Raising a child with ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Anxiety

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Welcome to Mothers on the Frontline Podcast. Today, as part of our Just Ask Mom Series,we listen to a Mom of a 9 year old diagnosed with ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Anxiety in 2014.

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Tammy: Tell us a little bit about yourself before or outside of mothering, who are you, what do you love, what do you love to do?

Mom: I love yoga. I’m a very fanatic yogi and what has happened with my son has really put me in touch with yoga and with mindfulness so I really like to do that. I like to walk, I like to do gardening and I just overall, am a very positive person, and I like to just have fun.

Tammy: Well that’s wonderful, it’s wonderful. So I want you to pretend you’re talking to parents. What do you want them to know about your experiences? What can you share that may be helpful for them to know?

Mom: So in 2014, my son was officially diagnosed with ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder ODD and anxiety, and we have been going through a struggle which started actually with him in preschool. Where we had seen some of the signs but we weren’t quite sure.He also has allergies, and because of that, he had to be on steroids sometimes.So it was very hard to figure out what is normal to 3-year-old behavior, what is induced by being on steroids and what is behavior that is cause for concern.And at that time too when I would be talking to my parents-in-law, often they would say like, well, you know your husband was just the same when he was little. But then after a while, we were really starting to struggle. It was hard for us sometimes to enjoy weekends. Where you’re looking forward to Monday because it’s so draining, emotionally draining to be around your little guy.And there comes a huge guilt complex with that because you feel like it’s your fault, you’re not doing something right. And after a while, my husband and I,we were just like, we need help. And at the time he was in daycare which also had a preschool tied to it. They were very open to working with us, so we, theysaid like, we’ll have somebody from the AEA [Area Education Agency] come in, evaluate, and then we’ll just see what happens. We did that. There was some cause for concern and then we also, on our own reached out to psychologist and start working with her. And then in 2014, by the year before he went to kindergarten, he got officially diagnosed. So which was for us, a lot of things sort of all the puzzle pieces start to come together. And we were just relieved in a way. But then, on the other hand, it’s like there’s a huge learning curve. Because now it’s like, I know what it is, but what do I need to know? So…

Tammy: Right. So, for parents who are out there who are starting their journey, they haven’t had the diagnosis yet or ones that have just got it. Like what could you talk about in terms of barriers that you have faced that had been hard for you to get your child the help he needs?

Mom: Personally for myself, I think I was the biggest barrier because sometimes you’re in denial and you think like oh it’s just the age. It will be okay. This will, well, will resolve itself down the line but it’s not. So it just, once you come to that realization and also give yourself a break. I think sometimes as parents,we all try to do a really good job but we’re only humans too but we’re really hard on ourselves. And a lot with mental illness diagnosis, there’s a lot of shame I think sometimes connected to it as well.

Tammy: Absolutely.

Mom:So people or parents it holds them back at that shame but it’s okay to ask for help.

Tammy: Absolutely.

Mom: And I think that sometimes that was a barrier for myself. Like I’m always being very independent. I’m a go-getter. I just get things done myself. But there was a point that I reach that I was like I don’t want to live like this. This is not normal. If I’m doing something wrong I need help and I need somebody to let me know, how I need to adjust my parenting style because I want to enjoy the time I spent together with my little guy.

Tammy: You brought up several things that are really important. I mean one is it’s really confusing and you don’t get to have a control. You have a kid, you don’t get to have a scientific control and say okay what really is causing this. Let’s change some variables.No, and especially for those of us who, it’s our only or first child. It can even be, we don’t know what normal is and it’s such a wide range. So it’s hard to know if this is neurotypical development or it’s something we should pay attention to. Is it just quirky or is it something that’s problematic that they need help with. So that’s just hard to know. You also brought up another element which is the shame, right? And so asking for help and the third thing is if your child, there’s something going on, we often have to adapt. So it isn’t that our parenting is wrong, it’s our parenting is wrong for the child with this neurology.

Mom: Exactly.

Tammy: So there’s no one right way to parent. It depends on the child’s needs. I love that you brought up all that. I just wanted to go back over that because I think that’s a really important for us trying to go through it. It gets all mingled up. So I love that. 

Mom: And that was what I had too. I was going by how I was raised by my mom and dad, and I think they did a superb job, but I was a very easy kid. I will always, I listened, I didn’t fuss a lot and I was also raised and I think a lot of people of our generation are raised like that. If mom and dad ask you something, you do it and that was the hardest for me. Like why is my kid not listening to me? And because of his ODD diagnosis, he’s not as much defiant towards the dad but it’s more towards me.Which is weird too because they always say like they will be less defiant to the authoritative person in the relationship but that’s actually me [laughs] who’s the one that [inaudible]. He’s like yeah if go to mommy and asked her that, I’m not going to get away with that. I’ll just go to dad. [laughs]

Tammy: [laughs] You know but that’s another thing. Just like all kids and all human beings they are different with different people and it can be really, it can hurt our feelings.Like it can be really hard when we’re the ones seeing the symptoms, right? And so that can be really hard and often it could be because we’re the parent they feel safe with or the person they feel safe with in terms of they know they’re not going to not love me if I act up. As opposed to like a stranger, a teacher or something like that. They might hold it in more or something. Yeah. No. It’s really hard. So, same thing. Thinking about parents out there, what has worked really well in getting help for your child? What had been some successes or things you’re like, thank goodness that that happened or is available or–?

Mom: The number one thing for me was first, I had to change myself before I was able to help my son. I had to let goof control. I had to let go of worrying and that goes often with control because you want to know, oh, what’s going to happen then? Well, how is this journey going to be? Is it always going to be like this? And after a while, I just let go of all of that. I’d lived day by day. I take one day at a time. If we sometimes have a bad day, I always say, tomorrow is another day and we start with a clean slate. And I tell my son that as well. For myself too, I let go of emotions because I had such an emotional kid, and he still is but we’ve really worked hard with him on helping gauge his emotions better or that he’s just more aware of them and then he will be able to stop himself. And I think sometimes maturity helps with it as well. But at the time when we were struggling, I would always get like asking put your shoes on. It was like World War III. And it’s the battle you engage and you get worked up and you get upset and you start yelling which I hate to do or you hear yourself the whole time just saying no, no, you can’t do this because he’s like all over the place.That for me was just letting go of that control and just being aware of that.Like I’m not going to go invest my emotions in that. I’m going to be very patient. I’m just going to take a step back and stay calm. And that has really helped like it’s not always successful.

Tammy: It’s not easy. 

Mom: Sometimes I have to dig really,really, really deep or I’m thinking like, oh, I really want to do this or this and this right now but no, I don’t look good in orange so I’m not going to do that. But then again, that helps me just sometimes to get through it because the sense of humor. Just being aware of like this is a very tough situation and I’m just trying to do my best. And sometimes I can’t do that and I walk away.And I give myself that break then I’m just like I can’t handle this. I just walk away and it’s okay. 

Tammy: It’s not only okay it’s great modeling for your son. 

Mom: I try to. Yeah.

Tammy: And it’s really important for you and me and all mothers and caregivers. It’s wonderful that you’re doing that. But it’s hard. 

Mom: It is hard. It is extremely hard and sometimes you feel like I am on top of the world, I got this down, I like my new parenting style, I become calmer, more patient, I don’t let my emotions get a hold of me that much anymore and other days you’re just like oh,I suck at this. 

Tammy: Right now, it sounds like you’re talking about when it was really rough, but even when things are going well, we recognize, they change from moment to moment and so we like to ask right now, do you feel like you’re swimming, drowning, treading water, where are you at right now?

Mom: I feel like I’m swimming but I also know due to his ADHD and his ODD, especially at the beginning of the school year can be quite challenging. He knows the principal, he knows his special ed teacher but it’s always like he has a new teacher. So he tries to kind of figure out like what can I get away with and this is where the behavioral issues like the defiance will come in. He doesn’t want to do his math which he’s really good at but he has a love-hate relationship with it. And he’s just trying to testing the waters so I know maybe by next week, the week after that, we’re going to hit that wall where they’re going to say well, he did this today and he did that today and then after a while, by October,November, he’ll be like, no, the teacher, she sticks to her guns. I can’t manipulate her. I’ll just comply. I’ll just do my math. I’m good but I always am aware of that. Like last year, we hit a wall again to where his medication that he was on for his anxiety was not working anymore. So we really saw, because he was older, so we had to switch medications.

Tammy: Which happens a lot when kids are developing. 

Mom: Yes, exactly because the current dose like what he was on was no longer working and we just saw certain behaviors reappear again that we were like, oh, we thought we were done with this. But then we were aware of that and then we informed the school about it.We said we’re going to go to the psychiatrist. We’re going to explain this and probably we’ll switch medications which happened but then most of his medications, it takes about at least four to six weeks so we communicate that to the school. That was like hang in there. We know it’s rough. We’re with you because what you’re experiencing in school, we’re experiencing at home but then the medication started to work and he’s been doing great. So I know down the line, we will always hit rough patches but I’m aware of that. It’s almost like an expectation that I know like, yeah, we’ll go there.

Tammy: Let’s talk about that a minute because I think that’s really important. It seems to me a common thing, I know in my own experience when I talk to other mothers and other caregivers. The first time is devastating when you first have symptoms and then things happen maybe a therapy, maybe a medication, things seem to do a little better and then things happen again and that seems to me the most devastating because you first thought we’ve knocked this like we have this imagination–

Mom: We got this down.

Tammy: — we solved it.

Mom: Yeah. We solved it. [laughs]

Tammy: Like it’s cured. No. And so but then there’s a kind of confidence that comes with going through a few cycles knowing you can do this. You got it. It’s hard but you got through in the past. You’ll get through again. Take it a day at a time. That’s how you doit so I think that’s a really important thing for people to hear who are just having the first time or what I think is even harder is that second time things start to get rough. To know it will ebb and flow and you’re okay, you’re gonna be okay. 

Mom: Yeah. Exactly. And it was how you described it. That’s exactly how it is because I think even if you get a diagnosis in a way you have the expectations. You’re like I know it’s really rough right now but later on, they will be okay and all of this is just magically going to go away. No, it’s not. It’s just going to be a day they become older. A lot of again, maturity helps a lot with some of the disabilities that my son has but my husband actually got diagnosed a year afterwards because he said, well, I’ve been having a lot of these struggles that I seen in our little guy. And a lot of the behaviors I was like that when I was little. So I think I’m going to get myself tested as well. So he has ADHD as well but it was a good thing. It was kind of knowing like and for him especially, going on medication, that helps so much.

Tammy: And this is another common thing. It happens for a lot of parents because there’s a lot of genetic passing down many of this conditions and our generation and generations before us didn’t have the knowledge and the outreach on these issues so I know many people who are getting diagnosed after their kids are doing it. It can help everybody so much. So that’s really wonderful that happened.

Mom: For us, it’s been a real, areal positive like you go through that, you sat on that journey and then you were like a lot of things and especially for my husband, a lot of things started to make sense in his world as well then. And then some of it was a little bit grief knowing that I remember when he went the first day on his medication, by noon, he said like I’ll never forget it. Wow, is this what it feels like to be normal? And then the second thing that he said was, I wish I would have had this medication when I was in college. And that to me just showed how much of a struggle it can be and that explains also the stigma that is still on mental disabilities because often people, they will look at a person, they’re like, well, I don’t see anything wrong with them.

Tammy: Invisible disabilities are tough. 

