Looking At the Bright Side

A Dark Day Brings Light

November 23, 2011, was a dark day at my house, but yet it brought a lot of light to my mind. That is the day Julian was diagnosed with ADHD (combined) and traits of Asperger’s Syndrome. (This was later amended to a full diagnosis and he is now considered to be on the autism spectrum because Asperger’s was removed from the DSM-V.)

Autism meme

It brought tears and peace at the same time. I finally had answers to so many questions. I wasn’t a bad mom, there was actually a reason he was doing all these things.

I finally had tools to help him. I could help him calm himself so he wouldn’t throw toys, hit his siblings or myself. I might even get dinner done on time some nights instead of stopping to deal with Julian’s meltdowns.

Losing Perspective

Somewhere in the middle of trying behavior charts, evaluations and basically bribing Julian to act appropriately, I’d forgotten the good things about him. He did have those, like every other kid.

Don't say sorry

For example, Julian is so intelligent. For the most part, he’s always done well in math and science. He hates reading.

There is a bright side to having a kid with special needs. It changes you in ways you never thought possible. You may have learn a lot about the diagnosis (or more than one), but you’ll be able to spread awareness about it. I’ve become very vocal about ADHD and autism.

You can read my thoughts on the vaccination/autism debate in this post:

The Autism/Vaccine Debate

I’ve walked for a local organization for families of children with autism. I worked with kids with autism for almost five years, and I loved it. It makes it easier for me to deal with the struggles.

I know I’m far from alone because there are many families that have the same day to day issues that I do. This includes some of my friends.
I’ve learned that you have to be a different parent for each kid.

What works for Lily may not work for Julian. Cameron responds a lot differently to things than his siblings. We have had to adjust to Julian’s quirks and needs and become a lot more creative and open-minded. I’ve had to think on my feet a lot and outside the box a lot more.

Learning to Adjust

I never really went through the stage that some parents do in which they grieve what they imagined what their child would be able to do. Julian will still have a full life- he will just have a few bumps along the way.

Swing
We are able to see the world through a different lens with Julian- slightly narrowed thinking, a dry sense of humor, ability to help with or without asking- he loves to help his dad and grandfather do “big guy stuff”. He does show emotions, but we are still working on empathy.

I have become tougher. I don’t see this as a terrible thing. I’ve learned to fight for what Julian needs and I will do that until he can do it on his own. I won’t let him be in the world on his own without knowing how to get help if he needs it and without the skills, he needs to navigate his issues.

We do have bad days as parents, with or without special needs kids. Looking at the bright side can help bring our focus back to the positivity around us- our kids.

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.

20180423_090708.jpg

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

Men and Mental Health

As kids, most boys were told not to cry. They were told to be tough, to be “real men”, and those men didn’t cry and show emotions. They hid their feelings, no matter the cost.

This piece of advice has had terrible consequences, leading to high substance abuse rates, violence against women and children (among others) and other issues. When you can’t let out your feelings in a healthy way, it tends to come out badly. It also leads to higher rates of depression, anxiety and lack of self-care.

Why Men Don’t Seek Help

Everyone needs to take care of themselves, physically and mentally. This is a well-known fact. Men have a harder time acknowledging this because of the stigma they face in doing so. This will be covered in a later post, so stay tuned, but here are a few examples of what many men fear when going for help:

  • Being labeled as “weak”, “sick”, or any number of labels.
  • Having to be vulnerable. I can say from personal experience that starting therapy is rough. You are opening up with some of your worst demons to someone you just met..many men (and women) are not having it.
  • Being judged by those who know that they are getting help.

This information is in The Stigma of Mental Illness

Untreated mental illness can also lead to suicide, which has a higher rate in men, and men usually use more lethal means.

This fact breaks my heart each time I read it. Suicide in itself is heartbreaking and has far-reaching consequences.

As a mom, I’m teaching my kids that it’s okay to cry. My sons know it’s okay to have emotions. In light of numerous teen suicides in the news and those that I have lost to suicide personally, I feel a huge responsibility to watch out for my kids’ mental health. It’s HARD to be a kid these days.

Cameron started taking daily naps when he started middle school, and at first, I thought it was a phase. Then I worried about his heart because his SVT is pretty severe and can tire him out easily.

He told me that he felt fine, that school was just tiring him out. My next question was if anything was bothering him, and thankfully, he said no. Cameron is a pretty chill kid, but you never know.

