To tell or not to Tell?

Inspired by the clients I work with who are always wondering if they should talk about their mental illness.

My son Cole is a competitive swimmer and we attend a lot of swim meets, swim practices,etc. When you attend these events, you meet a lot of other swim parents, and

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Bryce loves being in the ocean. Here he is with his brother and cousins.

 

typically the conversations result in questions about other children, including of course, “Does your other son swim?” A lot of swimmers are part of swim families, and all of the kids swim. Well, not so much in our family. I mean, Bryce swims. He loves the water. Bryce is sensory-seeking – meaning he craves stimulation. Swimming, taking baths, jumping in waves in the ocean – all of those things fully stimulate your entire body. So, yes, Bryce loves to swim, but he is not a “swimmer” like Cole.

Of course, when you answer, “No, he doesn’t swim,” the next questions is always, ‘what does he do?” It’s not rude or even nosy. It is just conversation and of course people think that when you have a son as into their sport as Cole your other son MUST also be into something. So, how do I answer? Sometimes I just say, well Bryce is a video game kid and not really a sports kid. But, I always think, do I need to explain more? Do I tell them that Bryce has tried to participate in sports but it is so difficult for him? Do I share with them that Bryce has special needs. How do I explain it? Do I go into detail, or leave it at “special needs?” Do I say, Bryce has behavioral issues? That isn’t really correct. Do I say, Bryce is diagnosed with mental illness? Or, do I go into details.

Bryce is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Anxiety, Executive Functioning Disorder and has developmental delays. He is probably somewhere on the Austism Spectrum. I mean sometimes I don’t even know what to say because the list is so long and the list can change.

Or, do I tell them, well we tried soccer when he was younger. But since Bryce didn’t understand how to play the game, got frustrated and had impulse control issues, he just ran into the other kids. We tried swimming. Bryce made it through two practices before he realized that you had to actually pay attention and swim back and forth in the lane over and over again. So that didn’t work. We tried diving. The description for diving said it was great for kids with ADHD. and it was at the same time as swim practice. Perfect, I thought. That was going really well until we wound up in the emergency room because Bryce got upset to the point where he wanted to kill himself (that is a whole other post). We recently tried an art class. And guess what? Bryce made it through half the class before he decided he didn’t want to do it. But, he calmly came and told me he wanted to leave. He didn’t scream, yell, call anyone names, hit anyone or throw anything. Success!!

I know I do not need to tell anyone that Bryce is diagnosed with a mental illness or that he has developmental delays. Yet, many times I do. Why? To explain why it is that he plays a lot video games? Is that me feeling a need to not feel guilty?. Probably a little. Is that our society expecting everyone these days to “do something.” Probably a little. It is also just me telling about Bryce. That is who he is. He is special. I also do it because I want to stand up against stigma. I want people to know that it is okay to talk about mental illness. That I am not afraid to talk about it. And, when I do talk about it, other people talk about it. Maybe other people will get help for their child or find services. Because we have had success for Bryce and that is because we do get him help.

So, what does Bryce do? He loves video games, drawing, animals, stuffed animals, jumping on the trampoline and swimming. He loves swimming.

Parents of Special Needs Kids? – What do you tell people about your child? Please leave a comment.

What’s in a Name?

How did I pick the name for this blog? Bryce gets sad, anxious, depressed – especially at night which causes him to not want to go to sleep. I too had a lot of trouble sleeping when I was younger. (see, Bryce does take after me!). I remember that my mom used to tell me to “think of happy things” to help me fall asleep. I used to think, “right, like that is going to work.” Even though we all think we aren’t going to grow up and be just like our parents, I guess we do because that is the same thing I say to Bryce. When he is anxious, or scared, or sad, I hear it come out of my mouth, “Bryce, think of happy things.” That will relax you and help you fall asleep. Of course, he might tell me that nothing makes him happy, but of course there are lots of things that we can think of together. It might be hard at times to think of those things, especially for a kid or anyone who is dealing with severe depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety, but it can be done.

Everyone’s happy things are different, but being able to think of them is important and a great coping skill to teach children (and adults for that matter). Bryce’s happy things will change over time, as do all of ours. Right now Bryce thinks of the beach, our golden IMG_4148retriever Griffin, his favorite stuffed animals, his video games, jumping on the trampoline, and how much his family loves him. I hope these things always make him happy.

I do realize that when you or someone you love are truly depressed or anxious – it is hard to just think of happy things, and get happy. That telling someone to just be happy is not helpful. Sometimes, you just need to listen, be there, give someone a hug and tell them you understand. There are plenty of nights that I have done just that for Bryce. Those nights the most important thing to remember is to try not to cry, at least not in front of Bryce, but to just be strong for him. I can cry when he can’t see me. That is when I have to remember to think of my happy things.

Having a sad kid is hard. Probably one of the hardest things in the world. Hearing your child say that he wants to kill himself, that he doesn’t deserve to live – no one should ever have to deal with that. Luckily, thanks to great doctors, a great therapeutic day school, The Frost School (part of the Sheppard Pratt Health System), and Bryce learning these coping skills (He has come downstairs and said – I am thinking of my happy things, but I still can’t sleep), those truly sad days are less frequent for us now. I know there will be bumps in the road, but I can honestly tell others that there is hope out there. That things do get better.

