Behind the Name 

I have a lot of new followers and I’m pretty sure not everyone gets the idea behind the name Shortstack Blogs, “One Day, One Blog at a Time, or even my Facebook page, which you can find at ShortstackBlogs

Field trip

Field trip with Lily

The Facebook page is pretty ordinary- Meredith is my middle name. Thanks, Mom and Dad. I’ve actually hated it as long as I can remember but in this case, it flowed and I ran with it.

The title of my blog comes from sobriety and blogging coming together. If you’ve ever heard of any kind of recovery phrases, I’m willing to bet that one of those is “One day at a time.” This phrase is tattooed on the inside of my left wrist.

I live this way because I know the feeling of planning out the rest of your life and then having it fall apart. I have spent almost four years putting myself and my life back together. I’ve literally had to do it one day at a time, sometimes an hour at a time.

One day at a time
“Shortstack” is a nickname. I’m 5’2″ and Jake was 6’3″. I don’t remember how this got started, but we had a long-running joke about our height difference and this was one of his nicknames for me. (I’m used to getting jokes about my height from pretty much everyone I know, including my own kids.)

His brother Josh still gets me every chance he gets. My blog was created partially to spread awareness about mental health issues, and Jake’s death was the background for it. As my therapist would say, it’s turning something awful into something good. The other part, of course, is to tackle the fun and sometimes not fun part of parenting.

One of my life’s greatest lessons

I am being myself everyday, no excuses.

The name behind the blog is as important as the blog itself. 😀

I have been raising money towards a book getting published. If you would like more info, please go here

LGBTQ Kids: A Guide

Parenting is full of challenges. We face them everyday- food allergies, mental and/or physical disabilities, bullying, and the list goes on.

There’s a point in life in which our kids decide to date and none of us are ever ready for that- it freaks us out. This happens as early as 12 or 13 or can be years later.

Most of us don’t blink an eye at who they will date, because we just assume they will date someone of the opposite sex, right?

What Happens When They Don’t?

I’ve already thought this one out. I don’t care. As long as my kids find someone that loves and supports them, I honestly don’t care who they date. Race isn’t an issue for obvious reason, and that’s not the topic of the post.

I just want my kids to be happy with whoever they love. That’s it. If Lily brings home a girl and they get married, then I get to watch them say yes to the dress or whatever they wear.

Lgbt flag, kids, parenting

Being a teen is hard enough as it is today. There’s so much pressure to get great grades, fit in, get into a good college, work, and so on.

When you’re a 16 year old girl who likes other girls, it gets a bit harder to be “normal”. You wonder if others would still like you, even your own family. You grew up hearing slurs about homosexuals and you know it’s not going to be great if you tell your parents.

Then there’s the boys who want to date you and you know they won’t stay away forever. All you want is to find a girl that likes you and that you like back, but how does that work? It’s confusing and scary. Bullying is a thing, and LGBTQ teens have it harder.

Stats hrc.org, kids, LGBTQ

Coming out is scary. It’s rough. The average age is 17, much younger than it used to be according to a British study found on Everyday Feminism

Teens are smart- they know the risks of telling their families something this big. Some families are accepting, and some families are ready to kick their kids right out of the house, which is a shame.

It’s heartbreaking to know that some kids feel they have to hide this part of themselves, because it can lead to drug and/or substance abuse issues, along with mental health issues, like depression and anxiety. A kid can only mask so much for so long. It does get better, time goes by, people do open their minds to new things.

Sometimes the people they think will have horrible reactions will have the opposite reaction. The negative messages are also an issue- they can send a message that a kid is a bad person, or is “going to hell”, etc. This can just add to already negative thoughts that a kid can have about themselves.

It gets better when LGBTQ kids find others like them- online, in school, through other friends, in other ways. It does help that many LGBTQ kids are out to their friends and classmates. Those friends and classmates, for the most part, are accepting, and can be a great source of support.

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What Can Parents Do?

