The View From Here..

School ended today at 12pm. By 12:20pm I had four extra kids in the house – two friends of my son and two friends of my daughter. They all came home from school with us and will all spend the night. It’s a huge “Welcome to Summer” celebration.

Earlier today as I was leaving work and heading to the grocery store to stock up for 6 hungry kids, I told my co-workers that this party was either the best idea I have ever had, or the worst. So far, so good. They ate enough food to feed a dozen kids at lunch, they’ve played video games, had water fights, and nerf battles. All together in a big pack. It’s been so much fun to watch (as I have been attempting to get in a couple more hours of work sitting in the yard.)

Right now the boys are in the living room playing video games, and the girls are in my daughter’s room whispering and giggling. There is peace and harmony and joy in the land of preteens as they ease into their summer break. And the current view from my outdoor “office space” is this…

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That is the remains of water balloon fights, nerf battles and hot tub dunking. It is the loveliest, most joyful mess I have seen in a long time. Its existence proves how far my son has come since this time last year. The beginning of last summer was right after my son had hit rock bottom in his battle with anxiety, panic and depression. While this was clearly hardest on him, his behavior, actions and choices for many months last spring and summer had the net result of our entire family being hostage. We did not have people over because there were too many possibilities for the visit to end poorly.

This time last year, we were all just trying to survive. This time last year, the long and empty days of summer seemed desolate and daunting. This time last year, there was no celebrating.

But today there is laughter, and joy, and fun, and friends, and beautiful messes. Today there is celebration and eager anticipation for what the summer will bring. Today the view from where I sit is incredibly good.

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words…

We are in the swift downhill race to the end of elementary school for my son. Every single day there is some celebration marking the end of the class of 2017’s time at the school. 

Today that celebration was an awards ceremony honoring academic achievement. My smarty pants, loves school, never met a book he didn’t like kid went into the morning knowing he would receive an award and was eagerly excited when he woke up this morning. 

Even with that excitement, the actual act of sitting in a cafeteria full of other kids and parents was hard for him. He is doing so much better at keeping his anxiety in check, but crowds, noise, anticipation and that cafeteria all remain individual triggers. Put together, he could have been sitting in the middde of a perfect storm. At this exact awards ceremony last year, he could not even enter the cafeteria – he listened from outside the doors. 

But today he managed to get a win over his triggers and demons. Today he sat in the midst of the other kids, cheered his friends and classmates on as a couple dozen awards were given out before his name was even called, and walked proudly and confidently up to the stage when his own name was called as a recipient of the President’s Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence. In other words – he rocked it!

I took gobs of pictures during and after the ceremony. Some show him solemnly examining his award, some show him beaming with pride, one shows him with his amazingly kind and wonderful teacher, and a couple even show him goofing off with friends. But this picture is the one I know I’ll treasure most over time. 

This picture of his back (and the back of his sister’s head) tells the part of the story I think matters most. The story isn’t that he’s an excellent student with a crazy smart brain. That’s amazing, and we’re super proud of his academic achievements, but it’s not what really matters here. What matters here is the fact that he is in the room. We could tell he was about to burst out of his skin at several points during the ceremony, but he didn’t give in. He fought through the anxiety and was a true participant in a huge personal milestone moment. From our seats in the chairs behind the kids, we were able to witness him truly being present for himself and with his peers. And it was beautiful. 

Too Much!

One day last week I spent sometime updating calendar. There were at least a dozen things – some work related, some volunteer related, some kid related – that I knew were happening, but had not yet made it onto the calendar. I am generally pretty good about getting things down on the calendar as soon as they are scheduled, so it was unusual for me to have to actually make the time to do a calendar update. As soon as it was done, I realized why all of those things had not made it onto the calendar….there is just too much happening in the next month.

That same afternoon I was chatting with a friend at school pick up. A friend who I have seen quite infrequently recently because we both have too much on our plates. I told her about my time spent updating the calendar and how i had decided that if I just didn’t look at it, then none of it was real. We laughed.

Later in the week, the subject of the calendar came up with my husband. We operate off a shared Google calendar, so he gets notifications overtime I put something on the calendar. That day I did my major update, he got a separate notification for each of the dozen or so events I created on the calendar. He joked to somebody that there is just too much on that calendar which functions as our shared brain. But there’s more truth than humor in that statement.

