Month: December 2013

Automatic for the People

Susan tells me Jani once spent Christmas inpatient at UCLA. She tells me that I had to take Jani back on December 23rd, which is Susan’s birthday, and she was holding Bodhi and crying.


I don’t remember this. That bothers me. It makes me feel like I can only focus on one child at a time, neglecting whichever one is not in crisis.


It’s funny those that read January First and criticize me for my constant harping on Jani’s IQ of 146 in the first half of the book. No, funny isn’t the right word. I am not sure what the right word is but suffice it to say that there has been a karmic revenge for that. Jani’s current academic skills range between third grade and her actual sixth grade level. Mathematics is the area at grade level, while reading comprehension lags. She struggles with the drawing details from a story. She struggles to hold onto a plot point that occurred on the previous page.  Some things stick in her mind and others do not. Pretty much everything I taught her in her early life, pre age five, is gone.


I thought about this tonight as I changed Bodhi’s diaper at UCLA, thinking perhaps a fresh diaper might help him fall asleep. Bodhi turned six years old this month. He can use the toilet but generally will not do it on his own. You have to take him and pull down his pants. Outside the hospital, this has to be done about every hour to avoid him wetting himself and of course the nursing staff are not going to do it that often. Of course, now they are treating him for diaper rash. At six years old. Jani never had diaper rash. I was religious about changing her. I never wanted her to exist with a wet or soiled diaper. No bladder infections either. Whatever my failings as a parent, I at least got that right.


Jani resisted potty training and Susan actually got her to do it at four years old by bribing her with a diaper, of all things. That was the only thing that would work. She was terrified to go without the diaper and that terror drove her to use the toilet in exchange for a diaper. After that, she never had an accident.


Bodhi never cared.


Over the years at UCLA, I have seen older children, severely autistic, in diapers. One, a boy who was twelve, stands out to me the most. I suppose what I am confronting now is that the body will keep growing, with or without the mind. I have a dear friend with a 15 year old daughter who has schizophrenia, among other maladies. She has to wear a diaper when she is on her period because she doesn’t react when she bleeds all over herself. Not that I expect that will happen to Jani. I don’t know how Jani will react but I suspect, given how she freaks out at a thin line of blood from a scratch, it will not be good. Jani is terrified of having loose stool and believes she is having it when she isn’t, even reaching into her pants and pulling out her hand and smelling it. This is despite the fact that her bowl movements are as large and as big as softballs, so much so that I have to get a plastic bag, the same baggies I use for the dogs, and break it into pieces so it will flush.

I have no idea why I am telling you this. Random people I don’t know on the internet criticize me for how I have “portrayed” Jani, telling me she will one day hate me for revealing such things about her to the world. I actually hope they are right because if they are then that means she will have recovered enough to care about her image on a macro scale. That would be a hell of an accomplishment. But she has to get there first. That kind of hatred, non psychotic hatred, requires a type of awareness and reflection that Jani is not yet capable of. Should she ever reach that point, then whatever judgment she renders upon me will be immaterial to what she has achieved by simply getting to that state. That would amount to essentially full recovery from schizophrenia. I guess I would trade her full functioning for her hating me. Seems like a small price to pay to me.


Bodhi, Bodhi, Bodhi. I still find fresh bitemarks on him. And bruises.


It feels like we are going around and around in circles. He has been inpatient for more than a month now, which is starting to feel an awful lot like Jani’s four month stay back in 2009. For two weeks there was no self harm, leading us to focus all our efforts on his environment outside the hospital, as he seemed to do better there. Then, in the third week, it began there, just like it did at home.


Four weeks in, after originally discarding the idea, the doctors wanted to try Adderal, a stimulant used in the treatment of ADHD. Given Jani’s reaction to stimulants, there was no way in hell I was going to try that outpatient. For Jani, Adderal and Ritalin, the first dose was like L-Dopa for Oliver Sacks’ encephalitis lethargica patients. It was a miracle drug. All of her aggression disappeared and she was actively engaged with other children, including carrying for younger ones. She was also happy, happier than I’d seen her since she was a toddler. I didn’t realize at the time being high makes you extremely happy, and stimulants make you high if you are not ADHD. Once the high wore off, she crashed with a ferocious bout of violence, with follow up doses having no effect. So, after two of these crashes and a heart racing so fast I was terrified she would go into cardiac arrest, ADHD was abandoned as a potential diagnosis.


Bodhi hasn’t had that reaction. It has wound him up, which is then followed by what the nurses call a “temper tantrum,” followed by nakedly autistic behavior where he doesn’t engage at all. Doesn’t even acknowledge our presence. Just lines up his cars. When I visit him later in the evening for his bedtime routine, he is back to being alert and engaged.


