“Trauma is a fact of life. It does not have to be a life sentence.” I like this quote from Dr. Peter A. Levine, psychologist. We’re all going through some form of trauma right now – whether that’s being laid-off; having to cope with new responsibilities; concerns about sick family members or friends or feeling scared of the unknown.
Our kids are suffering too. They may be silently mourning the end of their school year, missing friends and teachers or feel isolated and alone.
There are lots of suggestions to keep kids busy, happy and healthy during these strange times (some of which are mentioned here and here).
But there are also ways in which parents might think about helping themselves if we’re feeling traumatized, ill, anxious or scared. I wanted to create a short “round-up” of resources and suggestions that may help.
A freelance writing colleague Meredith Resnick, LCSW, has written a number of books about narcissism. She just had a new edition published in April in her series of books. Check out this edition or her other books if this is an issue you or a loved one might be dealing with.
A woman named Rachel whose blog I follow and whom I respect wrote a book called Yeshiva Girl about a young woman forced to go to a religious Jewish school and the conflicts she feels towards this and her father who has been accused of sexual misconduct. I’m really looking forward to reading this book as Rachel is a wonderful writer, has two Master’s degrees and is working on a third!
Caring Organizer is a platform built by a friend of mine who saw a need for “meal train” software. This site offers a concrete way for friends, family and neighbours to help those who are sick or have someone who has passed away. This site, available for people in the U.S. and Canada, not only offers meal organization tools but tips, resources and calendars as well.
I hope these resources are of assistance to you. Sometimes if we better understand ourselves as adults – or help someone in need – we can be better partners, friends and parents.
As an aside: I’m going to be working on upgrades to this blog in the very near future. I’m excited about this change and the new look that will accompany the swap to a self-hosted platform. Thank you for your support and please stay tuned.
As always, feel free to comment or write to me with any feedback or questions.
Recently I asked “Ashley” to share advice on my blog. Ashley is a colleague and parent to an 11-year-old girl diagnosed with Mood Disorder.
I have learned a lot about mood disorders and was blown away by her candor.
Please note that this post was originally published in 2013.
1) Can you describe “mood disorder” and its symptoms?
Last spring, my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD and we put her on a stimulant. She began having rages, getting verbally aggressive (threatening to kill people) and physically aggressive (biting, hitting, kicking) family members to the point that she left bruises and other marks. We took her off the medication and the rages decreased for a while, but returned along with ADHD symptoms that interfered with school.
We tried another stimulant and the rages increased. Her paediatrician suggested that because she was raging on stimulants that he highly suspected that she had a mood disorder. At his suggestion, I read the book The Bipolar Child and cried because the symptoms described in the book were almost a verbatim description of my daughter.
2) Why were you surprised by this revelation?
I was surprised that the way that bipolar presents in children is very different from the way it looks in adults. Some of the symptoms that resonated with me:
rapid cycling (going from giddy to irritated very quickly and back again)
carb cravings (my daughter would binge on sweets and bread)
Another trait exhibited by my daughter was that she didn’t show her rages and violence to anyone outside the family and I was her main target.
3) Please provide some insight into the relationship between ADHD and mood disorders and how they’re sometimes confused.
According to the book The Bipolar Child, one-third of the children diagnosed with ADHD actually have early onset bipolar. Many symptoms of bipolar overlap with ADHD, such as being impulsive, emotionally volatile, hyperactive and distracted. When I was reading Bipolar Child for the first time, the description in temper tantrums between children with ADHD and children with mood disorders was what finally convinced me that my daughter was bipolar.
Bipolar temper tantrums can often last for hours, can involve destruction or violence and are typically triggered by not getting what they want. The book described that ADHD tantrums typically last 20-30 minutes and are caused by sensory or emotional stimulation. I thought about the previous evening and how my daughter had spent over two hours hitting us, screaming and chasing after us and realized that my daughter was bipolar.
4) What advice can you offer parents?
My biggest advice is to find support. I found the forums and support groups at The Balanced Mindto provide me great information on both the medical side and the coping side.
At first I was really scared to tell anyone about my daughter’s diagnosis and even more about her repeatedly hurting me. I would wear long sleeves to cover the bite marks and bruises and worry that someone would see. But then I shared with trusted friends what we were going through and was very surprised that instead of judgement, I received love and support.
My other advice is to find the right team of doctors and therapists. It took several tries to find the right fit for our family and my daughter’s situation, but we finally found a neuropsychiatric that has been lifesaving for us. We also began working with a behavioural therapist to help our whole family learn strategies to deal with the bipolar symptoms.
