Bloggy Moms

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reflections on 2015

As the new year is on the heels 2015 I find myself reflecting on this past year. I can't guarantee that I'll make new year's resolutions as it seems like I always break them in the first month. I can say that I'll try to appreciate each day like I did this year.
In 2015 our family celebrated two years of stability for my daughter. That might not be a big deal to most. For us it is huge. It means no phone calls to the police. It means no trips to the ER. It means no stays at a behavioral health hospital. It doesn't mean that we always have peace and tranquility in our house. It means we have those more often.
This past year my greatest accomplishment was finally getting an autism diagnosis for my daughter. Some might see that as an extra burden. I choose to see it as success because it means we have answers and solutions are on the way. Solutions like ABA therapy and feeding therapy will assist my child in living a fuller life.
Despite her challenges my daughter took two big trip this year. The first was a trip to Washington, D.C. to speak about mental health the representatives of our elected officials. You can read about our trip here. The flight alone was monumental as seven years ago my daughter had a huge meltdown on the flight coming back from the east coast. This time I was prepared. It made for a much smoother flight for everyone.  The second trip was road trip to northern California to visit with a childhood friend of mine and her family. That trip was special because it reminded me of all the times that my mom and I went on trips together. Our trip up the coast of California was not without its challenges. My daughter and I learned how to figure out the curveballs tossed our way. Sometimes that meant getting back on track after losing our way. Other times it meant that I had to help my daughter when she was feeling overwhelmed. I really learned how to read her. There are times when I can push her to do more than she thinks she can. Other times when I need to let her calm down.
A big accomplishment for my girl this year   being able to perform in a full length musical for the first time in five years.  She may have not had a speaking role in "Mary Poppins", but she learned how to get along with a large group of kids. During the production of this play Princess only had two meltdowns. Both times she was able to turn things around and finish out her responsibilities for the evening. That's success in my eyes.
This past summer in between her activities I made time to take Princess to the beach so she could practice the fine art of Boogie Boarding. She mostly taught herself by watching others and feeling the waves. A few years ago Princess wanted to leave the beach after being there only a couple of hours. She found it cold and the sand was bothersome. She overcame those challenges. She actually looks forward to going now. This makes my heart smile.
I wish that I could say that my little business took off and is booming. It's not even close to being able to being profitable. That's OK though. I'm told that it takes several years for a new business venture to be successful. I'm learning from my mistakes so that I can turn things around. I also see this as more time that I can spend advocating for the needs of my daughter.
While I was trying to get my business off of the ground, my husband was finishing up his classes to become a certificated P.E. teacher. He's excited to begin teaching in the near future.
At Princess's IEP  this fall I asked for the moon. I didn't get it. I got a sliver though. Hopefully she'll get equine therapy in the near future. This is something that I feel she will benefit from since she loves animals so much. I'm blessed to say that my daughter will be at her current therapeutic day school at least through the remainder of this school year.
In less than twelve hours 2016 will be here. I have no idea what it will be like.  Whatever comes our way our family will handle it like champs. We'll take our cues from our cherub who's shown us how.

Here we are in Washington, D.C. advocating for changes in mental health.

Monday, December 21, 2015

When a Mommy Friend Understands What It’s Like to Parent a Special Needs Child

Many parents of special needs kids talk about how they need people to be supportive of their situation. I find that especially true since I am a parent of a child with the dual diagnoses of bipolar disorder and autism. Having a child with these invisible disabilities, ones where a child looks like a normal child, but responds to her world very differently from most, can be very isolating. I’m happy to say that I have found a person who is not related to me by blood, but who has embraced my family as her own.
This afternoon I was at my best  friend’s house sitting around her kitchen table chatting with other moms. Eventually the topic of children came up. One thing led to another and I found myself telling the other moms our story.  One mom in particular wanted to know how my daughter was diagnosed. She also wanted to know what were the signs that something was amiss. Before I could even speak up, my best friend spoke and explained things so eloquently. She told of my daughter’s sensory issues and mood swings. Another mom who has met my child uttered the famous “But she doesn’t look autistic!” line. My wonderful friend rose to the occasion and replied, “That’s just it, you might see a child like Princess in the store and think, ‘Boy, that child is a brat!’” She went on to explain how everyone needs to be more accepting of children like Princess. People need to show kindness not judgment.
 As the conversation progressed, and I shared more of our story, I couldn’t help but be grateful that my best friend truly “gets it.” She understands the challenges my child faces on a daily basis. She knows the lengths that I have gone to to get my child the help that she needs. She even remarked, “I knew that Cate needed a friend who would stand by her side. I decided to be that friend.”
As the afternoon turned to evening, I gathered my things to head home. On the way out the door, I told my friend how much I appreciated her support. Her response solidified what a great friend she is, “If people are going to come to my house, they need to know how to support you. If not, they will not be welcome because you are my family.”  That is the sign of a true friend. I may have shed a tear or two on my drive home.