Mom: It’s really tough and then there’s the behavioral issues and then kids start to act out but then if you don’t understand the disability like people are well, why are they doing this wrong? It’s okay. It’s normal because I always say, there’s a lady that actually wrote a book this year which I’m a big fan of and I would strongly recommend to parents, especially to moms to read it. It’s Differently Wired:Raising An Exceptional Child in a Conventional World. It’s by Deborah Reber. And she calls her kid differently wired.

Tammy: I like that.

Mom: And I call my kid differently wired too or an atypical kid. It’s like they’re just a little bit differently wired. Their brains make a little bit, there’s different connections in there but overall, they’re still good kids. They’re fun kids. Because I think sometimes there are so much attention is being given to their negative behaviors and these kids so much need to positive reinforcement. They needed so much more than your regular wired kid. 

 Tammy: Absolutely. Absolutely. And Ithink that’s true and also sometimes, the differently wired comes with benefits that we don’t talk about enough too. I think that’s one the things as well. Sowe’ve been talking a lot about your journey with your child but what is yourself-care routine or more appropriate survival technique? I know you mentioned yoga and mindfulness which are so key I’m sure. So do you want to talk a little bit more about that? How does that help you or are there things you do to sort of take care of you?

 Mom: Sometimes it’s easier thanother times. I feel sometimes when things are going really good, you’re very motivated to go to yoga class and being mindful but I notice when there is survival awareness or survival mode. It’s like I’m tired. I don’t want to go do this.No, I don’t feel happy right now. I don’t want to go to a yoga class but for me, if I’m aware of it and I can have that conversation with myself then I push myself to yes, you got to leave everything right now because you talking to yourself or having this little mind games going on, that means you need to get your butt to yoga and go relax for an hour and then usually, by the end of that class, I’m like, oh, I so needed this. [laughs]

Tammy: I’m me again. [laughs]

 Mom: And for me also, I have greatfriends. They understand. They’re part of my gang. They don’t judge and sometimes when I’m struggling because at sometimes you don’t want to necessarily talk to your husband because you’re going through the same thing.You’re talking about it but you always need that perspective. You always need to talk to other people that have gone through the same experiences or understands and that really helps like when I’m sometimes struggling and I’m like, oh, what am I doing wrong? Or not just that. You just hit a rough spot again. I just I’m like okay, we’re going to have breakfast. Get together with my friends and then after a two-hour talk, I’m like, I got this. 

Tammy: That’s a really good point because as you said it changes and I know with my own sisterhood of friends,right? We’ve been lucky that we’re not all crashing at the exact same moment somehow. I don’t know how that works out. It’s only happened once where we’re all like oh, no, what do we do? We’re all drowning right now but so you’re right. Because if you’re talking to someone like a spouse, a partner, even a mother or father, if they’re helping you take care of your children, if they’re involved with it and they’re going through the same thing at the same moment,they’re going through it too. So having that outside group that understands is so helpful to have that support and I think that’s right. So we like to end with this question. And we feel like anyone raising kids, this has nothing to do with neurotypical or not. There are some funny things those kids have done or that have happened in our lives that make us smile. So we like to ask, what is your most laughable moment when you think about your experience with your son? Anything that makes you smile or–?

Mom: He just makes me, he’s got a great sense of humor. I’m always so surprised because sometimes you get so much negative feedback what goes on in school and the school he goes to, they’re really great about also they celebrate the good things and we tell them to please don’t only you tell us when things are going wrong. We need to hear it when he is doing great because at school, they make a big deal about it and we make a big deal about it at home too. And usually, it’s a sense of humor. He will say this, I can’t quite recall thing but he’s just funny. There’s one thing, yeah. When he was little, I have a friend and she’s called Mary and she would come and babysit him at times just when we wanted to go get a break or,and she was very understanding. She was unjudging or anything and he knew howto handle him. And then one time, I was like yeah, Mary is coming a later on and he’s like Mary? He’s like, my Mary? And I’m like, yeah, and he looked at me very seriously and he’s like well, you need to get your own Mary. 

Tammy:

[laughs]

I love it.

Mom: And I’m like, okay. 

Tammy: No sharing Mary. [laughs]

Mom: No. 

Tammy: That’s great. Well, I really want to thank you for taking the time to talk to us and share your story and really appreciate hearing about it and how you and your family are doing. So thank you.

Mom: Thank you for giving me the opportunity. 

Tammy: Thanks. 

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You have been listening to the  “Just Ask Mom” series, part of the Mothers on the Frontline Podcast, copyrighted in 2018.Today’s podcast host was Tammy Nyden. The music is “Olde English”, written,performed, and recorded by FlameEmoji. For more podcasts in this and other series relating to children’s mental health, go to MothersOnTheFrontline.com or subscribe to “Mothers on the Frontline” on ITunes, Android, Google Play,Sticher, and Spotify. Mothers on the Frontline is a non-profit 501 (c)(3)organization that uses storytelling for caregiver healing and children’s mental health advocacy. We strive to reduce stigma, educate the public, and influence positive policy change through our podcast series and storytelling workshops.We are currently working with Grinnell College to document and archive stories of lived experience with the school to prison pipeline, an issue importantly connected to children’s mental health and wellbeing. If you would like to support our work, please visit our website and make a tax deductible donation at mothersonthefrontline.com.

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You are everybody you’ve ever been, Just Ask Mom Series episode 19

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In this episode, Diana shares her experience mothering a 17 year old daughter with anxiety and depression.

Mentioned on this episode:

NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://www.nami.org/

Transcription

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Voiceover: Welcome to the Just Ask Mom podcast where mothers share their experiences of raising children with mental illness. Just Ask Mom is a mother’s on the frontline production. Today we will listen to Diana, an Iowa parent with a 17-year-old daughter with anxiety and depression.

Tammy: Tell us a little bit about yourself before or outside of mothering. What are your passions? Who are you? What do you love?

Diana: Well, I enjoy biking and taking long bike rides, not competitively or anything but just kind of peddling along. I enjoy yoga and take some time for that when I can, and I enjoy writing.

Tammy: Wonderful. Do you like creative writing, journaling, what kind of stuff do you do?

Diana: All of that. I used to write for the newspaper when I’m just column and just kind of a life in the day of life and of mom, and that was fine.

Tammy: That’s wonderful, it’s great. I want you to pretend that you’re talking to people who just haven’t had any direct experience with mental illness –   whether in their own life or anyone else in their direct family or friends- they just haven’t had to deal with it. What would you like them to know about your experience?

Diana: What I would like them to know beyond just my experience and just in general but particularly with me if you see me, is that it isn’t always what you think it is and it doesn’t always look how you think it’s supposed to look. Please don’t make the assumption that we might be wrong or dramatic or overreacting, and I know it might seem like that at times, but please just put compassion first and really trust that somebody who is living a situation particularly with their own child, their own family member. They are the expert and if they say something that doesn’t really make sense to you based on what you observe of that child or that person, please just be compassionate and believe that there’s probably a lot going on under the surface or things that you don’t understand about it, and appreciate their honesty and being able to share.

Tammy: Absolutely. Can you think of examples of where people have just not seen –  like they see it one way but something else is going on  – so that you just wish you could just sort of scream?

Diana: Every day.

[laughter]

Diana: Every day. An example that comes to mind is a parent-teacher conference in which I was trying once again to gently and with a friendly face remind teachers that my daughter has a 504 plan, and that she has these accommodations and that they’re legally required to provide those to her. We were having a little difficulty and the teacher said, “Well, I just don’t think she’s anxious, I mean I don’t see it. I don’t think she has anxiety, frankly”, which is kind of a classic example. I actually appreciate the candor that that teacher showed because there are other people who are more passive about it but they certainly seem to be indicating that maybe my hyper-vigilance is causing anxiety. That’s tough to take, it’s a little insulting. There are people who sell my daughter short and kind of limit her based on, “Well if she’s really anxious then maybe she should just do this and not even try this other thing”.

Tammy: I think it’s a really good point because mental illness is portrayed a certain way in the media and movies and all this kind of thing. The assumption is you could see and know what is going on with someone, but someone could be going through a whole lot and look fine on the outside sometimes, or at least be able to do that for a small amount of time whether at school, at work or what have it. Right? It would be easy for someone to not notice because they’re not living with it day to day.

Diana: Right. I think that my daughter is very much like that. I think that girls, in general, are designed with being a people pleaser in mind more often, and so you might not see what you think you’re supposed to see if somebody has mental illness. I will see and hear all about it –  let me assure you  – when the wheels come off the bus later when they’re at home which is their safe space and you know which is that.

Tammy: Talk about that because that’s what I think people don’t understand for so many of us our kids. As soon as they get home to where it’s safe or to the people they’re safe with all hell breaks loose as they say, it gets really rough because finally, they can let go of what they need to from the whole day. Is that something you experienced?

Diana: Yeah, I have experienced that since she started school, honestly since she was five years old. The very first thing that she would report and it was a daily, and I never even put it together the those from school was, “I have a tummy ache”. Like I would say, “How’s school?” and look over and pickup, “How is school, it was good, I have a tummy ache”, every day. So, I went to the pediatrician. Anyway, so the point is that it’s very long-standing and it was a long road for even the medical professionals to realize that it wasn’t physical. Well, it was a physical ailment but what might be underneath it because a child of that age lacks the words or then even knowledge of what it is. But I think going back to what I said earlier about “Please don’t diagnose us or say that I might be part of the problem”, well, if she’s only doing this around you, what is only doing around me because she can. She knows that I will still love and accept her no matter what, and she is barely holding it together – and so are a ton of other people in school every day or at work even. They’re just waiting to be able to come undone because they perceive that to be successful and functional in our society that they have to assimilate. They have to be like the other people around them and so they’re exhausted by the time they get home because not only they had to face several stressors throughout the day, they’ve also had to pretend to feel like other people who aren’t experiencing it.

Tammy:  They’re exerting a tremendous amount of energy. They’re not only in pain internally, they’re exerting so much amount of energy all day long. They get home, they’re exhausted. So what does mom get? Mom gets the exhausted –  so you get the full meltdown? So, us moms, we get all that, so we’re stressed and tired because we have that sometimes full time.

Diana: Right, and then we are the crazy person because we then get on the email at 10 o’clock at night. “The following is what my daughter perceives happened today.” I realized because sometimes I would get emails where they were assuring me that wasn’t the case, I know that’s not the case. I’m relaying to you that that’s what she thinks happened and so please have some compassion tomorrow when you see her again, love up on her, and those kinds of things. You really do come across as the crazy parent because A, they don’t see that and B, as we exhibited, they get late-night seemingly insane emails from a parent.

Tammy: Right, and they’re not seeing what you’re going with your child. I just think there are so many levels of what you just said that’s so important  – that it’s invisible, and we do sound hysterical a lot of the times. But ultimately this is the life of our kid on the line. So, of course, we feel that way, right?

Diana: Yes, and I think that every– well, I want to say teacher but it probably goes beyond that and society, but people who are part of a system should be forced to watch like a documentary or receive some basic level of training on some of these things that they might not know. Because I think if you saw it you wouldn’t question me anymore. You’d be like, “Holy God, that was awful”.

Tammy: It’s not like what it looks like on TV right. I always joke I wish my son had TV autism or TV bipolar, or TV something because it’s done in a half hour and wrapped up then nicely, everything’s solved, right?

Diana: Yes.

Tammy: In real life, it doesn’t feel that.

Diana: Or it goes in one direction on TV. That’s another thing that I would say to people who don’t live this journey, something that I can share is, “Please don’t assume that there is a trajectory and we’re moving across like in one direction. How are things going is a minute-to-minute if not day by day conversation, and so please forgive me when I seem frustrated”. If you say to me, “Well, she seemed like she was so much better. She seemed like she was feeling better”. She did. That was two days ago.