  • Let them know you love them. I’m pretty sure this is the biggest part of accepting your child, no matter what. They need to know this. The scariest thing to many LGBTQ kids is coming out. Once they know they have parental support, there is a huge sense of relief. Be as open minded and present as you can be, even if you aren’t quite sure what to do.
  • Research. Parenting requires a lot of thinking and reading. We don’t always know what to do. That’s why the Internet exists. There are quite a few websites for parents of LGBTQ kids, including Hopkins Medicine
  • Talk about it. This doesn’t mean hound about their sex life, because that’s definitely awkward for everyone involved, but let them know you are there when they need you, if they have questions, etc.
  • Remember this is not a “phase”, there is no “cure”, and there is nobody to “blame”.
  • Watch out for bullying at school. It’s a reality that LGBTQ kids are bullied at school and other places. If you need to, get involved with the school. You can read Bullying: A Closer Look for more ideas and resources.
  • Talk to someone if you feel overwhelmed.

Female couple, acceptance

The world of teenage dating can get pretty complicated, this is just a different road. It’s possible to walk together with your child. Cheer them on!

Pics courtesy of Unsplash

Statistics pics courtesy of hrc.org

Info can be found on:

Everyday Feminism

Hopkins Medicine

Real Stories of a (Former) Mental Health Worker

Note: There is this gorgeous law (HIPAA) that prevents me from using real names in this post, and so I will use an asterisk when needed to indicate that names were changed. I will also not use the actual names of the facilities I worked at for similar reasons, because I’m not trying to get sued. I’m a blogger and stay at home mom, not a millionaire.

This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. This post is dedicated to my former co-workers (especially my Resource Team friends) and mental health professionals everywhere.

It’s a rough profession and deserves a lot more respect than it gets. It’s also very rewarding, which is one of the many reasons why I am glad that I chose psychology as my field of work.

A Few Definitions

I know not everyone understands these terms, so here are some definitions to help you out a bit:

Mental Health Technician/Mental Health Worker/Mental Health Associate: these are all pretty much the same, depending on where you work. I’ve been called all three.

1:1: a patient that requiring someone is with them at all times, whether they are asleep or not, sometimes both. This can get very tedious, and sometimes you have to stay within arms’ reach of the patient for safety reasons.

Code: this is not the code you see on TV. This code is for physical backup when things get out of hand, mainly when a patient is being aggressive, destructive or a combo. These are called for a variety of reasons, but these are the two most common ones.

Resource Team- an amazing team of people trained to work on every inpatient unit in a mental health facility. They are responsible for knowing everything about all the units, and they catch hell for messing up. It’s a great team to be a part of because they stick together and you never know what will happen next or where you will be. It’s also very stressful.

Checks/Rounds: ensuring patient safety by visualizing patients every 15 minutes.

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(I’ve seen C.Diff, and it’s ugly, especially in non-verbal kids. YIKES)

Let me set up the story for you…

In June 2007, Spalding University granted me a Bachelor of Arts in Clinical Psychology. Many don’t know this unless you ask, see it in my author bio or on my resume.

It took me five years, a change in major (my first major was in apparel design and merchandising- fancy wording for fashion design), school and two kids, but I finally graduated. I also completed a mandatory 100-hour practicum.

I was not prepared for my first job out of college. I had gotten a job as a Mental Health Technician at *Clear Lake Hospital and I was a bit nervous but ready to start my career.

I started the week after I finished classes. (I walked June 2, but still to finish my last class, which was sheer torture.) I did fine in orientation but was not happy when I found out that I was placed on the geriatric unit.

What? This facility didn’t let you pick what unit you went to, but I had hoped I wasn’t going to get put on a unit I didn’t like. I was not thrilled about being placed on this unit, known as the *Willow Tree Unit. I wanted to transfer immediately, but there was a policy preventing me from doing so for 6 months. I decided to wait it out.

Two months into that wait, I discovered that I was pregnant with Lily. My OB/GYN told me that I would be better off where I was because the pregnancy was not an easy one from the beginning.

