Saturday, November 28, 2009

It's beginning to and back again.

It's all about circles right now.

I'm giving a lecture on issues around treating mental illness -

(pacing around the auditorium - I can't stand still when I teach)

"Let's say you have paranoid schizophrenia, and as long as you take your meds, you're fine. But when you feel fine, you think 'I'm doing fine, I don't need to be on the meds.' So you go off your meds, at which point the delusions and hallucinations return. And what's the first thing that happens? You become suspicious of anyone trying to give you your meds, because they're trying to control your mind. And you get hospitalized, and they medicate you, and you get back on your meds. After awhile, you think 'I'm doing fine, I don't need to be on the meds', and so on."

"It's a vicious cycle."

We lose our sons - our last shot on the long, hard road to accepting infertility as a state of life - and spend almost two years coming to grips with that. Lots of meds, therapy (pharmacological, psychological, singly and as a couple), some vindication along the way. We can see daylight. We're getting our act together ("Operation Grow The Fuck Up", we call it. And in this process of act-getting-together, we think "hey, we're doing well, we've got energy, we're being social, things are looking up - we're finally in a position to do another cycle." And so we do. And nothing. Zilch.

And another. And again, nothing.

It's like a punch to the gut. And it all comes back. The wondering, the "will this ever work?" Ironically, it's more expensive now than it was when we had crap insurance. We're struggling to make it to the end of the month. And I'm back on the couch, staring at my computer. And S. is back up in the bedroom, wondering what the point of anything is. Resentful, rejecting the idea of hope. "I don't care. What's the point? Why do I bother?" It's three years ago all over again, the rawness of futility in trying to conceive. If I never see the acronym "TTC" ever again, it'll be too soon. Fatigued. Worn out.

It's vicious, this cycling.

And S. sits sobbing, depressed. And I have to remember that this is not her forever. This is her now. Even as I'm telling her that this is not forever, this is just now. She feels this way now, but this is not how it is. I tell her that I know it's hard for her to see this when she's in such a sad, bleak place, but there is more for her - for us - out there. And yes, there's a shift in her medication, and the new stuff may not have kicked in yet. So I'm having to tell someone who struggles with depression and their meds that although they're convinced of one world, it is not the world as it is. And when the meds kick in, it'll be "wow, that was bad." And right now, it is bad.

And so on, and so on, and so on.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Yeah, it's kind of like that.

Walking the dog tonight, while S. is at class, I pass two little boys playing on Big Wheels. One of them says hello, I say hello back.

He asks me if I'm Dennis the Menace. I tell him no. Then I ask him if he's Dennis the Menace. This appears to stump him.

Then he asks me "are you the Daddy of..."

"No. I'm nobody's Daddy."

No, it's not true. I hold my boys next to my heart. But at the end of the day, regardless of what the grief counselor says, I'm nobody's Daddy.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

In memoriam.

For Jacob Rhys and Joshua Spenser, in loving memory on Father's Day.
I miss you boys. I miss who you would have been and who you would have become.
All I could give you was an end to suffering.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

On horror.

First, thank you for all of the happy birthday wishes. S. and I had a very nice day together, and like I told her, the best gift I could get was getting back a little bit more of the woman I love. We had a nice lunch at a favorite diner, went to go see "Land of the Lost" (wasn't one of Will Ferrell's best - closer to "Blades of Glory" than "Anchorman"), and did a little shopping. I picked up a copy of The Road by Cormac McCarthy and a few DVDs. All of which happened to be horror movies. Which brings me to the topic of this post.

Since we lost the boys, I've been watching a lot of horror movies.

I've probably mentioned this before, if only in passing. I'm not sure what it is that draws me to watching scary movies. I've always enjoyed them to one degree or another, moreso as an adult. But since we lost our sons, I've found it much easier to watch them, almost reassuring in a way.

Maybe it's that sense that somebody has it worse than me, if only in fiction (a concept the pros call downward comparison). Maybe I've had my capacity to feel fear dulled by such a traumatic experience, so it takes longer to hit my threshold for the sort of scares I used to get. Maybe it's because there are a shit-ton of good horror movies coming from all corners of the world, and it's much easier to see these movies in the age of the Internet than it used to be. Or a mixture of all of these. All I know is that I've been watching a lot of scary shit as of late. Some of it enjoyable, some of it not.