Tammy: I think that’s so important too because as a caregiver isn’t that disruptive and hard to plan and all that because you never know what the day’s going to bring. It’s not like you can say, “We passed this phase, now we’re here”. It’s constantly coming from different directions.

Diana: I have said is like chasing a chicken around a barnyard. That is the movement, it is every single way. Her dad texted me because he was out of state and he had been gone a few days. He said, “How is she doing?”, and I said, “Lots of different ways. You missed four whole days, she has had 18 different plateaus”

Tammy: “In the last two seconds or, yeah.” No, I think that’s really important because it does change constantly. So, as you think about the journey going on with your child, what has really been a barrier to getting the help your child needed or something you tried that just didn’t work in your case that might be helpful for people to know that this was a barrier?

Diana: There have been a lot of barriers and since it did start when she was very young and progressed through these years, and became more discernible to the untrained eye, so I would say some of the barriers along the way were her dad and I. Like our lack of understanding what was really going on and always well-intentioned but sometimes probably detrimental plans that we did. I have a background in behavioral health, so we did a lot of like charts and if-then and first-then and I’ll know you’re ready when this. We have always wanted to be helpful but haven’t always known what the hell we were doing.

Then at the point where we were getting– she had a physical and her blood pressure, she was a little girl, off the charts. They said, “She does seem to have an amazing amount of anxiety. We were given an eye test and she seems to be having like a panic attack. We better bring her back in a week because that’s really not healthy for her to have that high of blood pressures”, so when she came back in a week and they just did a blood pressure and they were taking more of a mental health approach, they referred us for psychiatry at that time because of the high level of anxiety that they saw just at the physical. It was something that did not work. It was a bad fit. It was a psychiatrist with no bedside manner, it was awful.

I have some background in this area and I will say it was awful. So, that was really limiting  – medical appointments that are a trigger for her.

Tammy: That’s not easy in this situation.

Diana: Yes, and you get the person to the appointment and then it blows up also, it was not good. So, that kept us from getting medical intervention for a whole another a year because that went so poorly, and her dad felt like, “this is– you know what I’m talking about, which is that she doesn’t have a mental health issue. So let’s stop coming at her with it and stop projecting things onto her.” That was something– school is something that hasn’t worked and it hasn’t worked for a long time but we’ve thrown a lot of things at it. Seventh grade was where it really hit the fan, and we realized she could not handle it and she’s breaking down every single day.

We dual-enrolled her and then after winter break had to just pull out entirely and home-school, but during that time we also were able to get her therapy and medication because it was becoming so abundantly clear that she needed more intervention, and that was seventh grade. Then in ninth grade again she went to school in eighth grade and it did work. She was on medication things seemed to be going pretty well and she had learned the building in the system which was doing well in the seventh grade. But then in ninth grade when she’d make another transition and another change just the school anxiety just really ramped up and to the point where now she is home-schooled and she’s not in the public school system because they just don’t have what she needs there, and she cannot deal with the many levels of stress.

Tammy: Can you talk a little bit about that because when it comes to children’s mental health as opposed to adults and I’m sure this is true for adults but not at the same level, kids are going through a lot of changes. You mentioned like structural changes, huge changes from elementary to junior to high school, and what your days like and what your life’s like, and your social world is like. But physically, our kids are changing immensely between childhood, adolescence puberty so their bodies are changing. So, sounded like your daughter was doing well with medication and then she wasn’t, and that seems typical for a lot of families I know. Something works and then all the sudden it doesn’t. I know that happens to adults but I think for children when you’re going through so many physical changes, social changes at such a phenomenal level it just feels like you’re constantly starting over again. Is that sound right or?

Diana: Yes. That’s actually been an added layer to this struggle. Starting in ninth grade she became med non-compliant, which was a very big hurdle. We had allowed her to go off her medication. She was doing really well in eighth grade and felt that she didn’t need it and so that was done with our blessing but then in the 9th grade when she was really struggling, my mantra has always been, “I’m not saying you have to go to school. I’m saying that everybody who is mentally and physically healthy is at school today. If you’re not we need to be looking at what’s underneath, and that’s what we need to be doing. I don’t need you to go to school just to have geography of being in that building. I need us to look at why you can’t feel like you’re successful there and why it is putting you past a point to be there”, and so these are the things that we can do.

She just felt like nothing ever works. It doesn’t help anyway and so she was on– we got her to do a medication that, of course, this is I’ve heard so many people share this journey and frustration, that medication did not work, and so for her, it was fueling the, “I told you nothing works”. We had our four to six weeks, went off of it and then the next medication that was prescribed she just was never compliant enough for us to realize if it was working or not. That was a huge struggle and then in a meantime, I think what am I going to do and she’s missing school, and again we’re going back to our behavioral things which were not the point. It was not the point in her ninth through a tenth-grade year.

Another thing that we didn’t identify was depression was starting to take over anxiety and we were still considering it to be anxiety, though the medication often is the same. But the way I might approach things with her, recognizing that it’s depression, not laziness or avoidance, that kind of thing. We’ve been our own worst enemy a few times and–

Tammy: Well you have to be gentle with yourself about that. First of all, everything you said about that, what I love about this podcast is I have parents who don’t have children’s mental illness go, that’s true for all parents too. Every parent messes up and tries a bit. We all learn as we go but here it’s really hard because as you’re saying you don’t know what’s working.

Diana: You feel like you’ve got to be …

Tammy: You don’t have a control, right?

Diana: Right.

Tammy: You can’t take control of your kid and say what’s working or what’s not.

Diana: Particularly with the medication, I just feel like I am putting pellets into a cage and hoping for the best. We’re on another new medication right now that we’re in the four to six weeks range, and that doesn’t appear to be helping either and then you have to decide if you want to up the dose or try something different and go another. In the meantime, it is very painful to be inside their skin and you feel rather helpless.

Tammy: It’s just hard to watch them suffer.

Diana: Yeah, and not everybody going back to the people who don’t live this day in and day out, and everybody sees that they are suffering. Most of our kids are amazing actors and actresses, and they want to be accepted and be part of a group and be normal.

Tammy: I would add to that that most of our kids that have mental illness are incredibly strong. The strength it takes for them to do what they do is immense. If I’m hearing about your daughter and she must be an incredibly strong person to be able to make people think she’s just fine when she’s dealing with all that, it has to be really hard to get through.

Diana: Yeah, and she actually at a point last fall where she did sort of have a full breakdown, and that is nothing that I had seen before, and it was like someone broke a toy almost. Like she became monosyllabic and she is somebody who never left the house not looking on point, she shuffled around. When I would need to take her to appointments she would still wear her pajama bottoms and I’d have to hand her her shoes and the light behind her eyes had gone out and so I do think in that time. Also, she was incredibly strong because just staying here like was my main goal and because I could see that the weight of the pain was almost unbearable, and so at that time she couldn’t. She tried a couple times to leave the house and she had some friends who really hung- and like for being teenagers -they really hung in there and didn’t give up on her over the months. She did try to go out and see them a couple times and didn’t make it, but I was so proud of her for one time we got all the way to the door, all she had her hand on the door.

Tammy: Wonderful.

Diana: Yeah, and now she’s able to leave the house and go see her friends and things and–

Tammy: That’s great.

Diana: Yeah, so I think that there are little wins and you just have a different life, you celebrate different things.

Tammy: Absolutely, but it’s so important to celebrate them and recognize.

Diana: Yeah.

Tammy: Yeah, absolutely. So, what has worked well what in trying to get help for her things that have worked, that you’re like, “Thank goodness that that worked that way”?

Diana: I think having some background in this area was extremely helpful. Not that it helped me deal with her necessarily better but I knew people and I knew therapists, and I already had therapists that I had worked with that I knew had done an amazing job or did good work and put some really challenging kiddos. I felt like I’m very lucky that I was able to handpick because finding a fit is a huge part and you can have a talented therapist and a person who’s willing to do therapy and have that not been a fit. I feel like that’s been a blessing and that has really worked well like being able to find providers, and I feel like one of the things that was working well and I’ve changed my tack duck on it, but I first was thinking when she had that I want to say break down that I would share that with people because I have felt strongly I have to be part of reducing stigma. Now I am completely backtracking from that because in order to reduce stigma you sometimes need a community or a society that’s more educated and more well informed, which is why when you ask to what I talk to him what would I say because this is not mine to tell necessarily. It’s my daughter’s and she doesn’t want it shared and now I can kind of see why because people don’t understand, and they sell her short or sell us short or feel like, “We might be wrong in some way”.

Tammy: Absolutely.

Diana: It’s- it’s very challenging, and so that is something that has worked well too is my daughter. My daughter is a fighter and so having her has worked well.

Tammy: Sounds like she’s awesome?

Diana: She is.

Tammy: I think that sometimes really hard is when the world doesn’t get to see how awesome our kids are because maybe they can’t get out the door, or maybe you’re seeing a different side. You’re not seeing the true person, you’re seeing the illness or you’re not seeing anything. I think that’s the one thing we can say is, “Our kids are awesome – we get to yell that”.

Diana: And I recorded her too, often with me having fun, and she will tell me to stop or tease me, but I say “No”, I’m like, “This is you” and later she’ll ask for my phone and she’ll look at those videos and I want her to remember.” This is you too –  on the couch having a bad day, that’s not all you are – you are everybody you’ve ever been”.

Tammy: I like that. I like that one. So, right now because as we said it changes moment to moment to moment, in this moment do you feel like you’re swimming, drowning, treading water, how are you right now in this journey?

Diana: Right now I would say I’m treading water at best but that’s really me. I don’t know that my daughter has changed that much. I think that a couple of things maybe for me and my ability to just be copacetic has changed and maybe that’s just the ability to have long-standing care. It’s a lot different – my energy level now, than it was a couple of years ago. My daughter might be exactly the same but I might worry incessantly one day and be completely okay the next. I feel like I can’t leave her one day and feel like she’ll be fine the next.

Tammy: Let’s talk about that because I feel like we don’t honor enough that we too are human beings with emotional lives. Sometimes when you’re so busy taking care of a child who has emotional struggles, we’re so busy trying to help them with their emotions that we don’t allow us, ourselves,  you know what I mean? Like we’re just, “Okay, I’ll take care of myself later. I’m just taking care of your emotions”. It’s some days I can deal with my son’s issues on some days they really get to me, and he might be exactly the same both days.

Diana: Yeah, one hundred percent, I think that one thing that’s important is getting some sort of therapy and care for your own self and self-care, and I have neglected that a little bit. I have done it and not done it over the years but–

Tammy: You’re not alone there.

[laughter]

Diana: But that is definitely something that I would recommend because you heal some, just being able to share things that it would not be productive to share with your family because it escalates some situations.

Tammy: Absolutely. You also said something that worked well for you that our listeners who may not have the benefit of being in a profession where they feel like they have that network, they can still network. Like through support groups, through the advocacy networks that you can create a network where you know people in the field. That’s very helpful to have that, and so that’s something to think about because I know if you don’t have that you’re like, “well where do I go?” but you can start trying to build that network of other families who’ve been through it, talk to their providers and get to know who’s out there, and who’s doing what. I don’t know if you agree with that or not? It just seems like you’re right knowing lots of people in this realm to be really helpful.

Diana: Yes, and I think that even if you don’t know anybody in most areas, there is NAMI or something along those lines that has a support group for family members and those can be so beneficial on so many levels. Not only are you feeling less isolated because you have somebody who shares your experiences and that can just feel affirming, but then you also have people who have tried 14 therapists and found one who is good, and that is a huge resource. So, I would strongly encourage that and have done that myself and it is something that I think we all need and deserve is to not feel alone.