My Best Friend and I

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Like all of us, I lose lots of things. I lose my keys, my wallet, my purse and sometimes I lose my car. The one thing that I don't like losing is my child. We've all read in the news about autistic children who wander off and are never found alive again. Most of us think that these are children who are moderate to severe on the autism spectrum. I'm here to tell you that even those who have mild autism can be prone to wandering. Even my child, who at first glance looks like every other child, has been known to wander off.
People look at me quizzically when I tell them that I kept my daughter in a stroller until she was four. Yep you heard that right- four! When she first learned how to walk, she would never stay by my side. She was fast! I'd turn my head to talk to someone or look at something. The next thing I knew she'd be a football field away. I tried getting her one of those backpack leashes. That was a joke. She just laid on the ground refusing to move. She was smart enough to figure out that the leash was going to constrict her. She wanted no part of that. Eventually I let her out of her prison. I mean stroller. She no longer fit in it and she was getting better at staying close by me or so I thought.
Recently I've noticed that as she is gaining confidence and a sense of independence, she is wandering away from me again. She'll see a shiny object, a dog to pet or a child to comfort. She also has OCD. She likes to hear the sound of the crunch of the perfect leaf. Rocks and shells demand to be picked up. Then there's all manner of sewer and drain covers. Each one must have her footprint on it. She feels compelled to go over to whatever is drawing her in. I constantly worry that she will get run over by a car or be kidnapped.
I have tried to instill in her the importance of safety, but it is an uphill battle with her. Her teacher noticed it too. She recently told me that she worries that Princess is in her "own little world." She believes that this is a safety risk for my daughter.
Since I cannot keep her in a bubble, I have taught her what to do if she ever gets lost. She is to find an employee or another mom. She's to tell this person that is she lost and have them call me. She memorized my cell phone number a long time ago.
Still I have to have my head on a swivel whenever we are in public. I  frequently offer little reminders to stay close by.
Then last night my daughter gave me the scare of my life. We had gone to the mall to buy a Christmas dress. Thankfully we found an outfit that we can both agree on. Afterwards, we decided to stop for dinner at the mall's food court. We even had a blue moon event because my daughter decided to actually try something from a new to her restaurant. She told me what she wanted to eat then asked if she could take her iPad and find a seat for us. My daughter's getting older so I do want to honor her sense of independence when I can. I know she knows not to leave the area without me so I let her go off by herself.
After placing our order and getting our drinks, I went to go find my daughter before returning to get the food. I looked once. I looked twice. I walked the entire perimeter of the seating area. I did not see my child anywhere. I started to panic a bit. Finally I saw two of the janitorial staff. I was going to ask them to call security. I know time is of the essence. That I really have only a matter of minutes before the predator who took my baby drives off with her. I quickly said a little prayer and scanned the area again.
That's when I saw her. She was sitting at a table that had a booth bench on one side and a chair on the other. She was thinking of me because she knows that I  prefer to sit in a chair rather than a booth. What she didn't consider was that the booth was about half of a football field away. She didn't stop to think how far away she was. She never even considered staying close. After all, in her mind she was still in the same general area.
Once I spotted my lost child, I went over to her and told her what a fright she had given me. I was so relieved. I just wanted to scoop her up. I felt like hugging and kissing her until midnight. Somehow I contained myself. She never left my sight the rest of the night though.
My prayer is that I never have to see my child's face on the side of a milk carton. For all of those mommies who have lost their babies due to wandering, please know that many of us can empathize with you even if it is in minuscule proportion to what you have gone through. I also pray that more people take this wandering epidemic more seriously.
If you are the parent to a child with autism or one who is prone to wandering, please give them an extra hug and kiss.  Let's all be mindful of where our kids are and how to keep them safe.

Photo is of my little cherub when she was three about the time when I tried the backpack leash.

You can also follow our journey on Facebook.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Why My Daughter Will Be Eating a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich on Thanksgiving Day

Last week my cousin sent out a group text giving out the details for today's Thanksgiving fete that she and her husband are hosting. Pretty soon my family members were bantering back and forth with tales of past feasts and pictures to prove it. I couldn't help but to pause for a minute. You see out of all of the things listed on the menu, my daughter will not eat one thing. Not the yams that remind me of my mom who has since passed on. Not the green bean casserole prepared by my cousin. Not even the star of the show- the turkey. This saddens me, but we will still make the best of the day. 
 My husband and I have known for years that our daughter is a picky eater. She takes it to a whole other level.  We tell her that she is a discriminating eater. There are many foods that just don't taste right or feel right in her mouth. This is just one part of her autism.  It a co-occurring  disorder called Sensory Processing Disorder. Her brain does not process sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes the way it should. On this day people will see that turkey will not be on her plate. Thanksgiving is meant to be a joyous occasion. If the traditional Thanksgiving foods are a part of my daughter's meal, she will be anxious and will not enjoy the day.
Instead I will pack her a lunch full of her favorite foods.
Thankfully for us our family members understand my daughter's challenges. They love and accept my daughter just the way she is.
I do worry that as my daughter gets older that she will feel bad that she cannot enjoy such a wide variety of foods. I worry that others might tease her and make her feel bad. To help her with this, she will soon begin feeding therapy through occupational therapy. My wish is for my child to not feel stressed about food.

On this day of giving thanks, I'm thankful for family members who understand that while the turkey is an important part of the day, it is also a day for making memories with loved ones.
Here's a letter expressing my gratitude:

Dear Family,
I just wanted to say thanks for keeping mum about my daughter not eating the foods you so lovingly prepared. I know that you know that this is no reflection of the love that she feels for you. She cherishes the time spent with you. In her mind the fact that you love and support her in spite of her challenges means the world to her. As her mom your acceptance of her as a member of your extended family is huge. Unlike those with visible disabilities, hers are hidden. That doesn’t make them any less difficult for her or us as her parents. In some ways it is harder. Thanks again for going out of your way on this memory making day. My daughter cherishes these moments.
One of the many Thanksgiving foods that my daughter will not be eating.
Picture curtesy of my husband.

