active. Today, I want to do absolutely nothing. My mind feels dull and slow, so in opposition I am trying to do some writing and I plan to do some stitching.

Mentally, I’m just so slow. The girls are playing “PJ Masks” upstairs: cute and sweet as can be. I started the laundry, too, so I’m not at zero productivity for the morning.

There. I wrote something. Next, I’m going to sew a hexagon flower patch onto my ancient, nearly transparent, favorite nightgown. After that I will rest.

How do you oppose your unhealthy urges? Tell me! I want to hear about you making healthy choices. <3

What is a Gratitude Practice?

I’ve posted a few “Gratitude” posts since this blog started, but I have never expressly stated their purpose. Making a regular practice of expressing gratitude for the good things in one’s life is commonly thought to help rewire the depressed brain into a more functional arrangement. Whether your talk therapy is pastoral, DBT, CBT, or something else, making a point of identifying one good thing in your life on a daily basis and expressing gratitude for it is an excellent, drug free place to start working on your mental health.

When I write a “Gratitude Practice” post, it is my hope that you all will reply below with what you are grateful for as well. It never needs to be profound, merely honest. For example, today I am grateful that my children are largely healthy. Jujubee is anxious & Rosebud has allergies and wonky immune system, but on a day-to-day basis they are basically healthy kids. That is a small wonder and I am so grateful.

I am also grateful that you are here. Even if thi is your first visit, I am grateful that you are here. What are *you* grateful for today?

And Now I’m Triggered

I had a bad feeling this morning that I just couldn’t shake. I was supposed to go shopping with my mother-in-law and the kiddos, but when the time came for Alex to head off to class and for me to get to work, I was hit with a powerful dread. Bad things were going to happen Out There.

It is a little early in my cycle for the agoraphobic paranoia to be taking over, and we all know it. I talked edgy/weird self into the car for errand running, meant to culminate in a trip to Target: Land of Wonder. My kids live in old hand-me-downs, so the prospect of a Target run for new shoes (“Thank you Grandma!”) is tantamount to a trip to paradise.

The boring errands went well, but I got turned around, flustered, and harried on the way to buy vacation shoes and turned left into traffic. WE ARE ALL FINE. Clearly. But I was instantly triggered; shaking, flinching, crying, and generally making an enormous scene. It was slightly worse than a fender bender. Both cars were able to drive away from the scene.

Now, though, hours after the fact I’m still around the bend. My mother-in-law is calm and cheerful in her gratitude that we are all safe. I’m up in a metaphorical tree. I’ve taken my emergency anxiety med and a nap. I have had food and tea. I’m still shaky and prone to zone way way out. I want to lay down with a book or a TV show, but with MIL right here I’m trapped trying to appear productive. Type-ity type-ity type nothing to see here! I can hear my blood in my ears and my heart feels like a galleon jug shoved into my chest, but we are all fine here!

I can hear the crunching metal, over and over in my mind. I want to drown it out. Maybe David Attenborough will help. That’s a healthy choice. We have already done a kindergarten piano lesson, two games of Candyland, had a brawl about the ownership of a few coloring books, and had dinner. Two hours until Alex comes home. Then I can go to sleep, reboot, and try again tomorrow.

Tomorrow is its own problem. I’ll deal with it then.

Assessments Suck

Having an invisible, stigmatized disease sucks. The worst part, though, in my opinion, is the process of getting treated. Because FIRST you have to prove it. Uuuuuuuuuuuugh.

It is worth it, because eventually these physicians/therapists/social workers/etc can make the pain less.

But first it is stupid clinical worksheets (“On a scale of 0 – 5, how much do your symptoms interfere with your daily life?”) and gateway clinicians trying to figure out if you are displaying drug seeking behavior before letting you speak to a real psychiatrist. First, you have an hour or 90 minutes of being questioned. It may have taken you months to work up the nerve to say “I think I need help,” but you have to have an entire session of work done before anyone will do or say anything helpful. And if anything, going into an inpatient facility is harder!


All of these places and all of these people are worth it. And these hurdle exists to protect patients from bad diagnoses as much as to protect providers from fraudulent people but AAAAARGH. There has to be a better way.

It isn’t just for us adults, either. My 5 year old started have self destructive, self harming meltdowns and NO ONE would help us. I was on waiting lists to see providers that were YEARS long. Finally, after several months of searching, we went to see someone with an amazing reputation who ONLY took cash payment. Because he could see us within a month. Then we had two multi hour sessions, one with us and one with just Jujubee, before we could even start making a plan for her. We were in terror of her behavior for about year. Autism? Depression? Did I do this to her because I’m mentally ill?

Verdict: Anxiety. We have a game plan. We are changing a lot of the way we live to help soothe her and to teach her to soothe herself. But WHY did we have to suffer and beg for a year to get here?