Tammy: Absolutely because no one in this situation is alone.

Diana: But you can feel very much like that.

Tammy: It feels like it but when you look at the numbers it’s so common, which is so sad that we’re feeling alone when we’re surrounded by others who are feeling alone in the same reality. So, what is your self-care routine or more appropriate survival technique? What do you do to take care of you when things are getting rough. You mentioned some things that like yoga I can imagine really helps, like what do you do?

Diana: Yes. Well, I try to keep a good balance of things in my life and I actually was doing some volunteering things in the community. I’ve had to back away from that and again, those are things that can ebb and flow. Right now where my daughter is I’m not able to do that, but when you help you heal and you’re not so directed inwardly on my own issues and my own thing, and if you’re being of service to others, I think that it’s therapeutic. In my experience, it has been hugely therapeutic. It gets you outside of your own head and you’re doing something productive and you can feel good about that. So, that that has been and I’m sure it will be again and I enjoy doing that. Yoga, yes absolutely. I can tell sometimes if I started my day with yoga because when things come at me I react a little more even keeled.

Sometimes it is just indulging a little. I was in a ridiculously complex and challenging life space in right around between Thanksgiving and winter break, and the therapist that I was chatting with said, “What are you doing for your own self?” I said, “Well, this morning I had a fudge brownie and layered peanut butter on it, and I just enjoyed every morsel of that brownie. I just took that moment and really picking up on some of the things that are shared as part of strategies and coping strategies, and those kinds of supports, for people with mental health is also really good for us as well. Mindfulness is something that I would encourage everybody to look into because you can pull yourself out of a vortex that you might be slipping into because of your situation which is very real, but it doesn’t benefit anybody to just kind of lean into it or wallow.

Tammy: Absolutely, and that fudge brownie was real too?

Diana: Yes,

Tammy: So, it was okay to be with the fudge brownie for a while.

Diana: I was happy  – maybe bad for the hips but good for the soul.

Tammy: Absolutely, I love that. So, what’s your most laughable moment. Sometimes if we didn’t have laughter it’d be a lot harder to get through this. What makes you laugh about when you think of this journey?

Diana: I think one thing that was a laughable moment that is not necessarily laughable now, actually I guess it is. I didn’t realize that my daughter had started to self-medicate and that was tough because I felt like maybe there’s one thing we didn’t have going wrong. Surprise! So, when I first experienced that and she was under the influence and it actually led to a discourse that wouldn’t have probably otherwise have happened. I remember at one point things were very escalated on her end and she was yelling at me, and she said, “Why aren’t you yelling back? Why aren’t you fighting? You almost look like you’re smiling. What’s wrong with you?” and I said, “I’m just happy we’re finally talking”.

Tammy: [laughter] I love it. I bet that annoyed her though.

Diana: Well, right then, to be fair, that wasn’t out of the ordinary. It was actually that better out than in. Sometimes I think parents protect our children, and keep in mind that our children try to protect us, and they did. They perceive things as being good and bad even when we try and direct them not to, they don’t want us to necessarily see dark ugly things, and you need to, like I need to know that’s there because we can’t address it or fix it or get to the root, and pull it if I don’t ever even know.

Tammy: Thanks for saying that. I don’t think that’s something we’ve discussed yet and any of these podcasts but is so important, our kids do try to protect us. They don’t want us to know all the horrible things that are happening inside their heads and that they struggling what.

Diana: And that’s dangerous.

Tammy: It’s very dangerous.

Diana: And I can see not wanting people to know, and I’m sure it’s very vulnerable but you have to be able to let that out and give that some space too.

Tammy: Thank you so much for talking to us. I really appreciate it – you sharing your story with us.

Diana: Thank you.

[music background]

Tammy:  You have been listening to the Just Ask Mom series, part of the mothers on the frontline podcast. Copyrighted in 2018. Today’s podcast host was Tammy Nyden. The music is “Olde English” written, performed and recorded by Flame Emoji. For more podcasts in this and other series relating to children’s mental health go to mothersonthefrontline.com or subscribe to Mothers On The Frontline on iTunes, Android, Google Play, Stitcher or Spotify. Mothers On The Frontline is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that uses storytelling for caregiver healing and children’s mental health advocacy. We strive to reduce stigma, educate the public and influence positive policy change through our podcast series and storytelling workshops. We are currently working with Grinnell College to document and archive stories of lived experience with a school the Prison Pipeline, an issue importantly connected to children’s mental health and well-being. If you would like to support our work please visit our website and make a tax-deductible donation at mothersonthefrontline.com.

[music]

[end]

The difficulty of getting the right diagnosis and juggling work and care giving, Just Ask Mom Episode 14

Lotus Flower Logo: Just Ask Mom Podcast Series Produced by Mothers on the Frontline. MothersOnTheFrontline.com

In this episode, we listen to Suzette Southfox, a Southern California parent of a 19 year-old son with depression, anxiety and Autism Spectrum Disorder. She tells us about her over ten-year journey with children’s mental health. She discusses the importance of honoring the strength of our children and others with depression who fight each day to get out of bed.

Transcription

Voice Over: Welcome to the Just Ask Mom podcast, where mother shared their experiences of raising children with mental illness. Just Ask Mom is a Mothers On The Frontline production. Today, we will listen to Suzette Southfox, a Southern California parent who lives with her 19-year-old son who has depression, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorder. She has been on the Children’s Mental Health journey for over ten years now. This interview took place at the 2017 National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health conference.

Tammy: Just tell us a bit about yourself.

Suzette : Sure. My name is Suzette. I am a tired mom. I work in the Behavioral Health Field in Southern California. I’m an artist and I’m a writer and a performer. I love to communicate and chat with folks and and create art when I can. Don’t get a lot of chance to do that these days but that’s really what brings me joy.

Tammy: Oh, that’s really great. That’s awesome. What kind of art you do?

Suzette: I do a lot of reflective art. I do a lot of spoken word poetry.

Tammy: Oh, wonderful. Yeah.

Suzette: I do spoken word but I don’t have a whole lot of time to do that. I recently did something for a friend of mine who was just ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister and I was, I was honored to be part of the ordination and I got to do this, it was fun.

Tammy: That’s exciting. That’s awesome. I want you to pretend that you’re talking to parents who are just beginning the journey. They just received the diagnosis for their child of a mental  health condition or maybe they even haven’t discovered a name for what is going on yet, they’re just trying to figure out how to help their child. What would you say to people with that experience based on what you go through?

Suzette: That’s a wonderful question and out of all the people that I would like to talk to  – and there are  many, many that I would like to speak with – the family that’s really finding themselves newly in the world of childhood mental health and behavioral health issues, I would love to talk to them and I would love to tell them that they’re not alone even though they feel like they’re alone. They’re in a very special club which is one that not a lot of people want to join, but they find themselves in.

Tammy: Right.

Suzette: One of the things that I did not get early on and my son was diagnosed around nine or ten years old with ruled out pediatric bipolar disorder and things were very difficult. It wasn’t until he was 16 when the psychiatrist said, “Was he ever tested for autism?” We said, “Are you kidding me?” So, people, weren’t asking the right questions, but once we found ourselves in the world of IEP’s and special ed programs and all of this, we never met another parent. None of the programs ever had, “Here’s information for your parent,” or you would think that the psychiatrist or the psychologist would say, “Here’s your brochure. Welcome to the world of pediatric mental illness. Here is your road map.” They don’t give you one.

Tammy: Absolutely not.

Suzette: No, they don’t and if you’re lucky enough to have someone with lived experience, you may get a road map but it’s so challenging. Finding those other parents and finding what is available is so difficult when you’re dealing with just the stress and the crisis. I was shocked to learn in my area that there was a whole guide for all of the programs and services but it was for other providers. It wasn’t for families and it took me to get into working in the field to actually discover this.

Tammy: Is that what motivated to get into the field?

Suzette: Well, that was one reason. I work with the Faith community for a really long time and what I discovered was the needs and the stress of navigating my son’s challenges. They were taking a toll on my working life. Before we got the diagnosis either I would call in sick, my wife would call in sick. We would be having to leave work. We knew that one of us would probably going to lose our job. She took an early retirement to stay at home because at that time, my son couldn’t get out of the car in the morning. He missed 125 days of school because of anxiety. As we’re going through all of this, we have support of the school but we just didn’t know other families. I think it’s so important to not only tell folks that they’re not alone but there are networks. You just have to be told where to find them.

Tammy: Absolutely.

Suzette: Yes, and that’s the biggest challenge, I think.

Tammy: I think that’s so important because I know my own experience in talking to other people sometimes the most helpful information I’ve got are from other parents, you know, that have been through it. They all checked out this program or this and without that network, without some way to start, you do feel lost so I think that’s really good advice.

Suzette: Yes. There’s a lot of despair also. At least there is and there has been with me and one of the things that I have learned is there’s a whole continuum of what you go through and it’s not linear. It’s not like, “Okay, I’ve gone through crisis and now I’m balancing and I’m moving into advocacy and when I get into advocacy, boom, I’m done.” No, it depends on the day really.

Tammy: Absolutely.

Suzette:  You can go through that continually. I think one of the things that I would want new parents and new families to know is the despair and the concern is visceral, it’s real. It’s probably not going to go away but if you learn to kind of make some space for that and make some space for dealing with it, it gets a little bit easier.

Tammy: Right.

Suzette: I think the biggest problem that I have, and this is really funny, we’re talking about self-care earlier, is when people say, “Take care of yourself.” I know that but it is so difficult to hear because it’s like, “What do you think I’m doing?”

Tammy: Right.

Suzette: I’m trying really hard.

Tammy: Exactly.

Suzette: Sometimes, just getting up in the morning is like, “Whoa, it’s a win.”

Tammy: Exactly.

Suzette: So that’s important and I know self-care is really, really the key, but I think that we need to be a little careful how we talk about that.

Tammy: Absolutely.

Suzette: Yes, it can turn people off.

Tammy: And we don’t know of access to do the same things to care for ourselves. I think that’s another part of it is what does that mean and the context you’re in at the moment, what can that mean for you, right? I think that’s really important.

Suzette: True.

Tammy: Absolutely. As you’re thinking about people who are navigating this early on and it is hard and is lonely and I like the message you have. I do think we can get to a point where we feel like it’s a new normal. We’ve accepted it. We’re functioning. We don’t feel torn apart all the time but then something new will happen and you go through it again. I think it’s good to know that. It’s good to know you will actually function at this level. You might not feel like it when you first hit with it, but I don’t think you’re even done and I think that’s important to hear too. That’s not a bad thing.

Suzette: Yes.

Tammy: But knowing it’s important because if you don’t, the first time it happens again, it feels devastating.

Suzette: Yes.

Tammy: But if you don’t know, you’re going to keep going and having good days and bad days and it’s okay.

Suzette: Right. It’s a learning and then when our loved ones are youngsters, you have the whole developmental issue going on so they’re constantly changing. One of the first, kind of, desperate requests that I made once we had a psychiatrist and medication and treatment plan and psychiatric nurse, God love her, I remember the first call that I made to her was, “I don’t know. I have one child. I was an older mom so I have one child. I don’t have experience. I can’t tell the different what’s developmentally appropriate and what is a mental health condition.” And she said, “Oh, if you could figure that out, you’d make a lot of money,” because I couldn’t. I just couldn’t figure that out. Now, knowing that there’s always that change. There’s always new things happening, suddenly and it’s not suddenly, but now I have a young adult and so we hear about transition, transitioning youth, how do you do that? I have a 19-year-old but I’m not prepared for what to do next because just getting through middle school, getting through high school took everything that I could do. I know they said it’s coming. You have to start when he’s 14. I didn’t get that until he was 17 and so it’s hard. It still gets hard but being able to back up a little bit and figure out, what are the new resources that I need? I have to find maybe a new set of parents. We’re the parents of really young kids. We had an affinity.

