Monday, November 5, 2012

The Art of Focus

I have utterly lost my focus.

In the days leading up to Benjy's first hospitalization I was a wreck, but fairly on-task. I was still teaching college English, and once or twice a week in the month preceding his crash Ben would accompany me to class, because his school had figuratively and sometimes literally let him go, unable to handle his pervasive panic and acts of self-harm. Pale and off-kilter, with wild, curling hair, long untouched and a startling contrast to his wasted body, Ben sat in the front of my class, trying to hide his bloody fingertips from my students and playing Club Penguin.

His very palpable presence was not a great distraction to me. I covered his ears in a jokey way when the class  discussion veered toward things sexual or transgressive -- blame the text, Readers, not me!  -- and otherwise carried on. I was pained, in those days, but fairly focused.

When he went off to Westwood Lodge, his first psychiatric hospital, for a single week, something changed. I suddenly had a hard time prepping my classes. I kept thinking about Benjy instead of the readings, or my students' writing. I was also thinking about money and insurance and my devastated parents and Saskia and Lars and how the hell I was going to make my boy better. Those days I walked about campus in a trance, looking right through my students when we crossed paths (then again, they did the same to me). I was simply absent.

And I was exhausted.

After that first hospitalization, when things seemed better (but of course that was not to last) I dug back in and finished the semester in pretty good form. Got my usual excellent evaluations. My next semester's courses filled up with repeat customers. (I was either a really good teacher or an easy grader. Possibly both.)

I had not yet lost my groove.

The problem is that two more hospitalizations followed over the next two years. One lasted almost a month; I started this blog when Ben was halfway through that one. The third, which ended just a few weeks ago, lasted almost three weeks. And I never really recovered from either of them.

Over the past two years I became unable to work. I mean, between calls from the school to pick him up and a zillion medical and therapy appointments, and the two or three days a week when he could not get out of bed to face the world, I lost the ability to be an employee. Even a mediocre one. When I did make it to class I could not bring myself to give a crap about thesis statements or short stories or the art of persuasion. Because my kid was going down, and I was going down with him. And not even my beloved literature could trump that.

Even when things are going relatively well -- on days like today, when Benjy goes off willingly to school and seems alert and not depressed and has actually eaten food of some sort (though not necessarily GOOD food) -- I don't seem to get anything done.

I write a bounty of lists. Check any flat surface in my house and you will find a few of them. Most have only one or two items out of ten or so checked off. Because I find myself drawn to rest and silence. I sit on my couch and stare. I listen to music sometimes, and sometimes I watch TV. I clean my kitchen a few times a day (funny how once is never enough), and I TRY -- I really, really do -- to pay bills. I have been promising the same growing stack of medical bills for weeks now that I'd get them sorted out. But the problem with those hospital bills is they keep coming in. And I am losing my mind over them. Not only because they are bleeding us DRY -- and believe me, we were dry to begin with -- but because I have lost track of what's been paid and what hasn't. Is this a NEW $500 charge from Children's or a second (or third) reminder about an old $500 charge? Didn't I already pay for that battery of blood tests? Or was that the battery from a few months ago?

I am so damn battered from these batteries of blood tests I could scream. Since September 2010 I have had two sick children, as long-term readers of this blog will know (for newcomers, my daughter Saskia is developing lupus), and the costs are dragging us under. All I've got to do is sort through the rapidly multiplying bills (yes, the cancer metaphor was deliberate) and pay what needs to be paid. It shouldn't be that hard, apart from the empty bank account, which is a bit of an impediment.

But I have lost my focus.

When feeling kindly disposed toward myself I think, Anna, you have been in the trenches of disability and illness for ten years. Some of those years you have held down a full-time job AND the full-time jobs of running a household and serving as primary parent. (Lars is a great Dad but most of the kid stuff lands on my plate.) You are simply EXHAUSTED.

But mostly I just feel like the ultimate slacker mom. The lame Hausfrau.

Somehow, I have got to get my groove back. Beyond lots of strong coffee I have no idea what it's going to take but I'm working on it.


  1. Ooooohhhh man. Anna my heart broke for you when I read this. I don't know where you stand on the whole God front, but, regardless, I'm praying for you today.

  2. Megan, I'll take any prayers I can get. Thank you! God does not factor much into my equations but I think a therapist or shrink is going to have to. Thanks for reaching out, and come back soon! Anna