This blog is about my life as a mom, raising a son with a mood disorder. This is a tough journey and I hope that my words may allow others living with this illness see that they’re not alone. I’m also using this blog as a tool to process my own feelings and let go of the pain that I carry inside. If you’re new to this blog, check out my list of “Important Posts” in the right column and feel free to share your story with me. This blog shouldn’t be used for medical advice.
I just got back from Stanford where I attended the 9th annual Mood Disorders Dialogue Day. One of the highlights was listening to Dr. Kiki Chang, who’s Chief of the Pediatric Bipolar Disorder Clinic at Stanford University and as always, being able to visit with other parents, even Bug’s Mom and Dad who I originally met at this conference a few years back. I look forward to sharing the info I collected, but right now I’m stepping away from my computer for the week to enjoy my family. Check back the following week for the latest research on mood disorders in children, I’m sure you’ll find it as interesting as I did!
Today I took my boys to therapy where we discussed a challenge I’m having with my youngest. He’s getting more rude and explosive when triggered. We’re constantly reminding him to take deep breaths, to walk away from the situation and use a nice voice, but his progress has been very slow.
I know that it’s going to take some time for him to learn how to self soothe, but I admit, his behavior makes me feel like a lousy parent, it embarrasses me. He tends to have no filter and if he’s upset, he lashes out with such loud, disrespectful behavior. In the moment, I try to calm him down, using the “ignore it” therapeutic approach our therapist has trained me to use, but this method has me ignoring the behavior instead of disciplining him. As a mother, this feels wrong. On the surface it looks like I’m letting him get away with it, instead of intentionally not giving him attention for his bad behavior.
Our therapist reminded me, “You can’t reason with a limbic system that’s misfiring, it’s like trying to scold a drunk person—it’s a waste of time. Instead, you have to wait until he’s calm and ready to learn then at that time, get to the heart of what’s triggering him. Don’t focus on his bad behavior because that’s just a symptom of what’s much deeper, instead try to figure out what causing it in the first place.”
I understand her logic, but in the moment, when he’s talking back with a vengeance while we’re being watched by nearby shoppers in Target, I can’t help but feel like a bad parent. I can almost feel the eyes of onlookers screaming at me, “What kind of parent let’s their child talk that way?”
As I expressed these frustrations our therapist asked me, “So it bothers you because of how it makes you look?”
I responded, “Well...yes it does.”
I can’t help it. No matter how much I understand the situation and my son’s limitations, I still want to be seen by others as a good mom. I work so damn hard that it kills me to think that even strangers think I’m a lazy parent.
There, I said it.
I admit that I’m concerned about what others think.
Today my oldest son became threatening, I tried to offer him support to help him calm down, a new technique that has proven to be successful, but today it wasn’t working and things were escalating. So I did something I’ve never done before, I called for back up.
While holding my son’s door shut, as he tried to throw stuff at me from the other side, I called a friend to come to my house, I told her it was an emergency. Knowing our family situation, she dropped everything and quickly came to our house. She even left her son’s ABA therapist (for autism) waiting outside her house while she went to mine since the law doesn’t allow her son’s therapist to be alone with her child.
I have to admit, this was a big step for me. Though I’ve had plenty of people offer this kind of support, I’ve never had the guts to use it. Why not? Because of pride, because I don’t want to be a burden on others. I hate having to ask for help and I think a part of me believes that this is my child, my responsibility, so I should be able to do this all on my own. Foolish huh? The thing is, I do know better, I understand that I can’t do this alone, but somewhere along the way of thinking and doing I fall short.
So how did it go? I’m happy to share that it went better than I ever imagined. My friend showed up while I had my son in a hold on his bed. As predicted, just her appearance jolted him out of his flight or fight response. It still took about 10 minutes to get him calm enough to get in the shower, which is the first step of bringing him back to normal, but we got there.
Afterwards my friend who knows my son well, shared how different he seemed during this episode. It was her first experience seeing him like this. She was quick to point out that even his body language was different than normal, I think it kind of disturbed her a little, as she said, “All I could think as I watched him was, what voices is he hearing in his head that he’s not telling you about? It’s like he was being coached by a voice in his head to act out against you.” She also noted that his behavior was “animalistic”.
