Sunday, April 29, 2012

Progress Grows

This weekend my son came to me begging for help since he was struggling with feeling overwhelmed and stressed out from a project and now felt like he wanted to hurt someone. At one point he said through tears, “I feel like I’m going insane, my brain won’t think straight!” I encouraged him to take a shower and promised him that it would make him feel better. Eventually he allowed me to get the water going for him and agreed to get in.

After the shower he came out with a big smile and said, “I’m so glad you’re my mom.”

I laughed and said, “Me too, but why do you say that?”

He responded, “Because you can make me take a shower and now I feel so much better!”

I know this moment might appear insignificant, but when I take a step back, I can see the progress that has been growing. In the past he would’t have been able to identify the source of his feelings (stress from his project) and he would never have asked for help so early on, he even recognized what his behavior would have escalated to if he didn’t get help at that moment. THEN, he let me help him.

This is huge!

This is sweet, beautiful progress and I know we have Lithium to thanks for it. This medication has given us so much stability that we now have the opportunity to teach and guide our son, allowing moments like this.

But I’m also incredibly thankful to have a child who wants to feel better and is willing to go to weekly therapy, accept yet another modification plan and trust that his parents love him dearly and only want to do what’s best for him.

If you seem a long way off from this type of progress, hang in there, kids do get better. A few years ago I wouldn’t have thought that this type of progress was possible, but we are living it.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Video Game Helps Fight Depression

I read this week that a video game created in New Zealand has been used to combat depression in teens. I have to admit, this latest research made me giggle because let’s face it, video games have been blamed for all kinds of evil from laziness to murder. But seriously, this game actually shows some promise.

The game is called “SPARX” which stands for “Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts.” It’s a fantasy game that engages a user to use mental behavior skills to fight depressive thoughts.
The results suggest that the game was actually more effective than traditional forms of talk therapy. Individuals playing SPARX had anxiety and depression levels reduced by 44 percent, compared to a 26 percent reduction among those who received traditional therapy. (MSNBC, Hawkins)
So how does it work?

According to TIME Healthland, the game creates an interactive fantasy world where the avitar (child) faces negative thoughts and tries to destroy them to restore balance in their virtual world. It’s a type of cognitive therapy that works to educate kids that these negative thoughts are not real but a result of their depression. There are multiple levels each tackling different areas of education, one brings information about the illness so hope can be restored, another focus on relaxation techniques and there’s even a level that helps with anger management, appropriately titled the “The Volcano Province”.

So would you ever try a video game as a form of therapy for your child? I have to admit, I’m intrigued. Already my boys use the Wii to exercise, you should see them sweat up a storm playing a dance game, why not have them practice better positive thoughts? One thing I’ve learned from countless hours of my son’s therapy is that any change must be practiced over and over again before it becomes a new behavior. Maybe this game can help with this process while allowing the kids to have fun too? If anything, this research shows that therapy may come in many unexpected forms in the future, maybe this game will make a difference for your child.

As for my son, when I mentioned this game his first question was, “Could we buy it? That sounds fun!”

Hmm... maybe SPARX is on to something.

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Study: Playing a Video Game Helps Teens Beat Depression

Matthew Hawkins
Video Games Can Help Teens Combat Depression, Study Suggests:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Moment of Hope

My son’s therapist has been teaching our son how to manage his anger better. One of the techniques we’re using is to have our son go for a walk alone around the block when he starts to get upset and angry so he can calm himself down. We’re working hard to teach him to separate himself from others instead of attacking us when he’s angry. Slowly, he’s getting better at this.

Just this week he started to get angry and I warned him to leave the situation and he calmly walked out the front door. When he came back 10 minutes later he handed my a bouquet of dandelions that he picked while on his walk. As he handed me the flowers he sweetly explained how he arrange the flowers so they would look pretty, then he said, “I’m sorry Mom.”

As much as I love his flowers and the sentiment behind them, I cherish this small moment because I know it’s exactly what we’re working towards, it gives me so much hope.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Mother’s Nightmare

Last night I had one of the worst nightmares I can remember. I was dreaming that my son was in a rage and was smothering me. In the dream I was trying to scream for help but was having a hard time breathing. Unlike real life rages, my son was a few years older in the dream and he was trying to cause me serious harm. Other than that, the dream was so close to my reality it was disturbing. I ended up waking up my husband in real life as he heard me yelling out his name in my sleep and when I woke up, I was having a hard time catching my breath and felt my heart pounding through my chest. I was terrified to go back to sleep since the nightmare was reoccurring.