Conversely, almost anything involving children makes me really angry. Kids on television, kids in movies, people becoming parents, the trials and tribulations of parenthood. I would honestly rather watch somebody get their leg sawed off than fumble to get the quadruplets ready for their school field trip. Some might find that a little perverse. Honestly, I don't care and anymore I don't have the patience to keep up appearances.

Both are probably products of the same urge. We are afraid of what's out there in the dark. We have stories to explain lightning and thunder and fire and rain and snow and disease and birth and death. Our beliefs, our ideologies, our faiths: All torches against the dark. We open ourselves to horror stories because fictional terrors are manageable terrors. We inoculate ourselves against fear this way, by letting in just enough of the dark to keep from being overwhelmed by it. We celebrate birth and children for the same reason - we stave off the idea of oblivion by reassuring ourselves that through children our legacy will live on. As long as our bloodline continues, we never really die. As long as we have children, we will never die. Whitney Houston was right: The children are our future (and also, that crack cocaine is fucking fun). In the hopes of future generations, we light a candle against the dark.

Which brings to mind the movie "The Village." But I'll get to that.

Almost anything having to do with children fills me with grief and sadness and frustration and rage. Not exactly reassuring. So I no longer have that as an option. But I can open myself up to the horrors others envision and that alleviates the sadness for awhile. I've also been spending a lot of time with apocalyptic imagery lately. But that's for another post.

So, horror.

I want to get this down before I get to the pithy part. As I'm writing this out, I keep thinking about the movie "The Village." If you haven't seen it, go see it. Get it from Netflix or something, I'll wait.


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Okay. So as I'm sitting here writing this post and working these ideas out, it occurs to me that "The Village" is sort of a literal instantiation of the stuff I'm talking about here. You've got a bunch of people who have been traumatized by the death of someone close to them and decide that the sane response to this is to abandon the modern world for an invented pre-industrial agrarian society. Which is a fiction intended to keep real horror at bay. And these people have kids, and kids being kids they know that the kids are going to want to explore life beyond the village, but since life beyond the village is what drove the adults to create the village in the first place, the adults don't see that as an option - no rumspringa here. So the adults create "those of whom we do not speak." They invent small horrors to keep their children safe from the larger horror of the outside world, from which they have made themselves safe with their own invented village. Their protective fiction has its own protective fiction, complete with pantomime raids and sacrifices and costumes hanging in a shed at the edge of the woods.

And yet, they can't keep trauma and violence at bay. One of their own, for reasons nobody can fathom, does something horrible. Something for which nobody's fictions can account. Death and tragedy lie outside of reasoning and explanations and platitudes. And their only chance to avert the monster they ran from, reappeared in their midst, is to send someone out into the world to retrieve medical help. They send a blind woman - a woman for whom the dark isn't just my clumsy metaphor, but life itself. She fumbles out into the dark beyond the village, guided only by necessity, without the comfort of fiction to keep her safe. No matter what narrative we construct, be it community, tradition, birth and growth, or monsters in the closet, it always comes back to the dark and all the ways we shelter ourselves from it.

So that was quite the tangent.

So I'm going to share with you some of the horror movies I've enjoyed lately - I wouldn't be surprised if I'm the only one who finds solace in them, but it works for me.

Basic:
Suitable for most people.

Pulse - Based on the Japanese movie Kairo, this is basically a technological ghost story √° la The Ring. Not qute as good as that movie, but sufficiently somber and spooky to be effective, with more of an emphasis on mood and atmosphere than cheap scares.

Cloverfield - A verité take on the giant monster movie, sort of like The Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla. The protagonists can be really irritating, but I think that's sort of the point - this is pretty much exactly what it would look like if a bunch of clever New York yuppie types found themselves running for their lives from something that can play tiddlywinks with skyscrapers. A little slow to start, but once it does, it doesn't let up until it ends.

