mood disorders

BOUNCING BACK

When you are a parent of a child who struggles, all you want is to find a solution.  Defiance, school refusal, rebellion, self-harm, drugs, promiscuity, learning issues, bullying, depression, anxiety, aggression – it hardly matters what the struggle is.  I am the mom, I want to fix it.  Violet’s reactions all came from her feeling horrible on the inside, and watching your kid feel bad is IMPOSSIBLE.

We had tried SO MANY different things.  Schools, therapies, medication, affirmations, nutrition, exercise, more sleep, less sleep; the list goes on and on.  With every new thing, I would become so very hopeful. 

Panacea: A remedy for all diseases, ills, or difficulties; a cure-all.

Yes, this is the one, this is the thing that will work.  Once we get the sugar out of her diet, she will feel totally different, she will be happy! …OR… Yesss, this is it.  The medicine we have been searching for!  The doctor said, it could literally clear the clouds out of her way and she will be able to see how great she is! 

Grasping at every little straw of hope, I felt desperate and fragile.  We would wait at the edge of our seats to see if she had SOME relief, to see if our family could be fixed.  After years of trying and failing, she went to Wilderness.  I genuinely BELIEVED that after 84 days at Wilderness, after being at a therapeutic school for 4 months, we would have found the proverbial “fix.”

No such panacea. 

This is from a very eloquent woman friend of mine who struggles with an older son…

“Every time I think he is headed in the right direction, he turns around and spirals downward.  Hope becomes something that I cling to and resent at the same time.  It is a slim tree in a tsunami.  The higher I climb its limbs, the greater the fall.”

Violet was gone for 6 months.  She came home for the holidays.  I was too optimistic.  Old habits die hard.  Places, people, sounds and smells can be SUCH strong sense memories.  Coming home was a dunk in the old pool of turmoil.

She had an uncontrollable outburst after Christmas.  We needed the therapist, and siblings, to help pull her out of it.  The next day, she left for school.  I buckled.  I couldn’t bear the feelings caused by seeing her in that state, especially after all this work.  I lost perspective and couldn’t seem to pull MYSELF out of it. 

My husband tried to talk me down, “Amie, try and relax.  That was A LOT to ask of her.  It was a ton of pressure for the first home visit.  She had one hard time, one day.  Overall, she did really well.  She was able to bounce back after her episode and function with the family after moments, not days.  That NEVER would have happened before.  That IS progress.  You have to try and see the little things, or you will make yourself crazy.”   

In my clear mind, I KNEW how hard it was to change behaviors and cycles.  The ability to come back to the family within moments WAS serious progress.  I was the one who struggled.

“Two steps forward, one step back.”  Ultimately, this is still one step forward.  So, how could I embrace that part?  How could I experience the backslide and recover in order to continue to move forward?

Resilience: the ability to properly adapt to stressful situations or adversity; the ability to bounce back from hardship, to return to good condition.

From Day One, Violet’s school curriculum focuses on Resiliency.  How do you handle adversity?  Do you buckle or can you bounce back?  How quickly?  Can they teach you to do it faster?

Violet’s therapist shared a line with me, “Will this matter in 6 minutes?  6 hours?  6 days?  6 months?”  I burned this one into my brain.  Major aid for perspective.

 As heart rate recovery time indicates physical fitness, “resiliency” indicates psychological health.  Resiliency functions like a muscle; it can be strengthened.    

There is a trial going on lead by Dr. Martin Seligman (see link).  He has theorized a way to strengthen psychological fitness in a training program for soldiers.  Meant to enable the soldiers to “bounce back” with increased resilience, it should help decrease the cases of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). 

People with strong emotional, familial, social and spiritual fitness tend to be more resilient.  Here are some areas of focus: 

·      Accepting Reality – Let’s not be hyper optimists thinking things are great when they aren’t and let’s not be pessimistic.  No denial, or “the sky is falling,” just healthy acceptance.

·      Finding Something Meaningful – Let’s try to focus on something that derives meaning for us.  Relationships, family, spirituality, purpose.  (See Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl – I loved this one). 

·      Honing the Ability To Improvise – Let’s find that knack for coming up with a new solution, a flexible way of adapting to situations.

If it works there, in the most strained of situations, why wouldn’t it work for us all?

Reality and perspective.  Meaning and purpose.  Solutions.  Resilience.  Fall off the horse, get back on and try again.  Got it.  Man, we are all a work-in-progress.

“More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails.  That’s true for the cancer ward, true for the Olympics, true in the boardroom.” (Dean Becker)

And, may I add Mr. Becker, true for families.

