Category Archives: Help! This was not in the book!

The Transformation of “Bringing Them Closer”: a Guest Post About Parenting Children With Mental Health Issues

We overcomplicate it. We forget that parenting doesn’t take tools, it takes relationship. We want our kids to behave so we read a book on “The Top Three Ways to Stop Your Child From…”. We look to counsellors and medications to “fix” our children.

The need to feel connected… and then counselling, medication, and books can add to the solution. You don’t start here, you start with connection.

When we were struggling to figure out what was happening with our son at the young age of 5, getting a diagnosis helped us understand what we were dealing with. Knowing he was struggling with clinical anxiety, depression, oppositional defiance disorder and ADHD gave us a framework to work with, but it couldn’t end there. Diagnosis only gives us a view “under the hood”, it doesn’t “fix the car”.

Anger was his way of saying, “HELP ME!” Opposition was his way of saying, “I feel out of control! Look at me!” The more we searched for outside help without giving him the relationship he needed but couldn’t ask for, the more the episodes of rage increased. It hit its peak at 8 years old when he became suicidal.

All those years of us trying to help him clinically only created a bigger problem inside. He was taken from us for three weeks to stay in the children’s hospital mental health unit. Even with our daily visits, his anxiety only increased with the separation.

The hospitalization was good for the doctors to observe him on meds. The medication helped our son become more reasonable to connect with. The problem was, I was expecting the time in the hospital and the meds to fix my son. I expected when he returned home that everything would become “normal”. But it wasn’t, his rages continued.

I remembered what one of the psychologists at the hospital had said to me after I mentioned I send him to his room when he throws fits of rage. She said, “Oh no, you never send the hurting away from you, you bring them closer.”

I started keeping my son close to me when he would rage. I made connecting with him the number one goal, not fixing his outward behaviour.

I started getting curious about what his anger was trying to communicate with me. I would sit in the room while he would rage, reassuring him that I was there to help no matter what. I would stick by him.

He belonged in our family. Over time as I consistently did this, I watched my son soften. I saw him go from dysregulated to peaceful. The more I made connecting with him my priority, the more regulation I saw.

Healing the brain, with human touch

The number one thing I have learned through my experience with my son along with 20 years of working in resilience and seeing other children go through similar is that we can’t expect clinical answers to solve a mental problem. Our brain heals differently than our body.

Our body responds to clinical answers: a cast for a broken leg, surgery to remove a tumour, antibiotics for a virus. Our brain is healed through human touch. It literally rewires as when we feel connected, secure, and loved. If we don’t start there, the brain lives in its basement: cold, dark, on edge, never trusting and ready to pounce when there’s a threat of attack.

What does being stripped away from your family for 3 weeks do to an already anxious child’s brain? How does it feel when mommy is always yelling at you to do better? How do you cope with all your big emotions when there’s no one strong and safe enough to hold them for you? What does a counsellor’s office look like when all you feel is there’s something “wrong with you”? How do you feel about taking meds when you feel those around you are only trying to control your behaviour?

But how does all of this look when you know you belong? When you know your family is a safe haven? I’m not stating hospitalization, counselling, and meds are wrong. I’m stating it’s not where we start.

As we connect with our children we build trust and safety. From there we do what is needed whether that be medication or counselling. And when trust is built with our children, they are more open to receiving help because the relationship has opened the neuropathways to receive help.

Parenting starts with relationship. Connection is always the first step before “fixing” behaviour.

Don’t overcomplicate it.

Read more of Connie’s book! https://conniejakab.com/product/bring-them-closer/

Connie Jakab is the owner of The Jakab Co and the Senior Manager of Wellness Innovate – two companies that are all about changing home and work environments for mental health. She is also the author of Bring Them Closer and two other books. Connie is passionate about rebelling against status quo living and encouraging others to branch out. She is also the Director of National Hope Talks and the Hope Movement combatting mental health in Canada. She is a sought out speaker for her raw honestly and humour. Connie drives her passion outward into the arms of those wanting something more radical and meaningful in life. She lives with her husband and two boys in Calgary, Alberta Canada.

