The catalyst

Oh, hi.

Want to know the truth?

Since March 2020, I’ve really struggled to write freely, especially here on my blog. How can I, when what I want to write about involves other people? The old Harmony wouldn’t have given writing about other people a second thought. She was haplessly selfish. The new me tries really hard to be truthful, but also careful. And sometimes those lines are blurry and hard to decipher.

So here’s the truth: aside from therapy assignments, and freelance work for Upworthy, I haven’t written anything at all since I don’t even know when. A writer who isn’t writing is either struggling with depression (check), overwhelm (check), or panic (double check). Weirdly, writing is part of what keeps me grounded and relatively sane, so not writing for long stretches of time is a sign that I’m not doing very well.

It’s time for me to start sharing again, telling on myself and getting my thoughts out because it helps keep me accountable and healthy. Also, I started seeing a psychiatrist. I’m doing light therapy which involves shining a very, very bright light at my face for 5 minutes per day until I no longer hate my fellow man.

Happily, I am still sober. This is nothing short of miraculous, and I’m here to tell you that recovery from addiction works if you do the work. Now, let me tell you: the work SUCKS. I simply cannot stress this enough. If you expect sobriety to be an easy ride, you’re gonna be pissed. However, the payoff to this is the ability to make it through a shit show of a year in one piece while the people and systems around you fall apart. Does it suck to be keenly aware of how bad things are? Absolutely yes.

So what keeps me moving forward?

My kids.

In March 2020, just before Covid-19 hit the United States, my oldest child tried to hang himself.

It was a perfect storm: he was stressed out over things that were happening at school. I was stressed out over things happening at school. Tensions were high, and when he’s anxious, he acts out. Even though I know better, sometimes I forget that when Maverick acts out, I have to look beyond the behavior to see the child. In March 2020, I forgot. I was frazzled and exasperated. I yelled at him. Robbie also yelled at him. The entire family was mad at him on that morning before school. His ADHD medication hadn’t kicked in yet, and the thought struck: they would be better off without me.

Of course it’s not true. The thought that entered my son’s head on a loop was a lie, but the voice was loud enough and strong enough to propel him toward gathering a stack of books while I was in my bedroom getting dressed. He took a belt and looped it through a pull-up bar that was in our living room, stood on the makeshift pillar, and put the loop around his neck.

My daughter, who was 6 years old at the time, came running down the hall shouting. I opened my bedroom door and asked her what was wrong.

MAVERICK’S TRYING TO HANG HIMSELF.

That is what she said.

Nothing made sense. That sentence didn’t make sense. Maverick’s trying to what? I don’t know how I got from the hall to the living room. My heart was in my throat. My face was stricken. White as a piece of paper. I caught a glimpse of myself in the round mirror on the wall and I didn’t know who that pale person was. There she is, the lady whose brilliant, creative, amazing kid tried to hang himself.

I couldn’t find him in the house. I was screaming his name and my throat was closing up. He wasn’t standing on the now-scattered stack of books that Pepper was pointing to.

I told her it was going to be okay, even though I had no idea if that was true. I still don’t. I told her she did the right thing and she was an excellent sister, the best sister. She knew to tell me, and I told her over and over, and have many times since, that she did the right thing.

She saved his life that day. She told him not to do it; her yelling at him to stop is what snapped him back to reality.

I found him sitting outside on the driveway, no shoes, holding his belt. His face was also white. We stood in the bathroom together, two matching white faces.

“Brush your teeth,” I said calmly, because even people who are contemplating suicide need to make dental hygiene a priority. He and I robotically got through the next few hours and days and then there was a pandemic that people still seem to be ignoring almost a full 18 months later.

Pepper started eating her feelings and then she started eating her hair. Everyone needed therapy. No one could sleep. And for the first 6 weeks of quarantine my life was a living hell. But then, as you may have read in my last blog post, it eventually got better.

It keeps getting better.

It’s been months since Maverick had thoughts of suicide, but sometimes the voice comes back. Sometimes, it’s louder. He trusts me now enough to tell me the truth.

My thoughts are scaring me again, Mom.