A different unit would be a faster pace and could result in more issues with my pregnancy. I decided to stay put so that Lily would have a better chance of being okay. I ended up liking the *Willow Tree Unit.

The staff was nice- I was the youngest tech on first shift. Once word got around that I was pregnant, the nurses and other techs took care of me.

One afternoon, my shoes became untied and I couldn’t reach them because my belly was huge. I burst into tears and one of my fellow techs tied them for me. She understood the struggle- she’d been in my spot two years before.

I didn’t get to finish out the pregnancy on that unit- I went into preterm labor at 31 weeks (on Cameron’s 3rd birthday, of all days) and my OB/GYN told me that I would have to stop working or go on light duty, basically a desk job.

I chose the desk job because we needed the money. I went to medical records for all of five weeks or so. The ladies there were nice and began a betting pool on when Lily would show up. Lily shares a birthday with one of the ladies in the office, which everyone found hilarious.

Thanks to Kentucky state budget cuts, the *Willow Tree Unit was closed down while I was on light duty, and when I came back from maternity leave, I was sent to an acute care unit. I was better suited for that unit and stayed there until I left in June 2008 for a counseling position in Indiana.

The Real Fun Begins

In late 2010, I was ready for a new and closer to home position. I found another Mental Health Worker position at *MidRiver Regional Hospital. This time, I was able to pick where I wanted to go, because it was in the application. I would be on the Resource Team. It sounded very interesting and kind of fun.

I was absolutely right. Orientation was a bit boring- but that’s where I met Josh (Jake’s older brother) so I call that a win. I had to shadow for a couple of weeks on each unit- a couple of days with another worker, and then I was unleashed.

The very first day was a day that is forever etched in my mind- I was on *2West, a unit that was then used for kids from 12-18 with autism and other developmental disabilities. It was super loud, wild and some of the kids were way bigger than me.

What did I sign up for?

I took a huge deep breath, looked at my assignment sheet and kept going.

I spent two years on the Resource Team. It was a lot of fun- full of laughs, friends, and a few mishaps. I’ve run after people that eloped, including one that I chased across a busy street along with another worker. The kid ran off at a hospital and we did catch her. I’ve been punched in the head. I even caught a stereo cord to the face.

I was with a 1:1 and the patient was very upset about her Justin Beiber CD was repeatedly skipping. I told her that maybe it was time to try a different activity, and tried to unplug the stereo. She picked it up, then dropped it, and when I went to pick it up, she hit me in the face with the cord.

A code was immediately called and I was taken off the floor. I was taken to the main nursing office to get my face looked at.

I called Matthew to get me from work, and he took me to a nearby hospital- I ended up with three liquid stitches. You can barely see the scar today. I took the next day off because my eye was so swollen that I had a hard time seeing out of it, and let me tell you, tetanus shots are not fun.

As for the patient, she was so upset when she found out what happened to me, she became hysterical. I was one of her favorite staff members. She had to be medicated to calm down. She apologized the next time she saw me.

While I was working at this facility, things were not that great at home. Julian wasn’t diagnosed until late 2011. I was struggling a lot internally with both anxiety and depression. You can read about those events in A Letter to my Anxiety and Depression and Looking At the Bright Side

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I was able to lose myself in my work. I loved being able to help others and work with great people. We had a lot of fun on the good days and on the not so good days, pull together and make things work. That, to me, is the definition of teamwork.

In March 2013, I had a mini-stroke. My neurologist suggested afterward that I needed to start looking for ways to lessen or eliminate stress in my life. By this point, I was ready to leave the Resource Team- it was getting too stressful for me. Some people leave after months, some people stay the entire time they are at the facility.

I started thinking about which unit would be a good fit. I was pretty much done with adults- that was where the bulk of my work had been, and I needed something different. I had realized that I really enjoyed the kids on *2West and the staff was great.

