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

Posts tagged ‘friendship’

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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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/”>

Storied Past: Blankets of Stars

Sorry for the silence, everyone.  I needed some time to gather my bearings with lots of changes that are going on around here.  Since my month of blogging in November, I have been thinking hard about what I am writing on this blog.  My intent when I started this was to share my experiences as the parent of a child with mental illness.  My hope was to help other parents in the same situation feel less alone….and to maybe open up other’s eyes to how society treats people with neurological challenges. My plan is to keep on doing that.  However, during my month of writing, I found that people tend to like my silly or sweet stories about people who have touched my life.  I have decided that I will continue writing those as a series I will call Storied Past. I think I will try to post them on Thursdays….you know, my way of celebrating Throw-back-Thursday. I thought I would initiate my return with just such a story that came to mind while I was decorating one of my Christmas trees.

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When CJ was a baby, I got an administrative job in the GI department of our local hospital.  Due to the nature of the office, most of our patients didn’t come on a routine basis.  Because of this, you didn’t have a chance to really get to know that many people well.  We did have a small handful of people who came for monthly appointments……and one of those people was Jane.

I met Jane the first month I started working at the hospital.  She was in her late 60’s, sweet in nature, always had a smile on her face.  The reason I remembered her among the hundreds of faces we saw every month was the fact that she always brought us chocolate.  She would say “Eating chocolate every day keeps the doctor away.  Clearly I never ate enough in my youth, so I am trying to help you learn from my mistakes”.  She and I always exchanged pleasantries as she checked in for her appointment, but our conversations never went beyond that.

After working there almost a year, I came in late one day following the court hearing to finalize my divorce from CJ’s dad. I walked in to find flowers on my desk from my co-workers.  My office mate, Lacey, made a point to tell everyone who asked that ‘no, it was not my birthday….the flowers were to celebrate my divorce’.  This usually got odd looks and sometimes apologies, but not when Jane came in.  The minute she heard that I had gotten a divorce she said “Good for you” and proceeded to tell me hilariously inappropriate stories about her past husbands. This began a very interesting friendship.

I worked in that office for four years and saw Jane almost every month the entire time. When she came in, instead of being seated in the waiting room, she would sit by my desk and chat. She would tell me stories of her life.  Her shop girl years working at the NYC Macy’s during the 60’s and funny stories about men she had dated or married….but it was when she told me stories about her daughter and granddaughter, her eyes would light up and she would get sentimental.  She would always tell me that I reminded her of her daughter, who she rarely got to see, due to distance.

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Now, every time I make a quilt, I embroider a small star in the bottom corner.

One day, I had brought in a quilt that I made for a friend’s baby shower to show Lacey.  As I was putting it back in the bag, Jane walked into the office.  She insisted on seeing my handy work.  She looked at the yellow and blue celestial print and proceeded hug the blanket.  She told me that every time her granddaughter would say ‘I miss you’, she would tell her to look up to the night sky, because all of the stars in the sky were filled with her love and good wishes.  Jane looked at me with tears in her eyes and said “you are covering that baby with your good wishes”.

As Christmas approached, I decided to make Jane a gift.  I sewed her a lap quilt covered in stars.  The day she came in for her appointment, I handed her the gift.  After opening it, she asked why I had taken so much time to do something for her.  I told her that I had made the decision to move away in the next few months and  I wanted to make sure I gave her my good wishes before I left. Jane asked when I would be leaving. I let her know probably by March or April.  Her response was “Good, I plan on moving to my daughter’s in February and I couldn’t imagine coming in here even once without seeing your face. “. She then reached down into her bag and handed me a gift box. Inside it was an antiqued metal Christmas star and the note attached said, ‘With love and all my good wishes’.

tree pics

I make sure to put my star onto one of my trees every year. This year it’s on my kitchen tree, because it reminds me of a cut-out cookie.