I'm a mentally ill person raising another mentally ill person. With chickens.

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How has mental illness affected me personally:  I have bipolar disorder, type 2. I also have an ADHD diagnosis. My son has autism, and my daughter has ADHD. So mental illness is the everyday norm around here. My bipolar isn’t the interesting kind that you see on TV with people going off their meds and then becoming a complete wild child. It’s mostly depression where I sleep and eat a lot mixed in with periods of time where I can get a lot done but don’t always have the best judgement. I’ve never heard voices, or ran around naked, or stolen anything.  My first manic episode, and probably most manic thing I’ve ever done, is marry my first husband on a whim. It was a random weekday, he asked, I said sure, two hours later it was done. Impulsivity is a thing I’ve learned to watch for now, but at 21 I had no idea that anything was up. Oddly, I WAS seeing a counselor at this point, and had been for some time, and she never suggested bipolar disorder either, even though when I look back on this time period it seems pretty obvious.
Having a mental illness makes simple things harder for me. I’m easily overwhelmed by tasks that aren’t broken down into small steps. Like housekeeping. I look around and just see the giant mess and don’t know where to start, so I just don’t start because that’s easier (even though I prefer order). Oddly, I manage my children’s issues pretty well, I’m just exhausted by them fairly often. I find that everyday interactions with people are often rather exhausting. But if I’m even a little bit manic the opposite is true. It’s a weird thing, but on a Myers Briggs test I will score as extroverted if I’m a bit manic, and introverted if I’m a bit depressed.
Having a mental illness, and then having my first child be mentally ill as well made me rather reluctant to have a second child. There are eight and a half years between them, and my daughter was honestly quite a surprise. A very good surprise. But pregnancy and bipolar disorder was challenging, because the medications I was on were not safe for the baby, so we had to find something to use to keep things mostly normal. The drug we used wasn’t ideal, I gained way too much weight, but my mood was good without being too good, so overall it was a success. I did not breastfeed, getting back to my meds and avoiding a postpartum crash was just too important.
I can think of many ways my illness has changed my life from what I thought it would be. I studied to be a teacher and a mental health counselor, but I’m not. I’m a stay home mom whose main job these days is chaeuffeur. Sometimes I am frustated by the fact that I have no career, that I am completely dependant on my husband, but most days it’s ok. I’m a big believer in the idea that things work out the way they’re supposed to.

What did I learn from it that might help others:  In my first graduate class the professor made a comment about people with mental illnesses being drawn to the counseling profession, and that it wasn’t appropriate for them to work in the field because they weren’t mentally fit. I was angry about this comment, but I didn’t say anything, and I hid my illness from everyone in my department for the next three years. And that was wrong of me. That professor was wrong to make a blanket statement about “people with mental illnesses” and I let her intimidate me into hiding and I shouldn’t have. Don’t hide your illness because you’re afraid of what people will think. It’s just an illness like diabetes or lupus or arthritis. You take your medication and you go to your therapist, same as anyone with any illness, and you learn to live with it just like anyone else. When you hide it you’re saying it’s ok for people to stigmatize mental illness and it is not ok at all. We are as important and valuable as anyone else. Never be ashamed of your disorder, and never apologize for it. It’s part of what makes you, you.
I have a much easier time saying those things than I do actually acting on them, especially when it comes to my kids. I do find myself apologizing for their behaviour more than I should. It is what makes them unique, and I should be happy just to have healthy, happy children, not apologizing for their lack of perfection.
The one thing that has helped me the most along the way is learning to share that I have an illness. I’ve found that when I have opened up about my own illness I have found a community of others who have similar issues and who were also looking for someone who understood. None of us are alone in this

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So I am still engaged in an epic battle of wills with my son’s school over what “transition” is supposed to be, and what his education is supposed to be accomplishing at this point. We’re at a bit of a stalemate, because I’ve called for reinforcements and they’re desperately trying to get me sign something before those reinforcements take over. A bit shady, but that’s how the game is played. No one wants to get caught being non-compliant with IDEA.
It’s mentally exhausting. It shouldn’t be, I am not new to the autism spectrum after all, my son is 18. But it’s wearing me down anyway. I guess I thought by this point it would be easier, and I would know where we were headed. But nothing is ever that simple, is it?
Anyway, today I found this piece, and it was uplifting:
I know what causes Autism

So I’ve not been as active here as I’d hoped in this new year, but I realized today that I have been writing a lot, just not here. And I thought rather than explain I would just share the series of emails with you and give you a glimpse into our never-dull world.

