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Losing Dylan, part 1

Like so many things, it began with a phone call. I was in a therapy session and I had forgotten to silence my phone. Seeing that it was my son’s school, I answered it.

A school administrator’s voice informed me that Dylan arrived to class reeking of marijuana and was refusing a backpack search. Would I agree to the search?

When I arrived at the school the police were already there. I wasn’t surprised that Dylan was using marijuana at school. By now, Dylan smoking marijuana all the time had become normal. The only time I would see him not high was in the morning when I took him to school. I would give him 5 bucks for lunch which he would then use to purchase marijuana, mushrooms, or LSD after school. I suspected this but at the time I didn’t want him to go hungry. He had gotten so thin that at one point his pediatrician wanted to put him into an eating disorder unit.

The principal informed me that if Dylan did not agree to the search he would be presumed guilty and be put on a substance abuse diversion agreement that would prevent him from getting expelled. I did not permit the search because I had no idea what they might find. I also had no idea what would happen to Dylan as a result of what they might find. They insisted that by refusing the search I was enabling him.

We signed the diversion agreement which required Dylan to meet with a substance abuse counselor for an assessment. I felt it was useless because I knew Dylan had no interest in stopping his substance use. However, I wanted him to avoid expulsion. When we arrived I was somewhat relieved to see that the counselor was a butch-appearing lesbian. It gave me hope that this visit was not going to be a complete disaster.

She began to question Dylan about his substance use. He began to get angry and I interjected something, afraid of where this was going. He said something to me, I can’t remember what, telling me I needed to shut up. The counselor continued to press him and I warned her, again fearing Dylan’s impending outburst. She told me she could handle it and kept going. I took what by now had become a familiar position in medical appointments with Dylan. Head down, hands over eyebrows like blinders. Try not to get hit by flying shrapnel.

Dylan began to close his eyes, breathe loudly and clench the arms of his chair. He flew out of his chair and threatened to destroy her office. She told him to leave and he did, slamming the door behind him. I apologized for his behavior. She said she was shocked by the way he had spoken to me. To me, it had become normal. She told me he needed treatment and I told her I didn’t think he was ready. She agreed, and told me that if he acted like that in treatment they would throw him out. However, she insisted that some kind of an intervention was in order. She told me that by not allowing the search to take place at his school I had made things worse. She suggested that I should welcome the intervention of the juvenile justice system. She said I needed to set strong boundaries with Dylan and call the police or send him to the youth shelter if he didn’t comply. I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t want to be one of those Dr. Phil parents who called the police to discipline their children. And I couldn’t imagine sending him to a shelter, no matter what the circumstances were.

There was a knock on the door and Dylan reappeared, seeming to have gained some composure. I was surprised she allowed him back in. She told him she was going to make an exception and take him on as an outpatient to see if she could prepare him for treatment. If he attended the sessions with her he could avoid expulsion. I thought it was a great solution and agreed wholeheartedly.

to be continued


Just like my mother

I miss myself. I miss the person I was when I began this blog about 6-7 years ago. I honestly thought I would never find myself this lost again. I remember during that time I felt much differently about myself. Sure I was depressed, but seriously, when am I not depressed?

When became a mother I felt like I could no longer be myself. I had to be someone else. A person with no wants or needs. A person that was everything that my mother was not. The most important things I thought about were that I wanted my son to know without a doubt that he was loved. I felt that no matter what was going on with me that I must always show up for my son. I wanted more than anything else, to raise a son who was kind and compassionate towards others. These were my ideas.

I imagined a relationship with my son where I would be able to teach him and help him navigate the world. Most importantly I wanted him to be able to avoid many of the things that I had experienced. I wanted my son to love me and see me as his mother. I never imagined any of the things that have happened. I never imagined my son would turn on me. There are a lot of people who I never imagined would turn on me. But turn on me they did, over and over again.

In each instance it seemed that people found me or my behavior unacceptable. First I lost my Dad, who was the only person that ever made me feel like I was supposed to be on this earth. Then I lost my sister who I once believed loved me unconditionally. That loss created more disconnection and estrangement, with my two other siblings, with nieces and nephews. Then my mother died and any remaining ties were severed.

Then I lost my health, my job and my career. With that, I lost my self-esteem, or what was left of it. I lost my home and then I lost the person I was going to marry. After that I lost California, sunshine, and my church. I was more alone than I had ever been. Then I lost another friend. Through all of that, my love for my son and my desire for his happiness were the only things that tethered me to the earth. And now my son is gone also. He tells me I am a horrible mother, that I’ve never done anything for him and that I need to be held accountable for all of my wrongs.

He tells me I am just like my mother.

I imagine all of these people in my head as a collective group. They are always there taunting me and reminding me that I am worthless and that I don’t deserve love. If I say anything about the hardships I have encountered over the last few years, I am ridiculed. I’m just making excuses and playing the victim. My son tells me I have failed him by being sick and depressed all the time. My siblings tell me I am getting what I deserve. They tell me I’ve always been self obsessed, spoiled, and moody. I’m unreasonable and irrational. I have anger issues and I can’t be trusted around children. They criticize my parenting and tell me it’s no wonder my son is in a treatment center. Who wouldn’t end up with problems with a mother like me?

