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

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The What or The Why – A Trick For Handling Tantrums, Meltdowns and Manic Episodes

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.

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Thanks For Sticking Around

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.

When One Door Closes Try To Not Jump Out the Window

good things happening

I know I have been MIA lately.  There has been so much going on…..and not with my kiddo, thank goodness.  He is actually in a pretty good place lately, ups and downs emotionally, but no rages and he finished the school year with the best report card he has had in years.  No, the craziness hasn’t been at home in the personal sense…..it has been in my professional life.

For the past 5 years I have worked for a wonderful small company based in NY.  When my husband was offered his dream job here in GA, they were wonderful enough to set me up with a home office and alter my hours so I could be a bit more available for the kiddo, especially for all of his doctor’s appointments.  It was perfect timing, because within months he had his first hospitalization and finally received his formal diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

For the past 3 years since we have been in GA, my bosses and coworkers have been the most understanding and supportive group of people I have ever worked with.  There were no hesitations if I had to log off and go pick CJ up at school or if he was having a meltdown morning and it caused me to log in late.  I was never questioned if it hindered my work….the only question that was ever asked was “Is he ok?”.  I couldn’t have asked for a better job or coworkers for this stage of our lives.

In the past few months there have some major happenings going on at work.  Our biggest client is restructuring and it has wreaked havoc on how things were going to be done at our company.   Labor intensive projects started coming through my email and I knew that changes were right around the corner.

One day, a little over 2 weeks ago, I received a phone call from my boss. She was clearly distraught and I knew what was coming.  Due to the changes, they were going to have to do some lay-offs…..me being included.  I knew this was a possibility and tried to stay as positive as I could be.  I let her know how appreciative I was of the time that I did have with the company and all that she had done for me.

As that day went on it started to sink in.  What was my next step?  I have a child in a private school quite a distance away; how would I be able to get a traditional job and still get him to and from school? I have been working from home for 3 years; how would I adjust to working in an office again?……..and did I even want to?????

Immediately, I started doing a job search and a few came up in our local school district that fit my qualifications.  I had one week before the submission deadline.  I didn’t sleep that entire week.  I knew I didn’t want those jobs.  I knew I didn’t want to go back to any traditional office job.  How could I even consider the irresponsibility of not applying, though? Not only do I have a kiddo with extra medical needs,  but my 2 step-sons will both be starting college in the fall.  The responsible thing to do would be to apply for those jobs and deal with it.

My husband and I discussed the options and he told me he would support whichever decision I made……but I don’t think he was prepared for what I was thinking.  For many years, he and I have talked about opening a photography business in the future.  My thought was….why not start now?  I could lay the ground work while he was still working full-time and then we could just expand when he was ready to come on board……most likely, after all the boys are done with school.

Even when I came up with this plan of action, I still didn’t sleep.  That application deadline was looming over my head.  I had everything ready to go, should I decide to do so.  My husband asked me what the first thing I would like to do is.  I told him about a few photography workshops I was interested in, to get a little more comfortable with my new camera and equipment.  He immediately signed me up, no questions asked.  The next day, I didn’t send in my resume to the school district….I missed the deadline…..I had confirmation of my workshop registration…..and I slept.  The decision was made.

One minute ago, I logged off my work email for the last time……..now the changes will come.  I am almost 40 years old. I graduated from art school, yet I have never had a truly creative job.  I have always excelled at other people’s businesses…..now it’s time to put all of that effort into my own. It’s going to be a hard path and financially things may be challenging for a while, but that is even more incentive to make it work.  It won’t be easy, but for the first time in my professional life, I will be putting all that hard work into creating something I love.

My Unexpected A-Ha Weekend

aha moment

As I awoke, unusually early for a Saturday, I felt a bit nauseated.  I was approaching, what I considered, a challenging weekend.  You see, for some time now I have dealt with mild social anxiety.  It has become especially difficult for me since CJ’s challenges have gotten harder.  I have come to the conclusion that it is directly connected to CJ’s diagnosis.  My theory is that, for most people, home is routine, home is monotonous and they look outside their door to find something to spice up their life or to experience something different in their world.  For us, life at home is unpredictable.  When I wake up each morning, I have no idea what to expect from my day.  When you live like that, who wants to face even more unpredictable situations outside your door?  Not me.  I tend to stick to what I know…….the stores I shop at, the restaurants I eat at and the friends I spend time with.  Putting myself into new situations can sometimes make me physically ill.

