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

Posts tagged ‘suicide’

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.

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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?

 

The Many Faces of Courage – this mom’s thoughts on Caitlyn Jenner

courage churchhillIn the past month or so, there have been so many news items that I have had strong opinions about…..but I try to keep this blog about our life coping with mental illness and not as a soap box for my personal views on the world, so I have forced myself to keep my mouth shut all the while sitting on my hands…..both here and on FB.  That was, until I saw a few posts on Facebook the past couple of days that made me release my hands and type away.  As I have said before, we all have our own truth, and this is mine.

Earlier in the week, the Vanity Fair cover came out with Caitlyn Jenner.  Originally, my FB feed was filled with support for her……until it was announced that she would be receiving an ESPY award for courage. Following that announcement, I started seeing more and more negative posts accompanied by pictures of military personnel with the heading “This is real courage”.

Now, I believe whole-heartedly that members of our military represent courage and bravery.  If it was not for our armed forces, we would all be living a much different life in a very different country. They put their lives on the line every day for our freedom and I thank them for that……but who says that courage can only come wrapped up in camouflage?

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I was raised by a single father in a time when it was a rarity.  Most men who were single parents during that era had become so due to circumstances beyond their control.  My dad chose it.  My parents married young and divorced young. At the age of 25, my dad took on the responsibility of 2 toddlers.  He had no outside financial support, and little to no emotional support from his parents. He raised us on his own and helped us become strong, capable women. He is my hero…..he represents courage and bravery to me.

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When I was 20, my grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Having spent her life roller skating, my last image of my grandmother was on skates.  She was holding the wall as she circled the floor, but she was pushing forward.  In the face of death, she chose to live life…….she represents courage and bravery to me.

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I have a 15 year old son who is living with a mental illness.  His depression and anxiety can be overwhelming at times….for both of us. He has friends…..he goes to church……he goes to school…….he loves helping others.  When there are so many people with mental illnesses that choose to lock themselves away from the world, he faces it every day……..he represents courage and bravery to me.

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All of the parents that are raising special needs children, that are advocating for them to make sure they get to have the best life possible……they represent courage and bravery to me.

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All of the adoptive parents and foster parents that choose to love another’s child as their own regardless of the challenges they may face……they represent courage and bravery to me.

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All of the people who grew up facing adversity and used it as their driving force to create a better world……they represent courage and bravery to me.

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The teenagers who are true to themselves, whether it be something as complex as sexual orientation or choice of faith, to something as simple as choice of clothing or music…..those kids that choose what’s right for them instead of what’s popular…..they represent courage and bravery to me.

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Since becoming CJ’s mom, I have had to learn to open my mind to differences.  Differences in personality, differences in lifestyle, differences in opinion.  Because of that, I try to pay attention, especially when I think I will learn from a situation. When I saw that Bruce Jenner was doing an interview with Diane Sawyer, I made it a point to watch…..and to pay attention.  My overwhelming thought at the end of that interview was “Wow, I have a feeling he just saved somebody’s life”.

Bruce Jenner made a decision many months ago.  He could have hidden away and gone through this transition in private, but he chose not to.  He knew that his experience and his life could help educate others.  He used fluff entertainment, like The Kardashians, and turned it into a platform to help us understand the transgender community a little bit better.  I read another blog post about Caitlyn Jenner being fake.  Yes, it took multiple surgeries to get there, so physically she is augmented, but Caitlyn is Bruce’s truth….one that he had hidden for 65 years.   The fact that Bruce made the decision to introduce the world to Caitlyn and have her fulfill what he considered his life’s purpose in helping others……that represents courage and bravery to me.

Honestly, I know there are many people who don’t think that is heroic…..but then, maybe people don’t realize that the statistics of suicide are staggering.  It is quickly becoming one of our nations leading causes of death.  Bruce’s choices, that Caitlyn is carrying out will, quite possibly, save lives within the LGBTQ community.  To me, someone who has the ability to save another person’s life and chooses to do so in the face of adversity is a hero in my book.