Resources for Parents

Helpful Links

A. http://bipolarchild.com/
B. http://stephaniejthompson.com/home/help-that-wasnt-in-the-book/
C. http://www.tiltparenting.com/
D. https://www.drmanipavuluri.com/
E. https://childmind.org/
F. https://www.thekennedyforum.org/
G. https://www.nami.org/
H. https://www.kidsinthehouse.com/special-needs
I. www.keyministry.com
J. https://www.adhdchildhood.com/

K. https://conniejakab.com/blog/

L. https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

M. https://www.mghclaycenter.org

N. https://kidshelpline.com.au/ (peer support)

O. https://www.themamaontherocks.com/

Books

A. The Bipolar Child, Demitri Papolos, M.D. and Janice Papolos
B. What Works For Bipolar Kids: Help and Hope For Parents, Dr. Mani Pavuluri
C Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, Amy Simpson
D Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry, Amy Simpson
E. No More Fear for Kids: A Family Devotional Jo Hannah Reardon
F. The Dark Side of Innocence Terri Cheney

G. Bring Them Closer Connie Jakab

Articles

A.The stigma of raising a mentally ill child (youtube-”60 minutes”)
B. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/09/18/you-know-that- mom-who-isnt-joining-in-the-proud-of-my-kid-conversation-yeah-ask-how-shes-doing/
C. http://mudroomblog.com/people-think-kids-apples/

D. http://www.embracingtheunexpected.com/did-god-choose-the-wrong-mom/
E. https://annvoskamp.com/2016/09/when-youre-living-a-life-you-didnt-choose/
F. https://themighty.com/2018/10/phrases-to-calm-an-angry-child/
G. https://themighty.com/2016/03/how-a-parent-can-calm-their-anxious-child/
H. https://www.coffeeandcrumbs.net/blog/2018/12/7/the-most-isolating-thing-ive-ever-experienced
I.. https://thewildword.com/normal-parents-should-know/

J. https://www.keyministry.org/church4everychild/2018/4/3/special-needs-siblings-experience-questions-grief-seasons-too

Class: https://www.nami.org/Videos/NAMI-Basics-OnDemand

Books for Kids: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/610484/tornado-brain-by-cat-patrick/?ref=PRHB3B3009F49&aid=33375&linkid=PRHB3B3009F49&pdivflag=1&fbclid=IwAR1xxw-ynRM4eN2Eewd8OFPg3b2Jr3ucY-B—CHADpH_qJ24JOVDm–tb8

https://imaginationsoup.net/childrens-books-mental-illness/

Affiliated support: https://www.jedi-institute.com/support?fbclid=IwAR2qcS6Tot-Nd0k_adm1KdasJMpZBGMHmpO-0u7_BVsZArRM6CWRX2xiPJU

Sacred Connections Amidst Mental Health

As I scan across the byte-sized headlines filling my social media accounts, an increasingly common phrase beckons my attention. “Mental Health” is finally gaining a common place in our cultural vernacular. In the midst of strong opinions regarding the current ills of the American  narrative, “Mental Health” becomes a tossed-around phrase connected to resolutions. But, as I begin to read the articles, tweets, or memes, I pause in frustration. The voice in my head screams, “Does anyone really understand  the implications of those two words?” I do. Our family has encountered them.

On the one hand, I am glad that mental health is finally gaining recognition as a viable element of wholeness. On the other hand, the use of the phrase often becomes a quick way of fixing a problem. Living in uncertainty leaves us restless. If a solution to the horrifying events in our news feeds can be identified then maybe the crisis won’t hit home. It’s even easier if the solution is left to others to implement. But I know first hand that it takes a village to bring about changes that transform the lives of our neighbors.  Read more here: https://redbudwritersguild.com/sacred-connections-amidst-mental-health/

How We Can Support Families of Kids with Special Needs Adjusting to Quarantine

We all belong to each other.

In these days of social distancing, my soul and my body miss the daily connections. Specifically, I am aware of the absence of those with whom I engage in my routines. As a substitute teacher, I float around to different schools but because of repeated contact, these students and staff impact me. Our familiarity with one another cultivates trust and intimacy. I am aware of the struggles they bring to the classroom.

