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

Posts tagged ‘friends’

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

16 Steps Forward, One 17 Foot Drop Back

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The Girl in the Elephant Sweater

Today’s DP Challenge

Many of us had imaginary friends as young children. If your imaginary friend grew up alongside you, what would his/her/its life be like today? (Didn’t have one? write about a non-imaginary friend you haven’t seen since childhood.)

elephant sweater

I don’t think I had an imaginary friend……or maybe I did and I didn’t realize that they were imaginary.  I thought I would write, instead, about a childhood friend that was in my life briefly, but made a huge impact on how I view people.

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It was about a month or so into the sixth grade. A brisk fall day in the Connecticut town where I lived.  As I sat in class, I heard mutterings about ‘the new girl’.  From the whispers I found out that she was in the other sixth grade classroom. Before I met her, I was informed that she was tall, with beautiful blond curls. They said she was quiet and she dressed kind of different, but that must be because she was cool…..she had to be cool, she was from another state.  Anybody was cool that wasn’t from around here.

It was time for lunch, as I left the classroom and started to walk down the hall, the blond curls caught my eye.  She was tall and pretty.  She walked in an almost haughty way down the hall, never once looking around her, like she owned it. I was a bit surprised, however, about her attire…..everyone said she must be cool…..but she was wearing a bright red sweater with a big white elephant on it. This was what everyone thought was cool???? If I wore something like that, I would be laughed out of school.

I brought my lunch, so I was the first to sit down at the table where my small group of friends usually gathered.  The new girl spotted the empty seats and asked quietly if she could join me, she brought her lunch, too.  I was confused.  Wasn’t this girl too cool to be asking to sit with me? We spent about ten minutes chatting before everyone else  made it through the lunch line.  I found out that she was pretty shy. She was self-conscious about her height was afraid that people were going to make fun of her.  She was nervous about being in an unknown place, but said that she made sure to look straight ahead when walking down the halls so the new surroundings wouldn’t bother her as much. And the sweater…..she had just moved from a warmer climate and her mother made her wear it because it was chilly out and it was the first warm thing that was unpacked.

She and I became friends for the year or so that she lived in my town.  It may seem insignificant, but that experience taught me to never feel less than anyone else. That morning, because of other people’s words, I found myself believing that I would be unworthy of this girl’s friendship…..not because she was too cool to be my friend, but because I imagined she was.  I think this was the start down my road of self-confidence. This was that moment in my life when I learned to trust in who I am and be ok with that. It also taught me to form my own opinions and not base my thoughts or feelings on other people’s judgements.

The truth was, she never even noticed all of the whispers about her.  She was too nervous about being in a new school to pay attention.  Months later, when I actually told her about her first day at school, she laughed and said “That’s funny,  I was cool for a day and all this time I just thought I was a nerd in a stupid sweater.”

 

The Friend Factor

As parents of special needs kids, we go for very long periods of time wondering if our kiddos will find a friend to truly bond with.  If your situation is in any way similar to mine, your kiddo probably had a couple of good friends in their younger years, since the younger ones seem to over-look your child’s quirks and differences.  As they get older, and especially into the middle school years, the bullying is terrible and even the kids that aren’t doing the bullying tend to distance themselves from anyone who is deemed ‘weird’ so they, themselves aren’t put in the bully’s path. It gets to a point where you hope that your child will find a friend, any friend at all.  I used to feel that way.  I soon learned that I rather have him be the loner kid than to have the wrong friends.

After I remarried, we moved 3 hours away from the one best friend my son, CJ, had since kindergarten.  He had to start all over in a new school with new kids.  By this point in time, he had an IEP and the teachers removed him from the classroom on a regular basis to take tests or to go to the OT.  At 10, he was very aware that he was different from the other kids……and if he wasn’t, they made sure he knew it.  It took his school being shut down and merged with another school due to budget cuts, for him to meet a couple of boys that he got along with.  At first, I thought this was a wonderful thing.  I soon learned that my son wasn’t having as hard of a time with bullies, because these boys WERE the bullies in school.  It’s hard when you have a child that wants to be liked so badly, but you know that the kids that he is spending time with aren’t going to be the best influence on him.

