Neurology Is Not My Best Topic

It took me five years to get a BA in Clinical Psychology- I changed majors, schools and had my boys. I didn’t take a neuropsychology class.

I had a mini-stroke in 2013- a migraine went really bad. Afterward, I started having migraines, which are absolutely zero fun. They make me sleepy, cranky, nauseated and for some reason, crave sour candy.

I’ve worked with kids with developmental disabilities and have an autistic kid.

And yet, I know nothing about neurology.

Until a couple of days ago, I also didn’t know what could be going on with Lily.

If you need a refresher, please read these posts:

Special Needs Round Two

Back to the Beginning

She’s currently in Occupational Therapy (OT) and seeing a dietician. Both have been extremely helpful. I was looking into getting her a full neuropsychological evaluation, like Julian had in 2011, but most places are full or aren’t taking new patients right now, because you know, there’s a global pandemic going around.

Plus, her insurance doesn’t cover a penny of what will be a very expensive evaluation.

She’s worth it, but honestly, I decided to sit on this idea until things get back to some sort of normal.

A Crash Course in Reflexes

A couple of days ago, Lily’s OT, Amy, tested her reflexes.

She tested positive for retained STNR reflex, and all I could say was “What is that?”

I’m not afraid to say that I don’t know something, because how else am I going to learn? In this case, I felt (and still feel) that I was way out of my knowledge base. We thought maybe severe anxiety and avoidance behaviors, she was even tested for ADD, which she does have.

Amy explained it to me in a simple way- there’s a reflex that babies develop between 6 and 9 months old. It should resolve before the first birthday. This reflex makes the top and bottom parts of our bodies work in sync to move efficiently. If the reflex isn’t resolved, this can lead to some developmental delays. For example, when you learn to swim, your arms and legs have to work together to do so.

Those who have a retained STNR reflex can’t swim well because they can’t get their body to work together at the same time. It’s a neurological issue that can’t be medicated. Lily will need OT for a while, and at some point, we hope that she can learn to ride a bike and other independent activities.

There’s a connection to ADD/ADHD for this, so it makes a lot of sense to me. It explains a lot of Lily’s issues and now I can somewhat meet her where she is.

On the outside, she’s a regular 12-year-old. She loves clothes, jewelry, blankets and boy bands (ugh). However, the way her brain works is different from a lot of other kids her age- she’s socially and emotionally immature, has core and muscle weaknesses, and of course, issues with coordination.

I am not sure what this means for 7th grade for her- she may or may not qualify for an IEP. She may need an evaluation through the school to do so. I’m also not sure if she will be able to live on her own without assistance. I have no idea.

She’s 12, but I have to think about her future. I may need to become her guardian when she turns 18. It’s a lot to think about and writing this post is helping me process it.

I wish there was more that I could do besides taking her to OT. As far as I’ve seen, there isn’t much anyone can do besides help her resolve this reflex and since I’m not an occupational therapist, I can only follow Amy’s recommendations.

I read up a bit on this and some of it went way over my head! I think I understand the important parts. We have answers, or the beginning of them, and that’s what matters.

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 behavior health technician, 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.

66308bfaa5a8eb63815f12b6313e9ceb.jpg

(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

20140614_125050.jpg

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.

e332668f5bd902a8b1df1bf3f2307805.jpg

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

I’m Not Ready

This post came to mind as I was having a long chat with my best friend, Ashley, about parenting. She’s a first-time mom and her son is 4 weeks old as of my writing this post.

I told her that I’m not ready for Cameron to turn 16 in January. It makes me so sad that he’s almost grown. He will be able to get a permit, which he has to have for a year. He will also be able to get a job. We’ve been discussing it.

Where has the time gone?

I was barely 22 when Cameron was born on January 7, 2005. My birthday was nine days before. He was actually due on January 5, but I guess he wasn’t ready yet.

I definitely had anxiety after he was born, I’d never raised a baby! Luckily, I’ve always had a ton of support from my mom and mother in law.

Cameron was a bit cranky as a baby. He didn’t have colic but he cried a lot and for months, at the same time every day.

At 15, he sleeps wonderfully and rarely wakes up before noon, thanks to the pandemic closing school. He’s into TikTok videos, basketball and of course, Marvel movies.

He grew and got active. He learned to talk and in July 2006, he got a brother, Julian. I don’t think either of them remembers anything without each other.

Having a heart condition has slightly altered his activities. I think he’s a little afraid to do things that might set off an episode of SVT.

You can read this to find out more about SVT.

Cameron has been his brother’s helper and protector, which I can’t say enough about. Julian gets on his nerves sometimes, but don’t let someone mess with him. If Julian needs backup, Cameron is there. He and Lily, however, have annoyed each other since day one. It’s been funny to watch.

Work pic

Getting school work done online

What’s Next?

I have no clue. I just know I’m not ready for my kids to be grown. I do know that Cameron is a smart kid and that he can do anything he wants.