It made me wonder... do “normal” moms have nightmares that their children are trying to harm them? How about you, have you had this type nightmare?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Diagnosing Depression with a Blood Test

Over the last few days there’s been a flood of articles about the ground breaking research for diagnosing depression in teens with a blood test. Developed by a scientist at Northwestern School of Medicine in Chicago, a blood test was used to determine 11 biological markers for depression in a group of teens that are not present in healthy teens.

This is huge!!! This blood test is a significant step in getting not only better treatments and diagnoses, but in eliminating the stigma of depression and other mental illnesses altogether. Once there’s a blood test that can diagnosis the illness, people will understand that these illnesses really do exist and as a result more people will get treatment, producing a better life for not only the individual, but their families. As the study author Dr. Eva Redei put it:
"Everybody, including parents, are wary of treatment, and there remains a social stigma around depression, which in the peer-pressured world of teenagers is even more devastating," Redei said. "Once you can objectively diagnose depression as you would hypertension or diabetes, the stigma will likely disappear." (CBS NEWS, April 17, 2012)
Can you imagine a world where we can take our kids to the psychiatrist and after a simple blood test be able to determine if our child is suffering from depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder? And from there, be able to treat their illness appropriately? I know it seems like a long shot now, but we’re on our way to these amazing advances in science. As our last psychiatrist always said, “We will have better treatment options for your son in his lifetime, it’s going to happen!”

I really believe that.

Check out these encouraging articles below!

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Son’s Bully Carries a Weapon

This week my son was walking around the neighborhood when he saw a group of kids from school on the opposite side of the street. He was immediately on guard since this group of kids have recently outcasted him and have been provoking him by calling him names and threatening him. Just last week I caught one of the boys, our next door neighbor, yelling at him, “I’m going to get my older brother to kick your ass!”

As my son was passing the group they began to make mean remarks and gestures so my son responded by cussing at them. Then our neighbor boy escalated the situation by chasing our son down with an Airsoft gun.
If you haven’t heard of Airsoft guns, they’re a lot like BB guns. Shooting plastic hard pellets, they’re considered to be a projectile weapon capable of inflicting harm. 

Taken from an online source: Extreme care should be used at all times with Airsoft guns, and it’s best to treat Airsoft guns as a real firearm while handling and transporting them, reckless handling of these guns can lead to various ranges of criminal consequences, and worse, physical injury or death. In other words, this is no nerf gun!

As the neighbor boy reached my son, he yelled “I might as well do a head shot!” as he pointed the gun less than 2 feet from my son’s face. Terrified, my son walked backwards with his hands up while the boy followed him until he got close to home.

Once home my son fell apart as his anxiety took over, afraid that our neighbor was going to hurt the whole family with his gun. To say that I was upset was an understatement. But I knew that this was a situation that was best left to my sensible husband since these neighbors have proven themselves in the past to be difficult to talk to and frankly, I don’t know if I could’ve kept my Mama Bear claws in.

I wish that I could report that we reached a positive resolution over this situation, but as predicted, the boy lied to his parents about the whole event until his sister validated our story and he finally confessed. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem fazed by their son’s lying or the fact that he had a weapon pointed at my son’s head. Instead my husband was greeted with the negative attitude of the boy’s mother and harsh words towards our family while the boy’s father stood uncomfortably at the door. In the end, both parties agreed to keep the kids separated and my husband left a warning that the next time their child threatened our son with a weapon, we’ll have the police deal with it.

As much as this situation upsets me, it made me more wary of the future. Middle school is next year and I know that my son is already being viewed as an outcast by his classmates. What’s worse is that the neighbor boy has a lot of influence with my son’s peers. Will my son become a victim of abuse or will he be provoked by these kids until he fights back? Either way, it worries me and validates what we already know, that our son may need alternative schooling. We aren’t going to let these bullies destroy him.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Let the Good Times Roll!

It’s been a great weekend! Our new family plan continues to be a success and we’ve had some really wonderful moments together. Today we planted a family garden and gave the boys a chance to run on some open property in our foothills! Pretty cool stuff for growing boys. The kids seem to be getting better at the structure and predictable outcomes. We’ve noticed that this past week our oldest son has gone into his room for timeouts without fighting it, this in itself is a miracle. As for me, I’ve noticed less battles and a more peaceful home.

I also think that trying to keep a regular schedule throughout spring break was helpful. I made sure meals and bedtime were about the same time each day. Keeping us on track helped with the rhythm of my son’s body, helping his moods overall. Or we are just experiencing a positive period between moods, either way I’ll take it!

Pray for us as we go back to school tomorrow, as you may know transitions can be brutal.

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For those that are interested in the details of our new family plan, this book my friend gave me explains it all. Thank you SW!! Check it out!:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Therapy with Siblings

With the kids on spring break, we decided to include the younger brothers in my son’s therapy session today. This was their first time being part of his therapy so I was curious what would take place.

