Saturday, June 24, 2017

Runaway Bay

The scream bubbled up from deep down in her soul, forced it's way past her throat and finally through her lips.  The sound reverberated through the interior of the truck bouncing from the windshield to the windows and back again.  Still the screams kept forcing themselves out of the depths of her soul.  Onward she drove, eyes dry, screams being torn from the very center of her being.  She drove without purpose or destination. She would drive until the need to runaway, the need to escape the chaos and pain subsided; until the screams could be pushed back down and the pain was buried beneath the sense of purpose that drove her.   She knew she could not truly escape, nor did she really even want to.  There were too many who depended on her, too many whom she loved; it wasn't in her to abandon them.  So she drove on, waiting for the panic to die down, for the feelings of failure to slowly ebb away and finally for the screams to replaced with healing tears.
She came to a rundown town on the lake called Runaway Bay.  The name called to her, the dilapidated buildings resonated with her emotions.  She pulled the truck into the parking lot of an old, abandoned restaurant with an ancient For Sale sign dangling crookedly on one hook.  The restaurant had a small dock in the back.  There she sat in the cold rain and finally the tears came.   She cried out all the pain, terror and anger she had been swallowing for the past week.   She thought back on the events that had led her here, sitting on an abandoned dock the day after her 40th birthday; a birthday that had been lost in the craziness of what had happened in the last week: one kid hospitalized for self harming, one who had physically attacked her after missing his medication and another who was on the verge of hospitalization because of his extreme emotional liability (on the verge as in the doctor started filling out the forms to commit him).  One week and her entire world had been shattered.  The one thing she had taken for granted, the fact she was a decent mother, now lay shattered at her feet like the shards of a broken mirror.  So she sat, she cried and she willed herself to pull her shredded insides back together for the sake of those she loved.  She would face these challenges, she would make changes and her family would not only survive, they would thrive. This is the vow she made sitting on a rotting dock in a town called Runaway Bay.

Today I'm going to write about a subject that is uncomfortable, one that often gets swept under the rug because it's easier to hide the elephant in the room than it is to address it.  Today I'm going to talk about mental illness, what happens when mental illness is not properly managed and treated.   I'm going to share these things because we have faced the nightmarish reality that happens when mental illnesses are not properly treated.  We have had a child who would not leave the house for three years because his anxiety disorders took over his life so completely, one who became so clinically depressed he started self harming and picked up scissors to slit his wrist (all the knives had already been locked away) and a child whose mood disorder was so completely out of control that he was having four and five violent meltdowns a day.  We have walked these horrific roads and if our experiences can save even one family those nightmares, then maybe a little good will come out of this suffering.
I am not new to this whole autism thing. *STOP* Rabbit trail time.  Let me be clear, I do not think autism is a mental illness.  However, many of the co-morbid conditions that often accompany it are.  These co-morbid conditions often get worse in the teen years and require serious medical intervention because if they are not managed the child's education can suffer or worse someone will get hurt.  Our boys suffer from several of these co-morbid conditions including: ADD/ADHD, GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), Social Anxiety Disorder, Extreme Depressive Disorder, OCD, and DMDD (Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder). *Okay, back to your regularly scheduled blog.*
  I have been advocating, therapy-ing, and even medicating our children for years now.  At first I fought medicating them.  I wanted their brains to develop naturally, without psychotropic drugs or stimulants affecting that growth.  I twisted myself into a pretzel to make sure our boys received all the therapies they needed to live a "normal" life.  I advocated hard, alienating myself from the school district the boys were attending in the process.  And for a while all my hard work and the hard work of the therapists and teachers and most importantly our boys, paid off.  They were making huge strides forward.  They were learning how to navigate this world and succeed.  I was proud of all the progress they had made.
Then the teen years hit and all the things that had worked no longer worked.  We tried new strategies and they still didn't work.  Eventually, one by one, I accepted the fact my boys would need to be medicated.  We found a psychiatrist and a psychologist.  We poured hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars into medication and therapy and though we saw small improvements our boys were not really getting better.  But we were doing everything we could, right?
Then the first week of May 2017 happened.  All the things in that story above (plus a few other things) happened that week.  I was devastated.  Let me be clear, our boys were receiving mental health treatment at the time of these breakdowns.  What I did not realize was they weren't receiving the correct mental health treatments.  Sitting in the visiting room of the psychiatric unit, waiting to see our son for the 45 minutes a day we were allowed, my husband and I came to the conclusion we needed to reevaluate EVERYTHING we were doing for our kids. There were no sacred cows, everything was up for change if it meant our boys would get the help they needed
After days of talking and reevaluation we came to the decision that our boys needed new psychiatrist.  That part was easy.  We had already been in the process of changing anyway. We now have 2 different psychiatrist for our boys.  Each one uniquely suited to the boys they see.  All the boys medication regiments have been changed and the difference we have seen is astonishing.  Our house is now mostly peaceful, the boys can actually play together and their meltdowns (the few they have had) are much shorter and are completely manageable.
  Then we had to reevaluate of psychologist.  This was harder because I genuinely love our original psychologist.  She is an amazing person.  But we had to be honest and admit her form of therapy did not work for all of our children.  We could no longer be a one size fits all mental health family.
So we found new psychologist and therapist for three of our children.  One is now in equine therapy which has been amazing for him.  He opens up to this therapist, while taking care of the horses.  This gives his hands something to do while talking and the horses relax him.
Another is with a psychologist who himself is autistic.  He has a completely different approach with this child.  He focuses on this son's strengths and helps him develop plans and strategies to build on those strengths instead of talking about the problems.  He also has this son, who has extreme anxiety issues, in a role playing group with other kids.  The psychologist writes the scenarios with specific therapeutic goals in mind and the kids have a blast playing the games while receiving therapy.
This new way of life means that I am often driving from one side of DFW to the other several times a week.  It is a crazy schedule but I would much rather do a crazy amount of traveling than have crazy, out of their gourds kids.
What does all this mean?  What am I trying to communicate? In all this rambling, I'm not sure what I want to say is clear. So here it is simplified.
1)Mental illnesses are serious and need to be treated as such.
2)They are not shameful and should not be hidden rather than dealt with.
3) In many cases mental illnesses must be managed with medication, not treating them is dangerous and could lead to serious problems.
4)Even if you are treating them do not be afraid to reevaluate and change therapies or doctors if you are not seeing the results you need.  It is easy to let the connection we make with a particular doctor cloud our judgement in seeking a second opinion.
5) One size does not fit all in mental health.  Unlike with a pediatrician, you may need different doctors and types of therapy for different kids.

We have made other changes in how we deal with things in our home as well.  But the largest changes were made in the treatments our boys receive.  The past month has been busy but it has also been much more peaceful.  Change is hard but it is well worth it.
One last thing, though admitting our son to the behavioral unit at the hospital for in patient treatment was terrifying and absolutely the hardest thing I have ever had to do as a parent, it made a huge difference for him. If you have a loved one who is self harming or threatening suicide, please seek treatment for them.  It can literally mean the difference between life and death.

I'm sorry that my last few blogs have been heavy.  I do prefer to write light and funny things but light and funny isn't the season of life we have been in.  I try at all times to be as open and honest as I can in a public forum.  To pretend to be in a place we are not does a disservice to you, my friends and readers.  Thank you for sticking with me even though the blogs have been sporadic at best.  I'm hoping that as our family life continues to stabilize I will be able to devote more time and energy to writing again.  Honestly, I miss it and I miss you all.  As always I send you my love, Kristine

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