Wednesday, June 6, 2012

El alquiler

Update to the last post: on Monday, the woman I left a voicemail for at the hospital got back to me (two and a half weeks later). She was nice and helpful, and apologetically shared with me the unfortunate news that not only do they no longer have a psychiatrist on staff, they have no plans to hire one. They have an opening for a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner that they are trying to fill. She told me that for the time being they do psychiatric care through something called TeleMed. I didn't tell her that I know someone who died because their TeleMed psychiatrist didn't know his contraindications. I just very nicely told her that I had in the meantime made plans to go out of state to get my regimen straightened out and that I'd figure it out from there.

Sometimes I really question our decision to move out here to the end of the world. If I take the recommendations of friends here in town, I will probably find a psychiatrist in Anchorage to get my maintenance care and we'll just work it into the budget. Right now I'm just counting down the days to seeing my old psychiatrist in Denver. One week from today, I will be sitting on my parents' backporch in Colorado, wearing shorts and sandals and sipping lemonade.

In the meantime, we thought we had found a place to live. (Aside: I don't like the way some things work in this town, like the rental market). It's a tiny but clean little place near the river, and I had gotten pretty excited about it. Well, last night when we went to meet with the landlords, we found out that it wasn't a done deal, and that they were showing the property to several other prospective renters. Now, from their perspective I understand wanting to be able to have some options and to filter their renters, but I'm feeling a little desperate. The man we've been staying with (we were housesitting, but now he's back from out of town) is a gem, he is very kind and generous and I don't want to wear out our welcome here. I made the mistake of letting my heart set on the little house by the river. Keep your fingers crossed for us. We should know by sometime today whether we get the place or not.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

La locura no se cura

So, one of my major concerns about moving here to the bush was whether or not I'd be able to get decent care (or any care, let's face it) for my bipolar disorder. This is a big deal. I am very high-functioning, when I have treatment. I am a good kid who takes my pills everyday, I don't decide to go off of things because I'm feeling better, I recognize that this is a lifelong, permanent condition, la-la-la. All that. When I don't have medication, I am a miserable, non-functioning basketcase and life sucks for me and everyone close to me. I need regular treatment and I know it. Initially I was not persuaded by Esquire's argument that there are 6,500 people in this town, surely there must be a few good psychiatrists among them. I looked and looked online and eventually found a listing for a psychiatrist, and felt relieved. I let it go at that and agreed that we should move here.

I should have called when we were still in Denver. If I had, I'd have known earlier what I learned the other day when I called the "office" of the aforementioned psychiatrist. I got a switchboard at the Native Corporation hospital (which will treat us qussiqs, or non-Natives, but only when we pay more and wait longer, and I have no idea how that is possibly legal because it's very obviously discriminatory) and the operator informed me that Dr. Aforementioned no longer works there. I asked if I could please speak to the office staff for his replacement. No luck. She couldn't find one. She connected me to the Behavioral Health unit. More run-around. More transferring me to a different unit. Eventually I dead-ended at the voicemail of someone who has yet to get back to me. That was over a week and a half ago. The only good to come out of my otherwise unsuccessful contact with the hospital is that somewhere in there one of the incompetents I spoke with told me that if I needed to see someone sooner than eight to ten weeks from now I could try calling the Family Clinic. So, I tried the Family Clinic. They don't have apsychiatrist, but they do have a psychiatric PA. Huh? I didn't even know such a position existed. Perhaps it doesn't in Colorado. Apologies to the PAs out there, but that doesn't inspire my confidence. Psychiatry is a tricky, delicate little art, and I believe it warrants the specialized training that psychiatrists endure to practice it. I need a psychiatrist, and so far as I can tell there is no psychiatrist in Bethel, or at least not one I can access.

