I Should Have Known

3464f5bb3206b2f4a4d9938f4a667b3cSmall droplets of sweat are forming on her forehead and upper lip, and I notice there’s a slight tremble to her fingers as she attempts to light her cigarette.

“Do you really have to smoke that in here?” I ask, annoyed that she is smoking at all, never mind in my car.

“I have the window open,” she retorts quickly.

“I really wish you wouldn’t” I hiss, but much to no avail, as she’s already got that damn thing lit.

“Mom, please, I don’t feel good,” she moans.

“Well, smoking that is not going to make you feel any better. In fact, it will probably make you feel worse.”

She makes a lackluster attempt at rolling her eyes, but just blows her foggy breath out the window, as if every movement is draining the life from her.

“What do you have now?” I question, as it seems that recently she is ill at some point everyday.

“I don’t know . . . nauseous, weak, my head hurts.”

“I’m going to have to take you to the doctor if this keeps up,” I warn. “How long can this go on? You’re tired all the time, you’re not eating and you’re starting to look a little drawn.  Maybe we should get some blood work done.”

“No, no, just give it some time, I’ll be fine.”

As we drive on silently, my instinct tells me that something is not right–I start to think of all the possible ailments she could have–everything from ulcers to cancer. Oh God, I hope she’s not pregnant.

“Mom, pull over! Mom! I’m going to be sick!”

I quickly pull onto the dirt shoulder and watch her bolt out of the car vomiting as she tramples the roadside wildflowers. Lovely.  This is getting worse instead of better.  We’re on our way to an appointment with her Psychiatrist, who she has been seeing for a while now.  This is the doctor who thinks she is either Bipolar–or Borderline–yes, Girl, Interrupted Borderline.  In addition to seeing her regular therapist, he is treating her symptoms with a cocktail of drugs: “It’s a matter of finding the right medications that will have the best effect.” A real genius.

When I think she is done throwing up, I hand her some napkins and my water bottle to rinse out her mouth. We make our way back into the car: it’s hot and smells like smoke; between that and the puking, I wonder how I can hold onto my own stomach.

“It might have to do with the new medication he added last time.  Maybe it’s making you sick,” I say out loud, half to myself.

“I don’t know Mom, let’s just go.”

“I’m sorry, but we have to stop somewhere: I need to use the restroom,” my daughter says to my husband as we are driving to my brother’s wedding–still at least a half hour away.  We’ve been stuck in Friday night rush hour traffic and this trip is taking twice as long as it should.

“But we just left the house,” he says emphatically, as if this will change her mind.

“Thirty minutes ago, and I have to pee. Sorry! Stop at that CVS on the corner.  They have bathrooms.”

“Alright, but hurry it up, we’ll probably be late as it is.”

“They aren’t going to start without us,” I chime in. “I’ll come in with you, I have to go, too.”

“Ugh, here we go, this is going to turn into a twenty minute stop!” my son gripes.

“No, it won’t . . . we’ll be out before you know it,” I say as I force a smile at him then dash into the store.

We find our way to the bathroom in the back corner of the store, only to find that it is locked. So we race back to the front of the store looking for an employee. (Mind you, we are both in heels, so when I say race I mean that tip-toe trotting thing one does when trying to move quickly, but not fall flat on your ass). We find someone who can unlock the door for us, but we have to wait for him to finish ringing up a customer.  Why they won’t just give us the key is puzzling–do we look like key thieves in our nice clothes and heels? I don’t care; we just need to get in there and get out.  Finally, we are escorted to the bathroom; I run into one stall and my daughter into the other.  I’m at the sink washing my hands when I hear gagging.

“Are you sick again?” I question as I stand outside the stall.  More gagging noises, followed by coughing.

“Are you all right?” I anxiously ask.

“Just a little queasy, but I think I’m okay now,” she calls out.

“What happened?” I ask, bewildered as she seemed fine just moments ago.

“I don’t know, it just came on all of a sudden.  But my stomach is crampy; I think I need to stay here for a few minutes.  You go back to the car–I’ll be out in a minute.”

Not sure of what to do, but feeling the need to show my face out at the car to appease my waiting husband and son, I head out.

Five minutes later she comes out, looking none the worse, and off we go.

“I’ll be back in a little bit, Mom!” my daughter yells out coming down the stairs, as she heads for the front door.

“Where are you going?  You’ve been laying around complaining that you don’t feel well?”

“Aaron just got off work and he wants to go get pizza.  I won’t be long.”

Frustrated that she doesn’t just rest, I try to remember what it’s like spending an entire evening at home when you’re 18, sick or not.

