Posted on

There’s always a bright side. Even if that bright side is that you only lost a finger.

Lessons come from the most unlikely places.  Like from children and applesauce. And crack.  Sometimes from manky, infected toes and bubblewrap, but that’s another story altogether.  Today’s lesson is courtesy of applesauce and crack and I don’t really know how I feel about it all.

Ash, eating applesauce straight from the jar. “It’s Apples Mum.  It must be healthy.”
Me, trying good parenting. “Yeah.  But how much sugar is in it?”
“Only 12%.”
“12% of that jar was sugar. That’s not healthy.”
“Look on the bright side.  It isn’t 50%.”
“That’s like saying to someone who just lost a finger.  ‘Look on the bright side, it wasn’t half an arm.’ It isn’t helpful.  They still lost a finger.”
“Well I’d rather lose a finger than an arm.  I don’t think you’re getting it Mum. There’s always a bright side.”

Ten minutes later…

Me, trying some more parenting “…I’m glad you asked. The inserts for the cup holders are on the sink because *someone* <eyeballs Ash> left iceblock wrappers in there and they got sticky.”
“Look on the bright side, Mum.  At least I’m not a crack addict”.

Today applesauce and crack have taught us valuable lessons.  I’m pretty sure the lesson is that if you’re a total smartarse, try not to raise your children to be just like you.

Posted on

WHY DO PEOPLE KEEP TRUSTING ME TO DO THINGS? IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!

sw_header_bar_nonsense

So here’s the thing.  People keep putting me in charge of stuff and I can’t work out why.  No, really.  Managers are supposed to be fully functioning adults and if we have learned anything on this blog, we know I am not a fully functioning anything.

I used to be Assistant Manager at a refuge for homeless youth.  I’m pretty sure I can’t be allowed to raise other people’s children, this is how my own son’s twisted little mind works:

Me: (writing notes on a client for staff meeting): “hmmm social networks…”
Son: “tumblr, twitter, facebook..”
Me: “No dear, my client’s social networks.”
Son: “Just because they’re homeless doesn’t mean they can’t have a tumblr”
Me: “heheh they usually have a facebook”
Son (horrified at himself) …….. “ahhhahahahahahahahahah….ohhhhhh….”
Me: “Oh god, what?”
Son: “If they have a facebook at least the homeless have one wall”
Me: “…..
……..
….you’re going to hell.  You know that right?”

Save

Save

Save

Posted on

Love Your Children In a Manner That They Can’t Help But Love You Back. Whatever That Is To You.

sw_header_bar_familyWe have just recently moved in to a rental property that is… less than ideal.  After piling all the trash left at the property by the previous tenant out on the curb for council clean up one evening, I was walking arm in arm up the driveway with my 17 yo daughter.

Me: “Thanks for helping.”

Bek: “I love you too.”

That right there is everything I could have hoped for as a parent.  No matter what I say, my daughter hears ‘I love you’.

Their whole lives, the last thing my children have heard before they leave the house is “I love you”, even if we have just had a disagreement or I am feeling less than loving towards some of their behaviours.  “I love you” will always be the last thing they hear when they leave our home.  It may be “I really want to choke you Homer Simpson style for your stupidity right now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you beyond compare.”  Or “we’ll talk about it when you get home tonight and  you’ve removed your head from your arse.  Just know I love you no matter how special your behaviour is.”  But it is still “I love you”.

When I say love your children in a manner they can’t help but love you back, I don’t mean give them everything they want and never impose any rules on them.  What you get in return for that is not love and it is certainly not respect.  We are there to be their parents, not their enabling best friends.  I am mother.  Mentor.  Enforcer of Rules.  Shepherd through life.  Often begrudging, but generally chatty Taxi Driver.  Chores and Homework Badger.  Our friendship, though it exists, exists with strings attached.  With caveats and boundaries.  I am first and foremost their mother.  We will but heads on the odd occasion that they are being buttheads.

Now I know that my style of parenting isn’t for everyone, we are quite sweary and NSFW behind closed doors.  That is why I encourage you to use whatever it is about the amazing human being you are, the thing that makes you lovable and unique, in order to love your children so much they can’t help but love you back.  If like me, you love building box forts in the lounge room and creating indoor beach barbeques, engage with them using quirky part of your personality that meshes with yours.  If you are crafty, show you love by creating things you know they’ll adore.  If you are sporty, make chores fun by turning them into games and competitions.  If they enjoy both fishing and animated films, exclaim “I don’t understand fishing metaphors” before collapsing to the ground if you get lost when they start talking about inline spinners and jerkbait.

