Monday, March 30, 2020

The Voice of Reason Sneak Peak II

Amy stared at him. Everything froze. The air evaporated. “Are you honestly telling me to have your brother locked up in a mental ward?” She shivered.

“No.” Jason took her small hands in his large, calloused ones and squeezed gently. “I’m asking you, begging you as his brother to have him locked up. Right now, it’s the only way to save him.” He dragged a sleeve across his eyes.

Amy turned away from him and cracked Josh’s door open. He remained at the window muttering to himself, or to someone created by his mind.

There in the cold hospital hallway Amy Everett knew a heart could literally shatter, because hers did. “I swear to you,” she whispered, “I’ll find a way to bring you back to me.”

Straightening her spine, she eased the door shut and turned back to Jason. She nodded, not trusting her voice. Somehow, she had to wait to break down. She’d need her strength when she told Caleb Daddy couldn’t come home after all. It was her turn to be the strong one, no matter how impossible.

Jason took her hand and led her back to Dr Jefferson’s office. They didn’t speak. There was nothing more to say. Amy raised her hand to knock but it was shaking too badly. Jason rapped on the door with his free hand.

“Enter.” Dr Jefferson looked up from whatever he was writing, an unmistakable shadow passing over his face.

“Okay,” Amy said. “I’ll do it. I’ll sign Josh into the . . . into the mental ward. Please help him.”

She sank into the chair facing the desk before her legs gave out. Jason sat next to her. His hand made circles on her back. She wished he’d stop. It was taking everything she had not to dissolve into a heaping pile of sobs.

Dr Jefferson’s face softened. “You’re doing the right thing. We’ll take good care of him.” He pushed his chair back to a beige filing cabinet against the back wall and fumbled with his key ring. Everything was locked up. They might as well lock her up too. She didn’t want to go back out into the world without Josh.

But she had to think of Caleb. How would she stay together for him? How could they survive without their family’s foundation? Josh was the one who made her world make sense. If his world didn’t make sense, hers didn’t either.

“Can I still come and see him?”

Dr Jefferson pulled out a thick file folder. “Yes, of course. This isn’t a prison, Amy.”


The doctor slid a pen and paper across the desk to her.

The words “involuntary commitment” blurred as tears, just as involuntary, filled her eyes and dripped onto the paper. Amy picked up the pen and scrawled her signature.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Voice of Reason Sneak Peak

Chapter 1

June 25, 1979


osh Everett was twenty-one years old the first time the voices spoke to him.

That ordinary summer morning, he ran a comb through his shaggy, almost shoulder-length black hair as he checked his reflection in the small bathroom mirror. Later, he’d wish he’d looked harder; stared into the pool of his own eyes, attempting to see straight into his brain. Maybe if he’d watched closely enough he would’ve seen it happen; something misfiring deep within the recesses of his brain, an almost imperceptible ripple in the calm waters, a subtle precursor to the storm.

He hurried downstairs toward the aroma of coffee floating up to greet him. At the threshold of the tiny kitchen, he paused to take in the scene. Amy stood at the stove with her back to him. His wife’s long brown hair was secured behind her in a messy ponytail and one of his t-shirts almost swallowed her small frame.  He watched her  frying eggs, humming along with the sizzling of the oil in the pan. She scooped an egg onto a plate with a pancake and turned to slide it onto Caleb’s highchair tray. The baby pounded the tray with squeals of excitement, his thick dark curls bouncing on his head. At one and a half he still hadn’t uttered a discernable word, but he was always making noise and smiling.

Amy caught sight of Josh and broke into a grin. She made him feel ten feet tall just by the way she lit up when he entered a room. “Good morning, handsome,” she said. “Have a seat. I hope Mrs Crofsky’s hens next door keep the eggs coming.”

Instead, he walked up to her and snaked his arms around her from behind, kissing her slender neck.

She gasped. “Stop that! You’ll make me burn the eggs. I’m trying to actually cook them right this time.”

“It’d be worth it.” He inhaled her strawberry scent before turning to greet his son, bending down to his level and ruffling his hair. “Morning, Caleb. High five.” Josh held up his large hand. Caleb giggled and instead reached up with a sticky hand to tug Josh’s hair.

“Oww.” Josh pulled back making Caleb giggle harder. The baby lifted a piece of pancake as a peace offering and Josh bent his head and let him feed it to him. “Mmm,” he said wiggling his eyebrows in exaggeration. “Mama’s such a good cook it tastes delicious even with slobber on it.”

Amy laughed and swatted him with a dish towel. “Sit down and you’ll get your own. Slobber free.”

Taking a seat at the narrow breakfast bar next to Caleb’s highchair, he ran his hand over the distressed wood that he’d constructed with his own hands.