I found this interesting since we’re so accustom to this behavior that I forget that most people who know him very well have never seen this side of his illness.
After my son was in the shower and I felt things were back under control my friend headed back home to her son’s therapy. Moments later I got a text asking me to give her the thumbs up if my son came out of the shower normal so she could make sure we were ok. After thanking her, she responded with, “No problem, it takes a village.”
Thank you God for my village, and thank you God for letting me have the courage to ask for help when I need it—I wish I had done it sooner.
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I thought it was worth sharing that after it was all over my son said that he was glad our friend came over because it helped him calm down. He shared that our upcoming vacation may be bringing stress on and like last year before our vacation, he’s having trouble staying under control. Thankfully he’s able to recognize this, I call this progress.
One of the tools our therapist is using with our youngest is meditation, it’s for self soothing so he can get control of his emotions and help himself calm down. I’ll admit that meditation is new for me, I tend to use prayer for this but I’m willing to try new things and see what sticks with my boys. My Aunt recently shared with me a free 21-day meditation challenge with Oprah and Deepak Chopra, MD, who is highly recommended by my awesome Aunt and of course, Oprah. If you’re interested in participating, sign up by following the link below, it begins on August 5th:
After my boys decided to skip going to camp with our church because it was too overwhelming for them, my husband decided to take matters into his own hands. He’s taking the boys camping in our own backyard. Tonight’s the big night. The tent is up, the fire is started and the smores are ready to go, along with hotdogs that we’ll cook over open flame. I love that my husband is giving my boys what they need, the way they need it!
As I get older I’m realizing that I don’t like change much.
Particularly when it comes to my home. I want to raise my family up in our home and one day retire here. I want my boys to bring their first dates through our front door, maybe even steal a kiss at the mailbox like my husband and I did when we were dating at my parent’s home.
I have plans of growing old with my best friend and continuing our thursday night cardio-therapy sessions at the gym while my husband plays golf at the senior rate with his best friend. Every July I plan to watch the city fireworks off our bedroom balcony and every Christmas put our tree up in the same spot. I want to eat at our favorite family-owned pizza restaurant every time we celebrate and one day show my grandchildren where their Dad played legos for hours. I want to see my boys’ names etched into my cabinets each week as I dust and listen at night for the familiar sound of the train in the distance. I want to be surrounded by the history of my family. I want home.
This month all of that has been threatened. My husband was notified that his position is being moved to the city, about a 3 hour commute from our current home. He has been given some time to decide if he wants to keep his position or find a new job.
Unfortunately both options aren’t good. Finding a new job with his salary requirements won’t be easy in his industry. But commuting is not doable, being that it would put him on the road for 6 hours a day. Unfortunately telecommuting isn’t allowed.
So outside of a miracle, a move in our near future is looming over us.
It feels like a kick in the stomach.
We would be moving to a new city not knowing anyone. We would lose all the physical support that surrounds us now. I know that those in my life will always support me, but when things get heated and I need to call a friend for assistance, everyone will be too far away. Plus, the only babysitters we use are the Grandparents, being far from them will really make things tough. On top of that, we would be moving to a more expensive area, bringing on more stressors all around.
Beyond my own resistance to change, I’m concerned for my boys. We’ve made great efforts to create stability in their lives, moving would undo all of it. I know that there’s the possibility of things getting better, but honestly, we have a lot of good in our life right now. We’re surrounded by family and friends and a very supportive church. We finally have good doctors we can trust and have learned what doctors to avoid. We live in a small community where traffic is light and crowds are far, with miles of open space we can explore. Making it a wonderful place to raise kids with sensory issues. Our boys love it here!
