Therapy office

Learning and Performing Under Pressure

*Trigger Warning: this post discusses suicide and suicidal thoughts. Please read at your own discretion.*

This post is for all mental health providers, professionals, physicians and dentists. I’m writing with a few people in mind- coworkers I’ve lost to suicide, and one that I admire deeply for being an attempt survivor and psychologist. Colleen, Scott, Austin, Jake and Don Ceo, this one is for you. The five of you were great to work with- I just wish it could have been longer. You were all awesome people in your own ways.

Josh, I’m so grateful you lived for many reasons, one being so that we could become friends. I had no idea what you’d been through right before we met. You’ve been able to help a lot of people in a career that you love deeply. I’m always here for you, but you know this.

Stethoscope mental health

The Research Is Out There

I had to do quite a bit of research for this post. I was aware that going into the medical field, no matter what specialty, comes with a lot of stress. Medical school, practicums, clinicals, theses, and other expectations can really throw a lot at a student.

That’s not counting other things that happen while in college and beyond- marriage, children, family issues, and so on. What happens if your thesis is thrown out? What if you don’t get the residency you wanted? What if your grades aren’t what everyone, including yourself, expected? So many questions and thoughts can run through a student’s mind. I wasn’t aware, however, of the statistics of physician suicide.

I’m using the term “physician” as a general term, but it is meant to cover all medical professionals. It’s a very stressful career. According to WebMD one physician completes suicide a day, making it the highest suicide rate of any profession. The general population rate is about 12.3 per 100,000, but in physicians, it is 28-40 per 100,000.

Many of these physicians have underlying untreated mental health issues. This shows a large need for early diagnosis, outreach and treatment. Up to 30% of residents have shown symptoms of depression. Depression is affecting up to 12% of males and 19% of females in this profession. It’s dangerous for anyone to ignore their mental health, and even more for those that care for us. More information about this topic can be found in The Dangers of Ignoring Mental Illness

The main, and possibly unique factors in physician suicide are:

  • high demands/extreme stress
  • competitiveness
  • long hours/lack of sleep
  • substance abuse
  • stigma of seeking help because of fear of losing their job- this is a major issue
  • access to lethal means- highly powerful medications
  • patient deaths/malpractice suits
  • burnout

You can read about the stigma of men seeking help for mental health issues in Men and Mental Health

Therapist office mental health

What Is Being Done?

Many facilities and medical schools are trying to pick up on this important issue and help those that are struggling. Many physicians have lost a colleague to suicide, which is a feeling I know all too well. In their case, however, they don’t get the time to grieve. Male anesthesiologists are at the highest risk, according to Washington Post due to the medications they have access to. Like many others that die by suicide, many physicians are very skilled at disguising their feelings. They may appear happy but yet suffering on the inside.

There is a stigma within the medical community with seeking help for mental health issues. Many are afraid that they will lose their job and/or license. They fear that their care won’t remain confidential. Some go to different cities or towns and pay cash to keep from having to report to the state boards. They also have little time away from their demanding schedules to get the care they need. These physicians care so much for others, including their own families, they barely have time for themselves.

Facilities are beginning to create cultures in which employees feel comfortable talking about what they are dealing with, minus consequences. This shows physicians do have feelings, they are not robotic. They need to support each other. More research is being done in this area to help gather more understanding for the future.

Some facilities and schools are creating peer support groups so that students/employees feel less alone during rough times. Work/life balance is also being encouraged a lot more in workplaces. Medical schools are incorporating self-care into their professional development classes. They are also teaching classes on how to notice changes in their co-workers. This can be so beneficial. This information can be found on Physician Leaders

Distressed woman mental health

Experience Led Me Here

In a decade of work, I’ve worked with a lot of people in a variety of places. I never thought about someone I worked with completing suicide. Someone dying in a car crash? Maybe. Cancer or another devastating illness? Okay. For some reason, suicide didn’t enter my mind. It did when Colleen died, and to this day, I still can’t listen to anything by The Beatles without feeling sad. They were her favorite band, and “Let it Be” was played at her funeral.

The last mental health facility I worked at, sadly, has left me changed forever. One suicide occurred months after I started (Scott), then in 2015, two happened- less than a month apart. Everyone was incredibly sad- how does this happen? Austin and Jake are missed terribly by those that loved and cared about them, myself included. I missed Austin’s visitation and funeral because I was sick, but Jake’s was standing room only. He would have been surprised to see how many people cared about him.