Monday, November 23, 2015

My Daughter the Spider Slayer

We're celebrating again!

I was getting the cobwebs out of my head this morning when Princess tip toes into my room to ask me to help her be brave because she needs to kill a "Poisonous Daddy Long Legs." As I'm wondering why one of the servants or even my knight is not helping out with this lovely project and rubbing the remnants of the sandman's visit out of my eyes, I come to my senses, put my game face on and gear up for the battle of the decade. 
Princess asked me what weapon she should choose. I considered all of the options and suggested the best one of all of them, a fly swatter. Yep it has more reach than the shoe.
Princess was very brave, faced her fears and hit the spider but not enough to kill it. As he tried to climb higher I grabbed our weapon and gave him a good smack which sent him toppling to the ground. He was persistent and tried to scurry away but I swatted him one last time. 
Then I had Princess grab some tissues and flush him away to far far away places.
High fives were given all around.
Some of you may be wondering what the fuss was all about but others of you know what we have been through with all things creepy and crawly because you yourself have been there or you have a child who has a fear of insects. There was a time when the mere mention of the word spider would send chills up my daughter's spine. There was a time when she would cower in fear or run away at the sight of them. She's come a long way though. Just recently we were reading about the ten deadliest spiders in the world. Then today Princess requested my back up. I did right by her and supported her every step of the way.

I'm curious. What battles have you or your child fought or overcome recently? Big or small I want to celebrate them all of them with you.

*Note: This post first appeared on my Facebook page on October 25, 2014. I decided to repost it again.

Friday, November 20, 2015

To the Judgmental Lady at the Grocery Store

I know you think you were doing me a favor. I know that in your mind I am doing permanent damage to my daughter. You think that since you and your mom are not speaking to one another that it is your duty to speak up when you see something that you feel might be harming another mother/ daughter relationship. First of all I should say thanks for not thinking that I was my daughter's grandmother. I get that a lot. At least you did know that I was her mother. The rest you got all wrong though. What you don't know is that my child was doing something dangerous. She was climbing on the grocery cart as we were exiting the store. It was dark and the parking lot was busy. I was protecting her. I did not want her to get injured. Then when I tried to explain to you that my daughter has challenges, you just countered back that I needed to show more love towards my daughter. Here's what else you don't know. I have been and will continue to be the most loving and supportive mom that I can be for my daughter.

I have made many sacrifices for my child. When my daughter lost her beloved KiKi (Blankie) last week, who went back to the mall that was over 40 minutes away? Her father was the driver, but I went too. When my daughter needed me to advocate on her behalf, I not only quit my teaching job, but I researched for hours about ways to get her the help she needed.  I knew that having the diagnosis of bipolar disorder was only a part of the picture for my daughter. I asked everyone I knew until the right person pointed us in the direction of a top notch pediatric neurologist. This new diagnosis will mean that my daughter will have access to more services. Did you know that I email her teacher almost every day? Sometimes it is just to let her know that she will be trying a new food at lunch that day. "What's the big deal?", you say. I tell The Best Teacher in the Universe these things so that she can be encouraging to my daughter when I am not able to be there.
The other day my daughter came home from school and asked if I had been baking cookies because she smelled the yummy candle that I was burning. Guess what I baked her the next day? Cookies!!
You may be wondering about the hard times when my daughter and I don't see eye to eye. I get that. I worry about that too. I also work on my part in that. I show my daughter kindness and forgiveness when she does something that hurts my feelings like when she tried to claim my new blanket as her own. Sure there was a consequence, but we also talked it through. I show her unconditional love as best as I can.
Of course there are times when I make mistakes. I am quick to apologize and admit my faults to her. It's what a loving mom does.
With as many diagnoses that she has, my daughter's got a long hard road ahead of her. I know that she might not always like me, but I hope that she knows how much I love her.
In the future maybe you can keep your thoughts inside of your head. Perhaps you can see a counselor or other trusted professional so that you can figure out how to mend your relationship with your own mother.  If this relationship is beyond repair, maybe you can learn how to move on.  I know that for me I am doing what I need to do for my relationship with my daughter.

This is a picture of my daughter reading her book at the beach when I'd much rather have her enjoying the waves. Guess what? In that moment in time she wanted to read so I kept my thoughts to myself. I was just grateful that she wasn't on her electrical device like the lady in the background.

You can follow our story on Facebook  as well.

Monday, November 2, 2015

What a Doll and Some Online Friends Taught My Daughter About Acceptance

I have an eleven year old daughter who is completely obsessed with Ever After High and Monster High. She loves watching the movies, playing the video games, reading their books and of course wants to buy every single doll that Mattel puts out. This company has done a fabulous job of marketing to tweeners like my daughter. The one thing they may need to work on is quality control in their product line. Never fear though, this company's snafu was not my daughter's undoing.  We had some special friends who helped us figure out what to do.
Faybelle Thorn

Recently, my daughter bought Ever After High's Faybelle Thorne. Being the responsible mom that I am, I made my daughter use her own hard earned money to purchase this doll. My child was so excited to rip into the package to hold this doll that she did not wait until we got home. She opened it in the car. Normally this is not a problem for her. She has figured out how to circumnavigate the Houdini like packaging. On this day, as we were driving home, I heard a shriek from the back seat. I almost pulled over to the side of the road, because I was certain that my daughter had cut herself on the plastic case. Before doing so, I inquired as to what the problem was. In a heartbroken voice my daughter told me that her new doll had two right feet. In her mind the world was going to come to an end. We'd already had a long day, so I convinced her that we would survive and figure things out once we got home. 
When we arrived at our humble abode, I quickly inspected the doll and sure enough she had two right feet. We had no way of knowing that this was going to happen because in the sealed package the doll had boots on.
What?!!!! Two right feet???

