Monday, December 30, 2013

Too Much Christmas

We had such a wonderful Christmas, even made a trip to the snow on Christmas Day to let the boys experience a white Christmas surrounded by family we love. Over the week we enjoyed late nights, yummy treats and lots of excitement, but unfortunately tonight, we started to see the threads of stability start to unravel.

This happened tonight after coming home from a small gathering to welcome a family friend home. It took place in a home my son had never visited before, surrounded by people that he didn’t know or only met a few times with the exception of his grandparents. He appeared to take a small nap while there, falling asleep on the couch while everyone visited around him, but as we arrived home, he was quickly in tears.

“The people there were scaring me, that’s why I closed my eyes and looked asleep.” Obviously concerned, I asked, “OH hun, what happened? Did someone do something?” He responded, “No one did anything wrong, they were just scaring me, it wasn’t their fault. He then started mentioning other moments in his day where he was frightened by a kid he saw playing outside. He wasn’t making much sense and the tears continued to fall.

My husband and I looked at each other, thinking the same thing,’s been too much, for too long.

Too much fun.

Too much change.

Too much sugar.

Too little sleep.

Too much Christmas.

We see the signs loud and clear. It’s time to reign it in and get things back on track.

It’s moments like these that remind me just how fragile he is. How easy a change in routine, or simply too much fun can make him sick. It reminds me that this illness is still a part of his life and that keeping him well is a constant balancing act. This is living with mental illness.

* * *

As much as there was too much Santa, there’s never too much Christ. I loved knowing that we both received comfort in praying for healing through Christ our Savor as I tucked him into bed tonight. We don’t need much to feel the love of God, I am thankful to have Him by my side in times like these.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Our Plan of Action: “Big Consequences”

I’m happy to share that things have been going good, I mean really good lately. My oldest son has been doing a wonderful job of controlling his violent anger towards us. On two separate occasions he became quite upset, but he didn’t threaten or harm us or any property. This is after we established new “big consequences” for such threatening behavior. His consequence are as follows: First, he’ll lose his bed mattress in his room for a week and will be required to sleep on the floor. This is not something he’d consider fun since he loves his bed. We figure that after becoming violent, he’ll have to live for a whole week thinking about his actions as he tries to go to sleep on the floor each night. Second, he’ll lose all electronics for a week and finally, third he’ll be demoted to riding in the back seat of the car. Which currently is a new favorite privilege of his that he recently earned when he turned 13. At this point we feel that he has enough control and is currently stable, but he doesn’t have enough incentive to control his anger. He’s spent years reacting to stress with violence and now it’s become somewhat of a habit. This is our response to the doctor wanting to hospitalize him in order to “teach him a lesson.”

In addition, we also contacted the school to come up with a plan on minimizing his stress through the rest of the school year. Especially when it comes to large school projects and tests that seem to happen all at once. Our hope is that by reducing his stress, he’ll have a better shot of controlling his actions while allowing him time to practice self control over smaller stress loads.

So far, things have been wonderful. It also helps that he recently had Thanksgiving break and is now on Christmas break. The true test will come when the workload increases and there are no breaks in sight.

At this point, we don’t know what the outcome of this plan will be, but we had to try something. I’m certain that if or when the time comes that he does face these “big consequences,” it will be one rough week for all of us. But if we have a chance of helping our son take control of his actions and learn from his mistakes while he’s still young, it will be worth it in the long run. (Fingers crossed)

But in the moment, as my house sparkles with Christmas decorations, my cup runneth over. I’ve been having so much fun with my kids. They’re being kind, helpful and polite. But more than that, I’m connecting with them, laughing with them and gushing with love over them. It honestly feels like a Christmas miracle.

Whatever it is, I am blessed.

* * *

Thank you for being a part of my life through letters and prayers. Though we’ve never met, I think about you and your families and I’m praying for you tonight. Merry Christmas my fellow Mama and Papa bears, may you hold your cubs close and be filled with joy.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Story Worth Reading about Raising a Child with Mental Illness

One of my followers shared this link with me and I knew it was a “must share” the moment I saw the video. It’s a news story by CNN called, “My Son is Mentally Ill’ So Listen Up.” The story starts with a pretty in-depth video, introducing you to a 14-year old boy who has Bipolar disorder and psychosis. He’s been hospitalized more than 20 times and has attempted to take his own life. This story takes an inside peek of what many of you are already familiar with, it’s the struggles, the pain, the fears, the stigma and the love. Stephanie Escamilla decided to speak up so her and her son could share their story after feeling frustrated that the only time the country pays attention to mental illness is after a tragedy. This story goes beyond the struggle of one family, portraying what’s happening inside homes all over America. It shows how broken the system is and how far we need to go, yet it’s clear that the love of one parent can truly make a difference.

Sit back when you have a few moments, this is a very in-depth story that’s definitely worth your time.

My Son is Mentally Ill’ So Listen UpBy Wayne Drash

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Richard Dreyfuss and Susan Boyle Share their Story.

I recently read two articles, one about actor Richard Dreyfuss opening up about his bipolar disorder diagnosis and one about “Britain’s Got Talent” Susan Boyle who discovered recently that she has Aspergers disorder. What I found to be interesting, but not surprising, was that both felt relieved after getting their diagnosis. Dreyfuss shared that it took away his guilt because he realized that this was something he was born with and Boyle shared how she felt relieved and more relaxed about herself. 

So do labels matter?

Yes they do. For those suffering, labels open up a new world filled with support and resources. More importantly, it helps a person understand their own life experience.

Personally speaking, as a mother with a child diagnosed with a mood disorder, a label provides a path to wellness. Results may not be immediate, but at least I know where we’re headed and I have support along the way.

Check out the stories below, I think you’ll find them as interesting as I did.

* * *

Richard Dreyfuss reveals bipolar diagnosis 'took away all of my guilt'

Susan Boyle: I have Asperger's syndrome

Bonus article (mentions how long it took to find the right medication):
Richard Dreyfuss Opens Up About His Battle with Bipolar Disorder

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Mommy Christmas Date

The line was at least 10 people long. It was raining out and this was the only coffee shop close enough to the therapist’s office. This was a special occasion, a “Mommy Christmas Date”, a family tradition I started with my boys years ago that begins with a trip to the store to purchase a new painted glass ornament for our Christmas tree and ends with a cookie and hot cup of cocoa, with whipped cream of course. We decided to squeeze in our date before our therapy appointment on Friday.

The line was long in the little coffee shop and patience was running short. My youngest went into meltdown before the date even started when he found out we weren’t going home to get his iPod before the therapy appointment. It was one of those days where he was stuck on a thought and we couldn’t help him shake it. But dang it, we were going to have fun today on our special date, tantrums and all.

As my older two boys tried to ignore their complaining little brother and enjoy their hunt for the perfect ornament, I spent my time trying to distract my little one into having some fun, hoping I could get him back on track. But as the date came to a close, he was still persistent on not having fun without his iPod in his pocket. His protest continued into the crowded coffee shop until he decided to go outside into the rain to show me how he was refusing to have any fun.

I decided to ignore his protest, and smiled at his brothers who patiently waited in line with me. Then at one point I looked back to check on the little one who was no longer pouting under the rain drops, but instead had his body firmly pressed against the outside entrance to the coffee shop. He stood with his feet apart and his arms crossed, firmly shaking his head “no” side-to-side, telling the pleading couple standing before him that they could not enter the coffee shop.

Mortified, I ran to the door and immediately apologized to the couple who awkwardly giggled as they explained how my son was refusing to let them in.

Thankfully they seemed understanding as they could tell I had my hands full.

I have to admit, as embarrassing as this scenario was, I also wanted to laugh. I should have know that my little one could be so bold!

Thankfully this story ends on a happy note. As my little one went into round two of running outside the coffee shop, my oldest looked at me and said, “I’ll go outside with him, it’s too overwhelming anyways in here with the crowd.” Then a few minutes later both boys came back inside from the rain. This time my little one apologized and stood back in line. Surprised, I turned to my oldest son and he responded with, “I fixed it! I told him that the way he was acting was going to earn him a “no pass” at home (which means no electronics) and explained that if he started behaving now he could still earn a “pass” tonight when we got home!”

