It's pronounced HAYZ-ler, you dweebs.

Unsurance

October 10th, 2014

***I have been asked to name the insurance company. Trast is insured through his father, with UMR. UMR seems to be an extension of United Healthcare in some way.***

Trast sits, cross-legged and cocky, on his loft bed. He’s telling Ayden, his younger brother stories of magnificent adventures while Ayden listens and quips the ocassional “Really?” and “You’re kidding me! No Way!” Trast’s hair is brittle bleach-orange, and at 16, he looks like an adult. His mannerisms are jerky, but feminine, and he’s got a cinammon stick hanging out of the side of his mouth. He takes drags from the cinammon stick and continues his story.

“I couldn’t just leave him alone there at the emergency room…”

Trast isn’t telling stories about summer camp. He’s reliving his recent glory days, a three and a half week exploit of sleeping on the streets of LA that kicked off with a major blow-up at home and ended when the police got a tip from someone who’d seen his face on one of the thousands of missing posters plastered around the city.  I cannot listen to Trast tell his stories, because I can’t afford to feel that much anger when there’s so much to do. He thinks of that time as the happiest he’s ever been. I will never recover from the hell of it.

Instead I sit at the kitchen table and read his discharge paperwork from the treatment center he’d been admitted to hours after we found him. It was one of those lovely California treatment centers where the kids did “surf therapy” and yoga. The place was legit. Constant group and individual therapy.

“Trast…presented with depressed and anxious mood, affect congruent with mood, thought process was circumstantial. Client was admitted due to excessive substance abuse, alcohol abuse, and nicotine dependence (smoking 2 packs a day). Client reported suicidal ideation and expressed that he planned on overdosing on his mother’s prescription medication.”

The treatment center had called me that afternoon to tell me that, as they’d feared, the insurance company was denying coverage and I would need to come and pick up Trast. He’d been in treatment for 24 days of their 45-60 day program. I thought back to our first family session when I was picking bits of nail polish from my fingernails while Trast sat as far from me as he could and refused to speak when the counselor asked him to talk about what needs to change at home for him to stay. By the end of the session, no progress had been made, but the counselor said that we should focus on communication and not worry about him coming home. She said we’d worry about that closer to discharge. On the phone, I was being asked when I would be able to get him. “You know he’s going to run away again, right?” I couldn’t keep the disdain out of my tone. They said I could keep him there if I paid out of pocket. Then they said “But we understand you have financial difficulties.”

I suppose that’s a way of looking at it. I Individually support a family of three on a public television salary. I work full time and we live paycheck to paycheck. So, no, I can’t afford to pay out of pocket at the rate of $1500 a day.

“…feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt and racing thoughts… body-image concerns… minimal eye contact, increased psychomotor agitation, slowed speech and volume… Client recognized he needed treatment.”

In 2005, Trast was diagnosed with Asperger’s, anxiety, and ADHD. I made a really lame joke about Triple A at the time. The diagnosis didn’t stop our lives or cause us any distress. If anything, it was useful to be able to explore different tools that could help him. He’s a very bright, sweet person and to know him is to be charmed by him. Putting structure in place, learning new ways of presenting information to him that would make sense, teaching him to express empathy- this all worked wonders at school and at home. His interests were still obsessions, but having a kid who was obsessed with George Orwell didn’t seem like such a terrible thing. And when Trast started to play guitar, it was annoying, but his obsessiveness about playing meant that he quickly improved. By the time Trast ran away, he was making quite a bit of money playing his guitar on sidewalks.