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A Little Shellfish, Not So Crabby

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At the end of our NAMI meetings, one of the things we go around the room to ask is ‘What will you do for yourself in the coming weeks?”.  This is an important question.  Caregivers tend to forget to do things for themselves when their focus is on their loved one with challenges.  The things we do for ourselves help us to reduce the stress of our lives.  Being a little selfish is ok.  Helping ourselves, in-turn, helps our children. That statement goes for ALL parents, not just those with special needs kiddos.  Unfortunately, it’s a statement that I forget…..a lot. When it comes to the end of our meetings and that questions is asked, I usually have to search for an answer.  This week, I did 2 things for myself.

The first one was my hair.  I know, that may sound silly….but in my life, spending a day in a salon is not something that happens very often.  Not only did I get my hair done…..I had it colored pink.  I have done pink highlights for a few years now….but this time I went all in, and it made me so happy.  Every time I look in the mirror, I smile.  Isn’t that what self-care should do….make us feel better? Well, I feel better with pink hair. I know my grandmother will be disappointed, but she is not the one in the mirror looking back at me every day…..and it is that person who I need to make happy. We forget that sometimes….that our happiness is important.  We worry about what others will think….of us, of our kids, of our lives….but what matters most is what we think.  Do you like yourself?  Are you teaching your children to like themselves? Is your life bringing you joy?  These are the important things to remember.

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No, this is not an April Fool’s joke. 🙂

 

The second thing I did was take a class on suicide prevention in teenagers.  I know that may not sound like self care…but it actually makes me feel good to learn new things….any new thing.  I took the day off of work, my husband took on the drop off and pick up duties for my son and I left for the day…..to learn ways to help other kids in need. If that’s not a win-win, I don’t know what is.  I have spent so many years learning everything I can about mental illnesses and neurological disorders in children to help my son.  It makes me happy to use that knowledge to help other children and their parents.  This blog was the first step….and now I am getting ready for a few more steps in that direction.

I always say it is important to teach our children that they are not their illness….they should not let their illness define them.  They are so much more than that…..and so are we.  We are not just parents of special needs kids.  We are human beings that need to be a little selfish every once in a while….and that’s ok.

What will you do to take care of yourself this week?

 

*NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness – To find a NAMI support group in your area, go to:
https://www.nami.org/

The Suicide prevention class I took was called Lifelines and it was provided by The Society for Prevention of Teen Suicide.  They also offer a free online certification training for educators on their website:

http://www.sptsusa.org/

The Worst Day Ever

Today’s Daily Post Challenge

We all seem to insist on how busy, busy, busy we constantly are. Let’s put things in perspective: tell us about the craziest, busiest, most hectic day you’ve had in the past decade.

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It was 2 years ago…..exactly, 2 years ago today.  I woke up to smiling faces and breakfast in bed.  I had just enough time to eat and get myself and the kiddo dressed and out the door.  CJ had just started at a new school the day before, it was across town, so I had to drive him.  He wrapped himself up in a blanket and said he didn’t want to go. I had asked if there had been a problem on his first day.  He said it was fine, but that would change if people got to know him.  I somehow convinced him to get into the car.  Still wrapped up in his blanket, he got into the far backseat of my van.

We made it to the school and I pulled up to the curb.  He refused to get out.  I was holding up other parents, so I moved into a parking spot.  I tried to reason with him and convince him that today would be fine. He still refused to get out.  I decided I needed back up.  I went into the school to see if a counselor was available.  Sometimes if it is an adult other than me, he listens to reason.  The principal happened to be in the front office and came out with the counselor.  At this point, CJ was standing outside the van.  As soon as he saw the counselor, he bolted.  He ran across the parking lot and into the woods surrounding the school.  Someone went inside to get the officer that was on duty.  He got into his patrol car and drove down the long drive along the woods. The principal suggested I bring my car back up to the curb so CJ would have a reason to walk toward the school. About 10 minutes later I saw CJ, walking back across the parking lot in only his socks. The officer pulled around and got out of his car to hand me CJ’s shoes…..he had run into a red ant pile and panicked, took off his shoes and continued to run through the woods until the pain in his feet made him stop.