For the past year and a half, my husband, Michael, and I have been a part of a family support group for caregivers that is part of the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) organization.  It has proven very helpful for us and we have a nice group of people locally that I am very comfortable with.  In an effort to help others, we had decided to sign up to train as facilitators so we would have more people able to run the meetings in the event that someone was ill or out-of-town.  I didn’t think much of it when we initially inquired about the training.  Last week, we received an email that there was a training class happening about an hour from where we lived and they had an opening.  So, there I was, Saturday morning, nauseated and driving along hwy 20 feeling like I was going to be sick.  Little did I know that this weekend would not only be full of new challenges….but give me a lot of insight on how lucky I am.

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a-ha_take_on_me_2_1985_the80sman

Couldn’t resist inserting an actual A-Ha moment.

A-ha moment #1:

Throughout the weekend, our training was filled with scenarios and role-playing that reflected many situations that families with mentally ill loved ones deal with.  It wasn’t like I didn’t know all of these situations happen…..but the fact that they were written into a training class somehow made me feel different than just hearing it in a support group.  I have met people in similar situations that have gone through what we go through regularly and it is always comforting to know that there is someone out there like you.  What hit me this weekend, with this training class, was that there isn’t just ‘someone’ out there like me….there are so many people out there living in these situations that they created a training scenario about it. I don’t know why it took this class for me to come to that realization.

A-ha moment #2:

By lunchtime on the first day of training, my nausea was gone and I was quite comfortable with everyone in the room.  Feeling included with other people has always been hard for me.  Even as a teenager, I didn’t feel as though I was ever a ‘part’ of a group.  I had friends and was acquaintances with many people in many different ‘cliques’, but was never a true part of any specific one of those cliques.   Even with family, I can sit at a dinner table and feel as though I am not seen or heard.  I have just always been so much better one on one than in a group.  I am quickly finding that I can feel at ease quickly with just about everyone I have met through NAMI.  I don’t know if it is because we all have a story, we all have a life that others may judge…..so we don’t judge each other.  It’s like a permanent ‘safe zone’.  From my regular support group, to the NAMI walk, to this training class, even though I have started out nervous, I have felt comfortable pretty quickly.  Kind of like a fraternity or sorority, you can meet someone new, find out that they are involved in NAMI and there is an immediate bond and understanding.  It may have taken me until the age of 39….but I think I have found my ‘group’.

A-ha moment #3:

One of the topics that came up a few times this weekend was the fact that NAMI helps so many people feeling lost and lonely after losing friends and family that don’t understand what you go through when you are caring for someone who is mentally ill.  This was brought up on Saturday in conversation, but I didn’t think about it much in the context of my own life.  Saturday evening, after class was done, I had planned on spending the night at my best friend’s house as she lives close to where the class was being held.  I got there at 5pm and we started talking…..I don’t think our conversation ended until we fell asleep at 2:30am.  I love nights like that with her, where we can talk about anything and everything, but I think I sometimes take for granted how lucky I am that I have a friend like that.  In the car the next day, I started thinking about the fact that she has been in my life and CJ’s life since he was a baby. One of my other best friends has been a part of our lives since before he was born. They are my biggest cheerleaders and supporters.  As I thought about it more and more, I realized that I have not lost anyone in my life due to CJ’s illness the way that so many others have.  At first I thought it was because I am lucky that my friends accept CJ’s illness. As my drive home wore on I changed my mind as to why. I think it has more to do with my acceptance of CJ’s illness.   I have never hidden our struggle.  There may not be many people in our lives, but most of them have been on this journey with us. They don’t just know the good, happy, parts of our lives…they know all of it.  They share the highs and lows with us.  If anything, my vocalization of our life has brought more people into my world.  The more people, the bigger the support system.  I have gained better friendships with people from high school, people from church, people from social media….heck I even now have a friend overseas that I consider a part of my support system.  I don’t think I would have been able to have gained such a great group of people and surrounded my family in so much love if I hadn’t been willing to accept CJ’s illness and educate others. This realization has made me feel like, somewhere along the way, I made a few good decisions in how I handled the challenges life has thrown at us.