After we settled in a bit, I shared the story on my Facebook page. I asked my followers what we should do. Some said we should take it back, others said we should contact the company, but the overwhelming majority said I should use this as an opportunity to teach my child about differences. My girl has an invisible disability herself. She has bipolar disorder with a splash of autism. She wants so desperately to be accepted and loved for who she is as a person. I seized this opportunity as a chance to show her that people with visible disabilities want the same thing as she does.
Once I processed everything, I went into my daughter's room and told her that she should keep the doll. I explained that she should celebrate its disability. The next thing I knew my child was fashioning a leg brace for Faybelle out of blanket fleece and tape. It was the cutest thing ever. She really embraced the concept of accepting her doll's imperfection. I couldn't have been prouder of my girl.
Faybelle with her leg brace.

Sometimes we need others to help us realize the important things we need to teach our children. This time it was some strangers in far off places who I may never meet in person, but who I have already met and become friends with in my heart. Thank you dear ones.

You can follow our story on Facebook.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Ending Mental Health Stereotypes in First Run Movies

This weekend I went to see Warner Bros. "The Intern." It's cute comedy staring Anne Hathaway, Robert Deniro and Rene Russo. I really enjoyed 98% of it. The 2% that I didn't like, almost caused me to walk out of the theater. 
If I had been with my 11 year old daughter, I would have probably had to do some serious explaining to her about two very minor scenes. As one movie reviewer wrote:  "There is an awkward and unfunny joke about a child possibly having bipolar disorder." Here's what happened, when we are introduced to Anne Hathaway's character's daughter in the movie, we are told that she is not friends with a girl because "She is bipolar." This joke is repeated one other time. It garnered a few chuckles from the audience in the movie theater where I was. 
I am sorely disappointed in Nancy Meyer, the writer/director of the movie, for writing this into the script. I'm saddened that Kevin Tsuijihara, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. allowed this in a film that is put out by his studio. The starring actors, Anne Hathaway, Robert Deniro, and Rene Russo must not know anyone who has this disorder. If any of these individuals did, they would not have allowed it to be a part of the script. 
We as a nation have come a long way in ending many stereotypes. The N word and the R word are no longer acceptable. Many are repulsed by these words. We've tried to show a fair side towards roles that women and men play in society (a strong point of this movie.) We've made great strides in breaking down the color barriers. This movie shows us that we still have a ways to go towards ending the stigma of mental health. 
Challenges in mental health are no laughing matter. My daughter struggles with bipolar disorder. Thankfully she's had over two years of stability, but it took her a lot of hard work to get there. 
It is my belief that if she had been old enough to see this movie, she would have been deeply offended by the little joke that was made about her disorder. 
As of this writing my daughter has not encountered rude comments or misunderstandings about bipolar. I'm sure that will not be the case, the older she gets. Movies and the media in general can do a lot to end the stigma and shame of mental illness.
Perhaps instead of saying that the daughter's friend was "bipolar", the writer could have said that she was having a rough day.
I implore those associated with this movie to really consider their part in educating others that jokes about mental illnesses are not OK. Maybe next time they are reading over a script that puts down or makes light of mental health challenges, they will speak up and asked that the lines be rewritten. The time for change is now. 

You can also follow our story on Facebook at Raising a Drama Queen: Musings and Insights in Bipolar Land