And just like that, at the end of our special “Mommy Christmas Date” we all sat together laughing and smiling while enjoying a warm cup of cocoa.

God bless us everyone… and the poor couple who came upon my little one.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Life in Shadowland—Guest blog from Kelly Schmidt

Today I’m honored to share with you a guest blog from one of my followers, Kelly Schmidt, mom to Nathaniel, and a recent Ph.D. graduate in a developmental psychology program. I was really moved by her story and her description of living in shadowland, realizing that we are neighbors in this isolating place. She puts into words what so many of us experience day-to-day. I am grateful for her story because I can rest in knowing that I am not alone, I think you will too.

* * *

Life in Shadowland (or, Things I Wish People Understood about Having a Child with a Neurodevelopmental Disorder)
This piece was written in June 2011. Events described below occurred in July 2010

When Kevin and I were married 10 years ago, we understood that there were no assurances that we would have a child because I have an endocrine disorder that causes fertility problems. Nobody was more surprised or excited than us when we learned 2 months after our wedding that we were expecting. I chose the name “Nathaniel” very deliberately because it means “Gift from God”.

Nathaniel has a BIG personality. His smile is high wattage, his giggle is contagious. He is scary-smart and has an amazing memory. Sometimes he is so thoughtful and concerned about others, he takes my breath away. He has a very strong faith and knows more about the Bible than many adults. He loves sports (especially basketball), Legos, video games (much to my dismay), and reading (which makes me proud), and his brother Joel. He likes to draw cartoons, help make pancakes and cookies, and talks about Pokemon and Mario Bros. endlessly. He is 110% boy.

Nathaniel also has behavioral and psychiatric disorders. The behavior disorder is called Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as ADHD. The psychiatrist calls his psychiatric disorder a “Neurodevelopmental Disorder” but since insurance companies don’t reimburse for treatment of that, she calls it “Mood Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (NOS)” for billing purposes. He has some features of bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety disorder, and even Aspergers syndrome. He doesn’t meet clinical criteria for any of those disorders, however, because he is typically not symptomatic anywhere else but at home.

Home is where the explosions occur. Home is where there is defiance, anger, and violence. Home is where frustration boils over to punches, requests lead to rebellion, and yelling and tears are almost daily occurrences for all members of the family. Peace is fleeting. Quiet, dreadful anticipation of the next meltdown or outburst is the norm.

It is a lonely and shameful place, here on the edge of two worlds. We seem to belong in the world of families with “typical” children because to almost everyone Nathaniel appears to be a “typical” child. But, he is not, so we don’t. We don’t fit neatly into the world of families with children with special needs either. Learning disabilities, mental retardation, autism – people “get it” when a child has a diagnosis like that and they feel compassion for the child and family. Families of children with visible or recognizable special needs face many challenges, but there is usually a network of support for them – support groups, special education services, therapies, teams of knowledgeable medical professionals. I don’t think anybody has sponsored a walk-a-thon for neurodevelopmental disorders. We live in the shadows of those two worlds. Alone. Frustrated. Afraid.

Shadowland is dominated by fear. Fear is a primal emotion. Fear activates the brain’s “fight or flight” response. Countless parents over the centuries have chosen to fight their fears in response to a threat toward their child, maybe even laying down their life to save their child. What is a parent to do, then, when the threat they face, the fear they feel, comes from the very child they innately want to protect? Who wants to live in fear of their beloved child? I don’t want to, but I do.

I have been punched, slapped, kicked, bitten, pinched, and head-butted for years. During the 3 months that we had him on stimulant medication for the ADHD, he attacked me daily. Learning karate has been a great thing for Nathaniel, but it has made him strong and his physical actions have power. Last summer, he slapped me across the face hard enough to make my nose bleed. A few days later, he threatened me with scissors.

Sadly Nathaniel’s little brother has been a frequent target of physical aggression as well, probably more often than me. Joel has witnessed most of the violence directed at me, including the bloody nose incident. I worry so much about the impact of this on Joel’s emotional well-being. Kevin and I try to protect him as best as we can, but the violence still occurs on too-regular a basis. And so there is guilt, and sadness, in Shadowland.

Life in Shadowland means frequently feeling helpless, ineffective, beaten down, and demoralized. It is so ironic that one of the main topics of my dissertation is parenting self-efficacy – the notion of feeling both confident and competent to complete the task of parenting. My self-efficacy with Nathaniel is generally very low. The “usual” parenting strategies do not work with him.

So life in Shadowland also means that we must search, question, research constantly. Maybe this book will have some answers. Maybe this professional can help us. This website, that therapeutic technique – or this medication. The day the psychiatrist prescribed an “atypical anti-psychotic” medication as a mood stabilizer, I cried. Who wants to think about their child taking a medication like that? But it has helped – quite a bit, actually. For that, we are very grateful.

Life in Shadowland means being on edge most of the day – scanning, searching, evaluating, predicting. What will set him off this time? Has he had enough sleep? Did he eat recently? Being overly tired and/or hungry lowers his threshold for problems. Can we safely get through this event, that outing, that trip or vacation without incident? So much unpredictability, so much stress.

This hypervigiliance comes at a cost. It is exhausting to live in Shadowland. Watching, waiting, negotiating, managing, reacting, calming, containing, cleaning up – it sucks me and Kevin dry. Parenting these days is not as physically tiring because the boys are able to do so much more for themselves. The mental fatigue is unbelievably overwhelming, however.

Living in Shadowland requires thick skin. The heart-stabbing pain of being the focus of your child’s rage and violence is beyond words. It is not easy to de-personalize the experience, but you must. Faulty neural wiring and biochemical breakdowns are the root causes of his behavior, not some flaw in me or Kevin. Some of you reading this may think that our parenting styles have caused Nathaniel’s problems, or that I am exaggerating the seriousness of the situation. I will be the first to admit that Kevin and I have made, continue to make, and will make mistakes in the future, but we did not cause him to be this way. But you believe what you want – I have thick skin and I know the truth.

That brings me to the worst part about living in Shadowland – the absolute isolation and loneliness we feel. We are, by definition, hidden. I know of only one other family living with a child who is a little bit similar to Nathaniel, except that her challenges are present in all settings, and she is adopted. I really don’t know another mother who scans the room for sharp objects when her child starts to become upset, or who has had to stop on the highway to place car seats in separate rows in the minivan so that one child can be protected from the violence of the other child, or who rejoices over a voluntary apology for an earlier abusive attack by her child. On the one hand, of course I am thankful that he does not display this behavior at school or church with other children and adults, but on the other hand, I feel ashamed and embarrassed to explain to his teachers that they get the Dr. Jekyll while we get the Mr. Hyde.

Naturally I have spent a lot of time trying to work out the “why’s” – Why is Nathaniel like this? Why me, Lord? But that is the best part of living in Shadowland – I have been forced to my knees over and over again to seek comfort and courage. I have latched on fiercely to God’s promises in Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28 that He ultimately has a plan for me and for Nathaniel that He means for good, not for evil. I have to remember that we are created by God in His own image to suit his purposes and that he does NOT make mistakes. The refiner’s fire is not an easy place to be and I often beg for relief, but He is an On-Time God so I must trust that He will bring me through this time of trial.

I don’t know if we will always live in Shadowland. Nobody can tell us Nathaniel’s prognosis, although both his psychiatrist and psychologist are guardedly optimistic based largely on the fact that he does not have problems in settings other than at home. Lately we are having more good days than bad days, so for that we give thanks. My motto is “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best”. If we have already seen the worst, praise God. If not, I must still praise God because He is in control, even in Shadowland.

