Death, Grief & the Beast

Sun with bright rays against a blue sky

NAMI Orange County volunteer Melissa Nemeth passed on as did my brother-in-law Don. Grief that I denied myself now hits me. Now I realize how much compassion I withheld from my husband as I defended myself from pain and from being needed. My prayers go out to Melissa’s family and to my in-laws. The tears flow easily now.


Unfortunately, in my hypomanic flurry of activity of late, I lost control of my anger, my rage. Yesterday morning, I lost my temper with my son when he would not wake up and go to school. I hit him on the arm to rise him. I hurt him. I abused him. He cried. He rolled up into a ball and cried. I forced him to go to school unprepared and emotionally raw. I went into the school’s office. I spoke frankly with his guidance counselor. I emailed the school psychologist at her recommendation.

My son has given me the silent treatment since the incident. I deserve his silence and worse.

Distraught over my behavior, yesterday I twice called NAMI Orange County‘s Warm Line at (714) 991-6412. Last night, as I left the house to cool off, I made this voice recording, which I have not yet transcribed (I apologize to those who cannot hear it).

45 thoughts on “Death, Grief & the Beast

  1. Mary Rowen May 12, 2015 / 9:19 am

    Kitt, you are brave to share this. My son is also in high school and we’ve had some similar issues this year with him. I understand your frustration and wish you all the best. Here’s hoping things get better soon. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley May 12, 2015 / 9:28 pm

      Thank you. Greatly appreciate it. I will keep you and your son in my thoughts and prayers, as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. dougstuber May 5, 2015 / 8:12 pm

    Hello Kitt, do you know of Janet Frame, the New Zealand author of “Angel at my Table,” Owls Do Cry” and “You are now entering a Human Heart,” etc. She wrote her way out of severe schizophrenia, and he books can be inspirational for those climbing out of this or that abyss

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Emily Rose Lacy-Nichols April 27, 2015 / 5:41 pm

    Aunt Kitt, I really appreciate your candor and honesty. As I listened to your words, I caught an echo of what my mom probably said to herself when I was a freshman in high school and failing geometry because of absences due to insomnia/migraines and related doctor visits and tests. I ended freshman year with a C in geometry (just barely passing the class); during that year I had Ds temporarily in Biology (for not doing assignments) and English (for not giving a speech). I never got anything better than a B+ in high school math (test anxiety makes me swap numbers, screw up basic arithmetic, and forget things I already wrote down). My math teacher wanted me to take the regular/non-honors math, but my mom talked to him and was able to explain how much I enjoyed his class and his teaching (and that if I was in an easier class with unmotivated students, I simply wouldn’t do the work and would fail).
    I guess I want to say, looking at your situation from the perspective of the person who is sick and having trouble in school, is that it’s really frustrating to have any kind of chronic illness, especially one as subjective as “my head hurts.” I felt enormously guilty about being sick for no valid reason I could see, and for having no way to prove to others—or to myself—that I wasn’t making up my pain. In high school, if I couldn’t sleep, I put a sticky note on the handle to my bedroom door that said, “wake me at [X] o’clock”. Basically, this meant: “if I have to get up at 6:30am for school after lying awake in bed until 3-4am, I’ll start throwing up in my first class and have to be driven home, and I’ll miss all three of my morning classes AND lunch… But if you let me sleep through my first class, at least I’ll be able to go to the rest of my classes, including math, which I really can’t miss.” Since the throwing-up scenario happened more than once, my parents generally stuck to the sticky note’s instructions, and I had to make up lots of schoolwork.
    For a long time, I’ve had a fear that everyone feels horrible daily (or frequently), but I’m the only one who is weak and can’t handle it and complains. Even as recently as last year, I had to give up a leadership position in my church because I simply could not make it to the early morning meetings. The main reason that I don’t want to be an employee with a traditional workday is the fear that I won’t be able to get up and get to work, and I’ll have to quit my job, and all sorts of horrible things will happen.
    The fear that my pain is merely a personal weakness is not gone by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve been able to avoid much of the stress by how I structure my life and the limitations I have to put on myself. I don’t always wake up with my alarm (and if I wake up, I can’t always get up), so sometimes I lose 2 hours of my morning, or 3, or 5, or more, and I have to make up the deficit into the night (or lose the income). Since I don’t have a nine-to-five job, I can stay up ’til 11, or midnight, or 3 or 4 or 5am working on a project that has to be done by early morning. I don’t like pulling late-nighters, but I would rather stay up late and get something DONE than go to bed early and risk sleeping through the time I want to spend working.
    Unfortunately for my cousin, he doesn’t have the freedom to structure his schooling and work time to fit his own sleep schedule. It sucks. It really, REALLY, sucks! I know; I lived with it most of middle school and all of high school, and even sometimes in college. BUT—it is possible to get through high school and pass classes (even get As) despite having nasty migraines and trouble sleeping. For me, it took cutting out all extra-curricular activities in order to have enough time to work on homework during the day and evening and not late into the night. It took lots of work—during obligatory “free” periods, on weekends, during the times when I would far rather have escaped into a book… It took a ton of stress, and discipline, and effort…
    It is hard, but it is not impossible.
    I lived through it.
    And so did my mom, and my dad.
    And so will my cousin, and so will you, and so will uncle Nick.
    Yikes. That was really long. Thank you for reading this far!
    Sending you and yours my love and strength and support, always.
    ❤ Emster

