Navigating life with a teenager….who happens to have bipolar disorder

I was going to be clever and write an article about 13 reasons why parents should be watching 13 reasons why, but I can’t. I can’t consciously give you 13 reasons to watch this show, I can only give you 1……because your kids are watching it.

That’s right, whether you know it or not, your kids are watching. Even if you told them not to, your kids are watching. It is the new trend, the new fad, the newest thing to do when they hang out. The difference is that this isn’t as harmless as making homemade slime or flipping water bottles. This could have lasting effects and you should know about it and discuss it.

For parents who don’t know, 13 Reasons Why is a Netflix series based on a book about a girl who commits suicide and leaves behind audio tapes to multiple people explaining the part they played in death. It is harmful. Not simply the actions of the characters prior to her death, but their actions toward each other after receiving the tapes.

I am sure you want to know why your kids are watching this. Well, because their friends are, is probably the main reason….because there is a highly publicized death scene, might be a reason….there are also multiple rape scenes……are you scared yet that this is what your kids are viewing? I was, too. I was especially afraid because I have a 17 year old with mental illness, who has a history of suicidal ideation.

I work in mental health education and I knew I should watch it for work purposes, but I also knew that if I watched it, it would pop up on my watch list. I didn’t want my son to see that……so I delayed for a couple of weeks, debating. Then, my son came to me. He said that he had been watching reaction videos about the show on YouTube and wanted to watch the series, but thought he should discuss it with me first. He and his friends had been discussing it and he knew of a friend’s parents who had forbidden their children from viewing it…..so of course their children were rebelling and watching at other friend’s homes.

My first thought was “Thank God we have open communication and he knew he could discuss this with me” my second thought was “Hell no, you can’t watch that”…….luckily, they were both in my head. We sat down and had a deep conversation about my concerns and came up with a plan. We would both watch it, with him starting after I finished the first episode. I ended up binge watching it in a day to get it over with. He planned on starting the next day, but after I gave him my review and heavily discussed the plotline, he didn’t feel the need to watch it. The good thing is, I’m prepared if he changes his mind and decides to.

My advice, be open with your kids. Don’t shut them down. Find out if they are watching this show  and discuss it. It is an important conversation to have. Bullying, LGBTQ issues, rape, suicide, and mental health challenges in general are all issues that are approached in this show and not represented in healthy ways. If they are watching it, you need to be able to let them know they can come to you with questions to get the right solutions to teen challenges…….because this show gives a lot of the wrong ones.  Until we can talk to our kids in an honest way about these things, they won’t trust us enough to come to us when they are happening in the real world……… instead of just on screen.

 

 

*My thoughts are not the thoughts of my employer Mental Health America of GA

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Hello All.

I know it’s been ages, but I am back.  I am not promising that it will be continual, but I am going to try my best to make an effort on a more regular basis.

We have had a strange year where life got flipped upside down.  My kiddo CJ is the healthiest he has ever been.  HE made the decision to try life off of all of his meds, he worked it out with his doctor and stepped down in February/March.  Other than a bit of hoarding (which we are working on) and general energy mania, his bipolar is in check. No violent mania, no meltdowns or outbursts, no angry confrontations…..well, none that any other teenager wouldn’t have. So, now we need to make up for lost time in the schooling department and try to get him to catch up so he can graduate on time this year.  He is still homeschooling and in charge of his own ‘plan’ so we will see how well this year goes.  Our deal is, if he doesn’t hold his own by December, he enrolls in a GED course, since he is studying for that as well.

The upside down part was actually me.  The first thing I dealt with were some health challenges….a lump and biopsy (which turned out fine) and a neurological challenge (which is permanent, but treatable).  I don’t usually get political on this blog, but the election last year really messed me up. I have dealt with depression in the past and had been dealing with a bit of it since being laid off in 2015, but election season triggered something for me that I wasn’t expecting.  First the ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘locker room talk’ comments brought up a situation from my middle school years that directly caused me to have an eating disorder and self-esteem issues I have been battling for 30 years (I will probably write about that in another post)….but then election day itself….oh my.  I woke up on election day feeling energized, I went to sleep feeling numb…..like it wasn’t real.  I had to run errands the next day.  I found myself questioning everybody I saw, thinking “Did you do this?  Are you the reason this man is leading our country?”.  Thinking that way made me terribly sad.  I had many family and friends who did and I couldn’t feel that way.  I am a firm believer that this world is so great because we all have different opinions and thoughts.  I can’t walk through it wanting everybody to think like me……isn’t that the whole point of an election, so we have choices?  I kept trying to talk myself out of how sad it made me…..but it wouldn’t work.