How do you help your child or loved one think of their happy things more often? Here are some suggestions:

  • Make happy things flash cards. Take pictures of their happy things. Print them out and attach them together with a key ring. Make a little flip chart of them for easy reference.
  • Make a Happy Things box. Same idea, but put the pictures in a box. If you need to pick one Happy Thing, close your eyes and reach into the box.
  • Make a Happy Things Bulletin Board
  • Create a Photo Album or Scrapbook showing your child doing all his Happy Things

What other ideas do you have to help someone remember their Happy Things?  Leave a comment and let me know.  

What are your Happy Things?

Thanks for reading.

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Bryce, Cole and Griffin outside yesterday

Thank you Congressman Murphy!

One person can make a difference!!

I hope to make a difference in the world, even if it is just a little difference. Today I actually did. 

The stigma that surrounds mental illness has long been something that I have been fighting to try and stop. That is one of the reasons I talk about our family’s story. One way to get rid of that stigma is to see the person, not the illness – and to do that you need to use people- first language. PeopleFirst Language  emphasizes the person, not the disability by putting the person first.  No one says, “ I am cancer, ” so you don’t say, “I am schizophrenic.” 

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#mainintree

Earlier today I saw several posts on Facebook and other articles about the “Schizophrenic #Manintree.” A Facebook post was written by Tim Murphy, U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, a champion for Mental Healthcare reform.  His post hoped to get people’s attention at the absurdity of the the arrest and disposition of Cody Lee Miller, a man who spent 24 hours atop  a Sequoia tree outside of Seattle.  Instead of getting this man psychiatric help, a judge ordered him to have “no unwanted contact” from the tree and pay $50,000 in bail. Murphy went on to state that people were up in arms about the tree but there was no concern about this man’s need medical needs.  He further states that Cody’s mom is trying desperately to help her son but “Congress is still stalling on his Helping Families In Mental Health Crisis Act, HR 2646.”

I completely support Congressman Murphy and this bill. I have advocated for this Bill. But I couldn’t get passed the first line of his Facebook post because all I saw was the stigmatizing statement of “Schizophrenic #Manintree.”  So, I commented on the Facebook Post (which has 9600 shares and 7900 likes) –

Everyone wants to get him help but you are calling him “schizophrenic man in tree”. That makes him not seem like a person. How about the “man with schizophrenia who was in the tree”

And guess what? My friend Nicole commented too.  She wanted to write the same thing.  I responded and said I was going to blog about it.  Five more people liked it. 18 minutes I went back to the post to get the exact wording to write this blog. And guess what?  The Facebook post now says this, “ “#ManinTree who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and desperately needs psychiatric care”.

It worked.  How amazing is that? My one comment was noticed and it made a difference.

Congressman Murphy is making a difference.

Cody’s mother who is fighting to get him help is making a difference.

My friend Nicole is making a difference.

Everyone else that is commenting and reading this are making a difference.

One person can make a difference.

Keep it up everyone.

And remember, a person with mental illness, is a person with mental illness, not a mentally ill person.

Thank you.

The original post to Facebook from Congressman Murphy:

OrigManInTreePost

 

Most Wanted? Absolutely!!

I just read a review of the latest Lisa Scottoline book entitled “Most Wanted” – one of those books with a sensational storyline. This one has an infertile couple who finally gets pregnant thanks to a sperm donor but then finds out that their hand-selected, “perfect” donor might actually be a serial killer. Oh no! Now What? Will their precious baby inherit those “awful genes”? The parents to be are heartbroken. Apparently, causing therm and the reviewer in The Washington Post, Carol Memmott to ask questions such as, “What would you do – abort the baby?” and, “Could you love the baby knowing the biological father is a killer?” As I am reading the review, I am thinking to myself, “Am I really reading this?” This is their baby! They will love and raise the baby. Is there any other choice? Is this really a story for a book?

I am shocked by all of this because I adopted a baby whose “genes” were not perfect. So what?

My son’s birth mother and father were not serial killers. But they were diagnosed with mental illness. They used drugs. I knew all of this going in and of course I still loved my baby. I remember driving to the hospital to see our son after he was born. My husband and I realized we had not asked our social worker if he was healthy or not when she called. We said, “Oh well. I guess we will find out when we get there. He is our son now.” That baby is now 13 and I could not imagine not having him in my life. Bryce does have his challenges and life with Bryce has not always been easy, but there is nothing that I would change about any of the choices that we made.

When you have a baby of your own DNA, you do not know what will happen to the baby. Anything can happen. You love the baby. You raise the baby. It is no different if your baby has someone’s else’s genes. I often forget that my children were not born from my belly but from my heart. I’m just a mom like everyone else.

Thanks for reading!

Hello world!

I’m Tracy.  I’m a mental health advocate.  A wife to an awesome guy named Terry. A mom of two amazing boys. I love being outdoors.  I love my golden retriever, the Florida Gators, laughing, shopping, hiking, puzzles and being with my family.  I am starting this blog to try and make some small difference in the world!

Happy blogging!