Bipolar in the teen years and beyond in rural Iowa, Just Ask Mom episode 18

logo: purple lotus flower with white figure inside holding arms up on black background

Jill discusses caring for her son whose bipolar disorder surfaced during the teen years. She describes the lack of resources in rural Iowa, the criminalization of mental illness and how that affected her family. She explains how this journey as a mother makes you learn who you are as a person and how strong you can be.

Transcription

[music]

Female Voice: 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 listen to Jill, a mother from Iowa, share her story about raising a son with bipolar disorder.

Tammy: Thank you for doing this. We really appreciate you being here.

Jill: Absolutely.

Tammy: Before we get into a lot of the content could you tell us a little bit about yourself before or outside of mothering, who are you? What are your passions? What are you interested in?

Jill: It’s a great question. Well, first of all, I think I’ve known since I was five years old, probably or even before that I wanted to be a teacher. My grandmother was a teacher, my aunt was a teacher. I would have to say that was my focus through high school. I went to college, I’m a teacher and I’m very passionate about it, very passionate about early childhood education. I currently decided to personally take a step back and decided to work on my Master’s degree.

Tammy: Wonderful.

Jill: Yeah, between doing that and teaching full-time and having two children, let’s say two teenagers at home. [laughs]

Tammy: You’re busy.

Jill: It’s busy. When I have a free second to breath and if I’m not writing the research paper or discussion thread I am spending time with my family and friends. That’s very important to me. I like to exercise, I love to be outside in the summer in my flower garden. That’s kind of me by myself.

Tammy: So you knew early on what you wanted to do?

Jill: I did and I think that doesn’t happen a lot.

Tammy: No.

Jill: I I think a lot of children these days are just full of pressure. “I don’t know what I want to do. I don’t know what I want to do”, and I just tell my boys I hope it’s just a lucky one. So, 20-some years I’ve been in it and I don’t ever see myself do anything else.

Tammy: Oh, that’s wonderful. You love it, that’s great.

Jill: I do, yes.

Tammy: It’s a gift when your passion can become your work.

Jill: Yes, absolutely.

Tammy: Absolutely. I want you to pretend that you’re talking to other parents. What do you want them to know about your experience as raising a child with a mental health condition? What would you want them to know?

Jill: I would say number one, trust your instincts. If you see something maybe that is out of character for your child, maybe something that differs from what they have “typically”, how they’ve been acting. I guess just picking up on those little cues. I look back over the journey with my son it’s been three years. Three years and three years now has gone by and I look back at some of the things and say. “Wow, I wish I would have been– went with my gut more than I did”. Does that make sense?

Tammy: It does. Now with your son, was there a clear before-and-after of an onset of symptoms, did it sort of come on at a certain point in his life or did you always see it his whole life, or?

Jill: No. We did not see it early on in life at all. There was no signs or symptoms at all. Probably started seeing it at the age of 15, his hormones were really coming on. When we first started seeing signs like I said looking back impulsive behaviors and things that typically hadn’t been characteristic of my son, but because some of it we kind of blamed on, “Oh, he’s a teenager. Oh, he’s sowing his oats, he’s doing this”, but then he would be fine for a while. Then well, we’d have another as well, I say now an episode of just uncharacteristically behaviors. I should have went with my gut more than I did but I did try to get some help right away, but that was difficult and that probably will come next.

Tammy: Yeah, tell me about that because let me just go back to one thing.

Jill: Yes, please do.

Tammy: You’re bringing up a really important issue because when you’re dealing with children’s mental health, there’s a whole gamut. Some kids have things from very young like Tourette’s usually comes around to age seven, for instance, but a lot of kids have conditions that surface during the teenage years. That’s when the conditions start to have their first symptoms. As you said it’s hard to know is it just being a teenager or not.

Jill: It completely was because from birth up to that point he had been a straight A student. He had been an austere athlete. He had been the kid that never broke a rule, if there was a line he was going to walk it. That’s why I say trust your instincts because as mothers we know our children better than anyone else in this world. When he was behaving some of these behaviors I’m like, “This is– Okay, I’m not sure. Are we this pushing? Or a teenager–“. Like I said we even went with were there drugs involved because drugs are so rampant in the high schools and things that I was not aware of. I guess maybe naive and I had to open myself up to that and wow, what started were these outbursts, I say outburst because it was the change of behavior. His grades started slipping a little. Socially he started secluding himself from his friends. There would be days maybe even weeks he would just stay at home on the couch and he’d want the curtains closed, and he just wants to watch movies with me. You know, “Okay, well, honey” and his friends would come over and say, “Come on, bud. Let’s go.” Typically before this kind of came on sure he would go. He’d love it, very social kid. Then there’d be times where we get over of laying on the couch. Then we would– he particularly, I remember, got in his car asked could he go to the mall to the nearest city and I said, “Sure, okay”. Called me, got a speeding ticket, was going almost a hundred miles an hour.

Tammy: That’s so dangerous.

Jill: Yes, and this was just a few days after we’d been laying on the couch for a while. Then I got him home and said, “Okay”, had the whole typical teenage speeches, had the whole, “We’re going to take your car”, and then two days later gets another speeding ticket. He was going 95. It was just so mind-blowing because my whole mommy gut, I call that, what’s going, “What is going on”, and so that’s when I’m like, “Okay”. Started in with therapist number one.

Tammy: Talk about that. Why was it hard to get help at first? What was difficult at that time?

Jill: I will be completely honest and people probably don’t want to hear this but I know as a mother I wish somebody would have told me, Iowa is horrible for mental health. I had been born and raised in the state and I will probably live in the state for the rest of my life, but I am highly disappointed with the services and help that we have. From just doing some readings I think we’re one of the worst states in the United States of America.

Tammy: We are. I can feel what you’re saying  – because if I hear what you’re saying  –  this is where I’m at –  me– I don’t want read this in –  but I love Iowa. There’s so many wonderful things about our state but this is so disappointing.

Jill: It is. It’s – it’s heartbreaking.

Tammy: It’s heartbreaking, yeah.

Jill: It’s sad and the first thing I did was say, “Okay, I need a professional” because I am a teacher. I am not a doctor. I just told my son, “Hey, I think we need to talk to somebody to figure out what’s going” because he was talking to me but not really. I think he was not sure, I think, what was even going on with himself. That’s where I was like, “Is this his hormones? Is this puberty has set in?”. He has a later birthday so he is a younger one for his class. I went and got a therapist number one, I say because it’s a long…. So went and he just– it was very difficult. He wouldn’t open up. That’s what we tried first. Then, unfortunately, he attempted suicide.

Tammy: I’m sorry.

Jill: Oh, yeah. It was hard. I can talk about it now because it’s been long enough but I think it was more of a cry for help like I’m stuck in my own body and I’m not sure what’s going on. I came home and he was wanting to sleep, he wasn’t sleeping at night. That was another mommy gut thing where the kid that always slept at night wasn’t sleeping at night. He decided– I saw this package of pills and I’m like– he’s like, “Mom, mom” because just he’s so smart and he’s such a wonderful kid.  And he’s just like, “Mom, I didn’t know what else to do but I took all those Benadryl and I went”. “Excuse me?”. He’s like, “I just can’t do it”. “You can’t do what?”. He’s like, “I can’t not sleep and I can’t, my head is racing. My thoughts are racing”.

Tammy: He’s suffering.

Jill: He’s like, “I just need some rest”. I’m like you know the mother, “Oh, my gosh”. He admitted doing it. We went to the hospital and then they once you go to the hospital with an attempted suicide then, you kind of get a little more help. Unfortunately, we had to go through an episode like that to get a little more help. We moved on to therapist number two which also involved medication. He hadn’t been on any medication until that kind of botched attempted suicide or just attention-getting. I’m not even sure what do we call it now.

Tammy: Clearly he was in deep pain and needed help.

Jill: He did. I think that’s–

Tammy: We take it all so seriously. We need to. Absolutely.

Jill: Yeah, we need to and there was no way, and I wasn’t going to take him to the hospital because his father had said to me, “Well, does he really need to go to a hospital?”. He took several Bendadryl and I think this is a tipping point where he looked at me and said, “I just can’t take it anymore. I need some rest. I need to stop my head from spinning”. I don’t even know because I wish I could– I’m not in his shoes. I didn’t know.

Tammy: How could you?

Jill: How could, how can you?

Tammy: Did the hospitalization was it a relief for him because sometimes it can be really– it can go either way, especially for a teen. It can be such a relief to know there’s a place you can go.

Jill: I think looking back on it because that was three years ago, I think looking back on it, I do think there was some sense of relief but there was also a sense of shame.

Tammy: That’s something we should talk about because that’s something we need to change.

Jill: It is.

Tammy: He’d go to the hospital if he broke his leg, right?

Jill: Yeah.

Tammy: He won’t be ashamed of that.

Jill: Oh, no.

Tammy: Poor kid. He’s ashamed of a health problem that he can’t help.

Jill: Yeah. I think that that was the worst thing is to watch be ashamed and embarrassed. And me was just starting to have my eyes opened. I wasn’t, I had to be strong for him but I had to convey to my 16-year old that this is that we can talk about this. That it’s okay to talk about. They put him in some day treatment. It happened to be during the summer and he went to a hospital in the city is nearest to us during the days for some day treatment. I would drop him off and pick him up. That’s where they wanted to start a medication and he started his first medication. I said first because there’s some things that happened as they change and grow and figuring that out. He responded pretty well to the day treatment. The medication I could say no.

Tammy: It didn’t work, it wasn’t the right one?

Jill: No. That leads into my next thing. Number one was trust your instincts. Number two, be persistent.

Tammy: Yes, because it’s a long journey getting the right med.

Jill: Huge.

Tammy: Something that works for years all of a sudden cannot work, so you’re right. That’s something, a muscle you need to keep throughout your life, right?

Jill: Yes, be persistent.

Tammy: Be persistent.

Jill: There are really so many as we call them, as I say we is– his dad and me – we said there are so many pieces to the puzzle of someone that is suffering from a mental illness. To get the pieces to fit your puzzle to make it look like a nice picture takes time. I remember back when we went to just the scenario, I was explaining when the first time we had the hospital stay and the treatment at the hospital was, be patient, it takes time. You do not want to hear that and I was angry, very angry. No, my son has strep throat I want a medicine that’s going to make him better. No, my son broke his arm I want to cast and in six weeks it’s coming off. My son has a mental illness, I want at least something that can give him some relief.

Tammy: Now.

Jill: Now. Tell me in six weeks it’s going to be better. They can’t.

Tammy: They can’t.

Jill: Nobody can until you try it. Well, we tried this medication and give it six to eight weeks. Whoa. It was causing I would almost say his– my son is recently officially been diagnosed as bipolar, so now we know. It’s been a long few years but I would say the first medication he was on brought on more the manic.

Tammy: Oh, yeah, that can happen too.

Jill: It can and we did not know that but it was more manic and more just random behaviors that were unlike him. Finally, when I say be persistent, I went and I said, “No, we can’t do this. This is not working for my son”. Then we changed to medicine number two, try that six to eight weeks, you have to make sure it works. I’m honestly not even sure. At one point I kept a list of medications that we’ve tried.

Tammy: Keep those lists, those are really important, yeah.

Jill: I do. I have the list and I try to update it as much as possible when they change him. This probably now currently, the stories I was telling you and he was 15 going on 16, my son is now recently turned 19. He’s been on the same medication regimen, main medication regimen for almost a year or a little more of year.

Tammy: It’s working well?

Jill:  It’s working well, he’s responded well.

Tammy: Oh, that’s wonderful.

Jill: We’ve recently had a little bit of a breakdown but we added something that kind of is just so I would say be persistent.

Tammy: Being persistent, that’s really important. One thing just from my own experience that I’ve learned that I didn’t know because I agree with you, it’s impossible as a mom to be patient. You want your kid better now. Sometimes medications that fail, as horrible is that is, that information helps with the diagnosis later. That helps them figure out, “Oh, that’s what’s going on”. That journey is really hard to go through but all that ends up being helpful to figure out what’s going on. It ,ay take a few years but I think it’s helpful when you’re in it to know that. That this may seem like it’s awful right now but this may be giving my child’s psychiatrist great information a year from now that he’ll know what’s going on.

Jill: Document it. This did not work for us.

Tammy: Exactly.

Jill: That’s like I said trust your instincts, go with your gut, be persistent. Those are two main things that now looking back I wish someone would have said to me.

 

Tammy: Yeah, because you have a wisdom as a mom. Our society doesn’t always give us the feedback of how that is so worth, what that’s worth, which is so important. I think that’s great advice.

Jill: Yeah, and I think it’s okay to feel every single emotion in the universe because there were times where you’re just so angry that you can’t control the anger within yourself or at maybe it was directed at someone because you thought they didn’t do enough or you just cry, or why did this happen, or you feel so sad for your child because they’re suffering, not suffering but just they are.

Tammy: They are though.

Jill: I guess it’s suffering it’s– and he’s at that age is, if they can describe it –no- they’re trying. My son, his experience was all of a sudden this hit us at this certain point in life. Well, I’ve never– he never known what this feeling was and so yeah, that’s tricky.

Tammy: You said something I want to follow up on if it’s okay?

Jill: Yeah, absolutely.

Tammy: Because I think it’s another very common experience for us mothers and caregivers that you had to hold your emotions together when your son was going through this. Let’s be honest, we have a whole lot of emotions watching our kids go through this. You’re right, we have to sort of put them on hold. How did you take care of you when that or come back to processing that, and I say this not like because I don’t know how I figure it out either. I don’t know that I’m doing it. I think it’s something we need to talk about as caregivers and as mothers because it’s a very emotional journey we’re on but we don’t often have time to attend to our emotions because we’re literally constantly helping our kid navigate theirs.

Jill: Yeah, and I think it’s important to yourself as a mother. We as mothers stay strong for them because we feel like we are that constant. I feel like I am my son’s strength when he cannot be strong. I have to be strong and not waver and almost like I compare it to an outside of body experience. Okay, I’m going to put me over in the corner for now and this stoic, non-emotional machine that has his mom’s face on it is going to be her. Because right there I’m over in the corner because if I was here I would be a blubbering emotional mm-mm.

Tammy: That’s a great description. I’m sure a lot of our listeners  – I know I can relate to that, that just sounds so familiar to me.

Jill: And to myself. I get back in– my son had the worst, excuse me but, he had a really bad episode at Christmas. One of the many therapists that he had been to which we thought we had gotten a good one, and they’ve been going for about a year, decided that it was okay that maybe he didn’t need to take any medication because we hadn’t had a clear diagnosis. Okay, all right, well, he’d been doing so good and graduated high school, got himself a full-time job, had his own apartment. Then she said, “Let’s just try without”. Of course, my son being a man doesn’t want to have to rely on medication, “Sure, if a doctor tells me I don’t have to, it doesn’t have to”. Long story short, six weeks later manic episode to the full-blown worst episode I have ever seen and he’s 18 years old. I had to pull myself together and I found my own strength that I never thought I had, ever thought I had.

Tammy: You have to be fierce for this job.

Jill: Fierce is a very good word. Fierce, strong, whatever you need to do to get through it. I would say I have learned more about myself. I am 44 years old and I probably know myself better than I have in my entire life.

Tammy: This will do that to you, won’t it?

Jill: It will.

Tammy: It really will.

Jill: And that’s good. It’s okay but I thought I knew myself. I didn’t know myself. I didn’t know the strength that I had as a mother. I think that’s good but how do– I guess going back to your original question, I’m sorry, but how do you how do you take care of yourself? Well, after you get your son settled in the hospital or the care facility or home, wherever they end up being, I went back to the corner and I picked myself up, took my shell off. In the privacy of my own time, in my own place, I felt those emotions. You have to feel them at some point, you can’t bottle them out.

Tammy: They’ll come back to haunt you if you try.

Jill: You will have some major– you need to talk to a professional. You can talk to a relative, a friend. If you are spiritual, talk to your spiritual leader. Do something that you can get those emotions because you’ve got to feel them, you have to feel them.

Tammy: This is where support groups and things like that can also be really useful as well.

Jill: Support groups, absolutely, find someone in your support group because I’m telling you we if as mothers as parents out there, even if you’re not a mother or a father or just a caregiver, you need a go-to person or you need a go-to way to let those emotions go.

Tammy: Yeah,

Jill: Because I know we all as caregivers want to be strong and yes, but you have to remember to deal with your own personal.

Tammy: Absolutely.

Jill: You do.

Tammy: Thank you for that. I think that’s something we need to hear and remember.

Jill: Yeah.

Tammy: So, this is a lot but I’m wondering if you can think back in the past three years about something that has been a barrier to getting help you’ve talked about some of the challenges with finding the right medication and so forth. Has there been something that’s been a barrier or you tried that didn’t work or that you wish would have been different? You wish should be different for people going forward that you experienced?

Jill: I think you all those things you mentioned were barriers. I’m just finding the right fit but I do think I’m going to go back to it a barrier is where I live.

Tammy: Hmm,

Jill:  Not only the state of Iowa that I live in but the county that I live in and my state of Iowa, very limited resources.

Tammy: Hmm,

Jill: We do not have a hospital in the county I live in. So, when I want to– I’ve committed my son twice when I did the committal there wasn’t  a county that had no hospital. So, took him to the county over where the big city is and they kicked me out because they didn’t have to treat my son because he’s not their problem.

Tammy: Really?

Jill: Mm-hmm. because we’re not residents of their county.

Tammy: I don’t realize that they could do that.

Jill: Tell me how, tell me how inhumane that is….

Tammy: Absolutely.

Jill: Inhumane.

Tammy: Absolutely.

Jill: As an educated woman, I consider myself an educated woman. I did not allow that to happen. This last time.

Tammy: Right.

Jill:  I stuck my heels in and said, oh no, my son needs to be treated well. “Well, we have this many people in our county that we don’t have beds for, we don’t have room for.” Wow.

Tammy: That’s shocking because it’s just and that’s something to check on I think. It just doesn’t sound like it could be legal. But we run into these things all the time that seems. like could this happen?

Jill: How could it happen?

Tammy: How could it happen?

Jill: How could it be legal? Exactly. I talked to some of the nurses from this hospital and said I don’t understand it like we have to send him back. We cannot keep him.

Tammy: Mm-hmm.

Jill: So, they gave them some a shot in the leg and said here you go.

Tammy: Yeah,

Jill: Back to your county. What? You have got to be kidding me.

Tammy: So just a lack of resources.

Jill: It’s yes. And I’m going to tell you the story.

Tammy: Yeah,

Jill: It’s very personal as well, but it’s very real in my life when my son went through the episode this Christmas where his doctor took them off his medication and we were in the full-blown manic episode. I could not get my son to get in the car and go to the hospital with me in the nearest town. Could not. He was so far gone mentally that he couldn’t. He still had his automobile, he’s still on his apartment and still had all his freedom. And I was scared for his life. Somehow, some way they found his car abandoned in the middle of the street. And he was knocking on people’s doors at 6:00 in the morning confused. So, they brought him into the police and he was put in jail.

Tammy: Instead of taken to the hospital?