5) How do you and your family (and your child) best cope with this mental illness?
When she is raging, we try to remind ourselves that this is the bipolar talking, not our daughter. We also make sure that every member of our family gets time to enjoy the things that make them happy and get a break from my daughter. We also all meet with a therapist to talk about our feelings of living with the disease in our family.
6) Anything else you’d like to add?
If you suspect that your child has a mood disorder, get him or her evaluated as soon as possible. Life has gotten dramatically better once we found the right medication and have begun learning to understand the disease.
Does any of this resonate with you? I thought republishing this post might help a parent or friend who has a child with a mood disorder.
Beautiful, young and said to show great compassion for both humans and animals, Rehteah was sexually assaulted at a party, photographed and then victimized all over again when the photo was posted and shared by who knows how many students.
Ironically, the cause of so much of Rehteah’s pain and torture (social media) is now one of the vehicles being used to express outrage and promote justice.
Just this morning I signed a petition on Change.org demanding an independent inquiry into the police investigation which declared that no crime had taken place regarding both the rape and distribution of graphic and revealing photos. There are also Facebook pages set up, tweets posted and emails being sent to Justice Minister Ross Landry.
Why does it take death and despair to invoke a change in our laws? How can we use social media in a way that’s innovative and useful without promoting hatred, bullying, stress and destruction? Obviously, the way we engage in and rely on social media must change. Now.
I was recently introduced to Barry Shainbaum through a colleague. Creative leader, entrepreneur, broadcaster, mentor, counselor and “bipolar survivor”, Barry shares his history of mental illness and advice with us.
Q: What advice do you have for children currently living with mental illness?
A: You are possibly at the very beginning of a long journey — “a journey into yourself.” The road to living with and possibly even overcoming mental illness can be multifaceted and one encompassing medication, psychotherapy and spiritual exploration.
Q: How has your struggle shaped who you are today?
A: My struggle of overcoming bipolar disorder was a tortuous winding road encompassing twenty years. From an illness that came close to taking my life, today life is rich and full, both personally and professionally, with many creative ventures. I have evolved to become a person who finds joy in each and every day, and in the smallest things in life. I have also become aware of the power of persistence, hope, meditation, visualization, nature, love and synchronicity.
Q: Do you think mental illness (in adults and children) invokes creativity? Do you think people who haven’t “suffered” or felt pain can be truly creative?
A: The creative urge is often greater in those facing mental health problems, as there is a need to express the pain, confusion, and to search for meaning and joy amidst darkness. Why has it been said countless times that there is a fine line between genius and insanity? Perhaps, those with the most pain have to work so much harder on their lives, and often that means transcending boundaries. I have also read that [people feel] joy to the same extent that they have suffered. I agree with that statement.
Q: Do you think society will ever be free of stigma or will people living with mental health always be stigmatized?
A: Stigma against those with mental illness is slowly being eroded. The more that mental illness and mental health issues are discussed and the more that well-known figures come forward and talk about their challenges, the more stigma will be reduced. I see a future where, those diagnosed with mental illness are told, “In time your diagnosis will unlock the door to a life grander than it had been, had you never [been] ill.”
Q: What tools, tips, or resources helped you most as a youth struggling with bipolar disorder?
A: When I “fell ill” in 1970, there were not the resources that there are today. As a volunteer, I currently run a men’s group at the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario and at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. I recommend that a person receiving a diagnosis of mental illness begin [their journey] in the library. Read about the numerous aspects of mental illness: psychiatric, psychological, genetic, relationship, environmental and spiritual. It can be overwhelming so read a little bit at a time. And remember: Life is full of problems. And by facing our problems, we evolve and grow.
— Barry Shainbaum overcame bipolar disorder 24 years ago. He works in 5 disciplines: professional speaker, photographer, radio broadcaster, singer/musician in senior homes and as a mental health consultant. He is also a juggler! Barry is the author of two books: Hope and Heroes, and Dancing in the Rain. His website is: barryshainbaum.com
This post contains affiliate links meaning that if you purchase this book through my link below, I may receive a commission.
Have you read The Glass Castle? Written by Jeannette Walls, now a successful American writer and reporter, this memoir takes the reader on an unbelievable journey through a traumatic, wild, raw childhood in the American south.
Next time you feel guilty about not being able to give your child the latest gadget, activity or toy, read The Glass Castle – it will instantly make you feel like you’re the best parent in the world.
Even now on my second read, I gasp at the outrageous acts of neglect foisted on Jeannette and her three siblings by parents, Rex and Rose Mary. These children often went for days without food, heat, electricity, proper clothing or even needed medical attention.
