Just a Parent

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“Are you just a parent who is suggesting?”

The words on the screen stopped me cold. I had written to someone fairly well-known in the mental health advocacy community, and wondered if I could get some suggestions about approaching our school district to see about implementing some pre-emptive programs in our schools. (Suicide prevention, that is.)

She asked me a series of questions, and then, that.

Yes.

That was my response. But it wasn’t. Yes, I’m a parent, and yes, I’m suggesting, and no, I’m not “affiliated” with anyone, and no I don’t have a corporate backing or even a degree in mental health. I don’t have a side agenda, I don’t have some major following on social media (I don’t even do social media that often). I don’t have money, I’m not a company, and my life hasn’t been rocked by a high-profile tragedy that would give me “street cred.”

But I’m not “just” a parent. Because parenting isn’t “just” something we do. It’s all-consuming, whether your child is healthy or not. And that little word suggests that being a parent isn’t enough, isn’t powerful enough, isn’t connected enough, isn’t influential enough, and isn’t enough of a reason.

Well, damn.

This person is also a parent, and she has had tragedy in her life, and she is influential. And because she’s a parent who will forever deal with her tragedy, I find it odd that her first choice would be to diminish, discourage, and dismiss someone who is taking a stand and trying to make some positive contributions.

So I spent the evening feeling a little like I had been sent to the corner by the teacher. But by the time I went to bed I realized that her words say more about her than me. She’s got experience, and she knows how hard it is to change conversations, to effect real change in the way we relate to our kids’ mental health as a society. She knows this, and I know she knows this. She maybe didn’t even realize she was being dismissive, and was maybe just trying to get at how influential I could be by myself.

I do know all of this, too. Having tried to talk to the appropriate people for a few years now, I do know that school boards and superintendants generally don’t listen to a lone voice in the wind, no matter the cause. (Which is why I was asking for her advice! Which she didn’t give me, directly, but ultimately, I guess she did.)

I also realize that she probably gets hundreds of emails every day, asking for her time, her knowledge, her voice. And it’s possible she feels as though people will take and take that knowledge, or maybe just want to catch her wave.

I can understand that.

But I won’t be dismissed. Not by her, not by anyone. I might go away and cry for a couple of hours when someone hurts my feelings, but this isn’t something that is going away. Our schools are a perfect place to have the conversation about kids’ mental health, and despite the ever-growing chorus of babble in the media, there is woefully little actually being *done* in schools. There are teachers who can’t cram in another thing in the day, who are stretched beyond their resources. There are school boards who are faced with closing schools because their budgets are being slashed. They’ve got enough to manage.

We talk the talk, and there are articles written about stigma and don’t be afraid to talk, and get help if you need it, and on and on. A lot is just talk, and talk is … well, talk is empty.

Still, there has to be a way to start. Someone has to start somewhere.

I’m a parent, yes. And I am suggesting.

Lost? Or Still Looking?

We’ll be getting more assessments, more appointments, more questions, and hoping beyond hope that we get answers. So far we have none.

Counsellor suspects Borderline Personality Disorder, which brings up way more questions than it answers. The suspicion is that, regardless of any traits or patterns I may have noticed from the day daughter was born, because she seems to have separation anxiety, and even a fear of abandonment, the suspicion is BPD.

But? But?

Is that something that can be with you from birth?

Is it something that can be a part of your very soul, your make up? Because whatever it is that she has, she’s always had it. She was bullied in elementary school, and things got worse after that, but she’s always had it. She’s always had separation anxiety, and she’s always always always had difficulty with changes in relationships.

Daughter told counsellor that she has trouble in social situations, and doesn’t really “get” girl talk, and doesn’t really even care too much about it. She said that she will often adapt herself to whatever social situation she finds herself in, so that if a group of kids is talking about a subject, she’ll go along with it like she knows, even if she doesn’t.

Counsellor says that that also leads her to suspect BPD.

But these are ASD traits, too, aren’t they?

Daughter told counsellor that she’ll chase after people who are upset with her in order to keep them from leaving her. She also said that when she’s angry at people, or if they do something to hurt her, she will feel like she doesn’t want to continue the relationship.

That does sound like BPD to me.

But? But?

But it also doesn’t. But it does.

I’m so confused, and kind of lost.

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It is not news to me that my daughter has mental illnesses. Depression and anxiety have been constant companions for her for a very long time, and we’ve been looking for answers and relief for her for just about as long. But counsellor made it sound as though BPD was literally on the edge of psychopathy.

Is my baby that sick?

So I’m afraid.

Daughter says she just wants to know. She just wants to figure it out so she can get her therapy to start actually helping, so she can start working towards feeling better without spinning her wheels all the time. She just wants to feel better. And that is just not too much to ask.

She’s thin. And she has so. many. scars.

I’m scared.

But. Once more, I will be strong. Hell, if she can manage to confront her demons every day, and not let it take her down, I can stifle a few tears. I will keep my promise to her — we’ll keep looking until we find answers, and we’ll work at it, we’ll do everything we can to help her feel better.

Daily Prompt: Pattern: Snowflakes

via Daily Prompt: Pattern

Since we’ve been riding this rollercoaster called MDD (Major Depressive Disorder, or, as I call it, Many Dismal Days), I see patterns in behaviour, patterns in triggers, and even patterns in communication.

