Meet Paisley

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Well, here is our newest edition. This is Paisley, our Goldendoodle puppy that we will be training to be Audrey’s service dog. The wait list for organizations that train service animals were ranging anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, and right now that type of wait wasn’t something that was not feasible. Audrey needed her dog even if it we had to train it ourselves or find a local trainer to do the specialized training.

So that is what we will be doing. Paisley is only 11 weeks old so we will have the ability to start her training at home with the basics of housebreaking and other common training commands. As she progresses and gets older we will take her to a local trainer that can give her the specialized training to help Audrey and fit her specific needs.

Paisley is full of energy, playful, loving, and super smart. In the almost week we have had her she  has learned to sit, lay down, and to come. She loves to snuggle and irritate our German Shepherd, Shadow. She has truly filled our hearts with joy & filled an empty space in Audrey’s heart.

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Firsts

Last night marked a huge step forward for Audrey. She attended her first high school formal dance. She decided the day before that she wanted to go because a handful of her friends were going together as a group. I was thrilled but also worried. I was worried she would get to the dance and panic. I was worried she would change her mind at the last minute. I was worried she would get there and not be sure how to interact or be too nervous to really engage and enjoy the night. There were about 3 mini-emotional upsets but they passed.

And she proved me wrong.We bought the perfect dress & shoes. I did her hair in simple curls. Her make up consisted of a modest tinted moisturizer, setting powder, and blush.She was beautiful and confidant and amazing. I couldn’t imagine this moment a year ago, but here it was.

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I have never been more excited for her, more nervous, and also more aware of how quickly she is growing up. I am thankful everyday for the moments she enjoys as a beautiful, happy, thriving young lady. I pray for her continued progress in treatment. I take nothing for granted with her and her life. I know there is uncertainty about her future and there will continue to be for years to come.

But for now, I cherish these moments. I cherish her smile and her happiness in feeling like she belongs. I cherish the fact that the veil of her illness can be lifted, even momentarily, for nights like this.

What Nobody Tells You About Mental Illness

When you realize that somebody you love has a mental illness, your world very quickly turns upside down and inside out. You find yourself researching, reading, educating, and teaching yourself everything you can in order to be the best caretaker or support system you can. There’s doctor appointments, re-learning how to be a parent/spouse/friend, managing school or work, running your household, trying to maintain some sense of normalcy, and attempting to find time to rest.

What you’re not told about is the effects that ripple through the life you were previously living. Before I get much further, here are some statistics to help the context of this post:

Now with this information out there, here’s what nobody tells you about mental illness. Living with or caring for a person with a mental illness takes a toll on every fiber of your being. Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and in every other quantifiable way you can imagine. Respite is available, where your child can spend a day or weekend with a family or organization in order to give parents and caretakers a break. However, it takes a letter from Congress and an act of God to qualify for any services like that. If you’re a middle-class family, you may as well forget about getting any assistance that you will undoubtedly need. Access to mental health care is still the least available form of health care in the nation.

It puts an indescribable amount of strain on your marriage, as mentioned above, but even more so when you are in a blended family where there is a step-parent or step-children involved. You fight over how to parent your child, what the right treatment options are, how much time is dedicated to caring for your child, and who is best equipped to take on the various challenges that come up. Sometimes you and your spouse will even argue about if the behavior of your child is a result of their mental health disorder, their stage in development, or if they are just being manipulative. There may or not be occasions where you tell your spouse to “Stop, this isn’t helping”, “Why won’t you hear what I am telling you?”, or “I will deal with it by myself”.

If a married couple can’t be on the same page regarding the numerous variables in caring for a child with a mental health disorder the results can be unbearable and irreparable. Resentment, depression, avoiding each other, and cutting the other out of the loop regarding your child are all very real and very hurtful possibilities. There is a struggle to balance your love and devotion to your spouse and marriage while also meeting the needs of your child. Some days you almost feel like you have to choose one or the other. It’s a feeling that completely sucks.

This doesn’t apply to just spouses, but to the child being cared for and other children in the home as well.You see professionals fail to mention to also make plans for your other children- counseling for the adjustment in home life, planning out time to spend one-on-one with them, and trying to explain what is “wrong” with their sibling. Their school work may suffer and it’s difficult for children and siblings to know how to answer the questions that people will always ask. There are little to no organizations geared to assisting a family from a holistic point- addressing the child with the disorder, the parents, and other siblings. Finding the right support group or other organization is extremely difficult because, again, you are trying to find something that meets the needs of a group of people.

Finding a case worker/manager to answer your questions or to try to guide you through the maze that is the mental health care system can be an issue. The lack of providers and other team members that are involved in managing your childs care is lacking across the nation. The Utah State Hospital has approximately 350 beds to serve the entire state population of just over 3 million people. That serves less than 1% of the population. At Utah State University the wait to see a mental health care professional is 4-6 weeks.

Yet, at the end of the day, you keep pushing on. You continually pray for good days, small victories, and achieving the balance your family needs. You pray your marriage will withstand the challenges and that your other children grow up with a deeper  compassion for people. Outside of being able to cure your child or loved one, there is nothing you would change. You know deep down that you’re the only person who can care for them the way they need to be cared for. I will sacrifice and give, seek knowledge and guidance, and show love.

