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Our Child and (our) Mental Illness

(This article was written in September and much more has taken place, but this is just a glimpse into my Grayson and what we have been going through.)

I have held off writing on this subject. Shannon commented the other day that I haven’t even gotten into the really deep shit. I just wasn’t ready. I tend to write on subjects that are really hitting me hard at the moment and striking a chord. Well, today it hit me like a ton of bricks. Today I would like to talk about mental health and our child. Not that it hasn’t other days, but today I actually had a moment to sit down and write as the baby (ok, fine, toddler) sleeps.

My boys. I love them to death. They make me flipping crazy most of the time but then they melt my heart, that’s the common pattern. Shannon and I have worked so hard to help them understand their emotions. My hope is that they use their strong emotions towards good and being kind to help others.

See, I am no stranger to strong emotion. However, when it involves turmoil in my children, that bothers me the most. I blame myself. Although, if I am being real, there is a stream of mental illness coming from both mine and Shannon’s side of the family. Sometimes I sit here and blame myself because I should not have been so selfish to have kids, the chances are not in their favor. Then, I try to remind myself that Shannon and I are very open and honest about our emotions and the fact that sometimes we need help. We talk to our kids about how we are feeling, how they are feeling, people that are dealing with similar feelings as adults and solutions to help them get through. And we mess up. We are only human. However, we later talk about it with the kids.

I honestly do not even know where to begin when it comes to talking about my boys and what we have been through with them. Today I decided I will just focus on my Grayson, our middle child. Sometimes I get so flipping upset because you feel so alone. You feel like your child is the only one acting out in this way. Others just do not understand. It’s not fair. I love my kids with all of my heart. Why is this happening? I did not have nearly the amount of love and support they do and I did not act this way. Do I yell at them too much? And the thoughts go on and on. I know it is a vicious circle of blame that just keeps going around and around. It’s pointless, but I still do it.

I also know that I need to focus that energy on getting him help. I am not someone that will just sit around and talk about it over and over, I work towards ways of making it better. Otherwise, you might as well record the conversation and play it again later for the next person. I’m not saying that all or even any of these solutions will work but it most definitely will not hurt to try. I also understand that we all may not have the same resources. However, there are some free resources out there to help you if you look hard enough. I hope to help in that aspect in more ways than one in the coming future. I get how hard it is.

OK, so today’s incident was not too different from what we deal with at home. He gets upset, feels threatened, inferior or just does not want to comply and currently, his common response is, “ I want to die.”

Before this it had always been, “ I hate you.”

That one was a little less threatening and easier to hear. Death. Well, I know it’s usually just something he says to get a response out of us, but it is still hard to hear coming from his young mouth.

Sometimes, when he is feeling extremely upset or vulnerable, maybe even guilty, he will start to hit or bite his arm. Seriously, can you imagine being his teacher in these instances? It truly breaks my heart and usually brings me to tears when I reflect on his behavior with my husband.

A lot of times I feel like I am at a loss and I am not sure what to do. Usually, I will let Grayson have a meltdown and then I will give him a few minutes to calm down. I will come and talk to him. I will ask him how he is feeling, saying something along the lines of how it hurts my heart to see him wanting to hurt himself (this is what the psychologist told us to say) and then we will talk about something happy. It is wonderful and great, but then it happens again and again. It’s hard.

Today he was taken by the Intervention Specialist (thankfully it is someone that knows how to handle the situation) to be assessed for Math. He was not wanting any part of it, so instead of complying, he decided to start hitting himself and biting his arm. Then he proceeded to say, “ I want to die,” and “everybody hurts me.” After she was able to use some of her tricks, which were pretty wonderful, to get him to answer some questions for her she told the principal and he proceeded to tell her to call me.

The whole thing that really frustrated me about that situation is that the exact behaviors he was displaying are some of the reasons I had wanted him on an IEP before he went into Kindergarten. It was such a struggle and I fought hard to get that formal evaluation. What a process! Then, once all of it was said and done I was told that his behavior was not severe enough for him to have an IEP. I am not sure how severe they wanted it to be, but needless to say I felt defeated. I mean, yes, I was glad he didn’t need that label on his back but I was scared shitless for what was to come and the phone calls, behavior reports, etc., etc.

Did I write a long ass warning letter to his incoming kindergarten teacher the day before school started? You bet your ass I did. Do I care that I sound over the top and high maintenance? Nope.

Although, I used to.

I cannot even begin to express the gratitude and appreciation that I have for Grayson’s Kindergarten teacher. That woman was an angel on earth when it came to teaching or should I say, taking care of Grayson. I often joked that she parented him better than I did and I owe her a tropical vacation. Seriously. I could tell that she had a soft spot in her heart for Grayson and she truly loves her students. It was pretty amazing. So, I was hoping that she helped mold the way for a better school experience. I really was not ready for this year to be a shit show.

His teacher this year is so amazing to work with, I just hadn’t worked with her when it came to behavior yet. She was Tristan’s (our oldest) teacher and although he was a hot mess at home, he knew how to pull it all together at school. Well…let’s just say that I have gotten to know his teacher pretty well this year. You guys. It fucking sucks. Until you are the parent to the child that continues to act out and defy the teachers and most people at random intervals, you cannot understand. Hell, I hope you don’t have to. Everybody seems to know my Grayson.