Some nurses will confess that they can identify no “antecedent” for Bodhi’s “tantrums,” that “most of the time they seem to come out of nowhere.” It has been described to me exactly like this: “One minute he is fine and then the next he is throwing a fit and then the next he is fine again.” Bodhi rarely gets a PRN because he comes out of these “tantrums” as quickly as he went in and there is no remnant that they ever happened except for the imprints of his own teeth on his skin.


Yet they are so confused.


If you replace the self-injurious behavior with aggression toward others, you have Jani. Bodhi’s self harm is lessened by Seroquel, an anti-psychotic that also worked to some extent with Jani from her first hospitalization at BHC Alhambra in March 2008 to December 2008, when she became acutely psychotic again and tried to jump out of her second story bedroom window. Head first. Like she could fly.


Have you ever read Oliver Sacks’ book Awakenings? No, neither have I, although I’ve seen the Robin Williams movie that it is based on. In fact, it was on TV tonight while I was trying to fall asleep in my home with one child missing. I never forgot it the first time I saw it. L-Dopa brought those men and women back to life. But then it stopped working. Catatonic behaviors returned, no matter how much the dose was increased. Anti-psychotics can do the same thing, work for a while and then stop working. Symptoms return and even to this day, doctors still keep increasing the dose in vain, hoping to slow the return of the symptoms. And then you are left changing your son’s diaper and kissing his head and telling him you love him and praying to God that passes for some semblance of a human life.


By the way, anti-psychotics also work on dopamine receptors, although what that has to do with psychotic behavior no one could tell you.


I write sentences like that to try and get away from the pain. What I wrote in the last sentence of the previous paragraph is the true crux of the issue. As a parent of a child with any sort of disability, what eats away at you is the guilt of not knowing whether you are doing enough to offset what the disability takes away. In essence, you want to feel, I want to feel, like Bodhi has some moments of happiness. I want him to feel like there are enough good moments in life that make up for the hell of the rest of it. Bodhi has no suicidal ideation, unlike Jani at that age. Which, by the way, is why I agreed to have Bodhi. Long before there was violence, there was depression. Yes, Jani was starting to act out in public but she wasn’t violent yet. What she seemed was depressed. Try as I might, nothing seemed to wake her up at life. She enjoyed nothing. I don’t know if I can describe what that feels like to see your five year old depressed. You shouldn’t feel like life has nothing left to offer at five years old. I gave her a sibling because it was the only thing that excited her. I did it out of a desperate hope that having a newborn sibling would give her a reason for living.


I am aware that that sounds fucked up now. Maybe you’ve never done anything fucked up for the happiness of your child. I don’t know. All I know is I have.


And I don’t regret it, because I love Bodhi and so does Jani. Now. Now she can be a big sister to him. But that lack of regret is still largely based on my selfish feelings of love for my son. Is he happy? Is he happy being alive? That’s what I want to know and that is what he can’t tell me.


If my children are not happy, and I don’t mean in the moment to moment but happy to be alive, that is the only thing I cannot deal with. It is the only failure that matters and their happiness, their desire to live, is the only success I care about. It’s the only thing I will ever care about. It is why I do everything I do, including the Jani Foundation. I am trying to create enough happy moments to keep pace with the moments of hell that their brains force upon them. Because I want them to keep fighting. Because I can’t ever free them from what they have. As long as they want to live, that is all that matters.


While I was holding Bodhi tonight, rocking him, trying to get him to sleep so I could go home only to come back and do it all over again tomorrow night, I tried to cry. I desperately want to cry. I can feel it but it just won’t come. I sob, but they are dry. It reaches the edge and then dies away, like the memories I have lost.


I know it is a defense mechanism. I want to feel the agony of loss and regret and fear of the future but I can’t because I still have to get Jani and Bodhi to that future. This is what it means, I guess, to advocate for your children. You have to suppress the natural emotions that come with seeing your child in this state so you can argue with the doctors or the school district for what you know they need. You can’t be an emotional wreck. You have to be a fighter because your child isn’t their child. They are never going to fight like you will. They will give up. You won’t.


But I think what bothers me the most, and what I am realizing as I go through this process again, is that it isn’t just the negative emotions that get suppressed. Love gets pushed down there as well, along with the pain and fear. I suppose this is because love causes pain and fear. The root emotion gets pushed down and I become automatic.


I don’t want to be automatic. I want to feel that pain because I want to feel that love, even if it rips me apart for a little while. Should I ever lose either of my children, I want to know that I loved them with every ounce of my being.


And I can’t do that without feeling the pain.

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Next Jani Foundation event open to public

Friday, December 13th, 4-7pm at Valencia Barnes & Noble

Come out and meet us and some of the kids the Jani Foundation provides social events for. Use the flyer below in store on 12/13/13 and the Jani Foundation receives 10%. Or you can shop online at 
  from 12/13/13‐
12/18/13 and 

Jani Bookfair Flyer with Vouchers (in pdf)

Come meet some of the kids we support!
Come meet some of the kids we support!