Birthday forts are parenting done right!

Parenting is difficult and tiring.  But it also the most wonderfully joyous thing to be a part of.  For me, my children can’t help but love me back because my love shines through in all the nonsense I bring to their lives.  And in the fact that within the circus we call home I put in the effort to set consistent rules and boundaries.  All the fun, laughter, and inappropriate joking is underscored by boundaries and discipline.

I was at the store on the weekend and a tired looking mother was on the travelator with her twin boys.  One was running up the down travelator and the other was walking calmly in front of her towards me.  I smiled knowingly at her and we in that moment of understanding we bonded as parents.  She was clearly overwrought, the shopping centre was near on empty and there was no one else on the travelator but us so it was no big deal that the boys were not standing perfectly by her side.  They were quiet, happy and quite well behaved for 6 ish years old to my eye.  “It gets easier as they get older and less active” I encouraged her.

“Yeah but I’ve still got to go through that horrible stage that comes after this.”  I always find it interesting that parents just assume their children will be difficult, as if they don’t have any control over it.

“My boy is 22 and he didn’t have a difficult stage after he stopped running everywhere and breaking bones” I responded.  Her response floored me.  I wish it was the first time I had heard words to this effect, but sadly it isn’t.

“My daughter is thirteen and she’s a bitch.”

If I thought my mother had that opinion of me, I probably would be too.  In fact, thirteen year old me would go out of her way to prove she was a bitch.  That’s what thirteen year olds do.  If children don’t have someone believing in the person they can be, why would they try to be anyone different?

Loving our children in a way that they can’t help but love us back is about modelling the behaviours we want to see in them, engaging with them in a manner that they connect with and taking the time to experience the world from their own frame of reference.  If we treat our children like a hindrance or a difficulty then that is what they will think we believe of them.  There is no connection in that, it communicates disappointment in who they are and the gap between what we want them to be and who they actually are.  There is a vast difference between hearing “Will you just shut up and stay still for a change?” or “Why can’t you just behave like your brother/friend/anyone other than them” than hearing “Sweetheart, you know how sometimes you get tired and grumpy and I look after you? I’m feeling that right now, can we just take some time out for me to rest so I can be my fun self again soon?”  They all ask for peace and quiet, but the last one creates a shared experience and helps our children understand and connect with us and how we are feeling.

How we deal with those moments when we butt heads with our children is every bit as important as all the moments in between when they are actually nice to be around.  In fact, they speak volumes to our children about our role in their lives and how we view them as people.

One of the reasons my children can’t help but love me back is because they see the love in everything I do.  Even when I have to discipline them.  Rarely are there raised voices and harsh words in our house, no matter how spectacularly stupid or hurtful the behaviour by the adorable little miscreant has been.  I always speak honestly and openly with them about where I am coming from when I do have to play the Parent Card and squash their fun or any misbehaviours.

After all the hurt feelings and teenage anger has died down to a simmer, I approach my child and explain to them why I did what I did.  I assure them that I understand that they are hurt and angry and I would have felt the same at their age.  But I’ve lived a life and I can see the pitfalls of their decisions even if they can’t.  I remind them that I am their mother and my job is to get them through to adulthood safe, well rounded and happy.  In that order.  Happy sometimes has to take a back seat when the other two goals are jeopardised.  I make sure they understand that loving them is much bigger than just making them happy in that moment.  I love them so much I will be the one to put my foot down so they can go on to have rich and happy lives as adults, regardless of how unhappy it makes the both of us at the time.

Speaking to my 16 year old about parenting styles and how we show love to each other, including my setting of rules and boundaries, she said “I was an asshole for a bit but you refused to take any of my crap and I pulled my head in pretty quickly.”  While we as parents are not wholly in control of our children’s actions and attitudes, we play a large part in them as they grow up.

After thinking about writing this post I presented all of my children a seemingly simple question.  I asked “This is not a self serving question for gratification; it’s a genuine question for a post I’m writing.  Why do you love me?”

