Monthly Archives: June 2015

Family Matters: Explaining Why I Have “Bad Days”

by Lillian Csernica on June 28, 2015

I don’t like to think of myself as having a mental illness.  For me, that conjures up images of people wearing straightjackets while they huddle inside padded rooms.  Such images are inaccurate but all too common, thanks to horror movies and other sources that prefer shock value to realistic compassion.  The fact is I do have a mental illness: Major Depressive Disorder.  Most days I get up, get dressed, and go about my day in a fairly stable mood, laughing with my kids and taking care of business.  Other days I shuffle around in my bathrobe, dragging myself through the essential tasks when all I want to do is hide under my blankets.

Yes, I talk about this a lot.  It’s important to do so.  Depression is hard enough to deal with when you have what most people would consider a “normal” life.   I have two special needs children.  I’ve met several of the parents of my sons’ classmates as the boys have gone from elementary school through junior high and high school.  One of the things special needs parents most often have in common is depression.  We struggle to keep it from affecting our children.  That’s difficult, because special needs children and adults can be very sensitive to the emotional climate around them.  They tune into their primary caregivers because those are the people they depend on to help them get through each day.

Let me share with you this article with its ten suggestions.  I found it to be useful, reassuring, and proof that I have been doing some things right.  There are days when that kind of validation is very precious.

How To Support Your Kids Through A Parent’s Mental Illness | Dr. Leslie CAPEHART | YourTango.


Filed under autism, Depression, Family, frustration, Goals, marriage, mother, Self-image, Special needs, therapy, Writing

Eavesdropping: The Key To Fame and Fortune

by Lillian Csernica on June 22, 2015

I love to travel, but I don’t get away as much as I’d like to.  On the other hand, the whole world comes to me when I just sit back and listen.

Those lovely folks at Merriam-Webster provide this definition for eavesdrop:

“to listen secretly to what other people are saying.”

My room is on the second floor of the house, facing out onto the driveway.  This means I get to keep an eye on who’s coming and going at this end of my street.  What’s far more fascinating is sitting up here with the window open and my ceiling fan going, sipping a refreshing drink while I listen to what’s going on out there.  The people I hear the most from are my two closest neighbors.  Am I invading their privacy?  The folks who live on my right have a pool in their back yard.  During the summer months they’re out there on a daily basis.  They’re nice people, with two young daughters.  The older girl is quiet and polite.  Her little sister is an unholy terror, one of those angel-faced brats I’ve been at war with ever since I was old enough to walk.

On a recent weekend these neighbors had company, which happens a lot.  The adults all went somewhere and left the two girls plus the children of their visitors in the keeping of the grandfather, who is also part of the household.  Sure enough, the Brat started in, hollering loud enough to drown out everybody else.  All I could hear was her shrieking, “I want the pool light on!”  Over and over and over again, same inflection, same demand.  That finally stopped.  I don’t know if she got what she wanted or one of the adults managed to distract her with something else.  There is no disciplining this little monster.  She’s got more tricks up her sleeve than a master magician.

Not all that exciting, you say?  Hardly worth the bother?  Mind you, this child is about six years old.  I tried to concentrate on my work, but when the shrieking got going again, I caught one key word: “Vampire.”  Uh huh.  So I kept listening.  Sure enough, about five minutes later I hear her bellow, “They suck your blood!”  The evil glee in her voice brought to mind the days when the kids in our neighborhood got together and tried to scare each other silly.  Now here’s the punchline.  The general rumble of the other kids’ voices went on.  Then the Brat shrieks, “Get out of my house!”  They were already outside.  She was doing a good imitation of an adult issuing a command.  I’m starting to wonder if Mommy and Daddy have been letting their little hellspawn watch monster movies, or maybe even True Blood.

Tell me this isn’t the material for some kind of story!