 

 

 

https://hbr.org/2011/04/building-resilience

https://hbr.org/2002/05/how-resilience-works&cm_sp=Article-_-Links-_-Top%20of%20Page%20Recirculation

http:// www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx

 

 

PARTNERS FOR LIFE

“Relationships with siblings are ineradicably fixed in our psyches.”  (Belinda Sharp)

Oh siblings.  The implied permanence of the sibling relationship makes the connection so damn serious.  You just can’t escape them no matter how you try.  No matter how much hurt, how much love, you are still just…connected.  How can you not be? 

By the time children are 11, they spend 33% of their free time with their siblings--more time than they spend with friends, parents, teachers or even by themselves. (Penn State University study, 1996) 

33%???  That’s crazy!  We must learn so much about relationship management from our siblings.  Nurture, competition, rivalry, emulating, sharing, manipulating, pushing boundaries, acquiescing, pecking order, conflict resolution, who you are when faced with crises – it’s endless.  The sibling exchange has also been called the “rehearsal for adulthood.” It truly must be one of the most pivotal relationships of our lives. 

I knew it was grossly important for my kids to reunite with their sister, have resolution around her absence and what that meant for them.  I wasn’t quite sure how we would DO at it, but it was time to try. 

Violet went to Wilderness in June, graduated in September and transitioned into a therapeutic boarding school.  Now it was Thanksgiving break.  Our other two children hadn’t seen their sister in nearly 5 months; they were dying for her.  It was time to get the band back together.  I was completely petrified.

INTERJECTION:  Wilderness and the 3 local visits with Violet at school were FULL of hope for me.  They were all very “successful” – no disrespect or uncontrollable outbursts.  I was extremely optimistic that things would be better from here on out.  I feared struggle but did not anticipate it.  I have learned that this is an insane rollercoaster of thrilling growth and depressing regression.  A hard ride to endure, yet thus is life when change is the mission.

The younger kids, Soleil (6) and Axul (5), seemed so very excited to see Violet.  However, all the kids are SO different from each other.  Ax was very vocal and overt, and Sol was extremely internal.   She didn’t want to discuss Violet, didn’t want to draw pictures for her.  As the visit came closer, she seemed quiet.  I could FEEL her concern.  She loved her, they both did.  But there was a rift between the two girls. 

Among the children, Soleil had gotten the brunt of Violet’s acting out.  They both wanted attention from Daddy most of all.  Violet had been Daddy’s only girl for a year and a half (stepdad who has never NOT acted as the real dad) and Soleil arrived, dethroning her.  They looked different and they acted differently. 

Violet woke up scowling, needing silence for about 20 minutes while she shook the night terrors off.  Soleil was the kid who woke up singing, skipping into the kitchen for breakfast.  You can imagine how annoying the singing would be.  Well, I can, and I am the morning girl too.

When Violet was in a good mental space, Soleil worshipped her.  Copied her dance moves, wore her clothes, liked what she liked, tried to be old like her.  When she was in an insecure spot, Soleil’s confidence grated on her.  Soleil had her feelings hurt a lot, and developed some walls to protect herself.  None too great that you couldn’t see her die-hard desire for Violet’s love peeking over the top of them.  Painful.

We got to the school and all reunited.  Nervous stomach.  Axul was all over Violet asking questions, jumping around, following her like a little puppy.  Soleil was hugging Violet, but standoffish.  Violet noticed.

We drove to a house we rented in the beauteous blue mountains.  There wasn’t a TV.  There was a roaring fireplace where we did puzzles, art projects, read.  We hiked together, played hide-and-seek, cooked.  Played jump rope outside.  Chased and laughed and screamed. 

First day?  Great.  Easy, calm, sweet, lovely.  The second and third day became difficult.  Hide-and-seek would be so hysterical that it would get edgy.  The screams too loud, the touching too rough.  I could feel the eggshells creeping back in and my attention getting sucked up by Violet’s mood maintenance.

Thanksgiving dinner came and there were just too many old triggers with everyone together.  Violet had tools and strategies written out, goals in place.  Didn’t matter.  Her emotional strength could not rise above the familiar frustrations of the 3 child dynamic.  I started getting worried. 

The impending doom culminated in a full-scale-screaming blow out.  I panicked and called in reinforcements (school therapist) who said to bring her back to school if she couldn’t calm down.  Uggggh, nooooooo.  How could it STILL be this hard?

The kids did not want to see her struggle, they didn’t want to see US struggle with her.  There hadn’t been screaming in our house for 5 months and it was scary.  My husband and I argued.  Felt like we dipped right back into the same old place. 

We had a family meeting to reset.  We all decided to try and make everyone feel heard and ready to proceed together for the next day.  We made promises, agreements, structure.  We were going to try to have fun, and that was it. 

After bedtime, in the quiet moments with my husband, I cried.  I was SO disappointed.  I wanted everyone to just love each other and have fun being together.  WHY COULDN’T WE DO THAT?  I felt like a bad person when there was arguing and yelling.  I didn’t want the kids or my husband to resent me or Violet for re-introducing the drama.  It was just not what I thought it would be.  That was a bitter pill to swallow.