Jill: Uh-hmm, My son was put in jail and charged with public intoxication. So they called me and said, ‘Ma’am we have your son’. We think he’s high on meth.

Tammy: He was manic?

Jill: Yes,

Tammy: That’s what I’m hearing.

[laughter]

Jill: A long pause because there were flames. Those emotions–

Tammy: Right.

Jill: There were flames coming out of my ears and I’m like. “Sir, please any, any drug test you’d like to give him. I’d like for you too because my son is in a full-blown manic episode.” “I just think he needs to sober up, we’ll keep him overnight.”

Tammy: Even after you told them this?

Jill: Yes, even after I told them so. I said alright. Because I honestly want to get my son out and if you’re keeping him right here I’m calling around, I’m going to start trying to find a spot. But why don’t you go ahead, and run a drug test, do whatever you need to do, have him “sober up”? I got a phone call by 8:00 am the next morning.  “Yeah, no, there’s no drugs in his system. He’s not– Yeah. I’m sorry ma’am. He needs some medical attention.” I go “he’s needs some medical attention as soon as possible. Let’s get on it.” Well, that was December 28, my son sat in jail until January 2nd. I had to file papers to get him committed. I had to go to the judge and beg and plead to get him some help.

Tammy: Because they were saying this is criminal activity as opposed to a symptom.

Jill: Thank you. Yes.

Tammy: For an illness that he clearly had?

Jill: Yes and had history. This was just six months ago. He’s had this basically three years and so, I was persistent and did not give up. And I said how, “how is this? how is this okay to keep my son locked up in a jail cell? He’s done no criminal activity.”

Tammy: Right.

Jill: They were like, “we don’t know what to do with him.” They told me, “we don’t know what to do with him. We have nowhere to take him.” That is what’s wrong with mental health.

Tammy: So, in this case, having an access center in your county, having training, CIT training, crisis intervention training among the police. These would have made a huge–

Jill: Huge

Tammy: –difference for your son and for your family. Not to mention for your community who is probably a lot of your neighbors or whoever were frightened.

Jill: Yes.

Tammy: And luckily no one was hurt, it sounds like.

Jill: No, absolutely no.

Tammy: But he could have.

Jill: Oh he could have

Tammy: Got himself into a car accident.

Jill: Yes. And hurt himself or someone else.

Tammy: And hurt himself. So those are just some little examples.

Jill: Mm-hmm.

Tammy: So this is a great example of how resources make such a difference.

Jill: They do. And I was persistant and I stayed strong and said I will do whatever it takes. The judges in my county were amazing. The police officers in my county were amazing gave me their home phone numbers and set–

Tammy: It’s wonderful.

Jill: I had probably the best support in a horrible situation I did, but I was persistent. And I do live in a smaller community, but I still think that those judges didn’t have to do that.

Tammy: Right.

Jill: But I will never ever forget the judge’s comment to me. He said, “Jill, your son does not deserve this treatment. I’m sorry, he has done nothing wrong.”

Tammy: I’m so glad you got to hear that

Jill: And I said, “thank you. You know who needs to hear that?”

Tammy:  Your son.

Jill: “It’s my son.”

Tammy: Did he tell him?

Jill:  Later after he got–

Tammy:  Well enough.

Jill: –well.

Tammy:  To hear…

Jill: He did. He said in the courtroom.

Tammy: I am glad you got ’cause some of these families never get that.

Jill: No, I couldn’t believe it. And I lost it emotionally. My stoic face left as fast as it could.  I just cried then. I was on the phone and I remember. Thank you so much. I said I know he does not but this is the problem. And he goes this this the problem, Jill, because I can’t send him home to you, I don’t think he’s safe. I said he’s not. I think he’d hurt me or his brother no. But he’d wander off.

Tammy: Right

Jill: And physically, I can’t keep– He’s bigger than me.

Tammy: Right.

Jill: You know this and I might– And he said so we’re going to keep him here but we’re going to I’m going to get an emergency order. Order him up there to see an ER doctor.

Tammy:  I’m glad you had that. Because then he got the help.

Jill: Yes.

Tammy: Now he’s doing much better.

Jill: Yes. Thank you. He had to stay on in the hospital in this psychiatric wing at the hospital for ten days. I was very worried he wasn’t going to come around. I went every day, I called every day on my lunch break from work and then I went up every day for a certain– you only get a two-hour time window. I went up every night still wasn’t coming back to me. But he knew who I was.

Tammy: Right

Jill: But we were still having some very delusional thoughts but finally they started him back on the medication that the doctor had taken him off. They, they uped it because obviously, they needed, they wanted to get it in his system faster. Then on the way home one night, his doctor that was treating him at the hospital called me and said, “Yeah I don’t think this by itself is working. Can I add a mood stabilizer?” I go, “sure.” We had tried that another time and it had worked for a while but we took him off focus he gained so much weight.

Tammy: Hmm,

Jill: Because there are so many factors medication and weight and other things that it affects.

Tammy: Right

Jill:  And within 48 hours I have my son back. I went up to visit him and he’s like, “Mom” and just tears of joy. I was so happy to have him back. So then they let him go a day or two later so. He’s healthy.

Tammy: That’s wonderful. So, you’ve actually already answered the next question–

Jill: Okay.

Tammy:  –which is what has worked. But if there’s something else you want to mention.

Jill: Yes…

Tammy: –something that you wanna say this works please keep this.

[laughter]

Jill: Yes.

Tammy: –keep making sure this happens for other people.

Jill: You know I just you know had I had really good luck with some really great people that were compassionate and understanding. And I think also most of the adults that I had interaction with were saddened too at the situation that they felt helpless because they wanted to help me but they couldn’t.

Tammy: Hmm,

Jill: So I think that was something. What else has worked well? Just be you know to be the best advocate for your child. You know our mental health system in the state of Iowa that I live in needs work but be an advocate for your child. You’re the person that knows your child more than anybody else in the world. So say to them you know this is what I’ve seen, this doesn’t work. This is what I need. This is what my child needs. And you know what. Even if your child is old enough, my son is old enough to say hey this makes this is working for me.

Tammy: Yes

Jill: Or this isn’t working for me. Don’t not say what you want to say. This is not something you can just say, “Ok, not a sore throat. Let’s try this and see if it works.” Something much bigger than that. And so yeah, I’m kind of outspoken sometimes

Tammy: That’s a good trait to have when you’re dealing with this. [laughter]

Jill: It is, and you don’t have to be. You don’t have to be outspoken and boisterous kinda like I am, but you need to at least say what you’re feeling. Advocate for what you think. Advocate for what you think your child needs.

Tammy:  Right

Jill: Don’t hold back.

Tammy: Right

Jill: Just don’t, because you don’t want anything to end or end up in a situation that you could have avoided.

Tammy: I think that’s really good advice.

Jill: You know.

Tammy: So, we like to ask these next three questions–

Jill: Yeah

Tammy: –each time. First of all, we recognize that this journey is constantly changing where we’re at. So just at this moment where do you feel? Do you feel like you’re swimming, drowning, or treading water?

Jill: I had to think about this question I have to really think about that but my first response really is were swimming right now. I know I just came off the story of what happened to six months ago.  But honest to goodness, six months later where I’m sitting on this day in the month of June, we are swimming.

Tammy: Good

Jill:  His treatment plan is working. He is following his treatment plan. He is doing what he needs to do. And as of most recently he looked me in the eye and said, “Mom I don’t ever want to feel that way again”. He was old enough maybe to understand. He doesn’t remember the whole episode and they say sometimes you don’t get full memory of it.

Tammy: Right

Jill: And maybe that’s a blessing because some of the things he was saying, that came out of his mouth. Maybe it’s not characteristic of him. Typically, when he is on a basing in level. But I’d say for the most part, we’re swimming, or moving forward he’s doing, like I said ,his treatment plan and he’s also he’s back to work. He’s back to smiling. He’s back to laughing. Me? As for me. It’s not it’s about me but–

Tammy: No, this question is about you.

Jill: [laughter] Yeah true. It is about me. Yeah, Yes. I’m swimming, I’m swimming. I feel good. I feel good. I feel good because I feel that I did everything I could. We got, in the end, it was a hard a hard thing to get even the last six months. I’m not even talking about the last three years of my life but in the last six months, I feel like boom, did it! You know we’re here and I’m able to kind of just and I don’t go to work and I worry about my phone ringing or I don’t go to work and think, oh I hope he gets up. I mean out of bed and gets going. I’m swimming because I know that’s all happening.

Tammy: Yes

Jill:  I’m saying he’s swimming because I see it

Tammy: Don’t you love boring days.

Jill:  I love boring days.

[laughter]

Jill: I love a boring day.

[laughter]

Tammy: They’re the joy of my life.

[laughter]

Jill: Yes.

[laughter]

Tammy: Days you not in panic mode –

Jill: Yes.

Tammy: – are so awesome.

[laughter]

Jill: Those are so awesome and so when they’re there, take them for every minute of that day because yeah.

Tammy: I agree.

Jill:  Because it could change next week.

Tammy: Exactly

Jill: My mantra has been when someone asks me a question like are you treading water, drowning, or swimming. I’m consciously optimistic.

Tammy: Right

Jill:  But we are swimming.

Tammy: Yeah.

Jill: Because in six months something can happen.

Tammy: That’s right.

Jill: But I try to look at it as six months. If my son wasn’t suffering or having this mental health issue there be something that would come up in his life anyway.

Tammy:  Absolutely

Jill:  I have a younger son who is recently turned 16. He has shown no signs or symptoms. But you know a bump in his road is, “Ugh,I did not want to get up to an ACT test”.

[laughter]

Tammy:  Oh, no.

[Inaudible]

Jill: Or having a bad day or his girlfriend broke up with him.

Tammy: Sure.

Jill: So he’s sad. You know, I mean where my other son who’s 19. It could be, “Oh, I haven’t taken my medicine for a week” or all of a sudden becomes depressive and won’t get out the bed. I mean there’s just aaah!

[laughter]

Tammy: But the truth is, life, in general, is unpredictable.

Jill: It is.

Tammy: One positive thing of going through this difficult experience is I think you become flexible to deal with that.

Jill: Totally. You are right.

 

Tammy: Because you have to, right.

Jill: There’s no other option.

Tammy: There is no other option

[laughter]

Jill: No other option. No other option

Tammy: So, what is your self-care routine. Or as I like to say sometimes it might even be a survival technique.

Jill: Yeah

Tammy: Like how do you take care of you.

Jill: Well I think my number 1 thing has been over the last three years my journey with my son and being his caregiver is to talk openly about it.

Tammy: Uh-hmm.

Jill:  Don’t hold it back. I think at first, I kind held a little bit back because I wasn’t sure you know who really to talk to and who wouldn’t be like– I know there are stigmas and there’s judgments and when I gave birth 19 years ago, did I think that my son would end up having a mental illness? No. But it’s what. It’s just life, you know.

Tammy: Uh-hmm.

Jill:  And so, it’s not. You shouldn’t be ashamed of it.

Tammy: That’s Right.

Jill: You shouldn’t feel like someone’s looking at you like what did you do, what kind of parent are you. It’s no. It’s an illness like, you know I have a friend who is diabetic just recently.

Tammy: Right

Jill: So, she has to treat that the rest of her life otherwise she can get really sick and die.

Tammy: Exactly.

Jill: So, I’ve tried to compare that with my son’s illness. He has to treat it and stay on top of his treatment plan. Otherwise, things can happen.

Tammy: That’s right.

Jill: It’s like an illness like– I know for a fact he’s going to live a long and fruitful life and amazing things are going to come his way. And I think he’s starting to believe that.

Tammy: Good.

Jill: And I think that I think I just– I try not to think too far advance, but I think it’s good to be open and talk about it.

Tammy: Absolutely.

Jill: I do. I think that’s important. I just also try to take time for myself. You know just me when I feel like I’m an empty vessel or I’m a last jar and I’m empty. I need to just take some time. Honestly, even if it’s for a couple of hours and just go for a walk by myself.

Tammy: Um-hmm.

Jill: I took up yoga. Just go–

Tammy: That’s great.

Jill: –and do some yoga poses. I’ve been considering meditation because I’ve heard it’s wonderful. Just you, just me being with me. And like I said earlier at this age who knew I didn’t know myself.

Tammy: Um-hmm.

Jill:   And I think self-care, with that you find out who you are.

Tammy: Yeah.

Jill: If really you say, “Wow, I think I’m an okay person.”

Tammy:  It’s like, oh she’s pretty awesome.

Jill: I might hang out with myself, If I–

[laughter]

Tammy: I think I should hang out with her. Exactly. I love that.

Jill:  Yeah,

Tammy: I love that.

 

Jill: Yeah. So

Tammy: So, here’s the last question we end on. I think any mother can give you a laughable moment.

[laughter]

Jill: Yes

Tammy:  So, what is your most laughable moment?

Jill: Oh jeez.

Tammy: What makes you smile when you look back and think oh my goodness.

[laughter]

Jill: I don’t know. And this is hard because– Ok, so laughable moment as in myself and my son’s mental illness and dealing with that . What’s the most laughable moments with that?

Tammy:  It can be. Yeah.

Jill:  Well honestly, it was as of recently. I can laugh now. I think it’s what that’s kind of the question you’re asking me.

Tammy: Sure

Jill:  What’s a moment that you can laugh at now. Well or that’s how I’m reading it.

[laughter]

Tammy:  It’s however you want to interpret the question but just something makes you sort of laugh like oh that was funny. [laughter]

Jill: It was and it was it’s so funny now but– So, when my son was committed to the hospital to get medication back and get him stable and able to function, I would go up every night and you can’t take anything in with you. You know it’s just me and my younger son couldn’t go because he wasn’t old enough and whatever. So it go in and oh my goodness, every day he’d see me, he recognizes me but he would talk about all his brothers and sisters and all these babies that I had.

[laughter]

Jill:  Just things and then the craziest part  – there was a lady that was my age. Very nice. And she would lecture me every night about my skincare because [laughter]  I’m naturally kind of dark complected anyway so, “Do you use a tanning bed. My husband is a dermatologist and she would just over and over…

[laughter]

Jill:  And then she– Jake would put lotion on my skin. And looking back on that one. Well, Ok.

[laughter]

Tammy: Right.

Jill: I have to laugh now but it was because I knew he was there and he was getting the care he needed.

Tammy: Right

Jill:  He was safe,he was clean. He was getting the medication but not all the chemicals in his brain were clearly working correctly yet. [laughter]

Tammy: Right

Jill: “So, mom remember that brother I had name Zach?” and I’m like, “Oh, okay no honey that’s probably…”  Oh, jeez he does– and he I and would just giggle and we would just–. Oh my goodness.

Tammy: Yeah

Jill:  But anyway.

Tammy: Yeah.

Jill: I don’t know. I have to laugh now.

Tammy: That’s right. Sometimes if you don’t laugh you cry.  Sometimes laughter helps a lot.

[laughter]

Jill: Thank you.

[laughter]

Jill: I would say that. At the time I would leave the hospital and I’d be like, “did that really just happen?” And I’m like, “ok, ok. Get it together.” And that’s where I said I wish- when was he going to come back to me like when? And now that he’s back. And we’re all good. I look back on that moment.[laughter] Did that all really happen? I remember him putting lotion in my hands and you know because you will and you will have the moments that are ingrained your head. Whether it’s good, whether it’s bad, ugly, beautiful. There are those moments. I have all of those and that’s one that I’m just like, oh my god that’s–

[laughter]

Jill: Because you know you have to. You have them all in.

Tammy: That’s right.

Jill:  And it’s just an emotional thing.

Tammy: I want to thank you, Jill, for sharing your story with us.

Jill: Oh, absolutely.

Tammy: It really is wonderful to have you share with us. Thank you

Jill: Good, thank you. Thank you just for letting me tell my story and my son’s story because it’s very therapeutic for me as well.

Tammy: Oh, thank you. I’m glad to hear that.

Jill: Yes, thank you.

[music]

Female Voice: You have been listening to Just Ask Mom copyrighted in 2018 by Mothers On The Frontline. Today’s podcast host was Tammy Nyden. The music is Old English written, performed, and recorded by Flame Emoji. For more podcasts and 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]

 

 

Miss Diva on Raising a Child with Schizoaffective Disorder, Just Ask Mom Podcast Series, episode 16

logo: purple lotus flower with white figure inside holding arms up on black background

In this episode, we listen to Miss Diva from the USA. She speaks about raising a son with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar, ADHD, PTSD, and Seizures in the African-American Community. Please be advised that this interview contains content about domestic abuse and may be upsetting for some audience members.

Transcription

Women’s Voice: Welcome to the “Just Ask Mom” podcast. Where mothers share their experiences of raising children with mental illnesses. Just Ask Mom is a Mothers on the Frontline production. Today we will listen to Ms. Diva from the USA. Please be advised that this interview contains some content about domestic abuse and may be upsetting for some audience members. This interview was recorded at the 2017 National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health Conference in Orlando Florida. During this particular recording, you can hear noise in the background from another event in the hotel. Please don’t let these noises distract you from Ms. Diva’s story.

Dionne: I’m sitting here with you and I wanna say thank you very very much…

Miss Diva: You’re welcome.

Dionne: …for agreeing to be a part of our podcast. Can you please introduce yourself?

Diva: My name is Diva and I am called Diva because I have been through so much in my forty-four years on this earth until I feel like there is nothing anybody can do or say to break me anymore. And I feel like you can try but I’m always gonna  come out victorious because the Diva is always going to hustle – get it done for her and her children no matter what. If she has a man or she don’t have a man, she don’t need a man to make it happen. And that’s me.

Dionne: Thank you. Well, tell me Ms. Diva, tell us a little bit about who you are and who you were, what are your passions? Who are you outside of and in addition to being a momma.

Diva: Oh my gosh! First of all, I honestly didn’t wanna become a mom. I was scared that I wasn’t gonna be able to give my children the love that they needed like they were supposed to have. Because when I was a kid I felt like I wasn’t loved passionately enough as a child suppose have been loved by their parent and encouraged enough because my parents didn’t give me that encouragement. They gave my younger sisters that encouragement but as for me, they didn’t do that. But when I had my children I was like, “Wow!”. When I had my first child I was like. “Ohh,hhuuhh!”, you know, like “Oh, No!”. And then had my second child after I am married. And then my third and my fourth. And then I was like, “Oh no, I’m a mom!”. So I was like, “Okay, I gotta step my game up since I’m about ten thousand times more than what they did.”. So my goal was to always let my kids know that: “I love you and there is nothing that you cannot do. I will never stand on the way of your creativity. The word ‘can’t’ and ‘I won’t’ will no longer be in existence for you all.” My kids used to think I was mean because I used to give them books to read. So, they was like, “This is a punishment”. No, it’s not though my kids one of the–it wasn’t. I have been through domestic violence, my kids have seen that. Still legally married to the man. He tried to kill me and my kids. So we are still standing the risk. That’s why I say I’m that diva because I refuse to allow you to dominate my life because if I let you dominate my life, it’s like you still have your hand in my life. “Oh no!”, because I’m going to do what I need to do. I have four children: 24, 18, 16 and 14. I have an 18 year old. He has a bipolar schizoaffective disorder and the alphabet. And once–you know what I mean when I say the alphabet.