Recently, another former co-worker from there died by suicide, and everyone is wondering the same thing- how does this happen? I don’t think there is an exact answer. It is hard to know what people go through daily, even when they seem well put-together.

A Message

Be kind. You never know what the person next to you is going through. They may not be in a deep depression, but might just be having a very hard day. If someone you know is struggling, do what you can to help, even if that’s just listening to them for a while.

If you’re reading this and you are a mental health professional/physician, please reach out if you need it. We need you.

Pics courtesy of Unsplash

Suicide and the Media

**Trigger warning: suicide and its terminology is mentioned in this post. Please use your own discretion in reading this post.**

Just about everyone has access to the Internet these days. If you’re reading this post, you have it, unless someone printed it out for you. The Internet is full of information- some of it is utterly useless, some is great. I’m constantly using it for research for this blog, because I admittedly don’t know everything about the topics I write about. That’s partially why my Resources page exists.

A High-Profile Life, But What Lies Beneath?

I choose topics for certain times for a reason- this is Suicide Prevention Week and I wanted to highlight how the media handles discussing suicide. Over the summer, two very high-profile celebrities, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, completed suicide. Both were well known in their fields. Kate was a very talented fashion designer and Anthony was a chef. It was known that Anthony struggled with substance abuse issues, but Kate was struggling privately. Before her death, she was seeing a mental health provider and taking medication. This does not equal the end of suicidal thoughts and/or ideations, as her death shows.

What does lie beneath?

How does the media handle this?

I read a lot. Some outlets are changing their wording from “committed suicide” to “completed suicide” or other phrases, which is a positive change. This is making suicide look less like a criminal thing (“committed” is usually a term used in criminal circumstances, and suicide is not a crime) and more of a personal term. The media still has a lot of work to do. The community still has a lot of work to do as a whole.

How Can Reporting and Discussing Change?

According to an article on Psychology Today there are ways that the media and community can do better in this discussion.

Leaving out the means or method of suicide. Personally, I think this is deeply disrespectful to speak about. I have been told the entire story of Jake’s death, but I’d never go public with it. He was a private person and I couldn’t do that. Plus, his family would be very upset with me. Many suicides, like Jake’s, aren’t a story that people want to talk about. If there was a note, that is helpful to note, but not to include specific information. That is better left for the family. Basically, report the minimum and leave the deeper knowledge of what happened to the family.

Trying to avoid language that inflates the prevalence of suicide. This is one that I am trying to work on myself, I believe I said in a post that this is a heartbreaking epidemic. I may go back and edit it, but in case I don’t (because many of you know my memory is atrocious) please know that has been noted. I’ll work on that in the future. When reading about suicide, some may think that this is an acceptable option to their issues. I don’t want anyone reading this blog to ever think that, because that’s what I am trying to avoid.

Focus on the deceased’s life- not just their death. I am a huge fan of this. This keeps their memory alive. This way, they are not remembered for how they died, but how they lived. This also means to leave out pictures of visibly upset friends or family, or photos of the scene. (Who does that?)

How Can Individuals Do More?

Continue the conversation. Some are afraid to talk about mental health issues and/or suicide because of the fear of stigma. The real change occurs, however, when people do talk. It makes a more comfortable climate in which to discuss these things and the stigma (hopefully) fades. This can help the discussion keep going after the news cycle ends.

Remember that mental health issues and suicide doesn’t discriminate.

Encourage that anyone that is having suicidal thoughts seek help. Also, if anyone you know needs other mental health assistance, please help them however you can. This may mean help with finding a therapist, transportation, etc.

The Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741) is available 24/7

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (veterans press 1)

You can also go to a nearby ER or mental health care facility.

It’s a rough world out there, let’s make it a bit easier on each other.

Pics courtesy of Unsplash Pinterest

Adjusting to a New World

Many parents, myself included, envision parenting as this wonderful adventure in which kids develop at the pace they should, play instruments and/or sports, learn to drive, go to prom and all that great stuff.

But what happens when those things are altered because of a special needs diagnosis?

Cry a little

The Big Change

Some parents find out about their child’s diagnosis before or right after birth, in cases of Spinal Bifida, Cerebral Palsy and Down’s Syndrome. I know parents of kids with these diagnoses, and it has been life changing for these families. All of them have other kids without any special needs.

The adjustment is hard. I cried my way through Lily’s evaluation for First Steps the day before her first birthday, even though I knew something was not going right. I knew she needed more help than what I could give her. That story can be found in Special Needs Round Two . When her diagnosis of global delays was given, I was even more devastated. The blame game began. It took a lot of talking with Lily’s speech therapist, Denise, to realize that it wasn’t my fault that she was developmentally delayed. We are in the process of getting Lily re-evaluated. At ten, she is still showing signs of issues that we thought she had grown out of. Cross your fingers for us- we may need it.