CJ got back to the school and immediately climbed into my van and wrapped himself up in the blanket once again. Somehow, the counselor convinced him to come out and talk to us.  He sat on the curb and asked them if he could talk to me alone.  He started melting down, telling me I don’t understand and that it didn’t matter if he went to school.  The only thing he wanted to do was kill himself, that was the only thing that would make his sadness go away.

The instant he said this, the officer went into action.  He really couldn’t do anything previously, but a child stating they wanted to commit suicide while sitting on school grounds allowed him take matters into his own hands.  He told me that CJ would be taken to the hospital. He attempted to get him into his patrol car, but CJ struggled and ended up falling and hitting his head on the pavement.  Now with a large scraped, bruised forehead and handcuffs on his wrists, my 12-year-old was sitting in the back of a police car.

I followed behind on the way to the hospital.  When the officer opened the door to the back of the car we found CJ knotted up into a ball.  If it wasn’t so devastating a situation, what we saw would have been amusing.  Along the ride, CJ thought he could get the handcuffs around to the front of his body and attempted to pull his arms under his body.  This resulted in him with his arms locked around his legs between his behind and his knees and he was flopped sideways on the car seat.

By this time, the meltdown was over and he was back to being happy CJ. He cooperated with the intake nurse and was put into a room with a guarded door.  It was now about 10am and my phone started to ring. A flurry of calls were coming through and I was taking the ones from family that needed to know what was going on.  Service in the hospital wasn’t great so I kept having to walk to a different spot on the floor where I could use my phone.  It was hours of walking back and forth across the hospital, talking to doctors, and holding CJ’s hand through evaluations and blood work. Finally at 4pm, CJ and I breathed for a little bit while we watched Ellen…..one of his favorite ways to relax.

We were instructed that they wanted to admit CJ into a psychiatric hospital for extended evaluation. They instructed us to go home and pack a bag for him, then they put him in an ambulance and drove him to a hospital an hour away.

My husband and I rushed home and packed things as fast as we could and then headed toward Atlanta. CJ was in the intake office when we got there and asking to see me. He begged me to not leave him there.  He said he promised he wouldn’t kill himself.  I told him it was out of my hands, the doctors made this decision and it was where he needed to be. Leaving him there was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make.  The last words from him that night were ‘I hate you’.  That week he was formally diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

My husband and I drove home at about 10pm.  It had been the longest, most hectic, most stressful day of my life…….and my worst birthday ever.

It is 2 years later.  I woke up this morning to smiling faces.  My husband and son were downstairs, putting my birthday present together….a gas fire pit.  CJ got dressed and into the car.  I drove him to school early because he had a make-up test.  He gave me a kiss goodbye and got out of the car. Tonight we will sit around the fire pit, roast marshmallows………. and celebrate life.

 

We Bend or We Break

Over the past year, I have been finding myself watching Dr. Phil occasionally.  I don’t really watch it for Dr. Phil’s wisdom or his unabashed self-promotion. Where most of his episodes are about topics that don’t draw me in, I have found that the episodes regarding out of control teenagers have helped me to not feel so alone.  It also helps when I have CJ watch those episodes with me.  The biggest learning tool that seems to help is watching a video of a kid losing control, screaming at a parent, and getting incredibly violent.  Because I don’t take video of CJ doing these things, it helps to show him a reflection of how he acts when he is in the midst of a rage.  The lesson doesn’t always stick with him, but it usually helps calm things down for the next week or so.

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The other day, I found myself watching Dr.Phil on my own.  He was doing an interview with Kelli Stapleton.  If you don’t know who that is, you may have read the headlines over the past year about the mom who attempted to kill herself and her autistic daughter, Issy, with CO2 poisoning.  This past week she plead guilty to child abuse and is awaiting the sentence that could be life in prison. I have read many articles about the case…..as well as many people’s comments on those articles.  I then watched her interview with Dr. Phil intensely before I formed my own opinion.  Although I can’t really wrap my head around someone attempting to kill their own child….the first thing I thought when I read all of this was “how desperate must she have been to think that was the only option?”.

