Social Distancing Week 7…Strengthening The Safety Net

Friday, May 1, 2020…2:03pm

The end of week 7 and a turn of the calendar into yet another new month.

This week we “celebrated” my birthday. My husband and daughter did so much to make the day as special as possible and I did feel celebrated and loved. Unfortunately, it was also the day my man-child hit a new rock bottom in his ongoing battle with anxiety and depression so the memories of the day will forever be a mix of lovely and heartbreaking.

These weeks of isolation and unknown are hard on everybody. But for people who were already struggling with their mental health, the effects are harder and the impact will likely be deeper. We were already in the process of rebalancing my man-child’s psychiatric medication in the weeks before the at home orders. We’ve seen his psychiatrist twice in the time we’ve been at home, and will see him again this month. A periodic medication change is common for those living with chronic mental illness, but it’s a process that has been greatly complicated by the strange time we are all living through.

To say that the man-child is “edgy” would be an understatement. The anxious energy coursing through his body is actually palpable to the rest of us. He’s never really latched on to the coping skills he’s been taught through years of cognitive behavioral therapy, but in recent weeks it seems as if he has completely forgotten all of those skills. It feels like we are back to square zero – when he was 9 and first beginning to exhibit early warning signs of anxiety disorder and depression. Only this time he’s 14, and bigger than me, and has the boost of testosterone on top of surging adrenaline when he loses control. It’s frightening to experience. It’s heartbreaking to witness.

Early in the week, my husband and I began to think that the most recent increases in medication dosages were finally taking hold. And they really probably are. In the moments of clarity and calm, we recognize our son in control of his emotions and thoughts as opposed to the emotions and thoughts being in control of him. That is proof that the medication is doing it’s job. But the x-factor continues to be the stress and strangeness of social distancing. When the reality of our current situation wears him down (just as it wears us all down periodically) and his anxiety levels begin to build he still seems unable to keep control.

The good news is, he was already several years into treatment with both a therapist and a psychiatrist before the world shut down. Although the safety net isn’t as strong right now as it has been at other points, there is a safety net of medication and professionals we can access via phone and Zoom. I can’t even begin to imagine how much harder this would be without those supports in place.

May is Mental Health Month. Our focus from the beginning has been to provide our son with the tools he needs to thrive in life. Coincidentally, Mental Health America is using the theme “Tools 2 Thrive” as their advocacy and education theme for mental health month this year.

1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, but everyone faces challenges in life that can impact their mental health. Living through COVID-19 is a challenge for all of us. MHA and other wonderful organizations have incredible resources including screening tools, referral data bases, and other information that anybody can use to improve their mental health and increase resiliency.

We are years away from knowing what the longterm effects of this strange time will be on teens currently struggling with their mental health. I am actively working to fortify the safety net we’ve already built for my son. I can’t know for certain how this will shape him and his longterm mental health, but I do know he needs a safety net now more than ever before.

Be well my friends.

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Active Minds is another organization I love. Their focus is on the mental health of students in the California. Their website has great information on mental health in adolescents & young adults.

 

 

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