So far, he and I would both say that all of the above is true. However, when it comes to drugs and alcohol, we disagree. I need to make a note of that, because Trast knows I am writing about this, has given me his permission to share all of this with you, but I want to make sure I share his own opinion about things. It matters to him, so it matters to me. According to Trast, he wasn’t really doing that much using. He’s stated that after the fourth time he got black out drunk, he really cut back and would only have a few beers. He also says that he wasn’t really smoking very much weed, wax, or spice once he ran away. It was only when he was at home that he was smoking “all the time”.  He also says that any reference he made in talking to his friend about heroin was about the Velvet Underground song. (I hope you can hear me rolling my eyes)

When Trast moved to LA to live with me, he was the dorkiest dork on the planet and I loved him for it. Paintball, D&D, gaming conventions… if it was something to give someone a wedgie for doing, Trast was doing it. But through the miracle of Asperger’s, his in-your-face lack of insecurity about being himself meant that instead of getting wedgies, he was an easy person for other people to like. They’d tease him, but in a fun way. He was an A student and he won a lot of awards for academics as well as how he treated others.

We talked about drugs. I mean. Come on. We live in L.A., I’m friends with a lot of artists, comedians, and musicians, and you can’t walk down the street without walking through a cloud of kush-stink. You think that’s smog hanging over the city. It’s weed. And because I think I’m so smart, and so funny, and so cool, my drug talk was straightforward. I admitted my own past drug use. I explained what different drugs felt like and what their dangers were. I explained that they were illegal. I joked, “By the way, some parents do drugs with their kids because they think that if the kids are doing it at home, at least they’re safe. I’ll never get high with you kids because you’re the last nerds I need ruining my buzz.” Ha. Ha. Ha?

I was completely unprepared for everything that happened. Classic stuff, too. We’re talking textbook. Grades slipping, isolating, behavior and mood changes. New friends, secrecy, lying. Vandalism, stealing, and all the while friends and family telling me how he was just being a teenager. The neighbors told me he’d been smoking weed on the rooftop. Other people in the neighborhood told me that he and his friend were suspects for anything shady that was going on. In our storage shed I found empty liquor bottles, cigarette packs, empty plastic weed bottles.

By the time Trast ran away from home, he’d stopped going to school altogether. The school would call me and tell me he wasn’t there. I’d come home and ask him how school was. He’d pretend to do homework, tell me it was alright. Then we’d fight over if he’d gone to school. Even when faced with hard evidence that he’d been skipping, he’d insist that he’d been there. Trast had created his own reality. He had decided that school was useless. He was perfectly capable of making money playing guitar, and all he needed was food, smokes, weed. He was leaving the apartment and pretending to go to school, then hanging out with a group of homeless people and getting high all day.

“Upon discharge, Trast continues to endorse depressive and anxious symptoms. Client often mentally withdraws and has reported he will run away and relapse upon discharge.”

When I picked him up from the center I told them I needed his medical files. I was feeling horrified at whatever was about to happen, and wanted to have something solid to put in front of the insurance company. I envisioned myself making it my personal life’s work changing the way substance abuse and mental illness are treated in the health care system. Michelle Obama would shake my hand, that Brochovich woman would personally high five me, people would refer to Hasler VS Big Insurance, and the treatment center’s doors would swing open to those whose insurance companies would no longer be allowed to refuse to pay for their treatment. They didn’t hand over the files, though. They said that if I get him into another program, they’ll send the files to the new program. They’re confidential. Doesn’t matter that I’m his mother.

Instead they gave me a summary stating very clearly that Trast wasn’t ready to be home. Not that I needed a piece of paper. On the way back to the apartment we already had three arguments, and that was even with me doing my best to maintain the attitude that I wanted to help him become independent.

“Client is still displaying difficulty communicating openly with his mother…continues to be resistant to exploring his ambivalence toward long-term sobriety… identified minimal adaptive coping skills when distressed or triggered and continues to glorify his drug use.”

I’m pacing in the kitchen when the boys come in. I have no plan, and my brain is yelling at me to “do something already!” But I don’t know what to do, and how the hell am I supposed to know? This treatment program was supposed to help get him to a better frame of mind, then help teach all of us how to interact, as well as provide us with a very clear aftercare program. Most of the youth that had left the center went into day programs where they could continue to have emotional support.