On top of all this, I was still trying to find permanent work.  I had interviewed 3 times over the course of 8 months for a job I know I would have been amazing at.  Due to some very bizarre reasons I wouldn’t get the position….then it would come available again….they would bring me in to interview, again….then I wouldn’t get it…..again.  The last time they actually called me and said “If we open it back up, when would you be able to start?” but I still didn’t get it.  Prior to this job search experience, I had gotten every interview I had ever applied for…..and almost every job.  In the past year or so, I have applied for 60 jobs…..I have interviewed for 3.  I know that part of that has to do with the fact that we now live in the Atlanta area……but then I start to wonder…..is it just that???

After this last rejection I sunk into the deepest depression I have ever been in in my entire life.  I felt useless.  I couldn’t get a job….my son was healthy now and didn’t need me any more…..I wasn’t a productive member of my family or society……I was in a very dark place for a few weeks didn’t speak to the outside world, didn’t leave my house, barely left my bedroom…..and nobody knew.  I came to the realization that, over the years of my son’s illness, I have lost friends and became very reluctant at making new ones…..so I have few.  With our life having been a rollercoaster for so many years, friendships can be hard to maintain. So, I sat by myself in my room…….and my phone didn’t ring.  That made me even more sad, to realize that I literally could disappear and it wouldn’t change the outside world.  My husband was incredibly worried about me. Here was the girl who teaches other parents about self-care and mental health education, laying in bed all day, doing nothing.  I had to find a way to help myself.  I ended up starting another blog called Head Space and Heart Space.  This one was for me and my mental health,  if others happen to enjoy stuff that shows up on there, all the better.  It’s crafts, food and photography.

Having something to focus on got me out of bed.  It forced me to put my energy into a project.  A few weeks later, I got a call about a resume I had submitted to a mental health non-profit as an educator, something I am passionate about.  They wanted me to come in for an interview. After my previous experience, I was incredibly nervous.  The interview entailed me designing a class presentation on a mental health topic and presenting it as though to a class of parents.

I knew I did well at the interview.  I left feeling like I rocked it….but still, I second guessed my ability to get the job. My self-esteem had been stomped on and made me doubt myself. It only took them two days to call me and offer me the job.  I started this week.  I will be traveling all over the state educating teachers, mental health professionals, lawyers, social workers……and anybody else who is willing to listen. There is knowledge to be had from the people who live it everyday……and now I have the chance to do that.

One of the things I have realized in all of this is that, for 17 years, I have not only been a mom…..I have been a mom in crisis.  I don’t know how to live a life of exploration and independence for myself.  In the journey my son and I have taken, there were many things I had to give up to raise him in the best way I knew how.  I would do it again in a heartbeat…..but now, I have to find a way to regain a little bit of myself.  My new job is a part of that.  I will be traveling often, so it gives us the opportunity to cut the apron strings while he is still at home.  It will give CJ a chance to seize more responsibility for himself, I hope.  Maybe it will give us both the wings we need to move forward to the next stage of life.

sometimes-you-have-to-let-life-turn-you-upside-down-so-you-can-learn-how-to-live-right-side-up-quote-1

 

 

*My thoughts are not the thoughts of my employer, Mental Health America of GA

 

I found out recently that people in my life, both friends and family, feel that I am a bit of a know it all.  I could have been offended at this knowledge, but surprisingly, I wasn’t.   I personally don’t think anybody could be a true know it all, but I did think I knew a lot……….a lot about myself, my life, my kiddo’s life and our journey.  I knew these things because I had opened my mind and embraced my ability to learn.  This week I tested that ability and embarked on an adventure that would drive me to seek a deeper understanding of myself and my willingness to use that knowledge to help others.  Over the course of the week I learned more about things I thought I knew and I learned about things I didn’t realize that I didn’t know.  Most importantly, I learned about sharing my experiences in an effective way, instead of an intrusive ‘know it all’ way.

willing to learn

 

One of the beautiful aspects of the state of Georgia is that it’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities is one of the pioneering agencies in the field of mental health services…..specifically, in Peer Support Services.  For many years there have been adults working in the position of a Certified Peer Specialist in the fields of mental health and addiction recovery.  After years of advocacy for both families and youth, there are now emerging groups of Peer Specialists that are specifically centered around youth living with these challenges and parents of people living with these challenges.  This week I joined their ranks and completed my training to become a Certified Peer Specialist-Parent.