Dionne: Yes. The alphabet soup of diagnosis, yes.

Diva: And sometimes he has his good days, sometimes he has his bad days. And it’s like, “Whoa, wait! Hold up!”, and sometimes he wants to listen to me, sometimes he don’t. But he’s at the conference with me. He’s doing good. When we walk past to come here, he was sitting in a class listening paying attention. So it’s like, that was a first.

Dionne: He stopped by our table several times ’cause he likes the candy. [laughter]

Diva: Yes [laughter] Oh it’s like you’re trick or treating huh? [laughter]

Dionne: [laughter] We talked a couple of times.

Diva: Yes, So he’s a friendly young man…

Dionne: Yes he is.

Diva: …but the thing is, I found out he was–he had these diagnosis when he was six. So, being of African-American descent, in our culture we do not talk about mental illness. It’s like the big elephant in the room and if you do something about it, “Oh no, just whoop ’em!”. Whippings do not cure everything. Then it’s the next one–oh I’m going to pray it out, Oh no, pray that God gives me the strength to endure what I’m about to go through. Pray that God gives him a stable mind or me  – so I won’t go crazy and hurt this child. Because there’s a lot of times when they say things that they don’t mean and you feel like it’s directed at you and they’re just taking out their anger. Because when they do it you like, “Oh, did you just lose your mind!” and you be wanna ready to–you be ready to like, “Oh, you know what, it’s battling time. You ‘bout to go in the corner and the fight. Put your gloves on”. So, and I tell my parents all the time, “If God didn’t want them to have the doctors here to help us, he would never had put them in place.”. He will not put the psychiatrist, the therapists, made these people that have the medicines so we can help them. And all the other people, all the little people, like these conferences, to help give us the knowledge of what we can do with – outside of–when everybody else has gone home asleep, what coping skills you can use to help your child, son or daughter, go into–when they enter that poppin’ off mode. So my son–’cause I have two sons. One has ADHD-PTSD and he has suffered from seizures. Then my older son, he’s the one that has the main ones but my younger son, he’s introvert but he’s a smarty. And he just don’t wanna go yet and it’s like I tell my kids, I gave them with the analogy when they were young. I’m the head of the household so I’m the head. My oldest daughter is my right hand. And my son that’s 18, he’s my left hand and my 16-year-old, he’s my right leg and my 14-year-old is my left leg. I say, so if anything happens to one of you guys, my limbs are obsolete to me. So I said I need every last one of you guys to do what you gotta do because if you get hurt, get killed, something happens, my limbs would no longer work the same.

Dionne: Alright, that’s a beautiful analogy.

Diva: And they’d look at me like, “What?”. I said, “come here”. So my son just said, “What?”. I pinched him, he said, “Ouch!”. I said, “That’s how I feel” If something happens to you –  and your my left arm. So if you’re gone, my pain is there. And until you come back in one piece, whole, my pain goes away. And he was like, “Oh, got it!”. I was like, “Thank you.”

Dionne: That’s a wonderful analogy of just how–I don’t think our kids realize how much they are literally, a part of us.

Diva: Yes. yes. And I feel like–I used to tell my son when he was younger when he needed help when he was in school I said, “Baby, look at it this way. I need for you to get your slinky–look at the slinky in your mind. When you had the slinky here at both hand level, you’re fine. Once that slinky starts sliding down, you feel like you need help, you get that help.” I said, “Once that slinky fall all the way down, you’re out of control, you can’t get that help no more.” I said, “Once you get it started moving up and down, you can get the help.” I said, “But once it falls and go all the way across the room, there is no coming back from that. He was like, “Okay, ma.”. So a couple of days ago he said to me, ” Ma, I’m trying to be that slinky.’ And I have the strangest look on my face like, “Okay babe”.

Dionne: He heard you.

Diva: But this analogy was given to him when he was six, seven years old.

Dionne: I know. He heard you. He heard it. That’s awesome.

Diva: And it’s like it’s still there.

Dionne: Yeah!

Diva: And he was like, “Mom, I’m still that slinky.” And I’m like, “Okay love. When you need that help, you tell me.”

Dionne: Yeah

Diva: Because if he hear voices, he tells me.

Dionne: That’s great.

Diva: He’s like, “Ma, they’re talking.” And I’m like, “Okay babe,” because I’m one of those parents, I listen. Because when I was a kid, it was be seen and not heard.

Dionne: I see.

Diva: And I was raised up in the church and, people ask me, “Why don’t you go to church anymore?” Because the people that raised me, I feel like they’re the biggest hypocrites there is. Because you tell me to do as you do, do as you say but not as you do.

Dionne: Right.

Diva: But then the whole entire time, you’ve been lying to me. You’ve been hiding stuff. You’ve been sneaking around! What do you want me to do? How do you want me to take this and God said, “Do not do this,” and you did it! So you want me to feel this way? So, I tell my mom, we were talking about something and I said, “Ma,” and she was just, I had to you know, “Ma!” She was like, “What?” I was like, “Look. For everything that you come at me in the Bible with, we’re going to come back with you on this one right here!” She just said,” Lord.” Yes! So she said, “What?” I said, “The Bible tells you, children obey your parents and the Lord.” And then it comes again, children obey your parents and the Lord, for this is right that that days may be long upon the Earth.” I said, “This is what the scripture your parents hate!” Should parents, “Provoke not your children to wrath!” I said, “Woman, what are you doing to me?” And she said, “Uh, shut up and get off my phone.” I said, “No, you’re provoking me to wrath! I mean, you’re provoking me!” I said, “So, you are not listening to what the Bible say.” I said, “I told you, you that scripture!”

Dionne: So does that translate ever with your kids? What I’m hearing you talk about is, the way in which you want to raise your children differently than the way you were raised.

Diva: Because I have. Like I have a 24-year old. At 20, I had her. She has gone to nursing school, no kids.

Dionne: Go on.

Diva: They told her she was going to be a dropout. She’s going to have a house full of kids and I told them, “Hold up. Don’t put that into my child’s life. We don’t speak that in someone’s child’s life.” Because I always told my children, “Be the best at whatever you do. If you’re going to be the best bum, be the best bum you’re going to be,” and that’s how I’ve always been with my kids. I always told my kids, “Be the best you.”

Dionne: Good.

Diva: Be the best whatever it is you’re going to be. Be the best whomever you’re going to be. Don’t let anybody stop you. Don’t let anybody tell you how far you can dream. Don’t let nobody get in your way. I said, “If you feel like I’m getting in your way, be like Mom, I need you to move!” “I will get out your way!” I said, “But I’m here. I am going to forever be your cheerleader until God takes me away.” Because I tell my kids, “I’m going to push you for the better. I’m not going to push you down. If I see you slip, I’m going to help you pick you up.”

Dionne: So with that in mind, what would you say has been the greatest challenge in you getting help or raising your children around their mental health diagnoses and their mental health challenges?

Diva: Getting the help from the community, knowing where to go in the community that offers the help where we live.

Dionne: Okay.

Diva: And when I found the FIA, it says what it is on the card.

Dionne: Okay.

Diva: I just don’t want to say it because it will say where I’m from.

Dionne: Yes, I see it.

Diva: But Miss Harrison, she’s awesome. She’s been God sent.

Dionne: Good.

Diva: Because like my son was put into a transition  – he got arrested. DHS did nothing. They didn’t even show up. So Miss Tammy was there with me. We went and his attorney said, “Miss Diva, the Judge say, he can go home. Would you take him home today?” “Sure will!” But I’m like, I’m not feeling like I can stay in jail –no.

Dionne: Yeah.

Diva: So, because I learned something when I was growing up, I’ve learned that you’re going to have 10 children. Each one of them have a different personality.

Dionne: That would be true.

Diva: Each one of them have something different to offer, like you have 10 fingers, not one finger look alike. Each nail on your finger, one might be longer than the other. One might does more than the other finger can do because each one of my kids give me a different strength. Like my 18-year old, he really pulled out of me that I can go above and beyond.

Dionne: How does he do that?

Diva: Because he lets me know, “Ma,” with his diagnosis, I go above and beyond to find out where I can go to get more help for him, what’s there for him, what options are there for him because normally, when I was coming up, mental health issues was never talked about.

Dionne: Yeah.

Diva: It was just like, “Get that rug and broom, sweep, sweep, gone.” You never talked about it. So, when I got my kid’s help after fleeing my abusive husband, it’s like me and my kids develop and play.

Dionne: I see.

Diva: My own sisters, biological sisters at that. One, she’s his godmother.” He asked her for a game. Why lie to a child?

Dionne: Like?

Diva: “I have to take care of some bills” “But I’m watching you on Facebook post live pictures going live, posting pictures of you and my other sister in the Bahamas. What? Did you just lie to this child?” And he called me the aunty – huh –  I haven’t talked to her honey.

Dionne: I see.

Diva: So, when you have to lie to your child about somebody else lying, I hate lying to my kids.

Dionne: Yeah.

Diva: That’s one thing me and my kids promised that we wouldn’t have to because I had not lied to my kids about anything that is important to them. Like that kind of lie, I fell like that’s not full lie.

Dionne: Right.

Diva: But it’s still a lie.

Dionne: But in terms of their diagnosis and treatment?

Diva: And then you have to realize, they are more sensitive than the other kids because the other kids can handle it. Their diagnosis, they can’t! Because they’ll be like, “What? They lied to me? They what?”

Dionne: Right.

Diva: They spaz out and go off, do a whole bunch of other stuff.

Dionne: Right.

Diva: It’s like, you would have to tread lightly with their diagnosis.

Dionne: So, what you say in addition to learning how to talk to your children, and you’re doing a wonderful job of —

Diva: Thank you.

Dionne: — just giving them and I mean, your son is one of few people that I met and so, of giving them this sense of confidence and something stable of love.

Diva:  I constantly tell my children, “I love you.” I constantly let them know, “I got your back.”

Dionne: Good.

Diva: I constantly say, “Hey, remember who’s here. She’s here. I need her. I’m here. Because like, right now I’m sick and my youngest is here with me and even though he has his moments, I don’t care what he is going through. You say something is wrong with his Momma, he snapped. “What? You what, what’s going on with my Momma?” He is going to find out what is wrong with his Momma and try to make his way back to his Momma because like one of his siblings was like, “Momma can’t get her shoes on. She is so swollen she can’t even move.”

Dionne: Right.

Diva: So he came upstairs and was like, “Momma, let me in.” I’m like, and I saw my youngest son. I was like, “Open the door for your brother.” So he came in the room and put my shoes on for me.”

Dionne: Oh.

Diva: So when I say my kids have my back just as much as I have theirs, when I think they don’t have my back and I feel like they don’t me pay attention, they do. They pay me a world of attention.

Dionne: That is wonderful!

Diva: And I feel like they don’t but they do.

Dionne: That’s good.

Diva:  Because like my 24 year old. Sometimes I feel like she don’t have my back, but she does.

Dionne: That’s Wonderful. And that’s so important.

Diva: Cause I had asked her, I said, “If anything happens to me,” – she was like, “Ma, you don’t even have to worry about it. Them three – I’m already on it – I already know I got to raise them.”

Dionne: Wow.

Diva: She said, “you ain’t got to write it down, I already know. What my job is. To make sure them three is good.” I said, “You got my back!” She was like, “Oh, no doubt,” she’d say, “you know  even though we argue and fuss, you are my only mama.” She’d say, “You’ve always been there.”

Dionne: Wow.

Diva: So, I’ve always made sure my kids – and always will make sure my kids –  know that I love them, even if I can’t talk – my kids know sign language, so we tell each other “I love you” in sign language. So we like, we go this way and touching your face. Because when he was in court I did this and touched my face  – and he was like …

I used to be a teacher. And when I did Scholastics, I wouldn’t send all of the Scholastics home with the kids. I’d be like oh, I can use this at home. So my kids know a little sign language. I am like, because I told them “it is good to know another language.” And they were like “Sign language? What?” I was like, “What is at the end of that word  – it’s ‘language’ – It is another language.”[laughter]

Dionne: So what is your self-care routine – how do you take care of you?

Diva: Oh, gee. [laughter] I love music. I love going to the gym when I’m not sick. I used to be a size 24, now I’m a size 18.

Dionne: Oh, wow.

Diva: And I started in the gym in January, so when I turn 44 in July, there was a dress that I was trying to get into  [snaps three times – laughter] “Nailed it!” [laughter] So, I have been out of the gym for a month because my Fibromyalgia’s been acting up – but oh she mean – will get back in the gym. But I do talk to – I do have my own therapist, my own shrink. I talk to her because if I don’t take care of me, I can’t take care of them.

Dionne: Exactly.

Diva: Because I learned that the hard way. Cause I had a therapist when we lived in the middle of the state. You have to take care of you first. If you don’t take care of you, you can’t take care of them. And that’s where a lot of parents stop. They only seek help for the children, they are there for themselves as well.

Dionne: Right.

Diva: Listen, if you don’t seek help for yourself and get educated for yourself,

To know what is going on with yourself and your child, you will never be able to advocate for your child.

Dionne: Right

Diva: The Best. Because you are your child’s best advocate. And you are your child’s best voice, because if you don’t get that education on what’s going on, and read what they put in front of you, instead of just signing…you’re going to miss that. Because with me, I learned that the hard way. So I do girl days with my gym buddy.

Dionne: Good.

Diva: As you see my nails there.

Dionne: Oh yeah, You have  – nobody can see this but I can see it – you have fabulous nails.

Diva: Thank you. And they are mine. I just go get the acrylic overlay and get the nails…

Dionne: They are gorgeous.

Diva: Thank you. I have my green nails for mental health.

Dionne: yes. Awareness.

Diva: yes – mental health awareness – and the rest of them are black and I have white one blue  – I am not going to tell you which finger is blue.

[laughter]

Dionne: We can’t say that –even on the podcast –

[laughter]

Dionne: But it stands out.

Diva: Yes!

Dionne: My son calls that his expression finger.

Diva: Yes – and it is mine, because my 24 year old be like, “Ma, Ma”, she be like, “yes, I did”. [laughter] But yes, I do my music, I do my girls day with my gym buddy, either that, we go get our nails done, we go out to eat, get a drink.

Dionne: That’s great. Self-care is so important. So, that’s self-care. How do you advocate for yourself?

Diva: Oh. Umm..

Dionne: Not for your kids, but for you.

Diva: For me, I am a very soft-spoken person. And a lot of people think because I have this little girl look, because I everyone thinks I am in my twenties or thirties

Dionne: You are very young-looking.

Diva: And everyone thinks I am a little girl because I look so young, I’m like, “Don’t let it fool ya.”

Dionne: That’s cause your youthful.

Diva: [laughter] Thank you. And I tell people, “Don’t let it fool you.” Cause I’m very knowledgeable about what I want and what I need. And if I’m telling you what I need, and you’re not helping me to get what I need, I am going to go around you or above you to get what I need.

Dionne: I see.

Diva: And if I have to go through you to get what I need, I will do that too. So, my needs – I will do that too.

Dionne: You will advocate for your needs. So, in all of this, and this journey that you’ve been on, this journey that you are still on, if you had to point out some of your most laughable moments. Moments where you just have to sit down and just laugh about life. What you say is your most laughable moment is? So far?

Diva: Ooh. [laughter] I was in one state where we lived in, the principle kept saying, “we have done all we can do for your son.” And he kept saying, “your son”. He didn’t know my son’s name.

Dionne: I see.

Diva: So, the table was about as long as this table. And I looked at the table, and I didn’t see the assistant principle. I said, “Do you know anything about my son?” And he looked at me, “picked up a pile of papers . I said, “He don’t know jack squat about my son.”

Dionne: Right.

Diva: And he looked at me and everybody looked, cause I’m a soft-spoken person, so my voice raised, and he was like …I said, “All you know is what you are reading on that paper,” I said, “Do you not know my son is a little comedian at times?” I said, “Do you not know my son’s name is dadadada – not ‘this child’?”

[laughter]

Diva: And I said, “You don’t even work with this child.” I said, “Could you please bring in your person that works with my child?” And he was like, “Can you please get her?”  Because I said, “if we keep sitting here we’re not going to have this meeting. “

Dionne: Right.

Diva: And he looked at me like I was crazy. And they were talking and I was sitting there. And he got up and went and got her and she came in and sat down and the meeting continued. And it was so funny because, when we were done, my advocate was like, “I can’t believe you did that.”

[laughter]

Diva: And I was like, she was like – wow – “Silence was golden with you.” [laughter] And she was like, “I can’t believe I heard you yell. She said, I have never heard you yell. She said, “yeah, you would be a great peer specialist.” I was like, “who said I wanted to be.”

Dionne: Is there any particular organization, since were at a major conference, that you would like to give a shout out to [can hear writing on paper ] Oh Ok. Can I say the organization? I won’t say the state.

[This portion was deleted because it was not possible to identify the organization without identifying the state.]

Dionne: Thank you very, very much Miss Diva!

Diva: You’re so welcome!

Dionne: And this was, and I always say this, but I totally mean it, it was eye opening, it was inspiring, and you are amazing.

Diva: Thank you.

Dionne: Thank you.

[music]

Female Voice: You have been listening to “Just Ask Mom”, copyrighted in 2018 by Mothers on the Frontline. Today’s podcast host was Dionne Bensonsmith 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 on  on Itunes, Adroid, Google Play, or Sticher.

 

 

 

Advocating for Foster Kids, Ask the Advocate Episode 5

logo: purple lotus flower with white figure inside holding arms up on black background

In this episode, we listen to  Andre Minett, a father of two, husband, and social worker. He discusses his experience advocating for foster children and his own experience as a father with a child with health condition.

Transcription

ATA 5 not edited

[background music]

Female Speaker: Welcome to “Ask The Advocate” where mental health advocates share their journey to advocacy and what it is meant for their lives. “Ask The Advocate” is a Mothers On The Front Line production. Today we will hear from Andre Mina, a father of two, husband, and social worker. This interview was recorded at the 2017 National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health conference in Orlando Florida. During this particular recording, you can hear music and noise in the background from another event in the hotel. Please don’t let this noises distract you from Andre’s story.

Tammy Nyden: So, I’m just going to ask you to introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit of who you are and then the kind of advocacy work that you do.

Andre: Okay. My name is Andre Minett. I’ve been a social worker since about 2002. Definitely, this is what I do because this is the only thing I’m good at.

Tammy: I doubt that, but, okay.Andre: So, I’ve been working with children especially since 2002, right from Miami, D.C., now, here in Florida. I’ve been doing this work kind of a long time. It’s funny when I look at my resume, and then I’m like “man, I’m old.”

Tammy: That happens quickly. Doesn’t it?

Andre: Yes. My oldest son is about to turn four, my youngest son just turned two. I’ve been married for seven years. That’s kind of the highlight of my career, really.

Tammy: Right, right. Those are fun ages, too.

Andre: Yes. That’s where the real work begins, you know.