The Descent - A prime example of what I like to call the "just when you thought it couldn't go any more wrong" movie. Interpersonal drama between a group of women on a caving expedition leads to disastrous consequences...and then things get really weird. There are bad things happening on about two or three different levels at once, and the tension keeps racheting up and ratcheting up masterfully.

Shrooms - A solid teens-in-trouble film. A group of more or less annoying college students go to Ireland looking for psychedelic mushrooms. Of course, they happen to go looking in a part of the country with a decidedly shady past involving a brutal order of monks and feral orphans, and nobody's sure if what's happening is real or not because they're all tripping balls. Sufficiently creepy, gory but not overly so, and well-plotted.

Intermediate: If you're not fond of horror movies, approach with caution.

Halloween (remake) - I don't understand why this remake attracted so much negative attention, it's not like the original is no longer available. Plot-wise, it's very similar to the original, which was pretty much the first slasher movie, but Rob Zombie's aesthetic makes all of the difference. This is an actively hostile movie. It aims to make you uncomfortable and succeeds. This is a good thing. Every death scene in this movie looks like a crime scene photo, messy and horrible in its banality. Everyone suffers, physically or emotionally, and the portrait painted of humanity is bleak. Puts the "horror" back into "horror movie."

The Abandoned - A haunted-house story about inescapable destiny, in which a woman travels to rural Russia to check out the family homestead she's inherited, and instead finds all manner of creepy shit. I don't want to say much else for fear of ruining it, but this movie has atmosphere in spades and will freak you out.

The Mist - Based on the Stephen King story of the same name, it's one of the better adaptations of his work. Like any other good scary movie, it works on psychological and supernatural levels at the same time - the situation the characters find themselves in could be something as simple as a really bad snowstorm or the bizarre invasion with which they're actually dealing, and there would still be the equally terrifying human factor to deal with. The ending is a real kick in the teeth, though, and although I commend the director for having the sheer balls to include it, it's also the reason I'm listing it here instead of under Basic.

Quarantine - Oh, this one is scary as fuck. Like Cloverfield, it's told from an immediate point of view. The conceit here is that a TV journalist and her cameraman are out riding along with a group of firemen for a human-interest story when the firemen are called to take care of a medical emergency at a small apartment building. The medical emergency goes very bad very quickly, and the cameraman keeps rolling, if only to document what's happening. The screws tighten very suddenly and very quickly and the ending spares you not at all. The original Spanish version, titled [REC], is equally recommended.

Advanced: Approach with great caution, not for the average movie buff.

The Ruins - A much bleaker take on the teens-in-trouble genre, where a group of spring-breaking boys and girls in Mexico run off in search of an archeological dig and meet a really grisly end. Ostensibly, the movie is about a malevolent force of nature. But, like The Mist, the people involved do as much damage to each other as the antagonist does.

Hostel - Famous mostly as the progenitor of the so-called "torture porn" genre of horror film, we once again have a group of college-age boys engaging in spectacularly bad decision-making and paying dearly for it. Although this movie does not skimp on the graphic violence and suffering typical of the genre, I think critics of this movie miss the black satire underneath - this movie has a lot to say about capitalism and industries designed to cater to a particular set of desires. One man's spring break is another man's murder holiday, perhaps. It's also much more plausible than, say, The Ruins, which rattled me more in the actual events of the movie, but it's much easier to imagine the situation outlined in Hostel actually occurring. Which leads me to the next movie...

Shuttle - I'm not sure this is actually out on video yet, but it's great. It has a simple, elegant premise - what if the bus driver didn't take you where you wanted to go? - and builds up twist after twist, spiraling it into deeply disturbing territory and an ending that neatly wraps up everything that has come before with the force of a blow to the stomach. The last images of this movie haunted me for days afterward. And I find the premise of this movie even more plausible than that of Hostel, which makes me genuinely nervous. It takes a lot to affect me any more, but this did it.

