Personal Entries

It’s not a stroke

I think this is a good idea; how could it not be a good idea to educate children about the symptoms of stroke?  After all, the faster a stroke is recognized and treated, the better the chances of recovery,  and so more people in any household knowing the signs of stroke is better, right?  Right,  in theory.  In actuality it only helps if  the people educated on the symptoms of stroke are of sound mind, and I think we can all agree that middle school-aged children are not of  sound mind.

Novant Health: arming 6th graders with too much information.

Any parent could have told Novant Health that the result of educating eleven year olds on the symptoms of  stroke was going to be, well… Blogosphere, I’ve been diagnosed with stroke symptoms several times in the past few weeks.  It’s just all-stroke, all the time.  And I don’t want to make a joke of this, because what if I do have one someday?  I’ll be lying on the kitchen floor, the stroke damage becoming more permanent with every passing second, while my children navigate around me, saying “Oh, Mom’s just messing with us again.  Whatsa matter?  You paralyzed, Mom?”

And so, with every muscle spasm or foot fallen to sleep, I submit to Matt’s stroke test.

“STOP!” Matt commands. “Smile!”

I smile.

“Hold it, hold it,” he says, as he checks first one cheek and then the other, comparing them for symmetry.

We go through all the steps of the test, finishing once I’ve clearly enunciated the words  “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

I’m hoping that Matt will mellow once this information is no longer so novel, much as he did after going through the school’s D (drug) A (abuse) R (resistance) E (education) program last year.   After his D.A.R.E. education, and newly armed with more knowledge of illegal drug use than your average flophouse junkie,  it took a year for that program’s effects to fade.  A year before I could pour the occasional glass of chianti and not have my son react by looking at me–a haunted, crack-baby look in his eyes– and asking, “Moooom?  Are you an alcoholic?”

On the other hand, many parents are probably unaware that their children have been involved in Novant Health’s stroke awareness program.  Were they to know this, they  might appreciate a bit more concern as they are lying paralyzed on their kitchen floors, thinking: “I’m lying paralyzed on the kitchen floor and you’re asking me for more ice cream? Did you not learn F.A.S.T.? Do the T, child, the T!”

I’m just saying that perhaps the people at Novant Health, when they decided to sponsor this educational unit in the local schools, were on drugs or something. Because there are good reasons why we don’t put eleven year olds in charge of our major medical decisions.

Personal Entries

Typhoid Picard. And lemurs.

Remember the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Dr. Striker mistakenly created a new quickly-mutating airborne super virus which infected the entire crew except for Captain Picard and Data?  And they finally beat the virus when Data created an antidote and administered it via the ship’s circulation system while Captain Picard was busy electrocuting Lieutenant Worf in the crawl space between floors?  That’s the virus we have in my house right now.   I’m sure of it.

First it feels as if Tasmanian Devils are ripping the inside of my stomach to shreds.  Then it turns to a bad cold with aches and a fever.  Then more Tasmanian Devils.  Then I feel better, then more fever and cold and now wicked fatigue.  It just won’t go away.  Those around me have had various bits of my virus, but I’m special so I’ve had it all.  I’m like the Anti-Picard, going down with my ship;  he remained unaffected by the virus, while I must feel everything my crew members suffer through.  I’ve just jumped Jean-Luc Picard on the badass scale, so I do have that going for me.

I’d say I’m patient zero, but my mother tells me one of the men she works with in The Hague has the same symptoms I do, and has for a bit longer (I did not even get to snog or have sex with that cute Dutch man to get his illness, and that is grossly unfair).  I’ve been fighting this thing since my Christmas trip to my Mom’s in Pennsylvania,  and in my stomach-shredding, fevery state I was rather pissed off with Pennsylvania.  I hadn’t been sick in years….until Pennsylvania. Rat bastard Pennsylvania!  But then after some Alka Seltzer Plus it occurred to me:  my Mother, not poor Pennsylvania, is to blame. She is  the common denominator between the Dutch man and myself, and so, as anyone who has had years of therapy already knew, it’s all my mother’s fault.

And my children’s.  While I’d like to attribute the extreme fatigue to the virus, I think it might have something to do with my children and their need to keep me abreast of their own symptoms throughout the night.  They need to keep me up-to-date on the status of the symptoms with which they went to bed.  They need to share concerns about new symptoms, and speculate upon which symptoms they might have next.  But most important, they need to feel out what my decision will be about school attendance the next day.

“Moooom? ” they whisper,  “If I feel like this in the morning? Do I have to go to school?”

“Moooom?  If I get that stomach thing next, should I stay home?”

“Moooom?  If lemurs fly out of my butt?  Can I stay home tomorrow?”

Yes, child.  Then you may stay home, because the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school attendance policy clearly covers lemur butt-emergence.

Add to this one more topic for midnight discussions: a week of sub-freezing weather discussed by local weathermen for whom predictions of frozen precipitation are akin to masturbation, and I just haven’t been able to get a good night’s sleep to help me shake this thing.

“Moooom?” The boys ask in the middle of the night, ” It’s  starting to rain, and it was supposed to go down to twenty eight degrees.  Do you think the roads will freeze?”

“Moooom?  If the lemurs fly out of my butt and float up because they are warm, cooling as they go, only to come back down as frozen lemur-precipitation, creating frozen lemur black ice……do you think we’ll have school?”

We already covered lemurs.  Please go back to bed.

Personal Entries

A menacing beast

*I’ve put up this post and taken it back down several times in the past day.   During the short time it was up it seems to have struck a chord, and so it’s back and it stays.  Thank you so much to those who so kindly emailed.


Like  many, I’ve had bouts of depression in the past.   Like all who have ever suffered from depression, I’d like to avoid it in the future.