Tammy: Yes.

Andre: That’s where you understand everything you have already done, you know.

Tammy: That’s right.

Tammy: Tell us about your advocacy work.

Andre: So, I’ve been advocating for children for a long time. You almost don’t even look at it as advocacy, it’s just something that you’ve been doing for a long time. I’ve been working in foster care. I began my career working in foster care and so to advocate for a lot of those kids who really didn’t have parents who were able to advocate for them. I became their parent. I’ve been training foster parents on how to raise kids, even though, I was about twenty-two years old and telling a fifty-year-old woman – and men –  how to raise their kids. It’s kind of raising their kids, raising my kids, that they have custody of. The way we kind of wanted and for them to be ready. It’s kind of hard too, because, you know, you have to set a standard of how you raise your own kids. You have the ideologies and all that stuff, but, you know, when you say that to a parent, who’ve been spanking their kids for a long time, like “don’t touch my kids”, you know? Yet I do it in the most professional way as possible. But, you know, you check on them, and you do things like that. So, I’ve been advocating for foster children. At one point I had my own mentoring agency, where I took kids in a city who were underprivileged, and kind of raising them that way because the Foster Care System, you kind of had the whole zone, what you can do and how you can do it.

Tammy: Right. Can you talk a little bit about working with the foster kids? Where are the areas were they were really needed an advocate to help them out? I’m sure there’s many. Just pick a few.

Andre: I mean, even in the court systems, where those custody battles of determining parental rights for adoptions. So, a lot of the foster parents and the parents, they have to kind of navigate through that and think, “look, what is the best thing for these kids?” Because that’s really all came down to. It’s kind of, having everyone see eye-to-eye. So the court system, you didn’t have to advocate within the system of the foster care system because I was privileged to be a part of a therapeutic foster care system with a private organization, but you also have to deal with the state. That was kind of our managing entity to work.

Tammy: So, did you do therapeutic foster care yourself at any point?Andre: No.

Tammy: I misunderstood. But you work with the agency that did it?

Andre: I just worked with the agency. Right. A lot of the times, you would want to try to transition a kid from one home to the next home because that’s right for that kid. Sometimes the state would say, “okay, look, just put him in a home,” and you have to say, “look, here’s the plan, here’s the plan that we have,” because you have been attached to that kid and you kind of know what’s best for that kid, and you see that kid maybe five to six times a month, you know.

Tammy: So talk about that of it, because I think, in the work we do, we talk a lot of times about how the parent’s the expert, but here, you have kids who their parent can’t advocate for them at that moment. So, the closest thing they have to that could be, this person who’s working on the system on their behalf who knows them as opposed to someone else who they might get passed off to as they only met them. How do you navigate that when you know, like, you know a particular child, you know them?

Andre: Well, I think, the best thing to do, and somebody told me when I first started social work. I said, “what does making you–” as she was a parent, that’s one of my fellow social workers, I said, “what makes you a great parent?” I said, “does a social worker can make you a great parent?” She said, “no, being a parent makes me a great social worker.” You see some of these kids in these situations when their biological parents are, you know, I’ve had parents who were struggline on drugs but still wanted their kids.

Tammy: Right. Well, of course. At that moment they needed to help themselves so they could help their kids, right?

Andre: Right. A lot of times they don’t know that. That’s the hard part. Because you have this six, seven-year-old kid who wants to go back to their parents who probably even sexually abuse them. You have to say, “look, there’s help.” You have to really be non judgmental when it comes to advocating between the kids and their parents. I was twenty-two when I started and a lot of these parents who were about twenty-two, twenty-three when they had their first child. You know, I couldn’t imagine them, besides professional work, my personal life is a little bit different. So you could understand how some might have a personal life and think it is okay to have their kids in the home when they’re doing drugs but they’re downstairs. It was kind of difficult just kind of having the parents come to an agreement, like, “we know you understand, we know you love your child, every parents going to love your child, and there’s a way that we expect things to happen for your child.” So, navigating between that was sometimes difficult, but you know, when you kind of come with a non-judgmental spirit with some of those parents, and say “this could be anybody.” Even myself if given the wrong situation. So, you educate the parents, that takes a while. Yes, it’s a system, that could take a while, even longer, but, at the end of the day, when everyone’s their best interest is the child, and that’s it, when you can actually really say that the best interest is my child, this child, and all the kids I have – somebody asked me, “how many kids do I have,” I’d say that I have hundreds, because it’s just, it’s hard to look at somebody’s thirteen, it’s hard to look at someone who is six, even a baby. To say, “look, we’re going to do the best thing for this kid,” and I took them as my own. I honestly felt like the only way I could actually do this child justice is to actually think that this child is my own. And that’s hard, but I’m so glad that I did it when I was twenty-two years old because I could take it home to nobody. It was difficult, but, you know, it needed to be done.

Tammy: In the work that you do, have you been doing any of this work since you’ve become a father?

Andre: I… Yes.

Tammy: Then had that change the dynamic at all of how you went to work, how you felt doing your job? Did it adjust anything for you?

Andre: Being a father is a lot, it kind of put everything in perspective. Because I really thought that I really knew—

Tammy: And first of all, you were twenty-two, what twenty-two-year-old doesn’t know everything? I mean, let’s just start off with that.

Andre: Exactly, exactly. But at twenty-two, I realized that I had a lot to learn but I’ve also realized that I had a job to do. So, it was kind of navigating between that, it was like, okay, look, I would tell these fifty-year-old parents on how to raise their kids but I got to… But you know, being a father is a lot. So,my son was diagnosed with Sickle Cell.

Tammy: Oh, so you have experienced also with a child who has health needs. So that’s helpful for you to relate. Not that you want that to be the case, but—

Andre: No, but, it put in perspective some of the things you do. Then, honestly, how some of these parents really felt. When the Cancer Center calls you when your son is two-weeks-old, and you’re only thirty-three years old, and, I don’t know if my kid is going to live or die, because you don’t know anything about the disease, or anything. So, the advocacy that came from that, saying, “look, okay, I already love my kid, he’s two-weeks’ old, I’m not giving him back.” So, thinking of kind of where that comes from or what you had to do as a family. Then it kind of puts it in perspective, some of these parents and what they’re going through. When they’re hit with certain situations at such a young age or old age, or whatever it is, what I need to now do? So that kind of helped bring some of that stuff into perspective and kind of see their point of view a little bit more. Okay, look, I’m thirty-three years old when I had my son and realized he was diagnosed with sickle cell – and we were still going in circles and I’m educated, I’ve been through social work, I’ve been to all of this stuff. Imagine —

Tammy: It still makes you spin, right?

Andre: Right. Yes, and I had a world of support around me, behind me. I had my wife, I had a community, I had the church, I had my family and friends come together. It was a natural healthy type of support system. Imagine when that’s not the case. What do you do? Where do you go? So, that kind of put the advocacy level just a little bit higher. Obviously with age comes a lot of experience through experiences comes to a lot more.

Tammy: You hit on something that, I don’t think we talk about enough on this interviews, and that is, a lot of us who are actively engaged in children’s mental health advocacy for instance, are so privileged already that is allowing us to be involved in this advocacy. Some of those privileges, like right now, I’m only here able to interview you because my mom is watching my kids. Okay? So I have this built-in amazing support system of a wonderful mom who is amazing in doing all this, not everyone has that.

Andre: No, they don’t.

Tammy: And so, as you’re talking about being non-judgmental with the people that you’re helping in your work, a lot of them don’t have any support system.

Andre: No, they don’t. That’s the scary part. Honestly, because I know how I felt when I was hit with that news. We’re still working through it, but we worked through it.

Tammy: Because there’s nothing worse than knowing your kids can suffer, and being powerless. I mean, you get them the best care, but you can’t make them not suffer.

Andre: You can’t do anything. All you could do is what you can do, but you can’t do anything with them. That’s hard. Just imagine, I’m just thinking about some of the backgrounds that some of my families came from. Now, put it in perspective, some of the things that they are going through, drug-related issues. It’s so easy, honestly, to be judgmental in these situations. I certainly did my share of judging, like, “how could you do this?”, “how could you do that?”, but, when you understand a little bit about the background even though my kids are not raised in a drug-infested background, you’ll understand when you could be hit with certain things that you can’t deal with, where do you go when I have nowhere to go?

Tammy: Right, and as you know, with a lot of drug use, sometimes you self-medicating for something that’s not diagnosed or there are really difficult situations without support. Not that it’s a good choice… It’s not. But, we can make the choices that are presented to us. If we don’t have a lot of support, we don’t have as many choices presented to us and I think we need to keep that in mind.

Andre: Yes, and then the environment, too. If you’re having drug-use, who are the people are supporting you? Probably people who are giving you drugs or the people who encourage you about “this is what I did.” I had one family, when I was in Florida, her son was diabetic but he was severely obese – he was about three to four hundred pounds. His A1C level was supposed to be like 2 or 3 I guess, it was about 15.

Tammy: How old was he? Was he a young child or a teenager?

Andre: He was about thirteen, fourteen-years-old, but the mom was also overweight, severely obese. She kind of went through some of the same things, so, her message to me was, “I’m okay, my son will be okay.” How do you kind of convince that “look, we all need to change.” Trying to come in, “I work with this family for about a year or so,” it’s trying to convince this mom on “look, your son needs help. He’s under my care.” So we created a program that kind of dealt with weight loss and also healthy eating and worked with a lot of dieticians but, unfortunately, in that case, I had to call DCF because she missed maybe a couple of health appointments. I want to let that go but she missed the third one without letting me know. I gave her a warning so I said, “look, I have to look out for this kid and if he’s going to live or if he’s going to die”. You know, it couldn’t be on my conscience, I’m trying to be nice to this mom, while this kid is suffering. You also have the other mentality, like, “I’m fine, my kids are going to be fine, I could be in drug-use, I’ve live, my mom did it and I lived, and now, it’s okay.” You had to have somebody to come in and step in and say “look, this is kind of the fine point when things are not okay. Look, I know things have been going well, I hope things continue to go well but we’re going to do things a little bit different.” You kind of have to have the trust of the family. When you come in with a judgmental attitude, you’ll never get the trust of the family. But you come in and say “it’s okay, I understand or maybe I don’t understand, but, look, we’re going to try to get you help as quickly as possible as much as possible”. When your job, especially with me, when your job is to look out for kids, and you love these kids, it’s kind of hard to not do the right thing. Even though it’s going to hurt your relationship may be with the mom like it did with that other mom there. Well, we got that kid help. He went to a camp and he lost maybe over a hundred fifty pounds and his A1C level went down, but he had to be separated from his mom for a while which kind of hurt. But, being an advocate, those are some of the risks you take but, when the end of the day and your job is to take care of these kids because I was concerned whether this kid’s going to live or die. Those are some of the hard choices that people deal with as an advocate. You want to be in a family’s life but sometimes that means that you have to be taken away just to do the right thing and that hurts. It does.

Tammy: Right, absolutely. Because of course, the child’s health is the concern but the child wants to be with his family, and that has been really position to be in. How do you keep going, like, how do you knock your burned out?

Andre: One, you had to know that this is your calling. Like I said this is probably the only thing I’m good at. And believe me, I tried to run away a couple of times.

Tammy: Just they pulled you back in, right?

Andre: When you love that type… Then you have your own life separate. I think, over the years, I’ve been doing this over the years – since I’m 22 years old –  over the years, I really learned how to separate myself just a little bit. I think a healthy attachment is important to keep advocating, but, you kind of do things that allow you. Then I have my faith, I go to church, so that kind of relieves some of those issues.

Tammy: Right. So how do you take care of yourself? So, the church helps and having some kind of separation of your life and your work. Is there something that you do to just sort of… Because there has to be a lot of pressure at the end of some days. Disappointment, frustration, every case can’t work out, right? And that has to break your heart. How do you – individually like you –  keep pushing on?

Andre: Yes.

Tammy: Faith is very important and I can see that. Is there something you do that just helps you sort of blow off some steam? Re-center?

Andre: My wife is really good. I mean, having a supportive wife.

Tammy: Yes. That’s important.

Andre: Yes. That’s really important. My wife says all the time, “I couldn’t do it.” I couldn’t see my wife doing this work I do, she’d be coming home every day crying or adopting eight thousand kids.

Tammy: That’s right. You would have a big family.

Andre: Right. I think taking my time with my friends, and my wife is really good at having me go out with some of my friends and relax, away from my family too. Because we have our own routine that we go through every day. My kid is about to be four and two. But you know, having that routine just kind of breaking up just a little bit.

Tammy: That’s really important, in fact, there are just recent studies talking about men in particular that are in society men don’t always hang out with other man and it affects their health. As a woman, I know I’m not always telling the man in my life “you need to go out and have poker night” or whatever. We don’t encourage it necessarily. But it’s important—

Andre: That’s extremely important. I didn’t realize how important it was until my wife actually forced me out of the house one time to go to a basketball game.

Tammy: Good for her.

Andre: I’m from Connecticut, so the Yukon Huskies are playing. She forced me to go out. It was just kind of like  “I have to look over the kids. I have to cater to my wife just a little bit.” So ever since then, I’ve been doing at least once a month, going out to see a movie, and I think that’s extremely important.

Tammy: I think it’s important for any man, like, everybody, to be able to get out with some friends that you don’t have obligations to, like family, even your most loved ones, right?

Andre: Yes. But you know, that’s one thing I admire about women and as far while women lived the longest, they know how to take care of themselves.

Tammy: That, well, we’re trying.

Andre: I mean, for the most part, you guys know how to take… I was just making a joke to my friend here. I said, you know, my wife and her friend just went out and they went to a spa date, massages over there. “You want to go out, let’s not call a spa date, let’s just hang out at the spa all day.”

Tammy: Yes, exactly. Exactly.

Andre: I think that’s important because they had fun and she came back so refreshed but she does stuff like that.

Tammy: I think you’re right. I think it’s easy for women to go do that whereas for men we really need a different name for it so they feel more comfortable about it. But yes.

Andre: I’m comfortable with my manhood. We could go out and have a massage, sit down and talk, watch a game, or do something and that think that is extremely important for people to take care of themselves, especially men. I think we bottle up a lot of stuff.

Tammy: I think that’s true for anyone. And then, if you’re working in this field where, or again, if it’s one of your kids and they get diagnosed, you feel helpless, but you’re watching kids. You could only have so much power in this system to help them. That has to just sometimes feel frustrating and powerless, right?

Andre: Yes.

Tammy: So, just to be able to take care of yourself so you can go into the next case the next day and help that next kid.

Andre: Because I think when you’re really passionate about what you do – there’s going to be a lot of stuff that kind of gets to you, that you can’t do. Even the other day, I think yesterday, I was looking for one of my kids on Facebook that I taught a long time ago in Baltimore. He even joked that he was my favorite kid. But, there’s a lot of them. I wondered what happened to him, what’s going on with him. Because you feel helpless that you can’t control some of the path that your kids go through. That part is hard. That part is really hard, but I’m praying for them every night. I pray for all my kids every night. I’m a faith-believer and I understand that God is actually going to take care of a lot of my kids that I’ve watched over the years. When you can’t do anything, God’s going to.

Tammy: He’ll take over, yeah.

Tammy: Well, let me thank you for the good work that you’re doing on behalf of just all of us because it’s so important for us as a society, as family members, everyone  – to know that someone’s out there watching after the kids.

Andre: Yes.

Tammy: So, thank you for all the work you’re doing.

Andre: Well it’s a whole bunch of us out here doing it. I mean, we’re at this conference full of people that are advocates, so it just feels good.

Tammy: It does feel good to be around people who care about kids and they’re dedicating their lives to helping them. It really does.

Andre: Yes. Thank you so much.

Tammy: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.

Andre: Appreciate it.

[background music]

Speaker: 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 Flame Emoji. For more podcasts and this and other series relating to children’s mental health, go to mothersonthefrontline.com.

[END]

 

 

Shanta, Mother, Clinician, and Advocate Shares her Story, Ask the Advocate Episode 4

logo: purple lotus flower with white figure inside holding arms up on black background

In this episode, we listen to Shanta, a mother of three, clinician, advocate and proponent of self-care. She discusses raising a daughter who struggles mood disorder and suicidal ideation.

Transcription

[Music plays]

Voice over: Welcome to “Ask the Advocate” where mental health advocates share their journey to advocacy and what it is meant for their lives. “Ask the Advocate” is a Mothers On The Frontline production. Today, we will listen to Shanta, a mother of three, clinician and advocate. This interview was recorded at the 2017 National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health Conference in Orlando, Florida. During this particular recording, you can hear music and noise in the background from another event at the hotel. Please don’t let these noises distract you from Shanta’s story.

Dionne: I want to say thank you very much–

Shanta Hayes: Thank you for having me.

Dionne: — for agreeing to the interview, especially, on the spot. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Shanta: Hi. My name is Shanta Hayes. I’m a MSW, a mother of three, an advocate and proponent of self-care.

Dionne: Oh, proponent of self-care. We have to talk about that. So, Shanta, tell us a little bit about your advocacy journey. Your mom-advocate journey.

Shanta: My middle daughter is 14 years old and we started noticing some things that were just not quite right or on par with her developmental milestones. And so, we took her to the pediatrician. “Oh, everything is fine and it’s well within norms.” And it was well within norms for a while until it wasn’t. And then it started to manifest itself behaviorally. But what we found out eventually was that she has a diagnosis of ADHD and major depressive disorder. Her diagnosis have led to some challenges in school for her and that’s how we first noticed it. We noticed she was having trouble getting her homework done and she was having trouble sleeping. She was having trouble just understanding the material and we thought, “Whoa! What’s going on?” So, we’ve moved from a diagnosis of ADHD and major depressive disorder to now. We also know she has some processing issues. So, after we visit the psychologist and we’ve done all the testing, it’s like, okay, she has some working memory issues and those things aren’t necessarily solved with medication or behavior plans. So, we’re now going to the neurologist and checking with the endocrinologist to make sure it’s nothing hormonal. But the thing is my advocacy journey is always making sure my child is first in knowing, letting her know that we will put her needs first but that we’ll also take into consideration how she’s feeling. So, therapy– we go to therapy for the depression. But she’s not a fan of talk therapy. So, we’re looking at other therapies now. It’s like, okay, drama therapy, play therapy because those are modalities that she’s really interested in. Because I need her to know that even though I’m the one making– setting the appointments, she’s the one going to the appointments. And if she’s not engaging in one way, we need to find a way that works for her. So, we talk to her and we ask her, “What do you want to do? How can we make this work for you?” So, I’m letting even my 14-year old child know that her health is in her hands.

Dionne: This is the self-care advocacy.

Shanta: So, I need her to be an advocate for her health. I want her to know that she has a say I think a lot of people don’t take that into consideration. I think we try and force a lot of different therapies or medications on our children and we’re not really listening. We need to be very aware of how we allow them to engage in their own medical mental health. So, that they don’t develop a sense of “I have no choice in this process”. And that’s how we work with her.

Dionne: So, you said you have a MSW. Did it precede or did this come along with your journey with your daughter? First of all, tell me a little bit about who you were before you became mom or what you do outside of being mom.