Saturday, October 3, 2015

An Additional Diagnosis: Our Journey to Autism

Yesterday my daughter had an appointment that really took us five years to get. At first I was a little bit angry that it took so long to get her diagnosed with autism, but then I took a look back and saw all of the pieces of the puzzle. Everything fit into place perfectly.
When Princess was four, she started having a lot of problems in preschool. At that time my husband and I saw a family counselor who said that our daughter probably had ADHD, but it was too early to tell. Then in kindergarten when my child was suspended twice in less than a month, a  different family therapist encouraged us to see our pediatrician to get an ADHD diagnosis so that we could get her on a 504 plan to stop the suspensions. We also used it to put some supports in place. A few months later, we saw a clinical psychologist who took a family history and performed a battery of tests. His conclusion was that my child had severe ADHD with possible bipolar disorder. He ruled out asperger's because she could read emotions. Over time we added the diagnoses of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder and OCD to the mix. Then when Princess turned nine her current psychiatrist said that she saw some traits of autism so she added PDD-NOS.  Finally in May of this year this same doctor said that she thought that all of my daughter's diagnoses could fall under the umbrellas of bipolar and autism.
That really struck me because for a very long time I was wishing that we could just say that my daughter had XYZ which explained everything. I just wanted one diagnosis to cover it all. This new co diagnosis was a step in the right direction.
All of this time, we were limited to what resources my daughter received, We were blessed to have her in a therapeutic day school, with a private therapist and with a fantastic psychiatrist. I still felt that she needed more. At one time our school district encouraged me to call our local regional center for more services. In not so many words, I was told they only worked with developmental delays. Since my daughter was not diagnosed with autism at the time, they refused to talk to me.
I eventually started to connect with the autism community because so many of my daughter's behaviors sounded so similar to their children's.
In January of this year, our long time family therapist moved her practice out of the area. Since my daughter seemed to be doing well with the supports at school, we did not get a new private therapist right away. In July and August of this year, we saw some new behaviors that warranted us finding that new therapist. She's been amazing! During the interview process I mentioned that we wanted to seek out a more formal autism diagnosis for our daughter so we could get her more services. The problem that I had was that I had no idea who was a good neurologist. We also needed one who would accept our insurance. I can't help but believe that divine intervention was at play when she gave us the names of several who she knew of.
The following Monday I called all of them. One of them seemed like they might work until I found out that we would have to pay out of pocket and get reimbursed by our insurance. I emailed the therapist who encouraged me to try calling again. It turned out that two of the numbers that I had were mixed up. I was finally able to contact a pediatric neurologist who took my insurance and who had an opening less than a month away. I was beside myself with joy as we were getting closer to real answers.
The receptionist aka Johnny on the Spot, sent me links to the paperwork that I would need to fill out. It was quite lengthy, but I was happy that it was so thorough. I filled it out and sent it back with other reports that I had. I will say this doctor had a lot of reading material.
After waiting for time to crawl by, the day of our appointment finally arrived. I was nervous and giddy at the same time.
When we arrived there, the receptionist recognized us right away. I was surprised that she knew who my daughter was because I hadn't sent in any pictures of her. Then it struck me, she was the only girl in the office. Getting her a diagnosis had been a concern of mine because she is a girl. It is harder to diagnose girls. I was ready though. In my arsenal, I mean tote bag, I had some articles about girls on the spectrum at the ready just in case.
A few minutes after we checked in, the sweetest lady introduced herself to me as the doctor. She was not wearing a lab coat and did not look scary. A tactic that works to her advantage. She informed me that I could go back to her office to talk while my daughter stayed and played in the lobby. I was a bit concerned at first because my daughter doesn't usually play well with others. I quickly realized that her office door would be open and the receptionists would be keeping an eye on things.
Right away this doctor put me at ease. She assured me that she had read over everything that I had sent. Then she asked me what I was hoping to achieve and how she could help me. She had a check list that she was using as a guide to inquire more about my child. She would ask a question then I would answer mostly in the affirmative and with an anecdote when I could.
At the end of this friendly banter, she told me that she had been looking on the DSM-V to see if  my daughter met the criteria for an autism diagnosis. She felt that she did indeed meet the criteria. She also told me that with the DSM-IV it was harder for a person to get the autism diagnosis. I breathed a sigh of relief.
We chatted a bit more about services and where to get them. She included on her prescription OT, feeding therapy (as my daughter has a lot of food challenges) and ABA therapy. She told me that she wouldn't touch my daughter's medications "with a ten foot pole" because she respects psychiatrists. She also knows how hard we have worked to get my daughter to a place of stability.
Then she brought my daughter back to evaluate her and confirm what she already knew. She told me that she definitely saw the sensory issues during the exam.
One of the things that she told me was that for my child she saw her bipolar and autism as the main diagnoses. All of the rest of her diagnoses fell under those umbrellas. Wow! She felt the same way that the psychiatrist did. I didn't even need to show her the articles in my tote bag.
We go back to see her in a few months to see how my daughter is progressing.
It's been quite the journey to get to where we are, but I can see now that it was perfect timing.

You can follow our journey here on  Facebook as well.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What Happened Next?

A few weeks ago I wrote about my failed suicide attempt. You can read about it here.
As with any major crisis there is always the question, "What happened next?" Followed closely by, "Have things changed?"
 After my failed attempt, I worked really hard to get to a better place. I met weekly with our family therapist who helped me tremendously. I also took medication for over a year. I also knew that I needed to teach at a different site. Our teachers' union felt the same way. We, unfortunately, were not the ones to have the final say. For reasons unknown to me, my district decided to keep me at the same site in the same grade level.
In June of that summer, I had removed all of the items from my classroom in hopes that I would be teaching on a different campus in the fall. Two days before the school year started, I put everything back in.
I'm not sure how I put on a smile that first day back, but I did. It is in my nature to be forgiving and hopeful. I desired to move past the events of the spring. In my opinion, I was the only one in this story who wanted things to improve.
Our union legal rep had encouraged me to not file a grievance until I returned in the fall. Shortly after the new school year began, we filed it because the working relationship between my supervisor and I had only worsened. I was like the kitty holding on to the rope with every fiber of its being. No one ever sees what happens to this poor creature. More than likely he eventually falls. That's what happened to me.
A few weeks after the grievance was filed, we heard the results. The decision was that it was unfounded. I knew at that point I had to let go of that rope at least for a bit.

On September 30, 2012 I went out on stress leave with severe pain in my right shoulder. I believe it was stress related. I did not know that I would never return to teaching. Less than two weeks later, my daughter had her first hospitalization in a behavioral health facility 100 miles away from home.
Sometime during the first few days and weeks of my daughter's hospital stay, it became clear what I was supposed to do. I really felt God telling me to stop fighting so hard to stay at a job where I would never measure up. My child needed me to be her caretaker. It was as if she needed more of me than I was able to give her when I was teaching. At the height of the school drama, I was working upwards of 60-70 hours a week trying to be the perfect teacher. My daughter got the measly leftovers. Not what I ever envisioned when I signed up to be a mom.
One thing that I had trouble letting go of was the guilt at not being able to stick it out with my darling kindergarteners. Their kindergarten year is the  first year of their formal schooling, the foundation of the rest of their education. Eventually, I was able to move past my regret. In the years since, I have had the privilege of being able to see a few of my students from that year. Not one of them, nor their parents, has shown me anything but love and understanding.
Once I let go of the virtual rope that I had been holding onto for so long, I felt so much relief.
Life has not always been a bed of roses these last few years, but I am so thankful that I have been able to be so much more involved in my daughter's well being.
I never was able to work things out with my supervisor. After I left, we didn't speak to each other. On the day that I removed things from my classroom, she made herself sparse.
My doctor initially diagnosed me with anxiety disorder which later became PTSD. It took me many months before I could even drive the route to my school that I drove for over ten years. Every time I tried I would have a panic attack.
 So that's what happened next after I  planned to end my life. Things have definitely changed in the years since my failed attempt.  I believe everything happens for a reason. Out of a dark and painful experience, came something beautiful.