Filed under Family, Fiction, frustration, Humor, mother, Writing

The Top Five Things I Hate About Keeping Up My Mental Health

by Lillian Csernica on June 16th, 2015

1) Putting up with other people’s unmet needs, perception gaps, etc.

I’ve had enough therapy and psychiatric help with my depression to have some understanding of psychodynamics.  This means that now and then I can make a somewhat educated guess about why certain people are doing certain things.  This does not mean I have any right to grab such people by the collar and give them a lecture on how they could stop being so aggravating.  Such understanding of their suffering compels me to show compassion.  Yes, that’s the high road, and it’s the best road.  I will admit that there are days when I’m stuck in emotional traffic and the Low Road is the only one I can travel.  There are other days when I am sick and tired of putting up with some people and whatever it is they do that makes my life that much harder.  When I’m having a bad day, I do try to warn the people who have to live with me.  I’ve been told more than once that Person X is sick of living with my problems.  Guess what?  SO AM I!  I don’t want to be the way I get on my bad days.  Which brings me back to putting up with other people.  I think a few of them really do enjoy the emotional drama.  There are others who are trapped inside their problems just like I am.  For their sake, I have to take a deep breath and show them the understanding I hope for when that’s happening to me.

2) Knowing you really can build a ladder out of the Pit, even on the days when you don’t want to try.

Accountability is a pain in the ass.  One of the annoying but necessary functions of a therapist is the way he or she keeps me honest.  I used to say things like, “I hate life.”  The therapist I had then would say, “Really?  All of life?  Everywhere in the cosmos?”  Of course not.  There are kittens and ice cream and sexy movie stars and good books.  So we’d narrow it down to what I was actually hating on that particular day.  Get the sense of being overwhelmed under control.  Check.  Discuss why I’m hating that particular person or thing on that particular day.  Check.  Hate?  Really?  What are the feelings underneath?  Check.  Achieving a more balanced perspective on the situation.   Check.  Yes, all that is helpful.  Yes, all that is what I’m paying the therapist for.  Still, there are days when what I really need is a damn good hissy fit.

3) Enduring the armchair psychoanalysis of idiots without smacking them upside the head.

God save me from the fans of Oprah and Dr. Phil.  Thanks to the boys and to working at home, I don’t go out and mingle with the public as much as I used to do.  When Michael was little, if we took him out in his wheelchair people were constantly bugging Chris and me with all kinds of nosy questions and “helpful” suggestions.  Michael’s problems are largely physical, so they’re more obvious.  I don’t wear any kind of lapel pin or Medic-Alert bracelet that says “Major Depressive Disorder,” so people can’t see what’s “wrong” with me.  There are those people who have whatever empathetic abilities who seem to pick up on my gloomy vibes.  This is why I stay home if at all possible on bad days.  If there’s one thing I do not need when I’m in the Pit, it’s attracting the psychic vampires like a bug zapper at a Kentucky truck stop.  This is  just Stage One.  We move on to Stage Two when people start making all kinds of helpful suggestions.  Uh huh.  If I could just thank them for their concern and then run for it, I wouldn’t mind so much.  What really gets me are the stories.  This person’s sister.  This person’s aunt.  This person’s cousin.  After about ten minutes of listening to these people tell me all about what they know is really the problem, I am bitterly tempted to point out the probable cause and effect behind the behavior patterns I’ve witnessed just in the time they’ve been talking.  That never ends well, but now and then I feel justified in claiming self-defense.

4) When you do have a bad day, the people you live with think that just because you have a lot of good days, you should be able to snap out of it.  It does not work like that, but there’s no getting some people to grasp that fact.

What more can I say?  I’ve been married for twenty-seven years come next month.  I’ve been under treatment for my depression for a bit more than half that time.  (The depression had existed long before I got married, so please don’t assume it’s all my husband’s fault.)  There have been days when my mother, my sister, and/or my husband has asked me why I’m not better now.  There is no “better” in the sense of being cured.  Clinical depression cannot be cured, it can only be treated.  This lack of understanding makes good days difficult and bad days even worse.  Please see #1 and #3 for further details.

