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

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.

Advertisements

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

This piece was originally posted on http://forum.covquarterly.com/ in response to an article published in The Covenant Quarterly http://covquarterly.com/index.php/CQ/article/view/2Amy Simpsons 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 to lead a workshop at the Central Conference Women’s Spring Celebration for women whose children are affected by Mental Illness/ other challenges. The fact that the room was packed spoke volumes. That room became a place of refuge and belonging. Common themes expressed included isolation, exhaustion, and the need for community; specifically Christian community. Simpson’s calls to action regarding support for families affected by mental  illness, matches my own experiences; both as a parent and a part of the body of Christ. What I offer here, are specific points to ponder as well as practical ways we have found for the local church to demonstrate support.

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:As 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: Simpson cautions against a theology of suffering that teaches   “that life should be easy and happy.” While I agree with her, I would also admonish against a belief that  medication/treatment provides a diversion from acknowledging the reality of suffering. I know persons with mental illness who have refused medication because they believe that the illness is a “cross to bear.” 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.”

 

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. 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.  Read more at:

https://themighty.com/2017/05/a-letter-of-gratitude-for-loving-my-child/

What Comes After the Storm of Mental Illness Calms

Now, what?”

I asked myself this a few months ago. After years, consisting of very long days, of family struggles with mental and medical conditions, the season began to change. At first, I dared not believe it. So many times, there had been brief glimpses of light as we forged through the darkness. But those moments seemed to fade quickly. Once again, we would be left trying to find our footing and walk forward together: my daughter, my two sons, my husband and myself. To say the relationships between us were strained would be an understatement. When one person in a family struggles, everyone is affected.

The dynamics between us does not resemble the picture I had in my mind before my husband and I started a family. My daughter began treatment for bipolar disorder at 9 years old (she is now age 15). My older son (age 18) has battled anxiety and depressionalong with a host of unexpected health concerns along the way. The youngest son (age 13), whom I call the “comic relief,” manages mild anxiety. None of their conditions define them, but they do affect the climate of our home. It hasn’t always felt like the refuge I hoped my husband and I would create. We have tried to initiate traditions, affirm each other’s strengths and attempt to carve moments of time together. We have sought out therapy, utilized resources and developed a support system. Humor has even found its way in. Yet, we couldn’t always keep the storms at bay.

Truthfully, the winds, at times, seemed so forceful I wasn’t sure I had the strength to resist them. My husband and I could be a strong force together; yet each of us developed our own methods of survival. We also felt as if the storm was invisible to everyone else. Mental illness carries a stigma. There are plenty of opinions regarding how to “fix” your child. “If we would just . . .” Meanwhile, the unpredictable nature of episodes and triggers as well as the financial stress and school concerns mount. And in the midst of it all, you are trying to sustain your marriage, pay bills and pray for endurance, provision and healing.

It occurred to me one day that this long season of storms may have finally transitioned into a season of calm. When you are so used to living in survival mode, you don’t always realize the storm has weakened. Weeks no longer seemed packed with doctors’ appointments, evaluating medications, financial distress, school battles, emotional burnout. It may be the beginning of a season of restoration. On the surface, a calm after the storm sounds welcoming. But, truthfully, the implications are daunting.

How do you begin cleaning up the mess?

Branch by branch, piece by piece. I remember a horrific storm that erupted suddenly about 10 years ago. When it was safe, we made our way outside to access the damage. Thankfully, our belongings remained intact. However, our street and our yard were filled with tree limbs and branches scattered everywhere. In order to move toward restoration, you must begin cleaning up the mess one branch at a time. It may take a while. And I’ve learned (reluctantly) that’s OK

Restoring our relationships with each other will take time. One branch at a time. I often wonder how my kids would relate to one another had our situation been different. I will never know the answer. It would be tempting to dwell on the “what ifs,” but that would require looking back. We are heading forward. The medical concerns have not resolved. The winds may indeed return. We have found space to breathe and rest. We have found our footing once again and set our eyes on God; who is in the business of making things new. I find inspiration in the promise given to the Israelites:

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

Originally published at http://mudroomblog.com/cleaning-up-mess/, this post also appeared at https://themighty.com/2016/10/when-things-calm-down-parenting-children-with-mental-illness/

 

How I Found Peace Living in the “Not Yet.”