Trast and I start to argue in the kitchen, and Ayden sticks his curly head in the middle and tells us both to just stop already, and Trast is talking about how great it was to live on the streets, and I am yelling about what everyone went through and I’m terrified and I say that I don’t think he’s ready to be out and he tells me that he doesn’t think he’s ready, either. He didn’t like all the rules, but he needed to be there.

But the reality is that we don’t have the money to pay out of pocket for his treatment. His step-father was generous enough to pay the deductible and coinsurance to the treatment center with the understanding that once he paid that, insurance covered the rest of the program 100%. The amount he paid was considerable, and he did so for the same reason so many people put all of their efforts into finding Trast. He’s an exceptional kid and we all want him to get the help he needs, because he has a lot to offer the world. We love him. But how could this have happened? How could an insurance company deem it no longer medically necessary for him to continue to receive care in program that they knew from the get-go was 45-60 days? Is it a racket? Is it legal?

“At this time the Treatment Team at Destinations to Recovery does not feel Trast has made the necessary progress in treatment to support long-term recovery.”

And I know I am going to make a lot of noise about this, make it known, probably re-tell the tale any time health care injustice comes up for the rest of my life. But for now, my life’s work isn’t fighting the insurance company, because I have a much more important job that will take every ounce of strength I have. I need to keep our family safe, sane, and healthy. I need to cram for this test, pull together every resource out there, and figure out how to get all of us through this with as few scars as possible.

In group, we all had to tell our family members three positive things we felt about them. Up until that point, Trast had refused to speak to me at all. The counselors said that he insisted he wasn’t angry at me, which probably meant he was suppressing those feeling because all teenagers are mad at their parents. In the kitchen, on the night he was released, as I sat with Trast, trying to come up with a reasonable plan that would get him through school, keep him home, and focus on not using, he brought up that group. He told me he meant what he’d said that day.

“You’ve been through hell so many times, but no matter what, you always made sure we were taken care of. You’re really a good mother.”

It means a lot to hear that, but I am still terrified, because even with every resource at their fingertips, many kids in his situation have gone through hell, went back to the streets over and over, died, or lived the rest of their lives miserable. I have no power over what Trast will have to put himself through, no control over the choices he will make. But it sickens me to know that he doesn’t have the right to a certain level of care that could have a huge impact on his future. This is not okay.

 

 

Nikol, Who Is Selfish

June 20th, 2014

My cousin came to L.A. recently for work, and we got to spend some time together. We made an agreement that she would write a new song an I would write anything at all. She suggested I write about the depression. I made a few stabs at writing about something other than that, but nothing came out. So, I took her suggestion.

The following reads more like a diary entry, I think. I don’t particularly think it’s very interesting. However, in previous comments, readers and friends have asked that I keep writing about this. So, uh, here you go.

Read the rest of this entry »

Commercial Broke: Why do these people keep throwing cat litter?

June 6th, 2014

I used to have an indoor cat, and don’t recall ever feeling overly physically taxed by lifting cat litter. But, hey, I guess we need this.

Where Does Depression Hurt?

May 29th, 2014

My bank account.

On May 2nd, I was hospitalized for major depressive disorder and panic disorder. I was released on the 5th, and notified by my employer that I could not return to work without getting medical clearance to do so. I thought that would be simple. Well enough to go home, well enough to work. I was looking forward to working. Anything to get me back to a sense of normalcy.

My doctor decided that was a bad idea, because I’m depressed and have panic attacks and I’ve spent 7 years without medication and they want me to be stable before I introduce the stress of working.

When he told me, in his warm-colored office, brown and red with a view of the mountains, I had been sitting up properly and explaining how it was just time to get back to work. When it became clear that the option was off the table, I crumpled in on myself and with my face in my hands I whispered, “But, I don’t want to be disabled. I can’t fail like this.”