From my son’s teacher:

Attached is an updated CAP. It outlines the plan that Dr. Hedges, Mrs. Kaul and I discussed. Please feel free to review it and let me know your thoughts. 
For the most part, Alex is able to exhibit appropriate behaviors when in a 1:1 setting. However, he has had to start again today to work toward 5 days without exhibiting inappropriate behaviors. He flipped Mrs. Braun off because she said she didn’t have time to go to the library to find him another Marvel book until tomorrow. He currently has one in the classroom, but wanted a different one. 
If you have any input regarding the CAP changes, let me know. I would be happy to schedule a meeting to discuss them.  I also discussed with Mrs. Kaul your thoughts on an online curriculum. She and I agree that removing Alex from school would be considered the most restrictive environment, and probably not something that would be appropriate. It would require a team meeting, and the team would need to agree to the placement. Again, let me know and I can schedule the meeting to discuss it.

Thanks

.

CAP stands for Comprehensive Autism Plan, I guess. My son’s looks like the schedule of a convict in solitary confinement. So initially this was my first response to the teacher.

I fail to see how this is any less restrictive than being at home, as he sees no one but staff all day. And, as he is 18 he doesn’t HAVE to be there. This plan does not make me think that the district has anything to offer him, and I think that we need to be working with adult services. 

And then I stewed for awhile and sent this to the SPED director:

Hey! 

I finally opened my email from Nicole and looked at Alex’s CAP plan. I probably shouldn’t have before I went to bed. But I’m not very comfortable with it, it’s essentially in-school suspension all day, every day. Yes, there’s opportunities to work his way out of it, but they’re so gradual that I don’t believe he will even realize that the system is in place. I doubt he remembers on a day to day basis that he IS working toward anything more than a short term reward like computer time or a library book. I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe this setting is appropriate for him, I’m afraid nothing at the high school is. 

You know, we don’t see the kind of behaviors at home that they see at school. He doesn’t hit us, not even Audrey, and she picks on him a lot. He swears occasionally, but not anymore than other teens I know, quite a bit less than some. And his first year at the HS didn’t have near as many behavior issues either, even with all the subs, and with being in some actual classes. I just don’t think this classroom with this teacher will ever be a good fit. Her mostly ABA trained style will never be a good approach for Alex and I think it’s time to move to Adult Services. I was really just being a smart ass when I said that to Nicole about an online curriculum. I know there isn’t one for SPED, and I don’t believe that she could, even if she had time, create one. But I do think Alex deserves better than locked in a room all day. He actually likes people, and IS social when given the opportunity, and this isolation seems rather mean. At least if he were here he’d have some company. Megan doesn’t come back til next month, so I don’t have anyone on this end who can really speak for him except me right now, but I think something has to change. 

Thanks for your help!

Julie

I do try to be politer her to her, things go a bit better when she likes you. But I was still upset. So later I sent this to both of them:

Well now that I can’t sleep and have thought about it some more, I realiaze this plan very closely resembles solitary confinement at a 
correctional facility: He’s down at the end of a secluded hallway, he only sees the “guards”, has scheduled and supervised bathroom and meal breaks, and if he’s good he earns 10 minutes in the “yard” (yeah, it’s the computer, but it’s the same principle). No. Just no. I don’t know what to do yet, but this will not work, it is definitely not OK. I’m keeping him home the rest of the week while I see what my options are.

So this morning I received two emails from the SPED director who is out of town. First this one:

Your right, this is a restrictive plan. However, it is only temporary until Alex can show he is not aggressive to others. His behavior has improved on this type of
of plan. We don’t want him to be isolsted but we also have to keep others safe. I think Alex’s team needs to meet right away. I am back on Friday could we get together? Nicole could you see what Dr. Hedges has available? Thanks

.

To which I sent a rather lengthy response, sorry.