Here are a just a few examples from the book:
In the book’s opening chapter, Jeannette, at three years old, is cooking hotdogs on the stove top. Her pink dress catches on fire and she suffers severe burns. Rushed to the hospital, she entertains herself by picking at dead skin, happy to stay in the hospital where she receives fresh food, enjoys a cozy, clean bed and has a TV all to herself. She’s not eager to leave.
At one point the family moves to Welsh, West Virginia. First staying with Rex’s mother and father, a dour, unkind couple, the family later moves to a heatless, rusted old shack where they sleep in boxes, rarely have enough to eat and are traumatized by river rats who sneak into their home.
Jeannette suffers a nasty gash in her leg from a rusty nail. Her mother takes a quick look and declares it nothing but a flesh wound.
We find out later that Rose Mary inherited Texas land from her mother worth well over a million dollars. She could have sold the land to pay for the family’s food, medical expenses, and education. She never does.
Sure, the family enjoys extreme adventures – moving constantly from city to city, state to state, and all four children learn more about physics, astronomy, art, history, geography and hard knocks from their parents and their own ingenuity than the average child.
However, it’s only through sheer luck – or a kind angel looking down on the family – that anyone in the Walls’ family survives.
This past weekend I watched a fascinating interview with The Who’s Pete Townshend on the CBS television show Sunday Morning.
Much of it focused on Townshend’s love/hate relationship with his “rock star” status but a chunk of the interview was dedicated to his rocky childhood.
At the age of 6, Townshend’s parents sent him to live with his grandmother who was mentally ill.
The boy suffered tremendously; here’s an excerpt from the interview:
“That probably more than anything, probably far more than whether or not my grandmother tried to drown me or made my life miserable or denied me sleep or food or whatever it was that she did, whether or not any of her weird boyfriends abused me in the middle of the night, that stuff I think I could understand,” Townshend said. “What I can’t understand is why that feeling of being abandoned is so huge and so difficult to get past.”
Townshend believes that much of his intensely creative musical compositions stem from that dark period of life. The synergy between melancholy and creativity is nothing new; I’ve also blogged about this connection. It’s an arena I find deeply intriguing.
I wonder: Do all great artists/writers/singers/actors/composers come from a place of pain and despair or can you live a life of happiness and peace and still be a creative genius?
In an earlier post focused on the connection between creativity and mental illness, there were some excellent comments, including people asking to know more about Van Gogh (the famous European painter) and his well-documented challenges with mental illness and inner demons.
After conducting research, I’ve found that Van Gogh suffered (and, yes, I will use the word “suffer” as he seemed to live a rather tortured life) from a host of mental and emotional health problems.
Van Gogh smoked extensively, drank absinthe (a potent and sometimes lethal alcoholic beverage), and massive amounts of coffee, and is said to have a very poor and nutritionally-empty diet. These factors, of course, could have spurred on or impacted any of his emotional or mental conditions.
In addition to self-diagnosed epilepsy, Van Gogh lived with bipolar disorder, possible sun stroke, Meniere’s Disease, lead poisoning, hallucinations and depression.
Living with one of these illnesses could be debilitating but, the fact that Van Gogh was able to create works of art while battling chronic malnutrition, addiction and mental and physical illness is an amazing feat! I continue to be amazed by the secret lives of artists. However, as Susan K says in the comments section linked above in this post, is the price of mental illness worth it to the people who live it?
I’m thrilled to have a guest post from Janine Adams, owner of Peace of Mind Organizing. A fellow professional writer, Janine has a great deal of passion for organization, helping others and exploring that ghastly clutter habit that takes over so many homes and apartments. In this post Janine digs deeper into early hoarding tendencies. Ironically, I was watching Hoarders on A & E online when I received her post via email!
As a professional organizer, I’m privileged to be a member (and board member) of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, an educational group for professional organizers and other professionals who work with clients challenged with chronic disorganization. I recently took an ICD teleclass on helping children with hoarding tendencies, presented by Kim Anker-Paddon and Leslie Josel. The content was illuminating.
The research on children who hoard is limited, but according to the research explored in the class, nearly half (44 percent) adult hoarders first started showing hoarding behavior by the time they were 15 years old. According to the Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation’s website, the typical age of onset of hoarding behavior is 13. It typically progresses to becoming a moderate problem in the 20s and 30s and a severe problem later in life. Clearly, children can be display hoarding behavior.