After I resigned from teaching, I felt like this little plant peeking through the concrete.
*Photo credit and quote courtesy of my daughter. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

We All Have a Story to Share

The other day I while waiting for mini van at the car wash I met a young mom. She had a young child who was sleeping in his stroller. My car needed a little extra TLC so I struck up a conversation with this mom. I shared a little bit about our journey. I started out talking about how my daughter is a miracle child because my husband had cancer right before we conceived. When I finished, she said that her two year old son was a miracle as well. She told me that she had hidden her pregnancy from her family. She had no prenatal care during her entire pregnancy. Her son was seemingly perfect in every way. Then she told me that this wasn't the end of the miracle. It turned out that her precious boy had spilled hot water on himself. She showed me his burns. She showed me his skin grafts. I told her how sorry I was for this unfortunate accident. We talked about how he had received fantastic care at a burn center at a hospital in our county. I asked her how long he had been at the facility. Two months was the answer. Then I inquired as to how long ago since this occurred. My ears heard, "We've only been home two weeks." My heart ached for this sweet mom. I could tell how much she cared about her son. Then she said something that shook me to my very core. She shared that she had been very depressed while her son was recuperating. She met a young woman who had third degree burns over her entire body.  The burn victim's own mother had tried to kill her by putting her in hot water on purpose. She gave hope to this mom by saying that, "If I can move on past my scars and have faith, then you can move on past your son's." I had to choke back tears at this point.
Right about that time my car was finished. I ended this encounter by telling her that my daughter and I would be praying for her. I too, encouraged her to move forward. I told her that people might say things, but none could be as worse as she already felt. She needed to continue put the past behind her and love on her sweet boy.
I share this story to say that we never know the stories that others have to tell. I took the time to listen to another's story. I'm glad that I did. I hope that I was one of many individuals who would offer this mother encouragement not shame or judgement.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

To the Employees at Wicked Waffle From a Grateful Mom

In April of this year my daughter and I had the extreme pleasure of traveling to Washington, D.C. to speak on Capitol Hill about mental health issues. On the morning of the first day of training for this event, my daughter and I stopped in a little hole in the wall called Wicked Waffle. My daughter has food challenges. There are many foods that either don't taste right or feel right in her mouth. As a result she often becomes anxious about trying new foods. From the minute we stepped inside this bustling restaurant, we were greeted by smiling faces who served up bits on heaven on a waffle. I'm not sure how the conversation got started, but my friendly, outgoing child quickly struck up a conversation with the cashier, Miss Linda. Miss Linda wanted to know what we were going to speak about on Capitol Hill. Princess told her in her own sweet way the topic and explained that she has bipolar disorder. (You can read more about our day on The Hill here.)
As we were leaving Princess made sure to give all of her new friends a hug. She also made me promise that we would come back one last time before the end of our trip.
After a day of trainings and another day on The Hill, our work in D.C. was finished, but we stayed a few extra days to see the sites of the city and surrounding environs. That Saturday morning Princess could not wait to go get her waffle at Wicked Waffle. She was equally excited to see her new friends so she could tell them about all of the important work she had done. Unfortunately the restaurant wasn't open as early as we were up. I had to convince my daughter that we would eat breakfast somewhere else, but that after seeing the sites we would return to her new favorite diner for lunch.
After sightseeing, I kept my word. Princess and I dined at our home away from home once again. We had the same wonderful experience as we had had a few days previously. Miss Linda was again ringing up patrons with a smile and a few kind words for all. I think if we could have bottled up this fine establishment, my daughter would have been the happiest kid on the planet.
The crowning moment was when Miss Linda and Princess took picture together. I used my phone, but made sure to text it to Miss Linda.
As we left on our merry way, we promised to try to return next year. Once again Princess gave a round of hugs to all of the employees.
Imagine our surprise when Miss Linda called us a few weeks later. Then she called again on Mother's Day and has called a least once a month since then.  Sometimes she has a fellow employee with her that we can chat with as well. She has made it her mission to check in and cheer my child on.
It had been a little while since we last heard from Miss Linda. I was thinking that I needed to call her to check in on her when she surprised us once again. She took time out of her busy day to call my daughter to tell her that she and her fellow waffle makers thought that Princess should talk to the Pope. My daughter made an impression on these sweet people. We were both humbled by the thought.
We are not able to see the Pope on his papal tour of the east coast, but who knows maybe some day my child will get a chance to speak to him and other important people about mental health.
Princess and Miss Linda

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Failed Suicide: My Story

In 2012 I was in a really dark place. I had a bully boss who was micromanaging my every move. I tried to measure up to her high standards, but I could not. I don't think that I would have ever been a good enough teacher in her eyes. In March of that same year, I contemplated suicide. I wanted the pain to stop. I erroneously thought that my life would be of more value if I were dead than if I were alive. I was driving on the 55 Freeway and figured that if I drove fast enough, I could smash my car into another car and end it all. Fortunately, I chickened out.