I’m concerned about what a move would do to our oldest. It took him a while to make new friends at the middle school and he finally feels settled in, which is a blessing with puberty moving in. Just this week he cancelled his attendance at church camp because he became overwhelmed with the amount of new stuff that he would be exposed to, just mentioning that the group would be stopping at an In-N-Out Burger restaurant was enough to send him into tears. At our last therapy session he became stressed out when she was offering a new calming technique, through clenched teeth he said, “I don’t want to do anything new, I can’t handle anymore change in my life!”
My husband and I looked across the room at each other, knowing what our son doesn’t know yet, that change may be inevitable.
I don’t know about you, but summer is really taking it’s toll on me. It didn’t help that we just went through a long heat wave and the kids had to stay inside with the air conditioning. I think I’m reaching summer burnout. I’m tired of breaking up fights, calming tantrums and trying to keep the boys from getting bored and turning on one another. I seriously want to run and hide from them these last few days.
On Thursday I hit my melting point, thankfully we were on our way to therapy for my youngest. Once there I hijacked the session and spent the entire time alone with the therapist crying while the boys fought outside her office door. I explained to her, it’s constant in my house, I’m either calming one child or it’s the other, sometimes they’re both going off at the same time. I feel like my house is a minefield spread with explosives ready to ignite. I am so exhausted!
Her advice to me, “Tell them how you feel. They need to know the impact they’re having on mom and they need to step it up and help take care of mom because you’re going to get sick at the rate you’re going. You are NOT Supermom, so stop trying to be.”
Hmmm... seems like good advice. So we did just that. We sat the boys down at the end of the session and let them know how all their fighting is hurting me. My youngest responded with, “Oh, that’s what you want to talk about, I’m outta here!” Then he stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him.
Ahh, the little one. He’s been quite a handful lately. He’s become very mouthy and seems miserable most of the time.
Once back home my youngest lost his electronic time since he refused to clean up the toys he played with at the therapist’s office.
What followed was his biggest meltdown ever. He was hitting me and kicking me. I had to hold him down and if I tried to let go, he was attacking me once again. After 20 minutes he was sweaty head-to-toe and ready to back down.
Once again, research is showing that Lithium actuals helps prevent suicide in patients with mood disorders. I remember hearing this at Stanford last year, but new research is supporting previous research. It’s the only drug shown to help prevent suicide in studies. Check it out:
After my son’s last episode, we were fortunate to see his therapist the following day. After looking at the situation with a fresh pair of eyes, our therapist recognized a pattern with our son’s behavior. She explained that he’s easily triggered by situations and as a result, his limbic system is turned on, thus the fight-or-flight response we see activated in his body.
For our son, he typically goes to the “fight” reaction. She explained that once this system is turned on, there is no turning back and all of our previous efforts to de-escalate, such as telling him to take a walk, or take a shower or when younger, his time outs, are all seen through his limbic system as threats.
As a result, he responds by fighting for his life. Which is why he tends to become violent and fight against us. Our therapist explained that over the years, his response has formed neural pathways in his brain, causing him to go this direction more easily and with smaller triggers. So with a little brainstorming she advised us to try a new approach.
Instead of offering him ways to calm down, or worse, removing him from the home when he escalates, we should instead come together and show him that we’re on his team, hoping to disengage his limbic system from revving up. The important part is to not appear afraid of him or go into protection mode over the other kids, because this too will further engage his “fight” response in his brain. Easier said than done.
I find this technique interesting because it does make sense logically, but I know that it won’t be easy for me because I too have formed neural pathways in my brain to go into the “protection mode” whenever my son becomes threatening. So for me to respond in a way that is nurturing and supportive when I feel threatened and scared will be going against my instincts. The same goes for his siblings. How will they avoid running and hiding and instead surround him with support when they themselves feel unsafe? Unfortunately at this point, I don’t think I can change my son’s reactions, only the environment around him, which means we have to change. Our hope is that in time our son’s neural pathways will change and his response will be less threatening.
I’ll let you know how this goes...
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I want to sincerely thank everyone who reached out to me after my last post. I think I cried through most of your comments and emails, it was very theraputic for me. I also appreciate those close to me who have offered their support and willingness to show up at my house whenever I need it. I am blessed to have you all in my life.