What is a Peer Specialist?  We are people who have ‘been there and done that’.  We are people who can use all of the knowledge we have gained, the experiences we’ve had and, most importantly, the emotions we have felt to provide support to others who are walking the same path.  We are the people who will ask “How are you?” ……and then listen to the answer without hesitation or judgement.

howWally

 

At the beginning of the week, I felt strong in the knowledge that I possessed all of the skills I needed to be the best Peer Support Parent possible.  What I learned, after lots of tears and self reflection, was that I don’t need to have all of the answers…… I don’t need to fix everyone around me…… I should simply be there when they need someone who understands.  I also learned that I have been drowning myself in service to others, always feeling that just because I have the ability to do something means I have to.  It was eye-opening for me to realize that I can take a breather from other’s lives to focus on myself and not feel guilty……..and that’s ok.   I didn’t learn this from the curriculum,  power points or exams…..I learned this by walking in the door every morning to 20 people who understood me before they even knew me.  I learned this by having virtual strangers sincerely asking me about my well-being every morning.   I learned this by having these strangers become caring friends by the end of the week.  In my daily life, I have a wonderful ‘mom’ friend who gets me, I have supportive friends at NAMI who get me, but having this large group of peers surround me and envelop me in kindness and understanding every day this week was a life changing experience.

As parents of special needs kiddos, we live our lives for our children and families first…….and then we love to educate others about what we know.  I have been doing this in an effort to make this world a better place for my child and others like him.  For a long time I felt that I was fighting this war alone.   I didn’t realize that by doing this to the extent I do, I am stretching myself thin.  I know I spout about self-care to others often, but I rarely follow my own advice.  I find it funny that it took me taking a class in an effort to help others to teach me to help myself.

Just goes to prove that this world is full of things that I don’t know. So I thank my teachers this week, all of my peers who taught me that’s it’s alright to care for myself and opened my eyes to the fact that I’m not in this alone.  I have warriors by my side.  Alone, I might be able to change the world, but I will burn out quickly.  As a group, we can give each other strength and a little bit of relief that we can take on the world together…….and go so much farther in our efforts.

keep-calm-and-ask-for-peer-support

cropped-Computer-repair-pc-repair-IT-Support

In our world, we tend to take the technology around us for granted until something bad happens. Imagine your computer screen started flashing uncontrollably……..  Imagine your new tablet refused to download your favorite apps. ……or even worse, imagine if your phone deleted all of your contacts and you couldn’t retrieve them. How would you feel?  Frustrated, Disconnected, not in control?  What would you do? You might try to fix the problem on your own, but if you can’t, it could result in the device being thrown against the wall in frustration, so you call support ……and then you use a working device to go on FB and tell all of your friends about every detail of your tech challenges.

Computer support companies are one of the fastest growing small businesses.  We now see IT support services on every street corner and in every shopping center.  It’s supply and demand.  We need support, they provide support, and then, of course, we tell all of our friends about our experience.

So, why is it that when it comes to our most complex, important computer, we are afraid to call support, we are afraid to identify the problem and we rarely tell our friends? Just like any piece of technology, our brains have the ability to malfunction, and just like any piece of technology, we need to service them.

Now, imagine you start having hallucinations……..imagine you have a hard time speaking or writing……even worse, imagine that your favorite memories have slipped from your mind.  How would you feel?  Frustrated, disconnected, not in control?

Mental illness happens when the brain is not functioning optimally.  Generally speaking, our brain has neurotransmitters and receptors. Just like any plug and outlet, if the neurotransmitter does not connect with the receptor in the right way, the flow of information is not going to get where it needs to go.  A treatment plan, therapy and medication can be a wonderful way to get your ‘system’ up and running again, but it is only one type of support.

In my opinion the most important supports to help you maintain treatment are the natural supports around you….your community.  Family, friends (both physical and virtual), support groups, church members, team members……any people who you are connected with on an emotional level.  When you are dealing with a mental health crisis, the people in your emotional world are the best to help hold you up.  When we don’t reach out to them is when we feel the most frustrated and disconnected.

So, call a psychiatrist or a therapist as your IT support……and then let your friends know that you need back up support.  The more people you reach out to, the more people who become educated…..and the more people who become educated, the less stigma there will be about mental health.  Maybe, just maybe, you will eventually find good therapists on every street corner and in every shopping center.

It’s supply and demand.  We need support, now go find the support and then tell all of your friends about your mental health challenges. Maybe, in the process, we all might stop taking our most valuable computer for granted……and maybe, just maybe, we will feel a little less frustrated, a little more connected and a lot more in control.

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When your child is screaming, crying, hitting or flailing about, what is your emotional reaction?  Can you tell the difference between a tantrum, meltdown or manic episode? I am going to let you in on a little trick that took me years to figure out…..and is still hard to follow through on.