I have been his advocate. I have told a few people off for their lack of understanding and shitty attitude toward our situation. I have been told many times that he wishes I would die and then later he says he is sorry and how much he loves me. I have cried myself to sleep with worry. I have been sick in my stomach thinking that one day he could have a negative image of himself as I am often fighting that same image of myself in my own head. I have pushed counseling, evaluations, teacher meetings, large group meetings with all involved in his intervention, behavior and chore charts, cut out colored dies from food, cut out and skimmed down electronic time. I don’t think there is much that we have not tried.

When your son is vocally saying that he wants to die, he hates himself, he is constantly mad, agitated, frustrated you name it. You do something about it. You keep fighting and you push forward because there is nothing else you can do and you refuse to stop trying. But don’t get me wrong, some days I wave my white flag and I want to retreat. It is easy to do when life gets so damn rough.

Some people want to understand and be there for us. Others pretend they understand and then talk shit about our lack of discipline (in their interpretation of his behavior) behind our backs. No, I have not heard them doing this. However, I am pretty good at reading people and I know it happens. It’s all good. You can think whatever you like. You do not live our lives and you are not in my sweet Grayson’s head.

I am finally at a point in my parenting life when I realize that it does not matter what others do or think, the only thing that matters is my little family and how we do our thing. That’s it. I do care what others think and I always will, but if we can distance ourselves from that when we need to and get through the ugly downright shitty stuff as a team then we are doing something right.

Grayson has come a long way but we still have a lot of things we need to work on with him and that’s ok. I cannot be upset with him about it. He is a very sensitive soul and I feel like he wears his heart on his sleeve. The only problem is when things do not go the way that he wants them or someone knicks that little heart of his, he lashes out. Not so much at others physically (anymore), but he will spew mean words that he later regrets. I know it will take some time and some energy but I am hoping we can help him to learn better coping strategies.

I have posted a video in the past about disciplining my children and how I am not extremely hard on them. However, that is not to say I am easy on them either. Shannon and I both agree that they need to be respectful. However, every child is different. Tristan and Grayson are both strong-willed children. If we are out in public and Tristan is rude or obscene we will talk to him and discipline him, now remember Tristan was also diagnosed with anxiety like his Momma and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Sometimes talking and disciplining him goes over well, while other times he may lash out and be snotty. We just have to assess the situation when it comes.

Now, Grayson has ADHD (or at least we are pretty sure and we are in the process of having him evaluated) and he is all over the place, especially when we are in public or group settings and there is a lot going on. If you are really stern with him he will have a meltdown and shutdown. If you talk to him he may listen if it’s a good day, or he may not be able to focus and just continue the behavior even more. It’s hard to say.

More than anything consistency is key with my two boys. If we are out in a public setting or event and it is not something that we normally do, it can, therefore, trigger anxiety and cause acting out. You just never know and I tend to produce children that are easily hangry. So if it’s dinner time and they haven’t eaten. Watch out!

Some people may read this and think that I am trying to make excuses for them or just not trying. Well, let’s just agree to disagree and be glad that you yourself have never felt the way that they are feeling inside and I and their Daddy can relate more than they realize.

I know this seems like a journal entry but it makes me feel better to reiterate that we truly do try. These are the conversations my husband and I have had with each other and with their counselors. Sometimes we don’t even want to leave our house because we have faced many humiliating circumstances worse than noted above and we have gotten all of the accusing stares and lack of sympathy from many people.

We cuddle our babies every day. We always tell them how much we love them and what we love about them. We acknowledge their achievements. We make them do their chores and we talk to them about the importance of helping one another. We make them eat dinner at the table with us every night (that we don’t have something going on outside of the home), we read a book or two every night and even cuddle with them. We do the best we can.

We are stressed. We are overwhelmed. We sometimes (okay, maybe more than sometimes) cuss and yell. We rush around and stress each other out. We eat out more than we should and we sometimes let the kids on electronics longer than they should be.

We are not perfect. We acknowledge that.

If you feel that disciplining your children in a certain way is more effective, we respect that. We would appreciate that respect reciprocated for our choices in discipline. It cracks me up that some people think that my children would behave better if we were more physical and loud, however with anxiety, it’s not that easy. It just is not.

Raising children with strong-willed, defiant personalities has been the hardest thing I have done in my entire life. To all of those people that think being a Stay at Home Mom is not a job, they can shove that feeling up their ass and please unfriend me on Facebook and delete my number. Seriously, my life has never been as much of a rollercoaster as a Monday home with three very strong-willed children with the whole long summer day ahead. Most of you that know me, know I am not this harsh normally and I would never say these things out loud. But that is the fun in writing, you can make it what you want and say the things that you have been thinking. Please do not think that I am pointing fingers. I truly am not. I just want to get through this with our little man and help him be the strong and stable little guy that he deserves to be.

Everyone faces their own challenges along the way. There are so many different facets of Grayson and we will get through them. Does he have a sleep disorder? Does he deal with dyslexia? Is he anxious or distracted? We don’t have all of those answers just yet, but these are all thoughts that have been going through our mind and we are trying to figure out.

Thank you to everyone that has been so supportive and understanding through this process. It has been hard but it is always worth it.

I would love to hear from you if you also deal with children with mental illness. You are not alone. I promise.

*This picture was taken after my Thyroidectomy. He would not leave my side. He even wanted to sleep on the floor beside my bed to make sure that I was okay. He has a heart of gold, this kid. We will get there.

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