Children who are on the autism spectrum often have co-morbidities. What that means is, they almost always have another diagnosis like ADHD or OCD. Maverick has ADHD and anxiety, which he takes medication to manage. Often, when kids hit puberty and especially if they’re on the spectrum, they struggle with self-harm and/or thoughts of suicide. Multiple studies have been done on the subject and I can tell you from personal experience that my kid is a spectacular human being who also happens to want to end his life from time to time.

This was probably the catalyst for a lot of things I’ve done since then, namely cutting a lot of extra drama out of my life. I don’t have the bandwidth or the tolerance for anything even remotely toxic and I think right now, that’s appropriate. I have to stay sane and sober and strong and present so I can, you know, help my kid stay alive. This situation forced me to create a fortress-like set of boundaries around myself and my family.

Today, we are doing well — all of us. We’re grateful that our support system rocks. I want to stand on the roof of our new house and scream PSYCHIATRY SAVES PEOPLE! Because it does, and also I wish more people who know this amazing fact would talk about it. So many people, including myself, resist the idea of seeing a psychiatrist because that’s for crazy people. Well, no. It’s really not. Because my son isn’t crazy and neither am I.

We have crawled through this difficult time one day at a time, using all of the tools at our disposal. Therapy, meditation, sunshine, exercise, talking, resting, medication, giving each other grace. Every day that Maverick didn’t want to hurt himself and I didn’t drink or punch anyone in the face, we marked a success.

Because it was.

And now we are here, in July 2021. All in one piece. And I still can’t find the words to adequately express my gratitude.

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When The Moon Wakes Up

“Is the moon awake?”

“Almost.”

“Is the sun asleep?”

“It’s going to sleep right now … just like you.”

Pepper smiles then, content, smashing the ear of her bunny rabbit lovey into one eyelid while staring at me with the other. I kiss her, whisper goodnight, and leave, walking down the hall to the computer.

As soon as I open the browser and begin working, I hear her socked feet running down the hall. I stop typing. She peeks in.

“Goodnight, Mommy.”

29 evenings ago, just like every other evening of her life before I took my last drink on February 28, I would have been irritated. I told myself that I drank to cope with the stress of motherhood, that I needed the alcohol to power through rough evenings with three kids on my own without losing my cool. But the truth is, I lost my cool all the time. Alcohol didn’t make me a better mother.

It took nearly a month of detox before I gained the clarity necessary to realize that I’ve cheated my children out of having a sober mother for almost 9 years.

I truly believe that it’s possible to drink like a normal person, it’s just that I’m not able to. Alcoholism is deceitful. It tries to tell me that I’m normal — don’t I seem normal? — and that I can train myself to drink in moderation, if I want to. It tells me that I simply need more willpower. I need to be stronger, and then, I would be okay.

I could win.

Thinking about living the rest of my life sober makes me feel all kinds of feelings that probably aren’t normal or appropriate. I imagine I might feel similarly if I developed a dairy allergy and were facing an uncertain future that did not include real butter, but only if I also held a deep conviction that real butter was the only thing tethering me to sanity.

That’s my relationship with alcohol.

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Me and my smallest.

Slowly, as my body heals from years of abuse and my emotions and soul are restored to a normal state, I am realizing that a great deal of the grief I’ve experienced in motherhood was self-inflicted.

Mothers hold the keys to the emotional health of their household. I knew this, which is why I have been trying so damn hard to get it right. I put enormous pressure on myself to parent effectively, to do the right thing, and I kept failing — which made me drink more. And more. And more. The alcohol numbed me and chipped away at me and distorted my perceptions and clouded my judgment.

That’s not what happens to normal drinkers. That’s what happens to people who drink to completely obliterate their sadness.

***

Pepper waits by the door as I stand up and take her by the hand.

“I forgot to say goodnight to you when you said it to me,” she whispered. “So I came to tell you goodnight, Mommy.”

“The moon’s awake now,” I whispered. And we padded down the hall.

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Pick Up The Phone: Being Responsible For Your Own Happiness

My platform is rooted in honesty.