I was getting desperate. I made a few more phone calls, this time to check into my treatment options in Denver. Yes, I can still be seen at the clinic where I was being treated before. Yes, I can even make an appointment right now if I need to to (I waited a day). Esquire and I talked it over. I got on the Alaska Airlines website and found an unbelievably cheap fare to Denver, and took it as a sign from God that this was the way to proceed. So, LittleBit and I are headed back to Colorado in a couple of weeks, to spend several weeks there getting my medication regimen tweaked to work so that I won't go over the edge up here. When that's all in order I will come back to Bethel and I will go to the psychiatric PA at the family clinic. I'm okay with trusting a PA to prescribe my maintenance care, but not to overhaul my regimen. That takes more skill. I will go and see the psychiatrist-therapist team that got me through my pregnancy and postpartum.

I have to do this. I have to get it together because LittleBit is getting to the point where he will remember things and I don't want him to remember early childhood as a crazy, crying, dysfunctional Mommy. I have to function highly enough to be able to raise my child as a happy, healthy person. I want to be a partner and not a millstone to my husband. This is and will be a lifelong struggle (which I resent sometimes, but so it is) and most of the time I am up to the task, but right now getting control of the situation requires somewhat drastic measures. I wish it didn't have to be this way. I wish I could get the care I need and still keep my family together in the same town. I wish this place weren't so desolate, that it weren't the far end of the world. I wish I could just live like this, but I have to recognize that I am, in fact, ill, and chronically. It's easy to forget that because the pain isn't usually physical. All the same, it's crippling when it goes unmanaged. It's so easy to forget how limiting this can be, until I am pushed to or past the limits. I forget sometimes, when I am feeling fine and my medications are working for me, how deeply this affects my life. Those are good days when I forget, though. I miss them.

So, I am plugging away for the next two weeks, pushing through the days, doing what has to be done, leaning on my husband more than usual, reminding myself that there's a reprieve coming soon, that this will get better. I am looking forward to green grass, to sitting on my parents' back porch, to letting LittleBit run through the yard and taking him to the park and the pool. I am looking forward to healing and getting back on track. I am looking forward to coming back to my husband functional and smiling and ready to take on life in the bush. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


So last night around 9:30pm I was in bed with LittleBit, trying in vain to get him to sleep (have I mentioned that this midnight-sun thing, while poetic and weirdly beautiful, has wreaked havoc with all of our sleep habits?) when the doorbell rang. I called out to Esquire to get the door (I was not dressed to do it myself). Turns out it was a kid from church, sharing some fish he had caught while out fishing for the day. A very kind gesture. I can't imagine how many fish he and his family caught, since the parcels they were sharing around were huge. What to do with about fifty pounds of smelt? I've never eaten smelt, and while the seem like they'll be tasty enough, they are tiny little fishes and to me tiny fish says time-consuming prep work. Last night we just rinsed, bagged, and froze them whole. If we'd stayed up to gut and behead them all, we'd have been up all night (just like the sun, ha-ha-ha). We'll gut and possibly filet them by the batch, as we thaw them out.

Anyway, I mentioned it on facebook and between friends' suggestions and a little interweb digging I did on my own, I've discovered that they are usually either pickled (¡quĆ© asco!) or fried. I can fry up a fish. I'm not too keen on leaving the bones in, even if sources say they become soft and edible with frying. I have to head home to Colorado for a bit here soon (more on that later, because it will be accompanied by a tirade about the lack of decent mental health care in the bush), and while I'm there I'll get some fileting lessons from my mom. She is the queen of tasty fish. Not only can she prepare it dozens of delicious ways, but she also always pulls in her bag limit or more every time we go fishing. She has some kind of special fish mojo. And, she can filet-debone even the most delicate little brook trout. Since the smelt are about the same size as small brookies, I think the skill will translate just fine, if I can get the hang of it.

I sense we'll be eating lots of fried fish this summer.

So, Esquire and I were up a good part of the night cleaning fish (and LittleBit was up, happy as a clam, chattering away in his high chair). At one point, both of us up to our elbows in dead fish, he turns to me and smiles, and says,

"So is this sexy or what?"

I paused before responding. "If you're suggesting that this is foreplay, you're wrong."

Laughs all around. Seriously, Esquire? I know that he thinks that it's sexy that we're having this crazy adventure, but some things just aren't sexy. Ever.