“Smells great,” he told Amy as he picked up the knife and fork and began meticulously cutting his meal. Amy always laughed at his quirk of cutting up all his food before he ate it.

“It’s like you’ve been practicing for fatherhood your whole life,” she’d tell him, and as silly as it was, he liked the thought that somewhere in his subconscious he’d spent his life getting ready for Caleb. He poked one of the egg yolks, letting the yellow bleed across the red plate. Then it happened. A low, unfamiliar voice spoke.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Mental Health and COVID-19

Where do I start? Words like "pandemic", "quarantine", and "social distancing" have become part of everyday language, especially within the last week. I'm not here to talk about statistics, lecture you about staying inside, or discuss the physical symptoms of the coronavirus ad nauseum - not because it's not a big deal, but because literally everyone is talking about it. The conversations are important - and overwhelming.

We live in a world where we're one scroll a way from scary headlines and latest news. On the upside, it's never been easier to stay informed and connected. The downside is wide spread - yet understandable - fixation. As a parent of a kiddo on the spectrum, I know fixation, though somewhat inevitable, is not healthy. So am I saying we should hide our heads in the sand and avoid what's going on? No, it's essential to be informed, especially where health and safety are concerned. But now that we're all stuck inside with exponentially inflating numbers buzzing around our heads like flies and every phone conversation circling back to one topic, let's not forget mental health. It's okay to extend social distancing to social media and to limit how much you allow into your brain. It's okay to take a break, read a book, focus on your work, and talk about literally anything else. It doesn't mean your not taking this seriously. Sometimes social media makes us feel guilty for disconnecting. I have to constantly remind myself not to take the bait - for my own sanity.

This pandemic is affecting all of us in some way - those in vulnerable groups the most. But it's not just affecting us physically. No matter who you are, you're likely experiencing isolation, cabin fever, anxiety, and disruption in your normal routine. This is an adjustment for anyone. For those with underlying mental health conditions, current circumstances exacerbate already pervasive struggles. Anxiety sufferers, particularly those with germ-focused phobia, must deal with increased worry over getting sick, getting someone else sick, or a vulnerable loved one. Again, we are all dealing with these very appropriate worries. But, already present anxiety is that much more amplified. Although, if you prefer to be at home like me, certain anxieties (social) may actually be alleviated. On the other hand, if you're a small business owner or otherwise out of work, you are likely faced with financial uncertainty, especially given that none of us know how long we're in for.

Social distancing equals social isolation, especially for individuals like my mom, who live alone. Social isolation is depression's best friend. If you don't suffer from depression, this is a time to watch for it in yourself and those around you. Especially check in on those who live alone. Signs like lack of motivation, sleeping ore than usual, changes in appetite, and irritability (especially in children) can all be warning signs of depression. If you're a fellow depression warrior, now is the time to take extra care of yourself. If you rely on a routine that has been subsequently interrupted, create a new or modified routine. It might sound simple, but getting up and dressed and showered even when you won't be stepping foot outside your door may help retain some normalcy. While it's healthy to distance from social media, it's also important to keep connected. I've done this by participating in the live streaming of my church services, spending time coming up with new activities to do with my kids, enjoying rare moments to talk with my husband with fewer distractions (sports, a long commute to and from the office), and maintaining regular phone contact with my mom.

This isn't the time to put extra pressure on yourself. If you have a family and even if you don't extra chores will be created y people being home all day using dishes, taking things out, etcetera. If you have restless kids at home like I do, you may see an entirely new level of clutter. My ten year old was recently looking for his GoPro charger. He asked me where it was. I can't even keep track of my own stuff, so I told him to look in his room. Apparently, this ultimately fruitless search necessitated taking every book off his shelf and leaving it stranded on the floor. Well, at least he can keep himself busy cleaning his room. Spoiler alert: hasn't happened yet.

I got some great advice from my son's therapist. She encouraged me to avoid putting too much pressure on academics, instead focusing on mental health right now. I feel like this is good advice anyway, but with a first grader on the autism spectrum, I have to check my expectations. Though my older son is used to homeschooling, E is used to the structured environment of school. His day to day has changed - not ideal for someone on the spectrum. Fortunately, we have access to e learning and his teacher and aids have been great about filling his virtual subject folders. I've been employing the use of our visual schedule to intersperse school with free time, but I have to remember not to push it. In general, we all have this fear of falling behind. Maybe we can put that aside for now. Maybe we can take a lesson from all the chaos and learn to slow down, prioritizing our health and well-being. Now is not the time to introduce new material or stress about extra screen time.

As we navigate this new, uncertain terrain, we are inundated with reminders to practice proper hygiene and safeguard our physical health. let's remind ourselves to also focus on and safeguard our mental health too.

Please feel free to leave your own tips for mental healthcare, as well as ideas for helping those living alone feel connected, in the comments