To start, our therapist spent some time explaining that their brother has an illness called bipolar disorder and like many people with illnesses, this impacts not just the individual but the entire family in a positive or negative way. She then went on to share many conditions families face such as cancer, paralysis and even diabetes to show that our family is not unique to illness and we can work together for a positive experience for us all.

She then went on to ask each of the kids how their brother’s illness affects them and what challenges they face when their brother has mood changes. My middle son (age 9) seemed engaged and shared his experience and how he typically handles it, where as my youngest (age 7), expressed no interest in participating and refused to respond to any questions as he played with the toys in her office.

From there she spent a little more time with my middle son and explained that he has a right to protect himself and encouraged him to stand up for his rights instead of trying to please his brother to avoid conflict. I think my middle son liked this guidance.

After that she spent the rest of the appointment playing a game of Sorry with them, while watching the kids interact as they displayed their temperament.

As the appointment came to an end she confirmed what I already knew. That my middle son is a very unique child who has a calming spirit and handles stress and disappointment extremely well. Where as my youngest has developed a lot of anxiety brought on from fearing his brother and often uses “avoidance” as a distraction, something that apparently is a bad thing that I need to fix. She came to this conclusion from her experience in watching him as well as my feedback on how he responds to things at home and in school. She encouraged me to use relaxation techniques to help teach my youngest how to self soothe and to help him relax when things get rough at home.

It sounds like good stuff and I’ll work on it, but honestly, the weight of responsibly I feel in helping my children survive their exposure to this illness is overwhelming. It’s hard enough trying to handle my oldest with a mood disorder, but to work on “rewiring his brother’s neural pathways that have been poorly formed due to fear” feels like just another mountain to climb.

But they say that God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle, so I must be up for the challenge. Or as my dear husband sometimes jokes, God must think pretty highly of us.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tiptoeing Back On Track

If you read my last post from Easter night you may recall things ended badly. Two days later I’m happy to report that we’re back on track.

After the violent rage Sunday night, my son woke up Monday morning in a good mood and has been going along with the new family plan as if nothing ever happened. He has even gone into timeout a few times without any fight. Looking back, I can see how the excitement of a long Easter day along with too many sweets and a day off his normal routine, add to that a meeting about more changes in the coming week and we have a recipe for disaster. But that’s life right? We can’t always keep everything on schedule, there’s holidays, spring breaks and life in general that gets in the way of perfectly laid plans.

This inevitable truth is disappointing to say the least. It’s the unexpected and the “change in plans” that makes life exciting and as comfortable as routine is, sometimes we have to leave this comfort zone. But for families like mine, this decision may bring unwanted consequences. A spontaneous trip to the movies may bring unwanted behavior later. But can we live any other way?

So as the week moves forward, in the uncharted territory of spring break, I’m carefully tiptoeing through the day. Trying to maintain a predictable routine, but stepping outside the lines every so often so the kids can have some fun, knowing that it may come at a price.

It’s the best that I can do and I’m ok with it.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Rage Changes Everything

I had already written tonight’s post, but everything changed.

After a great week and a wonderful Easter where I actually rested on “cloud 9”, we sat the kids down to go over the changes to the daily schedule and inspections due to their spring vacation starting on Monday. Unfortunately, everything fell apart when my son heard of the changes.

I’m just too tired to write every detail. But I can say that I’m actually surprised the neighbors didn’t call the police because of all the screams coming out of our open windows as my husband held our son down in a violent rage. Our son threatened to run away because we turned our home into a military school and was claiming that he was going to call the police so they could take him away.

As my husband held his kicking limbs and avoided his biting teeth, I calmly caressed his hair and told him that we loved him.

My younger boys huddled in their beds in the room next door and feared that their raging brother would come after them next.

After about 15 minutes, my raging son said with a weak breath, “Ok, I’m done” and within seconds he was in a deep sleep. I have to admit it was a little disturbing how quickly he went from a rage to a sound sleep.

I wish I could be delicate and articulate my feeling with grace tonight, but I don’t have it in me.

I hate this f-cking illness.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Richard Dreyfuss and Bipolar Disorder

I came across this interview in the Herald-Tribune where Richard Dreyfuss talks about living with bipolar disorder. I was intrigued to say the least, being that my only knowledge of the actor was watching Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind as a child. Which thanks to these movies, I can no longer swim in the ocean and get spooked by lights in the sky. But other than that, I didn’t know much more, especially having no idea he was living with bipolar disorder.

