What Causes the Behavoir: Teenager Angst or Mental Illness?

When a teenager has a mental illness the fear, at least for me, is when they misbehave, is it just them being a teenager or is this a issue with their mental illness.  I sometimes feel trapped by her behavior and afraid that my punishment will push her down that black hole yet again.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to allow her to get away with the things that I would punish my other children for, but I worry, worry, worry.  What punishment will work and what is going to send her over the edge?  Or is she just using her mental illness to “work the system”?

I am fortunate that I have not had to deal with an major behavior issues with my kids yet.  Just normal not listening, avoiding chores or backtalk.  When I see a teen that has horrible behavior like sneaking out of the house, drug use, or just such disrespect that the teen has control, I struggle to understand how parents let them get away with all of what they do!  I watch Dr Phil and see “normal” families out of control and often wonder what they would be like if you throw bipolar II disorder in the mix.

Oh to be able to parent my children minus mental illness!  Is it as easy as I dream?

Shhhh…. It’s a Secret.

I was only married about two years when my father-in-law made the comment, “People with depression have too much time on their hands.  If they kept busy, they wouldn’t be so depressed.”  It was then I knew that I would keep our family history of mental illness a secret.  And when I was diagnosed with chronic depression three years later, I made my husband promise never to tell anyone in his family.

A little back story on my marriage… I met my husband at nearly 29 years old.  He lived in Alaska (we met through my best friend who I went to visit) and I was living in Connecticut.  Within 6 weeks, he proposed.  The next 11 months, I made wedding plans.  His family was southern protestant and mine was northern Catholic.  So I have struggled for years to be accepted and I am still unsure on how they feel about me.

With my family, I am fairly open about what has been happening with our mental health.  Like I’ve mentioned before, knowing the mental health history is just as important as the medical health history.  But because my in-laws are judgmental and made unfortunate comments about mental illness, I have chosen not to tell them about myself, my daughter or my son.

Any thoughts from the few readers that have come across this page?  How do you handle people close to you that have all the wrong ideas about mental illness?  Do you try to educate, or keep the information hidden in fear of having feelings hurt or being judged? If you are reading this, let me know!

 

So Glad Your Kid Has Made Honor Roll, but I’m Just Glad My Kid Finished the Year!

Oh how I hate the end of the year awards for school!  Don’t get me wrong, I am actually happy for all of my friends and their children, but it brings me down.  While I’m seeing kids my daughter’s age make honor roll, earn volunteer awards and athletic scholar awards, I’m just happy that more daughter is alive.

This past year has been a rough year for us because of my daughter’s mental illness.  We had been treating her for ADHD and depression for about a year, but things were not right.  She had been cutting and had suicidal thoughts.  A year ago, this week, was the first of 5 hospital stays over this past year.  Finally getting her diagnosis correct made things turn around.  And that wasn’t until the 4th hospital stay when she was diagnosed with bipolar II (bipolar depression) and anxiety.

So while all these kids are coming home with certificates because of their outstanding behavior, my child deserves an award for “Knowing More Coping Skills then the Average Human”!  In all honesty, she really deserves an award for “Most Improved at Living”.  She has really turned things around when it comes to her mental health.  Now to work on school and grades!!!!

Doing the Right Thing for Your Kid Sometimes Sucks!

My son’s behavior is hit or miss.  He is a type 1 diabetic and also suffers from ADHD, general anxiety disorder and depression.  His mood can be all over the place.  Sometimes if the wind blows the wrong way, so will his mood.  Because of this, his education suffers.  It is not because he lacks intelligence.  He is actually very bright.  Unfortunately, he does not produce work consistently.  Therefore, his grades suffer.

Since he is moving to middle school next year, we had to make a choice of sending him to his base school along with all of his classmates, or moving him to another school that has an alternative program for children that are dealing with emotional disabilities.  This was a very difficult choice for my husband and I.  We only moved to this area last year and our son just made new friends.  He wants to go to school with is friends and we want the best learning environment.

Tonight we told him that he would be going to the alternative school.  It was the hardest thing I’ve done so far.   He is so mad at us.  He thinks we are doing this to him, but we are doing this for him.

The evening has ended with grunting, stomping, tears, breaking things and the big ending of “I hate you”!  I’m so hurt.  Trying to remember that he is just lashing out and hurt.  But this is when it sucks.  When I am sitting here crying because I can’t give my son what he wants. I know this to shall pass, but for now, I’m having my own pity party.