* * *

Kelly Todd Schmidt is a city girl from Pittsburgh married to a country boy from Iowa; they split the difference and have lived for the last 12 years in Columbus, Ohio with their 2 boys (ages 11 and 8), a large garden, and a dog who is probably diagnosable on the DSM. In her life BC (Before Children) Kelly worked as a social worker and developmental therapist in a birth to 3 early intervention program, then enrolled in a Ph.D. developmental psychology program. She set a record for the department in number of years to completion but finally graduated this past May. She is now looking for the right job and in the meantime is making it with the help of good contemporary Christian music, tea, dark chocolate, Clorox wipes, and the Food Network.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Holding Our Ground—Hospitals Shouldn’t be Used for Punishment

We had our oldest son’s psychiatrist appointment last week to discuss whether or not to add an antidepressant to his current meds. After careful consideration, our doctor decided to wait on it and observe him more over the weeks ahead. He didn’t feel like his recent behavior was due to a manic state or even depression but maybe stress and his inability to handle his feelings.

Once again our psychiatrist encouraged us to have him hospitalized and said it would be like “jail” to him and may teach him a lesson to not act violently towards his family. He agreed that he wasn’t unstable, but thought it was besides the point and that the unpleasant experience may discourage him to act this way in the future.

My husband and I stood our ground and told him that we refused to use the hospital as punishment, instead we firmly believe that the hospital should be a place of healing. We explained that if we use it to “teach him a lesson”, it may be harder for him to use when he’s legitimately sick. If on the other hand he was raging and we couldn’t get him under control or he was seriously putting our safety at risk, we would bring him there in a heartbeat. But at this time, we can see that he has some control and isn’t taking steps to seriously harm us.

So we decided that we would come up with our own tough consequences to help him learn to control his bullying behavior towards us. We’ve witnessed his ability to stop his behavior when an outsider comes into our home and hope that this same control can be used in the future.

I want to focus on the source of his stress, specifically school. If there’s anything we can do to decrease his stress there, we can possibly eliminate the violent behavior. In addition to the continued therapy to work on coping skills. But as many of you know first hand, it’s all trial and error. I guess we’ll see what success we have and go from there.

On a positive note, my son has been a joy to be around all vacation, indicating that his moods are stable for the time being. Wish us luck as we start back to school this week.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Anxiously Anticipating Our Next Step—More Medication

Tonight I’m anxiously anticipating our appointment with my oldest son’s psychiatrist to determine what step we need to take next. Both our son’s psychiatrist and his therapist think it’s time to add more medication to help with his recent depression. So far, Wellbutrin, an anti-depressant has been offered since it has less side effects and is less likely to trigger mania. Unfortunately, our Psychiatrist doesn’t want to remove any of his current meds because it could make him unstable. He wants to get him through puberty before we try that. Uggg… more meds.

My husband reminded me that this could be a good thing and really help our son with his recent struggles. It’s not fair to let him suffer because I want things to be different. In a perfect world, we would never consider medication, let alone four, but we aren’t in a perfect world, I have to face our reality.

The other alternative suggested by our psychiatrist is having our son hospitalized. He feels that based on his violent outbursts and his expression of being “God’s mistake” is enough criteria to have him admitted.

When I expressed our concern that he wasn’t unstable and that hospitalizing him could do more harm than good, our Psychiatrist suggested that hospitalizing him may teach him that bad things happen when he acts violent.

I get his thinking, but this only takes into consideration one side of our son, on the other side, we have a child who has other issues that would become worse if we hospitalized him in his current state. Our therapist agrees.

I totally agree that if he was in a state where we couldn’t stop his violence, or he threatened us with serious danger, we would admit him. But I have a kid who is playing nicely with his brothers after a day of having fun in a field with a friend. His rage is long gone in his mind and he’s no longer being triggered by the stress of school. How can I admit him under these circumstances? Both my husband and I feel strongly that we won’t use hospitalization to “teach him a lesson”.

In the meantime, we need to discuss where we go from here, because “here” is no place to stay.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Today was Like Being in a Scary Movie

I didn’t plan to write tonight, but I think I need to in order to sleep.

Today my oldest son became violent towards me. He became explosive during homework time and threw a glue stick at my head. I ran up the stairs and told the other kids to run into their room and I followed them in. We slammed the door and I held it shut with my body. Moments later, my oldest son used a large metal box (a money box) and began slamming it into the door. It felt like a scene from a scary movie, the victims barricaded inside a room with danger trying to break the door down. I was angry and scared at the same time. I didn’t want him to break through another door, we still have a hole in his bedroom door from years ago and I was scared about how far he was going to take this.

As my anxiety increased, my other kids cried in fear as the metal box bashed into the door, my youngest cried out, “I’m scared Mommy!”

I tried to calm them and make them feel like I had it all under control. It was silly, because obviously I didn’t. But I wanted to minimize the trauma they were expereincing.

I called my husband on my cell phone from the room telling him to come home immediately, but he was 40 minutes away.


I couldn’t take the slamming anymore and decided to open the door to take the box out of his hands, telling my other kids to lock themselves in to stay safe.

As I opened the door he started swinging the box at me. He still had some control because he could have hit me in the head if he wanted and he didn’t. But he did hit my hand pretty hard as I tried to grab it. At that moment, I broke apart and started sobbing, begging him to stop. He looked at me blankly and smiled and said it was fun to him. Through tears I told him I loved him and that I knew he loved me and begged him to stop since he was hurting me. I told him that he was a good person and didn’t want to do this, he said he that he wasn’t and continued on. He said he couldn’t take the stress of school anymore.

I yelled back to my younger kids to call my husband’s best friend over. I knew that I was in over my head and I didn’t feel safe.

From there I tackled him to the ground and took the metal box away, pinning him to the floor while he scratched skin off my hands and called me a b!tch. I held him until our friend arrived, there he found me sobbing as I sat holding my son to the ground.

Thankfully, my son withdrew all aggression as soon as he arrived and remained on the floor without a sound or movement for about 15 minutes before he started to sit up. Our friend talked calmly to him until my husband arrived home.

Later tonight my son made a sign and hung it on his bedroom door that said:

“God’s mistake’s room. I need more Lithium. Not me anymore”

Unfortunately, I got the call from his psychiatrist an hour prior telling us that his Lithium levels were therapeutic.


So where do we go from here?

* * *

Things can be really good when they’re good. But they can be really bad, when they’re bad. Today was one of those days.

Tonight I’m feeling short on hope. I feel traumatized over the intensity of his rage. I can’t help but think about what it may be like when he’s 16 years old, especially after today.

I’m sad over this entire event. I’m sad my son hurt me and didn’t stop when he saw me crying and begging him to stop. I’m sad for my younger kids who will now live with this memory and the anxiety it produced. I’m sad for my husband who wasn’t able to be there quick enough to rescue his family the way he would’ve liked to and I feel sad for my oldest son because I know he doesn’t mean to do this. I know he’s suffering inside and I don’t know how to help him.

Tonight I’m in tears feeling completely helpless.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rumor Has It...

Yesterday I picked my two younger boys up from elementary school when my middle son sighed deeply while settling into his seat.

I asked, “What’s up?”

With a look of annoyance he said, “Today all the kids in my class were talking about my younger brother, they said that he flipped desks and chairs over in class and that he pushed other kids into lockers. They were talking so badly about him, comparing him to the kid with autism that was moved out of our school, I told them that if he actually did that, we would have heard about it and that my brother is none of their business!”

Reluctantly, I responded with, “Well actually, this rumor is partially true. Yesterday your brother did flip over his chair and throw a book, but he didn’t touch any of the other kids.”

My middle child responded with, “Well it’s still none of their business!”

My youngest followed with, “Besides, we don’t even have lockers in our school!”

* * *

Oh boy, it seems the rumors have started. I can’t imagine what’s being said, but it’s kinda hard to defend him after he flipped his own chair. Lord help us!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Having to Hide from My Own Child

Friday I took my oldest son to get his blood drawn to check his Lithium levels to see if it’s still in the therapeutic range. He did really good, we didn’t have to use any of the soothing techniques, all he required was that he could do it lying down so he wouldn’t feel dizzy and pass out. After the blood work, we went to Target to reward him for his bravery with a $5 spending spree. Disappointment quickly set in when he found out he still couldn’t afford the Pokemon cards he wanted. After that, he started to escalate quickly.