You’re probably right, but I’m terribly under-represented at this point. With Megan gone there’s only me to speak for Alex and I’m afraid that just isn’t enough. I don’t have family support walking me through every step of transition planning like everyone else has had, so I really do need to figure out some things before we get together. And I think I need help.  But I KNOW this is wrong. I know him better than anyone, and he won’t really comprehend a system like this, it’s too long term. He doesn’t use short term/working memory like a typical person. Everything either goes straight to long term or is gone. A plan this drawn out, with incremental steps, is not going to even register with him, he won’t really realize what his goal is supposed to be. Earning computer time, or whatever other reward they use, is going to seem mostly random to him and not getting it is going to be frustrating and cause more behaviors. (You can check the working memory section of his IQ test, it’s the worst section by far.)  
I really believe the environment is a large part of the behavior problem that you are seeing, because we are not seeing it here. We’ve actually seen an improvement in behavior and attitude since we added to his medication, he’s much more cooperative and polite here. Before when there’ve been behaviors at school we’ve had worse behaviors at home, but not this time, which points to environment. He does not fit into that classroom very well. I worried that would happen when he first went to the High School, and I was right. So I don’t know where he fits, or what to do, but this CAP is not ok. 
Sorry to be so difficult, I’ve really tried to play along even though I know he’s not really learning anything, but this plan just seems cruel. Yes, he’s offended people with his language, and hit Jeremy, and Mrs. Olson. But almost every time he’s had one of those behaviors it’s been in a situation I’ve suggested we avoid. I asked for him NOT to be in the room with Jeremy as much as possible, so they’re in the same PE class? I asked several times for a job besides cleaning the cafeteria, because he doesn’t like it and it always leads to behavior problems because he’s with Jeremy again, and in a place he’d rather not be. What else can I do? I’ve offered suggestions, Megan has offered suggestions, they’re disregarded and then there are behaviors. I don’t foresee a change, and  I can’t in good conscience accept this plan, so I feel very stuck. I will see what I can find out about transition planning from other sources this week and then talk about a meeting. For now, I’m keeping Alex home. I do not feel right sending him there under those conditions, I just can’t do that to him. I hope you understand. 
Thanks!

Julie 

She sent me another request for a meeting later that morning and here’s my response: 

I don’t want to meet with Nicole. I don’t want to be in the same room with her. I have tried the “let’s get together and make a plan” approach in the past. Megan and I went in to parent teacher conferences last year with a list of suggesstions for what works with Alex, and things to avoid (like Jeremy) and she said oh sure, we can make that work, and then basically did everything exactly the opposite of what we discussed. Our current situation did not have to happen, she was given a lot of tips on how avoid these behaviors. She just didn’t want to avoid them, she wanted to CORRECT them. And now here we are. ABA is not a philosophy I believe in, and it’s not actually all that supported by research either, so why it is being used in a classroom is something for you to figure out. 
I stayed on board last year because she promised that voc rehab and adult services would be at our IEP meeting last winter to talk about transition;  instead it was just another CAP plan meeting showing me how they’re following the plan. I have a Master’s degree, I can read the damn plan.
What I can’t do, because I have ZERO information, is make any kind of transition out of High school plan for Alex by myself. So, I made an appointment with rehab services for him next Tuesday, and I applied for Family Support 360, and I asked Advocacy to look over his CAP plan. (I don’t like involving them, it feels adversarial, and in theory we should all be on Alex’s team.) 

 I am done sitting down in a room with Nicole so she can say one thing to look good to you and then turn around and do whatever she pleases. I’m sorry if that is disrespectful, but our experience at the high school has just gotten worse each year, and I am frustrated and angry and quite frankly, done. I appreciate that you have listened to me, and tried to help, and really been very pleasant! But, I do not see a way for Alex to go back to that room and acheive any kind of success. 

Thanks! 

Julie

So that’s where I left it. I know I probably sound kind of winy, or demanding. But the whole goal of school from 18 to 21 is supposed to be job and life skills, and I fail to see how he’s gettng those isolated in a room with one staff member all day.

So I HAVE been writing, just not anything fun. Hopefully that will change soon!

Is Crime Relative?

 

Another post that really made me think. This is a blog that I stumbled on to back in November, and now read pretty regularly. The author and I see the world very similarly I think.

