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

Posts tagged ‘challenges’

Diving Off the Deep End of the PEER

 

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

When Our Most Important Computer Crashes- The Importance of 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.

16 Steps Forward, One 17 Foot Drop Back

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It’s Not About Being Selfish…..It’s About Self-Care

If-we-neglect-taking-care-of-ourselves

“If you don’t tell me what’s wrong, I can’t help you find a solution.”…..I have found myself saying that to my son a lot in recent months. As parents of children with special needs, we tend to always be on the search for solutions to our kiddos challenges…..but how often do we search for solutions to our own challenges?

One of the things that has helped me in recent years was finding a caregiver’s support group.  I am going to be honest, in the beginning, I felt guilty.  Up until then, my ‘alone time’ was grocery shopping by myself……but that was still doing something for my family.  Once I started going to support group, I was taking a couple of hours a month to do something for myself.  After a while, though, I realized that I wasn’t just doing it for me, I was doing it for everyone in my family.  It helped me to express my feelings to other people who understood what my life was like.  It helped me to relate to my son better.  It helped me and my husband communicate better.

There are so many of us that don’t have a great personal support system.  When our child was diagnosed with a mental illness or neurological disorder, many of our family members or friends simply didn’t understand.  Our child’s school didn’t understand.  There were even medical professionals that didn’t understand.  Once you are sitting in a room with a group of people who have been in your shoes, it can be a life altering experience.

If you are in a situation where you do not have a support system around you, it is important to find the support you need using alternate avenues.  There are many ways to do that.  I am listing a few links that can help you find resources or support groups in your area.  Please take time for you, so you can take care of them.

National:

NAMI

Mental Health America

Center for Parent Information and Resources

Here in Georgia:

Georgia Parent Support Network

have the courage to ask

The Power of the Share – An Experiment with Social Media

As I was scrolling through Facebook the other day, I saw a shared picture.  Like many I have seen before, it was of a teacher holding up a sign that asked for people to like and share their picture so their students would understand the power of social media.  This one was slightly different though, it also said “so they can understand that we all have the power to change the world”.  Do we though?  Does liking and sharing a post on social media allow us to change the world…….well, it could…..if people were actually paying attention.

Like many of you, I have seen these types of posts for years.  Almost all of them have traveled the globe with thousands of likes attached.  Never have I seen them with a message other than the initial like and share request.  It is easy for someone to hit that share button, but what if there was a message attached? Would they read it?

I have been writing this blog about parenting my child with a bipolar diagnosis for over a year now.  I started it to try to make a difference in society regarding mental health.  I would love to end the stigma that surrounds people with a mental health diagnosis and their families.  I would love to educate those who don’t understand our lives.  I have found that my blog is not quite doing what I intended it to.

I have a small, loyal group of readers.  Most of them understand this life and it helps to know they are not alone.  I am proud that I have reached some people who truly appreciate what I am trying to do here….but I wish I could reach more.  I wish I could break through to the teachers who have treated my son like he was more trouble than he was worth.   I wish I could break through to the health care workers that sat in their seats and whispered (loudly) about how horrible a parent I was because my son was having a meltdown.  I wish I could break through to the neighbor who doesn’t allow my son on his lawn because he feels that his mental health diagnosis is a threat.  The challenge is that I can’t break through those walls if the only people reading this blog are those in the know.  There is a saying I have heard many times within NAMI support groups, “You can’t know what you haven’t been told”.  Well, I am going to add “People can’t hear you if they don’t know to listen”.

I an effort see if I can get more people to listen….and to see if we can really change the world with social media…..I have decided to do a little experiment.  Facebook has changed the way this blog posts in recent months.  People used to click on the picture I connected with my blog and it would immediately open the post.  Now, it simply opens the picture with a link to the post.  I am putting a picture with this blog, much like those of the many teachers that are trying to get 100,000 likes.  If it is shared and liked, the blog link will be attached.  We will see if more people read because we are shared via picture on social media. We will see if people can see beyond the picture.  We will see if we can change the world and end the stigma, one like at a time.

SIGN

If you are a new person reading this blog post due to clicking on the link…..BRAVO!!! You are the type of person that just might help us change the world.  Please aid us in educating society so we can erase the stigma of mental illness.

*NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness – for more information or to find a support group in your area go to:  http://nami.org/

 

A Light In The Attic

face-your-fears

 

When we moved to the south three years ago, there were definitely a few fears I had to face.  I was up for the challenge and excited about what lay ahead,  but being the northern girl I am, there were little thoughts nestled in the back of my mind about what I was getting myself….and my child into.

First came the big fears.  My son, CJ, had a hard time being accepted by his peers….and by adults, for that matter…..when we lived outside of Albany, NY.  Would he have trouble with this southern move?  My husband and I are progressive thinkers in the matters of life, love and faith.  How would WE be accepted into this more conservative society?  It didn’t take long for those thoughts to be quieted.  Within months, CJ had found a couple of true friends and my husband and I had become a part of a wonderful circle of very accepting people.

Then came the silly fears.  Georgia has big bugs….and snakes….and tornadoes.   I have to say, I have not seen one snake near our home since we lived here (I did see one in the lake down the road, but it was far enough away that it didn’t even phase me).  There has only been one bad tornado….and it was about fifty miles away.  The bug thing I am still working on.  Two and a half years since we moved into our house and I still have not ventured into the attic for fear of an encounter with a brown recluse spider. In three years I have learned to face my fears of the unknown (well, most of them anyway)…..and this week I triumphed over another one….home schooling my son.

Since elementary school CJ has struggled with being in a classroom.  His anxiety has gotten so overwhelming that he can become physically ill….nausea, vomiting, chest pains.  He was afraid to let teachers know that he understood the work because he didn’t want to be called on.  If a teacher reprimanded him in front of the class, he carried it with him every day.  His struggles with his learning disabilities and sensory processing disorder has hindered the learning process….especially when he has come across teachers that don’t understand working with challenges. This has all been a part of living with bipolar disorder.  This has all been part of our lives since the first grade.  This has all been a part of our lives until we decided enough was enough.

In June, my company was forced to do some layoffs…..me being one of them.  I seized the opportunity to change some of my life goals by starting my own company.  I did so with the assumption that my son would be attending the private school we enrolled him in last winter.  Little did I know, on his first day of school that would all change.

We knew going in, that this was a Christian school, but I specifically asked what views they held upon enrollment.  I was told that the curriculum didn’t hold any specific point of view and that they had students from all faiths attending.  They held up to that for winter and spring semesters.  Not so much this year.  On his first day, CJ was told he was a sinner by his history teacher because he believes in evolution and that the world is millions of years old.  He also got in trouble after that history teacher said God wrote the bible and my logical thinker son said…”Um, no. The followers of God wrote the bible…..that’s why each book is named after them.”.  Later in the day he encountered his new biology teacher who literally struck fear into one of his classmates as she reached across the desk to hit him with a yard stick.

As soon as CJ got in the car at the end of the day, he told me what happened and said, “I am never going to be able to speak in that class because I am sure I will be hit eventually”.  Looking through my son’s notes that day, the only thing on a page from that class said DO NOT SPEAK….underlined five times.   Needless to say, he was a nervous mess.  That night, he woke up from a severe panic attack,  sweating, crying and shaking.  It took him a while to calm down and get back to sleep…….and then he woke up the next day the same way.  The next time I dropped CJ of at school, I remember thinking “School should never have to be a place you are afraid of.”.

By Wednesday of that week I had a long conversation with my husband.  What if I tried to home school him?  I know we had attempted on-line schooling before, but what if I created a curriculum that spoke to him? So, I embarked on a new adventure….trying to build the right curriculum for my kiddo.  Something that would teach him life skills as well as academic ones. Something that would engage his interests while educating him.  Something that would make him want to learn more.

CJ and I had a long conversation about it and I set forth the rules we would have and the schedule we would follow.  We determined to keep the same school schedule he had at the private school, four days a week of class and Fridays would be set aside for any catch up work or course work to help him understand something he is struggling with.  He would also be expected to pick some type of community program to volunteer with.

This week we started.  As before, I had fears going in.  I began with quite a bit of nausea, myself…especially because I didn’t have a whole lot of time to figure out which curriculum program we were going to use….so I created what I call a Frankenstein program…..  little pieces of different programs and some of my own.  I wanted to start by September, so we began with five subjects instead of the six I planned.  I am still working on the curriculum for history and will add that in the next couple of weeks.  This year, our subjects are Oceanography, Popular Literature(focus on comic books and manga), Sign Language, Accounting/Economics and Life Skills (my answer to Home Ec).  Each day I allow CJ to pick which subject he wants to start with.  Our classes are a mixture of reading, lecturing and hands on work so I can see how he learns the best.  He has not made one complaint.  He has completed every task I have set before him.  He even woke me up early on Friday asking me why I let him sleep too late because he wanted to start school.