In Julian’s case, it’s been a tougher road. His psychiatric nurse practitioner, Ann, once said that we have adjusted wonderfully as a family to Julian’s needs. I almost hugged her. I explained to her that it has not been easy and it remains a somewhat rugged path. My question is: Why not adjust? Julian is wired differently and that’s okay. If we didn’t adjust, he would feel badly about himself and I couldn’t bear the thought of this. It would also cause so much chaos for him that he doesn’t need or deserve. It would do the same for the rest of us. Why do that?

He needs the ability to feel okay about who he is, quirks and all. We’ve enjoyed watching him grow and finally develop a sense of humor. Every kid needs that, with or without a diagnosis. In a home with medical issues, this is a necessity.

I have made many mistakes in raising Julian (and his siblings). Even after reading up, trying many different things, therapy for both of us, getting Matthew on board and lots of burnt dinners in the process, things remain interesting. Julian is now 12 and puberty is kicking in.

Learning that your child has a medical and/or physical special needs diagnosis is complex. Some parents grieve the life they feel their child “should have had”. This is a rough one for me, as I’ve never done this. I can see this happening with kids with severe medical problems. A high school friend of mine has a child with spinal bifida and she lives a full life. Instead of being devastated and staying in a hole as some might, Shelly and her kids go out and do all kinds of neat things. Ryan is eight, and she is one of the coolest kids ever. She’s a tiny fighter. Some parents, like myself, are devastated and are not sure where to go next. Some fall into the “research pattern” and find all kinds of information to know exactly what to do.

This can be a great thing- I have read up a lot on Julian’s diagnoses and it didn’t hurt to work with kids with similar issues. (It did physically hurt some days, but that’s another story. I learned a lot from that job.) Some parents, sadly, go into denial. This can be damaging to everyone involved, and I highly recommend seeing a therapist, church member, or another trusted person. If it’s your partner, this can get really bad quickly, and I definitely know the pain of where it can go. Please do what you can to change that path. Talking can help. Easing your partner into information, appointments, and other things can help. Just don’t force them, because that can make things worse.

I recommend reading up, asking questions, and getting all the help from the medical community you can. The more information you have, the more empowered you feel to help your child. Julian’s been very lucky- he has had a great team from day one, because I wouldn’t let him have anything less. I’m a proud mama shark.

Never give up

It’s okay to feel different things- don’t let anyone make you feel different. Julian was diagnosed almost seven years ago, and some days I still feel overwhelmed. As of writing this post, I’m about to battle it out with his school over his IEP because it’s currently not being followed. Some days are better than others. Some days are absolutely great, some are so bad that you want to devour a liter of Cherry Coke, a bag of salt and vinegar chips and call it a day. (Okay, maybe that’s just me. I didn’t do all of that, but I considered it.) If you’re overwhelmed, write it out. Get someone to help you sort out your feelings.

Making The Best of Things

Daily life also changes. Depending on the diagnosis, your child may need assistance with everything, or nothing at all. This can become time-consuming and require an overhaul of your routine as you knew it. Food may need to be altered due to sensory issues- I live in a house with two kids with sensory issues, and I gave up on those battles years ago. Julian won’t eat french fries if he can see the potato skins or if they aren’t super warm. Lily won’t eat anything that resembles soup, any pasta that isn’t spaghetti, mainly because it looks different. Julian actually had a meltdown once over the shape of pasta my father in law used for dinner. These changes can be irritating to make, but they are necessary for the world our kids live in. I’ve learned to look inside Julian’s mind a bit, probably because of my work, and try to see the world as he does. It can get hard, but it’s worth it. Explaining this to others can get even harder, even your partner.

Small steps

It takes time to adjust- it won’t happen overnight. It takes time to learn how your child’s machines work, or how to get the wheelchair to fit in your van. Give yourself space to make those mistakes. I completely screwed up Julian’s 12th birthday party by inviting too many people, which cause him to shut down at the end, but I’m pretty sure he still likes me. He used to get mad at me when I would hold onto him with a death grip in parking lots and large stores, but he had a bad record of eloping. It was terrifying to have to run after a very fast 5 year old, especially in a parking lot. He was seven before I let him walk more than a foot or two away from me. (I never used a leash because I hate those things.)