First, let me help you decipher between the three…..but let me remind you, I am not a professional behavior specialist, just a parent who has lived and learned a lot over the past 16 years.  These descriptions are from my personal experience.

Veruca Salt

Tantrum – (Behavioral): This is a full on Veruca Salt type of situation.  A tantrum usually occurs when a child is attempting to gain control of a situation when they want or are in need of something.  This could be attention, a physical item (toy, treat), sleep, food…etc. Usually a tantrum is a child’s way of requesting something that we, as adults, can articulate for ourselves.  The truth is, their brain does not yet have the ability to reason or be rational.  From a young age they know that their parents will react when they cry and they learn to use that to their advantage.

Meltdown – (Neurological Disorder): This is when a child’s brain is overloaded, either with sensory information or emotion.  Meltdowns are highly common for children with Sensory Processing Disorder or are on the Autism Spectrum.  Neurologically, their brain simply does not process or filter information the way an average brain does.  During a meltdown, they are simply letting out all of the frustrations that have built up over a specified period of time.  More often than not, a meltdown will happen with a person they trust and will feel safe with.

Manic Episode – (Mental Health Disorder) : This an outburst, sometime verbal or violent, that accompanies a mental illness.  It usually surfaces as extremely high amounts of energy accompanied by a break from reality.  A manic episode can go along with one of my favorite sayings ‘Perceiving is Believing’. There is no challenging what they believe to be true during a manic episode.  In the midst of this type of episode, the child sometimes makes statements that don’t make sense, act impulsively or may be physically violent. A milder version of a manic episode will sometimes include hyper-focus on one topic, fast speech and movement(bouncing, rocking, pacing…etc) or an overwhelming need to hold your undivided attention.

Regardless of which type of episode your child is having, tantrum, meltdown or manic, there is one trick that I have found to help my emotions in the middle of it.

As a parent, our first reaction is usually to make our child stop any type of behavior we see as upsetting….either to the child, to other members of the family or to ourselves.  It causes us anxiety or frustration to see our child flopping on the floor, punching their pillow or screaming at us.  What I have learned is that a big part of how your child approaches these situations lies in how you react to them.

My trick?  It’s actually really simple…..ask yourself, am I looking at The What or The Why?????  Are you only looking at what your child is doing or trying to figure out why they are doing it?

Most of us look at The What.  How can you not?  Your child just had a meltdown and flung a book across the room, barely missing his sister.  The first thing we are inclined to do is say ‘We don’t throw books….apologize to your sister…..now go to your room until you’ve learned your lesson’.  Do you think they are learning anything??? Have you learned anything???

When we try to find out why your child threw the book you start learning what their triggers are and you can teach them coping skills on how to deal with those feelings when they come up.

I know, it sounds too easy to be true….but the truth is, it’s not easy at all.  It’s about reconditioning our brains in how we approach handling our children’s behavior and how we discipline them for that behavior.  I am in no way saying discipline is not important, your child still needs to understand there are consequences to their actions……..but in the middle of this behavior, when they are not being reasonable, is not the time to do it.  Wait for them to calm down, figure out the cause and then work on solutions to help them take responsibility.

Believe me, I still feel the urge to just scream the worst punishment I can think of at the top of my lungs when my son is behaving in a way I simply don’t understand.  The truth is I slip up quite a bit, but years ago, when I started approaching my child’s meltdowns and manic episodes by using this little trick and teaching him coping skills for his triggers, the episodes went from four or five times a week to once a month….and that was when he was 8 years old.  Now that he is 16, they are even fewer.  Using this approach for the past 8 years has helped him talk through his feelings and frustrations.  He has become great at articulating what is going on inside his head and has learned to be a wonderful advocate for himself.  Using this approach actually made our relationship even stronger and has also lead to a deep trust between us.

So I challenge you to try it…….Figure out The Why instead of just seeing The What.  It just may change your day-to-day.

Sticky frog

If you are reading this, thank you.  It means that my lack of writing over the past months has not lost you to me forever.  I know, I have been an irresponsible blogger.  Our household has been on a bit of a rollercoaster for the past 9 months or so.  Truthfully, the main reason I haven’t written very often is because I have been experiencing a bit of depression in that time.  This has made the challenge of raising a kiddo with a diagnosis that much more challenging, since we are kind of connected like ET and Elliott.  On top of that, I have had this over-whelming feeling that this blog has not been serving the purpose that I intended it for.   I have come to realize that, even if I only reach one person and make them feel a little less alone in this world of mental illness, then this blog is doing exactly what I want.  Thank you for your patience.  Hopefully, I will be writing much more.