Tammy: Right.

Suzette: I would look at parents of teenagers, I was scared of that.

Tammy: Oh sometimes it’s terrifying, right? When your kids are little. You just want to focus on that one thing at a time, absolutely.

Suzette: Yes, and you look at parents of teenagers and young adults and it’s like, “Oh my God, how did you do that? I don’t want to go there ever,” and you’re going to get there.

Tammy: Right. Absolutely. As you’re thinking about your journey in helping your child, can you think of one particular thing that’s been really challenging, was really difficult, that just didn’t work and you wish could be different?

Suzette: This is going to sound really weird, but listening to him. What I mean by that is, sometimes, and this has been forever, he will tell me what he needs but I’m not hearing it and I’m not hearing it because, oh I don’t know, I’m focused on one thing or another. When I stopped and really listened to what he’s saying, we do better.

Tammy: Right.

Suzette: When he listens to what I’m saying, so it’s like communications piece there.

Tammy: Absolutely.

Suzette: Here’s the hardest part, I’m not very good at it. I communicate professionally but with my own family, I was like, “Wow.” I really have to take it down to basics and give myself permission to make mistakes. That’s the big one.

Tammy: That’s a good point. I think that’s true for any parent, right?

Suzette: Yes.

Tammy: Communicating especially with the teenage kids is hard. It’s challenging, I think, for all of us.

Suzette: Yes and you have to learn how to reset boundaries and you have conversations, and when and if they get a driver’s license, it’s a whole different world. It’s really exhausting.

Tammy: My stressor have just opened up when you said that because that’s what’s in the next couple of years for us, the whole driver’s licensing, yes.

Suzette: It has been an amazing journey and I’m just watching the young people that I know develop and grow, it’s just so exciting.

Tammy: In thinking about getting your child help, what’s worked well? What has been one thing that you’re just so glad things were aligned and worked out well?

Suzette: Well, we had an experience and it was a school related experience as a senior, a high school senior. His depression was so acute. He spent the last two or three months in bed and was not able to even shower or to mention anything and he failed. He wasn’t able to graduate and having that conversation with the school around that, I was empowered.  One of the vice principals basically said, “You know, you’re lazy.” I just took a breath and I said, “We need to talk,” because there’s something called lived experience and I have never used that word before but I heard it and  all of a sudden, “Oh my God, I have lived experience and I have a thing too,” so I’m coming and I have something. I was able to really put the context. We’re talking about behavioral health diagnosis. We’re talking about mental illness, brain chemistry. This is not being lazy. If you had any idea what he does to just survive, I don’t know that any of us could do that so it’s not lazy.

Tammy: Right.

Suzette: That was very, very helpful to me. Really clear in my own mind that we all need to be on the same page, so that was super helpful.

Tammy: Absolutely.

Suzette: Yes.

Tammy: So good for your son to hear that, “No, you’re not lazy and I know you’re not lazy,” I think it’s important. That’s great. We ask this of everyone because we recognize, as we were just saying, as you pointed out, this is different from moment to moment for all of us, but at this moment, are you swimming? Are you treading water? Are you drowning? Where do you feel at this moment?

Suzette: That’s really good question; all three of those, yeah, yeah.

Tammy: That’s a good answer.

Suzette: All three of those. All three at the same time and it’s so hard to manage that, but really I have kind of like a low grade. It’s not a panic but it’s a low grade like, “Help,” because it’s all really hard.

Tammy: Right.

Suzette: I feel like I have good resources and good support so I’m going along okay. I guess I’ve been doing this for so long that my new normal is not what anybody else’s normal is.

Tammy: Exactly and I think that’s what’s really important is you get to a point where this, I can function at this level, even though the average person would be falling apart and maybe we fell apart when that was first our experience. That’s why I love what you said about your child, because I think we often see someone who’s struggling to get out of bed or struggling to go to school and people will say things like they’re lazy or say that someone is anxious so they’re just scared all the time or what have you. The truth is with their condition, they are like super-power to do what they do every day. There are more courage than most people just to do what they’re doing or more strength on going, fortitude to go get something done. I think we just need to give people credit for what they’re doing and I’m in that for them. I love that you said that earlier too.

Suzette: I think it’s struggle that we constantly revisit. I don’t know if anybody else’s have this come out of their mouth, but I’ve done it on number of occasions; “What’s wrong with you?” I don’t mean to say it. Oh my God. I said it once and he turned to me, he says, “Do you really need to know? Would it be easier if I was on a wheelchair?” I thought, “Oh my God. I’ve even said this to other people and I myself am saying this now?”

Tammy: Right.

Suzette: So it’s constantly guarding and learning and checking and remembering.

Tammy: I think that’s a really good point because most of the people we’re interviewing here, they have a child with a life-long condition, right? If you have a child in a wheelchair with a life-long condition we don’t say, “Well, why is it we don’t get up today?” After ten years of being in a wheelchair, right? But we do that.

Suzette: Yes.

Tammy: We do that all the time and I know I’ve done it and actually, when my child’s teachers or family members have to say, “Why is he doing this now?” I’m like, “You know this has been a condition all this time.”

Suzette: Yes.

Tammy: I think that when we’re asking that, what we have to do is sit back and go, “What is it about this moment that I can’t handle?” Because this is our normal, this is our situation.

Suzette: Yes.

Tammy: I’ve imagined that if you do have a  child in a wheelchair for ten years, there might be some days you can’t take it, but you would recognize, “My child’s circumstance hasn’t changed. I’m just having hard time handling it today.” We need to be able to do with mental health and say, “My child’s has the same condition but today it’s really hard for me to deal with.” Did that make sense?

Suzette: Absolutely.

Tammy: I love the comparison that you make there. I think it’s important.

Suzette: Absolutely, it is. You’re absolutely right. Then to give our kids the language to know that, and when he checked me on that as he often does with words that have come out of my mouth, he responds and like and I’m learning constantly from him especially when it’s difficult. He has a sleeping disorder and he goes nocturnal. He also has separation anxiety so when I’m away from him as I am now, he gets very tense.

Tammy: Right.

Suzette: He called me at 7 o’clock this morning which was four and I just checked him 15 minutes before we started and he hasn’t slept yet. I’m very concerned about that and what the household is like and what the stress is like, but you know, it’s just a day.

Tammy: It’s just a day.

Suzette: It’s just a day.

Tammy: Yes, absolutely. What is your self-care routine or as we say with more appropriate, survival technique, because sometime that’s what it comes down to too, right? How do you take care of you when you’re in the middle of all of this because as we’re saying, it’s not always possible to do what we’d like to do so what do you do?

Suzette: You know what? My go-to place is the bathroom.

Tammy: Yes.

Suzette: Sometimes it’s not real safe if there’s pounding or screaming on the other side of the door but if I can get to a place where I can just be isolated and I usually turn the lights off and I just breathe. Just for a minute.

Tammy: Right.

Suzette: Just for a minute and then go back out and I can do that at work. I can do that at church. I can do that at lunch[?], so you can do it anywhere. That’s one thing if it’s a crisis and I just need to step back. I swim and when I’m lucky, I swim in the ocean. I do that regularly.

Tammy: Oh, I’m jealous.

Suzette: I swim with mom.

Tammy: That’s sounds wonderful.

Suzette: She’s a good swimmer. She’s been swimming for years. When I have a chance I get in the water and it’s really wonderful.

Tammy: That is wonderful. That is great. Another question I’d like to ask, because any parents has some of this, right? Kids keep us laughing. What’s your most laughable moment? What makes you laugh or smile when you think back to your experience with your child?

Suzette: Oh my gosh. My son is a professional magician and when I watch him engaged with other people, I mean it’s amazing when you see grown adults going, “What happened? How did that happen? Oh, my God.” It’s just makes me chuckle because he has such a gift to be able to do that, but he does it because he likes to bring joy to people, right?

Tammy: That’s wonderful.

Suzette: So he’s a champion. He’s a knight in shining armor and he loves to bring joy to people and that makes me smile.

Tammy: That has to be fun. You get to enjoy the magic but you also get to be proud of this amazing kid.

Suzette: Yes.

Tammy: Or adult now but always a kid, right?

Suzette: Yes, always a kid. Yes, definitely.

Tammy: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.

Suzette: You’re welcome. Thank you for asking.

Voice Over: You have been listening to Just Ask Mom. Copyrighted in 2018 by Mothers On The Frontline. Today’s podcast host is Tammy Nyden. The music is Old English, written, performed, and recorded by Flame Emoji. For more podcast in this and other series relating to children’s mental health, go to mothersonthefrontline.com or subscribe to Mothers On The Frontline on iTunes, Android, Google Play or Stitcher.

[end]

Fidelia’s Journey to Advocacy: From Incarceration to Family Advocate, Ask the Advocate Series, episode 1

In this episode, we listen to Fidelia from Northern California. Fidelia has three children: two sons with behavioral challenges and a 11 year old daughter with anxiety. She shares her journey of mental illness, motherhood, incarceration, and advocacy.

Transcription

[music]

Women’s voice: Mothers On The Front Line is a non-profit organization founded by mothers of children with mental illness. We are dedicated to storytelling as a method of both children’s mental health advocacy and caregiver healing. Our podcasts consist of interviews of caregivers by caregivers out in the community. This results in less polished production quality, but more intimate conversations rarely available to the public. Caregivers determine how they are introduced and the stories they share. We bring these personal experiences to you with the aim of reducing stigma, increasing understanding, and helping policymakers recognize and solve the real unmet needs of families dealing with America’s current children’s mental health crisis.

[music]

Tammy: Today, we start a new format for Mothers On The Front Line called Ask the Advocate. In this series, we hear from mental health advocates about their journeys to advocacy, and what it is meant for their lives. I am pleased to be speaking to Fidelia from Northern California today. Fidelia has 3 children, 2 sons with behavioral challenges and an 11-year-old daughter with anxiety. She also experiences mental health challenges herself.

[music]

Tammy: Hello. Tell us a bit about yourself and the kind of advocacy work that you do.

Fidelia: Um, well, I’m a mother of 3 children, 2 grown sons, and 11-year-old daughter. I’m a mental health advocate for Alameda County in Northern California.

Tammy: So, how did you become an advocate? What got you involved?

Fidelia: I had to advocate for myself and before I could learn to advocate for my children, I’ve been undiagnosed for most of my adult life. I got diagnosed at the age of 35 that I was bipolar, I had PTSD, and I suffered from severe depression. Prior to that, I didn’t believe anything was wrong with me. But so many challenges that I had on the day-to-day basis, making good decisions, healthy decisions, became overwhelmingly just non-existent. I kept ending up with really bad results no matter what I chose to do, and I didn’t understand why, and it was continuous. And so, I started to self-medicate, pretty much just, you know, didn’t know what to do, I just knew that there was nothing wrong with me. My daughter was taken from me twice. Finally, I was just like, you know, there’s got to be something wrong here because it doesn’t matter what I do, nothing’s working out well. I keep ending up in these terrible, you know, situations with, you know, not very good results. And so, there’s got to be something, I need to talk somebody. And so, they came to me and told me, “You know, we’re going to adopt your daughter out,

Tammy: Oh, gosh!