We are all adjusting to this new normal. And we are all losing something something. For my friends who receive specialized instruction, school provides a network of professionals who strive to help students build their skill sets. These social workers, occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech pathologists, paraprofessionals, peer buddies and teachers form a “village” to help families help their kids become confident and more independent.

For the families of these students, the quarantine brings about changes in routine which is difficult for many of them, E-learning is not something easily done independently. For the parents, helping their children process the adjustment is challenging.

Parents of these students: I see you. Not literally but in the faces of your children in my mind. I pray for you. Know that I miss them and am a better person for having the privilege of being in their presence.

For the rest of us, consider what you can do to make life a bit easier for families in this situation.

  • Ask about food preferences and order a delivered meal for them
  • Send them a gift card for pizza delivery
  • Send a card to the student
  • Offer to run errands for them. Getting away may be difficult for them
  • Pray for them

“Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” Phillipians 2:3-4

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

Why We Don’t Always Eat Dinner at the Table…and it’s OK

We don’t always eat dinner at the table. Especially right now. Our dining room table has morphed into a cubicle for my husband and a desk for my daughter. I’d like to say the current surreal way of life for many of us contributed to our current behavior. But, truthfully, this set-up isn’t completely new for us.

I am passionate about families sharing meals together. Therefore, It should come as no surprise that my family practices it and I write about it https://www.crosswalk.com/family/parenting/5-reasons-why-eating-meals-together-is-so-great-for-your-family.html . Research shows multiple benefits of family feasting. Anne Fishel, Ph.D., a family therapist and co-founder of The Family Dinner Project, says “The benefits range from the cognitive ones (young kids having bigger vocabularies and older kids doing better in school) to the physical ones (better cardiovascular health, lower obesity rates and eating more vegetables and fruits) to psychological ones (lower rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse and fewer behavioral problems in school).” 

What may surprise you is the fact that we don’t always eat at the table. This is the kind of revelation that is tempting to disclose in a hushed voice. It appears hypocritical at best and an indication of “culture caving” at worst. But sometimes, we have to acknowledge what is the best means to the end. Because sometimes something which appears to be the best practice for others may not be the best practice for you.

In my pre-child days, I balked at the idea of families not taking advantage of time together around the table. As an experienced youth and family pastor, I saw the effects of breakdown in communication and the temptation to find opportunities which led to further alienation. With the increase of food on the go and family activities fracturing time together, I longed for parents to keep meal time together as a priority. I viewed it as sacred. And still do.

But there can be more than one way to meet a goal. While my husband and I incorporated creative ideas for keeping the practice of eating together at the table fresh, dynamics in our family made it challenging at times. Mood disorders came to the table too. It’s our truth. And rather than forcing a venue that harmed, we created one that restored.

The point is about engaging and building relationships around the table. So sometimes, the “table” moves. And yes, a couch may be involved. But while we sit on the couch, we watch a video from Bible Project https://bibleproject.com/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw9ZzzBRCKARIsANwXaeJ-fsjj_r0Wk_9Z0kiUQadwxK9leqAghIw7fS-mIdpxMtmM0gkmEtkaAk8FEALw_wcB ) and discuss it. Or play a game. Or laugh through a shared favorite tv show. Every family comes to the table with different needs. The question is: How can we meet them?

We still gather around our table intentionally (and invite others to it!). But we know that the sacred act of gathering with others to nourish our bodies and souls can happen in more than one way. And we thank God for those opportunities. Because now, more than ever, we need to cherish time together.

How You Can Help a Family With a Child Who is Affected by Mental Illness

Families with a child affected by a mental/neurological disorder often live a chaotic and stress filled existence. Often, the struggle is invisible to the public. Unknown to even neighbors, a series of chronic storms erupt inside the home. Furthermore, stigmas make seeking support challenging. Parents struggle to give time to all of their children as well as their marriage Siblings may resent the extra attention to the affected child. It is all too easy for fracture to take place and the results to each member can have short and long term consequences.

You want to help but how do you do it? Here is a list of suggestions that can get you started.
Food: It connects us. But good news-you don’t have to be a gourmet chef to share it. How about ordering a pizza? One of the best dinners shared with us was ham and cheese sliders that we could warm up and grab quickly on our way to the hospital. Truthfully, anything that offers a quick bit of nutrition and satisfies, feeds the stomach and the soul. Always make sure you are aware of any food restrictions (especially true if the child has a sensory issue.)