Soleil did not seem to be latching back onto Violet.  It was probably a defense mechanism, a protection, but I wanted to fix it.  I knew it wasn’t right for me to force the issue, so I had to back off.  I had to let her be who she was.

“Mommy why doesn’t Soleil seem happy to see me?”

“Babe, I see what you’re talking about.  You know what?  Everyone is different.  I think we just have to let her warm back up on her own time.  The good news is, when she does?  You can trust it is genuine because she clearly isn’t gonna fake it.”

The sibling relationship.  SO SACRED.  These are the people who knew you when you were formulating your first words and thoughts.  Your first giggles and interests.  Your first terrible dance moves and mistakes.  Your first understanding of love and family.  The idea that my kids weren’t connected was killing me.  I have always adored my brother.  I have so many amazing memories with him.  I didn’t want any precious love or time to be lost. 

From the time they are born, our brothers and sisters are our collaborators and co-conspirators, our role models and cautionary tales.  They are our scolds, protectors, goads, tormentors, playmates, counselors, sources of envy, objects of pride.  They teach us how to resolve conflicts and how not to; how to conduct friendships and when to walk away from them.  Sisters teach brothers about the mysteries of girls; brothers teach sisters about the puzzle of boys.  Our spouses arrive comparatively late in our lives; our parents eventually leave us.  Our siblings may be the only people we'll ever know who truly qualify as partners for life.  (Jeffrey Kluger, TIME)

As we were leaving the house and driving Violet back to school, the kids giggled in the back, harboring a secret.  They finally told me that every night of our days together, Soleil had snuck out of her bed to sleep with Violet. 

“Are you mad at us Mommy?  Please don’t be mad!”

I sat silently trying not to cry.  Was I mad?  My heart throbbed in my chest.  Nope, this wasn’t mad.  This was quiet peace and understanding.  She did love her.  She did forgive and miss her.  She just wanted to tell her herself, in the silence of sleepytime, without anyone looking.

One day my husband and I will be gone.  Our children will have their own families who know and love them.  But no one will ever know their youth the way they will know each others’.  No one will have as many funny stories and insights into how they were formed to be who they are.  Seems like it’s a part of my job to take care of it, no?  Let our legacy be siblings who love each other.  I promise to try my hardest. 

Reuniting, forgiveness, repair. 

Oh Siblings.  Partners for life. 

 

 

https://www.psychologies.co.uk/family/the-importance-of-siblings.html

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1209949,00.html

 

 

WILDERNESS - THE HARDEST TIME EVER

“If we choose to place Violet in a Wilderness Program, I can have her placed by next week.”

“Next week???  What???  Noooo, no way.  I am talking like - let her finish out the school year.  Then, we have summer plans like weddings and things that she is IN!  I mean, I have to have her there, these are things that have been planned and she is looking forward to them.  I couldn’t take those away from her.  I will just present it to her like a therapeutic summer camp and she can go after we are back from LA in like 4-6 weeks.” 

“I have had this same conversation and I know it is a lot to think about.  If you really think your daughter needs something like this, you will find you don’t want to wait.  Weddings, vacations, none of those will matter as much as getting your daughter some help.” 

“I can’t think about that sorry, not happening.  I don’t want to NOT have her with us.”

I cried.  Rivers, lakes, oceans of tears that swallowed up the car we were driving home in and floated us back to our apartment.  My husband just held my hand and let me swim in it, there was nothing he could say, nothing he could fix.   

Back to the nest and the anxiety set into my diaphragm - the familiar 3 pm accomplice - as Violet’s bus pulled up.  She entered the house with an angry look on her face, threw her bag down, stomped into her room, slammed the door.  Eye rolls from the babysitter who had picked up the other kids, more stomach-turning anxiety.  Door knock, I walked in to attempt the “5 min alone” we were trying as per the NYU Child Study strategies. 

She turned away from the computer – another screen of distraction – arms crossed, asked me what I want.  “I want to have our 5 minutes honey.  How was your day, you ok?” 

“Terrible.  Everybody hates me.  Miss Ashley hates me, Miss Laura hates me, they all think I’m dumb and you guys hate me too.  I hate that school.”

“I hear you feel that way, but we love you, so maybe you’re not interpreting things the way people mean them babe.  Can we try to focus on something positive?  Like, how about, what you would like to do this weekend?”

“I don’t know.  I know you won’t answer me about summer camp.  I ask you EVERY SINGLE DAY AND YOU DON’T ANSWER ME!  LILLY AND EVERYONE GETS TO GO AND I DON’T AND I HATE YOU FOR DOING THAT TO ME!!!”  Tears from her, while I try to hold mine in as I watch my daughter unravel into her anxiety.