More tomorrow on why I am at my wit's end trying to get some crazy-care around here. For today I will just be grateful for the fish.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Poco a poco, verde

This morning LittleBit and I went out for a walk (it was up to 50F, in the morning, even!) and I saw tiny little green patches that I swear weren't there yesterday. Now that it's almost June, is spring coming to Bethel? I sure hope so. This place will be much more livable for a few months once it changes its skin. It might even be a little bit pretty.

Yesterday Esquire and I had lunch with one of his colleagues, and today LittleBit and I have a playdate with a friend who has children close to his age. Lunch was fun, and I am so looking forward to this playdate. I'm learning that the key to survival in Bethel is human interaction. I will learn to be happy here, it's just going to take more effort than I'm used to (and I'm used to putting some effort into being happy sometimes). I don't have so many things (amenities, mostly) that I've taken for granted for so long. I'm going to have to reframe and redefine so much of what I had in mind for LittleBit for his early childhood. We will make it work here, though.

Along those lines, we think we found a small house to live in. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

La honestidad

Even though I use psuedonyms to protect my family when I write, this blog isn't exactly anonymous. Though the blog is accessible to the general public, I know who most of my readers are and they know who I am. That, along with not wanting to be a grouch (and have it so self-accusingly documented), is why I hesitate to be totally honest sometimes. When I feel inclined to divulge too much of the truth, I usually opt for silence. My mother taught me, as many of yours probably did, the old maxim "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all". I have tried to be positive and have managed to confine my blogged complaints about Bethel to the weather and the scarcity of baby swings. But I am about to explode. At the risk of being negative and possibly even offensive, there are a few things I have to express about living here.

First, though, I will say something nice about Bethel, and that is that the people here are very kind. Remarkably kind. Go-out-of-their-way helpful. They're so nice, and I worry that I don't know what I can do to reciprocate. I am nice in return, but it's hard that I'm in a position where I can't help them as much as they help me. They're so nice that it makes me feel bad that I'm having a hard time in their town, even when they couldn't possibly do any more than they already do to make it pleasant for me here. As though their kindness could make up for such desolation.

That said, this is a really, really difficult place to live. The lack of availability (and/or the exorbitant cost) of things I consider very basic to simple living, along with the dearth of wholesome entertainment options for a raising a small child, make it difficult to get from day to day. Lots of people here just let their kids wander (streets, tundra, whatever), but LittleBit is obviously too young for that, nor would I be comfortable with it even if he were older. It's so chilly here so much of the time, and when it approaches being pleasant out there's not really anywhere for him to go out and run around. I worry that we spend too much time inside, but outside is so rarely an option, and a limited one at that. I just wish there were a warm, sunny, grassy park where we could play. Bethel doesn't have that.

The feeling of isolation from the rest of the world is oppressive. With the exceptions of Esquire and LittleBit, everyone I love is very, very far away and I can't get to them except by pricey plane tickets, and then I'm leaving Esquire alone. There is nothing to do here, and I can't drive over to the next town for a little field trip. I've already driven all the road there is in this part of the world and seen what there is to see. In a few months I will wander into the tundra for berry picking (is this part of the state too desolate for bears?), but that's months away. There is nowhere to go. But for a $500 trip into Anchorage, I am stuck here. That's a bit of an indulgence, it seems. I feel like I'm at the far end of the world.

I'm one of those shallow people that needs to be surrounded by beauty and order. Bethel is not pretty. The insides of some buildings are nice (the place we are housesitting is a beautiful home, and I have to say, a real non sequitur), but most everything else is shabby, dirty, run-down, sad-looking. The tundra is a flat expanse of greys and browns and damp. The spaces in front of buildings (I won't call them yards) are bare, pitted stretches of mud. There are no sidewalks, no streetlights, no flowers, no lawns, no trees, and the few tiny playgrounds that do exist are broken down by the harsh weather. It's a very severe landscape.

And the light, oh the light! I worried that the lack of daylight in the winter would push me over the edge, by why wait for winter when the summer has a devilry all its own? Insomnia, and an unhealthy mania pushing at the edges of my brain. It's also thrown off LittleBit's sleep schedule; he stays awake, exhausted, until unholy hours, though he does nap more during the day.