I’d volunteer to go there when other people didn’t want to go- it was a rough unit. I didn’t really enjoy cleaning poop off walls (who does? I can’t make this up, it really happens) but it had become my favorite unit.

It took a few months of waiting, but a position opened up. By then, I had met Jake, and that was his home unit. I applied, interviewed and got the full-time Mental Health Associate position. My Resource Team friends were sad to see me go (my friend Scott begged me not to go), but they were not surprised to hear where I was going.

It turns out that going to *2West was the best career move I’ve ever made. I loved it. Those kids were not always the easiest to work with- I’ve been kicked in the eye, had my hair pulled out in clumps, broken my big left toe twice and in the same way. It still doesn’t bend correctly. I’ve seen all kinds of naked kids. I’ve left work scratched and bruised from multiple holds. I’ve gotten sick from these kids- strep throat can go through 20 kids fast.

I also learned a lot- how to sign (some), how to learn about a kid even when they are non-verbal. I learned that some families are worse than you can imagine and even the ones that look great are horrible.

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Autism is not seen as often in girls, but when it is, it tends to be severe. One of my favorite kids was a tall, thin girl named *Michelle. She was a runner and I got lots of exercise running after her in the halls. She was also non-verbal but showed her feelings by squeezing your hands.

She squeezed my hands every day to say “hello” and “goodbye” but if she was angry, she would pull on your arms while squeezing your hands. She was so much fun to work with. When she left, she bent down to hug me goodbye, and both *Claire (her behavior analyst) and I cried. That’s a very unusual thing.

Taylor Swift sing-a-longs were a regular thing and so were movie days on the weekends. We tried to make things as fun as we could for the kids. We took them outside and let them play as much as they were able to on the playground. We got the kids out of bed, fed them, got them through their days and back into bed- for some of them, we were more of a family to them than their own.

*Mason was a kid who saw us exactly like that. I met him while doing checks and he was in the shower singing “Baby Got Back”. He was hilarious, and once beatboxed to me about needing toothpaste.

However, he came from a family that didn’t treat him well, which contributed to some of the reasons he came to the facility. Once, I was planning an outing with another associate, and he asked us to take him and the other patients to a strip club. That did not happen, but we laughed hysterically after he left the room.

These kids were so funny, smart in their own way. I couldn’t have asked for better co-workers. Some days entirely sucked, but it was still a fun adventure. My last day there was September 2, 2015. I left after being told about Jake’s death, and I came back two days later to get my things and leave my nurse manager a note telling her I wouldn’t be back.

I couldn’t write this post without mentioning Jake, Austin, Scott (not the one mentioned earlier), Cisco or Colleen. I lost these co-workers while working with them or after and each loss was a bad one. They left behind families that loved them and patients that they touched. They worked hard (Cisco got electrocuted trying to keep a patient safe) and had a lot of love for their patients.

I’m retired from this line of work- thanks to my RA diagnosis. My rheumatologist would go ballistic. I am left with so many memories and friends. That’s what work and life are all about.

All pics are my personal pics except for one pin on my Pinterest board. Pinterest

Love Through Bipolar

This post might be triggering, as it discusses loving someone with a mental illness, so here is the official **TRIGGER WARNING** Topics discussed in this post include bipolar disorder and loss.

I Was Enchanted

I could go on for a while about all the good things about Jake because there were so many.

But yet, he struggled, like many of us do. When I met him, I really had no idea. Mental illness really isn’t the first thing most people talk about when they first meet someone. In fact, our first conversation was about Julian. However, ADHD and autism is a whole different story from bipolar disorder.

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Jake had beautiful blue eyes and a smile that would melt your heart. I didn’t know that he hid so much, even up until the very last day I saw him, the day before he died.

Meds and the Truth

I’ve tried many medications for migraines and one just happened to be Depakote. This is also used to treat mental health illnesses, including bipolar disorder. We were talking about this one day and finally…

I take that too, but not for migraines.”