5)  Hating myself for being so needy on my bad days. 

It’s really grim knowing that I’m behaving like the very people I’m complaining about right here.  My own personal hell is lined with photographs of what I look like in the mirror when I see my face all blotchy and tear-streaked again.  A long time ago I learned when to tell my husband, “Stop trying to reason with me!  I am not rational right now!”  You know how men are wired.  Problem?  Solution!  Another problem?  More solutions!  I don’t want solutions.  I just want to scream and cry and do whatever it takes to lance the emotional boil inside me and drain that poison.  I realize this is not pleasant for the people who live with me.  This is why I lock myself in my room and I lock my pain up inside my head and I don’t let anybody know how much I need help.  This is not healthy, but it’s what makes sense at the time.  It’s what keeps me from being the kind of person I can’t stand, the kind of person I never want to be, the kind of person that I fight to understand and support on the days when I have enough strength to do so.

There’s that saying, “Life’s a bitch and then you die.”  It’s not true.  For people who suffer from serious depression, life’s a bitch and then you wake up in the morning knowing you have to live through another day.

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Filed under charity, Depression, Family, therapy

The Best Proof of Success

by  Lillian Csernica on June 10, 2015

My mother lives in a retirement community.  There are lots of activities, from day trips to the monthly party for all the people who have a birthday in that particular month to a variety of classes and groups.  This coming Saturday, the organizer of the Writers’ Group has invited a special guest speaker.  Care to guess who that speaker might be?

That’s right.  I will show up with my Shameless Self-Promotion Kit, talk a bit about my work, and then explain how the techniques of fiction are quite useful when writing a memoir.

I got over being nervous in front of an audience a long time ago.  I joined my high school’s Speech and Debate Team as a sophomore, then competed on my college team.  Attending conventions such as RadCon, Clockwork Alchemy, and BayCon as a guest speaker has kept my public speaking skills polished.

Now here’s the weird part.  As I contemplate my presentation for this Writers’ Group, made up of people my mother knows and who all live in the same retirement community, I’m getting flashbacks to various moments in my childhood and teenage years when Mom wanted me to show off my latest accomplishment for neighbors or co-workers.  My mother has always been an avid photographer, probably because she grew up helping my grandfather in his professional photography studio.  This means Mom has a lot of blackmail material about me at age six dressed as a little gray mouse for a dance recital, or competing in swimming races during the summer when I was in grade school, or when I started working as a professional belly dancer.

So on Saturday I will stand up in front of my mother’s friends and tell them about my career as a professional writer.  I’ll have copies of Ship of Dreams and some of the anthologies where my stories have appeared.  My credentials are solid.

So why am I starting to feel nervous?  Why do I have that old familiar feeling of wanting to make Mom proud of me?  There’s nothing strange about that, of course.  There is, however, a big difference between having that feeling when you’re six or sixteen, and feeling it when you’re pushing fifty.  I know my mother is proud of me.  That’s why the people where she lives know what I do for a living.  And yet, part of me still wants to look out across the audience and see her sitting there, smiling and nodding.

Seeing my byline in print is great.  Getting paid real money for it is even better.  Still, there’s nothing like knowing I’ve made my mother proud of me.


Filed under Conventions, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, memoirs

Shift Change at the Doctor’s Office

by Lillian Csernica on June 5, 2015

My son Michael is 19 now.  Still a teenager, although he is legally an adult.  Last year my husband and I had to file the appropriate papers and meet with the state officials who oversee the process of the appointment of a legal guardian for medically fragile, nonverbal people such as my son.  We are now not just his parents but his legal guardians as well.