Martyrs - A young girl escapes her imprisonment in an abandoned slaughterhouse, where she was beaten and starved by a mysterious group of people for reasons that aren't made clear. As she recovers from her ordeal, she makes a friend and trusts her to keep her secret - that she was followed out of imprisonment by a shadowy creature that mutilates her periodically. Flash forward several years, to the same girl murdering a family as they sit down to breakfast. From here, what seems like a psychological thriller turns into something both stranger and more noble - a meditation on devotion, loyalty, suffering and transcendence that reminds me more of Lars Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark that anything else. And like that movie, this one can be really hard to watch, especially in the last 30 minutes or so. It doesn't offer easy answers, and in some ways it doesn't even offer clear moral choices, something horror films usually do. Not at all a scary date movie, this one will leave you shaken.

Honestly, I think scary movies get a bad rap. Like science fiction, they're mostly treated as genre trash - something cheap and disposable - and certainly there are plenty of films in both genres that are. But there are also films that refuse to pander, that hold difficult ideas up to the light and present them clearly and honestly. And it's been my experience that that's the best you can hope for when faced with real trauma and loss, so in a way I respect that in my entertainment as well.

Or, you know, I'm being all pretentious and shit.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mother's Day: A snapshot of different coping styles.

CDE: "Jesus, why are you so snappy today? You're like 'hisssss, grrrrr.'"

S.: "What's today?"

CDE:"Oh, yeah. I keep forgetting."

S: "So yeah, that."

(Curtain.)

Seizure (word) salad.

Thank you for the words of support and concern for S. For those of you who follow her blog (much easier, since she updates with orders of magnitude more regularly than I), I know she's thinking about how to write about it, and she appreciates it.

As near as we can tell, she's fine. She was fine all weekend, she's fine today, and even though her doctor hasn't cleared her to drive yet (sort of hard when the soonest he can see her is tomorrow grrr fuck argh), she went ahead and kept her appointments today. But it got me thinking.

We're both on meds. We were both on meds before we lost the boys. Her for depression, me for anxiety (we complement each other in that regard). Hers got ramped up after we lost the boys and it was clear that she was experiencing severe depression. Lots and lots of pills. And I reaped the benefits, since she had bottles of stuff she could no longer take on her new regimen (hello, Ativan - so nice to see you). And after some fiddling (Abilify = 8 double espressos, all the time), she stabilized and was doing well again. Until the seizure, which whoops, side effect of Wellbutrin. It was just to get her over a hump that she's mostly over already, so no worries. She's doing fine so far without it.

But I'd been thinking about reevaluating my own medication. I'm not anxious (in fact, I'm surprised at how coolly I handled her seizure - half of my brain was saying "oh fuck my wife why is my wife seizing oh holy fuck", and the other half was saying "check her fingernails - okay, she's not cyanotic, eyes are dilated, but not to different degrees, they aren't pointing in different directions either, no asymmetry so it's probably not stroke..."), but I am depressed. And like I've said, I'm feeling it. Anhedonia. Lack of energy. Lack of motivation. So we were talking about me seeing a psychiatrist to see if I should take anything with an energizing effect as well.

You know, like the stuff that gave S. dyskinesia and seizures. So, like, hold on one fucking minute.

Is this the trade-off, then? I am a big fan of better living through chemistry (spent a decent chunk of college, ahem, self-medicating for my anxiety), but is this the price to pay? Shit, two of my favorite vices are alcohol and video games, neither one of which mix well with seizures. Is this the price, then? Trade the things I enjoy for things that allow me to enjoy more the things I can no longer enjoy? Fuck that.

Yes, I know, different people, different medications, different neurochemistry, yadda yadda yadda. It just all continues to be too fucking complicated by half. A year-plus out, and we're still feelings the collateral damage. Not just emotionally, but physically. Medically.

Monday, May 25, 2009

If it isn't one thing, it's another.

Things have been going pretty well for us lately. Like I said, S. is doing much better, and we were looking forward to a nice, quiet Memorial Day weekend. I got some work done at school on Wednesday and Thursday, didn't make it in on Friday because S. and I had a much-needed air-clearing talk about me and my feelings and her and her feelings and our relationship. One of the things I love about our relationship is that we rarely full-on fight - we're usually pretty good about arguing about one thing and one thing only, though the loss of the boys has tested that considerably. So anyway, long weekend coming up, chance to relax, all is more or less well...