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley April 27, 2015 / 9:11 pm

      God bless you, Emily. I cried as I read your response. Nick read it, too. You know exactly what Matthew lives with. It breaks my heart, it truly does, that both you and he feel chronic pain. Migraines suck! He struggles with insomnia, too. He has made it clear to us that he cannot do any extracurricular activities and has no desire to socialize outside of school, for school is enough. I respect that choice and that he is able to articulate his needs and his limits to me. I know that he, like you, has tremendous gifts.

      I know that the demands of public high school attendance requirements and his AP/IB/honors courses can be too much, but he wants stay in the classes for the challenge and because he has friends in those classes. Honestly, he is gifted and belongs in those classes. Right now I am working with his teachers, guidance counselor, and school psychologist to try to help him. The school psychologist is drawing up a three-fold assessment: academic/intelligence, psychological, & physical health. I’m taking him to a pediatric neurologist again soon and to a pediatric gastroenterologist.

      The loss of Uncle Don weighs heavy on his heart. He worries about our other family members, too. Cancer has hit too many, far too many.

      Emily, thank you.


  4. amandaquirky April 27, 2015 / 5:00 pm

    Hi Kitt–this might be an odd question (and as someone on the autistic spectrum myself, I am forever diagnosing people with ASD, so please don’t be offended) but has your son ever been assessed for something like Asperger’s? I ask because of what you said, re: his struggles to do his English work (and particularly sharing it)… I was the same way, in high school. I got a 5 on my AP English exam, in 11th grade (the year I missed 63 days out of 180) but I also got a C on one of my projects that year, because I refused outright to give a presentation (and so my potential A became a C, because I lost the points I’d have had for presenting to the class). I simply couldn’t do it, my shrink even wrote me a note (which is how I didn’t get a big fat zero for the assignment)… it was the aspect of trying to do language and social interaction at the same time, and I just couldn’t handle it. And because I was considered to be such a talented writer (cringe, but all my teachers used that phrase) I couldn’t make anyone understand WHY it was so impossible for me to verbally communicate the things I dredged up out of my very soul, on paper.

    I also used to vomit with nerves regularly (like your son, maybe…) and in hindsight, in spite of a run of about 6 years of repeated tonsillitis and strep throat every single winter, what was actually wrong, was my inability to endure the stress of being around my peers. Half of the school I missed, was because as someone with (then undiagnosed) ASD, I needed more support–not to do the work, but to do it with/around other people. I can remember the feeling of needing to do something to unwind (my mother had banned videogames in our house; it was well-meaning, but how I wish I’d had that outlet!) and without that, I literally couldn’t face endless days of dealing with other human beings AND engaging so thoroughly with my schoolwork (which I did, by the way–if anyone could get me to do my homework, it put my classmates’ work to shame, most of the time).

    I don’t know how familiar any of that sounds, but I just want to make the point that you said your husband is an engineer–many engineers, mathematicians, and other people who have significantly advanced logic and/or spatial skills are thought to be on the autistic spectrum (as in, were they children now, with the broader criteria, they would likely be diagnosed as autistic themselves). Autism begets autism, in my experience… is there any chance at all, that some of what your son is experiencing, is a slightly enhanced version of an autistic spectrum disorder (or just one or two traits, maybe) that he’s inherited from your husband?