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I can’t personally speak to her case, simply because I didn’t live in her home, with her child.  I do, however, live with a child that can be abusive and aggressive.  My son isn’t autistic, but the rage that can come with early onset bipolar in children can mirror the same type of aggression found in autistic children.  So much so, that it is a common misdiagnosis, as was the case with my son at the beginning of our journey. What bothered me most after reading the reactions to the articles was the outrageous ignorance that came along with them.  It frustrates me that people pose such opinions on someone else’s actions and motives when they are not the one living that life.   So many comments stating Issy’s aggression could only be because she was mirroring her mother’s behavior or if they only taught her coping skills she would ‘be just fine’.  The one comment that I read on multiple articles said that Issy must have hated her mother, since that was who seemed to be her prime target.

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Like I have said, I can’t comment to their life…..but here is the truth about many kids with neurological or mental illnesses.

*These kids have a brain disorder.  They are not aggressive or abusive because it is a learned behavior, they simply don’t have the same impulse control that someone with a normal, functioning brain would have.  When a person suffers from a traumatic brain injury that causes damage to the limbic system, we understand that they will have issues with aggression……. why can’t people understand that patients born with brain disorders may have issues with aggression, as well? It doesn’t have to be a learned behavior to exist.

*Teaching coping skills is a wonderful tool……..that doesn’t always work.  My son has been seeing therapists since he was 7……he is now 14.  That is 7 years of coping skills being taught.  Has it helped, yes……has it eradicated the problem, no.  The truth is, although the coping skills help in many situations it is not going to ‘fix’ him or heal him.  Bipolar does not have a cure, only treatment.  So if he is out of control or in a rage, he is not always in the right mind to use all of those helpful coping skills.

*Of course, I have to respond to my favorite comment regarding ‘mother’ abuse.  In most cases, these kids do not abuse their caregivers because they hate them or because they feel abused by them.  It is actually the opposite.  They abuse us because they love us, and because they know we love them unconditionally.  We are their safety. They know that we will always be there, regardless of how they hurt us, emotionally or physically.  We are their constant in a world that is very scary for them.  They can’t navigate it on their own……and that can cause agitation of its own.

In a rage, a couple of months ago, my son said he hated me.  That used to upset me……it doesn’t any more, because I know it’s not true.  I simply looked at him and said, “No you don’t, you love me.”.  His response to that was “I hate how much I love you!”.  Sometimes that is the truth.  I think sometimes my son lashes out at me because he is so reliant on me and he wants his independence so badly….he just can’t function in a way to obtain that independence yet.  Maybe someday he will…..but I don’t see that happening any time soon.  I will pray that it does, sooner rather than later.

That last statement may be taken out of context, as I think many ‘venting’ statements were on Kelli Stapleton’s blog.  I am not saying I want my son to find independence because I don’t love him, or because I hate living with him……I am saying it because I wish a better life for him……and maybe for myself, too.  It would make me so happy and proud to know that my son faced his challenges and succeeded in spite of them.

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There are going to be people who have negative comments about the choices that the parents of special needs children make. It frustrates me and saddens me.  All of the parenting advice in the world means nothing if you don’t live the life we live.   We are tired and stressed…even on the good days.  It seems like there is very little help out there for us…medical, financial, educational, or emotional…and what help there is takes tons of red tape and road blocks to obtain. Personally, I am also always on guard.  I am always wondering if CJ’s meds are still helping or if things are going to stay calm today or tomorrow or next week.  This can be an emotional trauma on a caregiver.  It is not only in the midst of the tornado that we feel the strain of this life…..the calm can feel pretty windy, too. We can either bend with the wind or let it break us. We need help so there aren’t more caregivers feeling the desperation and breaking the way that Kelli Stapleton did.

Controlling Opinions

I know I don’t usually write about highly political topics and usually stick to my life and personal experiences……however, this post will be about my personal experiences in regard to a highly political topic.

