The Day I Don’t Brain So Well

EDIT: I think I know why disruptive kids responded well to me now. I understand the struggle. “Don’t worry, kid. I respond to criticism by violently shoving the world away and hiding in a ball of self-devaluating misery too.” When they weren’t in fight-or-flight mode due to their anxiety, those kids revealed themselves to be kind, understanding, creative and intelligent individuals. More evidence, to me, that we need to tailor learning to the child.

Here is a day in the life of a person with manic depression who skips a mood stabilizer AND a sleep medication because she didn’t count them right and account for the pharmacy being closed over the weekend.

It starts early. Right around the time the clock hit 00:00 on the new day, I knew sleep was going to be a tricky bastard. Unfortunately for me, even when I find it, it slips away as easily as a hard twitch of my legs or a light jostle from my partner. So I tried the old trick of staying up to the point of exhaustion.

I wasn’t even doing much. Fiddling with the DS, watching Pawn Stars on and off. Eventually, I switched over to Netflix to throw on a show I’d watched over and over to fall asleep to. But suddenly the show was SO FASCINATING. The episodes have been rerun to death, but suddenly the punch lines were making me chuckle myself out of the one point sleep haze nearly overcame my fried brain, and BOOM! Awake. Eye-poppingly awake.

Back to the hypnotic shift between handheld game system and show. Four AM passed…six AM. I had to sleep. I had Stuff To Do the next day. I laid down, closed my eyes, and drifted. It was like hopping back and forth across some line I couldn’t quite fully cross into. My sleep was off-balance. At one point, I apparently fed my partner my shoulder, and he pushed me lightly out of smothering distance. Awake. His legs shoved across my side of the bed. Mildly annoyed and awake.

He woke up soon after, and we laid around and did couple stuff. The friend I clean for in exchange for garage space called, needing someone to drop one of his sons off at a babysitter before I came in to clean. I rushed through getting ready and drove over.

I’ve always had this theory that the cuter the kids are, the more stubborn and rebellious they tend to be. I used to proctor for one of my mother’s third grade classes, and she found out I had a knack for getting trouble children to settle down. She passed the info along to a fellow teacher, who had one student who would oppose everything she said, shriek, and generally be a horror. She asked if I would be willing to proctor for her since no one else wanted to because of this one kid. I agreed, feeling assured of my skills after dealing with my mother’s unruly class.

I walked in expecting some burly, sneering skinheaded third grader with prison tats or something after all the fuss they made over him. Instead, I found myself standing over the desk of a fair-skinned, button-cute brunette boy with big, puppy brown eyes. I thought someone was putting me on. Then class started. I realized right away what the problem was. The teacher was instigating, probably unintentionally. Expecting him to be a problem, she would often turn her attention to him and snap at him to sit up straight or pay attention or stop fiddling with something. Her tone was harsh, and it fell on the kid very often. He would start to get more and more stressed, his face reddening and his antagonizing actions ramping up in response. That was when the screaming matches between them would start, and I’ll tell you that kid about pierced my eardrum shrieking right next to me. He’d slam things around, throw things, and ultimately drop out of any reach of reasoning.

Once I was able to get him to myself, though, he responded pretty well to an even tone and politely asking him to follow instructions. He even brought things to classes to show me and would light up when I walked in. I don’t know if it was just a good cop/bad cop situation with my perhaps overly sweet, imploring actions versus the teacher embarrassing and pre-empting bad behavior, but I was able to keep him out of the office that week and on task with the testing.

After him came myriad friends’ children who were adorable little mogwai they apparently fed exclusively after midnight. One of them, a tow-headed boy with an angelic smile, pinched me so hard on the neck that people were snickering about my “hickey” for a month afterward. From the first time I met Jack, I knew he was no different.

I moved away when one of my friends was pregnant. She had him while I was in the new city, and I only got to see him a couple times before I moved back for good. Once, my friend had entertained both of us by playing “fetch” with him. He would throw a ball, Jack would grab it and run it back, and one of us would ruffle his already-thick blonde curls, take the ball, and repeat the process. All three of us were in fits of laughter by the end. Jack is an adorable child with a lot of energy and a contrarian nature.

So when I was tasked with A. Waking him up from a nap and B. Trying to get him to do anything else after being woken up from said nap, I was sufficiently daunted. The thing with me when I’m on the way up the Bipolar ladder, though, is my personality fits really well with a willful three-year-old’s. I am well-practiced in fighting the “I don’t wanna”s in my own brain, so a three-year-old was basically just a version of that I could pick up and tote around if I needed to. Waking him up and getting him to grandma’s could be as simple as bracing myself for the shrieks, dressing him like a doll, and stuffing him into the carseat.