Gratitude Practice: Creative Outlets

I am so grateful that I have so many excellent creative outlets available to me. I write, here and elsewhere, when I’m able to focus. I sew on my machine or by hand. I quilt when I’m too foggy for the others, because chiku chiku stitching requires more meditation than active thought. I paint and color with the kids. I crochet and weave irregularly. I play tabletop role playing games when I need a more intensive escape that what I get from reading. I mend, I crochet, I knit (poorly), I weave (infrequently). I am blessed to have a spirit that finds comfort and completeness in these tasks, and blessed to have the resources to be able to create.


Clutter Makes it Worse

Moving sucks. If our living environment impacts our mental health, and most experty experts agree that it does, then moving is signing up for a serious downgrade on mental security.

First, you go through the filthy job of packing and cleaning the old place, then you are left up to your eye teeth in boxes. Boxes of pre-curated clutter and junk with enough sentimental value that if you can see it you want to keep it.

We are up to it in boxes of clutter right now. We have unpacked enough that we are able to live quite comfortably, but there are stacks of untouched boxes in the corners and about a fifth of the main living space is crammed with them. We have been officially in the new place for 7 weeks. My mood is swinging all around, and I’m struggling to stay vertical all day. It isn’t pretty and we are all suffering for it.

I’m sorely tempted to throw away any/everything still in boxes, then I remember that it includes my photos flash drive and I start wonder what other important things I’m forgetting about, so I have to go through all of it. Sadly, for every awesome find like my flash drive I know there will be a dozen or more little objects that I neither want nor need that I will have to deal with. Broken pencils, sentimental knick knacks, things that I received as gifts that no longer make any sense but still carry a burden of obligation.

How will I cope? What do you recommend? Well, it is obvious as I write this that I need to get the unpacking and secondary purging f-f-f-finished. This is less obvious when the kids are demanding entertainment and the laundry needs doing, and homeschool, and dinner, and and and.

Maybe working on one box, not necessarily emptying it, should become part of my after-Rosebud’s-sleeping routine. In our old home I got up nightly to exercise and work in my journal. Maybe reinstituting that will help me feel less like I’m drowning in unfulfilled potential and suicidal resentment.

Blog Direction Re: Isolation

I’m still looking for direction on this site. I want to offer stories of successes over a variety of mental and neurological health difficulties. I want to discuss advice I’ve been given over the years, about parenting and my health. I want to show windows into my life, when it is good and when it is bad. I want other parents with these troubles to find my site and see that they aren’t so alone. I want to reduce the cultural shame and isolation by standing up and saying “I have a mental disease AND I am a good parent. They are in no way exclusive.”


Isolation is a common symptom of mental health troubles, across the board. For me when my symptoms are rampant, I am loath to leave the house. I struggle to reply to text messages, let alone phone calls. I frequently reach out on the internet to find other people like me, but can’t engage even in internet conversations. Today, I’m on the other end. Today, I know that there are thousands of other families out there fighting to keep their heads above water with these kinds of illnesses. I know that my case is not particularly unique. And today I want to reach out to people so they can find their way back. You are not alone. WE are not alone. Comment below, even just a mood emoji. Reach out. There are people in this world who miss you since you have been gone. Don’t let your disease steal them away.

Today’s Mood: B

Diagnosis: Major Depression

OK! Personal spotlight on exactly what my deal is. My first diagnosis, and one that still sticks after all these years, is Major Depressive Disorder, or Major Depression. Is there a difference between this and just plain depression? It is a matter of degree, I think. For me it is the difference between a “blue funk,” and months or years of a flattened mood; the difference between a passing urges to self injure and constant, detailed planning with or without attempts; between a “one and done” treatment plan where a single layer of treatment clears thing up, and a multilayered delicate balance of lifestyle, meds, and talk therapies that attempt to give the largest possible window of relief.

Hell, that’s just my impression though. For me, ever since I was 16 I have been prone to deep black moods that have lasted months. Even years. I have attempted suicide and been a cutter because I just wanted the buzz of constant pain to stop. There is no explanation for the physical sensations except brain chemistry. I have anxiety attacks and social anxiety as part of my secondary symptom set.

I have been on one antidepressant or another on and off for 17 years. I managed to wean off for my pregnancies, but my hormones are their very own kind of special and impact my mood their own way. But more on that another day.

Today I am on a blend of two meds, a handful of tailored dietary supplements, I attend therapy every other week, and I am on a strict exercise plan of cardio or yoga 4-5 days a week. I’ll give you three guesses which one I struggle with most.

This is the aspect of my mental health that drags down my baseline mood. On it’s own it is crippling, and it is the first line on the my disability determination. My other jumble of intermittent and or cyclical disorders just pile on top of this to keep me from being traditionally productive and happy.

I find a way, though. We do, together. Tonight, with a sick kiddo (Isn’t there always one?) and Alex out until an hour after bedtime, I’m taking things slow. My 2 year old wanted to cuddle nearly all day, so very little got done, but it is such a pleasure to hold her. My big girl, 5, got far far too much TV, but also let her baby sister lay in the big girl bed for cuddle and is now blowing my mind by going to bed with no fight. Little things. Good things.