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.

Roll With It

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My daughter once called me “chill.” Ha! I am the least chill person I know.

I’m uptight, neurotic, anxious, overbearing and oversensitive. Oh, and have I ever mentioned I worry too much?! 🙂

Still, on some level, I actually am kind of chill. I’m learning to take things one day at a time. This phrase has some weird connotations. It doesn’t always imply “living in the moment.” It does sometimes sound like you’re just slogging through the slush, “getting” through, fighting your way inch by inch through the snowdrifts of life. No, that’s not what I do. By “one day at a time,” I mean I’m learning how to live with surprises, not taking things for granted, and when the unexpected does happen, I go with it.

Because really, how can you do otherwise? I never never know what each day will bring, and while I love order, routine and stability, and while I try to plan a lot of details of my life, I’m learning how to not be surprised when I get the text that says, “Mom, I failed my geometry class.” or, “Mom, I got busted on 4/20 by my gym teacher,” or whatever. (Neither of these scenarios is true, btw.)

I don’t ever enjoy these surprises.

They make my stomach sink into my knees, as I suspect is just the way of parenting. Your kid messes up or gets in trouble or has some sort of calamity befall them, and you feel kind of sick. That’s just the way of it. The same way we celebrate when things go well.

Despite those heart-twisting moments, there’s part of me that, after the initial shock of whatever, is already racing to the logical and the illogical conclusions. It’s amazing how fast my mind can come up with an outcome. (“She’ll get kicked out of school and end up on the street, and how will she support herself?” or “She’ll end up pregnant and we’ll have a bigger family and which room would we convert so she can still go to school while we help?”) Seriously, I get this from, “Mom, I’m dating so and so.” My mind is a weird and twisty thing.

That habit of projecting the most outrageous possible scenario is often unpleasant. I can send myself into some pretty big downward spirals of worry, and that does no one any good whatsoever. At the same time, whatever I fear is usually far more desperate and unpleasant than anything that actually comes to pass. Playing the “what-if” game can sometimes help me relax a little about what is actually going on. She’s just going on a date. She got one bad test result. She fell off the self-harm wagon again. We deal. We move on, and she learns, and she figures out what works in her life and what doesn’t, and she learns.

And I learn, too.

I learn that I still have my kids with me. They’ve got challenges. We all have challenges, and while mine may be different than yours, everyone has them.

You seriously just never, ever know.

And oddly enough, learning to figure things out as I go along helps me to be way less judgmental. Because no matter who I meet, I am learning to be aware that maybe their day has been full of those kinds of surprises, too, and I don’t have a monopoly on “things I wish hadn’t happened.”

I am devoted to finding ways to help prevent and treat anxiety and depression. Those sneaky, lying bastards are debilitating for the people who have them. They destroy. And, like other diseases like cancer or heart disease, they should be eradicated. (**Disclaimer: I am not entirely certain that depression, as a disease, should be treated as purely physical while glossing over the situational, but that is a whole other blog post investigation for another time.**) This is, I hope, going to have a positive outcome, meaning that I hope to do some good for my daughter, and in turn I hope that it translates into doing some good in the world.

Also oddly enough, depression and anxiety have taught me a LOT. There are lessons I wish I hadn’t had to learn, but hey, these lessons may just help me be a better parent. These lessons might possibly just help me figure out My Purpose In Life, whatever that may be. I have no way of knowing or predicting what my future or my children’s future might bring. I’ve said it before: I can’t predict, and so, while my own anxiety wants me to plan for every scenario and outcome, at the same time, in some weird and roundabout way, it helps me to just take it as it comes.

Figure it out.

So when I’m so anxious I can’t breathe right, and when I get that phone call at 2:00 a.m., these are things that can turn a person’s world around. Finding the ways to keep breathing, finding out how to get through the darkness, is just sort of what people do. It’s not extraordinary or unusual. We all do it. So, I’m learning to roll with it.

When A Voice Goes

So I found out yesterday that Amy Bleuel died.

You may not have heard her name before, but it’s likely you know what she did. She founded the Semicolon Project. You know, the movement where people who have dealt with suicide, or self-harm, or mental illness of any kind, where a semicolon represents the choice to keep going. Instead of a period, full stop, a semicolon is a pause; it joins two thoughts and keeps on going.

Only Amy full stopped.

This is really hard for me.

My daughter identifies with the rich symbolism of the semicolon. And so, I do, too. For her.