Hoarding in children is more about difficulty letting go, rather than acquisition, since kids don’t usually have the access to money and transportation that would allow them to shop easily. They tend to anthropomorphize their objects and want to maintain control over them. Compared with adults, clutter may or may not be such a significant factor with these children. Kids with hoarding tendencies tend to be perfectionistic about their objects.
It’s important to note that many children are collectors. If your child likes to hang on to certain items, that doesn’t mean he or she is displaying hoarding tendencies. Hoarding behavior is more extreme and problematic–it can interfere with social interactions and school, and can result in intensely emotional reactions to others touching their belongings.
So what’s to be done for a child with hoarding tendencies? The class explored three case studies in which three young people were helped with varying combinations of techniques such as collaborative therapy between therapists and organizers, journaling, picture drawing/storytelling, motivational interviewing and containerizing and labeling.
The younger the hoarding patient is, the more effective treatment will be, so if your child is exhibiting hoarding behavior, seeking help may be wise. Unfortunately, information on children who display hoarding behaviors isn’t abundant. The International OCD Federation’s web page on hoarding and families is a good starting point, however.
I’ve long been a fan of the work done by Kids Help Phone (KHP) as have the 225,622 Canadian youth who contacted the organization in 2010.
Kids Help Phone’s is Canada’s only bilingual, 24-hour, toll-free, confidential and anonymous phone and online counselling, referral and information for children and youth. Here’s a Q & A with Suzanne Shillington, an Ottawa-based parent who has also been a dedicated volunteer with KHP for the last 2.5 years.
Q: Why volunteer with this organization?
A: I had been wanting to volunteer but felt it had to be something that had meaning for me. I found my calling when the 15 year old nephew of friends’ of mine, committed suicide. In their despair, his parents came forward to talk about their son’s mental health and asked that if people were considering making donations in his name, that they consider donating to Kids Help Phone. I went online to research and when I saw what they were about, I contacted them right away to offer my help.
Q: What do you do as a volunteer?
A: I do many things to help, including:
I am on the Walk For Kids Help Phone Walk Committee here in Ottawa.
Find Corporate Sponsors for the walk. We were thrilled to secure the Ottawa Senators Foundation as a sponsor. I also look for support from local businesses who may be able to help by providing raffle prizes for the Walk.
Raise awareness, speak to my many contacts, help to think of creative ways to fund raise, and attend workshops where kids participate to spread the word about Kids Help Phone.
Q: What’s made the biggest impact on you and why do kids call or reach out most to KHP?
A: I think what really hits me is, that, according to KHP’s research, “100% of young people will experience sadness, frustration, grief, stress…”. The top 3 reasons that kids contact KHP are: Mental Health (about 30% of calls and online posts relate to mental health, including eating disorders, self-harm and self-esteem); Peer concerns are the second most common reason followed by family concerns.
Q: Is there any particular story that stands out?
A: One story that really sticks with me: We had a speaker at this year’s Walk who said that KHP saved his life. He said that if KHP had not been there for him when he was younger he would have committed suicide. A counsellor talked him out of committing suicide and provided him with the help he needed. The young man was very inspirational and motivating.
Currently, Kids Help Phone uses these tools and initiatives to reach and respond to children:
1. Phone counselling (including three-way call)
2. Ask Us Online (a tool for kids and parents, and the place to access tip sheets)
3. Info Booth (age-appropriate information on more than 50 topics)
4. Virtual support community created by kids viewing kids’ posts and counsellor response
5. Interactive tools
6. Community referral database of more than 37,000 local agencies in 2,750+ communities across Canada
7. IM/Chat professional counselling pilot (coming in Fall 2011)
The other night, I watched (most of) the documentary Out of the Shadow. Written and produced by Susan Smiley, the doc features Smiley’s mother, Millie, an intelligent, likeable woman diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
Here is some promotional material from the doc’s web site; I found it quite moving:
You are not alone. Come out of the shadows. Fight the shame and stigma. This is an honest, moving, profound film about mental illness, and a family who copes. Here you will find hope, compassion and inspiration.
Even with today’s focus on support groups and sharing information, in our “Free to Be You and Me” society there is still a lot of shame and confusion around mental illness. Many are driven to hiding their condition and some to suicide.
Out of the Shadow ends on a positive note for Millie but it does not paint a pretty picture of children, adults and families living with schizophrenia. The various doctors Millie saw, the drug combinations she contended with, and the vast economic difficulties and social stigma she felt left me feeling raw and drained.
It’s not for the faint of heart but it is a riveting and important film. If you’d like to learn more, you can watch a film trailer on the site or order a DVD online.