...and then Friday night, S. has a seizure.

I don't know when it started, I was dozing off on the loveseat in front of an episode of "Mythbusters" when an odd noise woke me up. It sounded like S. was hurt, like when one of the cats gets stuck and digs their claws in, but there were no cats near her, and her arms were drawn up close to her chest, her legs straight out in front of her, head to the side and her eyes closed. I knew this wasn't good - all the color had drained from her face, and her pupils were almost completely dilated. She didn't register anything I was saying or even that I was in front of her. As soon as it started, it stopped, and she fell immediately into a deep sleep. When she finally came to, she had no idea of what had just happened, wasn't sure of the year, and when I told her she'd had a seizure, it took 5 or 6 times of me saying it for it to sink in. Once it did, she got really upset and afraid. I told her we had to go to the hospital and she didn't want to go - it took a lot of insisting to get her off the couch and into the car. The whole time she just kept saying "make it stop, make it stop..."

I knew how she felt. No more hospitals. No more doubt, no more wondering what the tests are going to reveal. No more lives in the balance. We've had enough of that for a lifetime. No more crises, no more emergencies. When do we get to just take a fucking rest?

Long story short, there was no sign of stroke, her head and chest scans and x-rays were clear, so no masses or aneurysms or anything. Consensus is that her dose of Wellbutrin lowered her seizure threshold (apparently an established side effect for her dose range) and what were just myclonic jerks turned into a full-on tonic-clonic seizure. Prescription? Stop taking the Wellbutrin. Simple enough. We finally got home around 4am on Saturday and did a lot of sleeping.

Make it stop. No more emergencies. No more of me walking from the hospital back to our house to take care of the animals at 3am (and take my own meds while I'm at it), wondering what the scans are going to reveal - is it going to be a mass? Will it be malignant? Are our days numbered even shorter than all days always are? Am I going to be rattling around our place by myself, alone here, surrounded by the accumulation of our life together? Am I, in the end, going to lose my wife and my sons to whatever this is?

No, no I'm not. Not this time, at least. But haven't we earned some karmic right to a little peace and quiet? Haven't we earned the right to no more emergencies for a little while? Just that? Just some room to breathe and be?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Seven minutes' hate.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about rage.

I've finished my first year as an honest-to-goodness professor, and S. is doing a lot better. Not perfect by any means, but better. Between effective meds, our wonderful new dog, and some much-needed validation and vindication, she's much much closer to the woman she was before we lost our sons. I'm spending a lot less time and energy taking care of her as a result. Don't need to worry about her as much, or drag her out of bed, or wonder if today's the day I'm going to find her body.

So it's summer, and I've got room to move, room to breathe, room to think.

And I'm thinking about rage. About anger.

Anymore, I cannot stand depictions of motherhood in the media. At all. I talk back to the TV, and say cruel, hurtful things about Kate Gosselin, about the proliferation of large-family or parent-of-multiple shows. I'm sick of children, sick of people talking about their children, sick of pregnancy, sick of all of it. I have so much anger and frustration inside of me at having this wonderful thing withheld. I have so much in my life. I have so much. I have a wonderful wife and a healthy marriage. I have, for the first time in my life, however delayed, a career. I go to work and do what I love. But I don't have children, and may never have children. And I can study it, intellectualize it, I can examine it and talk about it in therapy, but at the end of the day is the truth of it. The hate that comes out of my mouth and out of my heart for the blithe simplicity of pregnancy. The smug assurance that it's "all worth it." The assumption that all it takes to have kids is to want kids. The privilege of it, the entitlement of it. It offends a sense of justice that by all rights I shouldn't still have. I have so little tolerance for it, for parenthood as a replacement for adult identity. For parenthood as a replacement for all other achievement. For the very real possibility that I will never, ever have children and the blank stares and hollow platitudes offered to me.

I am just now at a point in my life where I have space to take care of me, to think of me and my own needs. I have voices to listen to besides those of my wife. I have my own voices to listen to.

And they are all screaming with rage and hate for what was not meant to be.