Too much. Even though I have become so much better at learning to say no, there is still too much. Some of it is ongoing – the work meetings and events, sports practices, therapy appointments, medication checks, orthodontist visits, and  tutor appointments are all things that take up space on the calendar on a regular cycle. Some of it is seasonal – year end awards ceremonies, scout events, performances, track meets and parties are all taking up space but will soon give way to the more open calendar of summer break. That calendar is really not vastly different than many other families, but lately when I look at it, instead of seeing the individual events, I just see too much.

And what do I do with too much? I power through. But sometimes powering through comes at a cost, as I was reminded this past weekend.

Saturday morning I woke up feeling mentally tired (my normal these days), but physically fine. By the time I had showered and headed out for a day full of work events, I noticed that my back was a little sore. I proceeded to stand on my feet for the next few hours, and when I finally sat down I realized that my back was actually very sore. Another two hours passed as I sat in a meeting and then drove home. By the time I pulled into my driveway the soreness in my back had become full blown pain. As that afternoon and evening progressed, the pain became worse and worse.

My husband asked me what I had done to hurt myself. My answer – nothing. I didn’t do anything. I could not put my finger on any one act of lifting or bending or moving that had caused strain to my back. His response to that – perhaps it was my body sending me a message that I needed to slow down from the too much. He also pointed out that I can’t take care of anybody else, if I am out of commission myself.

So my body sent a warning shot – a pretty painful warning shot, but one that I am already mostly recovered from physically (thanks to a couple days of rest, ice and ibuprofen). All of those things that combine to be the too much are still on the calendar (in fact a couple more things were added just today), but on most days there is time in between the things that are the too much. And it is how I choose to fill (or not fill) those moments that contribute to or take away from my own physical and mental well being. It’s not all of those dates on the calendar that are causing my strain, it’s my own inability (or unwillingness) to use the time in between to care for myself. So as I lay on an ice pack and drifted off to sleep last night, I made myself a promise to pay more attention to my own needs and make the time to care for those needs. There is very little of the too much that I can actually rid from our lives right now. What I can do is add something to make  the too much feel a little easier….

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Maintenance Dose

377 days.

That’s the total number of days between the date my son was first prescribed psychiatric medication and today. In those days the type of medication has changed 3 times and the dosages have been adjusted 7 times. And today, on day 377, the psychiatrist sat across the desk from us and told us that he thinks the current medication combinations and dosages are solid. We’ve hit the sweet spot of “maintenance dose”.

Our decision to medicate is not something I have talked or written about very much. The path that finally led us to the our son’s psychiatrist and that first dose of medication  377 days ago, was long and twisted. Some parenting decisions are easy and clear-cut. The decision to medicate was not one of those.

While I am fairly open on the blog and in person about our story, I am careful to not over share. Specifically I leave out the parts of the story that are too raw or personal. Truly that means I often leave out the specifics of behavior and the grittiest of the details.  These are the things that if you have not lived through, you may not even be able to imagine or consider as possibilities.  Leaving out those details is necessary to maintain some dignity for the people involved, but it also means most of the world is only getting a portion of the story. It is challenging to talk about the “how” we got the decision to medicate, while also maintaining that balance of not over sharing. But perhaps by sharing even a part of this yet untold story, those who do find their family in a similar situation can read enough between the lines to know they are not alone in the difficult decision of to medicate, or not.

I can’t really put my finger on the why of this – but for a long time I was staunchly against medication. I absolutely had concerns about side effects, and although I never articulated it I also had concerns about stigma associated with medication. I was willing to try any other possible intervention – counseling, behavioral therapy, diet and routine changes, homeopathic and alternative therapies. And we did try them all. We exhausted all the other possible interventions. But none of them made a dent in the problem. In fact, in the time we were cycling through my “anything but medication” approach, our family became hostage to my son’s increasing anxiety and depression and the behaviors that accompanied the anxiety and depression.

By the time we made the decision to medicate (actually by the time I finally got there, my husband was ready months before I was), the anxiety had eroded the joy my son once exuded. His anxiety was so high and so persistent that he was barely able to function in the world.  The behaviors that accompanied that anxiety were holding our family hostage. He was in pain and in crisis, but we all were suffering.

I can recall with absolute clarity the moment I knew I was wrong and that medication was a necessity. It was the day he had a panic attack so debilitating he sank to the floor in the middle of a group of people at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The site of him shaking and crying on that floor is an image that will never leave me. So by the time we met the man who would become our son’s psychiatrist 2 weeks later, when he asked if we would consider medication my answer was an emphatic yes.