Awesome Con DC is Awesome at ADA

I have not posted over the weekend for an amazing reason!  My family LOVES SciFi and my husband loves comic books and my kids love anime!  AwesomeCon has all of this and so much more!!!!  Since Awesome Con is run by volunteers, I volunteered and had a AWESOME time!!!  Not only did I meet two of my favorite actors, David Tennat and Catherine Tate from Doctor Who fame), but my daughter had an amazing time and it was because of the amazing features they had for those with emotional disablitities.  Most conventions like this, and other large events, have resources in place for those with visual, audio and physical disabilities.  What AwesomeCon did this weekend absolutely amazed me!  And it was a pleasant surprise!

I do not have anxiety and I will never pretend to understand it.  I get nervous before speaking to a crowd, but nothing that I would consider that is outside the “norm”.  My daughter and my son have general anxiety disorder.  For my daughter, crowds are okay as long as she can move around, but when crowds get tight… like waiting in line, I worry!!  For my son, noise and crowds are difficult in general.  So much so, that I did not have him attend AwesomeCon this year.  But now that I know what is set up, I will take him next year!!

A booth was set up at the registration area to all with “special needs”.  It was staffed with lovely people who were able to let us know that there was a quiet room available if she needed to get out of the craziness of the convention to relax and calm down.  And if at anytime someone could come and get someone to help if she need assistance on the floor.  Knowing this is a great relief!!  I feel like I can bring my son and he can know that if he is overwhelmed that he can recover without having to leave the event.  (And we have left plenty of places because of his anxiety!)  They also had other things into place to help us along.  So if you have a child with an emotional disability, this is the Sci Fi/Anime/Comic convention that you can feel confident to bring your child too!

I have already let the organizers know how much I appreciated this feature at AwesomeCon!!  It made my daughter’s time at AwesomeCon even better.  She met one of her heroes and I could not wipe the smile off her face!

And as a side note, I am sure that the organizers at AwesomeCon could use volunteers with special abilities to help with this area.  People who are fluent in ASL (American Sign Language), those who deal with any disabilities where someone could use a hand in crowded areas and even those who deal with those with anxiety, like my kids, to help calm them, if needed, when they are overwhelmed.  I would be more than happy to get you in touch with the right people for next year’s AwesomeCon (March 30-April 1, 2018).

 

 

My Kid Does Not Fit in Your Box!

I am the mother for four school aged children.  While there are similarities, each of them are different in how they learn and what they excel in.  While living in England and seeing different education styles of the teachers, I realized how some of their  teachers taught to my child’s strengths.  There are so many things from the English school system that I would love to incorporate into the US system.  My kids would be so happy!

So here I am 5 years later and I have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for three of my four children.  As an ignorant parent, I thought that an IEP was only for children who had learning disabilities.  Oh how wrong I was!!!  My rising 2nd grader has one for a speech impediment and that I thought was normal.  For rising 7th and 10th graders, we started with 504 plans.  In simple terms, a 504 plan is part of an anti-discrimination act that makes sure that kids with ADHD, Diabetes, vision or hearing problems, etc.  For my oldest daughter, (ADHD, bipolar depression, anxiety) we felt that this was enough, at first, to make sure she had the resources to learn.  What I found out later, was that she needed more.  When you qualify for special education and IEP under the section of “other health impaired” (OHI), it opens up so many more services for my child.  Part of her IEP includes being in classrooms that have two teacher’s instead of one.  Why?  Because my daughter cannot handle an unruly classroom.  She learns very well in a classroom setting (she’s a visual and audio learner), but if there is not classroom control, she can’t learn.  My son, the rising 7th grader, started with a 504 because of his type 1 diabetes.  Unfortunately, diabetes can be linked to anxiety (click here for one study).  As we moved for with school we had other issues that could not be helped and he now has an IEP for OHI and his ADHD.  What the OHI has done is open services for them to go to a quiet space or a counselor to talk through what is causing a problem now.  The overall goal is for them to stay in the classroom 100% of the time and these support systems help them get there.

So for next year, my rising 2nd grader will have speech therapy.  The rising 6th grader has no accommodations and is excited about what is to come!  The rising 7th grader will be attending an alternative middle school that has services that are there to deal with children with emotional disabilities that struggle to learn in a traditional learning environment, but do not have learning disabilities.  His classes will be made up of team taught classes (one general education and one special education teacher) and self-contained special education classes that will be smaller in size and help him to concentrate better on the topics that he struggles with.  And finally, the rising 10th grader will be at her regular high school and will be in team taught classes for her core subjects for a less hectic environment.

I figure if Peter Pan can fly with Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust, my kids will succeed with Faith, Trust and Prayer!!!