If you’ve got a kid who takes things literally, you have to change how you talk to them. For example, I once told Julian to drop the jar of jelly he was holding after he was told not to eat anything. I was making dinner and he didn’t need to eat so soon before.

He dropped the jar.

Major mom fail.

Thankfully, the jar was plastic. That would have been an awful mess otherwise. Matthew and I have had to re-think things before we say them, because Julian thinks differently, and so does Lily, to an extent. We are still trying to figure out her thought patterns. She doesn’t quite think on a 10-year-old level, so we have to tread carefully.

Super parent

Final Thoughts and Tips:

If you have to buy things to keep your house, kid and car safe, do it. You’ll thank yourself later.

It really does take a village. I have friends that have kids with all kinds of physical/ developmental disabilities. A few have kids with autism, and they have been so helpful when I’ve needed them.

Being a parent of a special needs kid will make you a different person. I’ve fought for Julian since day one. Lily’s issues haven’t required so much of a fight, but I would do the same for her. It makes you tougher and less likely to take people’s crap.

Breathe and find something that makes you laugh. Comedy will get you through anything.

Get a binder and organize all of your kid’s paperwork. Julian and Lily have their own binders.

You are not alone, and get help if you need it. Take time for you, because your kids need Mom at her best. If you’re tired, sad and cranky, that’s not your best.

If you have other kids, let them be involved in adjustments. It’s not easy to be the sibling of a special needs kid. My kids have been pretty good about Julian, but it can get hard for us as parents. Cameron and Lily have a post about this in The Siblings’ Turn

Allow your child to live their best life. If they can do it- let them. My friend Laura Leigh’s son, Levi, is seven. He is in a wheelchair due to Cerebral Palsy, and he is an awesome kid. He smiles for days, gives his younger sister Presley wheelchair rides and loves school. I let Julian run cross country in the fifth grade and he loved it. We have a rule that his diagnoses aren’t excuses for not behaving. He does have bad days, but he doesn’t get to say, “I’ve got autism, so I get to act like that”, “I forgot my ADHD meds, that’s why I’m like this today”.

Most of all, love and accept your child the way they are. It might sound weird that I wrote that, but it is saddening that many parents don’t. Acceptance and love matters- it’s everything.

Quotes courtesy of Pinterest

Recommended Reading: The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius

Twin Mummy and Daddy

Broken Wings Part 2: Divorce Preparations

Broken Wings, Part 2: Divorce Preparations for Your Special Needs Family

by Bonnie Harris Price & Wrae Meredith Sanders

Special needs and divorce; these two words shouldn’t be in the same sentence. Yet more and more families split up because the demands are overwhelming.

Counseling didn’t work. The long vacation meant to help your family reset didn’t work either. It may even seem like your prayers to reconcile went unanswered too.

Then, the inevitable happens. You and your significant other decide to divorce.

Ending your marriage is hard particularly if you have children. Yet when your child has special needs, the task is even more difficult.

The transition to a single parent household won’t be easy. There will be feelings of anger, doubt, fear, frustration, and even betrayal. After all, the two of you took vows to work things out.

But sometimes things don’t work out

It’s important that you know it’s not your fault. And your child’s disability isn’t to blame either. As Iyanla Vanzant says, it’s time to do the work to get your lives on track.

Going through a divorce is like going to war. You don’t want to show up for battle without your protective gear. Don’t confuse this post for a lesson to destroy your soon to be ex, instead, treat this as a blueprint to prepare you for the tough days ahead.

Divorce Action Plan

How much child support should you ask for? What if your child requires special care beyond the age of eighteen? Am I doing the right thing?

These are legitimate questions and at the same time, they don’t even scratch the surface of what’s involved in a special needs divorce case.

Here are some suggestions of what to do when preparing for divorce.

Special Needs Divorce Checklist

  • Find a divorce mediator
  • Find a special needs attorney or an attorney who specializes in family law
  • Bring your child’s records
  • Prepare an after divorce budget
  • Custody arrangements
  • Living arrangements
  • After the divorce

Mediator

In the heat of the moment you might want to run straight to an attorney, but first, try a mediator. A mediator can help you arrange an acceptable divorce agreement. A mediator should be experienced and willing to let an attorney sit in without any hassle.

Your mediator should remain neutral and help keep the peace. Mediators aren’t free but some will offer a free consultation. Check Yelp reviews or get a recommendation from a friend who’s been through a divorce.

Special needs attorney

Next, you want to find a divorce attorney who specializes in this area. Custody, insurance, medical and counseling appointments are areas that must be addressed as soon as possible. Efforts to continue your child’s care takes priority over who gets the house.