I fear that my perspective may be skewed by my mental state. I have been feeling more depressed since arriving, and it's so hard to gauge how much is biology and how much is geography. I think I need an adjustment in my medication, and anyway it will run out in mid-June. I'll have to get that sorted out soon.

If you've made it to the end of this entry, thanks for listening to my grievances. There are more, but I'm going to stop here. LittleBit is stirring, and I can occupy myself for the afternoon with entertaining my child. Indoors. Is it too early for Goodnight, Moon?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Rayando el sol

Right now it's a relatively balmy 53F, and the sun is shining. The river "broke-up" yesterday and the night before, and the formerly encroaching waters have receded. On the ground everything is still shades of brown and grey (still awaiting the greening of the tundra), but the sky is blue and the sunlight glitters on the fluid river as it makes its way out to sea. Finally. What a difference a day makes.

LittleBit and I took advantage of the improvement in weather to walk down to the river and see it flowing along. This being Bethel it was still a dusty, muddy walk out there but it was pleasant nonetheless. By the time we got down to the river he had fallen asleep (to be precise I walked and he rode in my sling) so he didn't appreciate the view nearly as much as his mother did, but I'm sure he appreciates the improvement in Mommy's mood. There were still stray chunks of ice drifting in the current, but the point is that they had a current to drift in, rather than being stuck in a jammed up channel of pack ice.

Yesterday afternoon we had a play date with a woman from church and her children, one LittleBit's age and one about a year-and-a-half older. It was nice. It was good to get out of the house, good to visit with another adult, good for LittleBit to have a chance to play with other kids, and with other toys in another space. I do worry some days whether or not I'm giving him an environment that's sufficiently verbally rich. Most of the time it's just the two of us, and I have to be very conscientious about narrating aloud what I'm doing and talking directly to him. When he's with other children, especially those that are already talking (and the friend's older daughter is very well-developed chatterwise), I don't worry so much about whether he's getting enough verbal linguistic input. All the same, I'm extremely hesitant to put him in daycare for a variety of reasons, and he's too little for preschool. When I do put him in a preschool, I want it to be a legitimate educational experience and not just some place where kids are warehoused during the workday. By that time, though, we plan to have left the bush and be in a situation where we have some options to choose from, even if we have to lottery for them. I just have to make sure I'm doing my part every day so that his verbal skills are up to par. I know he's still awfully young for me to worry about his speech, but a mother worries. That's just how it is.

In the meantime, I'll be sure to take him out on our rare sunny days.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


That's right, flooding. There's a time of year (or in some locales an event) here in Alaska called "break-up", which is when all the nasty ice and snow that's left over from the winter finally melts away, or in the case of bodies of water, the ice breaks up and floats out to sea. Since we're on a river, we experience the second kind of break-up. A potential side-effect of break-up is flooding. The town is basically a marsh with high spots were the buildings are, so you can see the water level rising all over town. At present we are house-sitting for some generous friends from church (hooray for being out of the hotel!), and their house sits right on the edge of the slough, which feeds into the river. These days, though, the river is full of ice and so the water is backing up into the slough and onto the road. We're not concerned about the house itself since it sits on stilts above the hundred-year-flood mark, but the dirt road is awfully wet today, and we've been watching the slough encroach further and further into the yard. It makes for an exciting kind of anticipation.

On a more personal note, I've found something useful to do a couple of nights a week, which is good since I'm otherwise going a little batty. One of Esquire's colleagues has been studying Spanish for several years with mixed results, and he's hired me to tutor him. I'm very excited about this, because it makes me feel useful and it uses my hard-earned skill set. I just wish I'd brought some teaching materials with me instead of sticking them all in a box in our storage unit. I didn't foresee that there would be any demand for me to teach Spanish so quickly after getting up here, since my original plan was to stay home with LittleBit during the stay in Bethel and then find an adjunct position when we transfer to Anchorage or Fairbanks in a year or two or three.

Lastly, Que descanse en paz Carlos Fuentes. He was great writer and thinker and essayist and so important to 20th and 2st Century literature. He will be missed.