Is Crime Relative?.

A very informative post

Nerdy Book Club

Peace is not just the absence of war. For real peace to happen everywhere in this world, we need to work on the way we see each other and the way we think about each other and get rid of what is causing us to start fighting in the first place. Here are ten books that I have shared with children and adults that have sparked conversations around the themes of what unites us and what comes between us:

 whoever you are

In Whoever YouAre, Mem Fox reminds us with few words and vivid illustrations, that whoever we are and wherever we are,

“Joys are the same

and love is the same.

Pain is the same,

and blood is the same.

Smiles are the same

and hearts are just the same –”

This is a simple but powerful book that shows how parents and children all over the world aspire…

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Grrrrr

annoyed right this second I don’t really have words. (Ok, I have them, but none of them are appropriate.) I was almost done with Blogging 101 assignment about following other blogs and being neighborly, and I left this page to go get address of one the blogs I follow and came back and no post, no draft, no nothing. I suppose that is why my phone really isn’t great for this, but I HATE my laptop, and my daughter was using her computer.

This new update has me a bit baffled as well, but that’s probably because I’m old. Anyway, so far I’m not finding this “class” to be great for getting my groove back. Mostly it’s making me feel like the kooky non-trad who drives the regular college kids crazy.

An introduction

I signed up for Blogging 101 this month, to get my groove back, and the first assignment is to introduce myself. You would think that would be easy at my age, but it isn’t. I always hated it in college when professors  made you go around the room and say something about yourself.  I think they just do that to waste time, and in a half-assed attempt to remember your name. Even graduate school professors do this which is just silly. I was a grad assistant and I did NOT make my students do this.

I guess I’ve told a few things about myself already: I went to graduate school, I don’t really like speaking in public, or talking about myself, I taught at least one class, and I’m trying to get my groove back. Also, I seem to have a bit of bad attitude these days. 
I’ll see if I can be a bit more positive. Tomorrow is my birthday. I’ll be 43 and I’m actually pretty ok with that. Being younger no longer seems like that much fun, and I don’t feel too old for anything. I feel like there’s enough time ahead of me to do and see at least some of the things on my bucket list and I don’t feel like I wasted my youth.
I’m a mother of two: an eighteen-year-old son and a nine-year-old daughter. They could not be any more opposite. He is large, always was at the top of the percentile charts, and she is tiny. He likes to stay home, and to watch the same things over and over again, and to talk through movies and shows. She likes to go everywhere, she hardly ever sits still, she likes new things, and when she does watch the tv she doesn’t want anyone to talk. She is a dancer with five practices a week, he avoids exercise like the plague. He is on the autism spectrum, and she has ADHD. They are the joys of my life, and there is never a dull moment at our house.
I’ve been married for 19+ years, it’ll be 20 in July. My husband is not what anyone expected “back in the day”, but he is the perfect match for me. We’ve weathered many unexpected challenges over the years, and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else by my side. He is never rattled by anything, he’s my rock. And he fixes things, which is something every woman should look for in a man.
I do have an abundance of education I guess. An undergraduate degree in English and a Master’s in Counseling. I’m not using any of it. I’m a stay home mom who gets a disability check every month. Sometimes I’m disappointed by the fact that I’m not working, but I’ve mostly come to terms with it. I have bipolar disorder type 2, and ADHD inattentive type. Those things do not make me a great employee, unfortunately. I’m a creative teacher and counselor, and I’m a good listener. But paperwork? I just get overwhelmed. I’ve never been as sick and exhausted as I was at the end of my counseling internship year. I finished everything and then I slept for roughly ten days. I knew I’d never be able to work like that full time. I did apply for a counseling job, but I’m a client at that agency so it was kind of a long shot. This is a small town, so I probably should have thought about that sort of thing before busting my ass in grad school and wracking up tons of student loans, but you know what they say about hindsight.
I need to find a focus for my blog. I’m not sure what exactly I want to talk about. I think the world has plenty of autism blogs, and plenty of mental illness blogs, and plenty of parenting blogs.  I can’t say what exactli makes my perspective unique, other than it’s mine, and while I hope others find it interesting and entertaining I am not sure what actually sets my voice apart from the masses. Something to continue to ponder, I guess.