Doubt 2

When I tell people he’s sick, I have the same feeling I had about telling people my mom was dying. Part of me knew my mom was what other people called terminal. But the voice of my conscience, my inner admiral, that part felt like I was being overly dramatic.

That’s a sort of creepy aspect of denial, I guess. Denial almost always speaks with the voice of reason and sensibility. It’s a ventriloquist, or an internal parlor trick. For a long time I imagined that denial sounded kind of sneaky or scared. But it doesn’t. If it did, it wouldn’t work. I felt in my case, like I was maybe stretching the truth, or not telling all of it. And I wasn’t. I couldn’t.

I read a book about brain injuries and it appears that the left half of your brain takes information from the right, and doles it out, spins it, (or completely denies it) in a way that makes sense in the story of your life. The right half struggles to get new information through to your consciousness. The admiral half can’t be bothered every time the little pfc. comes in and says, “The enemy is amassing just over that hill and they’re wa-ayyy bigger than we thought.”

The admiral needs to look at the big picture before he reports back to the troops. If the information will be too disturbing to the troops, there is some grappling over it. Maybe the troops are told, maybe not. Most likely the information will be spun in a way that doesn’t cause a total system collapse.

This is why many stroke victims deny they’ve had any sort of brain injury. It’s just way too disturbing, and if the injury was on the right side (the pfc. side), there’s no obnoxious little guy making a scene about the evidence (like the left hand not working). But there’s good evidence that their unconscious mind is aware of the situation,  just withholding it from conscious awareness.

So when I see evidence that says my kid is seriously depressed, there’s a bit of a struggle for whether or not that gets through to my inner story-line, my troops.  Instead, I think maybe he’s wayward, lazy, spoiled, immature. I suppose he can be all those things and still be depressed.

That’s the brain theory. But there’s also this inter-human side. The feeling I get when I try to explain the situation is the same disingenuous feeling a person gets when they try to explain any complex, upsetting, horrible (maybe wonderful) thing to people who care enough to ask, but don’t know the details.

When someone says my son has a mental illness, my daughter cuts herself, my father is an alcoholic, my parents are getting a divorce, I lost my job, I have cancer, my husband had an affair, my wife walked out on me, my brother died, I was abused… The people who hear it have a sort of archetypal, soap opera idea of what those stories must be like. As we speak it, we know our version of the dying mother or lost job isn’t quite what they will have in mind.

Our version is both more and less terrible than they are picturing. It’s also familiar in some universal, archetypically human way. And on another level it’s particularly, oddly and strangely our own.   It’s a hard world to navigate.

Doubt 1

So yeah, my kid is sick. Sort of. He’s got a diagnosis, anyway. They say he’s sick.  And he isn’t acting like he does when he’s healthy. The doctors gave him a prescription. I’m pretty tired of this particular sickness. I’m not even sure it exists. But I think it’s contagious.

I tell you he’s sick with some doubts.

It’s not really anyone’s business.  It isn’t my place to air his dirty laundry.  But I can’t stop thinking about it.  And instead of this being about him, it’s about me (again). To a great extent, it’s my own judgmental nature that makes this all so hard.  If, when the caller on the radio talked about having two kids with mental health issues (or learning difficulties, or food sensitivity, chemical dependency or any other of a host of slightly fuzzy issues), if I hadn’t thought, “Well listen to her.  It’s no wonder her kids…She probably just needs to…” well then, I’d probably not feel so culpable for my kids’ problems.  But I did.  And I do.  Judgment always has a way of coming back to bite me. 

I guess it makes sense, in some respect.  If my kid starts throwing up, I do immediately think back.  Did I leave the eggs out of the fridge, or under-cook the chicken? Did I bring this on? But in the end, I feed them clear liquids, clean them up and let them rest.  It comes naturally to me.  And to them; their bodies go into a gear that makes them feel like doing the things that will make them healthy.  They feel nauseated, so they give their stomachs a break.  They feel tired, so they rest.  And they get better.  What a good mom I am.  What good children. 

