Girls, Interrupted

“Little Lucy” was the first phrase that came into my mind when she was born, because she looked so much like my own mother. So we called her Lucinda – something I almost got to regret.

Sometimes, she was as full of vim and zip as soda that shoots out of a bottle that has been shaken too hard. Sometimes, nothing would make her budge from her favourite red stool – not even my promise of a double portion of her very favourite chock-chip mint ice-cream. The change would occur in a split second – as if someone had thrown a switch.

She would dig her chin into her chest, and snarl “No!” when she did not want to comply with instructions. Sometimes, she threw a wobbly for the simplest of reasons – such as if I didn’t allow her to wear her torn jeans to school, under her uniform.

Children can be so cruel. One of them realised that if she said “Lucinda Sky” it sounded very much like “Lucy in the Sky”. She used to wait until Lucinda’s Teaching Aide was off her guard, catch Lucinda’s attention, and mouth the words at her, while making an upward whirling motion with her index finger, and then pointing it to her forehead and shaking her fingers. This made Lucinda throw a tantrum, which was just the result this bully wanted. It took weeks to catch her out – she was that wily. Later, she admitted that it was “fun” to see Lucinda all het up… and that she was jealous of Lucinda because she was “so clever at math”.

The medications Lucinda took never sufficed for long. It pained me to see that my daughter, alas too early, learned the difference between Strattera, Concerta, Vyvanse, Abilyfy, Depakote and heaven knows what else. Instinctively, the child realised that some things worked better than others – and that some made her “moody”, or “dizzy” or “sleepy”, or “thirsty” and some gave her a “bitter taste in her mouth”.

Sometimes, Lucinda felt she had to be very, very naughty, for no reason at all. She hated it when she saw how much it upset me. But she could not help doing things like screaming until she was hoarse, or scratching herself until she was sore – or chasing the cat all over the house, or maybe even breaking a plate so that she could put it together again, like a jigsaw puzzle (only she could never do that, because the bits would be too small). I lived on a roller-coaster, never knowing what Lucinda would be like from one moment to the next.

One day, Lucinda overheard me speak to her Nan on the phone. I was using a hushed tone, but I had my back to the room of the door and so I didn’t hear or see her creep up on me. Later, she told me that she heard me using a lot of words that were difficult for her to understand; words that sounded like “in-front-ation”, “in-ration-all” and “this-order”, but not quite those, and she realised that I was using them because of her.. and after the debacle that followed, I recalled that yes, I had used the phrase “I’m tired of walking on eggshells”.

Lucinda had taken that phrase literally – and she wanted to do something about it. She tip-toed downstairs, opened the fridge, threw all the eggs in the loo and tried to flush them down… Her line of reasoning was that if there were no eggs in the house, I would not have to walk on the shells. The drain blocked, and water came back up and flooded the floor. Lucinda was so scared she dashed, screaming, out of the house as fast as her little legs could carry her. I went cold. I thought she had seriously injured herself.

I rushed downstairs and went out into the street, looking this way and that to see in which direction she had fled, she was nowhere to be seen. I was frantic – I went back inside and called my husband to tell him what had happened. He told me to stay put, just in case the she returned, and that he would call the Police himself. He’d go with them to Lucinda’s favourite places to hunt for her.

They searched high and low – at her best friend Bethany’s house; at the Insect Museum; at the Ballet School; at the Gym; at the Pool; at the Public Garden… but Lucinda was nowhere to be found.

Suddenly, the doorbell rang. It was Lucinda, chatting happily away with the man from the deli counter at the supermarket round the corner! He said she had run into the shop, sobbing and shivering, after hiding for some time in the parking lot, because she needed to go to the toilet. She then asked for some eggs to replace the ones she had thrown away. The man recognised her (I take her with me to different places to teach her social skills), and had talked to her gently to calm her down. Then he brought her home. I called my husband and asked for the search to be called off.

Nowadays, Lucinda calls herself Cindy. She avoids junk food and alcohol like the plague, and does not smoke. She has also taken up yoga, and finds that these steps, combined, help her maintain medication to a minimum. Cindy is in a steady relationship which she hopes will lead to marriage. But she’ll always be just my little girl.

This composite interview would never have been possible without the help of four parents whose children have bi-polar condition. They agreed to be interviewed as a public service, towards more communal awareness with regards to mental health.

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