Fidelia: We’re not going to give you services.” I was in jail as a result of poor choices again. I was like, “You know what? If foster care’s going to be the best thing for my daughter right now, I think that’s the best thing going because, right now, I need help. I can’t be a good parent if I’m falling apart, and I need somebody to help me learn how to help myself.” That’s where advocating came in because I had to advocate to get my mind right, to get my life right. And in order to be a good parent, I needed to be straight. So, I was given an evaluation, a psychiatric evaluation, because I requested that. And then, I requested a therapist. They gave me a therapist. And then, I started seeing a psychiatrist, then they prescribed me medication. And once I started taking medication and talking to my therapist on a regular basis, things completely changed. I caught up with myself. I caught up with my mind. I was able to process feelings without acting out impulsively, compulsively, and it was a game-changer because it was like, “Oh, wow. I’m mad right now, but I’m not putting my fist in a wall.” You know? I’m not slashing tires [chuckles] or being ridiculous. That’s where it began for me. And so, I could recognize behaviors in my children, and then I’m like, “Hey. That’s little mini-me right now, undiagnosed.” And then, I was able to start advocating for my sons. My daughter had a speech delay, so I got her assessed, and had I not known anything and got a little education on mental health, she wouldn’t have been assessed. And so, she had a 40% speech delay. I was able to put her in speech therapy. Now, she talks all the time.

Tammy: That’s great though.

Fidelia: But, I’m happy for that. You know what I mean? Without that extra help, you know. Who knows how that would’ve turned out. Also, she suffers from anxiety. She is diagnosed with anxiety at the age of 2 because she was taken from me twice. She stayed with her grandmother, and then when I got her back, it was separation anxiety. So, I couldn’t get her to sleep in her own room for about a year, and I had to use the tools that I had, which was parenting magazines. I had no advocate. I had no family partner. I had none of those things that are in place nowadays. I had to do it for myself, so I spent a lot of time just trying to ask questions and getting help. And, you know, how most people don’t appreciate having CPS and an attorney, and a child’s attorney, and the district attorney, and the judge. Well, I used all these people as my support. You know what I mean? I needed somebody to keep the fire lit underneath me, so I would never have to go through this again. And so, I began advocating for myself. I began completing case plans. When they wanted to close my case, I advocated, “I need you to keep it open another year. I need to make sure that I am solid in my sobriety, in my mental health, and everything else, so I don’t ever have to see any of you people ever again.” That’s where it began for me, I started advocating, and then I just stayed advocating, and I still advocate and now, I help other parents whose children come into the clinic, where they’re seeing for behavioral –  mental health challenges. I help the families, the mothers, the grandmothers, the fathers, the caregivers, the foster parents, and it’s like, “So, what challenges are you facing?” Because not only is the child challenged right now, you’re challenged. You’re the one sitting up at night. You’re the one having to call the police. You’re the one not sleeping because your child’s not sleeping. You know, you need self-care or, you need help with SSI, how can I support you? That’s what I do today, you know. I have had clients say, you know, how parents, who have mental health challenges as well, then we know they’re like, “I’m supposed to be taking anti-depressants.” And I’m like, “Well, why aren’t you taking them?” And they’re like, “I don’t need that. Do you take medication?” And I dig in my pocket, and pull out my pills and say,

 

Tammy:

 

Fidelia: “Yes. Every day. Chill pills at 5 o’clock. I need to act right ’till I can get through the day so I can model for my children how to act right. And then, so the next thing I know I have a client come back in with later saying, “I’ve been taking my pills for about a week and I feel good!” I’m like, “That’s what’s up!”

Tammy: [laughs]

 

Fidelia: “I need you to feel good so you can get through this ’cause this whole process is challenging.” And so, that’s what I do every day and I love it but it’s from lived experience, my own lived experience, not just my child’s lived experience, but mine.

 

Tammy: That must make you just a great advocate. Can you talk a bit about how in your work, experiences that you’ve had? With you having lived experience, it was a game-changer at being able to help someone, so you give this great example. What about with working with parents helping their youth– Is that, can you give other examples? Because I think that’s so powerful.

 

Fidelia: The what? My lived experiences?

 

Tammy: To be able to share that with others.

 

Fidelia: Well, I share it with them all in time. I have no shame in what I’ve been through. I’ve been through exactly what I was meant to go through, so I could help other people get through it. So, whether it be, you know, going to IEPs, I’m there to support them. I tell them, “Well, what are your concerns? I need you to write that down, so you can voice that because your voice needs to be heard at these IEP meetings. They’re not experts on your child, you are. You need to tell them what it is that you believe your child needs to get through a productive school day, not being called to come pick up your child.” So, helping them was like changing in front of my 504-planet school, and making the school district accountable for the education and special resource teachers that are supposed to be in play when their child has an episode. You know, so they can say call up and say, “Hey. You know what? Where’s the resource teacher? You know, you can’t keep sending my child home. He’s not getting the education.” And I helped them through that process. I helped them through the process of personal relationships. I’m a survivor of domestic violence. “Are you in an abusive relationship? Well, what is it that you need to do so you can feel safe, so your child isn’t walking around on edge, who’s suffering from PTSD from witnessing this, and you have PTSD.” We talk about all kinds of personal things because I’ve been through all those personal things; substance abuse, incarceration, I’ve been there, you know. So, we can run the gauntlet of what you want to talk about, but I get them to open up because I’ve already done it. You know, not once, not twice, but probably six or seven times, and still, didn’t get the message that I was supposed to get. So, that’s how I help in any area just about. And if I don’t know about it, then we go and find about it together. That I’m coming to your house, we’re going to meet for coffee, I’m going to meet you at this school, whatever, come to my office. I’m there to support them. They’re my client, you know. So, that’s how I do other advocating.

 

Tammy: You said you went so many years without a diagnosis. Right?

 

Fidelia: Mm-hmm. Yes.

 

Tammy: What kind of things are you saying that have changed, that might make it more likely someone in that situation gets a diagnosis and gets help? Or, this could be the case too, what are you seeing in her, like, “Darn, nothing’s changed here on this issue.” You know what I’m saying?

 

Fidelia: You know, the thing that I noticed and has changed is just on approach, and, you know, to culturally– different cultures and how they approach, and how they deal with mental health, a multi-cultural. And so, the family I grew up in, it was just, you didn’t do psychiatrists, he didn’t take medication. You prayed, and you asked God to fix your mind, you asked Jesus to heal and touch your mind and cure you of whatever mental illness that you had. That didn’t happen. So, I see, now, that there are clinics for children, and when I was growing up. If there were some, we never heard about them. I think, if I were on medication as a child, if I was diagnosed as a child, instead of told that I needed Jesus and that I had demons in –  I probably did with the little help along with the mental health aspect, it contributed,

 

[laughter]

 

Fidelia: –but I think, now, that if I would’ve had that growing up, and how things would probably, more than likely, would’ve been so different for me. A lot of different choices would’ve made because of my mind. Would’ve been in a mindset, my medication would’ve had me thinking differently. And, that’s what I see differently now is that there’s clinics, and clinics and clinics for our behavioral mental health challenges for children. And, when I was in school, you didn’t have a school psychologist, you had a school nurse. That was it. And that was it. So, that’s–

 

Tammy: So, that’s a big positive change?

 

Fidelia: That’s an absolutely amazing change! I think if you can nip it in the bud or get– not so much as nip it in the bud but kind of get a handle on it, you know, while they’re young. It makes for a different future for them that could be more positive than just letting it go, and being like, “Oh, that’s just Charlie. That’s just how he is.” I mean, there’s more to it. It turns into something really serious as an adult. Your decisions, and your choices, and your boundaries, there are none, because everything you’re doing is your normal, and it’s just– it’s not healthy.

 

Tammy: I guess my next question is, what keeps you doing the advocacy work? Because quite frankly, I’m sure it gets hard sometimes, especially when you see things be voted down in terms of funding for programs or all the kinds of things that the disappointments that can go with the advocacy work. What keeps you going through it?

 

Fedilia: Because I’m good at it.

 

Tammy: [chuckles]

 

Fedilia: I’m good at it.

 

Tammy: I can tell. [laughs]

 

Fedilia: I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. I just refuse to hear it. You could tell me ‘no.’

 

Tammy: [chuckles]

 

Fedilia: But, I’m going to still keep coming at you, and then I’m gonna rephrase the question in a different way, and hopefully you didn’t get it, but eventually, I’m going to get a ‘yeah.’ Whether you’re telling me “Yeah,” just to get me out of your office. That’s all– I got to ‘yeah.’ I’m good for it.

 

Tammy: That’s right.

 

Fedilia: So, I keep going. And all parents should once you figured out, “Okay. This is what it is, and this is my child? This is my child! Not taking ‘no’ for an answer. No no no.

 

Tammy: That’s right. That’s right. I just want to thank you for all that you’re doing, for all the people that you’re helping. It’s a huge thing. And also, again, as a parent, I love to see success stories, they give us so much hope and to get people hope for the middle going throughout this themselves right now. So, just thank you so much for all that you’re doing. You’re such a light.

 

Fedilia: Thank you for your time and your consideration.

 

Tammy: Thank you.

 

[music]

 

Tammy: You have been listening to Ask the Advocate. Copyrighted in 2018 by Mothers On The Front Line. Today’s podcast host was Tammy Nyden. The music is written, performed, and recorded by FlameEmoji. For more podcasts in this and other series relating to children’s mental health, go to mothersonthefrontline.com

 

[end]

 

Raising her grandson after he experienced abuse, Just Ask Mom Podcast Series, episode 5

In this episode, a Grandmother tells us about raising her grandson who experienced trauma and suffered from several conditions, including ADHD, anxiety, bipolar, and learning disabilities. Please note that this story discusses child abuse and may be triggering for some of our listeners.

 

Transcription

Speaker: Welcome to the Just Ask Mom podcast where mothers share their experiences of raising children with mental illness.  Just Ask Mom is a Mothers on the Frontline production. Today we will speak with a Grandmother who is raising a grandson with mental health and learning disorders.

Tammy: Okay. Alright. So just to begin, just tell us a little bit about yourself before or outside of mothering, just about who you are.

Grandmother: Okay. I’m a mother of two boys who are grown, and um, they seem to have a fairly happy life, one has moved back to go to school, and one of them is still living on his own. After my second marriage, my husband had a son, who was a substance abuser and he abused his young son when he was very small. And we took him, in fact we took him because his father asked us to take custody of him so he could get back at his wife for doing things he didn’t like. He didn’t really think we should take him, he just thought that this legal thing would make his wife afraid to talk to anybody. And we got the papers and our lawyer talked him into guardianship, which means you can make all decisions for the child, and when he was hit and really, and really only minorly, we said, “You don’t have to go back.” And he was very happy about that, and he recently told his psychiatrist that was the happiest day of his life. He was six at that time. We have had him now, and he just recently turned eighteen, and he’s moving into this town to live in supervised housing, because he has mental illness and he has intellectual disability. And so he needs to be supervised twenty-four seven, and they offer quite a bit of other programs, things for him to do like go to a parade, or go to the park, or—really not things that cost a lot of money, although occasionally they do, but they get passes to the fair and — what not. And so this is his first day, and he’s very happy about that.

Tammy: Wonderful, wonderful. What would you like people to know about your experience?