“Okay, but don’t be long.  Do you need any money?”

“No, I’m just going to get a soda.  Maybe that will settle my stomach.”

“Maybe,” I utter not very enthusiastically.

An hour or so later she returns, smiling, happy–asking what’s on TV as she nuzzles up to me on the couch.

Perhaps she is Bipolar, I muse: her mood swings are epic.

Turns out, my daughter is a heroin addict.  I didn’t know, but somehow I feel as though I should have known.


I Don’t Run Anymore

I used to run.  Okay, maybe jog is a better description. (I really don’t like the word jog as it reminds me of the 80s when everyone wore jogging suits, but nobody jogged.  When I hear the word I picture a rotund Al Sharpton with  too many gold chains around his neck).  Regardless of my pace, though, I did run on a regular basis.  At first, it started as a way for me to conserve time.  If I could walk for an hour, couldn’t I get the same benefit from running for thirty minutes?  It made sense to me.  So I undertook the Couch to 5K plan running on my treadmill.  Every afternoon I would come home from teaching, exhausted from having run around all day with a hectic schedule teaching English to High School students, and get my workout in.

As I would enter the house, I’d throw my school bag on the floor, just like my own kids did years before, change into my workout clothes and head to the basement.  I tried not to think about what I had to do that evening: what I was making for dinner, how much grading or lesson planning I needed to accomplish, or anything that would prevent me from taking the time I needed to jump on that treadmill.  I needed this time for myself. The Couch to 5k plan starts off with mostly walking with short bursts of running.  Little by little the running time increases and the walking time decreases and within four to six weeks you are running the entire workout! Before you know it, I was pounding that treadmill full speed–well my full speed. I was even ready to venture outdoors without being embarrassed.

I needed to exercise for several reasons, not the least of which was my overwhelming anxiety.  I had always been prone to general anxiety as well as full-blown panic attacks, but my hectic life, along with a troubled teenage daughter, was really beginning to wear me down.  You see, my daughter experienced a trauma at 13 and never recovered emotionally. In addition to the emotional issues (or perhaps because of them) she started to use drugs as a way of escape.  Her story is not unique–millions of you deal with this everyday. I tried everything I could to save this child.  When I discovered the initial trauma, I immediately found her a therapist she was comfortable with.  When I learned she was cutting, I went along with what the therapist said-let her practice clean, safe cutting until we could get her beyond it.  Imagine what it is like having to go out and replace a knife you threw away, knowing its only purpose will be to slice your baby’s skin.  When she finally confessed her drug problem, I got her into the best rehab I could find–when she relapsed, I did it again.  But then one day she broke me: she chose to leave home and live with her boyfriend.  She was 18 years-old now and a Senior in High School (the same one I taught at) and she simply decided to leave home.

Something broke inside me the day she left, some might say it’s a broken heart, but it feels like more than that–it feels as if my entire being is broken–is it possible to have a broken soul?

Somehow, pounding on that treadmill every day helped relieve some of my despair.  I felt that the more I ran, the stronger I became, and the stronger I became, the better I could deal with this emotional apocalypse.  I would actually say to myself as I was running, “I’m not going to let her kill me.”

In time, I was able to regain some semblance of my previous self, and looked forward to my afternoon runs. While I was still anxious, I learned how to manage it with drugs and exercise.  I really was becoming a master at hiding it from my loved ones. Eventually my daughter came home–for a while, but she continued to have serious problems and began the pattern of going in and out of rehab for many years.

Then there was another tragic development in my life of which I had absolutely no control: my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer.  The uncertainty and fear that a cancer diagnosis comes with was suddenly upon me. Immediately my siblings and I went into action, researching options, encouraging her to get second opinions, and to shop around for doctors and treatments we were all comfortable with.  But still, as much as one attempts to take control of a situation like this, the reality is that most of what happens is out of our hands. Once again, I found myself on the treadmill pounding the anxiety, the fear and the heartache away. My thought process now was that if I improved my health, I could improve hers.  As silly as it sounds, all I could think while running was, “breathe for her.”

I continued running and imagining myself breathing for my mother for another year until I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer.  Yes, that’s correct, not an editing error.  Lung cancer.  And so, my running days were over as I faced the monumental task of fighting for my life. Chemo, radiation, two lung surgeries, a brain metastasis requiring neurosurgery and more radiation. I’ve done well– six years later and I’m still here! I don’t run anymore, but I have vivid dreams in which I am running, breathing in deeply, fully emptying my lungs as I exhale, heart pounding and it feels awesome.