Healing Water

We’re in Arizona this weekend. As a family we have a love/hate relationship with traveling. It’s mostly love – time together away from the stress of real life, exploring new places, and revisiting old favorites. But I’d be lying if I said it was easy. 

The truth is it’s hard. One change to the schedule can put my son in a bad space, and traveling means nothing is on the regular schedule. Throw in anxiety caused by people, places, and “unknowns” and there is often a perfect storm just waiting to hit. That’s the “hate” side of the love/hate relationship. 

There really is so much to love though. Specifically on a trip like this, there is the healing of water. He’ll spend hours today just like you see in the picture – standing in the middle of the most uncrowded part of the pool, just being. He’ll also swim, water slide & float on the lazy river. And for the most part he’ll be at peace. Healing waters…

The Story Behind We’re All A Little Broken

Why is the name of my blog We’re All A Little Broken?

Until recently, I was crediting the title to something my husband said to me in the middle of a particularly emotional conversation about our son’s struggles. “We’re all broken.” I remember thinking at the time how wise and true that statement was. We are all broken, each of us in our own way. And the thought stuck, and eventually it became the title of the blog.

As wise as those words are, and as wise as my husband is, I realized recently that he actually borrowed the words from the equally wise Jon Bon Jovi. There is a song on Bon Jovi’s Lost Highway album called Everybody’s Broken. The chorus goes like this:

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It’s okay to be a little broken
Everybody’s broken in this life
It’s okay to feel a little broken
Everybody’s broken, you’re alright
It’s just life

 

That’s JBJ’s take. This is mine:

We’re all a little broken – and we have love and faith and stubborn streaks that get us through when the days get hard.design-5

We’re all a little broken – and we can still laugh.

We’re all a little broken – and we will get through together.

We’re all a little broken…

Somehow life gets just a little bit easier when you embrace your broken-ness. So acknowledge it! Embrace it! Name it! And enjoy a little Bon Jovi on your journey…Everybody’s Broken

It’s Not a Phase…and 4 Other Things I Want People To Know About My Son’s Anxiety and Panic

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I get it. People mean well. They  are trying to be sympathetic and make us all feel better. Anxiety disorder and panic disorder are big, scary, frightening ideas. Nobody wants to know that somebody they know is struggling with something like anxiety and panic, especially not when that somebody is a child. So out of a desire to make everybody feel better, people have been known to say some less than helpful/comforting/correct things…things I would prefer to never have to hear again, but know I will be addressing time and again.

“He looks fine.” – What is fine? Have you seen him smile, because we haven’t recently. At least not the genuine sort of smile that can light up his face. Anxiety is a stealer of joy. It has stolen our son’s joy and the smile that accompanies joy. He’s not fine. What you may see is him managing to make it through the day, and there is nothing “fine” about that.

“All kids have anxiety.” – True. However most kids do not experience anxiety to a degree that is a diagnosable mental health condition. Some amount of anxiety is normal. But anxiety that’s too strong or happens too much can become overwhelming. It can interfere with a person’s ability to get things done and, in severe cases, can start taking over the good and enjoyable parts of life. My son falls into the severe category.

“I’ve never seen him have a panic attack.” – Just because you haven’t seen it, doesn’t mean it does not exist. He has them. They are real, and they are frightening, and they are sometimes debilitating. The panic attacks are a physical manifestation of his extreme anxiety.

“There must be something causing his attacks.” – Sure. Living life as a 10 year old boy struggling with an anxiety disorder – that is what is causing his panic attacks. By definition, a panic disorder is a psychiatric disorder in which debilitating anxiety and fear arise frequently and without reasonable cause. So, no. No we can’t just remove the “thing” that is causing his panic attacks. If we could we would.

“It’s a phase. He’ll grow out of it.” – All kids go through phases and they may even include some level of anxiety or uneasiness. There is no question, that anxiety is a normal part of childhood and adolescence. However, having an anxiety disorder and a panic disorder is not a phase. There is hope that with medication, treatment and time our son will learn how to successfully manage his symptoms, but this is likely something he will struggle with to some degree for his entire life. It’s not a phase…

 

 

Letting Go to Hold On

IMG_9304-300x300 This week has been hard. Most weeks are hard lately, but this week was hard in a different sort of way as I painfully let go of something I loved, in order to hold on tighter to the people I love.

I believe deeply that we all have an obligation to do as much as we can for other people. I also have a very definite type-A personality. Combine those two things and you have the recipe for a chronic uber-volunteer. So naturally when my daughter wanted to become a girl scout 4 years ago, I quickly raised my hand and became the troop leader.

And it’s been so much fun! I love the girls. I love planning activities and outings. I love watching the girls explore and grow. I love it, but the time has come to let it go because it is taking time and energy away from being the best parent I can be to both of my kids – both my son who needs me to be strong and courageous as he battles anxiety and panic, and my daughter who needs me to just be her mom instead of a surrogate mom to other kids.

I struggled with this decision for weeks. It felt selfish and scary and awful. I worried about what the other parents in the troop would think, who would step in behind me to lead the troop, and how my own daughter would feel. I prayed and I worried and I prayed some more. And then I talked to my daughter.

I asked her what she thought and what she wanted. I explained to her what I was feeling. We talked about how most of the time it’s important to make decisions based on the greater good, but sometimes that means doing what is best for ourselves. We cried together as we wondered what to do. In the end we decided together, that it was time for me to let go of the troop.