I don’t remember anymore what it feels like to be loved. I long for even just a whiff of that feeling. I want to bury my face in it and breathe as deeply as I can for as long as I can. I want to lose myself in it and consider the possibility that I am someone other than who they say I am. I want someone, anyone, to see me as useful or worthwhile or anything other than what they believe me to be.

I’ve tried fighting. I’ve tried fighting clean even when others are fighting dirty.  I’ve tried suiting up and showing up. I’ve tried being strong. I’ve tried sharing my feelings desperately hoping for acknowledgement or validation that never comes. I’ve tried doing everything that others tell me to do in service of my son. I’ve tried letting go and I’ve tried holding on. Nothing seems to have helped. Most things I’ve tried have caused me additional hurt.

I don’t want sympathy or pity. What I really want is to have people in my life who value my friendship and don’t make me question my worth. I want people who I have things in common with and who share similar belief systems. I want to put the nightmare of the last 7 years behind me. I want to believe that it’s not too late to rebuild myself again and rise from the ashes.

Mostly I want to be free.


I had a visit the other day with a rheumatologist. It went amazingly well. Before the visit I’d taken notes. I’ve been keeping track of day-to-day symptoms for several months now. I thought about what I used to tell my patients before they were going to see the Psychiatrist. Doctors speak in the language of symptoms.

After the doctor came in and introduced himself, I launched into my list. I tried to present is as dispassionately as possible. Doctors are not well versed in the language of emotion. About half way through I looked up and apologized for having such a long list.

He said, “No, I appreciate it.” He was actually listening to me! I’m so used to the blank stares and curt dismissals of Neurologists. When I was finished and we had talked a bit more about the history of things he paused for a moment. “So, you’ve been dealing with this for 5 years, and have probably done a lot of research. What do you think is going on?” I about dropped my pants without being asked. I’ve learned that you should never suggest a possible diagnosis to doctors. They instantly see you as a hypochondriac who sits around looking for symptoms on the internet all day. It insults them that we common folk think we could figure anything out related to our health.

I told him I thought I was experiencing a progressive autoimmune or neurological disorder. I knew when the illness first appeared as an unrelenting pain in my left scapula over 5 years ago that something serious was going wrong with my body. Turns out I was right. The illness has finally progressed to the point where the symptoms can no longer be dismissed. And truly, I am relieved. I’ve been waiting for an accurate diagnosis for a long time.

I read this book when I was about twenty about a young woman who was injured in a diving accident and became paralyzed from the waist down. I’m pretty sure her name was Joni. The book was about how the accident and resulting paralysis deepened her faith. The book terrified me. I couldn’t imagine a worst fate than a physical disability. I was so afraid that God would strike me down in order to use me in some way.

Long before I had any illness I worried a lot about my health. My worst fears conjured up things like the C word or Lupus or some other health problem that could be disabling. I would say it was an obsessive fear that took the form of fear of contamination. I washed my hands until they were red and had abrasions trying to protect myself. I knew this was coming.

Some might suggest that I attracted that which I feared the most. I would disagree. Life has given me exactly what I have needed to further my spiritual evolution. Life has been in the business of removing every obstacle I’ve constructed to prevent myself from fulfilling my life’s purpose. And I am an expert in creating obstacles.

I’ve always had to learn things the hard way. Anyone that might have given me directions to avoid some of life’s hazards would have been wasting their breath. I had to experience things first hand, and sometimes more than once before deciding if it was unworkable.

Throughout the course of the illness I’ve often felt ashamed. I’ve felt like a failure for not working, and for not being able to cure myself. I’ve shamed myself for hurling through life in such an adventurous way and in a way that did not fit into a societal norm. I was horrified to find myself nearing the age when retirement becomes an option disabled and without a retirement fund. I’ve never been one to prepare for the future, or so I thought.

So now here I am and I’m OK. Being forced to step out of our busy-ness obsessed society has given me a completely different perspective on life. It’s changed my relationship with my son. And all that adventurous living, well, there are things that I’ve done and places I’ve been that I may not be able to experience in the same way again. I don’t have the endurance I used to have, that is just factual. So I’m glad I’ve lived a life that has been abundant in experience.

I don’t know what the future holds. There are medical tests pending, and more on the horizon. There are many possible outcomes, although my mind is attracted to the worst possible ones. Things could head in several different directions. I could be facing something that is more disabling, or I could continue to limp along as I have for many years to come.

Vindication is defined as “the action of clearing someone of blame or suspicion”. For those along the way who have doubted me (doctors, friends, relatives), I have many words to say that you will most likely never hear. Often people dismiss things that they don’t understand. The experience of chronic illness is unique and can only be understood by those who have experienced it. People who haven’t experienced it have no business inserting their uninformed opinions into the dialogue.