Let me take you back to the day that led to these horrific thoughts.

A few weeks prior to my failed attempt and months after months of harassment, I was working hard to become a better teacher. One of the things that I was asked to do was to have a mentor work with me to create a plan to improve my craft. My mentor and I decided on a few days where she could come help me. We notified my principal in writing of all of these days in sufficient time.  That particular day I planned on teaching for an hour then working with my mentor for a few hours and end the day collaborating with my colleagues. Apparently, my principal forgot about the days because the morning in question I was greeted by the office manager who asked me why I needed a 1/2 day sub that day. I informed her of the plan and told her that Mrs. B, the principal, knew of this plan. I went on my merry way, because it was almost time to get my students. About twenty minutes later, Mrs. B. burst into my room. She called me over and in front of my students lambasted me about the situation stating that I did not have prior approval as stated in the Teachers Who Need Mentors manual. I reminded her that I had previously turned in paperwork with the dates that I would be working on my improvement plan. A paper that she signed and approved of. As she walked out of the door, I stood there flabbergasted. I could not believe that I had just been yelled out in front of 30 five and six year olds. By my supervisor no less! I'll never forget the look of horror on those scared little babies' faces. One of them piped up and said, "What was that all about?"
I collected myself as best as I could and then returned to teaching my precious students.
A month later as I was recounting this story to my therapist, she wisely noted, "I bet some of your students see their parents act like this on a regular basis. This event just further traumatized them"
When the substitute came, she could sense that something was amiss, but told me to get on with my day. She would figure out what needed to be done.
I tried to calmly walk out of my classroom as I went looking for my mentor. As luck would have it, there were no empty classrooms that we could work in. I did not want to work in the teachers' lounge because I feared my bully would interrupt our planning time to yell at me again. We decided instead to go to my mentor's car to work. A few minutes after we got situated, my phone rang. It was the school, they wanted to know where I was. My bully had sent out the office manager looking for me, but she couldn't find me. For the record, I did not have to tell anyone my whereabouts. My students were cared for. I could have gone off campus if I wanted to. It probably would have been more comfortable instead of balancing my notebook and laptop in the front seat of a compact car.
When I answered the phone, I could hear my bully screaming in the back ground, "You tell her to get back in campus right now. She needs to return to her students. She does not have permission to work on her plan today." I immediately gathered my things together and reported for duty as my drill sergeant had requested. I stuffed my emotions for the third time that morning.
Whether I followed protocol or not, it is never Ok for an adult to yell at another adult in the presence of children. I will never know the impact that that day had on my students. I only know the impact that it had on me.
For days after that event, I was unable to sleep and started to lose my hair. Then one day on the way to work as those scenes flashed through my mind, I became overtaken with anxiety. I could not breathe. I parked my car, called the office and told them I would not be working that day. I then drove home in tears. The incident on the 55 Freeway happened a couple of weeks after that.
I could not see my future. I could not envision returning to that hostile environment. I knew that my family needed me to provide for them because at the time I was the primary breadwinner. I thought the only was out of this mess was to end it all. After those scary thoughts,  I arrived at my friend's house. I told her what I had been thinking. She encouraged me to speak to our family therapist about those thoughts. Later that evening before I left her house, my friend made me promise not to act on my thoughts.

When the therapist heard my story, she encouraged me to speak more to a psychiatrist to see about taking some medication. So I did. For over a year I took medication and I saw a counselor until I no longer was in that dark place. One of the things that my counselor told me was that children whose parents commit suicide are more likely to commit suicide themselves. I could not imagine my daughter killing herself, because she knew that's what her momma had done when things got rough.
I am forever indebted to my friend and my therapist for talking me out of that dark hole. I am also grateful for medication that was available to me during that time.

**I did eventually return to the scene of the crime so to speak, but things were never the same. I'll write about that experience in a few weeks.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Hold on! It's a Wild Ride!

In 2012, my husband and I thought we had things figured out. That's when our world came crashing down. Our daughter was hospitalized for six weeks almost 100 miles away. We decided that it was best for her if I resigned from my teaching job to care for her unique challenges. At the same time my husband was changing careers. It became clear that he was to go in another direction. He had always wanted to be a classroom teacher, but was not ready to teach up to that point. He started to substitute teach and coach. He taught PE and coached for a year at a small private school, but unfortunately they were unable to pay him enough for our family to live on. At this time he decided to pursue his teaching credential so that he could teach in the public schools. This summer the university he took classes through deemed him qualified to become an intern. This seemed like a perfect fit for our family. Unfortunately, he was unable to secure a teaching position. Since this was the case he started student teaching today at a local junior high. It just so happens to be at the junior high he subbed at on Thursday of last week. The chances of him being placed there are pretty amazing since he could have been placed at any number of schools in our county. Our school district even has three junior high schools. It turns out that some of his students are those that he has known since he was a substitute teacher for their kindergarten teacher. I don't think he was placed there on accident.
It's funny because even though I have been a homemaker for almost three years, I'm still trying to figure out how to do this new job. My husband is also learning a new trade. This is certainly not the path we thought we'd be on. We're both embracing our new found challenges with gusto and determination.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

5 Signs That You May Have Found a Qualified Child Therapist

Last week I called  to cancel our next appointment with a sub par therapist. You can read about the reasons why here.
Yesterday my husband and I met with a new counselor. We're cautiously optimistic that she will be a good fit for our daughter. Our appointment with Miss A was actually just part of the interview process. We'd been in contact, via email, several times this past week. Knowing what I know now I can confidently say there are a few signs that all parents should look for when searching for a child therapist (aka counselor).

