Sunday, November 29, 2009

The dark cloud to the silver lining

For the last couple of days, we've had the pleasure of Gabriel's company during our normal waking hours. Usually he wakes up after midnight, stays up for only 6 or 8 hours, and goes back to bed in the morning. Needless to say, this is not a very good schedule for him, as it limits his socialization with the family, his activities, his exercise, and his regulation of his diabetes. But it has been a very difficult pattern to break. But since he got up for an early Thanksgiving lunch at my mother's and stayed up the rest of the day, he actually managed to stay on a more normal schedule for two days. I was feeling pretty good about this, and tried to give him some positive feedback ("great to spend some time with you, do you like getting out more since you're up during the day, etc").

But last night I realized that this might not be as positive a development as I had thought. We went out to eat and Gabriel was fairly morose and withdrawn. During the day he spent most of the time with his headphones in his ears, with his Walkman radio blasting. And in the evening, as I watched TV and worked on the computer in my room, he came in and hung around, talkative at first (more gangster and Queen of England talk, along with other topics). But then i realized that he was sitting silently on the daybed in the room, staring at a fixed point on the floor, then sitting miserably with his head in his hands. I asked if he was OK and he said yes. But then I got more specific and asked if he was seeing things or hearing voices: affirmative on the former, negative on the latter. Questioned further, he said they weren't scaring him or threatening him. But he stayed up until 3 or 4 AM, and that wakefulness often indicates a certain amount of agitation or fear of being by himself. I went to bed with that familiar knot of apprehension tightening in my chest.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Strong foundation

Well,'s been quite a week. When I posted a simple statement on the Oak Cliff Bicycle Company site, expressing my opinion that the poster and theme for the Kennedy Assassination Bike Race was in poor taste, and followed it with a blog entry on my own personal blog, I never expected such a furor. Many folks have expressed agreement that the poster was offensive, and a poll conducted on the CBS 11 News site found that 76% of those participating thought that the poster was "A bad idea-It's offensive."

But there has been a vocal minority, mostly young cyclists, who have defended the poster and theme, many leveling personal attacks at me. Most have accused me of wanting censorship, though I never asked that the poster be removed. I have been called a "nosy old busybody." (I guess that means I'm interested in history, current events, and what goes on in my society and community.) Another person characterized me as "a humorless bore." (My friends actually consider me fairly witty, but I don't see anything humorous in assassination, violence, or intentionally causing people pain.) I have been compared to Sarah Palin (scratching head)!?!? My spinal condition and my weight have been fodder for snide remarks, and one person stated, "Her son is a schizophreniac (sic)," as if that were the punchline of a joke.

The most amusing comments were those that suggested that I find something more constructive to do with my time. One such comment read:
Surely, in this day and age, you can find plenty of other things to spend your energy on changing or speaking out against. There’s all sorts of injustices in the world and in our home state. Might I suggest volunteering at the local animal shelter, feeding the homeless on Thanksgiving, visiting the elderly at a local nursing home or something else equally noble to get you away from your computer?
Once I stopped chuckling, I informed this helpful young lady that I had adopted 10 kids with disabilities, raised them as a single parent, provided therapy to disabled kids for 30 years, help take care of my 91 year old blind disabled mother, and have rescued 5 animals from shelters. To both of the people who suggested that I do something to better the world, I asked what exactly THEY had done to contribute to the common good. Strangely, neither responded. It is SO typical of that generation to think they are superior and qualified to lecture someone more than twice their age about how to live their life!

I hope that these folks aren't representative of an entire generation. I see people who are self-absorbed, hedonistic, and amoral. They don't build anything up; they only tear things down. Everything is a joke, and the more insulting or degrading, the better. They don't have respect for anyone or anything. They have the attitude that "anything goes," at least anything THEY want to do. Their mantra is "whatever." To me, they are pathetic: empty, lost souls with no moral compass.