Flash forward 10 minutes later, after trying to take him home, we’re running back into the store as my oldest son terrorizes his brothers, who are now screaming and running in fear. As I quickly approached the entrance, I told my two younger boys to run inside as I tried to block their brother.

Yes, people were watching.

As he started to follow me, I looked right at him and told him, “The security at the entrance will call the police if they see you acting violent!”

He retreated.

I immediately went inside and hid from my son.

Yep, I was hiding inside the aisles of Target from my 12 year old son.

It wasn’t so much that I was scared of him, rather, I know that the quickest way to de-escalate him was to be out of his sight.

I was right. After about 10 minutes he found us and was calm and ready to go home.

That evening I cried over the absurdity of it all.

Now I’m praying that the blood work will explain what we’ve been seeing lately and that we can do something about it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

When the Past Starts to Fade

As a parent raising a child with a mood disorder, I’ve experience a lot of ups and downs over the years. As things get better, and thankfully they have, something peculiar starts to happen. I start to wonder how bad things really were.

I don’t think this is entirely uncommon, I mean one of the greatest hazards with people on medications is that they start to feel better and eventually forget how sick they were and quit their meds, only to later realize that they can’t function without them.

I’m not saying that I want my son to quit meds or anything, in fact it’s far from it. But as a mom I’m always asking, are we doing the right thing? Are we treating his illness as we should? Did we make the right decisions in the past.

I don’t know that I’ll ever get the answers to all those questions, instead we take it one day at a time. But I’m thankful today for all that I’ve documented over the years. When I question, “Was he really that sick? I don’t have to rely on my memory, instead I can pull out my behavior logs that I started over 4 years ago and read day-by-day what we were dealing with.

If I wonder how bad things got, I can pull up a few videos I recorded during rages or times of psychosis and see for myself, years later that, yes, things were really that bad.

To my own surprise, I’ve written 556 posts over the past 4 years. If I ever wonder what my thoughts were or what decisions we had to make, I can read for myself, it’s all there in my blog.

Does this make a difference?

Yes—for me it does. Life can make the past fade and emotions can twist your memory. But I can praise God now that after all these years, we are doing the best we can.

This week I contacted my oldest son’s psychiatrist about getting his Lithium levels checked since lately he’s appeared depressed. As he says, “I just haven’t been feeling happy for about a month.” The recent rages—even another one last week—have demonstrated that he indeed is struggling.

As I pondered the possibility of a medication adjustment, one that should be expected as he enters into puberty, I was struck with a passing moment of fear.

What if these meds hurt him. 

This obviously wasn’t the first time I’ve considered this, this has always been part of the equation when it comes to making a decision about medications, but none the less, it’s a real concern parents like myself have to face. We face it not once, but for the life of our child.

At times, the weight of this concern can lay heavy on my heart.

Tonight it was.

But then I sat at my computer and I pulled up a video of my son at the tender age of 10 (before Lithium). I watched with intensity as I saw my young child thrash around on the ground in a rage that was an hour in the making. With fresh eyes I saw suffering to a degree that most parents will never see. I saw my son begging to die.

As he thrashed on the ground, swinging punches and trying to bite his Dad, he screamed out,

“Nothing is working, so why can’t I just kill myself!”

“My life is useless!”

“I would be better dead than alive!”

“I just want to kill myself!”

I started to cry.

I remembered.

There are no easy decisions. As parents trying to make the tough decision about medication, it will often feel like there are no “right” decisions. There will always be risks involved. There are no guarantees. I don’t know how our story will end. But tonight I can rest with the peace of seeing with my own eyes, why years ago we put our child on medication.

Because he was suffering.

* * *

If you’re a parent who is facing for the first time a child with unstable behavior. I highy recommend that you keep a journal or track behaviors in a mood chart. Over the years, these notes have not only given me peace, but they have been used to track medication effectiveness and symptoms through the years. My son’s mood charts were paramount in my son getting diagnosed with a mood disorder, they along with his escalating behavior showed the therapist day-by-day what was happening. As a parent, these records have been a huge hidden blessing.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Being the Last One Picked

For Halloween I signed my youngest son up to participate in a Pumpkin Pass with his 3rd grade class. The way it works is that the teacher drops the pumpkin off at one of the student’s doorstep, then that student picks one person off the class list to pass the pumpkin to by leaving it at their doorstep the following day.

Well I completely forgot about this game until the day before Halloween when the class pumpkin showed up at our door. The boys jumped out of the car with excitement to see this unexpected gift. When we realized what it was, my youngest son shouted with anticipation, “Who do we pass the pumpkin too?”

I pulled out the class list that was carefully tucked under the pumpkin and with disappointment I realized that every student had been crossed off the list. We were the last ones picked.

I realize that someone has to be the last one, but honestly, this didn’t surprise me. My little one is different than his peers. He interacts in a unique way, has a short temper and often plays by himself at recess. During class time, I have observed him talking bluntly with his peers, he doesn’t always see the social boundaries that his classmates observe. It made sense to me why he might be the last one picked, but for my little one, this was the first moment that he seemed to recognize that he may be different.

“Why was I the last one picked?”

He walked away with his head down and heart broken.

As much as I find him completely adorable, incredibly imaginative and sweetly quirky. I’m afraid his peers may not always see these qualities. I’m worried what the years ahead will bring, when kids lose their tolerance for the differences in one another and when “coolness” takes priority. What will he experience then? Will he always be the last one picked? 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Surprise Adventure

I just got back from a surprise adventure. It all started when my brother-in-law offered to fly me in to surprise my sister for her 40th birthday party. At first my chest tightened. Yikes! That would mean I’d have to get on a plane again. It’s been about 10 years since my last flight and since then I’ve casually declared I’d never fly again. But this was an invitation I could not refuse. As I considered my options, I had to do what I coach my kids to do everyday—take slow deep breaths and move through the fear. Heck, if I could make my son face his fears with the locker room at school, the least I could do was get back on a plane!

So I accepted his generous offer and asked if I could bring my middle son if I bought his ticket. I figured that it was worth getting the most out of this trip if I was going to fly again. The last time I flew I took my oldest on the plane, and now it would be my middle son’s first opportunity to fly, plus it would give us four whole days of alone time where I could shower him with one-on-one attention without the distractions of his brothers. It’s tough being the middle child, especially if the siblings have special needs.

My brother-in-law graciously accepted my offer and our secret plan was under way.

As we drove to the airport, I admit I had butterflies, but once at the terminal, I was completely into “mom mode” and had no time to worry about my fears, instead I spent the time showing my son what an airport looks like, with all the silly souvenirs and modern artwork. A true test came while in a gift shop when the tv news reported a shooting at an airport near our final destination. I watched with concern as travelers frantically pulled their luggage as they ran from the terminals. I took a long, deep breath and redirected my son to the quaint coffee shop nearby. At that moment I started to feel confident, I can do this, no problem!

While in flight, I watched my son politely engage with those around him. Soaking in delight as the stewardess complimented his politeness and patience. Then to top it off, the woman next to us gushed about how lovely my son was. At that moment I started to giggle inside. I was “THAT MOM!” You may know what I mean. For one small, sweet moment, I was the mom who appeared to have it all together with her “perfectly-behaved” child. LOL! It felt damn good, but I have to admit I felt like a fraud. Pushing aside those silly thoughts, I looked at my lovely middle child and gushed inside.

As the plane took off, I felt calm and excited for our adventure ahead. I couldn’t wait to surprise my sister. What I didn’t expect was that after surprising my sister, my brother-in-law surprised me and my son by announcing that he was taking us all to a beach house for the weekend.

It was such a wonderful, unexpected surprise!

The weekend was so nice. It was great to spend time with my sister and her family and to have so much time with my middle son. So often my middle son goes with the flow, allowing the needs of his brothers to take priority.