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About 2 years ago I had a conversation with a friend of the family in regard to having guns in the home.  I made the statement that I would never have a gun in my house and was instantly lectured on the rights of all Americans, the constitution and my narrow-minded views.   Not once during the conversation did I say it wasn’t a person’s right to have a gun in their home, not once did I mention my views on their interpretation of American history…..and not once was I asked why I felt the way I did about guns.

I have seen a lot posted on the subject of gun control on Facebook by friends all over the country, yet I stay away from commenting for fear of the same reaction I got 2 years ago.  Opinion is our own truth and your truth isn’t always the same as everyone else’s……but why can’t I voice my own opinions….my own truths without being condemned as un-American? This is the beauty of blogging….this whole page is my truth and my opinion, based on my life experiences.  I didn’t feel I could speak up to defend my choices 2 years ago, but I am going to explain them now.

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Like many people, while growing up, things happened around me that affected my point of view.    A couple of things caused me to fear guns from a young age.  When I was 8, my uncle committed suicide by shooting himself.  I was not aware that he was manic-depressive at the time…….being 8, all I knew was that he was dead because of a gun.  A few years later, my dad’s cousin (whom I never met) was shot by her boyfriend during an argument.  Both of these incidents happened with guns within their homes, not by some stranger invading their space.  These incidents put a fear of weapons in my heart.  By the time I got to high school I found myself bothered by the fact that my Eagle Scout boyfriend was out having paint ball wars.  He would come back with massive welts on him and I thought “even a gun that is meant for gaming is harmful”. My dad even kept 2 antique rifles on the wall.  They weren’t loaded, he didn’t even have ammo for all I know, but I hated them being on the wall.  I never told him…..they are still there.

As I got older, and I became a mom, this fear stuck with me.  I know that all boys play cops and robbers…..cowboys and Indians…etc., but I had a strict ‘no gun’ rule.  My luck was that CJ loved medieval culture and preferred plastic swords anyway.  Once he got older, any toy guns allowed in the house had to look ridiculous…..bright colored Super Soaker water guns, silly looking Nerf guns.  I only broke down once and bought him an antique looking cap gun at a  Civil War re-enactment to use with his costume one Halloween, but bought no caps.  I have always been adamant about not playing video ‘war’ games.  I still will not allow him to own those games.  I am aware that he plays at friend’s houses, but by not having it in our house, he can’t be lost in that world for hours on end.  A lot of people think I am being over-protective because of these rules….I just never wanted him to confuse fantasy with reality.  I never wanted him to become desensitized to the value of life.

I am glad I kept these rules over the years.  It has been less than 2 years since CJ received his bipolar diagnosis, but I knew years before that.  With mental illness comes impulsiveness …..sometimes explosive impulsiveness.  When he is in the midst of a manic rage, he doesn’t know what he is doing.  Last month, my son went through a rough spell.  I knew that things were getting bad and he needed a medication adjustment.  Just days before his appointment, he had a manic episode that  involved an incident where he threatened to harm my husband and then ran to the kitchen for a knife.  My son has threatened to harm himself before, this was the first time he earnestly threatened one of us. By the time he had the knife, they were in 2 different rooms, but I had to make the decision to call the police.  This caused a series of events that put a lot of stress on us as a family. Due to the nature of the incident, the charges were out of our hands.  Finally, last week, the DA called us to tell us that the charges were dropped.   I still plan on carrying out a series of consequences, such as community service, but this is a relief to us all. What if things had been worse?  What if we had a gun in the house?

My decision to not keep a gun in my home is to keep my family safe, to keep my son safe.   The truth is, regardless of what he might do to us in a rage, I am even more worried about what he might do to himself. On average 25% of people with early on-set bipolar disorder will commit suicide, males 4x more than females.  Another truth is; more people shoot themselves with guns than kill other people.  There was a study done following the Sandy Hook shooting that showed in 2010 approximately 30,000 people in the U.S. died due to gunshot wounds……of that  more than 66% were suicides.

So, my choice to not have a gun in my home has nothing to do with debating anyone else’s political beliefs.  It is one of the ways I keep my family safe.  I think my fears when I was younger were a tool that I was given in order to raise this challenged boy in a safe environment.