Sometimes, life leaves your brain full and your mouth empty.

A season of life two years ago encompassed one of those times for me. The thing is-these seasons don’t just end with a nice and tidy resolution. They don’t leave us with an instant epiphany of profound theological insight. Rather, we are left with a reminder-:spiritual, physical, emotional- that we are humans wrestling with the realities of living in a place of in-between.

It is not yet Heaven.

The days of December 2013 quickly filled up with preparations for Christmas as well as doctor’s appointments. My eldest son became increasingly ill. A periodic problem with an upset stomach evolved into a daily issue. Watching your child feeling sick packs a punch to the stomach and the heart. The immediate desire is to fix it. Yet, beginning in October, we sought an answer from many physicians and no one could fix it. How can that happen? We live near Chicago; a mecca of renowned and state-of-the art medical centers. A gold mine of wisdom on the complexities of the human body. Yet, each visit to a different specialist yielded more questions. We just wanted answers.

Emergency room doctors ruled out some things But nothing made him better. Daily, he made the trek to school with virtually nothing in his stomach except a bit of protein shake. Sometimes, he couldn’t gather the stamina to make it to school. My husband and I worried. The school pressured. The bills mounted.

We prayed. Friends prayed. Strangers prayed. But there were no answers.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6 (NIV).

Embracing the peace of Christ in the midst of uncertainty challenged me.

Finally, after many tests and procedures, a diagnosis was reached. Whew!  Finally a name and a course of treatment. Finally, an answer! Medicine would bring healing and resolve the problem.

I grabbed hold of the answer and felt a sense of relief; control; no uncertainty.

How easy is it to acknowledge the “peace that passes all understanding” when circumstances line up according to our expectations?

But would that peace permeate if the circumstances change? The events of the next day confronted me with that question.

Following dinner, upon preparing to study for finals, he fell to the couch and began to seize. Never having witnessed a seizure, it was the most terrifying moment of my life. The limp look of his body; the lifeless look in his eyes, will remain etched in my mind for a long time. Those five minutes led me to a profound realization as my mind grasped to acknowledge the surreal reality spinning around me: there are many things I can control-but death may not be one of them.

Fortunately, he came out of the seizure, was quickly rushed to the hospital, and the scans came out clear. But, more questions arose...and yet no answers. In my frustration, I hesitated to let go of what I thought to be a resolution. I didn’t want to believe that our lives were once more catapulted into the abyss. “How do you embrace the peace that transcends all understanding when God’s movement does not align with Earthly expectation?

As we dealt with the uncertainty in his health, we attempted to proceed with the rhythms of life. That wrenching moment rewound in my mind in the midst of my days. Ambulance sounds caused shivers down my back. Yet, I attempted to let Jesus, not me, guard my heart.

The dark, frigid winter painted an appropriate backdrop to the events and feelings over those next several months. While we continued to hold on to the glimmer of light held out for us through scriptural promises, the realities of living in the “not yet” continued to speak into our lives.

How does one live in the truth of new life in the resurrection, yet, face the reality of destruction and death of the things of this world?

My heart and my mind bear the scars of living in a kingdom that is both now and not yet. But I am keenly aware that I am not the only one. In one way or another, all of us feel that paradox. Circumstances may differ. Our expectations and God’s answers may or may not merge. Yet, the testimony and scars of others bear witness to the peace that Christ offers, while living in a kingdom that unfolds toward completion.

It’s the peace that Jesus promised to his disciples, who had given up everything for him. “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NLV).

Eventually, the winter season yielded to the brighter, warmer days of spring; not just meteorologically, but symbolically as well. My son’s health improved. I am aware that I am bound to encounter those seasons of restlessness again. They too are promises of Jesus. But He also imparts a peace that “transcends all understanding” as we navigate through them. 

When were you in a place that challenged you to embrace this peace?