Gift cards. Medical bills quickly consume a budget. Sure, there are payment plans but when you have at least a few going, there is not much left for any extras. In addition, schedules can become packed with doctors appointments and unexpected health related crises. Furthermore, siblings often feel left behind as time and money are consumed quickly. Special family outings often disappear. Gift cards for a movie theater, McDonalds, and other “extras” are an appreciated treat. Gas cards are also beneficial.

Offer to take siblings for a few hours. Respite is necessary for all family members. Routines often become interrupted, noise levels escalate, conflict can be frequent. These factors contribute to a stressful environments. Can you offer your home as a quiet place of refuge? Renting a movie, supplying snacks, sharing skills, or even letting kids play on their electronic devices or read in a peaceful place is a gift. If you are more adventurous, try a park, ice skating or the beach.

Care for the affected child: This suggestion requires a familiarity with the child and their needs. Sometimes a new environment can be helpful. Other times, it may create further anxiety. If you can provide this option, it sends an affirming message to the child that they are capable of being loved on by those outside their family. To the parents, it sends an empathetic message.

Put together a gift basket: Parents naturally tend to invest their time, energy, and resources toward the health of their child. As a result, they are left “empty.” This affects their own emotional and physical well-being. It also leads to strained marriages. How about a gift basket filled with bubble bath, hand lotion, special treats, rental movie gift card, coffee shop gift card, teas, bottle of wine? Put on your creative hat and see what happens!

Share resources.  Let’s face it, receiving money from others can be awkward. Yet, it may be the very thing that would help alleviate stress. Could you ask to pay a bill? Could you pay for a sitter? There are creative ways to share financially while not taking away dignity or creating an uncomfortable situation.

When a child fights a physical illness, it often leads to a rally of support. The visible symptoms communicate the urgency of support to others. Unfortunately, mental illness, addiction, neurological disorders do not always present in a way that draws attention. The family struggles silently. When we are aware of others’ needs, we become better advocates and neighbors. And we are transformed in the process.

To the People Who Embrace My Daughter: Depression, Anxiety, and All

Words barely express the ways your actions have breathed life into my daughter. Movement into unknown territory involves risks. Your willingness to do that does not go unnoticed. Connecting with her isn’t easy. I know that. As you know, she’s not one of those outgoing social butterfly types. She’s an observer. In addition, her mental illness, makes identifying and controlling emotions challenging. She realizes the impact of her actions and words, yet, managing the whirlwind within becomes difficult at times.

By inviting her into your space, you moved beyond the walls of fear that easily keep us from engaging. with those who seem different from ourselves. Sometimes the fears are rooted in real experiences,yet, each of us has our own narrative. You have demonstrated to others that learning how to give and receive support is a significant life skill. There is no “us” and “them.” Everyone faces their own struggles.

We, her parents, are walking in unfamiliar territory. We have gleaned much about the way our society values others as well as the assumptions aimed toward families who don’t capture the “All American Dream.” Stigmas and fear feed the perceptions of parents whose children’s disabilities appear “fixable.” When behavioral and emotional issues manifest themselves, the journey becomes a lonely one for the whole family.

You have witnessed the storm of emotions blow out of her with a breath-taking pace. Out of her mouth, harsh words may have been hurled in your direction. Yet, you saw that she was more than those utterances. The open invitation to your home created a refuge and gave her purpose. How could you have known that her desire to conquer an 8 hour day of cognitive and emotional difficulties was rooted in the reward of spending time with your family? Thank you for loving her unconditionally.

To those unsung heroes at school, you are appreciated more than you can grasp. Her struggles impact our whole family. As parents, we transport, cajole, and encourage her to embrace the school day. But the reality is that some days, we all feel wiped out my 9:00 am.

How do you fight the clutches of anxiety/depression which attempt to pull your child back into bed? Some days, the nuances of battle were apparent. She arrived with eyes, swollen and puffy. But you welcomed her nonetheless and let her sit. Sometimes, you even provoked a smile and a laugh. You far exceed your job expectations.

Thank you for loving my child. Whether you welcomed her with a simple gesture or invested time with her, your kindness reaps a harvest in her soul.