If you haven’t had someone you love struggle with one of these issues, it’s difficult to explain it.  I’ve gone through it quite a number of times, and my grasp is still tenuous.  I don’t know whether to be angry or worried, sympathetic or resolute.  How do I handle this sickness? Tough love, so he knows the real world doesn’t wipe the drool off your chin (they snicker)? Nurturing love, so he knows we’re there for him when he bottoms out? Do I enjoy his company or refuse to be a part of his time surplus? Do I point out that if he showers we’ll all feel better? Or pretend I don’t notice, so as not to compound his bad feelings?

Do I help him clean up his house, so getting out of bed it isn’t so horrible? Or do I let him slide into this abyss he’s creating and figure his own way out? Do I hug him and love him anyway? Or do I decline to associate with him as long as he’s feeding his illness?

Part of trouble is that his body and his brain have gone into a gear that tells him exactly the opposite of what he needs to do to get better.  He feels exhausted and his mind says, “You need to take care of yourself.  Go back to bed. Shower?  God, that sounds cold and miserable, in Europe they hardly bathe at all.  Dinner?  What have you done today to burn calories? There’s nothing delicious in the fridge anyway.  You haven’t done anything to pamper yourself, no wonder you feel like crap.  Have another beer. Sure, you could call your folks, but they won’t get it. Nobody does.” 

When I tell people he’s sick, I have the same feeling I had about telling people my mom was dying. Part of me knew she was what other people called terminal. But the voice of my conscience, my inner admiral, felt like I was being overly dramatic. Maybe stretching the truth, or not telling all of it. And I wasn’t. I couldn’t.


Jellyfish as Food


Zach and I had a food adventure the other day. Zach says it was one of his most disturbing food events. I say it was divine retribution since it was he who found the tasty little morsels. Ever eaten jellyfish?

If you haven’t, let me disabuse you of a notion you may have preconceived. Jellyfish are absolutely nothing like either jelly or fish. And I’m pretty sophisticated and expansive in my willingness to try different gelatinous foods. One thing I like to do is peel up the jelly from the bottom of a chicken pan after it has cooled off, and drop it into my mouth. I’ll admit that half of the fun is watching my kids lose their minds and their lunches as I do it. But it isn’t just the idea of meatish jelly that creeps me out.

I’d like to wax poetic about what jellyfish are like, but for the first time in a long while, words escape me. Hard to believe, but almost true. I will forge on, nonetheless.

First, what they look like. Imagine fetuccini sized empty intestines, whitish and translucent but very, very sturdy. This segs neatly into what they feel like which is best described as wet, rubbery ribbon.

By far the most disturbing aspect of frozen and revived jellyfish is the smell. This was due in part to the fact that they smelled like nothing any of us had ever smelled before. The closest I can come up with is that they smell like the breath of a very old person who hasn’t had lunch yet. Like the dotted outline of violet perfume, musty carpet, pressed powder, unwashed head and the muffled footsteps of the grim reaper. The smell was at once overpowering and faint. Like a black hole of smell, where the very absence of smell has shape and form.

The smell was really an aura, a bad aura with not so much fragrance or odor, but the implication of something very bad. Let me give Zach credit for the best descriptor yet, “It smelled just like oh no!”

Other than smell, the texture and sound were the most salient feature of the jellyfish. For something so rubbery, they made way too much noise. They sounded like the sound of the bionic man (the old one) bending a crowbar every time we chewed.

The taste was slightly salty but mostly tang, which is to say more aftertaste than taste. What the Japanese refer to as umami, I think.

We had a guest visiting (as we love to do with new foods) who suggested, brilliantly, that we dredge them in flour a d deep-fry them. And what food doesn’t improve upon being dredged and deep fried? We gave it a try. The were improved, but still very disturbing. the taste-smell-thing was with us all for hours afterwards.

A moment I will treasure was perhaps 20 minutes after we had eaten our last bits of jellyfish. As we were sitting in the kitchen, where Zach yelped and rushed around from corner to corner looking for something, but not finding it. He wailed, “oh no! I burped!” God, I love this life.