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So the moral of this story is; if someone has an opinion that is different from your own, maybe you should take the time to listen why, instead of taking the offensive.  This whole world needs to learn how to communicate better, to understand each other’s differences and choices.  Allowing someone to voice their opinion doesn’t mean that you have to give up your own, it just means that you are open-minded enough to accept that theirs is different……and that’s ok.

The Dreaded ‘S’ Word

No, that’s not a typo.  It is ‘S’ word, not ‘F’ word.  In our lives there are a lot of ‘S’ words that I hate. Stupid, Stereotype and Stubborn are on the list, but the most dreaded ‘S’ word for me is Stigma.

Stigma:  A set of negative and often unfair beliefs that society or group of people have about something.

I have had doctors tell me that giving my son a diagnosis of bipolar disorder made them nervous.  They didn’t want him to have the stigma of living with it.  This frustrated me to no end.  Stigma is society’s problem. Regardless of what society thinks, if my son needs the correct diagnosis in order to be treated, then it is a doctor’s responsibility to do so. I wanted to scream “Let me worry, let me deal with public view. Doctors, do your job and help my kid!”.

The problem is: there are too many parents that are afraid of this word.  They fear that the diagnosis will define the child and what everybody thinks of them, and their family.  We know our kids better than anyone. We know that this illness does not define them.  There is so much more to them than this diagnosis. If we don’t start talking, how are other people supposed to know that? And how are other parents going to feel safe enough to get their children the help they need?

Ask. Tell.

After an intense conversation on the phone the other day regarding this topic, my son asked me why stigma was such a big deal.  The only way I could explain it, that seemed to make sense to him, was by explaining the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that plagued our country for almost 20 years. It was essentially telling military personal that you are protected as long as you don’t reveal yourself.  I feel like when there is mental illness in a family, people tend to enforce their own ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy. In my opinion, by doing that, it teaches our children to be ashamed of something that is beyond their control. If we don’t open up about the challenges we face on a daily basis, how do we expect to gain understanding from the world around us.

Start with the community around you: friends, family and teachers. Talk about the struggles you deal with day in and day out, but also talk about the wins. I talk about our bad days a lot, but I also make sure to let people know about our good days and especially our great days.  I am not saying that it always works, some people don’t want to let go of the image they have of mental illness.  That’s when I start using facts and statistics.

Educating Educators

At a recent IEP meeting, we were discussing my son’s increasing number of absences. I was getting a little frustrated.  A lot of people don’t understand the symptoms that come along with bipolar or anxiety disorders.  My son tends to have a lot of stomach issues.  I get called on regular basis from the nurse’s office because he has been vomiting.  He tends to  miss more of his afternoon classes than morning classes.  I brought up the fact that, if my child had been diagnosed with cancer, leniency would be given in this matter.  Because it is a mental illness and not something as visually debilitating, they assume that he is going to function like any healthy kid.

My argument: in 2012, childhood cancer (which they state is the leading cause of death in children) took approximately 1400 lives. That same year, suicide took over 4000 kids under the age of 19. How many of those kids do you think suffered from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or another mental illness that had not been diagnosed? I have read other statistics that stated approximately 25% of children with early onset bipolar disorder will commit suicide. Those numbers are simply too high for me to sit back and watch the world shame these kids for having an illness.  What is most frustrating to me is that with other illnesses such as cancer or diabetes, they are still doing research every day to try to find a cure.  That research has decreased the number of deaths significantly.  With mental illness, however, we know there is no cure, but we have it in our ability to prevent these deaths by making sure patients get treatment.

Parents, doctors and teachers simply need to throw of all of those dreaded ‘S’ words out the window and help these kids get the help they need.  Education goes a long way to start erasing the stigma that society holds.  Yes, there will always be people who judge, that is human nature. If we let other people’s judgment dictate our lives, we will always be in a bubble.  I used to think “Please let us just survive today”, but who just wants to survive? I want to live a full life, I want my son to live a full life.  If it takes me screaming at the top of my lungs, I will use my voice to break down these walls that are surrounding this illness.