This post originally appeared here: https://themighty.com/2017/05/a-letter-of-gratitude-for-loving-my-child/

Soul Care-After an Unexpected Descent Into Depression


Without warning, I found my mental state rapidly shifting. For one week in late March, it seemed to spin out of my control. Increasing anxiety gripped my soul, its force building stronger each day. Suddenly, the anxiety transformed into a deep depression. Never had I felt such a heaviness pressing upon me.  After a few days, the weight lifted.
Making sense of it left me pondering: Why now? I had been treated for anxiety and depression for the last 15 years. For most of that period, my moods remained stable. Any shifts lasted only a few days. Through medication and therapy, I learned to manage my illnesses. However, this time, I felt blindsided; the symptoms appeared unexpectedly. Even though I was exhausted, the experience left me puzzled.
Read the whole post at http://mudroomblog.com/soul-care-unexpected-descent-depression/

Regarding Mental Health: How the Church Can Be Supportive

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This piece was originally posted on http://forum.covquarterly.com/how-can-the-church-be-supportive-a-response-to-amy-simpson/ in response to an article published in The Covenant Quarterly.

Amy Simpson’s article, “Supporting Families Living With Mental Illness” resonated deeply with me. Her story speaks of a journey that many walk in silence; one with which I am all too familiar.  I am ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church but currently am not serving in a pastoral position. However, I do have a ministry. It is through my own family’s journey with our child, who is being treated for Bipolar Disorder, that my eyes were opened up to the need for educating and equipping the local congregation to care for others walking our journey.

Recently, I had the privilege of leading a workshop at the ECC Central Conference Women’s Spring Celebration for women with children affected by mental illness or other challenges. The fact that the room was packed spoke volumes. That room became a place of refuge and belonging. Common experiences shared included isolation, exhaustion, and the need for community – specifically for Christian community. Simpson’s call to action to the church to support families affected by mental illness matches my own experiences as a parent and as part of the body of Christ. I offer here some practical suggestions for how the local church can support families struggling with mental illness.

Educate: Become aware of organizations that supply information about the condition. For ministry staff, the questions that arise may include: How do I care for this person and their family? How do I help educate the congregation without drawing negative attention to the individual (and family members)? Since the symptoms fall on a large spectrum, the individuals have different needs.  Some churches have a sunday school class that particularly caters to children with special concerns.  We give practical suggestions to teachers when cues such as frustration or anger are presented.

Understand the impact on the entire family:Amy Simpson notes, “…behind every person with mental illness is a family that has been impacted-perhaps even devastated-by that illness.” Time, energy and resources are often drastically reduced in caring for the affected individual. Siblings may feel neglected.  One idea that has been welcoming to us is the inviting of our other children to play at other families’ homes. It’s a simple act that benefits everyone and reminds the siblings that they are special too. Any gesture that can ease tension is a gift to the family.

A  note on a theology of suffering: On the one hand, we must recognize there is no Biblical basis for believing that we can avoid suffering. Jesus modeled and reminded us of the contrary. However, he also ushered  in a kingdom that promised the beginning of restoration. Refusing medication because of the belief that the illness is a “cross to bear” is not only theologically skewed but denies the ways God chooses to heal. 

People facing other illnesses such as diabetes, heart conditions, etc. do not usually see their conditions from that perspective. In particular, parents of children with mental health issues may struggle with embracing the use of medication to help their child. Further complicating the decision by throwing a misguided theology of suffering on them is not helpful. I believe that God has gifted individuals to develop medications that help restore “normal” processes of the brain and give those affected a better quality of life.

The beauty of the Christian community is that we are made better by growing together.  We gain a bigger picture of God’s character through our interactions with each other.  My daughter loves and is effective in helping in certain tasks.  When she was younger, she placed the communion cups in the trays. She also helps prepare the snacks (and I might add enjoys being creative in this task) for our Café’ which follows our Sunday worship service. Children, in general crave purpose. Involvement affirms the truth that they are an important part of the community.

The Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…”. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)  As Simpson states, “Helping people with mental illness is part of the church’s mission and calling.” This is true not only for church leaders, but also every Christian.  We are responsible for our response to people in need.”