Shanta: Let’s see, mom is my first job. That’s my first job. I was one of those young ladies who took the 50’s track and now is schooling MRS . So, for those of you that don’t understand, I’m in school and I got married, right after. I started a family. And I was fine with that. I love being a mom. I love baking. I love taking my kids to the park. I love being their first teacher. We divorced a few years ago and I said, “Well, I get one degree but can’t really do anything with it.” I like history. I don’t want to teach. What can I do? And I’m really good with people and I learned that I was really good with people because as a mom, I was a part of a group called Mocha Moms, which was a support group for stay at home mothers of color. I was a Girl Scout leader. I was on the PTA. So, I’m constantly engaging with people and connecting them to resources. That’s what social workers do. I just happen to like to solve problems as well. So, clinical social work, being a therapist was my interest. So, everything happens in time. I believe that and my going back to school and my daughter’s diagnosis escalating coincided. So, it really came to a head, as I was in my advanced year placement at a psychiatric facility and I worked on an adolescent girls’ unit and my daughter’s behaviors were spiraling and we had to hospitalize her. So, being a clinician, working with adolescent girls and going home to an adolescent girl with her own issues was very challenging. But it also gave me some tools that a lot of other parents might not have had and some insight that you definitely don’t get. Like these are things that should happen when you have to ten-thirteen your child.

Dionne: Would you tell us about that? If you want to share, I’m just–

Shanta: So, the behaviors had gotten to a point where she was a harm to herself. And a psych nurse deemed it necessary to hospitalize her. And even though I felt I was technically trained and capable of handling this responsibility, I had to consider, it’s not just what I can do. She has two siblings at home. This takes a toll on your whole family. That’s a great deal of emotional stress. So, I took her to the Children’s Hospital, had her evaluated. They deemed it necessary. They transferred her to a facility. So, at the facility, they do stabilization. They do an assessment. They evaluate. The things you don’t necessarily think about are the outside factors, like who is outside your immediate family and do they really need to know? And how will they react? Because that was what we came across. My daughter was hospitalized around her sister’s sweet 16 and we had planned her party and family members are coming but our daughter wasn’t going to be there. So, we had some backlash and that was the time where it came to be, I know you mean very well. However, my job is to look out for the best interest of my child. And she could not be here today because she needed to take care of herself or she needed to be taken care of.

Dionne: And again the self-care. That’s a wonderful way to talk about this too. Self-care.

Shanta: It is. They have to recognize that you cannot say what she would have done in the situation because it’s very challenging. Like I said I wanted to keep her home but that would not have been in the best interest of other parties because I don’t want them to be stressed. Now, yes, it’s hard to know your sister is in a hospital. But it would be harder thinking, did I put away all the knives or did I put away all the medications or jump ropes because these are the things that we had to consider. Like, okay, because her thing was hanging herself. And that was the scary part because we think, she had a plan. My child had a plan. And she had means and she had access. So, if we don’t think to ask those questions, we might brush it off as it– she didn’t feel well. She’s down. She’s depressed and we still don’t take depression very well in communities of color. So, we did have to remove all items that might be a means to her. But I’m very glad that her time in the hospital, she was like, I really don’t– she’s– I really don’t think they did anything for me. But that was because the modality they used is not one that works for her. Talk therapy does not work for her. So, in the hospital where I worked, I used to play therapy a good deal with my clients and I had clients as young as 6 years old. So, sometimes that might be the best thing you can do is to just sit and play and observe and question. But I’m also a big proponent of bibliotherapy. Using books and stories to engage a client. So, that’s why going back to earlier, we’re looking for other methods that will suit her because I need her to see like, if one thing doesn’t work, that’s fine. We can try something else. There are lots of different things we can do. But we can’t do is we can’t stop.

Dionne: That’s important.

Shanta: So, yeah, I’m all about being mindful and taking a break. Breathing, being in the moment. But you get– you take that breath and keep going.

Dionne: So, in all of these different therapies in this journey with your daughter and then also– I mean having this background which is such a rich and important background, if you could pretend that you’re talking to and you can fill in this blank with “teacher”, “family members”, “church members”, if you go to church, “community members”, doctors” –  and if you could pretend that you’re talking to them, person or a group, what would you want them to know about your experience? You. Your experience parenting a child with a mental health challenge?

Shanta: I don’t typically tell people what I do just on meeting them. But I would like for people to approach me with the compassion that they would any other person of a parent going through a trauma, because having your child committed produces trauma because the mommy guilt that most of us feel sometimes is very real. If immediately you begin to question, what did I do wrong? Oh my gosh. Did I have one drink while I was pregnant? Did I go to that restaurant where they allow smoking? Did I not go over her ABC’s enough with her? Did I not check that fever when she was six months old? It can eat away at you and you question like the very– for me, the very core of who I am, which is being a mother. That is– I tell my children, you are my first job. You are my first priority. I’m going to do my very best to make sure you are able to take care of yourselves when you leave here. However, this thing right here is causing me to question whether I did my job right in the beginning.

Dionne: Exactly.

Shanta: So, please address me as someone who’s just having a challenging day. That’s why they say, you never know what someone’s going through. So, if you just treat people the way you want to be treated, I’m sure most of us want to be treated kindly, we’ll be okay.

Dionne: Yeah, that’s so true.

Shanta: And please, treat her the same way because she’s a very lovely girl. She has a beautiful soul. She’s so kind and very loving. But she goes from zero to 100 and point 1. And it’s just like uh! But that’s because she has a mood disorder, she can’t control that. And sometimes, medication, people saying, “Oh, you’ve medicate–” please don’t judge me for medicating my child. Do not judge me for doing the thing that my child needs because not every herbal supplement is going to get the job done. Not every behavior plan is going to work for her. I’m telling her to go to sleep earlier. It does not work because she has sleep issues. You know what I’m saying? Exercise. When you have anhedonia, which is a lack of desire to do things that she used to enjoy. I’m sorry. It’s not going to happen today. We got to take baby steps. So, please don’t judge me that I have medicated my child. And if you do, keep it to yourself.

Dionne: I like that. Keep it to yourself. Keep it to yourself. So, what has been the most difficult in the past in trying to get help for your child?

Shanta: Even as a clinician, not really knowing all the resources. And I know a lot of resources but not knowing all the resources that are out there that can be helpful. But again, sometimes that mom guilt really, really gets in the way. And that keeps you from saying, “Okay, this is not about me. It’s about her. So, let me ask for this resource.” Or not recognizing what a resource actually is. So, my daughter has 504 which is great. That’s a medical impairment form. She can get coverage and services at school. Different accommodations to help her in the classroom. And IEP recognizes that my child has a disability which gives her more coverage. So, you’re thinking, “Oh, IEP–” they were like, “Oh yes, we’ll put her in special ed. and we’ll have an extra teacher.” But that protects her when she goes to college, that protects her further in high school. That does give her access to additional resources. That says, if she’s in a program and she’s having some behaviors that are challenging and causing maybe some issues per her IEP, you cannot put her out. I need you to work with her. I need you to follow this educational plan that we have in place. So, she continue to be here and receive the services because what we fail to see is people implementing the resources that they have. So, we don’t use what we have properly. And we allow our children to be circumnavigated in taking all of these different ways. This is really not beneficial to them when the tool the you had works really well, if you know how to use it.

Dionne: So, if you can name one tool, because you name the IEP and the IEP works. And I love when you said that not everything works for everybody and there’s so many different things you– so, if you had to think of one tool that you could say, this was the moment that’s like, this is working. This is good.

Shanta: So, let’s see. She does– currently, she utilizes her 504 mostly. We haven’t had to say, “Look, this is IEP level stuff.” Her 504 works for her and 504 work for a lot of youth. Her 504 has accommodations such as she can have extra time on her homework. She can get an extra day on her homework or she can get extra time on testing, regular testing and standardized testing. She can test in a small room. She can test on the computer because my child, due to her processing issues, works better on a computer then with pen and paper. Now, granted, we’re all moving away from pen and paper, but there are still some environments where they do it and it’s like, “Look, this is what has been told to me, my child is good at. I need you to look at her strengths and work there.” And I think we fail to sometimes recognize that even children with mental health and behavioral issues, they have strengths, we overlook those because sometimes the behaviors are so escalated, there’s just– I cannot take this anymore. This behavior is driving me bananas. Please, always look at your child’s strengths. Remind them who they are and how awesome they are. My daughter, I have a WiFi password and I’m like, what is this password? And she’s like– I’m like, really? Because all the pound signs and the lower case letters and the underscore, I’m like, really? But okay, you are awesome. And don’t put it on what is wrong, it’s “you are awesome. You remember that? I can’t. That’s great. You fixed the computer? Wonderful. Because I just sat it over in the corner and went and bought another one. So, if you did that, please remember that you took the time to go in and look at the system and figure out what the issue was and you work through that process. And you made it correct. You can do that.” And so, we relate to their strengths. And we relate them back to how they can manage their own care.

Dionne: That’s important. That’s so important. Speaking of self-care because I know when you said, your self-care. So, tell us right now, are you swimming? Are you drowning? Are you treading water?

Shanta: I never tread water. I’m horrible at treading water. Like in real life, I’m like just going through a crisis. I suck at treading water. I float. And that is my preferred method.

Dionne: Tell me more about floating.

Shanta: So, actually, it’s my one of my self-care methods. I go to the pool and I just float. And it is a time where I’m literally just weightless and I don’t think about what’s going on. I look at the lights in the ceiling or I close my eyes and I just lay there and let it all go. And sometimes, we really have to realize, we can’t carry all of this, anyways. We just need to sit it down somewhere and let it go for a little while. So, being in the pool for 30 minutes, that’s my self-care, really. Like on days, when I really need to work something out, then I’ll swim and I usually do a crawl. But that’s– I mean, most of us are swimmers, except my one child. [Laughs]

Dionne: And my son is not.

Shanta: She’s like, “No, I can’t do this.” But swimming is my preferred method of self-care just because I find it so relaxing. I think treading water is a lot of work and when you’re trying to get through something, you want to try and let go of as much as possible. You want to purge all the unnecessary weight. You just carry what you need. And generally, we find what we need is going to be inside of us because a plan is always in our head. We don’t need extra papers or notebooks or bags to carry a plan. Because when the plan is necessary for the foundation or the benefit of your family, you’re going to hold that in your head and in your heart. We let all the rest sort of it go.

Dionne: That’s a good point.

Shanta: But I love to swim. I love a mani pedi, too. I’m not going to lie.

[Laughter]

Shanta: I like to be pampered. But I think that we must also recognize that sel- care doesn’t really have to cost. Meditation is a great way to take care of yourself. I write notes to myself. I write notes on my mirror. I have a current message on my mirror, “You are a great partner worthy of love.” Because we need to remind ourselves sometimes. And sometimes when you’re working with other people and it seems like there’s so much going on, just a simple reminder is nice. I do aromatherapy.

Dionne: Yeah, I saw you– like perfume. [Laughs] Aromatherapy.

Shanta: That was like [makes a sound].

Dionne: [Laughs]

Shanta: So, I make my own like linen sprays. I do a nice lavender linen spray that I spray on my bed when I change my sheets. Before I get into the bed. [Laughs].

Dionne: I like it. I love aromatherapy.

Shanta: Yes. Peppermint. I did a peppermint and eucalyptus one, just for like a refresher and it helps too with memory. So, I’m like, [makes a sound] and walk into it. It uplifts and kind of invigorates so you can go off and do your thing and you smell good.

Dionne: Yes.

Shanta: [Laughs]

Dionne: On top of it you smell nice.

Shanta: Yeah. And it doesn’t cost a lot like– and I bake.

Dionne: I want to come to your house.

Shanta: Yeah, I bake a lot because baking makes me feel good and then the people I give my goodies to, they feel good, too. Cakes and brownies and cookies and stuff.

Dionne: So, I know this is part of advocacy. This is– this– we’re at the National Federation. And most of us are advocates. Is there an organization, a particular group– I see you have a thing here that you want to talk about or give a shout out to.

Shanta: Well, I work with the Younger Years and Beyond, which is a federation chapter. And I’m very excited about the work with them because I don’t work with the younger years. I work with the “beyond” part.

[Laughter]

Shanta: So, and that’s very exciting to me because while catching, intervening early in life is great. I mean we absolutely have to be a net for our adolescents. We really have to show them how to care for themselves, how to advocate for themselves, how to be mindful of what’s going on with their bodies. And adolescence is a very challenging time. So, just being an educator and helping out through Younger Years and Beyond is really just a privilege because I get to help, say, how can you identify the things that trigger you. How can you identify ways to ground yourself. How can you talk to your psychiatrist or your psychologist. How can you let them know what you need. So, helping young people advocate for themselves is really important to me. So, I’m very excited about that.

Dionne: Well, thank you so much for participating and sharing all your wisdom and focus on self-care and self-care techniques, real self-care techniques with us.

Shanta: Thank you.

Dionne: Spending some time with us while we’re here. I really appreciate it. And I know everybody who’ll be listening will appreciate it, too.

Shanta: Thank you.

Voice over: You’ve been listening to Ask the Advocate. Copyrighted in 2018 by Mothers on the Frontline. Today’s podcast host was Dionne Benson-Smith. The music is “O”, written, performed and recorded by Flame Emoji. For more podcasts and this and other series relating to children’s mental health, go to Mothers On The Frontline or subscribe on Apple podcasts, 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]

 

Rebuilding the “map” of a child’s brain after trauma. Just Ask Mom Series Podcast, episode 10

In this episode, Nate tells us about his journey adopting his young son from the foster system and how the trauma of his son’s early life has left a complicated matrix of diagnoses.

 

Transcription

Voice: Welcome to the Just Ask Mom podcast where parents share their experiences of mothering children with mental illness.  Just Ask Mom is a Mothers on the Frontline production. Today we will speak with Nate, an adoptive single Father of 8-year old Ricky. Nate is a military and railroad veteran and lives in Iowa.

Tammy: Tell us a bit about yourself before or after you had your son, just tell us a little bit about you?

Nate: Back in 2014 I chose to– well I guess I should go back even further—when I was 30, I told myself that if I wasn’t married with 2.5 kids by the time I was 40, it was time to do something. So I did something and when I was 40 in 2014, I got license to adopt. The end of October in 2014. And that’s when the road started. A road that I had never been down and very few people in my family ever have either. Including my cousin in Arkansas who is a Special Ed teacher. Prior to that I’ve been a locomotive engineer for 20 years. Worked all over the country. Before that I was in the military. I’m a military veteran. I was a medic in the military. I had that experience but none of that prepared me for what was to come when I entered the adoption world and the various spectrums of which you would encounter.

Tammy: Okay. So pretend you are talking to the public, or you’re just telling people who haven’t had these experiences that you’ve had, what do you want them to know?

Nate: Well, foster kids, they’re in a whole different class and you often hear, these kids are damaged, or these kids have baggage or these kids are bad kids even. The stigma that follows them and none of it is their fault. The public, in general, seems to block out the fact that these kids come from very, very bad situations, and because of that their minds have been reprogrammed in all essence to survive. And that’s where a lot of these behaviors come from, and that’s what, us, as parents struggle to reprogram. If you can imagine a Rand McNally map of Missouri when a child is born. You have all of those highways going everywhere, well that’s a child’s brain when they’re born. Once you place trauma, physical abuse, sexual abuse and every other avenue on top of that, you might as well take all of those highways on that Missouri map and throw them away and you could just draw four lines that do not intersect each other, that end in nowhere and those four lines are survival, food, shelter, safety and getting their way – what they think is best for them. Those four little highways, that is it in the entire state that end nowhere, that don’t talk to each other, and it’s up to us as the public, not just the adoptive parents or foster parents, it’s up to us as the public to build all those little highways back together again.

Tammy: That’s right.

Nate: To attempt to rebuild that entire map. Now, it’s a little bit easier when you get them when they’re pretty young, not much, but a little. But it falls back, it just takes a lot, a lot, a lot, of resources to do so.

Tammy: Right. Tell us about your situation. How did you come about meeting your son and having your son and what was it like in the beginning?

Nate: It was actually very interesting. The end of 2014 and through most of 2015 I had set my home study out on various kids all over the country, literally, that I was interested in but I never really, never got considered for them.  Even once they had told me that they even had no other home studies being considered. But just as I was kind of losing hope thinking I had wasted my time getting licensed, I got a phone call. It was almost to the day – the anniversary of when my brother died in 1999. I think it was November 27th of 2015 my brother had taken his life, the end of ’99.

Tammy: I’m so sorry.

Nate: I want to say the 26th and his name was Rick, well I got a call about this six-year old that was named Ricky.

Tammy: Oh wow.

Nate: My initial intent was to adopt older like 11-12 what I tend to call the forgotten bunch -the older ones. To give them a chance number one. Number two, my work schedule is not the greatest and I kind of needed a child that was a little more self-sufficient. But they called me about Ricky, of course, the coincidence, that I could not ignore. He was a lot younger than what I had planned on but then the first things that start popping in my head is well he sure is young enough to still be able to create that bond. And whatever he has wrong should be able to turn that around or get it stabilized. So I went ahead and started visits December of 2015 and the visits I had with him, he seemed a little hyper, a lot of energy, but to me nothing out of the ordinary. Even when the visits progressed to him coming to my house to stay overnight, he wasn’t too bad. Manageable, he was manageable. Well, the end of January, they moved him in. Something had happened in the foster home and they needed to move him quickly so they went ahead and expedited the transition into my home. So I moved him in I think it was January 27th or 28th. And it was really neat because you could tell he was just happy as a lark to move in. He had never been in such a fancy house. He never had all these toys before. He was just the happiest kiddo West of the Mississippi. Then day two came.

Tammy: That quick?

Nate: That quick.

Tammy: Wow.

Nate: As soon as I went down to wake him up the morning of day two, I’m here to tell you, I just barely touched him on the shoulder and he just kind of cracked one eye open, he just slid down the bunk bed ladder down to the floor and he just took off running, I mean he’s running into walls and everything else. He’s still half asleep and he just zooms, right on up the stairs.

Tammy: Wow.

Nate: It was the craziest thing you’ve ever seen, you know what I mean? And he just– he was full board the rest of the day and I’m like, wow. I mean I’ve been around ADHD kids before but nothing to this degree. But at that time that’s all I was dealing with, I was dealing with hyper. An of course at the time he was on stimulants, he’d take his stimulant in the morning and he would kind of level out but then the rise to fame would start about one or two in the afternoon. Everyday. So he started school almost immediately and he did good at school for the first month. Then I started getting calls that they’re having problems. He would run out of the classroom and go running around the halls, or he would start throwing animals around the classroom or tearing up books or tearing up other kids’ papers. Not following directions, so on and so forth. There wasn’t any confinement at that time. But his outbursts — and at that time he was not in Special Ed either. So we dealt with it and over the– and right about then I started getting him into the local psychiatrist to figure things out. What’s going on with his meds or what are we missing or what do we need to do next. So they changed his meds to something different and well that was a mistake.

Tammy: Really?