Grandmother: I would like them to know that often, children only show the surface of what’s going, we sensed abuse but it was only later when he told us– about a month later, he told us he had been sexually abused, about a year and a half later he told us that his baby brother who had died of SIDS was actually murdered. So he was keeping this all inside. We needed to get help for him, and I really would like mothers to know that, although it just breaks your heart to take a small child to be in residential treatment, that sometimes it’s the best thing and it’s definitely not a horrible bad thing. He was kind of like, “Bye, mom” (that’s what he called me already. They said he cried a little that night, but that’s all. And he learned so much in the various times he was in the residential treatment, and the last time he was in he got into a program that was for both mentally and intellectually problematic children. And I wish there was more because, to my knowledge, it’s one of the few places that has that, and he’s in a– was in place that only took care of eight children.

Tammy: How did that help him? Like, what was positive about it?

Grandmother: One of the best things he learned was coping skills, which as a peer support specialist, I know is one of the first things you teach people who have mental illness is how are you planning on coping with this? It might just be cuddling with a soft warm blanket, it might be setting boundaries with other people that says, “I will not pull up with that.” It might be a warm bath, it might be running or doing yoga. Everybody has their own, but you teach the children that we are all unique, and they have coping skills that they can use. And they teach parents the same thing, because when you put a child into residential care – or a lot of times they don’t get to stay as long as he did –  but when you put them in, they have a goal in that time which is often 9 months to a year of learning these coping skills, which they then come home and use, and you’ve been learning them also.

Tammy: Right. So in trying to get help for your grandson, what kind of things were either barriers you ran into, or really great successes that helped you? So it sounds like one success was a residential home for him, were there any other things that either were really helpful or didn’t go so well?

Grandmother: One of the barriers was — and many mothers and fathers and even grandparents like myself, don’t know that you cannot take a child to the emergency room and say, “You can’t believe how this kid has been behaving this last month.” That does not count. A child has to have an acute problem to be admitted to the hospital which is often the best place to go, especially if they have a children’s ward for mental illness, because that way they can have their meds adjusted, which is a difficult thing to do at home. The doctor we had took him off of everything, and then slowly added things back which could be dangerous actually. So we were told- and thank God we were told- “Don’t ever go in and say: “You won’t believe how it’s been for the last month.” You have to say, “Yesterday,” –  not even ‘yesterday’- “Today, my son woke up and he is been talking about suicide.” He was only seven actually when he first did this, and he wanted us to die too, because he wanted us to go along with him, he didn’t understand death. When we said, “No, we wouldn’t do that”, and tried to explain death to him, he said, “Well then, I’ll take my cat.” We woke up in the morning and he was quite angry and I went in the back room and he was trying to strangle his cat.

Tammy: Oh, my goodness.

Grandmother: He had been acting up in other ways too. I can’t remember right now what they were but that was a clue that he was saying, “Mom, I’m so suicidal.” So I lied, I called the doctor the next day, because we were completely snowbound and had been for several days, we live in a country and our roads weren’t cleared, there was no way I could get him to the hospital, so we just watched him all day, all night, and then I called the doctor in the morning. That night he was still agitated and he had bit into a light bulb, because he wanted a weapon to fight bad guys with. He though glass would be a good idea. That was another escalation of saying, “Mom, I am really hurting, and I’m really scared, and something has to be done.” So I called the doctor and I said, “He did this and he did that”, and I made it sound like it was simultaneous, and it just happened that moment where it has actually happened the day before. Fortunately, he was young enough not to even know the truth, and so when I’m rattling off to the interviewer at the hospital, they are like, “okay” So I think that’s important for the parents to know, if you want to get help for your child other than outpatient help and which I think it’s vital if your kid has any sort of difficulty: ADHD, Tourettes– any of those things–you need to be under their care of a psychiatrist who understands the medications they are on. But if they need to be hospitalized, you need to know how to do that.

Tammy: You’re right. That’s actually a common story that I hear, and personally have been through as well. If you don’t use exact right words, right? At the exact right time.

Grandmother: You need to know the words.

Tammy:  Thank you. That’s really an important thing to hear. So we ask people as they’re dealing with this –  we understand it changes as you’re going through this, how you are doing changes throughout it –  but at this moment do you feel like you’re swimming, treading water, drowning – where do you feel like you’re at in your journey?

Grandmother: I feel like I just got out and toweled off, because my kid is, today, in a group home, where he has twenty-four hour supervision. He is not healed, but he is able to cope with most situations. He knows what to do when he’s angry, what to do when he’s frustrated. He even tells me sometimes. Maybe my husband and I have words, he’ll say, “Mom and dad, stop that! Use your coping skills.” [laughter] and he’ll guide us. Like, one day I said to my husband, the next day, because sometimes it’s best not to fight in the midst of it, I said, “You know? What you did yesterday really bothered me and I would appreciate it if you would do such and such.” And later after we had this little talk my son (my grandson had been listening) and he said, “Good job, mom.” [laughter] He’s come a long way. We got him when he was six. He’s now eighteen. He first stint in residential care was about nine months. When he was seven. It was very hard to leave him. And maybe it’s even harder for parents as opposed to grandparents, but I knew we couldn’t handle it, I knew he couldn’t handle it. We were in a mix of financial changes in the government, so how we went about it was problematic, but we had it done. We got it done and we got him in there for nine months and he came out a somewhat better person. He went back exactly a year after he had been admitted before and we realized that that time that he was probably cyclical. Some children don’t even know what day of the week it is or what day of the year it is, but his bad time was October. When the leaves fall, when the nights get darker, he had sensory things that said, “This is when I had my bad time when I was little.” So every year –  and it’s gotten much better –  he has had a bad time, actually from October till spring.

Tammy: Is that helpful at all on predicting? I mean, as you were taking care of him through all those years did that help you anticipate those months? Did it help you prepare for that more a little bit, or?

Grandmother: It did. At least we were ready for it. But every year it was less. So we’re prepared for what it was last year and the next year it’s a little bit better. Now I just recently bought, and he has never experienced it, but I bought him, one of those all-spectrum lights, which is supposed to be good for depression –that’s one of the things he suffers from. He has bipolar disorder. He experiences anxiety to a high extent sometimes, and he has just like regular depression as opposed to bipolar, and, a bunch of other [conditions]: attention deficit which is difficult, and he has difficulty learning. But every year gets better, and every year he tries harder, and so we’re looking for the worst and, bam! He’s a little worse, a little crabby, can’t sleep quite as well at night, but it’s no big deal.

Tammy: That’s great. So that’s really encouraging to hear that it can gradually get better each year.

Grandmother: Yeah, it did with him. And I think he will probably have this his whole life, bipolar is hardly ever something that goes away. But you learn what type of bipolar disorder they have and how they react as kids mature, I’ve heard of mothers especially say little girls have more of a problem, because of hormones and self-worth. Our boy got worse in early puberty, but he is such a gentleman now, it’s just—it’s wonderful.

Tammy: We like– we, parents of younger kids, really like to hear these stories. [laughter] I have to tell you. So what is your self-care routine, how do you take care of you when all this stuff that’s going on?

Grandmother: I will have to say I’m bad about that. But one of the things I remember because I also have, experienced depression and anxiety. I went to a psychiatrist and got medication. Mine is the type that I may not have to take it all my life except for one of the antidepressants helps with the pain I have it, from Fibromyalgia, which I think that many autoimmune diseases happen to mothers and grandmothers who are highly stressed. So every once-in-a-while I will make my needs known and say, “Do not wake me up in the morning.” My husband is an early riser, he likes to get up as soon as the sun is up, and sometimes he listens to me and leave me alone. [laughter] Another thing I try to do is do what I enjoy. I belong to a group that does art. I’ve never had an art class in my life. They didn’t have art when I was in school. I went to a parochial school and I won one prize in art and that’s because I picked up the wrong crayon and drew the sky dark blue. So they figured that I must have some inner angst of some sort. [laughter] But I just piddle with it. I love what I call fiber arts because it’s fun to call it an art, whereas it’s just working with thread. I like to knit. crochet, do a little quilting, and every once-in-a-while I’ll see some real arty stuff done with a little bit of yarn and a little bit of something else, and I’ve never done a piece, but I think it’d be fun.

Tammy: Yeah. That be a nice now that you have much more time on your hands, right? [laughter]

Grandmother: Yes, yes.

Tammy:  Wonderful. And, you know, the only way we get through some of this is just by laughing sometimes. What’s your most laughable moment?

Grandmother: My most laughable moments have been with my child, with my grandchild. He’s a funny kid. This one didn’t happen when I was there, but when he had his going away party there were loads of people there, even people who had already quit and gone on to grow in other areas. They said that he had been invited over to another cottage one day, because periodically they give kids a rest from their caregivers and they give their caregivers a rest from the kid, and he had a particular cottage where he liked a lot of the kids and he liked the caregiver. He went over there (and he was no longer doing it but he was aware that kids do) they kick holes in the walls. They do all kinds of stuff that—actually he never did it at home, he did horrible things at home but he never dared to kick a hole – but when he was first there, he probably did it once a week. He went over to this cottage and there was one hole on the wall, and I had hoped that maybe he’d learn a little bit of maintenance and stuff while he watched the people constantly repairing things. [laughter] So he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll fix it.” And he got some card board, and he got some crayons and he taped it all together and he wrote on the thing, “Secret tunnel.”

[laughter]

Tammy: That’s the best one I’ve heard yet. [laughter]

Grandmother: And it’s things like that make me laugh, because he’s so funny. Sometimes even his mental illness is funny, and he’ll say, “Don’t make fun of me, mom.” And I’ll say, “I’m not making fun of you, I’m laughing with you because you are a delightful child.” He’s unusual, he’s different, and we try and praise that in him, that he should be who he is. And he’s a funny kid, he’s an outgoing kid, he’s polite, and let’s not look at the fact that he has trouble learning, he’s a beautiful artist even better than I am [laughter] umand he enjoys doing things for other people.

Tammy: That’s wonderful, that’s wonderful. Well, Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, I really appreciate it.

Grandmother: Okay. Thank you.

Speaker: You have been listening to “Just Ask Mom”, recorded and copyrighted in 2017 by Mothers on the Frontline. Today’s podcast host was Tammy Nyden. The music is “Olde English” written, performed, and recorded by FlameEmoji. For more podcasts in this and other series relating to children’s mental health, go to MothersOnTheFronline.com.

[End]

The importance of not taking your child’s behavior personally. Just Ask Mom Podcast Series, Episode 4

In this episode we speak to Paula, the adoptive mother of two boys from foster care. One son has PTSD, Trauma, and Autism. The other son has ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, and Anxiety. Paula talks about the importance of not taking your child’s behavior personally, the gift of adoption,  and the importance of laughter.

For a transcript of the podcast, go to https://mothersonthefrontline.com/podcast-transcripts/

Resources Mentioned in this Podcast

99 ways to To Drive Your Kids Sane by Brita St. Clair. – This little book is full of wild ideas and hysterical humor to bring the laughter back into a home with an emotionally disturbed child. Need a good laugh? This book will do it! It includes lots of “one liners” and silly, fun ways to help parents avoid anger around tough topics. Written by a very experienced and loving Therapeutic Mom with years of success helping tough kids heal.

Transcription

Female Speaker over music: Welcome to the Just Ask Mom podcast where mothers share their experiences of raising children with mental illness.  Just Ask Mom is a Mothers on the Frontline production. Today we will speak with Paula, a mother of two adopted boys. One who has PTSD, Trauma, and is on the Autism Spectrum. The other son has ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, and Anxiety

Tammy: Well tell us a little bit about yourself.

Paula: Well, I’m a mom here in Iowa. We live in a semi little town but it’s in a metropolitan area so we have lots of great things around us. I have been married twenty-eight years.

Tammy: Congratulations. That’s wonderful.