“Vi, I told you, we can talk about that in therapy when we have someone who can help us through all of these emotions you have around it.  It is not a conversation we are going to have now.  Can we please spend our 5 minutes talking about something positive?  What about your music lesson, have you written any more of your song?”

“I DON’T CARE ABOUT MY SONG!!!  I HATE YOU GET OUT!!!!  YOU’RE THE WORST MOTHER EVER AND YOU HATE ME SO I HATE YOU!  I am going to leave this stupid house.  I am going to hurt you the way you’re hurting me!  YOU’RE A BITCH AND I HATE YOU!!!”  (screaming)

“You are not allowed to talk to me like that Violet.  Take a deep breath and count to 10.  You must calm down, you will scare everyone.  Do you want a hug?  Here, hug me and squeeze me as hard as you can and get all those feelings out.  Everything is ok.”

“MOMMY HELP ME.  HELP ME!!!!!  My problems are too big.  They have gotten too big and I can’t control them anymore, I NEED YOU TO HELP ME!!!!!  HELLLLP MEEE!!!  …FORGET IT.  GET OUT!!!!!  I HATE YOU!!!!”

Pushed me out of her room and I let the door close. 

I turned to my other kids who sat staring with the babysitter.  I turned, walked to my room where I sat on my bed and just cried into my hands.  Fresh new tears, when I thought my well was dry.  My poor baby.   My heart shattered into a thousand pieces and I just cried. 

Next day school called and told me Violet “needs help now.”  She had spent 2 hours that day in another room screaming and crying with the principal and head clinician trying to calm her down to go back to class, and it was just too much for the staff.  They didn’t want her to finish out the year there because of more negative associations and they cared about her.

The world felt like it was caving in on me – forcing me to choose Wilderness, forcing me to send my daughter away.  My outside brain would say it was best.  My insides thought - I am the only one she really needs and how can I take THAT from her when she is already in such a state of disrepair? 

This has been the hardest time of my life thus far.  The mulling over the decision, the contemplation of what it means in the scheme of our silly summer plans, our new house, our family.  The missing…THE LOSS.

“What will this mean, if we try to place her next week?”

“It means you call the programs, choose one, we work on getting all the paperwork done, you make flights and take her.”

So we did.  This was June 12th.  We planned with the consultant to admit her on June 20th.  We had 6 days until we would tell her, the 18th. 

I spoke to the director of the one we chose.  I spoke to parents ad nauseum.  I sobbed with every single phone call, every single questionnaire, every single address form.  I was living in a weighted cloud of dread that I couldn’t even see through to function in my every day life.  I stopped working.  I could only deal with getting her there. 

My husband, GENIUS, convinced me to tell Violet what was happening while at her therapist the night before we were leaving.  THANK GOD.  She expectedly freaked out, all the things you could have thought of.  She went from dire sobbing to screaming, to throwing things, to soft sadness.  She hated us, she wanted to say goodbye to her friends, she begged and pleaded.  She didn’t understand why we were punishing her, she didn’t know what she could do to make it go away, she was furious, devastated, exhausted. 

We had the other kids stay at my parents’ house so it was just us at home with her.  I packed her bag while she was asleep, crying the whole time.  My alarm went off at 5 am and we got up and went to the airport. 

I spent one night with her at a hotel - it was sad and nice.  She was able to be with me and be present even though we were both scared.  I was trying to be strong but holy smokes – I am a TERRIBLE faker.  Inside I was losing it.  I had to be resolute, there was zero room for any other choice but where we were going.  She asked a lot of questions, and I wasn’t able to answer them.

“I know this is what is happening but I still hate you for doing it.”

“It’s ok to hate me now Vi.  It’s normal.  We will be much happier later, this is hard for all of us.”

I watched her as she slept.  Took her picture.  Hugged her and just let my eyes burn her little sleepy face into my memory, it would be my last one for so long.

The morning of the 20th came, we were planning on spending the morning together.  When we woke up I could see she was anxious.  I asked her if she just wanted to have breakfast and go. 

“I think that would be better Mommy, waiting is just making me more nervous.  Let’s just go.”

We ate and got into the car and went. 

We pulled into the “campsite.”  I signed the contract, left a painfully sized check.  Gave them a bag with only her underwear and bras, a picture of our family that the therapist would hold for her.  Gave her a hug and said goodbye.  Walked through molasses down the dirt road to the car.

I got back into the rental car and drove 2.5 hours to the airport to go home.  The North Carolina intermittent thunderstorms mirrored my angst.  I never knew you could drive and hysterically sob at the same time without crashing.  I just left my little 11 year-old daughter.  That was the hardest thing I have ever done. 

 

As soon as the plane took off, I had my first feeling that things were about to get better.  And they did.