Nate: They didn’t wean him off, they just switched from one stimulant to another. At that time, I was completely ignorant to that.

Tammy: Right, so you’re just trusting really what they tell you–

Nate: Yes.

Tammy: –because they’re the experts, right?

Nate: Yes.

Tammy: I’ve been there.

Nate: Oh.

Tammy: Yeah.

Nate: And so he– after that for the next couple of months, I mean it was just problem after problem after problem in school. They were making adjustments wherever they could and I have to hand it to that school. They tried, tried and tried again. They genuinely adored him and understood what he has to be going through. At the same time, there were no secrets between me and the school on day one, they got everything that I had. Child studies background, everything. So they knew absolutely everything and they couldn’t come back on me on top of it, you know what I mean?

Tammy: Right, you were in it together, really.

Nate: Yes, yes, we were working together. And I was raised that way with school districts because my mom is a retired teacher. So I have a compassion for the teaching industry. I understand how it works. I had a lot of problems over the next couple of months and he didn’t really have many confinements. There was a couple – two or three instances where they had to use confinement, but me or the nanny was home and one of us would go get him right away. He wouldn’t stay there. But that it was only two or three times I want to say total in that first year. Now. In May, I had got him up here to U of I and uh, they are a great facility, they do try very hard to work with the different families. They changed up his meds again and kind of went back to the original med schedule and then just hit some tweaks and added one I think– one med. And things seemed to level off the rest of May. Well enough to the point that I thought that they had gotten things figured out. Or got him on the right track. He was on a good enough track that when his worker, his social worker came to the house for her monthly check up, she asked if I would be interested in his older brother and she told me what he had and he had all the same things that my guy had.

Tammy: How much older is he?

Nate: One year.

Tammy: So they’re close.

Nate: Yes. except for the older one also had RAD.

Tammy: Radical Attachment Disorder?

Nate: Reactive.

Tammy: Oh reactive, I’m sorry Reactive Attachment Disorder. Okay.

Nate: Yes. I had done some reading about Reactive Attachment Disorder and my cousin who’s a Special Ed teacher did a paper in college on RAD so she was familiar with it too.  I figured with him doing well and what I knew and the resources that I had, I figured he’d be okay. So I took placement of his older brother middle of July and for the first few days, great. I mean, they were inseparable. As a matter of fact, they were inseparable the whole time they were in the same home together. But here’s where it went wild. About a week into it, the older brother became distant with me right away – not right away but all of a sudden. He didn’t want to hug at night anymore or he was just oddly distant. I couldn’t figure out what had happened in that weeks’ time that it turned his switch off.  I didn’t really figure it was just RAD, I just figured something I might have done or didn’t do.

Tammy: Parents do that, don’t we? We always blame ourselves.

Nate: Oh, second guesses.

Tammy: Yes, second-guessing, yeah.

Nate: So it just started to get worse from there. Where he wouldn’t take a shower or he wouldn’t do something I asked or what have you. And over the course of the next two weeks is when things really got bad because what he was doing was bringing up their shared trauma.

Tammy: Oh, I see.

Nate: He was bringing that up to Ricky and getting Ricky stirred up, causing Ricky to act out.

He would keep feeding Ricky with these traumas and these ideas of acting out and behaviors to the point that I had, at the very end– three weeks is all the placement lasted. I had went to work and my job keeps me away roughly 24 hours. Nanny is there the whole time. I get down to the other end of my territory and turn her phone on and it’s just blowing up, the nanny is just blowing up my phone, “Well they’re doing this, the older one was caught with a knife behind the shed and the dog and this and that –  and the younger one was just taking a hammer to the front steps,” and I’m like, “what is going on?” Taking paint throwing it all over the garage, it was wild. So I get home and they had done about $3,000 in damage to the house.

Tammy: Wow. Which actually takes a lot of effort for a child of those ages to do, right? I mean, well I guess not they can do damage quickly but it sounds like they were working hard at it.

Nate: These type of children, no.

Tammy: I see.

Nate: Because there is no self-control, there is no line in the sand with them.

Tammy: I see.

Nate: Everything’s game.

Tammy: And they must have been putting themselves in danger it sounds like.

Nate: Uh-huh and the nanny, she was doing everything she could to keep them–

Tammy: Safe?

Nate: –safe. But they were not listening to her whatsoever. They were threatening to run away, they were screaming obscenities at the nanny. There’s just no way. It was just an out of control situation. I don’t know what I could have done if I was there except call the sheriff. It was just a very bad scenario. The next morning, I had them go to bed after they ate when I got home that night and the next morning. Well as soon as they woke up I took them to the emergency room, I had spoken to a counselor overnight through my employer and they had suggested that that needed to happen. So I did. I went to the emergency room the next day and spent about 10 hours in the emergency room. Finally, the local officer came and picked up the older brother and took him away, removed him. And my little guy, that was the first time he got admitted up here, to the university. And so moving forward, he was in the hospital for about a week, a little over a week, came home, they tweaked a few meds. They didn’t really get to see any behaviors while he was in there, which didn’t help any. But they tweaked a med or so and they sent him home because he was being safe. And he had started school, second grade, maybe a week later. And I think it was not even a full week into the second grade and the calls started again, of physical aggression and screaming obscenities at the staff and out on the playground and dysregulation. Just you name it and I think it was the beginning of September he was suspended.

Tammy: Really?

Nate: Second grade, your being suspended.

Tammy: At this point no IEP?

Nate: No, IEP, nothing. But he was suspended for…

Tammy: Individualized education plan, we try to recognize that we need to clarify for our listeners who don’t belong to this world of alphabet soup right? Go ahead, sorry.

Nate: I guess the acronyms will throw them off. He was suspended for — he’d been standing in line, turning around. A new student, first day of school for this new student moving from somewhere else, was standing right behind Ricky. And Ricky just impulsively, just turned around and grabbed his glasses and just broke them and threw them on the floor.

Tammy: Oh, wow.

Nate: No reason, no rhyme or reason, no anything. So they suspended him and I agreed with it. It is what it is. He was at fault. So that’s where it started going downhill. I want to say it was, middle of September, that I had called an IEP to sign paperwork for suspicion of disability so he could be evaluated for special education. Now I’m here to tell you that next 60 days, might-as-well have been 6 years. It, it just seemed to take forever. The stuff that he did at school, I felt so sorry for all the other kids that were being put through that. It was traumatizing for the other kids, just like it was traumatizing to Ricky.

Tammy: Absolutely.

Nate: But this is the way they do things and it’s unfortunate. But anyway, they started the evaluation middle of September and we rolled into October. He ended up going back to the hospital. I think it was third week of October. They started to see little behaviors. They kept adding diagnoses and it was just baffling. I mean this whole time, I’m constantly on the computer researching, constantly reading studies. I’m trying to figure out this, this web that we have going on with him, trying to make sense of it because from a logical perspective it does not make sense in any way, shape, or form. Just the fact that a six-year, well, seven-year-old at this time could be so complicated. It’s just scientifically baffling to me, but he went back to the hospital in October. During October, I also got him into a geneticist and had him tested for Fragile X syndrome, which he tested negative for. I also had a CMI done, chromosomal microarray, to look for any anomalies in his chromosomal structure. That did come back abnormal, but, naturally, the partial deletion that he has, medical research has not caught up to that part of the strand yet. So they did not know the significance, if any that it would be, even though this particular chromosome that he has deletion in has a lot to do with behaviors.

Tammy: Oh, okay, so that, there’s some link at least.

Nate: Yes, I mean there’s suspicion, because this particular chromosome can depict William Syndrome. It can depict Schizophrenia. It can depict Autism. So I mean there’s a lot of behavioral controls or programming in this particular chromosome. But anyway, moving forward, he come back home from the October hospitalization. He was okay that I could tell. It depended on the day. Some days, he’s all right. But he would go only a day or two for being all right and then you would pay the price. It was November ninth, they went ahead and ended his evaluation early, a little early because they had enough.

Tammy: For the school?

Nate: Yes. They had enough data to go ahead and qualify him for special education. In the middle of November, they moved him from the school he was in to the other elementary school in town which was where their Special Ed department was.

Tammy: I see. Do you feel that helped at all?

Nate: [laughs]

Tammy: [laughs] No. Uh oh.

Nate: Oh, boy. In the very beginning, yes. But my little guy is so complicated, they couldn’t hold a candle to his needs. They distracted him, that’s what I like to call it for the first week. Then he started to show some behaviors he was showing more and more and more behaviors and needing more and more time in the Special Ed room, out of the classroom. More disruptions and so in the middle of December, he just went downhill. We never got him back. When he got to the new school from the middle of November, he started getting a lot of confinements in Special Ed almost daily for long periods. This went on until Christmas and he got out of control on Christmas and he went back to the hospital on Christmas. He was there until about January fourth, when he was released again and there again, another diagnosis and another med. But I think that it was that hospital visit I– I could tell when I picked him up he wasn’t right. He just, you could tell, he wouldn’t really last very long.

Tammy: How is he doing now?

Nate: Oh, well, he’s been in residential for five months. And they’re just starting to see progress.

Tammy: All right.

Nate: In the beginning, he was getting his money worth out of them. They were seeing all kinds of behavior. They saw behaviors as the day he was admitted. He had quite a few confinements and so forth but of course that facility is designed for those type of children that need that kind of care. We did a med wash on him. Got all the five different meds out of his system which I requested last year. Just last year but the doctors wouldn’t listen to me. Then they had him off all meds for a month and he did better. They got him off all the meds. He did level up somewhat. He wasn’t getting what they call incident reports on a daily basis. He was still right in that line of getting them but he was not taking it all away. Recently they started him on a new med, just one, trying the non-stimulant route and it’s showing promising signs.

Tammy: Well, good.

Nate: Next month we’re going to have a neuropsychological testing done to look for autism, like Asperger’s or see if there’s something else there. It’s supposed to identify which pathways are dead-end, up to his pre-frontal cortex, to see if we can get any explanations in that area or if it’s just all pure psychological, as far as his trauma and it was discovered that it appears that the piece of the puzzle that I was missing all last year, the things that were not making sense when I got him he did not have RAD. But he’d, once he got to me, and felt safe, comfortable, which didn’t take very long and the behavior that started.

Tammy: Yeah, that’s not uncommon.

Nate: That’s when the RAD surfaced because before that, he was not, he didn’t feel safe. He felt on edge. He was in survival mode in his natural instinct. But like I said, once he come to me, these symptoms started coming out. And, you know, the RAD symptoms, a lot of these, disorders that we’re dealing with in special-needs kids, whether it would be autism, ADHD, ODD, DMDD, just the acronyms are endless.

Tammy: They are.

Nate: But the symptoms they overlap each other in such messy basket weave. And to get that sorted out, it takes time.

Tammy: Another thing, I mean your son is still young. And as I talk to a lot of parents and tell my own journey, the brain’s developing and the diagnoses change and are added as they grow sometimes, it’s very complicated. You’re absolutely right.

Nate: Absolutely, it’s complicated. Yeah, and what aggravates me to this day is that we don’t, we as parents, we rely so much on the professionals. And in a way, I feel like we’re being taken advantage of because the professionals seem to just push, push meds. And not the right meds either. They want to push diagnoses that aren’t the right diagnosis. You provide them with all of this information, background on them and they don’t look at it. So we’re going into it blind asking for their help and they’re just handling another piece of cattle coming through the office. I hate to use that analogy, it is what it is. Yeah, and it’s heart-breaking to know that your child is being treated like that, you know?

Tammy: Yeah, but I mean you have this insight to that child that no one else has.

Nate: Well, absolutely, all of us are the Ph.D.’s of our child.

Tammy: Exactly, yes. I agree. It’s important to have a team that listen to the parents, listen to the other members of the team, thinking of the whole picture of that child, but it’s hard to make that happen.

Nate: It is. It’s very hard. That’s why I’ve created a term –  and it may be out there but I haven’t seen it — I call it respectfully aggressive parenting.

Tammy: I like this. Say more.

Nate: If you hear something you don’t like from someone in your network, you tell them, “Okay” and then you go to the next one. You either go to the one to the left of them or to the one on the on top of them.

Tammy: In the end, you’re fighting for that kid. That’s what you have to do.

Nate: That’s absolutely right. A lot of these people that we deal with in trying to secure services for our children they’re just doing their job. That’s the way they’re told to respond. So there’s no reason to get mad at them. There’s no reason to yell at them. There’s no reason to throw a fit. Go around.

Tammy: So, you know, there’s just so much, right? So I’m going stop you there, but I do hope we can come back to you as you progress in your journey and this is just, there’s just so much.

Nate: There is.

Tammy: So much. But at this moment right now, are you swimming, drowning, treading water? Where are you at?

Nate: Before he went to residential I was drowning. All of the community-based services in my area down there were exhausted. We weren’t getting anywhere with it. I had this seven-year-old that, for all intent and purposes, it was like gremlins in my house. I mean, swinging from the ceiling fan, you know just turning up the house and there’s nothing I could do to it, or do about it, you know. Police would have to come to my house to get him to do what I needed him to do. At that time, I was drowning. Even the local hospital didn’t know what to do with him. But at this time, I’m treading water, because it’s given me more time to do research and gather myself and understand what we really got going on with him. Working with his therapist there at the facility and her explaining some things. I mean, I’m feeling more comfortable. Now, that doesn’t make me a pro-at handling the situation yet.

Tammy: Right. It’s hard. And there’s just no way around it. This is hard.

Nate: Yes, yes, just because I’m not programmed like that. I was raised completely different, you know. It’s hard to take an eight-year-old and treat him like a two-year-old because that’s where they’re mentally at. It’s just very hard to shift gears down there. So I’m still learning, like I should be. I’m going to say I’m treading water right now, but I feel comfortable at it.

Tammy: Good. So what do you do for self-care to get through this? What helps you to get through it?

Nate:  I think a lot and I read a lot. I don’t let myself– if I started feeling myself like a little down or depressed or overwhelmed, I simply just revert back to the task at hand, the challenge at hand which is understanding how all of these disorders tie into each other. What they mean, what the outlook is so I’m constantly on the internet researching, reading studies both here the UK. The UK is doing a lot of research on ADHD. But I just keep passing scenarios thrown in, I just keep reading, keep education– keep educating myself so I can fully grasp what we have here. You know what I mean? It pushed me to go back to school. It pushed me to start a book, if nothing else just to have it documented while fresh in my mind. um, That’s what I do to keep myself maintained.

Tammy: So this is all very hard stuff. We always like to end with this question, because the only way to get through this is laughing occasionally, having some humor about it. What’s your most laughable moment that you might like to share with us?

Nate: The most laughable moment and regarding to him?

Tammy: Anything you want to share but yeah, in terms of parenting and so forth. What can you laugh at through all this?

Nate: The first time that Ricky was– he’s had several very laughable moments –but the first time he was in the ER, during that ten hours, him and his brother they were pretty unruly. And they ended up having to separate the two in two different rooms. And Ricky was being very aggressive to the point– I was standing out in the hall. There was three nurses in there. And he was working all three nurses over pretty good. So they have to call security. So I was standing in the hall and here comes this very large man, security guard, around the corner. And he kind has-his chest bumped out a little bit. He just kind of glared over at me. And he walked over to the door, to the exam room where Ricky was at. He slowly turned that doorknob, slowly opened it, side-stepped in, told the nurses that they could go. That he’s got it. Nurses filed out. He slowly closed the door very quietly. And I sat there for about a minute, and I kid you not, it sounded like Tom and Jerry going at it in that exam room for a full hour.

Tammy: Oh my gosh.

Nate: I mean it did not stop. They were just, oh, I don’t know what’s going on there but they was chasing each other hard. And then it got quiet. After that hour, it just completely got quiet.

Tammy: That’s always frightening when things get quiet.

Nate: Yes, and within a couple of minutes of it getting quiet, that door slowly opened again. He pulled it open, he side-stepped back out of it, closed the door, turned around, looked at me. His entire shirt was soaking wet with sweat. He comes up to me and he’s out of breath. And he says, “I don’t know how you do it?” I said, “Well, I’ve been doing it for almost a year, what’s your problem?” And he just shook his head and walked around the corner and I went in to check on Ricky, opened the door and there’s Ricky just sitting on the edge, of the exam table watching TV. Not a bead of sweat on it.

Tammy: Like nothing happened? Oh my gosh.

Nate: Not breathing hard, no bead of sweat. Nothing.

Tammy: Nothing .

Nate: Just like it didn’t even phase him.

Tammy: Wow.

Nate: And so he worked that man over pretty good.

Tammy: Well, I want to thank you for sharing your story. And like I said, hopefully, we can come back, talk to you again as you get further along in your journey.

Nate: Absolutely.

Tammy: Thank you so much for sharing this. We have to laugh sometimes right?

Nate: No absolutely, we got to find the humor.

Tammy: That’s right. Well, thank you so much.

Nate: No problem.

Tammy: Thank you.

Voice: 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]

 

 

Asperger’s, Bullying, and Unsolicited Advice, Just Ask Mom Podcast Series, episode 9

In this episode, a mother shares her experience of the recent diagnosis of her son with Asperger’s Syndrome. She discusses the journey to the diagnosis and how well-meaning, but often misguided advice from family and friends can make this already difficult journey all the more painful. She discusses her son’s experiences being bullied in school and the pain of watching your child grow up without friends.

Transcription

Voice: 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 mother whose son was recently diagnosed with Aspergers.

Tammy: Tell us something about yourself.

Mother: That makes it really tough.

Tammy: I know.

Mother: Right? You think it’s all easy and then you are like…. I’m a middle age woman that is a mother of a single child. We’re on the path for a diagnosis of Asperger’s. This was a recent diagnosis, or process of a diagnosis, for us. It was a bit of a shocker. Prior to having my son, I nannied for 17 years, so I was around kids, help raise kids, manage kids. My son came along. Everything seemed fine, until now, when we really started to notice some differences and the fact that he is very routine-oriented. And just some of the changes that we’ve seen compared to the other kids. But this is tough.

Tammy: It’s tough.

Mother: Man.

Tammy: It is.

Mother: My favorite thing to do – technology. It is always something with a cell phone or the computer – a gadget of some sort. So, that is what I spend a lot of time doing, that and taking pictures.

Tammy: So that’s what you enjoy doing.

Mother: My son lives in front of the camera. Poor kid. I love him to death but.. he’s like, “Hey, you got that on my face again?”.

Tammy: It’s nice to share a passion, right?

Mother: It is.

Tammy: So that part is really good. So, you are going through this with your son. I want to know what you would like other family members to know. Who you know, because we have a lot of people out there who are going through this and they probably feel the same way. What, you are the one in the middle of it, what do you want family members who they mean very well but don’t- aren’t in the middle of it. What do you want them to know? What would you want to say to them?

Mother: So, let’s go back probably about seven months ago, when we hit a rough spot with our son, who had a day where he was so overwhelmed that he couldn’t function at all. And at that point I knew we needed to do something. We needed to figure out what was causing all the behavior and triggering this because he literally was just a body. His eyes were glassed over. He just would sit and cry. He couldn’t get dressed. The thought of going to school made him physically sick. This is a kid who up until this point loved school.