Parent-blamers would call her a “snowflake,” which they mean to be a delicate type who can’t withstand the pressures of daily life. The implication of the word “snowflake” is negative. Its cause is assumed to be that parents, by not letting their children fail at things, have created patterns of weakness in their children, where they fall apart at the slightest provocation because their parents have traditionally done everything for them.

The reality is far more complicated, as are real snowflakes. Maybe in some cases, the parental influence is a factor. Maybe in some cases, kids are wired in such a way that things seem more challenging for them. Maybe in some cases they’re actually trying desperately hard to face life’s issues, joys and obstacles, trying really hard to succeed, but for whatever reason the weather changes and they melt.

I think that the human tendency is to insist on patterns in order to make sense. Even if the patterns don’t always fit, we force things (and people) into categories because that’s how we make sense of them. Kids who are struggling, be it because of depression or anxiety or whatever, are difficult for us to figure out, and challenging to treat. We want to relieve their suffering, but because the causes of these mood disorders are often elusive, we find easy targets (parents, or even the kids themselves) and impose a structure that may not always fit.

Thus we label these kids “snowflakes” because it makes us feel better to have someone to blame. We see patterns in their behaviour and reduce them to the lowest common denominator.

We forget, though, that snowflakes are beautiful, unique, intricate and complicated. Snowflakes are forces of nature, with immense power in their beauty. They sparkle like diamonds in the sunlight, and they have the strength to bend tree branches under their weight, or even crash down a mountainside in a ferocious, roaring avalanche.

Let’s take some time to reflect on the labels we use, and the patterns we impose. Let’s remember that the people we categorize are exactly that: people. With individual thought processes, unique ways of processing information, diverse ways of making it through life’s challenges and joys.

Let’s remember that even snowflakes can be strong.

You Must Be Joking.

If a “neurotypical,” (?) non-depressed, non-anxious, non-idiosyncratic (???) person were ever to be described in some of the ways I see autistic people described, I’m betting that “ableist” language would pretty quickly become a thing of the past.

(Note: ** I use quotation marks around words that I find objectionable or else don’t have the knowledge and experience to find other words for.)

Consider this one website that claims to “describe” Asperger’s teens. Language such as, “clueless,” about social cues. “Overly logical and rigid.” “Abnormal and intense interest.” “Lack of appropriate social and emotional responses.”

And this is supposedly a “friendly” site.

What the hell?

Or, consider a book I picked up this morning, about anxiety and Asperger’s. The author says he is an Aspie. Yet even in the first chapter I ran into example after example of his portrayal of Asperger’s in a negative stereotypical way. He also insists that life in general is going to be harder for Asperger’s people, and that they just need to be brave and get through it.

How inspiring.

And so, when I’m looking for possible diagnoses for my daughter, I’m sort of wondering if I even should. Is this what she’s up against? What if her diagnosis is bipolar, or borderline personality disorder, or schizophrenic, or something even more reviled by the mainstream?

From what I can tell in my early research, and IF my daughter falls into that spectrum of brain wiring, what I know of her to be true is that Aspie people are creative, intense, generous, loyal, sensitive and highly attuned to their environments. She’s far from “clueless,” about social cues. She may not always interact with people in ways that others might expect, but rather than clueless, she is extremely clued in, and figuring it out with a lot more care and thought than your “average” person.

One site even claims that Aspie boys, because they don’t get the whole dating scene, become obsessed with masturbation. Girls prefer to wear the same hairstyles and clothing they wore in grade school, well into the teen years. Both boys and girls neglect their hygiene.

Part of me is right disgusted that this stuff is even printed. Part of me wants to laugh. Seriously?

My daughter doesn’t fit this stuff.

But you know what? While I think that yes, there may be a very wide range of behaviours, interests and manifestations, it’s the overwhelming focus on the negative that bothers me, as if the only way a kid can be diagnosed is if they fall into these apparent extremes. And if they don’t exhibit negative extremes, what then?

And really, who writes this stuff??

Oh yeah. It’s the “well-meaning” professionals who want to make it “easier” for parents to “manage” their child’s “symptoms.”

My child does not need to be managed, thankyouverymuch. She doesn’t have symptoms of a disease, unless you count anxiety and depression, which are literally DIS-ease, as in not at peace with herself. She has a personality that is varied and intricate. I don’t need it to be easier for ME.

I asked my daughter recently how she would feel if she did find a diagnosis that makes sense to her. Would she feel labelled? Would she feel like she’s being categorized, or would it increase her anxiety? She told me that more than anything, she just wants to know that there’s a reason why she feels the way she does.

But if she were to come across sites and writing like I’ve described above, I fear it would set her back to be described as rigid, clueless and obsessed.

I think this is going to take some time to figure out.

Thankfully, it’s not all like this. Am I naive? Absolutely. Optimistic? Eternally. (See my earlier post about the case for optimism.) Oh there are people who struggle with having been diagnosed with something that isn’t a mainstream brain wiring. I think that anyone who receives a diagnosis must have some processing to do, coming to terms with whatever it is that has caused the diagnosis to be made.

But isn’t it easier to deal with things when you know what you’re facing?

If my daughter has a bipolar disorder, then we need to treat it so that she can live with more peace and more fully than if it’s not treated. If really she is perfectly neurotypical, and her anxiety and depression are just things unto themselves (“just,” she says. Ha.), then isn’t it better to know so we can confront them and help her feel better? She wants so much to get on with the living part of life! Celebrate what makes her who she is, and figure out ways to deal with the negative (anxiety and depression).

Easy, right?