What?? Was this it? I’d been waiting for Jake to say something. I’d seen signs of something going on, but I wasn’t sure what. Sometimes we would talk constantly and then go days without speaking. His birthday had just gone by and instead of wanting to hang out, he had said he’d rather be alone. He’d even told me he considered himself as a “project” for me to take on. I didn’t see him like that at all and made sure he knew it.

“What do you take it for?”

He looked away for a minute and then back. “Because I have bipolar disorder.”

Well, then, that was explained. He actually asked me if that changed how I felt about him (nope, not even a little). Apparently, this had caused issues in the past. Some people just aren’t equipped to deal with it, but that’s still really painful for the person involved.

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“The stakes are high, the water’s rough..” – “Ours”, Taylor Swift

Jake’s darker side did make a few appearances, but never once did he get aggressive towards me. We argued a bit, but that’s it. In two years, he only yelled at me twice. Me? More. But then, I’m just naturally loud.

Meds? It’s a well-known fact that many people that have bipolar disorder (and other illnesses) have compliance issues with taking medications, and he was one of them. Along with his brother, I tried to remind and encourage him to take his medications, but it didn’t always work.

Jake and I learned how to read each other- I have always been good at reading others. Thanks to this skill, I was able to tell when he was or wasn’t taking his meds, or when he was or wasn’t having a good day. This helped on his end when I was deeply upset and didn’t want to talk.

He tried so hard to hide this from me, but I still saw everything. I told him that I wasn’t scared of what he was trying to hide. I needed to see it to know what I was dealing with. There were days he just wasn’t the person I knew. He wouldn’t talk or return my texts, but everything was in his eyes.

In his manic episodes, he’d barely sleep, get paranoid (this went really bad a couple months before he died and we didn’t speak for a month), and other things would happen. In a depressive episode, he basically shut down. I would literally have to wait for him to come out of these periods.

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Google Became My Friend

I started researching. I knew a lot already about mental illness, but how to love someone with one? Totally clueless. I learned to give Jake his space, even though it hurt. I made sure he knew I was there when he needed me. I learned not to take everything so deeply, especially if he was agitated and it just wasn’t him. None of this was easy, and it hurt so much to watch him struggle.

This wasn’t perfect, not from the first day. Let’s start with the fact that I’m married. Jake was a huge flirt, and that’s a whole different post. I had to learn that just because he didn’t show me that he cared in the ways I thought he should have didn’t mean he didn’t care at all. He just cared differently. He made sure I took my migraine meds and had breakfast at work, asked me daily how Julian was doing, let me cry, and among many other things, he cared about me for me. That is the best thing he could have done. I did exactly the same for him.

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I know you can’t love someone out of a mental health situation, but you can definitely help them through it. Love helps with that. Jake was a bit quiet and distant in the days before his death, but none of us saw anything like what would happen on September 1, 2015, coming.

It is entirely possible to love someone with a mental illness. Just remember to take care of yourself, don’t let them get away with everything because of whatever they may have and as always, reach out if you need to.

NAMI

DBSAlliance

Invisible Changes

I was looking for content ideas when I came across some information about Traumatic Brain Injury Month. It’s in September and Acquired Brain Injury Month is this month.

Either way, you get them, brain injuries are less than fun. I have one. I didn’t ask for it, but I have learned to deal with it in the best way possible.

A Migraine Gone Bad

My mom’s family has a history of migraines- my grandmother had them, my mom does, both of my sisters, a nephew and unfortunately, Cameron has them.

Luckily for him and my nephew Chris, they can ease as they get older due to testosterone. The rest of us aren’t that lucky. I was 30 before I ever had one, and once they showed up, they were awful.

For those of you who have been lucky enough to never have had a migraine, let me describe how it feels.

It’s like a thousand pounds of weight is sitting on your head, a vice is tightening on the sides, and the other symptoms aren’t fun either.

Many people differ on their symptoms, but mine include nausea (severe enough to require its own medication), blurred vision, and a few other not so great things. Sometimes I have signs before, called an aura, and sometimes I don’t. It’s a crapshoot.

