It’s all good, even when it isn’t

There are a lot of people in my life. I like it that way, I like the connection. Some people like less, but I like having a wide net to increase the diversity of opinions crossing my path. To help keep me from stagnating. That being said, my close circle is relatively small. When my son got sick it got smaller. Not only because instead of having time for coffee I was usually taking someone to a doctor or therapist appointment, but also because I didn’t have the emotional strength to answer the question “how are you” over and over and over. Living in the tumult was so exhausting, I needed just a few of my closest friends. The ones who could listen non-judgmentally, and with compassion, and with humor, and with just the right amount of knowing when I needed a hug versus when I needed to escape, and could put up with my incessant whining, and who could tell me nicely when to stop without hurting my raw feelings, and who didn’t need to talk about themselves unless I needed distraction, and, above all else, the ones who did not tell me what to do or how I should feel or how I should process this. That’s kinda a big ask so it’s not surprising that my close circle, the circle that knows all the gory details, is rather small. It’s a miracle, frankly, that it isn’t non-existent.

I didn’t really know that was what I needed until I looked back on it and tried to articulate what kept me sane for the first six months and continues to be a touchstone almost two years into the journey. I also didn’t think about it much until I began sort of picking my life back up and returning to the social engagements that had fallen off the calendar for a couple of years because I just didn’t have the band width to deal. I mean, how can all of these people just be sitting here having fun while my child is so sick? I guess that’s one of the differences between being in crisis and being in recovery. I like recovery better. Crisis sucks.

Now I am reaching out to people I lost along the way and finding myself in the company of those people in the not quite inner circle. You know the ones, the close acquaintances who you truly like and enjoy, but you couldn’t quite keep up with during the crisis, the ones who care, but don’t need the play by play. And when I run into one of them, the first question is always some variation of how are you and how is the boy. This happened last night, it happens almost daily, certainly weekly if I happen to go to church (which frankly is why my church attendance has decreased instead of increased). I’m not talking about the busy bodies and gossips who are just dying to get the inside scoop to share at their next book club, I mean the real honest to God friends and family who weren’t with you daily for the crisis, but want everything to be okay, ’cause, you know, they love you.

For me, how are you is the hardest question to answer. Being raised in the south, I know deep down in my soul that there is only one correct answer, “Oh, just lovely, thank you. How about you?” After I moved out of the south I decided to give authenticity a try, but I still know it’s never appropriate to say, “Oh, just horrible, my son is in a treatment center for anorexia.” Social conventions are important, although it’s okay to be flexible as long as you know that you are doing so and accept the consequences of your actions. Finding the middle ground is hard, and it’s important, because these people care about you and want to support you, and you care about them and don’t want to burden, bore, or shock them.

I think that the reason this question is particularly hard for me is because I never know how things are. I would like to say it’s because of my extensive mindfulness practice and my highly developed DBT skills of looking at things non-judgmentally and being in this moment, but really it’s that I just don’t know. For example, one may go on an exhausting 4 day journey with one’s child, come home changed and write a glowing blog post about it, only to wake up the next day with someone who doesn’t remotely resemble the child one wrote about with such genuineness less than 24 hours before. I hit publish anyway, because that was the truth at the time. Currently the truth is closer to: did my 17 year old really just say you’re not the boss of me-land. And in 24 hours it will be somewhere else again. Because that’s what it’s like to have a 17 year old. Adding in our particular issues just muddies the waters a bit more.

Currently the polite conversation amongst my peers revolves around our child’s accomplishments, where he applied for college, where she was accepted, where they are still waiting to hear and where they are planning to go. And I’m not going to tell you what my son’s recent accomplishments have been. I’m not going to tell you what colleges he is applying to—he didn’t decide until September that he was going to apply anywhere, are you interested in the 30 minute discussion of how far he came to be able to apply and be accepted in those 4 months? I’m not going to tell you any of these things because they have nothing to do with the reality of “how are you” at the moment. They are window dressing made to pretty up the reality, ease the anxiety, dull the ache. Even if I told you everything and it was true, it would be so very far from the truth. I’m certainly not going to tell you about scholarships he may or may not have received, because, who even does that? But I digress.

The reason Facebook has a relationship status “it’s complicated” is because sometimes things are complicated and can’t be answered in one sentence social niceties outside the sushi bar as you are going in and I’m coming out. Sometimes things are so good I can’t help but smile, sometimes things are so bad, I want to believe they can’t get worse (don’t fool yourself, they can always get worse), but most of the time, I just don’t know. I have two teenagers in my house, one of them with serious health issues, it’s pretty much a roller coaster around here, and one without the safety restraints at that. I try to hang on, but sometimes I can’t and I have to pick myself back up and get back on the ride. Other times though, I’m killing it, and am amazed by my awesome parenting Kung-Fu (yeah, so those time are pretty rare). Sometimes recovery is going well, sometimes we hit bumps, sometimes we don’t even think about it at all. I like those times, the times we don’t even think about it at all. Sometimes it’s the girl child who needs some help, other times she is owning the dance floor and learning from mistakes. I just don’t know.