Tammy: Really?

Mother: That’s when I intervened and said, “Okay, you know, we got to do something”. After talking with family members– they were giving great suggestions, you know, trying to help —but we knew we weren’t on the right path. So we intervened with a therapist who has worked really hard with our son. With a suggestion of a friend I looked at what we felt potentially was Asperger’s and looking at our son knew that he had a lot of the same characteristics. A lot of the same things – looking back of course as a parent you feel really guilty. Because you didn’t see these things sooner but getting that groundwork work with that therapist helped me immensely sit down with my parents, with my in-laws, with my husband, with my siblings, and talk to them about what we’ve seen, what we see going forward, how we are going to try to approach things for him. Because it’s not easy. It’s very stressful. His stress is also my stress. And when he is worked up, then I can’t relax and it just throws the whole family dynamic off. Of course we got the “it’s because he is an only child? It’s because you are too hard on him. maybe if you did more with him. If you took him out and have him do more things he would be more social. That’s part of it. You are not exposing him to enough, you know? Are you sure that he’s on schedule that tight? Have you, you know, really sat back and watched?” Most definitely. The kid gets up in the morning. He has his specific clothes in mind before he gets out of bed. We lay there and talk for five minutes. He gets up. He gets dressed in a specific order. I have tried to change that up. It turns the world upside down. I’m just thinking, “Ok, so much as putting your socks on before your pants can’t be done”. But if in your mind that’s what you need, I’m fine with that. I’m okay. But until I tested that a couple of times, did I find out, right? I just thought, “Oh, it’s just him being particular about one thing”. But we have a certain routine with getting dressed. A certain way to put deodorant on. A certain way to put cologne on. We have to hit the bathroom at a certain time. We don’t do our hair, we make our hair.

Tammy: Really?

Mother: Yes, he makes his hair every morning. So, whatever style he has in his head, he makes it.

Tammy: I see.

Mother: I don’t understand where that comes from, but that’s ok. It’s not worth an argument over come at the end of the day. He eats the same food for breakfast every day until he is tired of it. He eats the same for lunch every day until he is tired of it. So, it’s very, very specific. We have to live this with him every day.

Tammy: Does he get very anxious if anything goes off his schedule?

Mother: Yes. It causes major issues. And he’ll start to fidget. Mostly he’ll either pick at his fingers or hands to try to calm himself. Compression shirts have made a huge difference for him.

Tammy: Wonderful.

Mother: Convincing him to wear them on the other hand was not easy. It took a lot of work but we’re there. It’s a safety blanket now so we don’t leave home without them.

Tammy:

Mother: I’ve invested in. I don’t know how many shirts we have in every color because for him his shirt has to match his pants. And his shirt and his socks have to match or we have an awful day. You cannot use black or blue as universal color. It is specific. It has too match. So it’s very, very tough. I never thought about this. We can do a whole series on shopping with an autistic child – it has to be a certain fabric, a certain color…

Mother: They have to fit a certain way.

Tammy: If you do it then that it’s going to help the child be well throughout the day.

Mother: Yes. It makes a huge difference. And for someone who doesn’t see this, for someone that’s not behind those closed doors on a daily basis, they can throw all kinds of great ideas out there to help you, but until they are in your shoes, they are not going to get the full picture. I would like to have more family members there to see how our days go. To give them more insight because until your hands on, you don’t get it. You see him as this spoiled child who’s throwing that temper tantrum because something, you know, to us seems so small that didn’t go right. But to them it’s significant. It’s hard for them to process it. And the lengthy talks that we have incorporated into everything that doesn’t go right to turn it into a lesson, and explain why things are going the way they are and try to help, navigate through so that they get it. It’s not easy finding the correct language to use so that you don’t frustrate them that much more. It causes a lot of stress on mom.

Tammy: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Mother: Because it’s a lot of trial and error, and with family you get stuck in the middle of that because you’re trying to do what’s best for your child. But yet, you are trying to get them to understand and you don’t want to offend anyone by not doing what they have suggested. But if you go back at them with any sort of evidence then they are upset. Even though they’re meaning well and trying to help, they are mad because you didn’t try it. And it’s just- you feel like you’re stuck in the middle of a cyclone. Because everything around you it’s just spinning so fast.

Tammy: But everyone else gets to conveniently leave the cyclone except for you and your son, right?

Mother: For sure. You’re exactly right. And it’s so crazy because when it comes down to it the more schedule oriented we are, the most smoothly things go, and the better days that he has. But if we are off task, it’s hard to get back on. I didn’t realize how hard that could be until I started reading and understanding what we are dealing with. And now it’s like a light bulb moment and to me it’s becoming second nature. When we took a trip over the weekend, to not come home is significant for him. He has his bed, a certain routine. We don’t mess with that very often. But when we do, we know it’s going to be bad. And so we talk about it for days. I have family that would say, “You’re treating him like a two-year old”. “You are talking about this way too much”. And I’ll say, “But we need to talk about it so that our trip goes better”. If I don’t, his behavior is going to be horrible. And I get the push back. “He’s 11, he knows better”. Theoretically, yes. But with what we are working on, it doesn’t click. It’s ok. We talk about it, we’ve got it all figured out. Just don’t mess with his routine and it will be ok. Once we get there, it’s fine. And he’ll have fun. But we have to work through that on a daily basis. We talk about his school schedule on the way to school every day because he has a couple of classes that change. It’s ok. If we don’t, he gets confused.

Tammy: So it’s very important for him to know what to expect. But if that’s expectation is disrupted, it’s very anxiety participating for him.

Mother: Oh, for sure, it’s definite. And it can through the entire day into depression. And come evening, after we do supper, and we shower, and we take our night time pills, and it’s time to brush the teeth and head to bed, don’t take mom out of the equation. If mom is not there to tuck him in, he will stay up until who knows when. It is horrible. I want to be home because I know if I’m not then he is not going to bed until I get there. I can even text. I can call and tell him goodnight, and he is still staying awake.

Tammy: That’s a lot of pressure because I think as a mom you expect that the first few years of life, right?

Mother: Yes. Yeah, you’re exactly right. You know, being a nanny. Not that I was there a lot for those kids –  I was on call 24 x 7, 365 because the family that I worked for had commitments that would pull them out at all hours of the day and night. I would go in early in the morning. I would be there late at night. I could put those kids to bed, right? Wasn’t a big deal. Or you can be like, “Ok, it’s 8:30 it’s time to go to bed”, and they go. Not with him. Oh no, you will be there, you will tuck me in. We talk about our day and then I’m going to sleep. Until then, it’s off the table. He will find any excuse possible to be up. And it’s so hard because then you’re confined to being home all the time or being with him all the time, in which case you never get a break.

Tammy: Right. And that backs up on us as moms?

Mother: Yeah.

Tammy: That affects our mental well being.

Mother: For sure.

Tammy: Because we need a break, right?

Mother: You need that break. You need that time away. Yeah you go to work in most cases.  Mom takes the kids to school and then she goes and that’s her eight hours or whatever of work. But you come home and there they are and they want to see you, and you want to see them. And so, that cycle continues. You don’t get that downtime, the time to process that you really need to so that you can stay healthy. Because it’s tough. The stress level. And of course, you start to adapt to it. But once you do, there’s a new challenge that comes your way. And then you are like, “Ok, how am I going to face this? How do we approach this?” You learn who you can lean on.

Tammy: Yeah, that’s true. You do know who your friends are, don’t you?

Mother: Yes, and you find out really quickly. Because you’ve got those friends that regardless of what you just find out, call you and say “Hey, how’s your day?”. You’ve got some family that do but really they are prying for information. They really don’t care – because they just want to know what the latest scoop is and what you find out, right?

Tammy: I see.

Mother: But I’ve got a really great friend who no matter what willl call and say “Hey, you know. I know you guys have supper schedule in 30 minutes, can we go for a quick walk?

Tammy: That’s wonderful. So you have a support system.

Mother: I do, but I’m learning that sometimes what’s convenient for her, it’s not convenient for me. And so, having to work on that because if I say, “Oh well, yes, supper is not for other 30 minutes”, “I’m leaving”. I’m sunk because now he’s home – which he’s fine being unattended for a day. I check in on him all the time. But I’ve walked in, I’ve talked to him. We’ve discussed few things. Maybe worked on homework. And now, I’m leaving. It does not go well. If I come home and I say, “Hey, I’m leaving in 30 minutes. Let’s get this, this and this done”. And then I’m going to go for a walk and I’ll be back. It’s ok.

Tammy: Because it’s all part of the plan.

Mother: Yes.

Tammy: So, spontaneity it’s sort of off the table.

Mother: Completely off the table. Whether it’s at any giving point, whether it’s changing– the beginning of the school year is always awful because the unknown in the schedule. The school year changing buildings was horrible. It took over a month to get squared away. And that was before the diagnosis, so we were clueless. And of course, I was extremely frustrated because I’m like, “Oh my goodness, man. It’s not that hard”. And now I’m like, “Oh, yeah it was”.

Tammy: It was that hard, yeah.

Mother: Because he’d smile, he’d go to school, he wouldn’t complain and now I’m thinking, “What was in his head? How is he getting through all this?” Because if that were me, I’d have been blown away. I would have been crawled up in a corner somewhere thinking, “I can’t do this”. And at his age, he went through it- I mean, yes, his behavior was a little rough. But all things considered, I was shocked.

Tammy: I think that’s something we don’t talk about enough is how incredible strong our kids are. They are managing and coping with so many things that other people can’t even see, including us, that are invisible to us.

Mother: Yes.

Tammy: And they are getting through it, and they are not getting kudos for that, right?

Mother: And that’s what I talked to a teacher about. You know, when we’ve talked about things- and kids in general-  when they are doing well, they need to know they are doing well. It’s not just that bad behavior. It can’t just be that because when they start to predict that they are that bad kid. And that their bad behavior  – no one wants to be around them. And nobody wants that.

Tammy: No, no.

Mother: You know, we’ve talked to our son about it– he has no friends.

Tammy: That’s one of the hardest parts, isn’t it? Just saying that, yeah, that’s very hard.

Mother: So in the meetings with the teachers, in the meeting with the family, I’m like, “Can you guys name who he hangs out with?”  They are usually like, “No, I guess we never paid attention.”  My family is like, “Well, I guess we’ve not really noticed that.”  Come birthday parties —  he doesn’t get invited. You know, come time for his birthday party, nobody shows up. Which…

Tammy: …it’s heartbreaking.

Mother: It is. And when it comes down to it, he doesn’t have that buddy that he wants have over on the weekend or someone who will hang out with and play video games or any of that. To see that and to talk to him about that is tough because he doesn’t see that other kids have this going on. In his mind, he’ll tell you he is friends with everyone because he’ll speak to everyone and everyone speaks to him. The response he gets may not be a friendly response, but in his mind, “Hey, they talk to me”.

Tammy: Does that worry you in terms of him being teased or bullied?

Mother: Yes, because it’s happened already.

Tammy: So, he thinks someone is being his friend but they are actually not treating him well?

Mother: Yes. Perfect example of that it would have been late fall. He was riding the bus. And he could tell the name of this other student that he walked to a corner with and the student went one way and he went another to come home. And it was just like casual talk about this person who were there. But then at one point I tried- I texted him, to see what was taking him so long to get home because I’ve got the alerts that it go off when he gets within so many feet of the house so that I know he’s home. So for my peace of mind I can rest a bit. You know? And he wasn’t getting home on time. And so, I texted his phone and I said, “Hey, can you tell me why you are running late?” And I got a really weird response back. Not a normal response from my child. So, I picked up the phone and I called. And someone answered it but there was no hello really quickly on the other end of the phone. And once he got on the phone I said, “What is going on?” And he’s like, Oh, well, so-and-so had my phone. And I said, “We’ll discuss this when you get home, but I’m going to keep talking to you until you walk the other way, and I know that you are home. And when I get home, we’ll talk”. When I got home that night, we talked about it. He said “when I got my phone out of my bag pack like I always do every day and I unlocked it and she reached over and took it from me.” And he is like, “Mom, I don’t understand why you are mad. She was just joking”. [I said] “No, that’s not a joking behavior”. I said, “What were you told at school?”. “Oh, yeah, we’re not supposed to touch other people’s property”. And I said, “Is your phone your property?”. “Yeah”. I said, “See? That is not acceptable behavior. What else has she done to you?” Feel free to tell me. I need to know these things so that we can take care of you. Of course she was shoving and picking on him. I said, “Can you explain to me how or why you think that she is your friend? He said, “But we talk”. “No buddy, that doesn’t make anyone your friend. A friend is going to stick up for you. A friend is going to be there when you are having a bad day to cheer you up. Shoving someone around, calling you names, taking your phone, that is not acceptable behavior”. But we are also talking about a child who got kicked in the groin in the kindergarten and has permanent damage from it.

Tammy: Oh, poor guy.

Mother: When that happened, we weren’t told.

Tammy: Really?

Mother: Not at all. We brought him home. I brought him from home school that day. Nothing was said. There was nothing in the bag pack. No phone call, no email. I went to put him in the tub that night and his whole groin area was black and blue.

Tammy: Oh, the poor guy.

Mother: So, of course, that result in mom being, “what happened to you?” And by the way, dad needs to come check you out because that’s totally awkward for mom to do it.

Tammy: Was he able to explain what happened?

Mother: He told me that another child was holding the door open when they were walking in from recess and the other child decided to kick him.

Tammy: But he didn’t think to tell anyone?

Mother: He told the teacher who said, “You’ll be ok”, and told the other student to settle down. He wasn’t sent to the office and I said, “I understand you all can’t check his groin. I get that. But a phone call so that I could have come to check him out.

Tammy: Make sure he is ok.

Mother: Or the offer of an ice pack would have been nice, but instead we find it at 8 o’clock at night when we are putting him to bed.

Mother: He went to the doctor the next day. He has a testicle that’s lodged up inside from this.

Tammy: How old was he at the time?

Mother: Six.

Tammy: Oh goodness.

Mother: To make matters worse, for three months twice a day I had to try to manually move that.

Tammy: Oh, poor kid.

Mother: How awkward for him and I both, right?

Tammy: Oh, absolutely.

Mother: When the other child- they called that child’s parents. It was, “Well, I know that sounds bad but, he’s like, what did he do to deserve it?”. That’s what was said back to us. So he’d had issues and again. He thought that kid was his friend. I was just thinking, “Buddy, you deserve so much better than this”. You’re such a good kid.

Tammy: That’s hard. So, we ask everybody at this moment, right now, do you feel like you’re swimming, draining water, drowning, what do you feel like you are at?

Mother: Treading water. We’re- we’re getting there. Two weeks ago I would say we were sinking immensely. Um, we’ve come a little bit- we’re getting a little ground. So I can ease up a bit but as summer’s coming, I’ll be drowning here soon.

Tammy: Yeah. Summer is tough.

Mother: It is. And trying to figure it all out for them.

Tammy: What do you do then? Like, what’s your self-care routine or if more relevant, what do you to survive those tough times?

Mother: I turn a lot to my camera. Whether it’s loading up my son and we go to a sporting event and I know it’s something that he will want to watch, and I’ll take pictures. And then I can go home and be on the computer and edit those. Just kind of not really completely shut everything out but be in that bubble. And just focus on the task at hand and not have to worry quite as much. It helps immensely.

Tammy: That sounds great. So, through all of this, what do you think has been your most laughable moment?

Mother: I know this sounds really bad, but watching my son talk to his therapist and get a full idea on his diagnosis, because he himself grasps it now. And he laughs at what we see and so we can laugh with him over it. Because it was so stressful to even get him to go to the therapist. And now he’s comfortable there. He knows that what we are working on it’s not a life-threatening thing. And he can joke with us about things like that now which eases family tensions so much. I know that’s a tough thing to really have us a laughable moment. But come the end of the day it’s made things so much easier for all of us that he’s taking us with this with a grain of salt. He laughs, he jokes, and he understands what’s going on. Taking him to the doctor was another good one. The poor kid had four shots.I laugh as I’m holding him.

Tammy: Right. Every mom, every dad can relate to this. No one likes their shots.

Mother: No. And we’re- we’re strategizing right? Like, “Okay, don’t look. Look at mom. Mom is across the table. Don’t watch the nurse”. You know? And he’s screaming at the top of his lungs. We’re thinking, “Come on, it’s okay. You’ve got four of them, it won’t take long”. And he watched the first shot and he’s like, “Wow, what’s the big deal here?”. He’s like, “That didn’t hurt”. We could let go. And he laid there.

Tammy: And it was nothing.

Mother: No, it was nothing. He is like, “No big deal”.

Tammy: That’s great, that’s great.

Mother: So, he provides a lot of laughable moments for us.

Tammy: Yeah. Well, that’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story with us.

Mother: Well, thank you.

Voice: 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.

 

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder and what a good day looks like. Just Ask Mom Podcast Series, episode 8

In this episode, we speak with a mother of three. Her eldest son has Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD). She discusses how the condition affects the family dynamic and what a good day looks like.

Transcription

Voice: Welcome to the Just Ask Mom podcast where parents share their experiences of mothering children with mental illness.  Just Ask Mom is a Mothers on the Frontline production. Today we speak with a mother of three. Her eldest son has Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD).

Tammy: So why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?

Mother: I have 3 kids, 3 boys, ages 1 to 12. My oldest son has a mental health diagnosis. He’s right now diagnosed with the DMDD. Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder. He was severely violent, had to be removed from the home for a total of about a year and 8 months, 2 different placements. Now he’s in the home, he’s non-violent for the most part but I have worked and then trained to restrain him, if need be. And I also went to school and have my Bachelor’s degree in Human Services. I switched to human services because of him.

Tammy: Very good. So, before we start, I’m going to ask you to tell us a little bit about yourself before or beyond mothering?

Mother: Well, before mothering, I was a teenager. So there wasn’t a whole lot going on. But it wasn’t until recently that I started to decide that other than mothering, I needed some hobbies. Most of my time was just spent mothering. So, I decided to help with just giving myself something to do other than the kids. I’m really into running. But I don’t like running in the cold. So then I had to figure out something to do outside of running to really get rid some of my stress so, then decide to start painting and like kind like those wine and canvasses people go to. But I don’t drink, so I find them on YouTube and I do them at home. And so, for about their hour worth of work it takes me about 3, but I do the paintings at home.

Tammy: Oh fun.

Mother: And so I really like [it]. I do painting and running.

Tammy: Very nice. So, I want to ask you to pretend you’re talking to your coworkers, right? What would you want them to know about your experiences as a mom?

Mother: Just how much time and effort it puts in, not with just my mental health son but all of my children and that trying to balance, making sure all the kids have the attention they need. I don’t think anyone realizes outside of our household really what it takes to raise a child with mental health needs. What a typical night looks like in our house, it’s not just having fun and getting through homework, it’s a very regimen routine. We have to stay very on top of our routine, we can’t just fly by the seat of our pants. Everything is very much — 3 out of 5 nights during the week we have appointments. The other nights are ball practices. Everything is laid out on calendars. We can’t go off of the routine otherwise we spend the whole night with a kid that’s having a meltdown because we went off of a routine and he didn’t expect that. It’s a very much different type of household and very much a different type of atmosphere having a household where there’s somebody that, you know, has a mentality of a 4-year-old and he’s 12.