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One day, a migraine went way too far and led to a mini-stroke. I was working and just not feeling well. My head was hurting and my right arm went numb.

I couldn’t even hold the crayon I was using to color with the patients I was working with. (At the time, I was a mental health associate at a mental health facility, and I was on a kid unit that day.) I kept dropping it. I was tired, nauseated, my speech was a bit off and I just wanted to go home. I left work early and went home.

I DO NOT RECOMMEND ANY OF THIS. If you even THINK you are having a stroke, please call 911 or have someone drive you to a hospital. The nurse I was working with felt terrible when she heard what happened.

She apologized to me and told me that if she would have known she would have called an ambulance herself. She and I are great friends, and I don’t blame her at all. I had no idea either, so it’s not her fault.

Once I got home, I just wanted to go to sleep. I also don’t recommend this, and I think almost every doctor and neurologist, including the one I still see, was not happy about this.

I could have died in my sleep, so this is another thing I don’t recommend. I was laying in bed and tried to turn over when my right arm wouldn’t move. I burst into tears because I was so scared, and my husband, Matthew, called my mother. Clearly, I needed to go to the hospital.

My mom signed me in and I was taken to get a CT scan almost immediately. At this point, I don’t really remember what happened the rest of the night.

I do remember hearing that my blood pressure was well above what it should have been, was unable to be controlled and there was evidence of a stroke so I would have to be moved to a different hospital.

My mom isn’t a crier, but she was crying at that point. She left when I was being transferred, and the last thing I remembered telling her was that if I didn’t make it, just let my babies know I loved them.

A stroke? I was only 30.

Today’s PSA: Strokes can happen to anyone. I worked with a kid that had one at 4, and he was left with an arm that was completely paralyzed, which he did not hesitate to use as a weapon. (For the record, he was one of my favorite kids EVER) Babies, teens, anyone can have them.

The Youngest Person on the Stroke Unit

I woke up a few hours later on the stroke unit at a larger hospital. It was Easter Sunday of 2013. I didn’t see my kids that day, but Matthew, my mom and a couple of other people showed up. I had a lot of tests run on me, and as it turned out, I was the youngest person on the stroke unit at the time. I asked.

I also asked what caused my stroke… like anyone would. The neurologists told me that in the course of my migraine, my blood pressure spiked, due to the severe pain, and things went bad with a blood vessel. I usually sum it up as a migraine gone bad. I was in the hospital for two more days and had a slight bit of physical therapy.

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It took some time for my changes to show up, as the neurologists warned, but they are there.

My short term memory has been affected. I have to write things down or I will forget them. I’m like Dory in “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory”. I have Evernote on my phone for this reason.

I still forget things and it’s frustrating but I have learned to adjust. My balance is off a bit, especially on my right side. The stroke occurred on the left side of my brain, so my right side, of course, is affected.

I have migraines, but they have been managed pretty well. It took a few years and a lot of pain, though. I have a great headache specialist. (If you’re reading this from the Louisville, KY area and need a headache specialist, let me know and I’ll give you his info)

I’m a huge talker, but unfortunately, my speech has been affected. I have aphasia, which is annoying but something I cannot control. I may pause in the middle of a sentence because I forgot what I was saying, or what word I wanted to use.

I do get frustrated when I can’t find my words, and I hated having to step back at work a bit for a couple of weeks, but it really was the best for me.

I was told to manage the stress in my life, and at that point, there was plenty. My marriage was going straight to hell, Julian was not doing well and the only thing keeping me in one piece was my job.

I had to let go of some of the perfectionism I carried inside and re-evaluate what was important to me. It took a lot but that’s what happened.

Every year on March 30, I have a fun day, no matter what is going on. It’s my reminder that I’m much stronger than I think and that I really can get through anything.

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Below are some helpful links for stroke warning signs, Traumatic Brain Injury information (I used to work with kids that have them) and Acquired Brain Injury information.

stroke warning signs

TBI information

ABI information