Despair’s aftermath

I woke up this morning to find that Despair was gone. Apparently my darkness was not enough to satisfy her.  She left my sink overflowing with dishes of half eaten food, empty Coke cans strewn about.  Apparently she left in a hurry; her laundry is still in the washer. There was a note scribbled on a paper towel on the counter saying she’d be back. She’d threatened to leave a few days ago when she found me on the computer reading kind words from strangers.  I have not yet noticed her absence enough to miss her.

I have a confession to make.

Despair didn’t show up unexpectedly. I went looking for her, gave her my address, asked her to come. I’ve been in love with her since the first time she presented herself to me, wearing a sleeveless shirt, drunk and bleary eyed, confessing that she’d just seduced her step sister. She was athletic then, burnished golden, the blonde hairs on her arms glistened in the sunlight. When I put my mouth on her exquisite lips, I knew for the first time what it felt like to be alive.

Despair knows exactly how to entice me. She knows I am Desire’s slave. I go back and forth between the two of them. I can never go too long without sleeping with Despair. She has never refused me, in spite of the many times I have abruptly left in search of Desire. Despair knows that as long as I am Desire’s slave I will never completely belong to her. But she is content in the knowledge that I will be back. I need her presence as much as she requires my absence. And Despair and Desire never come at the same time. They cannot co-exist.


Everything has crashed into a despicable pile of decaying moldy detritus. I learned that last word from a professor in a college photography appreciation class. I’m always looking for ways to use it. I’m not sure what the official definition is, but to me it means a whole bunch of messy unidentifiable crap. And that is the truth of my life at this moment. Or at least from my perspective.

Perspective is a funny thing. Any person could come along and point out a whole bunch of really good things in my life. My kid is healthy. I actually have a kid. I have a good job, a career that was years in the making. I have an opportunity to change people’s lives, and I do. I own a house and I’m not upside down in it. I’ve got money in the bank. And yet….fucking detritus.

It’s all such a train wreck now, I don’t even know when I began to slip off the track. Was it when my father died? When the ache in my shoulder turned into a twisted tree limb, spreading its branches into my neck, my head? When I started sitting with people witnessing their trauma, visions of which I now carry in my head? Or was it earlier, was it perhaps the moment I found out I was pregnant that I began to unravel? Or was it when it dawned on me that my relationship with the other mother of my son and I was broken beyond repair? Whatever the beginning, one thing is certain. A series of succeeding events have brought me to a place where I know nothing about myself anymore. I’m at times perplexed by my actions, embarrassed, and at others times horrified.

Who I was, I fear, is gone forever. Not that I want her back. She had her own demons. But the absence of knowing exactly who I am to become is daunting. My journey to self began somewhere around 1982, when this poster hung on my wall:

I Am Me
~ Virginia Satir ~

In all the world,
there is no one else exactly like me.
Everything that comes out of me is authentically mine, 
because I alone choose it. 
I own everything about me.
My body, my feelings, my mouth, my voice, all my actions, 
whether they be to others or to myself.
I own my fantasies, my dreams, my hopes, my fears.
I own all my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes. 
Because I own all of me, I can become intimately acquainted with me. 
By so doing I can love me and be friendly with me in all my parts.
I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me, 
and other aspects that I do not know.
But as long as I am friendly and loving to myself, 
I can courageously and hopefully look for solutions to the puzzles 
and for ways to find out more about me.
However I look and sound, whatever I say and do, 
and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is authentically me.
If later some parts of how I looked, sounded, thought and felt
turned out to be unfitting, 
I can discard that which I feel is unfitting, keep the rest, and invent something new 
for that which I discarded.
I can see, hear, feel, think, say, and do. 
I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive, 
and to make sense and order out of the world of people and things outside of me.
I own me, and therefore I can engineer me.
I am me &
I am OK.

I can recall the sense of empowerment I felt when I read it then. I was young, I was inventing myself, everything seemed possible. I was a survivor and the world was going to know it! It was my declaration. When I read it now parts of it seem silly, childish, even hollow. For instance, how can I be authentic if I’m not sure what is authentically me?  I’ve learned I can fool myself on this one. And I’ve learned that there are some things, many things, that defy sense and order. And about being OK. It was enough back then. Now I’m just not sure if that’s enough, or if on any given day I am anywhere near it. Right now, I am not OK.

And so I begin with a different poem, one I stumbled upon that was mentioned in a book by Dawna Markova, an author whose words have spoken to me in the past.


after chopping off all the arms that reached out to me;
after boarding up all the windows and doors;

after filling all the pits with poisoned water;
after building my house on the rock of no,
inaccessible to flattery and fear;

after cutting off my tongue and eating it;
after hurling handfuls of silence
and monosyllable of scorn at my loves;

after forgetting my name;
and the name of my birthplace;
and the name of my race;

after judging and sentencing myself
to perpetual waiting,
and perpetual loneliness, I heard
against the stones of my dungeon of syllogisms,
the humid, tender, insistent
onset of spring.
~ Octavio Paz ~

Please, Whatever, make it come soon.

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