He’s in a program at school to learn machine tools, computer-aided design, and welding. His grandfather is a machinist, Cameron has watched him work since he was a baby. He didn’t make it to the machine tool due to school closures but did like welding. This program will help him get a job when he graduates in 2023, which is great.

He’s not into the college idea and I’m okay with this.

He’s already decided that he would love to work the third shift. This isn’t shocking because he’s a night owl.

Cameron is taller than me and eats everything in this house. He has a face full of acne and size 10 feet.

I guess we will have to see what the future brings, as wild as it might be. He’s still got a lot to learn but he knows I’m behind him all the way.

My giant kid

Views from Inside

Everyone knows there’s a pandemic going around. It’s everywhere- news, internet memes, etc.

I’m not sick. Neither are the kids or Matthew.

This is good.

Quite a few people have not been so lucky.

The Kentucky Perspective

Kentucky hit the governor lottery when Andy Beshear got elected. He hasn’t been in office a full year, but here he is smashing the handling of a global pandemic like a rock star.

He let the state know that he was not here for people not taking this seriously. There’s a daily update on the news at 5 p.m., including weekends. I’m either at work (more on that later) or starting dinner so I am kinda able to watch most nights.

There is a group solely based on Beshear memes on Facebook, which I am in and love. The memes are fantastic.

School is closed for the rest of the year. This was decided yesterday but nobody is surprised. I probably wouldn’t send the kids if they did go back because I am considered higher risk.

Thanks a lot, rheumatoid arthritis.

The state is pretty much closed. Courts, non-essential stores, daycares, all of that. It’s a weird time to live in, for sure.

A New Man to Meet

My best friend, Ashley, had her first baby on 4/8/20. I am so happy for her, but was also sad that I couldn’t be there as planned. She and her husband, Patrick, kept me updated. She sends pictures everyday. Trenton is adorable.

I need the social distancing thing to be over… I have a tiny baby to meet.

Mom’s Side of the Story

I’m working part-time at a sober living house in Indiana. I’m a behavioral health technician. It’s super easy and I really like it. Plus, it pays great.

Clearly, if I’m not working I’m at home with the kids.

The school system that my kids attend is the largest in the state. There’s around 101,000 kids enrolled. They didn’t do much for two weeks while the website was created and work was developed. They will be doing non-traditional instruction until the end of May.

It’s been an adventure, to say the least.

Lily was devastated to find out that they will not be going back to school. She cried because she misses her friends and teachers. I gave her a hug and let her talk.

Julian and Cameron aren’t really upset. Julian will be finishing the 8th grade without a ceremony – his school is mailing him a t-shirt and his certificate.

As he put it, “I can’t miss what I’m not there to do.”

My deep thinker.

Cameron wanted to complete his time in machine tool class, but he can make the time up next year. He’s pretty thrilled about not having to get up early.

A Bit Scattered

It’s been a bit of a change to be at home all the time. I’ve been coloring and doing crafty things. I’ve also watched a lot of Hulu and Netflix shows, like many others.

The kids read, draw, play uno, and lots of video games for the boys. They also watch a lot of tik tok videos.

We also talk more and have gotten things cleaned and organized around the house.

Julian, Lily and I have done appointments via telehealth. That’s gone pretty well.

We’re trying to make the best of the situation.

How are you handling life during a pandemic??

Surviving the Dumpster Fire

I have lost count of the days we have been staying “healthy at home” as Kentucky’s governor, Andy Beshear, has asked.

Mid-March, probably?

Very accurate.

At this point there’s only so much we can do as parents to contain our kids.

My kids just started NTI (Non-Traditional Instruction) yesterday. I was mentally prepared for a disaster but nobody had issues. Yayyyy!

I’m pretty easy going these days because it helps my stress and anxiety levels, which helps prevent migraines and to some extent, RA flares.

Speaking of which, I have a phone appointment with my rheumatologist in an hour or so. I have great news to tell her- the medication she gave me in January is working. More yayyyy!

Kids are going through a lot right now- they don’t know when they will see their friends again. They can call, text or Facetime but that only goes so far. Some kids going to middle or high school may not see some of their friends before they separate for different schools. They’re anxious- what happens next? Is someone I know going to get the coronavirus? When can we go out and do fun things again?

I’ve been trying to explain things as well as I can to my kids. I’m glad they are old enough to understand most things. We do fun stuff at home.

The boys have been pretty chill- Julian said since they aren’t at school he can’t really miss the events that the 8th grade won’t get to do.

Lily has been a bit sad because she misses her friends and teachers. She and Bella (my friend Sara’s daughter) face-timed yesterday and she says she feels much better.

It’s the least I can do. I don’t like seeing her so sad.

There’s a load of laundry sitting on my bed waiting to be folded. I’ll get to it.

Probably.

Some things never change.

Meme courtesy of Facebook