My 17 year old daughter gave me the most insightful answer which, thankfully, confirmed what I had suspected.  She said she loved me because I was funny, kind, silly and thoughtful.  All good answers and, if I’m honest, did give me the gratification as a parent that I was not intentionally seeking.  It is easy to see why someone would respond well to kindness and thoughtfulness, but I wanted to know why my personal characteristics of funny and silly were reasons to love me as a parent.  To her, those qualities are a reflection of her and she likes that we connect that way.  She responds well to being parented in a style that meshes with her own personality.

All my children have their own wonderful, unique personalities and are experiencing life differently to myself and each other.  To have the kind of relationship where they can’t help but love me back I take the time to see life through their eyes, listen to everything they have to say to me even if I. Really. Don’t. Care. About. Pokemon Go.  And I recognise that the little things aren’t worth saying no to if they don’t take too much time out of my day or cause inconvenience.  Is it a pain in the butt to detour past the gym to go past three pokemon stops? Yes.  Does it take more than two minutes? No.  I have two minutes to give to my children to make them feel that I care about helping them with the things that interest them.  Did I just clean the lounge room?  Yes.  Is it a pain in the butt to step over lego or a stuffed toy tea party? Yes.  Does it actually hurt me in any way for the lounge to be messed up again for a few hours? No.  Off you go, have fun, clean up after yourselves.  If you don’t, the next time you ask to mess the house up will be a learning experience you won’t enjoy.

I show my children that I not only love them but like them.  I seek out ways for us to spend time together doing things that we both enjoy.  I have created a comfortable space that they can ask anything they like (seriously, once my child came out with ‘I heard something at school I don’t know.  What’s a rim job?’), and they know they can call for help if they have made a mistake and they won’t be instantly met with attitude.  They know there will be consequences, but they also know they will be met with love and support before the consequences come after they are out of danger and distress. The punishment always fits the crime, if I think I am going to overreact I tell them I love them but will talk to them when I have had a moment to collect myself because I’m too angry to make good decisions.  I am consistent.  In short, I treat them like individual, thinking, feeling people, not possessions for me to own or control.

Parenting Tools – TL;DR

There is no magic formula for parenting. But I can tell you that your children can’t help but love you back when your chief parenting tool is love.  Love and patience.  Patience and love.  Your two main parenting tools are love and patience and respect.  Your three main parenting tools are love, respect, patience and honesty.  Your four…no amongst your parenting tools are such elements as love… no wait, I’ll start this again.

Amongst your parenting tools are such diverse elements as love, patience, respect, honesty, fairness, boundaries, consistency and a genuine desire to connect with your children and understand where they are coming from.

Throw in a liberal handful of your own personality and they will never realise they are in the middle of the Spanish Inquisition.  Or a Monty Python Sketch.

 

Save

Save

Save

Posted on

A Response to ‘Your Anxiety Isn’t An Excuse to be an Asshole’

sw_header_bar_deep copy

Or ‘My anxiety may not be an excuse to be an asshole – but neither is good intentions.’

Now my personal opinion is that there is no excuse to be an asshole to anyone.  Anxiety disorder or not, being an asshole to people is not okay.  Part of not being an asshole is exercising tact and making the effort to understand things through other people’s frames of reference.  It just takes a little respect and the ability to remove your head from your anal sphincter long enough to consider that not all people are the same as you.  Mental Health Training 101 really.

Assholery is not endemic to people with anxiety disorders.  Anxiety presents with many different symptoms, the most common of which are

  • Chronic fears or thoughts that interfere with daily living
  • Panic or anxiety attacks or fear of these attacks
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Feeling faint
  • Rapid beat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea
  • Numbness or tingling in the extremities
  • Inability to stay still, ‘jumpiness’
  • Avoidance behaviours
  • Sleep disorders

Being an asshole is not among the symptoms on that list.  Nor any list I have ever read or studied.

Sometimes the sheer terror associated with an attack could cause a person to lash out.  I don’t do that but I can understand why someone might.  When you can’t control your own mind, it is beyond petrifying and it is easy to lose control of your actions.  But my point is that ‘snapping at’ the people around you, treating them as your ‘your neurotypical punching bag’ or ‘taking out your stress or anger’ on friends and family are not symptoms of anxiety.  Those are reactions to the symptoms.  And how we react to the symptoms we experience is as individual as our own experience of the mental illness itself.

Depending on the severity and causation, not all of these symptoms can be controlled by force of will and management.  Sometimes none of them can.  Or all of them can.  My point is that everybody’s experience of anxiety is different.  It is hard work to manage these symptoms and function through them and sometimes it actually can’t be done without medical intervention and a whole lot of regular therapy.