But, I didn't intend for this to be a rant. I must admit, I'm not feeling very charitable towards these folks after all their comments this week. I was sending some mental arrows their way: I hope you have freezing rain for your race, I hope a construction truck drops a case of nails on your route, I hope you get a bad case of hemorrhoids. (Actually I have read one report that the race may have to be cancelled because the organizers did not get a permit for use of the park.)

But, rather than cursing their moral retardation, I'll send them a blessing. This is what I wish for them (in the words of Bob Dylan):

May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
And may you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the light surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
And may you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
And may you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Recently I've been pining for the vintage vehicle of my college youth...a 3-speed bike. I see no need for 24 speeds, and every bike I ever bought my kids constantly had problems with the derailleur. So I've been browsing online to check out 3-speed commuter bikes (not easy to find!). My search took me to the site of the Oak Cliff Bicycle Company where I was horrified to find the following flyer for a local bicycle race next weekend.

This flyer is so repulsive to me on so many levels, I don't know where to start. First, I left a comment on the bike shop's site, telling them how offensive I found the poster...and the very concept of the race. I added that I assume that the folks behind the race and poster did not live through that terrible time. The site owner responded: "No they did not. We’re sorry, we honestly do not want to offend anyone but I’m also not going to censor their Flyer."

In my mind, this poster is a symbol of so much that is wrong with our society. It is a reflection of how so many people, especially those of Gens X and Y, have become numb to images of graphic violence. From video games to movies, these young people have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of scenes of exploding brains, steaming entrails, and other gratuitous gore. It also expresses that desire to shock people's sensibilities, just for the sake of being shocking.

In this age of the 24 hour news cycle, when cable news devotes a whole afternoon to live coverage of the Balloon Boy hoax, these folks can't imagine the depth of a nation's despair during the week of November 22, 1963. I remember that, after the assassination and into my high school years, when that ominous voice broke into a TV program and intoned, "We interrupt this program to bring you a special announcement," my heart leapt into my throat, and I braced myself for some bit of devastating news. I was in sixth grade in 1963, and to me the assassination marked the end of innocence, the end of childhood as I knew it. I watched as the caisson moved down Pennsylvania Avenue, and the drumbeat and the clopping of the horses' hooves was the soundtrack of grief. After seeing the widow in the blood-stained pink dress, or watching a little boy on his third birthday saluting his father's coffin, it is impossible to understand how anyone could make that poster for the JFK Assassination Bike Race.

Maybe I should give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the people behind this race and poster aren't cruel or sadistic. Maybe they are just ignorant. Maybe all they know about the JFK assassination is what they learned in high school history class, which probably amounted to answering a couple of multiple choice questions about the presidency of Pres. Kennedy. Perhaps this video will give them an inkling, just an inkling, of the scope of the nation's grief.

The race went on as scheduled, even though the organizers did not have a permit. When interviewed by Channel 11 news, Race organizer, Alain Warchilde, stated: "It's not my art work. It's a cover from the 1978 single for the Misfits; something I felt tied in with to the theme of the race. That's the reason it was used, not to offend anybody… not to upset anyone."

What an absolutely specious argument! The Misfit single Warchilde is referring to is an obscene, even more offensive, song about the assassination. If it tied in with the theme of the race, then the whole thing was obviously intended to offend and upset people!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Troubling signs

Oh, no, please...not again! We've had about nine blessed months of relative calm, at least in regards to Gabriel's schizophrenia. After our five months of hell last year, when the doctors started messing around with his medication, he's been functioning fairly well, thanks to his Clozapine. Well, I do use the term "functioning" fairly loosely. He still has major cognitive problems, he sleeps about 18 hours a day, and his hebephrenic silliness seems to be increasing. But the delusions and hallucinations have been kept at bay, and that's something.

But I'm seeing troubling signs that things may be deteriorating. Now Gabriel has always been somewhat quirky and obsessive about certain subjects. Over the years his consuming topics of interest have been fast food (through severe anorexia and back), video game systems (he rarely plays video games but loves to discuss the pros and cons of all the systems that have come out over the years), the stock market, Men in Black (the source of many of his previous hallucinations of aliens), etc. Now his favorite topics of conversation (monologues) are the Mafia and the Queen of England.