Julian is pretty quiet, but he knows where Mom is if he needs to talk. So does Lily, but she is NOT the quiet type. The point of this is, please talk to your kids, no matter how rough it may be. Just check in.

What can we do for the men in our lives?

  • Check in with them. Especially if something major has happened to them recently- a death in the family, job loss, etc.
  • Be gentle. Most men facing a mental health issue don’t want to be forced into talking. Matthew’s parents divorced a few years ago, and there was a lot of drama involved. He’s not a huge talker, so I had to let him talk about it at his own pace.
  • Encourage him through whatever he does, if anything. If he decides to seek help, he needs to know you’re behind him 100%.

Of course, if things are going downhill quickly, please seek immediate help. You can go to the nearest ER or call 911.
Resources:

AFSP

Psychology Today

NAMI

If you are more comfortable seeking help online, this BetterHelp link will be helpful for Michigan residents, but the entire site is full of good information.

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.

Quote

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.

Quote

“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.

Quote

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.

Darkest quote

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

Raising Boys and Girls: The Differences

My boys were born in 2005 and 2006. I thought I’d never have a daughter and felt a small amount of sadness.

A small change occurred in 2008 in the form of a little girl, Lily. She even got her own post, My Dream Girl

I didn’t think there were many differences between raising boys and girls- at first. I must have been in a sleepy haze or serious denial. Now that I’ve caught up on a few years of sleep, I’m much wiser.

Ladies First…

Zoo pic

Lily at the Louisville Zoo, Summer 2018

I was once a little girl. I couldn’t have been that difficult to raise, right? I asked my mom if I was as dramatic, loud and messy af as Lily is. We call her room “the kid version of “Hoarders” because it’s never clean for more than a day. My mother told me yes, I was loud (I’m still loud at 35, no shocker), dramatic, but not quite at her level of messy.

THANKS, MOM.

Puberty has come for us and the current situation is buying bras. I had to get her a real bra recently, not just the cute sports bras. Yikes. She’s 10. Is this a thing? I skipped training bras and went straight to regular ones.

We’re a bit gentler on Lily. She’s more sensitive than her brothers and still may be developmentally delayed. (She is getting evaluated very soon.) That requires a different mindset. I have to teach her different things- to know her worth as the woman she will become, how to say “no” and not feel bad, caring for others (as in a family, should she have one) and many other things. The boys will get the same lessons but obviously slightly tweaked.

Lily loves clothes and has shown interest in makeup which is a great thing. I can’t wait to see this develop. This is just a glimpse into the fun parts of raising a daughter.

The Boy Brigade

Arch pic

Cameron and Julian in the cart at the Arch

These guys have been full of adventure since birth. They have really lived up to the hype of “boys get into everything”. Once Julian was able to walk and talk, the joint adventures began. They have rode in laundry baskets down our stairs, made a slip n slide on the kitchen floor, slid down the driveway on sleds, gotten injured together (Julian ended up with staples in his head) and many more things.

Now they team up to see who can annoy Lily and Mom the most.

Most of the time, the boys are low-maintenance and I appreciate this. Sometimes. I don’t appreciate them wearing the same socks for four days in a row, using their bed as a trash can or any of the other many gross things they do. Ew. My boys have shared a bedroom since Lily was born. They’re cool with this, probably because they can stay up late, talk and plot to take over the universe.

Science center bubble

Julian making a bubble at the Louisville Science Center

Being the mom of two boys has lowered my shock factor. At this point, if someone isn’t bleeding, broken a bone or the house isn’t on fire, I’m good. As of writing this, two out of the three have occurred- no worries, my house has never caught on fire. Boys have been much easier to raise- they do get mad, they cry, but with a lot less drama involved.

Well, with one. Julian and Lily participate in what I call “The Petty Olympics” to see who can fight over the smaller things. This, of course, is when Mom is done for the day, maybe even the week.

We feed them, keep them clean, medicate them (both are on meds- Cameron takes one for migraines and SVT and Julian has his ADHD meds) and love them. I think they’re doing pretty well. Keeping them clean is a bit interesting- their showers are destroying our water bill. Lily needs a bit more to keep going but some kids do. We’re okay with that.

Magic house pic

Cameron at the Magic House in St. Louis

I’ve been very lucky to been able to have these kids. All jokes aside, they complete my life.

Do you have kids of both sexes? What differences have you seen? If you don’t have kids, what do you think?

Twin Mummy and Daddy

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com