Paula: Which is a long time. [Laughs]

Tammy: Yes it is. [Laughs]

Paula: Especially  – I mean I am not quite fifty but still, we got married when we were twenty. I mean so we were late to the family thing. We wanted to wait, we didn’t want to jump in. And for a variety of reasons being foster parents and adoption was the way that we decided to go. So we have two boys, they are now fifteen and twelve. The first one we adopted when he was three and a half and the other one was seven. So we are no longer foster parents. I did foster care training and stuff but we are no longer foster parents. Because of the level of needs that they both have, they need our full attention. So I am now a stay at home mom, but professionally I am rehab counselor and mental health therapist.

Tammy: Wonderful. So before we get started I always like to ask people about themselves before they were mothers or outside of mothering. So you told us a bit career-wise so just tell us a little bit about your passions and who you are before we get ….

Paula: Well I love lots of things – my husband and I joke that we are renaissance people so we like lots of little things. Before we had kids we were married a long time, which I highly recommend. I mean we got married young, we were twenty. But we didn’t bring kids into our universe until year thirteen or something. Before we had kids though life was moving along beautifully, you know just the way it does, but it wasn’t easy, actually my husband is a stage four colon cancer survivor.

Tammy: Oh wow.

Paula: So when we were thirty three, he was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer and at that time in 2001,  less than five percent survived stage four colon cancer. So um we were one of that five percent and so that definitely informs the way that we view the universe. We’re in year what?  that’s 2001-  so somebody else do the math  –  fifteen years that he is still you know alive, healthy, we had no recurrence. We went through everything you know all the chemo, liver resection, all the worse things humanly possible. So for us every day is a gift even after fifteen years. We often joke that I should have been widowed  –  had I been widowed what would I have done? That is what we worked on. You know in therapy — how do you deal with your life and literally I would have had a farm house with a bunch of foster adopted kids.

Tammy: That’s your passion.

Paula: So that’s probably what I would have done. I grew up in foster care and my mom had serious mental illness. She was bipolar rapid cycling and so this was something that was always on our radars to be foster parents and given the biology of our bodies, adoption was the way we decide to have a family.

Tammy: Wonderful. Thank you for that. So what would you like people to know?  You have so many rich, great experiences. What would you like people to know?

Paula: When I do trainings on trauma development and the way our brains work, my favorite thing to remind parents –  and it is so hard as moms, oh my goodness,  it is so hard – is to not take it personal. One of the stories that I share in my trainings is about when my son was five. He was very big for his age, he wore size eight, nine or real close. He is a big boy. I mean he is tall now too. But he was a big boy. He would rage and when you have a child that has trauma you can’t allow them to rage alone because it’s not that they need to calm down. You need to be their container. Mentally you need to be a container – a safe place for them and so, one of my favorite ways to remind parents not to take it personal is, he was in the middle of a rage and he just, his caveman brain was just in charge he couldn’t handle what was going on and we were sitting on his bed and I had my arms around him. He was sitting, on my lap and you know he was just in that fully fledged bucking mode and he bucked back and he hit my nose so that it hit the bridge and I got a hairline fracture.

Tammy: Oh.

Paula: If you have ever had one of those, you would rather have your nose broken. The hairline fractures are unbelievably painful but where I teach people not to take things personal is in that moment when he raged and hit me, cause I wear glasses. He hit me and I felt the pain, I knew instantly – this was just the thing that was going into my head: “If I say something now this could undo all the work we have been doing to help him bond and heal. “So I just held him for a moment and I said,  “honey I love you, I need to step out” and I stepped out and went to our bedroom, put my face in the pillow and screamed [Laughs] Some very colorful words.

Tammy: I bet [Laughs]

Paula: Took off my glasses and I went back in and finished helping him calm down. And then we went and figured out what was wrong. That’s a prime example of not taking it personal. Yes, he physically assaulted me. He broke my nose. That hairline fracture  –  I wore a little lightweight plastic glasses –  I couldn’t even put those  on –  but it wasn’t personal. It had nothing to do with me. What was happening was not to me, it was to him.

And so always remembering that, so that’s my extreme moment of even now as a teenager when he does things I have to remember, he is not saying this to hurt me, it’s his coping skill. And even when he does now he will say, he will, you know, use the “B” word and so he never uses it anymore because we turned it into a joke and I am like, “you know what buddy I really am and I am really good at it so thank you for noticing.”

Tammy: [Laughs]

Paula: And he stopped. [Laughs]

Tammy: You took the fun out of it! [Laughs]

Paula: Yes, I took the fun out of it. But also I deescalated it and didn’t take it personal. And so that’s one of my biggest wishes for moms is to not take it personal because it is so hard to not do that.

Tammy: Right. And as is the case with so many of these interviews so far, you are telling us something that is especially true when you have a child with mental illness, but this is true for all parents.

Paula: You know I’m glad you said that because our best friend, I love her – she says when she talks about us to other people or she even complains about her children, one of her children is the same age as mine, fifteen years old and they have been in school several times together and she will complain about her daughter doing something and then she just looks at me and smiles and she goes, yes I know Paula, it’s that, plus. So everything that happens in quote ‘regular lives’ is what happens to all of us.

Tammy: Absolutely.

Paula: Which is stressful.

Tammy: Oh yeah.

Paula: Being a mom of a teen is stressful.

Tammy: Yeah.

Paula: But I like the way that she articulated it. She is like, you know what, you guys have all the normal stress plus. And so it’s not that these techniques that we use with our family aren’t good techniques for everyone, it’s just that we have to be more cognizant of it and more mindful of doing it and the reason we are doing it. Its not accidental, that we use certain language or that we talk about topics more in depth than your average parent. Its purposeful and so I like that because she will do the same topic with her daughter and then she is like yeah, but you guys have to do the plus. So that’s kind of how I view our life work. Like everyone else, plus.

Tammy: Plus, exactly, yeah. Well that’s, I think a really helpful lesson. Is there anything else that you would like people to know in general. I mean you have done, by the way thank you, I always think we need to say thank you when people adopt children from foster care because you are doing not only something wonderful for those children but you are doing something for our whole community.

Paula: As a mom we feel guilt a lot and we feel the weight of the universe on us. And so again our friend that says the plus, I have stopped working for the past four years, almost five now. I got my Masters Degree and then I stopped working. So we were like, oh well that was interesting and so sometimes that guilt kills me. So I like the way that she rephrased it for me and that was, because we have this special needs adoption and we had to really fight for it. Which was really interesting given they were going to put him in an institution. But that’s okay, so we fought hard to get the highest level of special needs adoption but that wasn’t until he was like ten. So, you know we had five years of the first level. The reason that I could not work was because we had two boys that get the special needs adoption and so my friend reminds that, that is my job.

Tammy: Absolutely.

Paula: So it’s not that I am not bringing income into our family. It’s not that I’m not contributing financially. If I didn’t stay at home, and do all of the things that –  school calls and “hey you know this child is not doing xyz can you come and calm him down?” -, you can’t do that with a job or you get fired. So letting go of that guilt that you have to make certain sacrifices and that’s okay.

So you know that’s one thing and then the other thing is that I always I have a hard time saying thank you when somebody says you are great for adopting, because I grew up in foster care. I know that it is good that we adopted them, you know hopefully somebody would have eventually. But from my perspective, I was an infertile woman in my late thirties who cried every time she saw all her friends having babies. So in a way, it’s kind of selfish. I mean it works out both ways I mean I wanted children, couldn’t have children, I had a special skill set that could work with kids with trauma. So it’s like I want to say thank you for saying that but a part of me is always like I needed it too. So its sort of a fifty-fifty, yes we saved them but they saved us. So it works that way, it’s not “yay we are adopted foster parents whoo –hoo”. Its not that simple.

Tammy: I think most of the time when we reach out to anyone else, it’s helping us as much as helping them.

Paula: Yeah, exactly.

Tammy: That’s always the case. That’s right.

Paula: They have definitely enriched our lives in ways that we could never have imagined and they drive us absolutely insane.

Tammy: [Laughs]

Paula: In the same breath [Laughs]  –  but that’s what most parents say.

Tammy: Absolutely, absolutely.

Paula: But ours is “plus”.[Laughs]

Tammy: That’s right! So we ask this question of everybody: right at this moment, do you feel like you are swimming, drowning, treading water ? Where do you find yourself?

Paula: I’m swimming.

Tammy: Wonderful.

Paula: I mean I have really great support. Our school is amazing. It breaks my heart when I hear of families that struggle to get basic accommodations. Shout to the Iowa City School District. They have done amazing work with our kids.

Tammy: That’s great.

Paula: They have always listened to us. They value our opinion, we value theirs. I feel that we have a good support system. I mean I feel isolated sometimes just as a mom because there are no mom groups for kids like mine. Yet sometimes I just want to be hermit so it’s a give and take  – but I am swimming. I’m blessed –  I have an amazing husband who  – we are truly a partnership. I parent a fifteen-year-old easy peasy. Twelve-year-old, not so much. He parents the twelve-year-old easy peasy, the fifteen-year-old not so much.

Tammy: That works out nicely.

Paula:  So it has worked out really well. [Laughs].

Tammy: Yes, that works really well. [Laughs] When you and I were talking earlier you said –  and this seems to be universal among all of us moms  – “ if we don’t laugh, we would be crying all the time”, so we like to ask, what’s your most laughable moment ?

Paula: So we laugh about that because I ask my family, “Like gosh what’s the most laughable moment?” and they are like “we can’t parse this out because we are goof balls.”

Tammy: [Laughs]

Paula: When we adopted the boys and when we brought them into our family, the biggest joke was, you can’t join our family unless you want to be silly and so one of the books that I always take with me when I do trainings is, the book, How To Drive Your Kids Sane. It has all these little great tips of how to just do silly stuff like singing silly in the car with a fifteen year old. Because you do that with little kids but when you do it with older kids they crack up at you being so silly but then they are silly and they lose that inhibition and so we try to be silly. Our family is full of puns, we are constantly trying to out pun each other or alliterations and so laughable moments in our life are always around the dinner table. We always eat dinner together. So I ask my husband what’s a laughable moment for me and he is like, you know after all these years the one that always pops into his head is, I was extremely exhausted, I was working the third shift at Dunkin Donuts and, you know we were what? Twenty two, twenty three years old and, the phone would ring but I’m on the different body clock than everybody else in the house and he says that I would always try to pick up the phone but I couldn’t find it cause I’m asleep. So I would always pick up the alarm clock. And so this is one those plugged in alarm clocks from you know back in the eighties and he is like you would pick up this alarm clock and you like shove it to your face and realize it’s too big and that it’s not a phone and you just saw this look and like, why isn’t anybody answering this phone but I am asleep.

Tammy:[Laughs]

Paula: And so he says that’s always the image that he has of laughable moments about me. But I think we just try to laugh a lot like you were talking about self care –  so being funny and laughing is part of our self-care, of my self care. I am an avid knitter, and that has its own laughable moments whenever I make mistakes and have to undo stuff or you know I make silly things for the kids, yeah, so I can’t come up with one cause there is like ten from just going over to Hurtz donuts this morning.

Tammy: That’s awesome. Well thank you so much for talking with us and sharing your story.

Paula: No thank you for doing this.

Female Voice over Music: You have been listening to “Just Ask Mom”, recorded and copyrighted in 2017 by Mothers on the Frontline. Today’s podcast host was Tammy Nyden. The music is “Olde English” written, performed, and recorded by FlameEmoji. For more podcasts in this and other series relating to children’s mental health, go to MothersOnTheFronline.com.