Pediatric Mental Illness on Parade

My friend Olive and her little girl came to visit us. (Her name is not really Olive, but her anonymous-for-the-web name for her daughter is Pickles, so I’m going with a whole relish-tray theme.)

This was kind of a big deal for me because I’ve always sworn I would never meet any of my online friends in real life. No way. I enjoy my online life and I was afraid that, if I met my virtual friends, we might hate each other. It seemed too risky.

But I’m also kind of a sucker, and Olive pretty much twisted my arm (not really), so here she came, Pickles in tow.

Pickles is a little younger than Carter, but they have a great deal in common. They both love dogs and they both have psychosis, for instance. They both enjoy cartoons and both can go from happy to raging (or terrified, or despondent) without warning.

Just two little kids but more, which is why Olive and I met each other online in the first place. In spite of what the media says, the community of parents whose children have serious mental illness is really quite small.

But the kids did great, for the most part. Carter was fascinated by Pickles’s medicine and eager to compare it to his own. It was all so new to him, this opportunity to be around another child whose experience of the world was similar to his. Every time he was alone with me, he talked as fast as he could, dissecting Pickles, telling me all the ways they are similar and all the ways they are different. He’s a surprisingly introspective person when he’s not screaming at people to stop looking at him.

The third day Olive and Pickles were here, I had to pick up Brian from work and everyone wanted to come along with me, so Carter and Pickles piled into the back seat and Spencer rode shotgun. Halfway to our destination, I heard Pickles say, “I don’t want to talk about that!” She was looking out the side window, away from Carter.

Carter launched into a long, impassioned explanation about how he didn’t mean to upset her, but if she would just listen he could make her understand because what he’s saying is very important and if she would just uncover her ears and listen to him he could make it all OK!

As he does. You know how some people see a problem and immediately start throwing money at it? Carter thinks that there is no problem too large to be solved if you just drown it in words.

Pickles refused to uncover her ears or turn and look at Carter, so he redoubled his efforts, increased his volume, and tried to pull one of Pickles’s hands away from her ear. “But I was just trying to tell you…”

She clamped her hands back over her ears, turned to face Carter with her face screwed up tight with fury and said, “I have to take some space and this is my only way to take some space. You have to let me take some space!”

Carter, his own face now growing stormy, responded, “I am not in your bubble!”

And they went, lobbing therapy-speak back and forth across the back seat at each other, trying to find the magic words learned from some doctor or counselor or behavior management specialist that would solve the problem. “You should use your skills to calm down!” “I already used my skills! You use your skills!” “I can’t because you won’t let me take some space!” “I would let you take some space if you would use your skills!”

Finally, Pickles turned back to the window, hands clamped tight over her ears, humming loudly. I could see Carter in the rearview mirror and I could see that he was approaching nuclear meltdown. Face bright red, jaw clenched, he hissed “I am so angry right now!”

Meanwhile, I was in the front seat doing my best drone imitation, speaking in a near monotone, “Everyone is OK. Let’s all take a deep breath. Carter, you look out your window. Pickles, you look the other way, out your own window.”

They weren’t listening to me, which is not surprising since neither of them was listening to anything except the pounding of their own anger.

Finally, we arrived at Brian’s office, and Spencer got in the backseat between Pickles and Carter. “You look out that window,” he said to Pickles, “and you look out that one,” he said to Carter.

And they did.

And all was quiet on the way home.

If you hear me refer to that dark-haired 14-year-old boy who lives in my house as Saint Spencer, you’ll never wonder why.