Tammy: How do you keep that schedule because a household is not an institution, things happen — like you have to cook dinner and so on. How do you try to maintain the schedule? Can you give examples of how it’s hard to do that at times?

Mother: It is extremely hard to do. It means a lot of times where I’m one-on-one with my son and we both are left out of doing things as a family. On a lot of times, it’s just me and my oldest son. We’re together if he’s having a rough day– it’s me and him having a rough day together. It’s me and him that are together all of the time. Luckily, I am blessed with having an employer, and it’s taken me 12 years to find an employer that completely understands. I work for a school district where the principal came from a large school district and he understands mental health and he allows me to be home when my son needs me to be home because we don’t want my son not to make it through this. And so when my son can’t get out of bed and can’t make it to school, I’m allowed to stay home. But me and my son are very much left out of the rest of the family. My 16-month-old son, him and my husband and my other son go and do a lot without us if my oldest can’t go. And that’s terrible and that’s–it’s very sad, I don’t mind it so much and people, “Oh, poor you.” [but] I’ve lived my childhood, it’s not poor me, it’s too bad for my 12-year-old, it’s very heartbreaking for him. I don’t care what I miss out on, I care that my son can’t live a normal childhood. It’s heartbreaking for him. it doesn’t matter what I miss out on.  I just wish he could have a childhood and that’s where it hurts the most is to see him suffer and to see he can’t get out of bed because it’s Friday and I don’t even know most time why he can’t get out of bed and the voices in his head are mad at him that day and they’re telling him that he’s going to get hurt at school when he knows he’s not going to. That doesn’t make sense to most people.

Tammy: I think it’s hard to see any of your kids suffer in any way and this is particularly difficult, right?

Mother: Yeah. And I cut his chicken wrong, so now he has to go bed for the night, I mean, that’s…what?

Tammy: Do feel like you’re walking on eggshells sometimes?

Mother: All the time. All the time, and really you just can’t get mad at him for it because he can’t control it. You just have to let it go and be like, “Okay, well, that’s how our nights going to go.” Like, alright, cool.

Tammy: So, right now where would you say you are? Do you feel like you’re swimming, drowning, or treading water at this moment? Because for many of us, it differs from moment to moment.

Mother: It does, I feel like everything’s hour by hour. Monday, he didn’t make it to school but today’s Wednesday and so I feel he’s at school and I–so I’m treading water. Meds are doing okay, we’ve made it to everything today and I haven’t gotten a call, so I’m treading water pretty good.

Tammy: That’s a good day.

Mother: That’s a good day.

Tammy: That’s a good day.

Mother: He’s at school and I’m doing what I want to do so it’s a good day.

Tammy: That’s awesome. So, what’s your self-care routine or if more appropriate, survival technique?

Mother: Survival technique would be to know when to walk away. I’m not a single mother doing this–know when to tap out with my husband. If my son is getting– he doesn’t get physically aggressive anymore but verbally aggressive — it’s to know when I’m getting verbally aggressive back or when I feel like I’m getting upset. It’s to know when to tap out with my husband. Or even to listen to my husband when he’s like, “You need to stop and you need to walk away. You need a break.” So that’s my survival technique. Self-care is just to take time for myself. It was my 30th birthday recently and my best friend made me take the day off and we went to the mall not to shop but to do like get our nails done and to get the 5-minute massage. That sort of thing. I’s just taking time for yourself.

Tammy: That’s so important. What do you think is your most laughable moment?

Mother: I couldn’t think of a most laughable moment but it’s just finding something to laugh at. Because every day there’s something funny to laugh at and everybody gets so stressed out. It’s just always finding something funny for the day.

Tammy: Wonderful, is there anything else you’d like people to know?

Mother: I don’t think so. It’s just about reaching out to someone. Somebody’s going through something and just making sure — everybody’s having a hard time and there’s always someone having a bad day. So if someone treats you like crap, you know, just realize they’re going through something.

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

Mother: Yes, thank you.

Voice: 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]

Filling up your cup, so it can run over for others, Just Ask Mom Podcast Series, episode 7

In this episode, Alissa shares her journey as a single mother raising 5 children, both biological and adopted through the foster system, and having a wide range of special needs, including physical, intellectual and emotional disabilities. She discusses how to stay centered in the tough times and how self-care is required before we are able to give to others, including our children.

 

Transcription

Voice: 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 are speaking with Alissa, a mother of five children, including biological children and children adopted through the foster system. She works in Human Services helping other families with mental health needs as well as other special needs.

Tammy: Well, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, to get started.

Alissa: My name is Alissa Tschetter-Siedschlaw. I am a mom of five. I’ve been a single mom for ten years, although I recently got engaged.

Tammy:  Congratulations.

Alissa: Thank you.

Tammy: Oh, that’s exciting.

Alissa: My children range in age from 24 down to 9. I have both children that are biologically born to me, and children adopted through the foster system, with a wide variety of mental health, developmental, behavioral, and medical special needs. I work full time, well, actually no, I’m part time now, in human services, helping other families. I also do professional theater, by contract.

Tammy: I didn’t know that. That’s really cool.

Alissa: You didn’t? I finished a contract recently and I have a Shakespeare contract coming up in the summer.

Tammy: Oh, how fun.

Alissa: Yup. That’s what my training was originally in, theater performance.

Tammy: Well, my next question –  and you might have partially answered this –  what are you passionate about? Tell us a bit about you, outside of, or before mothering.

Alissa:  I am passionate about arts. I’m passionate about advocating for those who can’t speak for themselves. I was before this. I’m passionate about taking care of the earth, taking care of other people, treating people the way you would want to be treated yourself, trying to make a difference, and fighting against – whether it’s discrimination, or fighting against systems that don’t understand where loopholes are for people, or whatever. I’ve always been passionate about those political things and those kinds of things. I love lots of forms of art and exercise. I like to exercise. That is my medication. So yeah, those are the things.

Tammy: Great. Well, that’s awesome. So I want you to pretend that you’re talking to — In your case, you have five children, with multiple special needs, so I’d like you to pretend you’re talking to a parent with, maybe two or three kids that don’t have special needs. And try to give them some insight into what are the extra challenges.

Alissa: I think, it would be almost impossible to explain to someone else in that circumstance. What I would probably welcome them to do is come see a day in my life, or experience another family like mine. Because there’s a lot of things you don’t know until you know. A lot of very compassionate, very loving people, can say very callous things, because truly, –  it’s never crossed their mind. They’ve never thought about the kinds of problems we might have before. So sometimes, I try to explain from a place of education – without being patronizing- sometimes, just even in gaining compassion, when I have one child that I adopted, who has a tremendously tragic story. There’s not many people you could explain such a rough beginning and not pull at their heartstrings, and then, say all the things that her life is like now, and how it is to go home to a child, who’s functioning much slower than her physical size, who might have a psychotic break, and bite you, and attack you. People have a hard time even wrapping their head around those things, so I kind of wish more people could peek into our lives, because it is such a hard thing to understand. I think it’s like a lot of things that might seem unpleasant to people. We all want to pretend that certain things aren’t out there. It makes you feel like you can survive.  I know myself –  there are times when you hear some horrendous child abuse story – we all want tp  say, “No, that’s not, it can’t be. That’s not real.” Sometimes I think, our lives can look like that. I think it’s very scary to those who don’t experience that. I think it’s also why we so easily bond with each other, because so rarely do moms like us truly feel understood.

Tammy: Yeah.

Alissa: Where maybe if I am in an IEP meeting and seem snappy and bitchy or something, other moms like me would get it and go, “You know what? You’re just cutting out the BS, because you’re tired, and you’ve probably been up all night and this is your third meeting of the day, and I get you.” Where, to an outside person, it’s like “Wow this mom is difficult to deal with”. I think so much of it would be welcoming somebody in, to see a picture of what it looks like. Because I don’t think it’s something most people can wrap their head around.

Tammy: It’s interesting you say that, because even if you had a video of it, it’s still removed, because…

Alissa: …because you’re not in it, yeah.

Tammy: I don’t know the neurology of this, I just know when my child has anxiety and I’m in the same room with my child, it starts to affect my body.

Alissa: Oh, absolutely.

Tammy: So if you’re in a situation like this, day in and day out.

Alissa: Well, it absolutely does. I actually think some of the best things, you know, you maybe ask what this in a little bit –  but some of the best things I’ve done for myself, have to do with energy worth, and learning how to stay centered and calm, in the midst of chaos, rather than allowing yourself to snowball in the chaos. And realizing that chaos isn’t me, and it isn’t my own. And so, to be able to stay calm and centered in the midst of that, does reduce behavior of those around you, just naturally. It’s like tossing a pebble into a pond, and watching the ripple. If my pebble is a calm and centered and neutral pebble, it doesn’t get pulled into that. Because anxiety’s contagious.

Tammy: Absolutely.

Alissa: And it’s very, very easy for that to happen. And I would say, over the last six years, doing a lot of work, with my own therapist, with my own energy person, with a lot of alternative things like that, finding ways to do what I can do, because I can only do me when it comes down to it you know. And so, hopefully, my ripple is different. That helps reduce the amount of severity of my own reaction to the children.

Tammy: If it’s okay, I’d like to follow that up, because it’s one thing I notice, when I’m around the other moms, who go through this. I realize I’m drawn to them more than other people now. And part of it is like you say, they understand. But there’s something else, and it’s hard for me to sometimes put my finger on it. I think, in order to survive this, you have to do exactly what you said. To some extent, you have to center yourself. You have to understand that, if I’m going survive this, I have to not be carried away with it. And that’s a life skill that transfers everywhere else.

Alissa: It absolutely does. I think, in general a lot of moms like us tend to be overtly authentic. Which I love. For some people, that’s extremely off putting. Because I’ll just tell you flat out.

Tammy: [laughs] Yeah.

Alissa: You have a question you want to ask me, or somebody wants to discuss some topic. I don’t care. I’ll tell –  because, I think, when you’ve gone through these kinds of things, it is just different. I do think there is an ability to be raw and authentic, in a way that I think is a tremendous life skill, that I have gained, from a very difficult experience. Yeah.

Tammy: Right. Well, thank you for that. That is really helpful. So you have five kids. And I know just having two, how difficult it can be, making sure the sibling is getting attention, and so on. What do you wish you could tell your kids? Like, and you could pick a few, if you want, like one of the time…

Alissa: Absolutely.

Tammy: That’s five intersecting lives and so many various complicated ways…

Alissa: Well, the one thing I do know that my kids know is that I would fiercely and vigilantly fight for what they need. Unfortunately, looking back, I feel like I have been more of an advocate than I have been a mom. That part hurts my heart. I didn’t have all of the sit down and play and do fun things together, or let’s go do some fun activity, especially when I had so many with so many special needs. Our activities were physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, behavioral therapy, treatment, med management. I grieve that – that I don’t think my children will look back and remember me as a fun mom. I don’t think they’ll have those memories. But I do think my kids would tell, “If you were in a pinch, who do you want in your corner? It was my mom.” So that part I’m proud of. What I’ve had to do –  this usually does make me emotional – is let myself off the hook a bit because under the given circumstances, especially being alone for so much of it, I did the best I could, with what I had at the time. I apologize when I need to. I make the kids aware that I am a human, with faults, and I am so sorry, but I’m doing my best, and how much I love and adore you. I believe in a higher power, and God brought us together for a reason. And no matter what, even when I’m confused, and I don’t know what the reason is, or any of those things, I’m confident in that. I try to stick with that. That part can be, can be hard- I don’t think anyone has gotten the individual attention they may have needed. But I’ve tried to do simple things like take one to the grocery store. Even have one run down to the laundry just for a few minutes, here and there, I try to make sure everybody gets touched, every day. Especially when they get older, and they’re teenagers, that you get a hug goodbye and I’ll give you a kiss goodbye – that they feel physical love and affection from their mom. I think that they all know I wish I could have provided more.

Tammy:  Your story is one that, almost of us, would resonate with, because we don’t talk about it very much, but I think we all also grieve, not only the loss of the motherhood we imagined, but the childhood be imagined for our kids. All of that.

Alissa: Exactly. Well, the other really nice thing is– and I don’t know why –  I think I’ve always been a little bit of an odd duck, myself– I didn’t have expectations of what my kids would be. I didn’t. I actually think that has saved me a level of grief, that I know a lot of my peers have gone through. For the children that I adopted, there was this weird freedom from it. I don’t have guilt about their beginnings being crappy. I didn’t do it. And the neat thing about that is, I also know what they would’ve had without me and go, “You know, what? I’m doing pretty good because, you would have had worse.” It’s not that I still don’t feel like I wish I could give them more, but there is a sense of forgiving myself, when I know, okay, you know what? I know what your options were without me, so we’re doing okay. I do think I’ve grieved the mom that I wish I was. But I really want my kids to just be whoever they are. Especially with my adoptions. One of my children, they said she would basically be a vegetable. That is what I planned for. Anything above that is just bonus. So all of the issues she has today, when I look at her situation, this poor kid, I just think, this is just such a miraculous kid. I didn’t have expectations of her doing X, Y, or Z.

Tammy: That’s another thing. If we could transfer the rest of our lives, right? Just think about all of our relationships, all of our daily things, if we didn’t lead with expectations.

Alissa: I think, actually, that centered skill, being able to feel whole myself, it sets me up for much healthier relationships, because I don’t go in with expectation. If I’m here just to love you, then that’s all I’m here for. If you love me back, bonus. But I’m not here with an expectation of you offering me something in return. I view parenting much that way. It is our job to love them. It is not their job to love us back. That’s bonus. That’s gravy. That’s what we would hope for. But if they don’t, that’s not part of the journey. That’s not my job -to be your friend or to be liked by you. My job is to raise the best human being I can raise. My job is to love you unconditionally and with without expectation of being loved in return. Feeling okay with yourself, frees you that way, and helps your relationships be really authentic, really real, and you can have much deeper relationships, because you’re cutting out that expectation.

Tammy: I think that’s wonderful. So right now, at this moment, because every mom I talked to, including myself —

Alissa: A little different.

Tammy: — it varies from moment to moment.

Alissa: Right.

Tammy: But in this moment, are you treading water? Are you drowning? Are you swimming? Where do you find yourself?

Alissa: If I’m doing swimming, as the most positive of the options, I think we’re mostly swimming.

Tammy: Good.

Alissa: I think there are days we’re treading water. We aren’t sinking so much anymore, but I have had plenty of days where the goal was only to survive the day. In fact, I think, there was a decade there where I survived the decade –  my goal was only to survive the day. I still probably have poor long-term planning, because thinking too far out causes me stress and anxiety, because of that. So sometimes I have poor planning –  what are you doing in three weeks. I have no idea what I’m doing in three weeks. I’ll put it on my schedule. I’ll look the night before, because I will be overwhelmed otherwise. Over all I do feel like we’re at least always two steps forward, even though we take one step back.  If you had told me five years ago we could be this good, I would have thought you were out your mind. So that’s exciting.

Tammy: I think it’s really good for people to hear. I know the biggest hope I get is when I talk to parents whose kids are now adults and they made it and they’re okay. And it was hard, but they’re okay. It just gives you so much hope.

Alissa: I think hope is one of the most pivotal things to hang on to, because your only option isn’t to sink. There are people out there. Are the resources what I wish they were? They are not. And do I see all kinds of holes, and all kinds of systems all over the place? I sure do. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. We had come a really, really long way. We had a lot of near tragedy along the way too, and we have survived. I’d like to get to a place — I don’t know if I would say we are at thriving as opposed to surviving –but we’re somewhere in the middle and that’s pretty dang good. 

Tammy: That’s really good.

Alissa: So, yeah.

Tammy: You’ve already talked a little bit about your self-care routine, but if you want to say anything more about it or in those really rough moments – the survival techniques.

Alissa: I tell lots of people to remember to breathe. Literally. I don’t think we realize how often we’re holding our breath. The difference it makes in your physical body to remind yourself to breathe. My Mommy Mantra is, “This too shall pass.”  Nothing is forever even in the worst of circumstance, this won’t always be like this. No matter what, this will change and I remind myself of that a lot. I try to exercise most days, not every day — but that does help. I also see a therapist for me. I do some energy work with an energy person when I need meds myself, I go get meds. It’s usually in the winter. I’m like you know what, I need some extra help because I’m struggling. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think remembering that, utilizing what’s out there to be the best who you can be. We also shouldn’t think that we should be a doormat. I’ll go get my nails done. I mean, maybe not all the time, but if there’s something that is splurge, you know, I — I’m on the list too. A lot of us forget that. I don’t think you can do the quality job you want if you’re cup’s empty.

Tammy: That’s right.

Alissa: I heard someone say once –and I loved it so much–they talked about when people say, “My cup runneth over.” And what they were saying is, “You know what? What runneth over is for me to give you. What’s in the cup is for me.”

Tammy: Ah.

Alissa: And so, if you think of it that way. I have to do my best to keep my own cup full or I’ve got nothing to offer, to my children, to others, to advocacy, to change, you know, I’ve got to do my best to keep myself whole and intact as well, you know, or it does no one any good.

Tammy: Thank you. This is just amazing.

Alissa: Thank you.

Tammy: I’m going to ask you one last question. Through all this, what’s your most laughable moment?

Alissa: One of my favorite moments, so, a little bit about my daughter – she is 17. She’s intellectually disabled. She’s probably functioning around seven and she has cerebral palsy. She has schizophrenia. She had a severe – grade 3 – bilateral brain bleed. She has hydrocephalus with a shunt. She’s meth and alcohol affected. She was three months premature and her birth parents are related. So, what basket a stuff to be given. But this is one of my favorite stories about her. I home-schooled her up until third grade. And then in third grade she went to public school. She comes home and she’s telling me the story about how she and the other black girls in class were having a discussion. I realized as she went on that she thought she was black and so I said, “Madeline, did you know you’re not black”, and she said, “What?”, and she fell straight over on to the couch in shock. Then she’s like, “Well, w-what am I?”, and I said, “Well, I think you’re Italian”, and she said, “I must have gotten confused.” [laughter] It was so cute. And another really cute one I have to say about my son who’s autistic. This was just his — the way he thought it worked. At 18, he sat down to come out of the closet as straight. He figured every kid –  like each parent –  you don’t know. And then, you wait until adulthood and then apparently each child needs to sit their parents down and explain whether you are straight or gay. I just thought it was the cutest thing that one he thought that there’s no concern about what you might be, but that, he better inform me.

Tammy: Right. That’s his job.

Alissa: That he is straight.

Tammy: To tell you at this age.

Alissa: Yes. Yes. So it was cute because he came out as straight.

Tammy: That’s great. Thank you so much.

Alissa: You’re welcome.

Tammy: Such a wonderful story.

Alissa: Thank you so much, Tammy.

Tammy: Thank you.

Voice: 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.