We made the decision on Sunday evening, and all week I worked slowly through the process of letting go. I have cried every single time I told somebody what was happening. It has been emotional and exhausting and truly hard, but there is no doubt that this needed to be done. The time has come to let go because my own kids need me more than the girls in the troop need me. Right now our little family needs to hold on tighter to each other.

Sometimes we truly do have to let go, to hold on.

Between a Rock & a Hard Place

Parenting a child struggling with anxiety and panic is the personification of stuck between a rock and a hard place. Our days are marked not by hours, but by the spaces between anxiety fueled outbursts or shutdowns and panic attacks.

We have very little control over the “rock” or “hard place” moments. But I’m beginning to understand that it’s the choices we make and the words we say in the “space between” moments that bring some light into our lives.

Today was one long “rock” place. My son had a debilitating panic attack at school on Friday morning and I had to bring him home. This morning, the last thing he said to me when I dropped him off at school was “I hope I don’t have a panic attack today.” So all day I held my breath, and cringed whenever my phone rang.

3 o’clock came and I finally exhaled. He made it through the day. This was the “space between” and I felt my heart lift as he came out of school and smiled at me. We enjoyed a quiet walk home together. For a few minutes today I caught a glimpse of the boy we don’t see very often these days.

And then came the “hard place.” By the time we walked in the front door of our house, the built up anxiety and emotion of the day was boiling over. I asked him to empty his backpack and that was enough to break him. The quietness of the “space between” was replaced by angry emotion and we found ourselves solidly in a “hard place.”

But back to the choices we make and the words we say during those “space between” moments. I am choosing to make the most of those moments  – savor, nurture and live for those moments. The things that happen in that space between are the things I want to remember about this season of life. I know the next rock or hard place is always lurking these days, but it’s not all hard or bad or ugly. I also know there will be a day when the space between moments will be longer than the rock and hard place moments. Making the most of the good and lovely and sweet that happens in the space between is what will help us all make it through.

Why Our Story, Isn’t Just “Our” Story

My intelligent, compassionate, musically gifted, goofy 10-year-old son has a level 1 autism spectrum disorder, and has recently been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and a panic disorder.  As parents, we knew there was something wrong almost 2 years ago. We consulted various specialists, consented to a variety of tests and assessments, and our son has been in some version of therapy for almost all of the past 2 years. It took literally 7 different specialists, hundreds of hours, and thousands of dollars to get the answers we needed. All on our own, with minimal support from the school district, and very little reimbursement from the insurance company. It was a battle, but we persevered and finally wound up with our current treatment team of both a psychologist and a psychiatrist who are now helping us move in the right direction.

And we’re one of the “lucky” families. We have access to mental health professionals, and the ability to spend both the time and money needed to help our son. But there are millions of children in the United States who do not have access to the resources necessary to successfully diagnose and treat mental illness. And that is why I say our story, isn’t just “our” story.

The Child Mind Institute, is an independent non-profit dedicated to transforming the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders. They publish an annual report called Speak Up For Kids, that brings together the most current information on child and adolescent mental health. I would urge everybody reading this, to take the time to read the entire report at the link above, but provided here is a snapshot of the information.

The report shows with startling clarity, exactly how many children are affected…

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How many of those children and youth are not receiving the treatment they need…

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And why they are not able to access treatment…

I know how hard my husband and I had to work to get our son the diagnosis and treatment he needs. It breaks my heart to know that there are millions of other children JUST LIKE HIM, who need the same level of care (or more), but are not able to access the necessary resources. Our story is the story of millions of other families in the United States who are struggling with mental illness.

1 in 5 people will be affected by mental illness in their lifetime, but everybody is impacted through friends or family. Our story is not just our story.

It Might Be Time for a Dream Catcher

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When I was 11, my grandfather had a brain aneurysm rupture. He was hospitalized for days before he died. The entire time he was in the hospital, I had a horrible dream each night that a masked man with a gun was threatening to shoot every person in my extended family. That dream was my adolescent brain’s way of dealing with the intense emotions surrounding the loss of a loved one. Eventually there was a night where I did not dream that dream.

When I was 26, I was stopped at a stop sign in a shopping center parking lot and a man on a bike rode right into the front of my car. Then he picked up that bike and threw it through the windshield of my car, came around to the driver’s side and began threatening me. Bystanders had to physically pull him away from me. Following that incident, I had intense, dark and really frightening dreams that were a byproduct of PTSD. Eventually there was a night where those dreams did not come.

Recently, I have been having dreams where my son is somehow not safe and as hard as I try I am not able to protect him from a threat (sometimes he has been taken away and I don’t know where he is, sometimes there is somebody trying to hurt him and I can’t get him to safety). These dreams are clearly a result of the fear I feel when I send him out into the world each day. Every morning, I take a deep breath, put on my brave face, send him out into the world, and then spend the rest of the day praying he makes it through without a panic attack or an anxiety fueled angry outburst. Some days are fine, some days are awful. There is no way of really knowing which way any day will go. So every night, I lay in bed and pray that the next day will be one of the good days, that the next dosage increase to his anxiety medication will be the one that works, that the next psychologist appointment will be the one where my son finally decides to talk about what he is feeling, that, that, that….

And eventually I sleep.

I know that eventually there will be a night when those dreams will not come. Eventually.

In the meantime, it may be time to hang a dream catcher in our room to help me hang onto the good dreams.