I know it doesn’t make sense that we can still be happy even though we are struggling so hard. I know it doesn’t make sense for me to expect you to share my joy without acknowledging the pain, but that is how it is right now. I don’t think you want to hear the latest report from the dietician, my current worry, or most pressing struggle. I’m fairly certain you don’t want the details on the latest fight I had with my insurance company. It’s complicated, and I don’t know. But I’m calling it good. I’m using all those horrible southern California cliches: It’s all good, It is what it is, No worries. I can’t stand them, but they are how I am right now. So when you see me, know that things are the way they are, and we are dealing with them the way we are dealing with them, which is all anyone can do.
traffic at sunset

(c) 2016 Gigi Quinn

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Life is a roller coaster, buy the trip insurance

A few years ago my husband and I took our 2 children to Turkey.  We couldn’t afford it.  After a couple of layoffs and a few cross country moves we were still in recovery mode, financial and otherwise. But my friend had been inviting us to spend the summer there with her family every year since our son was in 3rd grade.  Of course, each year there was always a really good reason not to go and “maybe next year” became my constant refrain.  But for some reason when she asked that 7th time I paused, and thought, he’s is in high school–if not now, when?  So after minimal reflection and some emotion based rationalization we blithely tossed our “financial plan” aside and bought four tickets to Turkey.

The trip itself was sublime, truly a trip of a lifetime.  The history, culture, food, geography, art and people, especially the people, were a revelation to us all.  It was a stopped moment of time for our family when everything was good and whole- not perfect but whole.  And now, years later it has become a delineating moment as well.  My life now is separated into “before Turkey” and “after Turkey” for reasons that have nothing to do with the trip itself.

Shortly after that idyllic summer our lives unraveled.  My son emerged with an anxiety disorder that became complicated with depression that morphed into bi-polar.  While we were scrambling to keep up with the changing diagnosis and initiating treatment and protecting/supporting/informing our middle school daughter, our son was falling into the abyss of self-medication, self-harm, and disordered eating.  The prognosis was horrible, we were devastated, life was over.  Except it wasn’t.  We are over a year into recovery now. He has his own recovery, of course, but we, as a family, are in recovery as well.  It’s been a bumpy ride with lots of highs and lows along the way, ditches and tar pits along with a fair amount of beautiful vistas and peaceful overlooks.

Recently during a Giginon meeting I talked about buying trip insurance and bemoaned that life in general and parenting in particular doesn’t come with trip insurance (whining is generally encouraged in these meetings). And then, the more I thought about it, I realized that it does, kinda.    Turkey was our trip insurance.  It was capturing a moment of joy in an uncertain world and being able to look back on it with gratitude and hope.  Saying yes to creating joy even in chaos and pain makes me resilient, more secure in my journey, able to breathe. When a recent trip to Ireland was cancelled because our son hit a bump in his recovery, it was sustaining to look back on Turkey and realize that we had that moment and can create more.

Choosing to capture joy and live in this moment is trip insurance for life. But it’s not easy and it’s not cheap–emotionally or financially you have to pay for it (although it doesn’t have to be four tickets to Turkey expensive). Whether it’s a decision to put anger aside, admit you’re wrong, ask for a hug, or throw caution to the wind and say yes, trip insurance is choosing to live now even when we don’t know where we will come up with the resources, external or internal, to survive.  For me it’s equal parts saying yes to good things and working really hard to find peace and gratitude while in the emergency room with my son. It is laughing with my daughter even though we are both beaten down and tired.  Sometimes I manage it pretty well, sometimes not at all.  And I’m good with that.  Recovery is as banal as it is agonizing, it’s a long term, lifetime of work and I won’t always, or even often, get it right. But there are things I can learn, and stuff I can share that makes it worth it– you know, kind of like life in general.

In the end, we shouldn’t have canceled our trip to Ireland.  By the time the date of our cancelled trip came around my son was in a good place and stable for the moment.  Recovery being what it is we should have just trusted we would do our best to make the trip, but if the time came and we couldn’t get on the plane that would be okay too. But just like parenting, there is no manual on how to negotiate a trauma like ours, or yours, or anybody else’s.  You’re just expected to pick it up on the fly, learn as you go.  So now I know, and only a little late.  On the bright side, we just bought tickets to Mexico and the trip insurance for them was only 40 bucks!libray of celsus

(c) 2016 Gigi Quinn

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