The Mafia has been a frequent component of previous delusions. During his last decompensation, fears of aliens suddenly gave way to fears of the Mafia trying to kill him. Now, with daily exposure to Sopranos reruns, he talks frequently about the Mafia. Do you have to be born into it, does it have a lot of money, isn't it different from the Mob, and on and on. At this point, it doesn't seem to have devolved into real delusions, but when he ruminates on a subject like this, one that has a threatening element, it can be a troubling sign.

His other obsession is the idea that his birth mother is really the Queen of England. This one seemed to start as a joke, and still retains some of that playful quality, but it seems to taking hold as something of a delusion. He asks how many police and body guards would accompany the Queen if she came to Forest Hill to visit, and jokes that someone is at the door asking for John X (his name at birth) as his birth mother, the Queen, wants to meet him. I really have to bite my tongue to keep from blurting out, "No, actually, your birth mother was Tina Turner!" (That was HER delusion...)

At this point, I'm hoping that these ideas are just manifestations of Gabriel's quirky thinking and not the beginnings of genuine delusion. I'll bring them to the doctor's attention at his next appointment. Meanwhile, though I feel guilty admitting it, sometimes it's a relief that he sleeps during so much of my waking hours, as the obsessive monologues wear on my nerves at times. I'm looking into some cognitive remediation training, but more on that in a later post.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The cure for coonhound depression

In my previous life (before spinal stenosis), one of my favorite pastimes was walking or hiking with Banjo. We would go to the urban grassland preserve here in town or, on a nice Saturday, we would head down to Dinosaur Valley State Park to hike, explore, wade in the river, "hunt." (At least Banjo thought we were hunting.) But with my mobility limited to about 15 minutes of painful walking, hiking fell by the wayside, much to Banjo's chagrin. Like that sad dog on the Cymbalta commercial, waiting expectantly with his leash in his mouth, Banjo would agree, "Depression hurts."

But in recent weeks a change in medication has relieved some of my pain, allowing me slightly more mobility. And I discovered a city park in nearby Arlington where there are wonderful nature trails, with native plants, a tiny creek, animal habitats, and a very comfortable cushioned surface (thick mulch, perhaps?) that is less stressful on my spine and legs. So I've managed to take Banjo hiking there several times and we're both loving it!

A couple of weeks ago Tevis and I spent a pleasant fall afternoon exploring the trails. At my insistence we stopped to take some pictures of Banjo in the ravine. As you can see, Banjo took umbrage at interrupting his hunting to pose for pictures! He wanted to get his nose back to the ground, sniffing for raccoons or possums.

Just like a child, he got a bit of an attitude and decided, "OK, if you're going to make me stop for a picture, I'll just make a silly face!"

As you can see from this picture, hiking is the cure for coonhound depression. (And it's pretty effective for humans, too!)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hooray for fall!

For most people, fall is associated with decay, death, deterioration, rot, and withering. But here in Texas it often brings a new flourish of life!

During the summer months, when we swelter in 100+ degree temperatures for days on end and even the nights bring no relief, life often seems to come to a stand still. When a person opens the door and is overwhelmed with a blast of hot air, akin to the opening of a blast furnace, only the hardy or foolish will venture forth outside unless they unequivocally must. Parks and playgrounds become barren wastelands. The heat is too much for many flowering plants, which droop listlessly without a bloom.

But then fall arrives. No, we don't have the spectacular fall foliage that our northern neighbors enjoy, but we have new life, resurrection! Those withered vines grow with renewed vigor, blooming more spectacularly than they did in the spring.

Pink morning glories twine and put forth little trumpet blooms.

Purple morning glories open each morning
and stay open well into the afternoon, glorying in the cooler temperatures.