Just the week before, while shopping for halloween costumes in a store, my oldest started to have a lot of anxiety about his costume choice. It came down to one costume having gloves and the other not and he just couldn’t decide between the two. Time dragged on, and the stress levels escalated. I could feel a meltdown fast approaching. Then out of nowhere, my middle son said, “You can have the gloves in my costume. That way you can get the costume you really want.” Instantly my oldest son threw his arms around my middle son, giving him the biggest hug. I quickly followed with a hug, so thankful the drama had ended peacefully and overwhelmed with pride as I saw one son sacrifice for another.

Unfortunately, my middle son sacrifices too often for the others. As much as I try to make it up, by serving in his classroom, taking him on “Mommy dates” or getting him into sports. I knew that this weekend was going to be a very special, unique opportunity. It was now my turn to spoil him.

Spoil him I did! He got his favorite snacks (beef jerky) and soda when he wanted, all “mom limits” were lifted. He enjoyed trips in a kayak with his uncle and tons of fun boogie boarding with his cousin. In the end, it was all that I hoped for. We shared some very special moments and I got to watch him enjoy life to the fullest without a care in the world.

As the trip came to an end, the final destination was at his own request. He wanted to stop on the boardwalk to get souvenirs for his brothers who he couldn’t wait to get back to. He said, “As much as my brothers scream at me, I can’t wait to see them, I miss them so much!” I realized then, that after all we’ve been through, we’re not damaged or broken. Instead we’re stronger and more connected than ever. And boy, is my middle son a blessing to us all!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Starting a Support Group

Raising kids is difficult for all parents, but it’s even tougher when you have a child with a mood disorder. Unlike other moms, you can’t easily share your challenges at playgroups, how could they possibly understand? Heck, most of us can’t even attend playgroups, or have been kicked out of them due to our child’s behavior. This leads to isolation, a serious condition that only leads to more pain.

I’m often asked about what advice I would give to a parent who recently had a child diagnosed with a mental illness. Usually at the top of my list, is find support! I can’t stress enough how important it is to find support, even if it’s just one other person to sit with you when you cry, or listen as you vent your frustrations. It’s even better when the person knows first hand what you’re going through, it’s truly healing to know that you are not alone.

I can still remember in the beginning of my son’s illness when my husband and I hid our challenges from family and friends, it was one of my lowest times. I found that once I started opening up to those I trusted and writing this blog to find all of you, my pain started to disperse and I began to feel hope again. I started to heal from the inside and I found strength to keep moving forward, even when I didn’t have all the answers. Support is pretty miraculous!

One step that I’ve always wanted to take was to start a local support group, with moms just like me who I could meet with face-to-face. Last month, I did just this.

It’s a small group, and private so I won’t be talking about it here, but it’s been very nice. I can sit with those who can understand my journey. We can laugh out loud about the wild experiences we’ve had and tear up as we share a feeling that many don’t. It’s a safe place where I can look into another mom’s eyes and share my truth without worrying about being judged or misunderstood. It’s just what I needed.

If you find yourself alone, starting your own group may be too big of a step right now, but I still encourage you to seek support. Start with just a trusted friend or family member. If you need to stay anonymous, check out the online support groups such as The Balanced Mind, they have a forum and can even help connect you to an online support group through their links. There’s also the “Parents of Bipolar Children Support Group” on MDJunction. On Facebook, there are many groups you can check out, one is “Parents of Children with Explosive Mood Disorders” which is a private group, just request to be added. Then there’s Easy to Love Hard to Raise on Facebook, it’s a public page so you can go right to it, just “LIKE” the page to follow it in your newsfeed. If you’re ready to meet face-to-face with others, check out NAMI and DBSA for your local organizations that can direct you to support groups meeting in your area. Also, check with your local hospital, they may have meetings too!

The point is, just do something, take the first step towards support and soon you’ll find others walking along side of you. If the first choice doesn’t work for you, try another, there are as many different support groups as there are personalities, keep searching until you find your place, I promise, you’ll know it when you get there, it will feel like home.

* * *


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Way to Go Brandon Marshall!

My husband shared this news link with me last week and I thought you might also find it interesting.

Last week Brandon Marshall, the wide receiver of the Chicago Bears was fined $10,500 by the NFL for wearing green cleats to promote Mental Health Awareness week. The fine was for violating the teams uniform and equipment code. I find this interesting because the league has embraced the players wearing pink cleats for breast cancer awareness, yet they punish a player for trying to bring awareness to mental health? Disappointing huh!

Well Brandon Marshall who himself is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder didn’t let that set him back, no, not only did he pay the fine, but he said that he would donate the same amount to charity.

Here’s his twitter response:
“Football is my platform not my purpose. This fine is nothing compared to the conversation started & awareness raised.”
I’m so impressed with this young man, his actions are a perfect example of how to rise above the  negativity and make something good happen out of something bad. In the end, he brought awareness to mental health and got people talking.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Hidden Blessing

After the rage last week, we got through the weekend ok with the exception of Saturday when my oldest was feeling pretty down again.

He was very irritable, and seemed to now hate things he once previously loved. He wanted to sell his favorite iPod because it was no longer fun and he refused to talk to me. He also seemed to be stuck on a negative thought pattern about a game he couldn’t have. As he grumbled with complaints, he would say, “I just want to die!”

It wasn’t a serious threat, it was just his way of expressing how much he hated everything in the moment. I spoke softly to him, asking him if he wanted to see his doctor and I explained that what he was experiencing was unhealthy thoughts and that this was a sign of his brain not working right. This was his illness.

I tried to use this moment as a teaching one, to help him better recognize his illness in the moment and know that what he was feeling was only a temporary feeling and that it too would pass. I ended up walking him around the mall, showing him how he can sometimes change his mood just by distracting himself. Sure enough, in a short time, he was smiling ear-to-ear and continued to feel good for the rest of the weekend.

I’m not sure how much sinks in when I talk to him, but I recognize that I have a small window of opportunity where I can coach him through these tough days. In a matter of years, he’ll be living on his own, starting his own life. I feel a great responsibility to teach him how to not only recognize his illness, but how to cope with it and help himself get better.

Like a mother who wants to make sure her child can feed and clothe themselves, I NEED to know that my son can take care of his mental health before he moves on.

If there’s one blessing we have as parents in raising young kids with mental illness, it’s being able to help our kids while they’re still under our care. I hear stories of young adults who have their first bipolar episode while away at college, or while at their new job, in a new city away from home. It must be such a burden for those parents who aren’t able to care for their children who due to their illness can’t care for themselves.

The hidden blessing I have is the opportunity to care for my son and in the process, teach him how to care for himself. Having the ability to drive him to his therapist, whether he likes it or not, teaches him the importance of therapy. In addition, getting blood draws, seeing his psychiatrist, taking medication and seeking support all teach him how to manage his illness. Then during the rough times, I hope to guide him out and show him the pitfalls along the way so that when he’s on his own, he’ll know what to look for and how to avoid harm.

I know that there are no guarantees, but I am grateful regardless that I have this precious time with my son to help prepare him for a beautiful life, even if it is a life filled with ups and downs.

Friday, October 18, 2013

It’s Been Rough Lately

I haven’t written this week because honestly, it’s been rough lately. All my energy has been directed at helping my oldest everyday study for his exams, along with a model science project that was due this week. I’ve been trying to pace each day, breaking down the steps so he isn’t overwhelmed, yet he’s still struggling with the work. He has a hard time studying on his own, so we spend the time together, going over material so he can recall it for the test. I keep thinking that there has to be a better way. Each day, his stress climbs and his threshold lowers. I’ve seen some progress under the strain, yet today he hit meltdown point again. And once again he raged.

This time after watching him slam his fists against his head and cry over homework, we ended up struggling on the front yard after he threatened his brothers. It was my attempt to get him outside, away from his brothers, but he’s a lot bigger now and he refuses to go for a walk to calm down. So there I was, struggling to hold him down, yelling out as he bit me. It wasn’t a bad bite, but still...