What caught my attention in this interview was his experience with a certain medication that brought him relief, but was soon unavailable because it wasn’t profitable. Here is what he had to say:

I was a wonderful person — a good father, a good husband. I was a good citizen, and I had no fear. And then one of the manufacturers stopped making a linchpin drug.
They said I wrote them the most sincere letter they’d ever received. The guy called me, and he said, “I know that we left 3,000 people hanging in midair, but there just wasn’t any profit in it.” (Herald-Tribune, Tuesday, April 3, 2012)

I find this alarming! To think that scientists can create a drug to make people well, but because it isn’t profitable, people can’t have it. I can’t imagine if that ever happened to my own son. After years of trying drugs and then to find the “answer” and finally enjoy a healthy, stable life, only to have it taken away because of money. It’s disgusting, but sadly, reality.

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Check out the full article here:

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Happy Easter, may you create wonderful memories this weekend with your family!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Breaking In the Behavior Modification Plan

Here’s a quick peek at how we’re doing in breaking in the new behavior modification plan from our psychiatrist:

Day 1:
It started out good, but by the second of three inspections we hit our first “no pass” and what followed was an expected meltdown since the house privileges would not be available because he chose not to do his study time. My son cried that I had ruined his life by making his home a prison and that home is now “just like school”. He left the house in anger 3 times (once returning for a water bottle), leaving me notes that he was going off to hide somewhere and that he hated this new “family plan” and when he saw our psychiatrist he was going to attack him. I remained calm and didn’t engage but instead empathized with him. By the third inspection of the day we had compliance and a joyful “pass”. Not sure who was more excited, child or mom!

Day 2:
It was a huge success. My son griped a little with his second inspection today, but went with the program and was able to pass all three inspections today and got to enjoy the privileges. All three of my boys seemed to embrace their charts where they check off their completed tasks throughout the day. Hopefully the rest of the week will go as good. Tonight my son enjoyed the special family time he earned before bedtime, even admitting that the “family plan” wasn’t all that bad.

We have a long way to go, but it felt good to not be in conflict all day with my son. We’re taking it one day at a time...

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To all my family who love and support me by reading this blog, you know who you are, thank you so much, it means the world to me to know that you’re by my side. Love you!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Evacuation Plan

There I am...

sitting on a curb,

down the street from my home,

locked out of my house.

This is how we started our “fun” friday.

Friday afternoon we tried a new plan to stop my son’s cycle of intimidating behavior. For no reason other than, “school was stressful”, my son decided he wanted to intimidate us. I immediately started with Plan A and called my husband to come home. I was hoping that my son would stop his behavior now that Dad was on his way, but it only escalated the situation because now he was threatening to throw something at my head if I didn’t tell Dad not to come home. So with that, I enacted Plan B: Evacuation. I turned to my middle son (the youngest son was at a play date) and calmly told him, “We’re leaving!”

So quietly we gathered our shoes and headed out the front door. I had no specific plan other than to disengage with my oldest son with hopes of breaking his cycle of behavior. We casually walked to the next street and found an empty house to hang out in front of.

We waited for about 10 minutes before we saw my oldest son running up to us with a plastic pirate sword, announcing, “This is fun!!! I stole your keys and locked you out of the house, now I’m going to create a barricade! With a huge smile on his face he said, it’s like I’m fighting a war!!!”

We sat, maintaining a poker face of, “I don’t care”.

Then my oldest was off again, I suppose to create a barricade.

Next, I hear my car alarm going off. But I held to our psychiatrist’s plan to evacuate and don’t engage.

Since my husband had a 40 minute drive home, I knew we still had a while before he was here so I decided to take my middle son for a walk around the neighborhood. I could tell he was starting to feel anxiety and was running through the list of all his possessions to make sure I would replace his stuff if his older brother was busy destroying it. I promised I would, even if it was his prized DS.

As we walked, I contacted our psychiatrist, thank goodness he carries a pager! He instructed me to send my oldest to his room once Dad was home and to give him a consequence for disrupting the family.

I unfortunately grew tired of walking since I grabbed my high heel boots on my way out, which is a horrible move for an evacuation plan (taking notes for next time). So once we could see our home from down the street, we planted our butts on a curb and waited until Dad got home.

Thankfully the whole event ended smoothly. When we returned home we realized that our oldest was still out running around the neighborhood after catching a glimpse of him smiling over his shoulder as he sprinted away. So we went inside and waited for his return.

About 15 minutes later he grew tired and calmly walked through the front door. My husband told him to go to his room and that he lost the computer for tomorrow. To our surprise he said, “ok” and headed up to his room.

Was this a success?

Well considering that he never went into a rage or hurt anyone, it’s a huge success.

But whether this will break his cycle of behavior or encourage it in the long run because, “This is fun!”—Only time will tell.