And so 377 days ago he started medication. 377 days ago he would not look at the psychiatrist, let alone speak to him. Today as we sat in the psychiatrist’s office, my son looked him the eye and was (mostly) able to answer questions about how he is feeling and what he is thinking. He even laughed at one point, and was clearly excited and hopeful as he talked about the summer camp he will attend this year. He was a completely different kid sitting in that room today, than he was 377 days ago. So much of that can be attributed to the medication.

And so we have reached a “maintenance dose” – for now at least. He will grow and his hormones will kick in – both can wreak havoc with the delicate balance the medications provide. Or some yet unknown and unforeseen life change could amp his anxiety levels – that could also wreak havoc with the delicate balance the medications provide. I still worry about potential longterm side effects, but 377 days into this particular part of our journey I do not doubt that medication was and continues to be a necessity. The medications do not provide a cure, nor are they absolute. They do help to create the space for him to learn to handle the world. They do establish enough balance for him to engage with the world on his own terms. And they have brought enough peace that there is joy once again in his eyes and in his laugh. And for that I am thankful.

 

Bearing Each Other’s Burdens

I was honored, and a little (okay a lot!) nervous to be invited as the featured speaker at Atascadero United Methodist Church as part of their annual Mental Health Awareness Sunday. The key word to me in that sentence is “annual”…..every year for the past few years they have set aside one Sunday in the month of May to shine a light on fact that mental illness is widespread and that we all need to do out part to break down the stigma that continues to persist. In a world where most people are still to frightened by the thought of mental illness to really begin to understand mental illness, this congregation is actively searching for understanding and for ways to turn that understanding into action.

I am not an expert. I am a mother with a story to tell. A story that I tell because I know there is great power in giving names to the things that feel frightening. A story that I hope helps to break down the stigma surrounding childhood and adolescent mental illness. A story that I know touched the hearts and minds of the people at Atascadero UMC this past weekend.

Take a look, and see if perhaps that story touches you as well…Bearing Each Other’s Burdens – Atascadero UMC; May 7, 2017

The Is Us; 2017

One year ago today I hit publish on “a little project” I’d been working on.

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Today I went back and read the post that started what has become an incredible journey. Take a peek and see where we started.

We’re in a much better place in general today than we were when I wrote that post. We have words to name things in a way we did not at this time last year. And we have all found our own voices and own ways of narrating our story for the world. As a family we are changing the dialogue. There are still dark moments, hours & days. But the light spaces in between have stretched. There is still a lot of who we are to be found in that original post, but it’s not where the story ends.

And as for me and that “little project”… 12 months, 76 blog posts, 6 articles published on The Mighty (including one co-authored by my son), 7,000 people in 60 countries reading those words and hopefully finding encouragement to find their own voices.

Here’s to another trip around the sun…

Love, Faith, and Anxiety

Maundy Thursday is the day that Christians commemorate the gathering of Jesus and his disciples for the Last Supper. Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, meaning commandment, in reference to Jesus’ teachings about a new commandment. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John. 13:34-35, NRSV). That piece of scripture, and it’s message,  has been woven into my life for as long as I can remember, but last night I felt those words in a way I had never experienced them before.

I’ve written before about the internal struggle my son wages between his love for God and church, and his inability to be in large groups of people. After a year on medication to ease his anxiety, he is generally good on Sunday mornings – he knows what to expect, can position himself in the sanctuary in a way that offers an unobstructed escape route, and has figured out how to entirely avoid the over-peopled parts of church. He has found a balance that allows him to participate in worship and fellowship, without being too overwhelming.

But every now and then, he finds himself in a situation at church that is outside of his comfort zone.  With the decrease in predictability comes an increase in the potential for anxiety or a panic attack. Such was the case last night as we observed Maundy Thursday.

He was trying so hard to stay in control. I could see it and I could feel it in his tense body seated next to me. But shortly after we were seated – in a sanctuary that was darker than he is accustomed to, in a seating arrangement completely different from on a Sunday morning, in a worship service filled with heart wrenching words and haunting music – he realized he was not in control. And his chosen means of attempting to hold off the panic attack was to bury his head in my lap and squeeze his eyes tightly shut.

So it was that I found my sweet boy – who is almost as big as me – curled into my lap as the words of this Taize chant washed over us both…”Nothing can trouble. Nothing can frighten. Those who seek God shall never go wanting. God alone fills us.” Over and over I heard and sang those words which were simultaneously heart breaking and soul filling. My heart broke for Jesus, for the world at large and for my son – as I sat holding my son, I felt my heart-break wide open.

The message of Maundy Thursday is love. Love in its purest form. Love for one another. Love in action. And while I am still reeling from the pain of last night, in the light of this day I know that above all else it is our collective love and faith that will see my son through this world.

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