Of course, a neighbor was outside putting up Halloween decorations. Bless his heart, he stayed on task, giving us our privacy. At one point I realized that there was no way I was going to be able to get back inside without my oldest chasing me in, so I told my youngest son to run back in and lock the doors so he could feel safe. He did for a short time, then missed me and came back out, which led to my oldest running back in and terrorizing my middle son, who defended himself before heading outside.

I told both of my younger boys to head over to our neigbhor’s house, who was still busy with the decorations and wait on his driveway, knowing full well that my oldest wouldn’t bother them there. My oldest threw shoes at the windows, slammed patio furniture at the front door, then back inside threw stuff at me from a balcony up above as I sat calmly on the grass waiting for the fire to burn out.

Then he stopped.

All the stress of the week was worked out and he asked if he could go back inside to study.

Just like that.

As I retrieved my other kids, who were now having fun with the neighbor’s dogs, I thanked my neighbor for entertaining the boys while I helped my oldest son calm down. He was so kind. I didn’t feel judged, instead he offered to help me anytime I needed it. Of course I jumped on it and said, “Well since you’re offering, can I call you to come over the next time he rages to help him calm down?” I explained that just the presence of an outsider will help him de-escalate. He said, “Of course,” with a smile, “no problem at all!”

Looking over the past two weeks, I’ve seen with certainty the stress my oldest has been under. But there’s another sign, one that seems to show up when he’s depressed. I’ve seen that sign several times this week. Maybe this is more than just stress, maybe depression has a foothold.

Please pray for my precious boy.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Math Sucks Big Time!

I just went through another crummy afternoon during homework time. Things are getting tougher in school and the stress is building. What happens next... rage.

I’m thankful the windows weren’t smashed today, but we do have a bike that needs repair after my son took his anger out on the exterior of our home after I locked him out because he was threatening us.

The thing is, his house isn’t the problem.

His family isn’t the problem.

Nope, it’s his math class and I’m having a hard time fixing things.

About several weeks into school my son said, “I’m finally learning math!” He had an excellent teacher who was not only teaching my son well, but he was reaching out to him and his buddies who like Yugioh cards by letting them play in his room at lunch.

Then on Open House we got the bad news, this amazing teacher was being moved to an 8th grade class, leaving behind a sub for a little time, then a new teacher.

We thought we got through all the transitions, you know these are a killer for our kids, but then the new teacher made one more big change.

She started teaching a flipped math class. Have you heard of it?

Basically when the kids are introduced to a new math problem, they’re assigned several online math videos to watch at home, then after learning how to do the problem, they attempt to do 5 math problems as homework.

In class the next day, they have an opportunity to ask the teacher questions about this new type of problem. From there the teacher will walk the student through how to do it. After that, the class is assigned a large number of math problems to do in class.

Then the cycle repeats itself: watch video on your own, do problems, and come to class to ask questions and do more problems. At no time is the teacher teaching the students at the front of the class as they would typically do. Instead, all the learning happens during the homework time with the videos. Thus, a flipped class.

After the first test, almost all students failed, so they had the kids come back a week later to retake the test after school. My son still failed.

My son was getting As in math, now he’s getting Fs.

As you can imagine, this is leading to stress overload and complete meltdowns.

Because he does his math work in his study skills class, we’re having trouble getting him onto the computer to watch the videos before doing the problems. The class has a limited number of computers and they’re always being used by other students. My son has a hard time being proactive. At home he’s resistant to watching the videos since he’s already done the problems. When he does watch it, he’s annoyed by the online instructor who talks to them like they’re 2nd graders. So he may be tuning it out, or maybe he isn’t able to learn with this model. Either way, he isn’t getting it.

During class he doesn’t ask questions, which would be an opportunity to learn, because he doesn’t like to stand out, so instead he remains quiet, not learning a thing.

And today, that lead to a rage.

* * *

So have your kids had this type of flipped class and did they struggle with this teaching model?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Meet Merf—Living Well with Bipolar Disorder

Last week I introduced you to Merf and today I’m so excited because she has agreed to open up with us about her life and how she’s successfully living well with bipolar disorder. As a parent raising a child with the same diagnosis, it’s so encouraging to see people who are living good lives. Please welcome Merf to our community and enjoy her interview.

* * *

Welcome Merf, please share with us a little about yourself:
I was born in 1973 in Michigan, moved around a lot as a kid, but mainly grew up in the Atlanta area. I graduated from LSU in 1996 and moved back to Atlanta with my husband who is from New Orleans. We have four awesome kids, ages 15, 13, 9 and 1. I taught middle school for only a couple years after college, but quickly realized I wanted to be at home with my kids and have worked very hard and gone without a lot of things to be able to do that for the past 13 years. I began freelance writing about a year ago and spend much of my time writing about mental health issues. I also have a knitting business and sell my hand-knit throws and baby blankets on Etsy. I love loud music, Metallica is my favorite band ever but lately I’ve been listening to Skrillex and other loud dubstep a lot, I’m a huge fan of Mr. Bob Marley, I have several tattoos, I love beer, and my biggest pet peeve is when people don’t use their blinker.

What is your diagnosis? 
Bipolar 1 Disorder, ADHD

When were you diagnosed? 
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about 6 years ago and with ADHD recently.

How old were you when you first started experiencing symptoms?
This question is very hard to answer because I really just don’t remember. I definitely had a major depressive episode in around 1993 when I was in college. I remember having some symptoms of bipolar and ADHD going back till about the time that I entered my teen years. Basically, I have just been “me” since I was born, so I grew up, like most people who have mental illnesses, just thinking I was normal and had the same issues everyone else did. In college, I took a lot of psychology courses and one of them was “Abnormal Psychology” (I’m guessing they have a more politically correct name now) and learned about all sorts of psychological illnesses. When they started talking about bipolar disorder, I remember thinking “That’s abnormal?” I didn’t realize a lot of what I experienced was not considered “normal”.  So, I have most likely exhibited symptoms of bipolar and ADHD since I was a young child.

When did you realize that something was wrong? Was there a particular event or experience?
The time that I talked about in the previous question, about when I learned about bipolar disorder in college, is probably the first time I realized I may be “different” from the “norm”. After that, I forgot about the whole thing and did not revisit the topic until I was about 34, about 6 years ago. At that time I had a friend who I knew had bipolar disorder and he expressed his feelings through painting. I remember seeing some of those paintings (dark, morbid, heavy, philosophical) and feeling a deep understanding, as if I also felt the same way at times. I started researching bipolar disorder and found that I had pretty much all of the symptoms and always have.

What were your symptoms like when you were first diagnosed?
Roughly six years ago I was having trouble with depression. I had three kids at the time, I felt severely overwhelmed, I was having very frequent crying spells revolving around my kids…. I remember crying very easily, like having complete breakdowns, right after we got back from a family cruise. I would look at pictures of my kids and cry and cry because I didn’t want them to grow up. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I asked some family members of older kids if they had issues with that, being super sad about your kids growing up, and they said no. I realized I wasn’t feeling like I should and that was when I started suspecting bipolar.  Anyway, I went to the doctor and she put me on an antidepressant, saying if I had bipolar disorder I would definitely show signs of mania after some time of being on an antidepressant. Sure enough, about two months later I started having racing thoughts, not sleeping, and generally feeling extremely caffeinated (shaky, way too much energy, rapid speech). I called the doctor when it was clear I was manic and she put me immediately on an anti-psychotic, but I got worse instead of better and ended up in the hospital that night due to mania/psychosis.

What are your symptoms now?
I have issues with rapid-cycling moods and lots of mixed episodes, which are the worst. Rapid speech, racing thoughts, insomnia without feeling tired at all, tons of creativity, tons of ideas, excess energy and motivation, akathisia, euphoria, severe irritability, anxiety, lack of concentration or too much concentration (obsessive behavior), cravings for carbohydrates, I start a lot of things without finishing them, feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem sometimes but feelings of grandeur at other times, morbid dreams, suicidal ideation, lethargy, periods of time when I’m not hungry and can’t eat so I lose a lot of weight…

Do you take medication for your disorder? 
Yes, but I do not talk about which ones and this is the reason: Everyone is different. People experience different symptoms of bipolar and other mental health issues in different ways and to varying degrees. People also metabolize medications differently. What works wonders for one person may be toxic to another person. Lithium is a life-saver for many people but makes all of my hair fall out. There is no getting around the fact that bipolar disorder is difficult to treat and we have to go through a trial-and-error phase to find a combination that works for us. I take an antidepressant, a mood stabilizer, a stimulant for the ADHD, and I also keep anti-anxiety medicine handy but don’t often take it.