The goal is to prevent dumping the burden on one person. Lack of support probably plays a huge role in breakups. To make sure you don’t get overwhelmed after the divorce, address this issue first.

Records

If you haven’t already been doing it, document everything about your child including the relationship with the other parent. Family court is also known as the mother’s court, but fathers have rights too.

You want to record all interactions, including the not so good days. Again, this is not to make the other person look bad, but this is to show the court what the child needs. Documentation is especially helpful in abuse cases.

Budget

Your income will definitely change. Income for divorced women is a not so surprising fifty percent. Another ugly statistic shows men tend to get richer after divorce.

Either way, you must prepare your after our divorce budget now. You need to figure out what your expenses will be if you’re going to have any kind of future.

Some things to consider are:

Can you afford to keep the house once the divorce is final?

How much money will I have to make in case I don’t get the child support I need?

What services can my child do without if I need to make ends meet?

Custody and Visitation

Other than the divorce itself, this is the most painful process. What happens to the kids? In Texas and Tennessee, one parent gets custody and the other gets visitation.

If you’re lucky, the two of you can agree to co-parent. Sometimes this is just isn’t case. Worst-case scenario one parent ends up abandoned despite a court order for regular visits.

Understand the court will decide what’s in the best interest of the child. Mothers tend to have more rights than dads, but if you find yourself on the wrong side of the decision be prepared to fight. If you know in your heart you’re the better parent, don’t give up.

Living Arrangements

Once you have decided who and where please make sure the place is suitable for your child’s needs. New divorcees are plagued with the task of finding somewhere affordable, but it has to be right.

New homes should reasonably accommodate the child. If your child has physical limitations, the other parent should move to a place that is handicap accessible. You should also know if the neighborhood is child-friendly.

Another thing you want to consider is to make sure in your divorce decree that you have permission to move. For example, if there is a doctor or facility two hours away that would be beneficial for your child and you wanted to move closer, your ex could stop you if it isn’t in the paperwork.

You want to put that card on the table because as Dr. Phil said, the person you married is different from the person you divorce. For your child’s sake be prepared.

When It’s Over

The ink is dry. Maybe it was an amicable split. A new chapter for you and your child begins.

Ideally, it would be great if you could seek counseling during this trying time. Most people I know don’t seek counseling until years later. Don’t wait years, get help as soon as it’s over.

Don’t be under the impression that life is going to be grand because the pain is in the past. The pain doesn’t heal until you deal with it. It didn’t work out and you’re left to pick up the pieces.

But Guess What?

You got this. Your child is going to need you more than ever. Despite your child’s emotional and/or physical challenges, they are resilient.

And so are you. Thomas Edison failed over two-thousand times when he tried to invent the light bulb. When asked, he said he didn’t fail, he found over two thousand ways it wouldn’t work.

You will get through this. I have faith in you as a parent.

Comments

What’s your story? Are you going through a divorce and have special needs children? Leave a comment below.

bonnie@adhdhomeschooled.com

ADHDhomeschool@Pinterest

ADHDhomeschooled @Facebook

wraemeredithblogs.wordpress.com

Into The Light

*Trigger Warning: suicide is mentioned in this post*

In light of two high profile suicides in one week along with the CDC report releasing new information on suicides, I couldn’t stay silent.

The CDC report can be found here. It’s eye-opening for sure. It outlines what can be done in our communities, in our states and how to help those who have lost someone to suicide.

There is a list of warning signs and infographics to illustrate the prevalence of this issue. There are even steps to take if you are around someone who is speaking of taking their life. Suicide has been and remains a top ten cause of death for years. Almost 45,000 deaths in 2016 were by suicide. That’s too many.

There are so many factors that go into the agonizing decision to complete suicide. Mental illness is one factor, but many don’t have any prior issues. I just know that decision is one that changes those left behind. Other factors include substance abuse, financial issues, lack of support, and many other life crises.

This video is by my dear friend Josh. I have no idea where I’d be without him. He discusses how to talk to someone who is suicidal. He also shares his personal and professional experiences with this topic. I met him not long after his attempt and I HAD NO IDEA he had just left outpatient treatment.

How to talk to someone that is suicidal

If you are reading this and you are struggling, please know that it’s okay. Life is hard. You’re not alone.

Otherwise, be kind. Check on those around you. Love each other. There is a way out of the darkness.

Resources:

AFSP

1-800-273-8255

Text “home” to 741741