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. 

OUR FAMILY. Real. Raw. Broken. Beautiful.

When I started We’re All A Little Broken, I was intentional about not using pictures or names of my family. Even though I am telling our story, I also know that this story could be that of so many other families. So I was intentional about not using our names or pictures.

Now half a year has gone by. I have started contributing for The Mighty and they do use my picture there. The words I write have been shared by people we know in real life with their own wider circles of family and friends, and sometimes they will reference knowing my husband or me. So while I tried to be mostly anonymous, it really isn’t that way any longer.

I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks. Do I do more good safely in the shadows of my anonymity? Or do I do more good fully stepping into the light and putting a face on my words? Clearly, it is the latter. But even once I had acknowledged that fact, I still was lurking in the shadows.

Recently we had our annual family pictures taken. When the proofs came back, I kept returning to two specific  images. They are both beautiful pictures, but neither one is my favorite. So what was it that kept drawing me back? It was when I realized the answer to that question, that I realized it was also truly time to step out of the shadows.

So here are those pictures…

And what kept drawing me back to these specific images?

In the first one, notice our hands. We are all connected. We are a unit. We are one. Facing the world together.

In the second one, notice our focus. We are fully focused on each other. We are a unit. We are one. Turning to each other, where we can seek solace from the world.

So what kept drawing me back. Plain and simple – these images are truly the us we try to be even as we navigate through the struggles of this life. These images are OUR FAMILY. Real. Raw. Broken. Beautiful. And I can’t fully tell our story without these images.

Photo credit to my AMAZINGLY TALENTED friend Nguyet Thomas of Full Moon Photography!

 

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…

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 1.11.00 PM

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 1.12.35 PM

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.