Is it working?
For now, yes.

If you take medication, was it hard to find what worked for you?
Oh yes. It took me a trial-and-error phase of more than five years to find a combination that works for me. Part of that is because we (my doctor and I) didn’t realize ADHD was an issue until recently.  I’ve been on pretty much every psychotropic medicine known to man.

Have you experienced any bad side effects?
I could talk for days about all the bad side effects I have experienced during the process of finding the right medicine combination for me.

Do you keep your disorder private, or are you open with it?
I am extremely open with it. I want people to be educated about mental health conditions and not be ashamed to talk about them. I write a lot about mental health issues and consider myself a mental health advocate. I am neither ashamed nor embarrassed about the fact that I have bipolar disorder and ADHD and I work hard to contribute to the fight against stigma so that one day NO ONE will be ashamed or embarrassed.

Do you have regrets about this?
Definitely not. And I’m not done. The writing I have done to help educate the public about mental health issues is only the tip of the iceberg.

Have you faced the stigma of mental illness in your own life as a mom and a business owner?
Oh yes, of course. In fact, I wrote a page about How NOT to Talk to a Person with Bipolar Disorder that addresses ways people talk about and joke about mental illness. On that page I mention something that happened to me recently: I caught up with an old friend on Facebook and we talked a bit about what we’ve been doing for the past 20 or so years. I mentioned I have bipolar disorder and he promptly called me “crazy” and told me to never contact him again. Although it stung like a bitch and I was so angry, I quickly decided not to respond to such ignorance. I deleted the conversation and unfriended him. He is not worth an ounce of my time.

How has your disorder challenged you?
It makes life difficult at times. It is hard to get things done when you are depressed, for sure. I guess my most difficult challenge is just dealing with everyday stress when my brain has difficulty with dealing with stress. I get very overwhelmed sometimes and have learned to ask for help with garden-variety, everyday tasks. My brain likes to shut down when it gets too overwhelmed, sort of like a full cup of coffee… you just can’t fit anything else in that cup because there is no room. I also have issues with social anxiety sometimes, depending on what type of mood I’m in. Sometimes I just don’t want to talk to anyone, so I end up coming across as anti-social or just plain rude. I am very often misunderstood. Substance abuse has also been an issue for me in the past, as it is for many people who have bipolar disorder and other mental health illnesses.

How has it blessed you?
It has blessed me in so many ways. I love my periods of intense creativity and productivity. Also, I have experience with all kinds of deep and intense emotions, so I am able to identify with feelings my kids may be having. It has made me understand the importance of being open, honest, and forthright about mental health issues. Most importantly, it has made me spend less time judging people and more time accepting them and appreciating them for who they are.

Were you concerned about the challenges that motherhood would bring knowing you have a mood disorder?
No. It wasn’t until I had three kids that I was diagnosed. Since then, I have had another child who is now 18 months, but I have to say I did not have any concerns about the challenges, probably because I already had so much practice with the other three.

What support do you have in your life?
I have wonderful support of loving family members and friends who live nearby and help me quite a bit. My husband is very accepting of me and loves me for who I am. What more could I ask for?

It is obvious that you are a great example of a person successfully living with Bipolar Disorder, can you share with us how you do it?
Medication. I am a mess without it. I really cannot function without it. Also, I am not afraid to ask for help when I need it, which has a lot to do with my supportive family and friends. Many people aren’t as lucky as I am.

What advice would you like to share to us moms who are raising kids who have mood disorders?
Educate yourself in every way possible about mental health issues and illnesses. The more you understand, the more you can help your child. Always be there for your child… be open and honest. Speak the truth about mental illness and do not be afraid to talk about it. Teach your child to do the same. Be your child’s advocate and fight tooth and nail for his/her rights and equal treatment, but at the same time don’t let your child use his/her illness as a crutch. Speak out against mental health stigma because it is perpetuating incorrect and harmful beliefs that will hurt your child if it hasn’t already. Mental health illnesses are just as real and just as serious as cancer, diabetes, and other diseases that society recognizes. Suicide stats are high. Know the facts and help spread the truth.

Here are some pages about mental health issues that I have written:

Thursday, October 3, 2013

More than One Voice

I wasn’t surprised to see all of your encouraging responses to my post I am so Angry. What did surprise me was that Bob Carolla, Director of Media Relations, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reached out with his support and offered to contact CNN to run a news story. Sometimes I feel all alone and other times I feel surrounded by support from all over the world. It’s amazing!

Today another blogger/mom/advocate has contributed to the public outcry in her Squidoo post, featuring several examples of the stigma in Halloween including my post. My favorite example is her photo comparison of what a Halloween costume label as “Mental Patient” looks like compared to her very own adorable photo, showing a beautiful, successful mom of 4 who happens to have a mental illness. You have to check it out!

I get so happy seeing our online community coming together for the good of others.

Take Mental Health Stigma Out of Halloween

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Haunted House Update: The Chains of Stigma are Heavy but We are Stronger

It’s been an emotional few days since I tried to reason with my local community clubhouse about not portraying the mentally ill as monsters in their annual haunted house. I went from anger to disappointment, then to tears. I couldn’t help but feel defeated. What stuck in my mind was the condescending tones and laughter that mocked me. I wanted so badly to stand up against them publicly, even turn the gruesome photos over to NAMI and alert the media about their insensitive plans, but I felt weighed down by the same stigma that I was trying to fight. I couldn’t go public because the risk to my child was too great. I was sad knowing that had it been cancer they were mocking, or even autism, I could publicly stand up and pull my troops together (you included), but because it was mental illness I risked ruining my son’s childhood. He’s been hurt before when others found out he was struggling with mental illness, I couldn’t let it happen again.

Stigma. It can be a powerful thing. It can wound you and keep you captive. Everything in my body wanted to fight, but in this situation, the stigma seemed too powerful. It felt like I was fighting something with my arms tied behind my back with tape over my mouth. I had a lot of energy to thrash around, but I wasn’t able to make a sound. It made me expereince in a small way the stigma that so many people are facing day-to-day while living with mental illness. It made me sick to my stomach.

When the conversations with the club management ran through my mind, I was troubled by one point we disagreed on. The manager tried to argue that because I was the only one to complain, it was unjustified to make any changes. He said, “So if everyone wants to do one thing and one person thinks it’s wrong, you think we should change it because of one person?” I responded, “Yes, if it’s the right thing to do.”

Isn’t that what we teach our kids? Just because everyone else is doing something, that doesn’t make it right. We still have to make wise choices, not blindly follow the pack.

Choosing to do the right thing has put an end to slavery and has given women equal rights, if we stuck with blindly following the majority we would never grow as a society.

I then asked him, “So what if the group wanted to do a haunted house with a 9/11 theme and they wanted to have people jumping out of windows. Would you still do it?”

After a long pause, he said, “Well, yes, if that’s what the group wanted.”

I sharply asked, “Can I quote you on that?”

He then of course back tracked and choked on his words.

I then pointed out, “Well how is this any different. Besides contributing to the stigma, what you’re doing is insensitive to a section of our population, why would you want to do this?”

He had no answer.

It’s great shame that our society can accept that a person’s heart or liver can get sick, but when their brain becomes ill, they’re considered evil or dangerous and on halloween, someone to mock. It just doesn’t make sense.