I’m sending my deep condolences to her family and friends, and to the millions of people who have taken comfort in that little punctuation. She did so much, and her project was a lifeline to many.

So what do we do when someone who was a voice of hope, is silenced, and when there are strong suggestions that the voice chose to be silent? If she died by suicide, how do we reconcile that with the message she shared?

I read a beautiful post this afternoon on The Mighty that speaks to this. We keep going. We try harder.

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I feel so strongly that we have work to do. When families suffer the loss of someone they loved so deeply, when people feel like breathing another breath is just too much agony, when there is this pain, we have work to do. When someone who convinced others to hang on lets go herself, it shows us that we still have a long road to walk in combatting suicide.

I’ve been playing with some ideas in my mind about how I can do my part. I still don’t know what that part is, I don’t know what role I’m supposed to play, and I don’t know what it’s going to look like. But for a long time, I’ve felt like I just have to, in some way, work on suicide prevention. I’ve been so lucky. No one I love has died by suicide. But, to borrow another line from another article I read recently (that I can’t find the link to), the difference between being touched by suicide and not shouldn’t come down to “luck.”

We need to do more. I need to do more. I will figure out what that “more” is. Amy’s death is one more that shouldn’t have happened, and has left so many people broken-hearted and questioning, left to figure it out.

And I’m left counting my blessings, counting the love around me.

 

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.

Diary

via Daily Prompt: Record

Keeper of secrets but teller of lies. My diary is a safe place, where I can spell it all out, yell it all out, and come back around the calm side. But it’s not real. It’s only my perspective, with no pretense of balance, fairness or self-control. It’s joy, and gratitude, and wonder that I get to live this life, my life. It’s hope for the future, and making sense of everything that got me to where I am. But it’s still just me, writing for me.

Yet it’s also the record of my family and friends. No one else I know keeps a diary. I keep our memories, our events, our lives, imperfect a record as it may be. I’m sure that some day my kids will read them and wonder if they grew up in the family I’ve described. They’ll wonder why I wrote about some things and ignored others. They’ll wonder how I managed to see things the way I do, when they don’t remember it that way at all!

Oddly enough, I write for them as much as for me, because I know that some day they’ll inherit these volumes and volumes of my life. And they’ll be left to make sense of the records I’ve created. They’ll laugh at my quirks, and maybe they’ll feel puzzled, or sad, or melancholic, or maybe even happy that they have the memories, written, made real out of thoughts, the words on the page recording their lives for them.

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.

A Few of My Favourite Things

Just because sometimes you feel like celebrating a day full of regular things that aren’t drama, no angst — teenage, parental, existential or otherwise, a day of sunshine, curled up with the cat (or dog), a day off work!

So here is my shout-out to regular great stuff.

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Chai tea. I love it! You can make the tea part as strong as you like, and you add all kinds of spices in all sorts of combinations. The flavours are intricate and bold, and you add hot milk and honey. Chai says, “I value you, and I care enough to make it just so.”

Sunshine! It can be underrated, or at least taken for granted. Even on a cold day, it can warm you through your window, and remind you that if it isn’t already, spring is really a thing.

Books. I love fiction, non-fiction, science and art. (Really, science and art are different points on the spectrum of beauty.) I can start one, become engrossed, and finish it by tomorrow. Or, I can choose to put it down and find something else. I can read kids’ books, biology or a study of Emily Carr. With pictures!

Fireplaces. YES! Because when it’s cold out, or even just slightly chilly, there’s something about a fireplace that has “comfort” all over it.

Coffee! Because, it’s, like, the elixir of life. Strong, dark, deep and rich.

Chocolate! Cake, bars, cookies, drinks. Chocolate says that life can be complex and sweet, bitter, solid, malleable and so worth it.

Animals. My dog doesn’t care if I don’t feel like it, and doesn’t judge me when little things make me anxious. My cat doesn’t mind if I don’t get home from work on time, and certainly doesn’t care if I can’t manage more than cereal for dinner. Plus, they give me an excuse to talk to myself, and get me out of the house every day for exercise.

Music. Classical, classic, pop, rock, rap, jazz, blues — whatever moves your soul, it’s the soundtrack, it’s the memory. Music helps us frame our lives and tells us that someone else out there gets it.

Snow. Yes, even snow. You can ski on it, run in it, build with it, move it out of the way. And it’s always there to remind you that it won’t last all year. Plus, it makes all the other things that much more meaningful.