And just a note for those who cringe when they think of their child being labeled “special education”…  Special Education is for all students that are taught outside of a regular general education program.  So that means students from those when the most severe learning disabilities to the students in the gifted and talented program are special education.  And best yet, none of them wear a label!

Doesn’t Everyone Keep the Kitchen Knives Locked Up in the Master Bedroom Closet?

***WARNING***  I’m discussing my daughter’s self-harm by cutting in the post.  I do not want to trigger anyone, so please proceed with caution. 

My daughter, who is now 15, starting self-harm behaviors when she was 12.  I found out about it when she admitted it to her first therapist.  After a hospital visit and change of medication, I thought it was done.  Oh how wrong I was!  We just started on this journey.

The signs were there, but I just tossed it up as her being a teenager.  She long sleeves all the time, no matter what the temperature was!!  Hoodies over t-shirts saying she just felt cold.  No skirts or shorts that would expose her thighs.  I really thought it was a style choice.  She did not look different than most of her peers!  That was until she was able to finally show me what she did to herself.

I could not wrap my mind around it.  Cutting your skin, drawing blood, damaging yourself.  How?  Why?  When?  I was in shock!

What I was able to do, was not overreact.  I did cry… right in front of her.  But I did not yell at her.  I think this was important.  I learned from my own experience as a teenager wandering through life not feeling right, that if I was yelled at by my mother, I wouldn’t come to here with anything again that would, as I viewed it, “get me in trouble”.  My mother’s words still echo in my head… “you have nothing to be depressed about”.  I wanted my child(ren) to always feel as if they could come to me.  I’ve always said, even if I cry,  yell, get mad, I will always love you and don’t want you not to come to me.  Yelling is a trigger for my daughter, so I try not to yell.  I can still get my point across without yelling.  And it is not easy!  In general, I am a loud person.  So even if I don’t think I’m yelling, she may thing I am.

If she slips and cuts again, she now comes to me.  She trusts me.  Trust is so important.  We clean the area and put bandages on if we need too.  It hurts my heart every time.  I tell I would rather her come to me when she has the urge to self-harm, but if she cuts, she needs to come to me so it doesn’t get infected.  When we finish, I hug her (often one-sided), tell her I love her, she leaves the room and I shut the door so I can cry.  She tells me that by the time she comes to me, she already feels guilty about what she as done.  I don’t want her to see my disappointment to make the guilt worse.

Now to rid our house of things she could cut herself with was a different story.  First the obvious, you remove all the knives from the kitchen.  Okay done… except ever time you need a knife for the kitchen (and I love to cook) I have to go into the master bedroom closet.  (Try explaining that to your friends!)  Then we took all the scissors we could find and they joined the knives.  I really thought that was it.  But folks that self-harm are sneaky!!  Next it was the paperclips and pushpins!  And just for safe measure, we have key locks on the master bedroom closet door and the utility room.  WHEW!  Got them all, or so I thought!  The first time she found a screw my husband left out.  I was shocked.  The next couple of times, it was a pushpin.  I swear I locked them all up!  I was wrong.  My son, an avid builder of all things, had a box of pushpins in his bedroom that he used for many things.  She saw them and would go in his bedroom and take one when she had the urge.  One more thing to note, we replaced her shaving blades with an electric razor.
It has been a few months since she has cut.  She still wears long sleeves to cover her arms.  The only time I panicked was when we went to get mani/pedi’s.  The nail tech went to massage her are when she was done and felt the scars and then looked.  Fortunately, she only gasped slightly and continued doing her job.

My daughter says that people react differently and hope that they just don’t ask.  She’s not ready for that… and I’m not either.

I’m NOT medicating my child!

I have been one of those parents that have never planned on medicating my children (with the exceptions of when they are sick).  You know when they say, “never say never”.  Oh boy how our lives have changed!

While I still believe that you should try all options before medicating a child for things like ADHD and Depression.  For my son, we eliminated all red dyes and had great improvement, but it wasn’t a perfect fix.  I also cook 90% of the food from scratch in my home, so all my kids have a decent diet.  I have always tried to have a few preservatives and additives as I could in our families diet.  But after trying all other possible ideas (diet, punishments, rewards), something had to change.