As the day went on, your feedback was pouring in through comments and private emails. I was showered with support and could feel your energy encouraging me to do something. Since I couldn’t risk connecting my blog to my community, I decided I had to start from scratch and form local troops that could join me. Thanks to all of your great tips, I devised a plan to call the local suicide prevention awareness group I’m connected with to gain their public support along with a long list of moms who they themselves were stirred with anger when they saw the photos from last year. Add to that my local chapter of NAMI, a local family resource center and even my church. I figured once the clubhouse received a number of calls from other mothers just as angry as me, they would no longer focus on exposing my son once it hit the media since there would be a lot of other mama bears now in the fight. When I came home my husband shared how he had read my blog and all of your comments and was fired up to fight this fight and we decided then to contact our mayor the next morning asking him to help us.

In a matter of hours my anger and tears turned into fierce energy, ready to take this on.

It felt damn good!

Then in a positive, yet anticlimactic moment, I called the clubhouse to confirm the contact info of all involved to release to the mayor’s office and my list of mama bears when the events director, the guy who pompously told me that he was not only using one straightjacket, but two, answered the phone. Upon recognizing my voice he said, “I’ve changed my mind about the theme this year, I’ve decided to do zombies instead.”


Later that day I stopped in at the clubhouse, I felt like I needed some closure. Now wishing that these previous conversations had taken place in person, because I believe people are different when they see you face to face, I wanted to thank him in person and show him a real person on the other side of our conversation—Ok, I admit a part of me still wanted to scream at him, but I knew that would accomplish nothing and that it was better to take the high road.

As I approached the events director he immediately recognized me, but his tone was softer and careful, I still sensed a chip on his shoulder. I stuck out my hand to shake his and said, “Thank you for changing your plans. I know it may be hard to understand, and little frustrating for you as you try to create this event, but this means a lot to me and other families just like mine. Plus, zombies are pretty cool!” I then handed him a news article and encouraged him and his manger to read it because it explains why you shouldn’t go “crazy” for halloween to help them understand that I am more than one voice.

He said that he never intended for all of this to get out of hand, in fact he was considering doing zombies the entire time but he felt rushed and went with last year’s theme at the last minute, acknowledging that yes, last year’s event was pretty extreme.

I got the sense that he changed the theme not because he grew to understand my position, but instead, he didn’t think it was worth the fight.

I wished he’d apologized for being rude to me over the phone, but I also realize that unlike last year, you can’t always change a person’s perspective or create compassion for something they don’t understand. Some people will never understand.

Sometimes change takes place in small increments, but in the end we’re still moving forward in the right direction.

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Thank you all for your encouraging comments and emails, your support meant the world to me!

Why You Shouldn’t Go “Crazy” This Halloween
Plan to play dress-up on October 31? Mental health experts say to bypass one particular type of costume: The kind that reinforces mental illness stigma.

In case you missed it—Previous post about these events:
I Am So Angry

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I Am So Angry!!!

My heart is pounding, my hands are trembling with anger. I want to scream—I am so mad.

Last year my local community clubhouse created a haunted house event. Here is an excerpt from my post of what horrified me:
...Instead of monsters and creatures, they created a scene of a young girl dressed in a hospital gown calmly sitting in a bathtub cutting herself. Behind her were the words, “NO MORE PAIN” written in blood. All around the girl were sharp objects such as knives and broken glass used in her “cutting” episode as blood dripped from her wounds. 
Another scene was a young man in a hospital gown above a toilet. He was smearing feces all over the walls. 
Down the hall there was a sign that said “MED STATION” and a line of children waiting to get their meds, all appearing like drugged up victims with self-inflicted scratch marks on their faces. 
A sign that said “DANGER! PSYCHOS!” hung from the hospital wall as a man that was chained in a hospital gown stood in a room surrounded by manic writings on the wall. I usually try not to be offended, but I felt my heart race as I saw these images. They were successful in horrifying me, but it wasn’t because I was scared, instead I was thinking... What if I had brought my kids to see this? What would my son, who himself suffers from a mental illness, think about these images? 
What can images like this do to a community who has a high suicide rate in their youth? What about the parents who have found their children dead with letters of “No more pain.” How will we ever build compassion for those suffering with mental illness if they remain a “monster” in the eyes of the public? 
And more importantly consider this. Stigma is one of the greatest barriers for individuals who need help for their mental illness. Images like this can discourage people from seeking the help they need. Will the girl who cuts herself in private ever feel comfortable in asking for help? Is she afraid that people will think she’s a “dangerous psycho”? Not getting treatment can lead to her death. This is a serious issue!
What followed was a conversation with the director, I explained how this type of event was hurtful to those who are suffering since it contributes to the stigma we’re trying to fight. Here was her response:
She seemed to be really listening, admitting that she had no idea families like ours were dealing with these issues. At one point her eyes softened and she started to tear up a little. 
She said, “You know, I did have a gut feeling that this would be wrong in the very beginning, but the younger staff members talked me out of it.” She then went on to share how she grew up with a child who was disabled and was well aware of the struggles that individuals face when they’re different than the “norm”. 
Before I left I asked her if they would consider not using mental illness as a theme in the future and to remove the offensive images off of facebook. 
She nodded her head in agreement and apologized for their insensitivity and promised she would have a talk with her staff.
So let’s flash forward one year later when today I receive an invite to our community clubhouse event that advertises a haunted house with the headline:

All souls 10 & up can try to maintain their sanity as they venture through the Maze of Madness.

WHAT!!! Are they serious? Hoping this was just a typo from using the text from last year’s event I called the clubhouse and spoke to the director of events.

What I got in response was, “Yes, we’re doing this... Nobody else complained last year, you were the only one... We’re not making a political statement, we’re just having fun...”

I tried to explain how portraying the mentally ill as monsters is hurtful to those like my son who have already dealt with the negative stigma from classmates. An event like this would only continue this stigma in a community that already has a large suicide rate among the teens.

I think I heard him laugh at me over the phone.

When I asked if they were going to use stray jackets again, he said in a pompous tone, “Yeah, maybe even two!”

When I agreed that they weren’t trying to be political, but that they were still contributing to the stigma even if they were “just having fun”, he told me that if I was offended, I should not come this year.

When I mentioned getting the media’s attention, he responded, “Tell the media, we’d love it!”

An hour later I got a call from the clubhouse, this time the manager. He told me that since I was only one voice, he couldn’t justify stopping this event. He said that 700-800 people loved it last year and I was the only person that didn’t like it. I explained that I was in favor of the event and just wanted them to avoid using mental illness in their theme. He said that he didn’t want to put limits on the creativity of the events director (previous person I spoke with). When I explained that in the media he would find many other people that are against this type of event and how it can bring some negative attention to our small community, he told me that he didn’t think I would contact the media and hinted that this would expose my son (He knows my family’s name). So I was told to stand before the board of directors and state my objection next month.

Now I sit fuming with anger over this.

Am I justified? Or am I being foolish?

My gut tells me to not let this go, yet I don’t want to do anything that exposes my son.

What would you do?

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Here is the update to the above post:

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Previous Posts:

I was Horrified! Mental Patients are Not Monsters!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Feeling Optimistic About 7th Grade

I recently met with my son’s new study skills teacher, it’s the class for kids with IEPs and 504 plans. I’m happy to share that I was really impressed. This teacher gave me his full attention, asking good questions and offering up useful solutions. But what impressed me the most was his initiative to sit down with each of my son’s teachers and education them about my son’s symptoms and how it may effect his learning in the classroom. He felt it would be good to prepare the teachers ahead of time so that when they meet me for the first time in our 504 meeting, they’re already in tune with what he’ll need and will take it more seriously from the start.

On top of that, I was encouraged to hear that the bullying behavior my son experienced from the 8th graders last year was unprecedented. As the teacher said, “Our 8th graders last year were the worst bunch of kids I have ever taught. They were just mean kids!” He encouraged us that this year would be a lot different and that the new bunch of 8th graders were a good group.

And as a bonus, the principal from last year was moved to another school, let’s just say that nobody shed a tear over that. In fact, I believe there was a celebration among both the students and parents, us included.

So with all that, I’m feeling very optimistic about 7th grade. What a difference good teachers make!