It does feel like a massive failure. I hang a lot of happiness on looking at where I came from and where I am. But right now, where I am is dire and lousy and it just sucks. The medical bills pour in. My phone is about to be shut off. My disability claim was denied because the doctor made a mistake on the paperwork. He resubmitted, but I have heard nothing. I call every day. Rent is due. Bills are due. This depression and panic is giving me even bigger issues to be depressed and panicked over.

And I feel so sick of myself, because it’s always something with me. I’m always in a hole, always struggling. Most of the time, the struggle is downright exhausting. Right now, I don’t have anything to give.

I don’t feel like anyone can really hear me when I talk about how I think and what I’m going through, but even if they could, how would it matter? What could they do? I’m the only one who can help me right now, and I’m not up for the job. It’s like, why make the bed if it’s just going to get unmade again?

Better Than Nothing

May 22nd, 2014

I painted my nails last night. A friend of mine, like all well-meaning friends, had suggested that if I paint my nails, every time I see them I will feel better.

This morning, I woke up clutching the bedside table, arms tensed, holding on so hard that the tips of my fingers were turning purple. When I saw my red nails, I thought to myself “See? Feel better. You painted your nails. Feel better.”

I didn’t feel better, though it has nothing to do with my nails. I know my friends and family care, and they will suggest whatever they can to see me out of this space. And I will try the things suggested. I don’t believe in hypnosis (it’s okay if you do), but I’m trying it. I don’t like taking medication, (and don’t need to hear your argument against it) but I am trying it. I know damn well that diet, exercise, and affirmations are important. And I’m trying them.

I have a decent mixture of tough love and gentleness around me. I have a therapist. I try to write every day. I logically understand the word “temporary” as it applies to my mind set.

It’s just that right now, most of the time I feel nothing at all. About 5% of the waking hours I feel deep, painful melancholy. The blues. Heartache and desperation. But that’s usually just before sleep and just after I wake. The rest of the time I feel nothing.

Some people have told me that it’s not possible to feel nothing. Others have suggested that it’s better than feeling sad. I assure you, this lack of feeling is very real, and it’s a profoundly dangerous place to spend too much time within, such detachment from oneself being the coldest and most naked form of depression.

I will paint my nails and do yoga and eat sprouts and say mantras. I will go to the ocean and try to recall how I usually feel. I am not suicidal, because I don’t even care enough or have the energy to be so. But I do know that I am alive, that I have a family to care for, and that one day, I will feel better than nothing.

Open Letter to Google, Who Did Something Right

April 28th, 2014

Dear Google,

The summer I got pregnant with my oldest son, Trast, I had registered for college, competed in a pageant, recently left foster care, and was spending most of my time partying my face off. I suppose I was just practicing for college. And after a few crazy weeks in Madison, Wisconsin, I went back to Woodstock, Illinois to pack my things and head south.

 

Me, as a pregnant teen.

But I also had a nagging premonition that I was pregnant. I knew exactly when and how and at the time it happened, I thought, “I’m pregnant. It’s a boy.” I am a science-believing person with a brain filled with skepticism about anything that isn’t supported by evidence, but I still swear that with myself and with other people, when it comes to sensing pregnancy, I’m like one of those water divining sticks, but the water is babies.

And, because I was 18 and had important things like weed and tarot cards and funny bumper stickers to spend my money on, I looked in the phone book for “Free Pregnancy Testing”. And the phone book was full of spots. I made a few calls, and the guy I’d been seeing drove me to the nearest place. I remember being so moved that they’d come in late at night just to help me confirm that I was pregnant.

When the two of us showed up, the two women who’d gotten out of bed to help me looked really uncomfortable. They told him that he needed to leave, and could pick me up after. He didn’t much feel like being there, so he took off, and I went off to pee on a store-brand pregnancy stick.

While we waited they asked me about my plans. I told them about college, how I planned to study English Education with a minor in Radio & Television. I had a four-year full ride, and I was eventually going to be a producer, like Tom Hanks, and then I’d be a teacher.