Lately I’ve felt like a liar because I used to be a humor writer, I think. But then a lot of bad things happened in my life, and I couldn’t find humor as much anymore. But you guys stick with me anyway, even when I write about things like my mom having cancer and about my need for anxiety medication and my uncle getting murdered in my childhood home, and my head injury which, let’s face it, COMPLETELY KNOCKED ME OFF MY GAME.

Here is the truth: I got very depressed in February. Maybe I was depressed in January, and December, and November, and October. I don’t know because I’m in the thick of life right now. I’m swallowed up. I’m in the weeds, you guys. It’s disorienting and I have claustrophobia and I hate how this feels. I hate how it makes me anxious, and my anxiety manifests in anger, so I find myself yelling at my family a lot when they are just doing normal family things like smearing toothpaste on clean hand towels and leaving crumbs all over the floor.

They deserve a better me. I deserve a better me.

So I started therapy — for myself and for my oldest child. It turns out that I am not crazy, it’s just that the anxiety medication I was on was making me depressed and also I have a lot on my plate and my brain was bruised.

Maybe the knock to the head changed my brain chemistry, or maybe I just didn’t need that particular medication anymore, but either way I flushed all those tiny white pills down the toilet and breathed a sigh of relief.

I breathed another sigh of relief when we were told that our child isn’t crazy — in fact, he is quite the opposite. Extremely bright and polite to everyone except for his parents, so we can rule out Oppositional Defiant Disorder (thank God).

Maverick has ADHD. And I’ve long suspected it and I knew it, deep in my soul, but I just didn’t want it to be so. I knew he was hard to parent. So, so hard. He never has been much of a sleeper; he stopped napping at 18 months old. He’s extremely defiant and stubborn and loud and messy, more so than other boys. But he’s also brilliant and charming, just like his Daddy.

OMG … his Daddy.

His Daddy has ADHD, too.

THAT MUST BE WHY I FELL IN LOVE WITH HIM, BECAUSE HE WAS SO QUIRKY AND BRILLIANT AND UNPREDICTABLE AND NOW WE HAVE BEEN TOGETHER FOR 13 YEARS AND SOMETIMES HE MAKES ME WANT TO SMOTHER HIM WITH A PILLOW BUT I DON’T BECAUSE I REALLY DO LOVE HIM.

I married the right man for me, but it doesn’t mean that we are without our struggles. When we come out on the other side of this difficult phase, I’d maybe like to just forget it ever happened. It’s hard. Marriage is hard. But would I want to tough it out with anyone else?

No.

Mommy and Mav

Back to Maverick, all of the parenting tactics that work for other people? None of them were working for us. We have very low lows and very high highs and as much as I struggled, I fought for my son because I believe in him.

But then I reached a point where I was out of ideas. I needed help.

The day I sat in that dark gray chair decorated with silver studs and the counselor said, “You have done a fantastic job for the past 7 years, but you must be emotionally exhausted,” I burst into tears.

Yes. I am emotionally exhausted.

“Parenting is supposed to be exhausting,” she said. “In fact, if you aren’t exhausted, you probably aren’t doing it right.” She went on to say a whole bunch of other validating, complimentary things that gave me hope and let me know that I did a good thing by seeking help.

People say all the time that it takes a village to raise our children, and lament the modern loss of the village. I say that we have to make our own damn village. My village consists of a therapist for myself, a therapist for my child, teachers for all three of my children, and a handful of extraordinary friends.

Extraordinary friends get a phone call halfway through getting hair extensions put in and head over right away to drive you to the hospital because you’re feeling weird 6 weeks after a concussion and need to have your head scanned again.

Extraordinary friends learn your actual weight — which is not the weight on your driver’s license — because you have to say it out loud in the E.R. triage.

They also understand that they are never speak of it. Ever.

Part of being a grown up is knowing what you need and then going out and getting it, because grown ups are responsible for their own happiness and well-being. So today, my friends, I ask you to take stock of your own lives and make sure you have what you need.

And if you don’t, then WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING READING THIS?! Pick up the phone and make shit happen.

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