I don’t view my daughters disorders as something that makes her “beautiful”, “special”, or any of the other sentiments some people use to make their situation seem better or easier. I hate everything about her disorders. This isn’t because of the effect it has on me or my family but because it’s something that can’t be cured. She will always have to work 10 times harder than her peers to be successful. She will always have to cognitively deal with her emotions and manage her well-being. It’s a heavy load to carry and it’s my job to give her all the tools she needs while I can still make her take them.

Granted I have a strong faith base and fully acknowledge that God is helping us get through the ups and downs. Without Him, out life would surely be in shambles right now. Things aren’t perfect and on some days things aren’t even good. Despite this I know that, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5, ESV).

I take my role as a mother/caregiver seriously. Even though there were so many things nobody told me about mental illness, I have become more aware & educated in my goal to provide for my family as a WHOLE. To meet the needs of my daughter with a mental illness, to show my other children that they are equally important and loved, and to hold my marriage together to the best of my ability. And when I fail, which I do, I know I can “Let go, and let God”.

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Asking for Help When You’re the “Strong One”

If you’re like me you have been described as “so strong”, tough, or capable of overcoming anything that comes your way. These descriptions wouldn’t be wrong, either. For a long time, I prided myself on my strength and ability to remain resilient during life’s hard times. I found my way to calm waters or a safe harbor in many of the turbulent tides life often surrounds us with. In most of these situations I didn’t have to ask for help because the need was obvious. Divorce, illness, unemployment – these are all situations that people recognize and offer to help in some way, small or large.

But what do you do when you could really use some help but just don’t know how to ask for it? Humans often take their friendships and support systems for granted. For the most part they are always just “there” and often do what they’re supposed to do, in their respective roles, without having to be prompted. Sometimes the things we need help with prevent our help from coming to us, rendering most of us “strong” people in a conundrum. We don’t know how to ask for help or reach out. It’s a blow to our self-esteem and makes us feel weak. I don’t know about you but I am not particularly fond of feeling weak or vulnerable, but I also dislike not getting feedback or advice when it’s needed most.

Overcoming this fear, yes, fear of asking for help is anything but easy. It actually takes practice, rehearsing in your head, and making a plan of execution. Before any of that can even happen we have to recognize and accept that we need help; which is exhausting all on its own. I know to some this may sound like a lot of work for something that most people do without too much thought. Oh how I wish asking for help was more automatic or kicked in with auto-pilot type features when necessary.

Over the last 18 months I have had to learn to recognize, admit, and accept help from others. This ranges from my parents, friends, people at church, and at times God. Luckily, God knows our hearts and needs without words needing to be spoken. Psalm 34:18 (ESV) assures us that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” We don’t even have to speak a word but when we do take that time to pray, to speak to God one-on-one, we can be even more assured “And this is the confidence we toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14-15).

Family and friends are great when the problem is familiar and tangible, but when problems take  on less noticeable attributes there is One that knows our needs before we do. This is probably why our friends and family are so keen at just being there when we need them. However, we it feels like we’ve been forgotten maybe that’s God’s way of letting us know that we just need to take that time to turn our heads to heaven an make that direct connection with the One who connects us all.

Having Your Cake and Eating It Too

I suppose there is no such thing as being able to have your Cake and eat it too. Actually now that I think about it, what does that phrase actually mean? If you have cake, you’re going to eat it. Really, think about it. The  whole point of having your cake is to eat it. What is there preventing you from eating this cake? Nothing. Clearly this cake was intended for you to partake in, eat, & enjoy. Typically cake is present at celebrations, this is usually indicative of achieving an accomplishment, reaching a milestone, or in some cases ending something- retiring from a job or moving on to a new home or state.

In reality, if you’re getting cake then you had best eat it. You worked for it, you earned it, and in the grand scheme of things you deserve it. Cake represents victory, triumph, success, accolades, and perseverance. Cake is a sweet treat. It isn’t something (most of us) have everyday, so when the opportunity arises that cake is served we need to indulge and be in the moment.

Some of the ideals of today are intended to make people feel as though cake should just be  given to everybody regardless of their work ethic, contributions, or patience. There are those that would argue that cake should be shared with people who had no bearing on one’s success, lent no support, or is far removed from the situations surrounding the cake. This is an ideal I disagree with. Not everyone gets cake. Not everyone accomplishes something that is worthy of a cake filled event. There are people, sadly, who will never know the satisfaction of getting a cake they strived for and overcame challenges to receive. Some proponents would say that it isn’t fair for some people to not get cake. The only way I agree with this statement is when somebody has worked for their cake, yet they go unrecognized and not properly celebrated. They don’t get the cake they so rightfully earned.

For all of you out there working, sacrificing, and studying in order to have your cake and eat it too, more power to you. Keep moving forward, keep pressing on, and never let anyone make you feel guilty when that cake is finally yours. In fact, have two pieces if you can because you never know when you’ll be able to savor another cake worthy occasion again.

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