That process brought home to me the fact that my son is moving on.  I have lived most of my adult life in the world of pediatric medical care.  Hospitals, doctors, nurses, therapists, caseworkers, counselors, and the vendors for all the equipment and supplies.  Bright colors, scrubs with cartoon characters, aquariums in the waiting rooms.  Environments meant to soothe and entertain children who are facing the frightening prospect of yet another doctor visit.

Yesterday my husband and I took Michael to the Oakland Children’s Hospital.  That’s a two hour drive, and our appointment was in the afternoon, so my husband had to take the day off from work.  “Family medical leave” is the category, rather than burning a vacation day.  Finding parking for our van was a real problem because the van’s roof is higher than the parking structure clearance.  We made it to the doctor’s office on time, but only because we know enough to leave a wide margin of extra time for traffic and the whole parking issue.

My son has a Baclofen pump, which is a medication pump implanted in his abdomen with a catheter than runs under the skin around his ribs to his spinal column.  Baclofen helps ease the spasticity in his muscles due to the cerebral palsy.  The battery in the pump is nearing the end of its charge, so it’s time to schedule the replacement surgery.  When the pump was implanted, I stayed with Michael for the five days he was in the hospital.  The replacement surgery is much simpler, so his stay won’t be as long.  Every surgery has its risks, but this doctor is a recognized expert in the procedure.

What disturbed me the most about this appointment happened when the doctor pointed out that soon Michael would need to see a doctor in this same field of medicine who treats adults.  On one hand, this isn’t a cause for anxiety because it makes perfect sense.  Our present surgeon is a specialist in pediatric cases.  My son has almost reached the legal drinking age.  Of course he would no longer see a children’s doctor.

On the other hand, as this thought sank in, I realized that the same will be true for all of Michael’s specialists:

The pediatrician.

The neurologist.

The gastroenterologist.

The pulmonologist.

The ophthamologist.

The orthopedic surgeon who put the Harrington rods in to correct Michael’s scoliosis.

Each of these doctors represents almost twenty years of expertise in the treatment of my son’s particular combination of medical problems.  The idea of having to leave the team that has helped us keep Michael healthy and strong through so many crises really upsets me.  No doubt we will be referred to doctors in whom our current team has confidence, but still.  Reading Michael’s chart in the context of one particular aspect of his care will not give each of these new specialists a real grasp of the complexity of Michael’s circumstances.

So much about the future frightens me.  Climate change.  Water rationing.  The increasing frequency of earthquakes (I live in California).  Making sure we have everything in place to provide both of my sons with a safe, healthy adulthood.  The movie “San Andreas” just opened.  I can’t go see it, no matter how good the reviews say it is.  I know that at some point I will freak out and have to leave the theater.

New doctors.  New names, new faces, new locations, new phone numbers, new logistics.  Finding out how they communicate, if they’re willing to listen, how much they’re willing to let me participate in planning Michael’s care.  We’ve been very fortunate with the pediatric physicians we’ve known.  People who go into pediatric medicine generally like children and make an effort to be pleasant and nonthreatening.  As we move into the world of adult care, where we’re all expected to act like “grown-ups,” I wonder about the people who will become responsible for maintaining Michael’s health.


Filed under Depression, doctors, Family, frustration, Special needs, specialists

What is an Artspouse? I want an Artspouse!

Some very important ideas from my friend and fellow writer Setsu Uzume.

Setsu Uzumé

I’ve never had a partner who reads my work, or has taken an active interest in my writing. This used to make me sad.

Then I discovered there are many writers whose partners actively discourage it, saying it’s a waste of time, it would never go anywhere, that they should be doing something “productive.” They can never work in an environment free from judgement and criticism.

I am so thankful, every day, that while I’m not always helped by my family (chosen or otherwise) they have never stood in my way.

As much as I am grateful, I find that my most favorite authors thank their partners or spouses first and foremost. Those partners work with their writer, around their writer, applying their shrewd minds, asking good questions, and pushing their writer to be the absolute best they can be. As a mushy example, the writer in Stephen King’s “Bag of…

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