I decided to take a less combative approach and just tickle him awake. You can literally never wake up angry if someone is tickling you awake. You may get angry afterwards, especially if you live alone and someone broke in and randomly started tickling you, but you will at least wake up laughing. It worked like a charm. My subsequent game of “I can’t find your feet to put on socks!”, however, backfired. He curled up into a ball and fought the socks every step. I finally wrestled them on, telling him it was against the rules when he tried to kick them off (the rules of what, I don’t know, but apparently he did), and was stuck with kid-in-a-ball-who-is-now-playfully-not-cooperating. So I scooped him up and deposited him on the couch in front of his favorite monster truck show. I asked if he wanted to pick out something to drink, and he nodded and wandered over to the fridge. I opened it, he took a cursory glance, murmured, “Just milk” and headed back to the couch.

I grabbed the milk, and he popped back in to say “Just chocolate milk”. This is where the best part of being an Auntie as opposed to a Mommy comes in. Chocolate milk? Fuck yeah! The chocolatiest. I mixed it up right, handed it to him, and went back into the kitchen to wash some dishes until it was time to leave.

His face got stormy when I went to gather him up, but he didn’t fuss. I found a couple pairs of shoes that looked like they were his and asked which ones he wanted. He pointed to one pair, and I held each out in turn as he put his feet in. He was still holding the chocolate milk, and I told him to drink what he wanted because we had to go. He locked eyes with me and stood stock-still. The milk level didn’t change. I sensed a dig-in. I told him I was going to count to five, and he should drink as much chocolate milk as he could until then. I proceeded a drawn-out count, and he just looked at me. I got to five and gently tried to take the cup. He resisted for a second, still giving me the business, but finally chugged half of the remainder of milk and gave it up.

We finally made it to the car with ten minutes remaining before he was supposed to be at his grandma’s. I found the game his brother had installed on my Kindle for him and brought it up, then passed the device back to him and started the car. I roughly knew the area from a high school friend who had lived on the same street, and I thought I would be able to track down the address from what I vaguely remembered of my conversation with my friend and Jack’s own knowledge of his grandma’s house.

Some time after this, I got two different responses to trusting Jack to find his grandma’s: My friend, Jack’s father, frowned and said, “Jack knows where his grandma lives. Of course you should have trusted him.” His wife just smiled and shook her head at me, amused. “No, that was definitely a bad idea.”

It was definitely a bad idea. Jack tugged me along back and forth across the road to two different houses. The first was answered by a very confused and slightly scared-looking kid of around ten. I immediately said we had the wrong place and scooted Jack back to the car. I asked him where his grandma’s was. He pointed to another house. I grilled him, asking was he sure? Had he been there before? He solemnly nodded each time, as he had before. I sighed and led him to the next house. Thankfully, no one answered the door.

Finally, I deposited back in the car and drove back to his house. I haven’t had a cell phone in something over a year, yet I still hadn’t anticipated what a hassle driving to a location based on a vague description and the whim of a three-year-old could be. I called his grandma, who was luckily understanding, and got an actual address.

When we got there, Jack dug in again. The difficult part of being an Auntie? Kids don’t want to leave you because you spoil them and sometimes their parents/guardians hate that. His grandma just chuckled and said he must really like me. I ended up having to close the door on a full-on red-faced toddler fit, and I felt guilty for a bit.

With all the trouble, I had used up my time. I had to get the car back for my partner. I stopped back by my friends’ to drop off the car seat and at least touch up a couple things, then rushed home.

The rest of the day was spent alternating among distractions. It’s difficult for me to be alone sometimes, but I often isolate myself when I’m unsure of my mood to avoid embarrassing situations. Too often, I get lost in my head while around other people and come off as standoffish. If I’m manic, I’ll talk until I run out of breath, refill, and then talk some more. Sometimes I’m antagonistic without real intent. Others I just run off on tangents and speak in metaphors. After my head injuries, I often tangle up my sentences, lose words, transpose stories. Being alone is better than risking having an understanding audience.

There are times, though, when I’ll hit that golden stage of hypomania where everything is effervescent, and I am scintillating. I’m fun and happy and just want everything around me to be the same, and it rubs off on people. It’s rare, but it’s lovely. Colors are never so beautiful, and the world is never so welcoming and full of promise and adventure.

It took some time, but I was able to re-stabilize on medication. Brain chemistry always ends up being a dangerous thing to play with. My brain is full of wormholes, and any tweak in the chemicals I feed it can send me shooting down one or another into unknown universes where anything could happen. Finding the decent one among them isn’t worth risking the horrors of the others. For now, stability is the only goal. Perhaps one day I’ll seek that permanent golden state where nothing can touch me, but life needs to even out first. First comes solid ground–then adventure.