I was nervous when we made the decision to move to Georgia. CJ would have to start all over, yet again.  This was either going to be disastrous or the best thing for our family, but we wouldn’t know until we tried.  Because we still had to sell the house in NY, we initially lived in an apartment complex.  My husband moved here a couple of months before my son and I, so he was able to get an apartment before we got here.  As soon as we pulled up, I had an uneasy feeling about the place.  It was clean and well-maintained, but I just had one of those gut instincts that this place was not going to be a part of our lives for very long.  I was right, we only lived there for about 6 months, but in the end it brought my son a very special person in his life.

Megan

After living in the apartment for a couple of weeks, CJ had adapted to having playmates right outside his door.  Something he had never had before.  Most of them were younger, as this was usually the case with my son.  We have found that younger kids tend to be less judgemental  regarding  his behaviors.  Even though he was enjoying himself, we had daily drama. Whether it was sensory issues due to tackle football, emotional issues because somebody ‘hated’ him or a complete meltdown because an older group of bullies threw his bike in the lake, every day I had a tear-ridden child walk in my door.  That all changed the day he met Megan.

Megan and CJ became fast friends and found solace in each other’s company when the other kids would gang up on them.  She started spending a lot of time at our apartment, playing video games or watching movies.  I started taking them both roller-skating once a week and she would come for dinner a couple of nights a week.  This started my reference to her as our ‘bonus kid’.

When we bought our new home last March, we quickly dubbed our guest room as Megan’s room, since she is the one that utilizes it more often than anyone else.  She spends a lot of weekends with us, and she and CJ have started to go to Sunday youth group together. Megan and her mom have both become an extension of our family.

The best thing about CJ and Megan’s friendship is that it is real.  His psychologist has met Megan and has said she is the best kind of friend that CJ could have.  She calls him out when he is being manipulative or cruel and she makes him own up to his mistakes.  She does all of this while appreciating him for who he is.  They have come to love each other and act like siblings. They fight and make up on a regular basis, but they always fall back on the strength of their friendship. Their true test of friendship will come when Megan joins us on a 2 week road trip this summer.  I think, in the end, they will bond even more over the memories they will make.

Dylan

After my son’s hospital stay in the fall of 2012, he was just starting at a new middle school. He kept his head down for the first month or so, afraid to meet new people. Just after the Thanksgiving break, CJ started mentioning Dylan. They were mainly school friends for the rest of the year.  When summer break started to near, CJ was upset at the thought of not getting to hang out with Dylan every day.  He came home one Friday and asked if he could go to a karaoke night at Dylan’s house.  It confused me a bit as to why my son with stage-fright wanted to go to a karaoke night, but I said that he could go as long as I met one of Dylan’s parents. That evening I met Dylan and his mom, Juanita, for the first time and little did I know our family had just grown a bit more.

One of the things that CJ had never mentioned to me, probably because it wasn’t important to him, was that Dylan is on the Autism spectrum, along with a host of other diagnoses. Juanita and I quickly bonded over the journeys we both have taken over the years in our efforts to advocate for our sons.  Our whole family, including our bonus kid, started participating in weekly karaoke night.  Through them, we have met many other families that are going through the same struggles.

In school, CJ and Dylan have become each other’s constant.  If one of them is out for some reason, the other one has a hard day.  According to their teachers, they have started a healthy competition in regard to getting work done, which has helped them both.  Our plan was to have CJ to go to a certain high school in the area, but he has asked me to alter my plans so that he and Dylan could be in high school together. I am still considering this.

Following a manic episode a few weeks ago, I could not help my son feel better.  He wanted out of the house.  I called Juanita and she told us to come on over.  After a few minutes talking to Dylan, CJ was calm and ready to go home.  After we got in the car, he took a deep breath and said “Thank you,Mama. Dylan just gets me”.

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My wish for all of you is that your kiddos find friends who love them and just ‘get’ them.

I have utilized the kid’s names with permission of their parents.