Milo takes Lamictal. It’s a mood stabilizer that works on the manic aspect of Bipolar. It does not work on the depression. For that pole there are SSRIs. Poor Milo is allergic to those drugs. He tried them once, at seven years old and had a classic “adverse reaction.”
He demolished his bedroom with an elemental force, turning over furniture he did not honestly have the strength to move, covering the floor with pulled apart books, shattering light bulbs, dismembering the mechanical toys, eviscerating the stuffed ones. This was accompanied by a thunderous roar, a sound so removed from the sweetness of his voice and the sluggishness of his carriage that I shuddered hearing it, thinking it came from the underworld.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. Later that day he tried to throw himself from our moving minivan. He climbed to the side door and forced it open so my husband had to hit the brakes suddenly and hard to slam it shut. Traveling the mile home was a stuttering slow motion ride of terror. My husband was afraid to pick up any speed. He was trying to drive and prevent Milo from reaching the door handles. Milo was screaming, “just let me die, just let me die, just let me die.” He was seven.
The fury of that episode was induced by the drug. But Milo’s depression manifests as self loathing regardless of the chemistry class going on in his system. Last week his sister set him off. This is so common it’s not worth mentioning. Except that Milo’s reaction was not so common. He got angry and called his sister some names. Okay, your kid would do that too, then he accused his sister of nasty intent (of which she is guilty) and he stormed out of the room. Also something your kid would do.
But Milo was huffing and puffing. Actually huffing and puffing. He manipulates his breathing so that it is loud and labored like a cartoon sound effect. It’s creepy, and would be hypnotic if it didn’t signify an eruption. He grits his teeth and the volume increases and then he lets loose the kind of shriek that my neighbors several houses away will remark on.
I never, ever worry that Milo will one day walk into a public building and shoot people down. He is not malicious. He is not a planner. He holds the door open for you. He says excuse me and I’m sorry. He brings you a flower when you’re sad and a cookie when you’re hurt. He is compassionate. But he has almost no control over his impulses. So I do worry that he’ll get angry in a bar one day and smash someone on the head with a bottle and go to jail.
(I take sick comfort in the thought that once inside, he’ll run the place with cunning and charisma.)
Milo is a hefty 9 year old with the temper of a pro football player on steroids and the maturity of a toddler. He throws stuff. He throws whatever he can find. He shouts and screams like his ears are being pulled off. He stomps his feet and punches pillows. He uses his whole arm to level a stack of books or his own lego creation. Then he picks up something hard and blindly lets it go like a shot putter, spinning before the release. There’s the sound of shattering glass.
I have learned not to leave anything breakable in his room except he needs a lamp or two, with lightbulbs. And on the wall above his bed are a few framed items that he loves — his birth announcement, a painting of his, a painting by his sister. These have always been safe but this time the painting by his sister is hit and glass spills to his bed and his floor. As suddenly as he erupted he drops to the carpet, curls into the fetal position and starts to cry. It’s a hard set of tears, and the crying shakes his whole body. He chants “why?” many times before moving on to his litany of self hate:
“Why does God hate me?”
“Why am I so awful?”
“Why do you let me live here?”
“How can anyone love me?”
“It would be better if I was dead.”
“Wouldn’t it be better if I was dead?”
He has crawled over the shards of glass, pulled his blanket over him and wedged himself under his bed.
“Mommy, I asked you, wouldn’t it be better if I was dead?”
“No Baby, it wouldn’t. I would miss you too much.”
I don’t give a fuck about the mess, or what the neighbors think. But the profundity of his pain, the monumental force of it, the soul crushing, self obliterating cyclone breaks me all the way down to the place where mercy waits.
“No Baby, I’m so glad that you were born. And that you are alive.”
For a moment I worry that he will reach out for a piece of glass and go at his wrist or his throat. Not likely at nine. But he will be 19 one day.
My house is badly beaten up, the walls are nicked and scratched and chipped. As is my body, I have scars from being scratched and nicked and bitten. Milo’s pain is ferocious. It’s violent. And it is killing him. And the fact of his pain, the nasty, wrecking ball truth of it is killing me.
But I don’t try to convince him that I love him or that he’s valuable. I don’t touch him or soothe him physically. I wait for the force of being a nine year old boy to overwhelm the force of his depression. I stay nearby and let him hear me breathe. I outlast his pain. It can take hours, but he will eventually roll over onto a graphic novel that interests him and he’ll start reading. Or he’ll ask if we have any cookies left or if he has a playdate planned. He’ll stand up, shake off the glass and go find the dog or his sister or the remote control for the Wii.
Milo’s pain is a planet. He visits the poles of energy and self disgust, but he lives on the territory in-between. It’s a harsh, unforgiving landscape with unpredictable weather and sudden, destructive storms.
I live there, and I love there too.