1.) A qualified therapist will call any previous therapists and professionals to confer with them.  Miss A asked me to sign releases of information for my daughter's private therapist, psychiatrist and school staff. Then she took the time to contact them. I've had several instances where professionals have asked for releases, but never took the time to contact those who know our story.

2.) They have names and numbers of other professionals you can add to your child's team. My husband and I have been talking about getting our daughter a more formal autism diagnosis. This will hopefully make more services available to her. After telling Miss A about this and that we weren't sure who to go to or who even took our insurance, she produced a list of people who took our insurance that she had first hand knowledge of. Guess what I'll be doing tomorrow morning?

3.) A highly qualified therapist will provide practical solutions based on your child's unique needs. When we told Miss A that my daughter was having challenges with not taking things that do not belong to her, she suggested some useful tips. One of which I was already doing. (Telling my daughter to say, "I'm struggling." When she feels tempted to take something.)  She said, "Consequences for impulsive behavior will not work with your child. Instead you need to have a plan to prevent this behavior."

4.) You hear the phrase, " I will let your child lead how our session goes. She will choose what we play with" Miss A told my husband and I all of the different play options that were available to her. She definitely knows the direction she is going to go, but she wants to make it a fun experience for my daughter.

5). As you leave your child's potential therapist tell you that they can't wait to meet your child next week. This gave my husband and I great comfort hearing this.

Stay tuned. I will update after our next appointment that is scheduled for this coming Saturday.

Here's hoping that this is my daughter's new philosophy very soon.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

5 Red Flags That You Need to Find a Different Counselor for Your Child

Back in 2010 when my daughter was really struggling in school, my husband and were encouraged to seek out a counselor to learn how to parent her unique needs better. We were blessed because the very first counselor we saw was a perfect fit for our family. She counseled my child and really our whole family for almost five years. She was pretty amazing. In January of this year, this beloved and trusted family therapist moved her practice out of the area. We probably could have followed her if we wanted to drive a minimum of two hours for our weekly visits. It would most likely be at least twice a week since she was our family therapist.
When I first started looking for a new licensed marriage and family therapist in February, I ran into road block after road block. The best therapists were either out of our price range, did not accept our insurance or did not have any current openings. The rest never even returned my phone calls. (That I don't get. To me good customer service requires that you treat everyone with the same respect that you would want.)
Upon the advice of my daughter's home/school district appointed counselor, we decided to take a break from the search for a private therapist since we already had so many supports in place at school. Additionally, Princess was doing so well that she did not appear to need a family therapist yet.
Then in late July/early August my husband and I started to notice that our girl was sliding into instability. At this time, I began my search with renewed vigor and urgency. One of the therapists who was kind enough to return my call, told me that she was booked, but gave me some names of female counselors who saw children.  We had two visits with one of these counselors. We courted her if you will. Today I called to tell this counselor that while we were thankful for her services, we'd be looking for another professional who met our needs better.
Finding a therapist who is right for your child, is not unlike finding a mate you plan on spending your life with. After all, a good therapist could become a part of your family for a very long time.
As my husband and I were courting this therapist, there were five red flags that told us we had not found the perfect match for our family:

  1.  They tell your child that one of their behaviors is something that a two year old would do. Aside from being an insult, this did not help my child curb that behavior.
  2. They give you advice that doesn't meet your child's needs.  Upon our therapist's advice, we increased the amount of money my daughter had to pay back when she took change that did not belong to her. Instead of agreeing to this, we now have a child who is refusing to pay it back and is even more non-compliant. I gave this advice a good "college try", but this philosophy did not work for our situation.
  3. They have little or no experience working with children who have the same diagnosis as your child. While giving us an intake survey, this therapist asked if my daughter was awake for 3-4 days at a time (a common symptom for adults with Bipolar Disorder.). I responded that we had never witnessed this with our daughter. Then I told her that Princess, like many children with Early Onset Bipolar Disorder, was a rapid cycler; she gave me a look that told me was a novel concept to her.
  4. Your friends tell you that they see one or more red flags.  Like many parents I have friends that I confide in. Some of these are parents of special needs children. Others are parents whose judgment I trust.  I always ask their opinion on things when I am not sure myself. Often when we are in the midst of a crisis, think the professionals know best. This is not always the case. In this instance, no less than three friends told me that they did not agree with the therapist's strategy.
  5. Your gut tell you this is not the therapist for you.  If something doesn't feel right, trust your instincts. I often tell parents not to stick it out and hope things will get better. In my experience, they don't usually improve. It is best cut your losses and move on. This will save a lot of heartache on the child's part because they will not have formed a strong bond with the new therapist. It will be easier to transition to a new one. I decided I needed to take my own advice here.

Fortunately, I have another therapist that we will start courting beginning on Saturday. I am hopeful this will be a better fit since this particular professional specializes in Applied Behavioral Therapy (ABA), a technique that my daughter's school has used successfully with her. If not, I'll start my search again soon. My daughter is counting on me to find her a therapist that is able to help her be the best that she can be.
I asked myself this question many times over the past two weeks.