My son was getting violent.  He would bang his head on the floor, break books, clipboard and crumble paper.  It got bad enough that he even flipped desks, tables and chairs.  I didn’t know what my child had become.  So first, we were able to send him to an alternative school that dealt with children with behavioral issues.  While there, we had his past and current teachers use the Vanderbilt Assessment Scale to assess my child.  My husband and I also rated him.  He had ADHD and nothing we did at home was going to help him without trying medication.  His therapist (who we had him see because of his behavior) also felt that he could be suffering from depression and general anxiety disorder.   Along with his pediatrician, we started him on Concerta.*  After a few weeks of working with his teachers, his doctors and his therapist, we found the right dose.  It was like a prayer was answered.  Still, he was not in the best place he should be.  We continued on for a while working with his team and decided to add Zoloft* and Lamictal*.  The dose amounts had to be worked with, but in the end, we have an amazing boy who is doing increasingly better.  For now we are dealing with behaviors that have become habits for him and working with his therapist to create the best person we now he can be.

If you are afraid of medication, don’t be.  Use an open mind and talk to your medical professionals that can help you determine what is best for your child.  Up until now, as I am typing this, it has taken over 3 years to get to this point.  Nothing is an overnight fix. Be patient and do what is best to help you raise the best person you can!

 

*This is not an advertisement, but just what worked for my child.  For informational purposes only.

 

Let’s Start… Before the Beginning

I know that sounds odd that I am starting before the beginning, but family medical history is important!  I never realized how important until I was a mother with children suffering from mental illness.  So let’s stress this right now!  Find out your family’s medical history and include mental illnesses!  Even if you have been told that Auntie Jane was a Nervous Nellie.  It can mean something.

I’m going to start with my father’s family.  A lot of this has been patched together by family stories and genealogy research.  He did not have a perfect upbringing, but it wasn’t abusive to our knowledge.  What I do know is that my grandfather was raised by a single mother (his dad died when he was about 7) who had been a “lady of the evening” to support her family.  (Talk about a shocker find in the family tree!)  She had been married 3 times, had 4 children and one of them was a product of her profession.  Her older two children eventually left her custody and were raised by their paternal grandparents.  I can only imagine the lifestyle my grandfather had growing up.  My grandmother’s family seemed like any other in book.  The only hint of mental illness that I can track down is that my grandmother was prescribed phenobarbital in the 1950’s.   I am not even sure why it was prescribed, but I know that now it is only prescribed for people with epilepsy.

My father was diagnosed with depression in the 1960’s after he married my mom.  Mom said he came close to a nervous breakdown.  I do not know the complete history of the medications he took, but he did take Valium and it made him sick.  Over time, he found ways of dealing with his depression through therapy, a good woman (my mom) and the guidance of Jesus Christ.  He spoke often of how that trio was the reason he was the man he was.  He eventually was given Effexor XR for depression and it worked very well and his quality of life became so much better!  Unfortunately, his sister’s were not as lucky.  One sister was very mean and bitter.  She lived her life with a sense of entitlement and every encounter was about what was in it for her.  Long story short, her behavior created children with mental illnesses that have had long-lasting effects.  The other sister was always referred to as “simple”.  I believe that my aunt was most likely on the autism spectrum disorder.  Among the 1st cousins, and there are just over a dozen of us, we have depression, anxiety, anger issues, drug abuse, sexual abuse and alcohol abuse.  I contribute the substance abuse to self medicating.  Only a few of us have not mental illness or were smart enough to seek help.

As for my mom’s family, I never thought anyone had any mental illness, but I was wrong.  My mom’s aunt always seemed nervous and an uncle committed suicide.  And now, we believe that they both may have suffered from a bipolar disorder (either bipolar or bipolar depression).  A cousin of mom’s, it is believed, had a bipolar or bipolar depression.  And I do know that a second cousin of mine, from the same branch of the tree does have bipolar disorder.  Since bipolar disorders are a complex genetic disorder, it is so important to know if it is in your family.  Knowing this changed how we treated my daughter’s illness.

And then there is me… I’ll say I’m the beginning.  I was diagnosed with depression after the birth of my 2nd child.  When what they thought was postpartum depression did not go away after 4 months, I was sent to a psychiatrist.  It was the best thing that I ever did.  After 3 months and many medications, I opted to stop breastfeeding my son so that I could be the best mom I could be.  Happy, bottle-feeding mom trumped depressed, breast-feeding mom.  I needed to stop breast feeding so that I could take Effexor XR – the same medication my father was taking.  Once we got the dosage correct, I was amazed at the new world that I found.  And looking back, I should have been diagnosed in my teens, but I will share my journey as we move forward.

As life has moved forward, I now have a 15-year-old daughter that has been diagnosed with ADHD, Bipolar Depression, and General Anxiety Disorder, a 12-year-old son with Type 1 Diabetes, ADHD, Depression and General Anxiety Disorder, a 10-year-old daughter who has not diagnoses, and finally a 7-year-old daughter with a speech impediment.

Raising a family like this has it’s good and bad moments.  I hope this helps someone.