When You Just Don’t Know What To Do

If you’ve been following my blog then you know that my life is full of normal family issues, plus the added not-so-normal issues that come with having a child with mental illness. I love my daughter, I wish I could help her more, I wish she didn’t have to struggle they way she does sometimes, but mostly I wish she didn’t have a mental illness.

Most well-adjust people realize that when you become a parent, there is a sudden switch turned on in your brain to love, protect, & provide for your child. It’s primal, innate, and you can’t ignore it. It’s what tells you whether a crying baby is hungry or tired, needs a diaper change or has a gas bubble. It never goes away, it just adjusts to your child’s changing needs as they get older. Most people do anything in their power to make sure they are the best parent they can be and ensure their child is prepared to become an adult. It’s your job to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, ESV).

When you have a child with a fairly severe form of mental illness, you can do all the right things and still end up feeling like you’re failing. Some days, you just don’t know what to do. Take all the parenting books, advice from friends and family, and even some of the suggestions of doctors and toss it out the window. None of it will apply. You have to research and ask questions and advocate and get familiar with trial and error and make your own plan. In my case, you have to tell 3 different doctors that they’re wrong and keep looking for answers, get the right testing, get the right diagnosis- only to realize that things have gotten so bad that you have to have your child admitted to the state mental health hospital because everything you’ve done on an outpatient level isn’t effective. You know that despite your best efforts nothing outside of intensive inpatient treatment will benefit your 13 year-old daughter at that moment. So you make the hardest decision of your life and send her 80 miles away because you can’t help her anymore, you can’t protect her from herself, and you can’t provide what she needs.

Six months go by and great progress has been made. It’s like having a new child- literally 180* turn around. She’s happy, she’s smiling, cooperative, insightful, kind, loving, and has gained knowledge about herself. She has learned a bag full of “tricks” to be able to function outside the hospital. She gets to come home EXACTLY six months after her admission. As a parent you’re just so thankful to have her home, to have some sense of normalcy, and to have her feel better. Things are great and everyone is getting along and life is feeling right for the first time in a long time. Then the honeymoon ends.

Everyone has good days and bad days, and if they don’t they’re not normal. But recently I’m starting to realize that we’re (as a family) back to walking on eggshells and worrying about how to phrase even the simplest of words. The ups and downs have been more frequent and the bad days are starting to resemble life before hospitalization. I can tell when she’s letting her illness take over and speak for her and when she’s being a typical 14 year-old kid- most of the time. Then there are days when I just don’t know what to do anymore. I feel like maybe I’m dropping the ball somewhere, maybe I’m expecting to much, maybe I’m not expecting enough, or maybe her illness is evolving.

There are no easy answer when dealing with mental illness, especially when it comes to children and adolescents. Even more when it’s your child. I wish I could take it all away from her. She puts on a face of fearlessness and bravery, but she’s fragile and can be easily broken. I’ve cried so many tears over the last 18 months I don’t think I have any left, even when a good cry would really be nice. I worry about her future. I worry if she’ll be able to “adult” normally. I worry what will happen when I can’t make sure she takes her meds everyday or that she’s taking care of herself appropriately. Even when she makes me angry or upset because she’s said or done something to intentionally upset her sisters or mouths off to my husband, I keep telling myself silently that it’s going to be o.k. I remind myself that she can be kind and caring, compassionate and tender, my child yet a stranger.

I’ll never give up. I’ll always be pushing for more resources, more education, more awareness, and more strength. I’ll, WE, will get through the changes and the bad days. We’ll continue to celebrate small victories and learn from our setbacks. I’ll remember that this is my purpose her one earth. We’ll see the blessing in anything and everything, even the things that seem like they may break us.

I’m trying harder to “Let go, and let God”. I know that whatever I cannot handle only makes my trust in Him stronger and my faith even fuller. Even when I just don’t know what to do, He does.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”- Jeremiah 29:11

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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.

Daily Prompt: Cheat

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I suppose this is a good way to get a little more creative with my writing. So here it goes…

According to Merriam-Webster cheat is a verb meaning:

  • to break a rule or law usually to gain an advantage at something
  • to take something from (someone) by lying or breaking a rule
  • to prevent (someone) from having something that he or she deserves or was expecting to get

In life we can all think of some situation where this word would be an apt description of how things played out or how we felt about the end result. Often times this word can have a negative connotation to it but I can see it in a much more positive light when put in the right context.

The third definition could also be used in a situation where grace is being extended.

  • b :  a virtue coming from God
  • c :  a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace
  • d : disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency
  • e :  a temporary exemption
  • unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification

When you look at this definition, especially “a temporary exemption” is being made, cheat can become a pretty positive thing. Speaking in terms of faith and religion, God cheats people all the time. He withholds what people deserve & expect. Instead being cheated though, God offers grace to all who seek Him.

People are born into a state of sin and without the sacrifice of Jesus Christ all people on this earth would get exactly what they deserve and what most would expect: punishment and condemnation. However, through grace people are not given these things. Even better, grace from God is not a temporary exemption but rather eternal and whole. In terms of salvation, I’m glad we are cheated out of what we deserve and should expect as a result of living sinfully.

Grace or being cheated can be extended to life circumstances as well. Maybe a person doesn’t get the promotion they were hoping or expecting, perhaps accolades are withheld when they are truly deserved, or maybe you were expecting to make your flight. At the initial occurrence of being cheated out of these things, it would be easy to feel upset or let down and disappointed. But what if these instances of being cheated turned out to be acts of grace?

