When you have a child with bipolar disorder, or any neurological disorder, it is important to know what their triggers are. It is also very important to find regulation tools. A regulation tool is a means to allow them to reorganize their brain in an effort to calm down. If you find effective ways to do this they, in turn, will start learning how to self-regulate.
One of my son’s favorite ways to get ‘out of his head’, as we put it, is to lose himself in song. He loves to sing, dance and simply listen to music. I know this is common of most teenagers, but for him, it is a way to shut off all of the excess, anxiety-riden thoughts in his brain and relax.
In recent months, his anxiety attacks have been getting worse during the school day. He is a regular in the nurse’s office and I get a call to pick him up at least once a week, if not more. I have taken to turning up the radio in my car as I pull up to the school. This way, as soon as he gets in, the first thing he hears is a song. It will relax him and actually be a tool to start a conversation in an effort to divert his brain from the stressors that caused his anxiety attack at school. He will ask “What do you think the person was thinking about when they wrote this?”. That will give me a chance to dissect the lyrics with him and talk about love, relationships and friendships as seen through the eyes of the song writer. I will then apply it to his life and sometimes it will help me get to the heart of his challenge that day.
It is true what they say, laughter really is the best medicine. We have come to find that, even on the worst of days, if my son can find a way to laugh during a manic episode, it will immediately stop his actions. There is a trick to this, I have found. I can’t be the one to try to make him laugh. If I attempt to be humorous while he is in a rage, it will agitate him even more. He feels as though I am making fun of him, and that goes over like a lead balloon.
We have realized that funny or stupid videos are the key. Once I learned that episodes of America’s Funniest Home Videos were on Netflix, life got a little bit easier. If I look him in the face and tell him that he needs to go downstairs and watch AFV, he knows that I feel he is on the verge of losing control. Sometimes, I don’t have to tell him. There are times when he will say “I can’t talk to you” and go down to his game room in the basement. Shortly after, I will hear gales of laughter coming up the stairs and I know that the direction of our day has changed for the better.
Animals are another outlet for my son. Although he is very articulate and can communicate extremely well, he much rather talk to the animals. When he was younger, my mom used to take him to a local farm. He could sit for hours and converse with the goats. He recently had some equine therapy sessions and even though he loves horses, he rather sit in the goat pen playing with the babies. It has taken some convincing that we can’t have a goat at home.
One of the options we have been considering, that was recently suggested by his psychiatrist, is a therapy dog. There are some programs that provide service dogs trained specifically for bipolar patients. The dogs can wake them up in the morning, remind them to take their medication and help calm them during an anxiety attack or manic episode. We have weighed the option of simply adopting a dog to keep him company against going through the process of applying for a service dog. This morning my son told me that he would prefer a service dog because it will be trained to stay calm if he is melting down. He is concerned that an average dog would get scared and bite him if he is out of control. We are still discussing this since, even though we know it will be good for him, it is still a big responsibility to bring a dog into the home……especially when we deal with more than the average family on a daily basis, both emotionally and financially.
Where is a place where you can find everything I mentioned above? That’s right, on Ellen. She always has great music and funny videos…..especially funny animal videos. My son and I have always enjoyed watching Ellen together, but I didn’t realize how much her show helped him until last year.
After a meltdown that culminated in a suicide threat, my son had been taken to the hospital by the officer on duty at his school. They wanted to evaluate him before sending him on to a mental health facility. The work up included bloodwork. As I have said in a previous post, my son has an immense fear of needles. When he realized that they were going to take blood, he started to panic. I asked him if it would help if I turned the TV on.
It just so happened that Ellen was on and doing one of her pranks with Dennis Quaid, which my son loves. He kept his eyes glued to the screen. The nurse came in and he barely flinched when she took his blood. As the nurse was heading out, she said “You should get some rest, do you want me to turn the TV off?”. My son got a worried look on his face and in a desperate voice said “No, I NEED to watch Ellen today.”.
In the year and a half since, I have used Ellen as an ally in my daily battles. Her show airs at 4 pm here. I make sure it is on when my son walks in the door after school at 4:30. I know how his day has been by how he shuts the front door. If it is a loud slam, I tell him to come to the living room and sit for a minute. I don’t talk or ask him how his day went. I just turn up the TV a bit. As he catches a glimpse of it he will visually relax into the sofa and start smiling. That is when I will ask him about his day. Since he is now calm, he can relay his frustrations of the day to me without getting overly worked up. We will sit and watch the end of the show together and then move on with our evening. I have found that our days end a lot smoother when I do this. So thank you, Ellen.
Trial and Error
Although my son has many other interests and hobbies, they don’t all help him refocus his negative or manic energy. It has taken us a long time to find the tools that work. Most of the time you will know immediately if something is helpful or hurtful. My suggestion is to take the time to simply watch your child in their daily activities. Look at their face……really look at it. You know your child. You will know when they are truly happy or content. Pay attention to what they were doing when they had that look. You may find regulation tools that you weren’t even aware of, if you are trying to seek them out.