After the first couple of days, I heard CJ on a telephone call to his grandmother.  He made a comment that struck me.  He said “I understand what I am learning because when I ask a question mama takes time to explain instead of just reading the same thing a second time like all my other teachers have done.  I mean, if I didn’t understand it when you read it the first time, how is reading the same thing a second time going to make it any better?”.  Because he and I are one on one, I have the time to explain things in detail to him and to answer all of the questions he may have, which is something his teachers never had time to do.  I think this will be the key to our success.

So, we are only one week in….but it has been an amazing week.  I wonder if it’s about time I faced another fear and venture into the attic….maybe I’ll leave the light on for a while first, just in case.

light in the attic

Shall We Dance……Around the Issues?

Once I became the parent of a child with a mental illness and neurological issues, I started seeing them everywhere.  If you have a family member with any type of diagnosis, you know what I mean.  You start diagnosing everyone you come in contact with.  Even more than the world around me, I started to notice things in the worlds I escaped into…..books and movies all of a sudden had underlying themes of depression or emotional challenges.   Movies I watched as a kid and loved, no longer had as much joy to them; they were filled with sadness and struggles.

Last week I watched Shall We Dance?……the Richard Gere version.  It is a movie I had seen many times and never thought much about.  There is a line toward the end, after Gere’s character, John Clark’s, wife finds out he has been taking dance lessons secretly. He says “If I sometimes couldn’t tell you that I wasn’t happy it is because I didn’t want to hurt the person I treasure most in the world”.

Now, it probably isn’t surprising to you that I think John Clark was dealing with a horrible depression….and dancing was his anti-depressant.   Once his family found out, he was ashamed……not only of the sadness, but of the fact that the people he loved weren’t the ones he chose to help him through it.  The reason for this is that he had so much, he felt guilty that they weren’t enough to make him happy.

depression

Why I am I breaking down this Saturday afternoon matinée to you all? Well, I think it is a good way to explain why parents are sometimes the last ones to know that their child has been dealing with depression.  Suicide has become an epidemic in our country….especially for teenagers and young adults.  According to the CDC, approximately 4600 young people between the ages of 10-24 take their lives every year.  Last year, Ebola took 2 lives in our country and it was headline news…..people were talking about it….everywhere.  Why don’t we talk about the 4600 young people losing their lives?

There are so many people out there thinking “not my kid”.  Honestly, a lot of the teenagers that are attempting or following through with their suicide plans are kids that no body would expect to.  Honor society, athletes, class officers, club presidents…..no one is immune to depression.  It’s these kids I fear for the most, they are alone in their struggle.  So many times we hear about a young person taking their life and people around them say, I thought he was fine or I thought she was happy.  They kept their sadness hidden from the people they loved……why?  I think so many of them were like John Clark, afraid to tell anyone that, even with all of the good in their lives, they still aren’t happy.

My son is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  In a way, that makes me one of the lucky parents.  I know what to look for in my son’s moods.  I know what changes in his temperament might mean.  I also make sure to talk to my son about his emotions on a regular basis.  In truth, in our house, we talk about emotions just as often as we have precautionary conversations about drugs, sex or social media.  Would I have included it in our regular conversation if he didn’t have a diagnosis? Probably not.  Nobody would have clued me in on the importance of mental health education to our kids.  Even once I had a child with a mental health diagnosis, I had no suggestions on how to talk to my son about his feelings.  I was handed a prescription and told to call if it didn’t help.  If I didn’t start doing research on my own as to how to effectively communicate with my son, I would probably have had a child that is one of the 4600.

We need to talk to our children……all of us…..and we need to start when they are young.  We need to let them know that sadness is a normal part of growing up, but sometimes it can get so bad that we have a hard time finding happiness again.  As they get older, we need to explain a little more in-depth about depression and how it can affect people.  Not only so they know for themselves, but so they can be aware of changes in their friends, too.  We need to let them know that we will listen without judgement and help them in any way we can.

Until we start talking to our kids about their emotional health, how can we expect them to talk to us? If they don’t start talking to us, how can we prevent next year’s 4600 deaths?