You know that kid who’s always a handful at a playdate? The one who needs an extra eye at a birthday party? The one who can’t handle surprises, or who needs lots of support through transitions? The one who can’t tolerate the smell at the farm field trip no matter how many times the teacher assures that it just takes some getting used to. The one who hasn’t been through Child Find or gotten an IEP but about whom everybody would agree that there are some special needs?
That child is me.
I am that high maintenance mommy. You might argue that I’ve been an adult for over 20 years and that I ought to have really grown out of this by now. On the contrary, I grew into it until I was nearly 31 and started making diet and lifestyle changes. It’s only been 10 years since then, and there is still a lot to undo.
As I’ve been reminded lately, I can be feeling calm and centered one day, but things quickly get ugly things when I run out of two or more ingredients in the complicated cocktail that is my prescription for balanced living.
My liver is so tired I can’t turn to any of the short-term fixes other people might, including sugar, caffeine, chocolate or alcohol, much less antidepressants. I’m sure that pills saved my life in the past, but they are just not an option for a body that can’t tolerate eating anything out of a box without consequence or walking into a public bathroom when it’s being cleaned or hugging a friend who wears perfume.
So instead of heading to the pharmacy every month, this is what I need on a regular basis to stay stable:
- a super clean diet almost exclusively homemade (free of gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and sugar for sure. The jury is still out about grains, greens high in oxalic acid, occasional fruit, nuts, and eggs)
- uninterrupted sleep, starting before 10 p.m.
- time before my kids get up to do yoga and/or exercise at least a little
- time alone to write, work, process and clean
- a house whose clutter is at least off to the side
- a routine that has some level of consistency
- an environment free of mold, synthetic perfumes and chemicals
- some kind of thought-provoking and/or soul uplifting input like music, NPR, or quality film or TV
- meaningful interactions with other people and a sense of contribution
- some kind of supportive health modality each week or two
- time to transition between activities
- quiet somewhere in each day
- some connection to nature
If a couple of those elements go missing for more than a short period of time, consider me “off my meds.”
It’s not pretty.
Anyone who has ever accidently and abruptly stopped antidepressant medication knows how bad the “discontinuation effects” are. I may not exactly have vertigo and brain zaps when I lose one of the elements above, but it’s not far off.
I feel horrid, and sad or angry and hopeless and hungry all the time or not at all hungry and like running even though it’s not advised by my physical therapist or like sleeping all the time.
I feel inside like it looks outside when there is about to be a tornado. Green and just sick.
It doesn’t matter if this happens because my kids get ill, or I do, or my husband does. Or if it’s because of snow days or vacation days that “should” be fun. It doesn’t matter if no one means to put things out of whack and it just happens. No one has to be at fault for stealing my “medication,” but if it’s gone, it’s gone nonetheless. And the withdrawal is real.
What if I didn’t have the economic means to support my lifestyle, you might counter. Wouldn’t I just somehow make do?
No, I think I’d be in the hospital. Or strung out on drugs or alcohol. Or dead. Or a danger to myself or others, if not physically than certainly emotionally. Perish the thought of what would befall my children if I had any.
And what if I were a kid or teen today? What if I had grown up in the same environment with the same body in the family eating the same diet but fast-forwarded to a time when I would spend not only five hours a day in front of the TV but also texting and emailing and scrutinizing every detail people posted on Facebook for signs of excluding me?
See the list above of unhappy options and just dial them back a few years.
When I hear awful stories of children doing terrible things in schools, I don’t wonder how they could possibly be so angry or so ill; I just thank my lucky stars that I never went off the deep end.
Our internal and external environments are key to our health and well-being. When I struggle being off my “meds” and want to bury my head in the sand or crawl under a rock, it helps a little to think of the compassion I’d show a struggling child: to think of myself as an overstimulated little person who is just doing her best to function in a world she finds challenging.
Some kids can roll with the punches and not even notice when things are askew. Others freak out if you move the Post-It Notes. We all are people just want to feel comfortable in our skins and in the world.