On a micro level, they can go a far way to tame a mood disorder and to foster serenity in the psyche of a frazzled mother (or anyone).
Fifteen days into potty-training Katherine, I’m close to waving the victory flag. And, as usual, I have learned a few things that pertain to my recovery from depression, anxiety, and addiction.
So here are my rules for both potty-training and personal sanity:
1. You have to be ready.
I don’t care what anyone else thinks, Katherine was not going to poop in the potty until she was ready. I could have forced the issue everyday, but my little darling was not going to cooperate until she initiated the project.
It’s the same thing with recovery from depression and addiction. An addict has to be sick and tired of being sick and tired, and a depressive has to want mental health for herself in the worst way for it to arrive. Not for her husband, or her employer, or her mom. She has to chase after sobriety and sanity with the same fierce determination that Katherine is running after Dora underwear.
2. Abort if tired.
In recovery language, a drunk knows all about HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired). If an alcoholic is craving a drink, she must ask herself–“Am I hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?” Chances are excellent that she answered yes to one of those. Absolutely nothing good comes in and of fatigue, so just forget about good thinking until you get some rest.
Katherine gets diapers (and a pacifier) at night until both of us find a bit more energy.
3. Ignore the lieutenant.
Just for giggles, I Googled the term “potty-training.” Only 1.24 million links were found. And that’s with SafeSearch on (whatever that is). On Amazon.com, a mere 2,558 books were listed under the subject.
That’s a lot of advice. And mostly bad advice–the people who tell parents to put teddy bears on mini-potties and to feed those stuffed animals M&Ms (and I’m the one who graduated from the psych ward). These authors are lieutenants (that term resulted in 13.4 million links on Google–lots of lieutenants) informing desperate mothers that they can only potty-train one way. Just like the lieutenant who yelled at me today (“I don’t care what the policeman said, I’m a lieutenant and I say you’re absolutely not to go down that road!”) as I tried to escape from the Naval Academy before the Blue Angels flight demonstration scared the poop (yes, that’s right–with no diaper) out of my sweet angel.
Recovery is chock full of lieutenants: the massage therapist who told me to go off my meds immediately before the pharmaceuticals further poisoned me; the psychiatrist who insisted on anti-psychotics when they clearly messed me up; and the homeopath who instructed me to pound the bottle of his remedy on a phone book ten times (that’s right) before swallowing two teaspoons from a glass (not plastic cup).
I’ve finally found my own recovery program–with lots of pieces from different places and philosophies–and it works well for me. Once I stopped listening to all the lieutenants around me screaming out various sets of directions and rules, I was finally able to hear the rhythm and begin to dance.
4. Nature is your friend.
This morning Katherine and I crashed a party at the Naval Academy for parents of graduating seniors. (We couldn’t resist the cool tent.) We were enjoying a really sweet moment picnicking next to the ice cream and Coke guy until Katherine stood up, pulled down her underwear, and peed right there in the grass (in the middle of the crowd).
Usually this method (that I taught her, of course) works. Because nature is our friend. We can be at our worst, and Mother Earth will somehow soothe us, and calm us down.
I feel extremely blessed (with the job of a stay at home mom) to be able to spend plenty of time outside. I need to because the wind, earth, and water heal me of my many disorders (not that I’m a bona fide hippie). Maybe that’s because I can cry or pee or do whatever I want under a tree. Anything goes. (As long as you haven’t crashed a Naval Academy graduation party.)
5. Start with the mini-potty.
The first few days of potty-training, it’s best to stick close to home, start with the mini-potty, and take it one turd at a time.
Last summer when I was just emerging from the dark pit of depression, I almost accepted a full-time job teaching scripture to sophomores at St. Mary’s High School. This would have been the equivalent of going straight to the grown-up potty (and probably falling into the big hole in the middle), or setting out for a field trip (with no change of clothes) the first day of wearing big-girl panties.
“Baby steps, Therese,” my friend Michelle wisely advised me when I told her what I was up to: getting rid of my depression by switching career paths.
“You need more good days behind you before making a major change like that,” she said.
So I went back to the mini-potty, stayed closed to home, and kept on writing small articles here and there, until I felt confident enough to accept regular assignments (and venture out on the field trip, or Beyond Blue, without diapers).
6. Bribe. Bribe. Bribe.
Ah, yes, the incentive of M&Ms, Skittles, Hershey almond bars, Barbie sticker books, ridiculously-priced pink sandals, Strawberry Shortcake underwear, and so on.
I lure myself to the gym with the promise of a Kit-Kat bar, to the library (where I work) with a piece of dark chocolate, to a therapy session with a trip to Starbucks before or/and after, and so on.
For every good thing I do as part of my recovery program, there is usually a not so good thing (a bribe). Incentives work. But don’t waste the M&Ms on the teddy bear, for crying out loud.
7. Expect accidents.
I thought we were out of the woods, but today Katherine soiled her underwear while watching the Blue Angels (see, I knew it!). I tried to remember that potty-training doesn’t happen in a day (or even 15 days), and that it’s a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of deal (like most of life).
My doctor gave me that sermon every time I saw her for the first six months because the start of my recovery was so uneven. I’d feel great for a few days and then bam, the depression returned. I was so frustrated, and scared, nervous of relapsing.
“That’s perfectly normal,” she’d say over and over again. “You will continue to have more and more good days and fewer bad days, and that will give you the confidence to know that your bad days aren’t signaling a relapse, but merely part of the recovery process.”
She was absolutely right. Eventually I began to trust the process, and now I don’t panic as much (AS MUCH) if I have a bad day.
8. Go with it.
I knew it was risky. Fifteen days ago Katherine woke up and informed me that she wanted to wear underwear to school. She had no proven track record. No success behind her. But I said yes. Because 1) it would be her teacher’s mess to clean up, and 2) it felt right. (Probably because it would be her teacher’s mess to clean up.)
Eric thought I was crazy. This would surely get us kicked out of a great preschool. But I just had a feeling, a strong suspicion, that if Katherine truly wanted to wear underwear, she would make it through her day at school, even without any practicing at home.
I ran the same gamble when I organized a book party in New York with all the editors and writers I so respected only a few weeks after I was discharged from the hospital.
It could have flopped miserably. But I had a feeling that is was just the type of thing that might get me to dive back into my career and try to make a go of it, even if I felt like one dysfunctional chick.
I followed my intuition. And it was right.