    I can find you some information about how often ASD is misdiagnosed (especially in verbally advanced kids!) as a variety of other things, bipolar disorder among them–but it’s not hard to find examples, if you wanted to look yourself. Also, autistic kids are purported to have a much higher incidence of digestive disorders, as compared to other kids (sometimes due to extreme sensory issues/food preferences, but sometimes not–most experts agree, ASD kids struggle with digestion more than neurotypical kids). I just thought it might be relevant.

    Sorry, it’s 1 a.m. here and I need to get some sleep, but please let me know if you want me to post links tomorrow… I just, bah, I wish someone had realized I had ASD before I myself did (which was when my daughter was being diagnosed, long after my high school career was past) because there were things that could’ve been done.

    Good luck to you and your boy, whatever happens. Parenting and being a teenager: 2 of the toughest, most combative positions for 2 people to be in.


    Liked by 1 person

  5. metalflowermaker April 26, 2015 / 6:54 am

    Wow Kitt. You are very strong. This is a horrible situation, you are going through right now. You are doing the right things, therapy, communication with the school, getting him to go to school with or without homework. As the parents, you are responsible for his attendance, a truancy hearing is not fun. He is punishing you, emotionally while you are punishing yourself emotionally, resulting in double the pain. I guess loving mothers do that, but the silent treatment from a child hurts so much. I’m preaching to the choir.

    His illness, does not give him the right to be difficult. He sounds as if he is milking this in pure teen form as if you have been abusing him for years. Maybe I misread this, so correct me if I did. Couldn’t he have a 504 plan, since he has a chronic condition that affects his attendance?

    Is there a Student Services Director you could speak to instead of the guidance counselor, there must be a creative way to get the best education, services available for your son, that will give you more support as well. A bright kid doing AP classes, still should be able to get help, since he misses school each year around the same time. He has a documented history of his illness.

    The parent team is not often enough to handle a child with issues and an illness. Could this page help look at the section for Special Education Resource Links for Families and Professionals. The SERRC office here helped me with my son, getting accommodations in place, long before I was divorced. They were very supportive. I hope it helps.

    You have my support. I wish I could give you a hug!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley April 26, 2015 / 3:06 pm

      Thank you for the link to Special Education Resources. The guidance counselor contacted the school psychologist, as did I, to start the process of having him assessed for Special Education services.

      Liked by 1 person

      • metalflowermaker April 29, 2015 / 5:47 am

        You are welcome. I’m working on another assessment for my 13 year old, sigh. You are a good mother Kitt!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kitt O'Malley April 29, 2015 / 8:40 am

          I’m trying. Today he said he no longer wanted to see his therapist, for he said it’s not helping. He has a point. Honestly, much of his problems are neurological and genetic.

          Liked by 1 person

          • metalflowermaker May 1, 2015 / 6:16 am

            A therapist for him, may need to be someone who can help him accept his limitations and create more realistic expectations for himself. Therapy for a teen with a chronic condition, might be better than the depression that can occur, from feelings of “not being good enough” or “why can’t I every do it right?” Does that make sense? This is just my opinion

            People keep saying that my son’s current therapist isn’t working, because the behavior is getting worse, but the time (too much) it takes to bring a new therapist up to speed is prohibitive with so much going on with him in and out of the home and with so many things in flux. It may be a good idea to try a different therapist in your son’s his case so he (you) have support regarding his behavior.

            Still giving you a virtual hug. You’re doing a good job. You are a good mom.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Kitt O'Malley May 1, 2015 / 9:03 am

            Thank you. He does have a therapist. This week, he negotiated reducing the frequency of seeing her to once a month, for therapy can be too much for him given that social interaction and stimulation overwhelm him. He seems to be doing well this week.

            Liked by 1 person

          • metalflowermaker May 1, 2015 / 6:25 pm

            You’ve got all the bases covered. It’s just a waiting game. Here, they seem to take turns flipping out. 🙂 This too shall pass (everyone says that and sometimes I believe it too.)

            Liked by 1 person

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