The person who got the promotion got caught up in bad inside business with the company and lost their job, or went to jail. By not receiving the accolades someone works harder and pushes themselves beyond what they previously had done to achieve results that are one hundred times better than before, leading to a lifetime of change in society in someway. Because that person missed that flight they also avoided a disastrous plane crash and went on to live a full, and happy life.

Being cheated or a cheat in some way doesn’t necessarily mean that life is altered for the worse. Hindsight would say to see it as grace and being spared some sort of result. Grace says withholds things that may be deserved out of love and spares people from pain that may not have been expected.

Perspective is everything. Cheated, grace- no matter how you call it, there are times it’s exactly what we need.

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It Really Does Take a Village

School starts on Wednesday. I can remember being bummed that summer was over but I always enjoyed school and enjoyed going back for a variety of reasons. My 2nd daughter Laila is the same way, and I think my youngest Tessa will be as well (fingers crossed).

Audrey is NOT excited. She has been a nervous wreck for a week. The mere mention of school brings a look of terror and dread to her face. I am already imagining how Wednesday morning is going to go, feel like, what is going to be said, how long tears will be shed, how much anxious irritation I will face down, and how understanding and patient I will have to be. I will literally have to pull off being the Super Mom of emotional compassion and control. Luckily, I’ve been reading a book called “I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me” by Dr. Jerold J. Kreisman & Hal Strauss, and it has given me a lot of insight on how the mind of someone with BPD works. I’ve also been reading up on DMDD, & Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous and anxious about the first day of school myself.

I spoke to Audrey recently, after registering her for 9th grade, about school and reminded her about her options if she is having a “moment” or needs to “take a walk” through the halls. That conversation reminded me of the many wonderful people God has placed in our life in order to help Audrey succeed.

Even though it took awhile Audrey has an amazing treatment team to help with the medical aspect of her disorders. We have a wonderful psychiatrist that is honest, transparent, talks to Audrey like a person instead of a patient, and makes us feel valued as a team. He listens to my thoughts on medications and doesn’t just throw pills at us as a first line of treatment. I am so thankful for him. Since Audrey came home from the state hospital she has seen a new therapist at a new clinic. It is the same clinic that finally gave us the diagnoses I felt matched her behaviors, and put us on the path that has led us to where we are today. Her therapist is an awesome woman who doesn’t just listen to Audrey and give feedback but challenges her thinking errors, asks about how Audrey can take control of situations, and really optimizes on the opportunities that present themselves during their sessions. She gives Audrey homework and keeps me in the loop as we move along. Again, so thankful for her. Without this team, Audrey wouldn’t be able to maintain her mental stability and function as well as she is now.

I can’t say enough positive things about Audrey’s school. From students, teachers, staff, and administrators – every person who knows Audrey and her situation has been compassionate, kind, thoughtful, sympathetic but encouraging. Audrey’s favorite teacher was a pillar of strength and understanding when things first starting to “go downhill”. She will have him for 2 classes this year and is the only teacher, or person really, that she has freely smiled at since being at the school several times. The Director of Secondary Education has made it clear that she has multiple places to go if she needs to talk or to take a breather. He has seen what mental illness can do to a person and despite the goofy, sarcastic front he wears, he has shown a level of care you don’t typically see in a school setting. I get a little more relief knowing he’s there, he’s got her back, and he won’t let her self destruct at school. Then there’s the front office staff, Lori and Brie. Honestly, if anyone would be willing and able to step in when needed it would be them. School hasn’t even started and Lori has already said that if Audrey needs anything she’d take care of her and let her decompress there. Last but not least, the counseling department. The three ladies that work in there must eat their Wheaties every morning in order to deal with everything that comes their way on a daily basis. There’s a couch for people who just need to reframe and refocus, and their doors are always open (unless they’re closed for some official reason). Without all of these people, and some I may not have mentioned, Audrey may not be returning to traditional school. They give me hope for her future and genuinely care about her educational goals along with her social success at school. Couldn’t be more thankful for these people!!

Family. I’ll just say right now that if I hadn’t had my parents around since Audrey was a baby, and especially since her disorders culminated last year, I don’t know where I’d be today. I don’t know if my other kids would still like me. I don’t know if my husband would have stuck around so willingly. Seriously people, my parents offered encouragement, breaks, help with my other kids, stepped in when I needed surgery, & visited Audrey on weekends when we couldn’t make it down. More importantly, they reminded me two things: 1) Hardships make us stronger and build our character, they bring us closer to God and teach us what real hope is; this applies to me as a mother, Audrey, and anyone else who has been fortunate enough to witness the amazing healing that has taken place in her mind (although she will always have a uniqueness to her). 2) God gave me Audrey because He knew that I would be able to provide for her in her time of need, and I would never let her down. I would cry for her, be strong for her, be upset an scared for her, celebrate with her and for her, and I would never stop working for her. Nobody is more equipped than I am to care for Audrey (even on days when “I Just Can’t Win”). My parents saw a strength and drive in me that I didn’t know I had until March of 2015. I didn’t always use those attributes the right way and sometimes I was weak and weary. My parents were always there to kick me in the butt and tell me I didn’t have time to wallow in pity. I had a job to do, and they would help me do it.

My church family offered prayers, would see Audrey, and were just supportive. The spiritual and faith part of life is so important. Even if it seems like not much is being done, it is probably the most potent part of the village that has surrounded us.

Life is hard enough when you are one person trying to navigate things on your own; it’s even harder when you’re trying to care for someone with a mental health disorder and you THINK you can do it alone. It really does take a village, just remember that village when they reach out to you for help someday. I know I can never do enough to say thank you for all the loving support we have received in the last 18 months, and all the future months to come.

To my village: Thank you. We couldn’t have gotten through this or this far without you. I am beyond blessed to have you and couldn’t be more thankful for all you have done.

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