Before they’d show me the test results, they asked me if I could just watch a short video. It started off fairly pleasant, showing a life as it developed inside the human body. “Did you know that at (insert # of weeks of gestation) your BABY can (insert very adorable baby thing). But, soon the video got dark, showing images of dumpsters filled with fetus-parts, little baby hands sticking out of trash bags, women talking about how much they regretting their abortions. Abortions ruined their lives and once they tried to have children they couldn’t and then they had to admit to their husbands that they’d had an abortion and because of that they got divorced.

And then it got light and friendly once more. They eased up on the body parts, instead showing happy, large, wealthy families with shiny teethed white parents. There were sweet little babies, and young kids missing teeth talking about how much they love their parents. These kids had all been adopted by loving, Christian families. There are options. Don’t ruin your life. All that stuff.

Now, I was a teenager, but I wasn’t entirely stupid. There was nothing in their ad that made this place seem religious to me at all. Their ad didn’t mention adoption at all. I wasn’t prepared to deal with them. At all. I was a little bit preoccupied with the embryo hanging out in my insides.

I’ve always been bad at saying no, and I felt like they were ogres who wanted to nab my baby. I begged them off, took their card, took my positive pregnancy test results out to my boyfriend’s jeep, and then went on to give birth to my kid. Not, like, right away or in the jeep. It was a while later. And, by the way, deciding to stay pregnant had nothing to do with their disgusting video.

This letter is my way of thanking you for your recent decision to remove a variety of ads for “Crisis Pregnancy Centers”, which contained false and misleading information to people in order to get them in to those centers and treat them to an experience similar to mine. You are saving masses of females from being unduly bullied at a time when their whole lives are already changing as rapidly as their hormones.

As for you, misleading Crisis Pregnancy Centers of the world, piss right off. If you were so secure in your message, you wouldn’t need to use scare tactics or trick people into coming through your doors.

Sincerely,

Nikol

 

Low Hanging Soup

March 26th, 2014

You’re Probably Not Going To Believe This, But Whatever

March 24th, 2014

According to the internet, there’s all sorts of stuff people aren’t going to believe. Since I can barely believe this myself, and I was here when it happened, I will assume that you will keep on with your non-believing ways. But I don’t even care if you don’t believe me. This is absolutely true. Are you ready?

I cooked “hard boiled eggs” in my oven.

You may be thinking “Did not!” But I’m here to tell you, “Did so.”

I guess I can’t technically call them hard boiled eggs, but if I said baked eggs you’d think I meant the kind you put in rammekins all brunch style or you’d sneer and go, “I bet she means quiche. How cute.” Well, I don’t mean quiche. There’s nothing cute about what happened in my kitchen today.

Now, I didn’t invent the idea. I’m not taking any credit for that. And it’s not like I’ve ever wanted hard boiled eggs but decided against them because I thought “Gosh, I just hate boiling water.” I just saw a Facebook post about it and, since I am working from home today, thought, “Why the devil not?”

So, I put seven eggs in a muffin pan and preheated my oven to 325. I don’t know why 7. Seemed like a good enough number of eggs.

Then I set the timer for 30 minutes and went back to work. Someone’s gotta buy the eggs around here. After I took them out, I put them in a bowl of ice water.

In the background I'm cooking a pot of white kidney beans because I foresee them as the next diet fad.

I let my seven little eggs sit in their cool bath for ten minutes.

Then I peeled one. No trouble peeling at all. None of that frustrating nonsense where half of the white gets ruined in the process leaving the egg to look like The Yellow King’s face.

Okay, so the eggs do have a little brown spot on the end of them, but I think it adds a certain decorative element.

And then I cut one open. Looks like a normal egg. So I ate it! And guess what? The yolk was super fluffy. Very nice.

So of course, my first instinct was to tell you guys. Because now you can bake your own eggs and we can all sit around having baked egg parties. Those are totally going to be a thing.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have six more eggs to eat.