The difference between struggling and depression, for me, is that when I’m struggling I can still help myself.  I can still move to do the things I know will strengthen me.

I’ve been struggling  for weeks now,  straining too much under the weight of responsibilities that come with single motherhood, the stress of a challenging year. This single mom thing?  I wouldn’t recommend it.   I adore those boys.  I love them through and through with every tiny bit of me, but Lord, is it hard.   I’m It.   Everything comes back to me every minute of every day, and there is no time when I can lay my basket of responsibilities down.  I’m the cushion, the net, the armor, the levity, the balance and the Mom and the Dad,  and I’m so worn out.

I’ve been trying to do what needs to be done to get me strong again:  exercise,   rest,  eating well, asking for help and support, evaluation of the stress I’m under–stress there isn’t much I can do anything about.  My brain can’t take this much struggle, this much stress, this much draining out and nothing coming back in to strengthen me,  and this past week there’s been a tipping point.  I’ve come to the end of my resources, and I just don’t have anything left in me.  I’m cooked, and the  huge, menacing beast of black depression is here -it’s this close, so close I can feel its breath- and I’m terrified by its proximity.  I’ve been trapped and lost in that horrible darkness before, and I’d do almost anything to avoid returning to that place.

My Mom will be coming home from the Netherlands for a week.  I ‘ve found that at this point, the point where my dreams are becoming troubling, when I can’t straighten my thoughts out, when the swirling in my head won’t stop and I can’t seem to help myself, the only thing to do is to hand things over to someone else before it gets worse.  I need to let someone else be in charge, to let someone else pick up the basket of responsibilities I’m too worn out from holding to hold right now.  Thank God, thank God, my Mom will do this for me, and I feel lighter just knowing she’s arriving tonight. The tiniest little light of hope has appeared, and I can’t tell you how welcome and surprising it is in the darkness.

The last time I called upon her this way was over three years ago.   She came home for two weeks, put me to bed, and handled my life for me.  She loved my kids, fed me, and served as Drill Sergeant of Rehabilitation.  Eat!  Sleep!  Sit in the sun!  Sleep again!  This seems to do the trick: a break.   Preemptive, prophylactic bed rest.   A complete immobilization of my head seems to be what is necessary to keep if from slipping into scary darkness.  I’m a big fan of doing what needs to be done to keep that from happening.

My Mom will graciously step in, and I will happily relinquish control.

Why am I telling you this when I don’t have to?  I’ve thought long and hard about that.  A lot of people read this blog.  A lot of people struggle with this condition, and yet there is a certain shame to it; you must be weak or selfish if your head goes haywire, to have symptoms you can’t control.  You must be lacking in faith, you must be meant to learn from this.  Bullshit.  No one would say that about diabetes or heart disease, and it’s the same exact thing: human bodies do this.  But, unlike other illnesses, the workings and mechanisms of the brain are still largely unknown.  The brain is the last frontier of the human body, and we just don’t have this physical malfunction figured out yet.

The only reason not to tell you this is shame, and yet none of us should be any more ashamed of depression than we would be of a broken arm.  I want my children to see me handle this pragmatically, effectively, and without the subterfuge which would imply this is something shameful.

This is how I handle this condition: I know this is a weak spot in my health, and so I try to live in a way that makes me strong, I try to practice good coping skills.  If the illness breaks through, I try to act quickly to stop it.   That’s what you do with illnesses, right?

If I had any other illness, I’d be open about it, and so I will be with this one too.

But people?  Seriously?  Don’t forget the monsters or I’ll kick all your hienies.

Personal Entries · Studio

What’s a Vaka?

One of the comments on yesterday’s post was this one, from Carla:

“What does Vaka mean anyways?”

That is a much deeper question than you might realize, but I will tell you, Grasshopper, and then you can be a Vaka master, too.

About seven years ago I became very sick for almost  a year and a half,  and I came close to dying on several occasions.   I made it through largely because of my women friends and their support,  particularly the support of my friends Karen and Valerie.

Because I’m stubborn and incredibly stupid, I insisted on finishing my degree while I was ill.  It made sense to me at the time; Mike and I were divorcing  after years of me being a stay at home mom, and I had no resources other than me.   I needed to finish my education so that I could begin to support the boys and myself, but attempting this while so ill made earning my degree harder, and probably prolonged and worsened the illness, as well.

Karen and Valerie supported me while my life fell apart and I tried to do too much.  They served as advocates with doctors, made decisions on medical care when I was unable to, they helped financially and have never allowed me to repay them.  They urged me to be gentler on myself and they sat with me while I melted down again and again because of the impossible, unreasonable weight on my shoulders; that which I had taken on, but also that which others had blithely handed over as well, knowing as they did so how sick I was.  They made themselves constantly available in the most selfless way, and most importantly, they loved and protected and cared for my children as if they were their own.  Because of Karen and Valerie’s decisions and actions,  my boys came through a horrific ordeal quite unscathed.   That was the greatest gift they gave me: my children’s well being.

Valerie and her beautiful family
My wonderful friend Karen

I’ve changed so much in the past few years as I’ve led my family forward, away from the divorce and illness.  I’ve become more me than I have been in a very long time.  I’ve become the cocky girl Valerie met when she was five, and I’ve become the woman Karen thought I was when she met me on the cusp of my illness.   They’ve been rooting for me all along.

So, grasshopper, the “Va” is for Valerie, and the “Ka” is for Karen.  Vaka  is named for the two women who stuck with me through the ugly, and ensured that I was here to be me and to start Vaka Design.  They are beautiful and smart and strong, and any success my business has belongs to them, too.

While Valerie and Karen were my bedrock and buttresses, there are others who loved me well, and who I wish were worked in, too:  Joan, Jill, Kristine, Amy.    They are precious and part of me, but Vakajojikram Design just isn’t as catchy.