Black-eyed Susan vines stare wide-eyed at the autumn sun, angled now from the south.

And finally people emerge from their houses. Unconsciously they hold their breath when they open the front door, expecting that blast of heat, but, amazed, they find welcoming cool air. Suddenly people are everywhere: raking leaves, playing football, riding bikes, taking their kids and dogs to the park, feeding the ducks, luxuriating in life!

So here's to fall, which brings some of us welcome relief and sense of vibrant life!

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I've been AWOL from my blog for so long, I figured I'd give everyone an update. I'm still on long-term disability (it's been almost a year now) due to my spinal problems. I haven't really had any treatment yet, except for medication, because my cardiologist wouldn't release me for any procedure that required going off my Plavix or aspirin. Now he's released me, and I've consulted with several doctors with a growing sense of frustration. I've had conflicting recommendations (you need nerve blocks not steroid injections, you need steroid injections not nerve blocks, you're not a candidate for minimally invasive surgery, you are a candidate for it, etc). One doctor completely turned me off by seeming to trivialize this problem that has put my life on hold: "Well, you have a little arthritis and a little slippage." (This one told me that the baby aspirin that I take for my cardio problems should take care of my pain!) At two surgeons' offices, I didn't even see the doctor, just the physician assistant. So the upshot is that I'm going to have epidural steroid injections and if they don't provide any long term relief, I will hopefully have minimally invasive surgery. I want relief and I want my life back!

As for the boys, they are doing fairly well. Gabriel hasn't had any major problems since he got back on his Fazaclo. He sleeps too much and seems to exhibit more of that hebephrenic silliness, but the major hallucinations and delusions have been kept at bay, plus he's interacting with us. Keeping his diabetes under control is another story. He has managed to learn how to give himself the insulin injections, but getting him to check his blood sugar regularly or to modify his diet is like beating my head against the wall.

My mother just keeps plugging along. She just celebrated her 91st birthday and is still living at the independent living apartments, with some extra services. With the benefits of an antidepressant, she has become much more sociable, and so is enjoying life much more. I've started taking her out to eat once a week and Jesse goes to do her hair and nails frequently, and she really looks forward to that time together. I consider myself so fortunate that I have this time to spend with her, as it has brought us closer.

I am now a grandmother...Leslie had her baby, a little girl whom she named Hosanna Rachel (Hosanna is Leslie's middle name). As she is unable to care for a baby, Leslie's caregiver has agreed to become the baby's guardian and take Hosanna into her own home, so that she didn't have to go into the foster care system. I have a lot of mixed feelings about the whole situation, but it is what it is.

So, that's the wrap up. I hope to be more regular in my posts...glad to be back.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Autumn Days

The windows facing northward let in only muted light,
As autumn days grow shorter and the sun moves towards the south.
With long-dimmed vision the old woman on the couch
Scarcely observes the subtle changes of the shifting light.
The shortened days pass slowly, monotonously, silently,
Interrupted only by the clock punctually chiming the hour
And by three trips to the dining room, equally punctual.
Between rising and retiring the hours must be filled,
And so she fitfully dozes and dreams, wakes and remembers.
Ninety-one years worth of memories flit erratically
Through her mind, like a rare, delicate butterfly, sometimes
Alighting long enough to be studied, savored, embraced,
Sometimes flitting so quickly that they are only a blur.
A short childhood, a Depression, hard work, World War,
College, a marriage that endured for sixty-nine years,
But most of all she remembers the people in her life:
Dear Mother, steadfast husband, beloved sister---all gone---
And the three children to whom she devoted her life.
So many memories that make up the fabric of her life.
She'd like to wrap her children in the warmth of that fabric,
But now it is too late. A cruel stroke of fate has robbed
Her of her voice; her words are jumbled, twisted, fabricated,
Stubbornly refusing to convey the meaning in her mind.
Now she waits, through ever shortening days, to be wrapped
In the warmth of the memories of her children, as they weave
Her history and strength into the vibrant cloth of their lives.