Childhood of a writer

February 21st, 2014

Enjoy this video I made years ago.

I Am Nikol, And This Is My Story

February 19th, 2014

As I write this, I feel it important to just get it out there that while this is really hard for me, I feel that in keeping quiet, I am harming those who may fall prey, as well as endorsing the silence of those who have already suffered.

You see, this morning, as I was walking to the bus and wondering to myself what I may encounter on my trip- would it be a toothless man stroking my hair?- perhaps a boisterous young woman prattling on about her life with her baby daddy, the story peppered with platitudes?- or maybe today was simply about hacking coughs and interesting smell combinations- my thoughts were interrupted in the most brutal of ways.

At first I thought I’d been shot in the head. I’ve been told by stoned hippies and Andy Wood that everything slows down when you die and the eternity you experience in that moment is heaven, so I didn’t question why it was that I had time to wonder if anyone had good reason to shoot me in the head. I noted that heaven looked exactly like Van Nuys, and, deciding that was likely not accurate, I determined that I hadn’t been shot in the head.

But something had caused me a great amount of pain and had left a welt on the back of my dome and even messed my hair a bit. I turned to see a landscaper just weed whacking away, wearing his gloves and protective eye wear. He was so engrossed in clearing the weeds around the edge of the Chase Bank that he didn’t even notice how narrow my eyes were getting.

I didn’t know what to do next. I crossed the street in a trance, thinking about how unjust a place the world can be. I’ve never been a fan of yard equipment in general, waging silent thought-wars against the gardener who thinks he should blow the leaves around my yard at 7 a.m. on Saturdays, and having had a few unsavory experiences with spiders crawling out of lawn mowers to attack me as I tried to pull the chord. And whilst I would never lay hands on a weed whacker because they terrify me and seem like a thing Freddy Krueger would use to torture an avid teen 4-H member, I also never foresaw the day that my life would be so touched by what I will now start calling “The Devil’s Ricochet Rod”.

Once on the bus, I turned to the person next to me and whispered, “I got hit in the head with a rock.” I think that they wrongly assumed I was today’s bus-related crazy-tainment, on account of the way they switched to another seat. I had never felt so alone. And based on such lack of empathetic response, I couldn’t even bring myself to mention it on Facebook.

When I got to work, though, enough indignant fire had built up in my belly that I knew I had to do something. But what could I do that would possibly matter? There is no way I can reasonably be expected to be able to gather and destroy every weed whacker in the land. And so, I called the bank.

“Chase Bank, how can I help you today?”

“I got hit in the head with a rock.”

“Excuse me?”

“This morning, I was walking to the bus, which I hate taking, and I walked past your bank. Your landscaper was there, whacking weeds, and the weed whacker chucked a rock at me. It hit me in the head.”

“I’m sorry, start again? You were in the bank-”

“No, I was standing on the corner waiting to cross the street. You need to tell your landscaper that he needs to be careful and that he should stop whacking immediately when there are people around.”

“I-”

At this point his voice broke. I assume he had to take a moment to hold back the tears, so I let him compose himself.

“I’m very sorry that happened, and I will be sure to pass your message along to our manager.”

“Please do.”

Once I hung up I felt as if the weight of a pile of rocks had lifted from my soul. Would I ever be the same again after what I’d been through. Well, no. Absolutely not. Who could be? But in my way I had taken back the night, and I knew that I could begin to heal the pain.

To date, there are no support groups for those who have suffered lawn equipment related injuries, which is unacceptable given that (based on my careful mental estimation) 7 million people are victims of such events each day. I urge you, stop hiding your experience under the bushel of shame, and stand tall. Let your voices be heard, lest this plague one day render you voiceless by, say, law mowing over your throats.

I’m taking my stand today, and I promise you, whenever you’re ready, I’ll be still standing.

The woman on the left has to spend the rest of her life headless due to a weed whacker related injury. When it happened, she was days away from getting married and had landed her dream job as a hat model.