The Funnel Effect

Yesterday was a good day.

Milo and I met some friends at a nearby water park. We planned to get there when it opened, but I got lost (the Maps on the iphone 5 suck) and had to feel my way. Milo was surprisingly patient as I made the same wrong turn twice. He walked barefoot through the parking lot, waited in the ticket line and then wisely went to the most popular and most aggressive ride first, before the line built up. I hate amusement park rides of any kind. They make me nauseous and disoriented. Knowing this and knowing that the most exciting rides require double riders, Milo found another single rider and made his own fun.

We were at the park for more than 7hours and he never once complained. He rode every ride that interested him, ate lunch calmly, took it in stride when he found out that the snow cone booth wasn’t open and even made a new friend while jumping off the side of the pirate ship. In the soak zone he choreographed a “3-D” movie using the curtain of water that fell over the fiberglass couch. In the wave pool he positioned himself on the edge of the whirlpool line so he would feel the tug but not quite get sucked in.

His favorite ride was the Dragon’s Den because it is pitch dark and includes a large, fast funnel. Milo loves the surprise of getting caught in the swirl and then dropped into the light of day.  It’s a metaphor for his frustration, his confusion and his rage. But if you ask him,  he’ll tell you that the funnel “is just so AWESOME!!!!”

He was cooperative when it was time to leave and gave me a thoughtful interpretation of the new Macklemore song about marriage equality and gay rights.

“People  love who they love and they should get to marry whoever they want to marry. Well, except that you shouldn’t marry someone who is blood related to you because then your kid might only have one eye.”

We stopped for gas as a menacing thunderstorm moved in. Milo, who is ironically unnerved by stormy weather, was encouraging as we drove through the pounding rain. “You’re doing a great job Mommy.” After taking a long look behind us he said, “It’s dark where we came from, but there’s blue sky ahead. So I’m just going to keep looking forward Mommy.”

Today was a bad day.

Milo woke up wanting to play Minecraft but it wouldn’t load on our computer. This caused a screeching meltdown that led to him asking us to find a way to kill him that “wouldn’t hurt too much” because his life, “has no meaning.”  All before 9 am.

By 10 o’clock we were on our annual 1/2 day canoe paddle with close friends on a lake we love. While zipping his life jacket Milo discovered the emergency whistle.

“What’s this for?”

“You blow that if you need help, if you’re in distress.”

“But I’m always in distress.”

We’ve had a record amount of rain and the lake bottom was particularly squishy. Milo’s attempts to muck around in the water were more arduous than carefree and he hated it. He went in and out of the cape, uncomfortable in either place. Eventually he blew his whistle. We towed him back to the dock.

There was screaming over food, his wet bathing suit, the indignity of being alive.  There was a shower of stomping and fury.

Then, miraculously, Minecraft loaded on my phone and we had a short reprieve. But a visit with some out of town friends meant Milo climbing all over my husband, chewing on my husband’s clothing, complaining loudly, rudely and incessantly about . . .what? It wasn’t exactly clear. What was clear was the fact that Milo seemed desperate to crawl out of his own skin. And this discomfort swirled and funneled into rage until Milo bolted from the house with his hands over his ears yelling about Buffalo wings.  My husband went to dinner without us and I took Milo home.

Of the 15 hours that Milo was awake today, 10 of them were spent in distress. Imagine the racket if he had an actual whistle on him the entire time.


The Suicidal Seven Year Old

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.