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So after 2 exhausting and emotional days……..with a long night of girl talk sandwiched in-between, I am now a certified NAMI Family Support group facilitator.  I am also now planning on training to be a NAMI Basics class teacher, to help other parents of kids and teens understand more about mental illness and navigating the educational and health care systems.   This weekend has taught me that I still have a lot to learn…..but at least I can take what I do know and help others in the best way I know how.

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To get more information about NAMI or to find a support group in your area, please go to

 http://www.nami.org/”>

10 Things I’ve Learned During NaBloPoMo

challenge accepted

Challenge Met

 

So, today marks the last day of NaBloPoMo, and there are a few things I have learned by participating in this challenge.

1. I am not a journal writer (I kind of already knew that. Even as a kid, I did not keep a diary).

2. My reason for starting this blog still holds true. I started to share a message to other parents of mentally ill children and I don’t think that goal is going to change.

3. I will continue to write based on actual experiences…….but probably not daily.

4. Having to think of topics every day is exhausting.  I admire people who maintain a daily blog….or multiple blogs.

5. Writing is a true gift and talent, but everyone should give it a go at some point in their lives.

6. It feels good to have made connections with other bloggers in this community.

7.  I am a binge blog reader.

8. I am glad I don’t give up easily.

9. I am glad that it took place during November…..there is no way I could have done this while getting ready for Christmas.

10.  Writing can be therapeutic.

Not Quite Braving Black Friday

After eating a lovely dinner at a friend’s house today, the newspaper (well, multiple newspapers) were pulled out to rummage through for sale flyers. 5 women sat around and sifted through the many pages plotting their plan of action over the next few days.

I am not normally a black Friday shopper.  About 10 years ago I attempted it with my sister and was appalled at women attempting to steal stuff out of our cart. Last year, my sisters were visiting here and we attempted Target….which opened in the middle of the night.  We spent more time in the line getting in and the line checking out than we did actually shopping.  I wasn’t planning on attempting it again this year….until I saw the Kohl’s flyer.  There were some amazing prices on a few items that I thought would make great Christmas gifts for the kiddo (no, not a $100 50″ tv)……..and bath towels for me (exciting, I know).

jack sparrow black friday

This meant that I had to go stand in line with a bunch of people who were grumbling about there not being enough items in stock (they pass out tickets for certain items to the people waiting)……and complaining about people that they thought were cutting ahead of them. They then herded us in the door like cattle.  A woman I was chatting with in line was shocked that I allowed her to go in ahead of me.  I had no problems finding the items I needed. I then waited in line for a bit longer and had more people surprised that I was kind enough to let them stand in line with me so they could comb through a sweater rack in the center of the aisle…….and I offered another couple use of part of my cart, as their arms were full.  It almost bothered me that people were so shocked that I was being polite.  Why does shopping have to turn into a fight?  I was patient……I wasn’t in a rush…..and I was calmly out of there within an hour.

I know, not the knock down, drag out black Friday story you were looking for…..well, in truth it was Thursday. Maybe there is something that happens after midnight that makes people nuts.  Maybe it is waiting for a store to open by the light of the moon.  From here on out, I will stick to my one-store-a-year pattern.  It seems to be working for me. For those of you who brave the madness for hours on end…..I don’t know how you do it, but have fun.

That Kind of Day

It’s been that kind of day….you know the kind.  The didn’t sleep well, roll out of bed way after your alarm, work in your pajamas, don’t brush your hair, no mood to talk to people, no appetite, only change to put on clean pajamas, curl up and watch movies, kind of day. Guess I am lucky that I work from home.

pj day

I hoping that tomorrow I have the desire to put clothes on.  We are going to Thanksgiving with family friends and I don’t know if they would appreciate my current attire.