When I talk about mental health solutions it is from the context of this-is-what-worked-for-us-try-it-if-you-like.  That is why it saddens me to read articles like this one, which are full of incredibly valid points but are approached from the this-is-what-worked-for-me-and-you’re-an-asshole-who-isn’t-trying-hard-enough-if-it-doesn’t-work-for-you-too school of thought.  Even though the author goes on to say that what worked for her won’t work for everyone and she ‘gets that’, the often vituperative post that follows that disclaimer points to anything but ‘getting’ other people’s experience of mental illness.  The world is full of people who have never experienced mental illness, who don’t understand it and judge those of us with it as just not trying.  We can’t be divided as a community, it is hard enough finding acceptance out there as it is.

One time I came across this picture on my Facebook.

not_at_all_helpful

I was shocked that this ill-informed, judgemental picture was shared by a girl I consider to be kind, compassionate and beautiful inside and out. After myself and another person commented that it had taken both of those things to keep us alive at various times in our lives she removed the picture and apologised.  Having never had clinical depression she only knew that nature soothed her when she felt depressed and down.  We could have used this moment of ignorance to rant and demand people see the world our way.  But we didn’t. The wonderful thing about that experience was that it opened up a dialogue on what it is like to live with anxiety and depression.  I shared with her one of my favourite, and seemingly hated by the author of the Asshole piece, comic strips by Robot Hugs that explains society’s attitude to mental health problems perfectly.

2013-11-21-Helpful Advice

Now, from reading the aforementioned article it appears that the author is trying to support people into being proactive in their own mental health recovery.  That in itself is a wonderful and important thing to put out there.  It isn’t going to get better unless we work towards being better.  But we don’t need to be judgemental and rude to help others achieve that goal.  Both defining characteristics of an asshole, by the way.  Weren’t we trying to avoid turning into assholes here?

Can we just start with the sentence ‘But first, some credentials, because I don’t like yelling about things I don’t understand. (Yes, I do.)’ wherein the author goes on to describe her own Generalised Anxiety Disorder.  When I was shown this article by a friend who wanted my opinion on it, my immediate response was ‘I ate a lasagne once, that doesn’t make me qualified to be a chef.’

It’s fantastic to share your experience of mental illness.  In some settings I’d go so far as to say brave and inspirational.  However, experiencing something from our own frame of reference does not make us qualified to judge other people or even give advice on how to solve something.  It just means we can empathise rather than sympathise.  We can share how we worked through the issue and offer understanding.  We can encourage others to try it our way if they think it would be a good fit for them or to use our experience to find their own solution. But credentialled?  No.  In becoming qualified to support people with mental illnesses you learn not to belittle their experience, call them assholes for not having gotten better yet, encourage people to get rid of their medication without professional support and advice or tell them they don’t deserve friends because they aren’t good enough people.  That’s how you create suicides.  Or Daleks.  Do you want Daleks?  No you don’t.

I also want to look at the sentence ‘it is important we talk about these things in a constructive way’.  Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.  It is more than important.  It is imperative.  I could not agree more with that sentiment.

Webster’s defines constructive as  “helping to develop or improve something : helpful to someone instead of upsetting and negative”.

While I think the intention behind the article was to help people improve their lives, this diatribe does not come off as constructive in any way.  Constructive discussion encourages people to engage, creates a space where all opinions can be heard and is non-judgemental so as not to upset people, as by its very definition.  Constructive is not using phrases like “the last thing in the world I would need is this dumb fucking self-care rhetoric that essentially tells you, “You’re a golden anxiety flower, and everyone else has to deal with you.”  with no forum for response.

Speaking of “dumb fucking self-care rhetoric”, the author states that what worked for her was “getting regular physical activity, eating a balanced diet, and working a job that does not trigger any of my stressors. I also have a dog now, which is by far the most soothing and helpful thing that’s ever happened to me.”  So, what worked for her was taking care of herself.  Do you know what taking care of yourself is called in mental health circles?  Self care.  That’s right.  Self care is the thing that simultaneously allowed her to become functioning and is the object of her disgust.  I don’t think it is self care that she is opposed to, it is a pervasive attitude of entitlement amongst a certain subset of of the population and the advice that encourages people to look after themselves in a manner that is counterproductive to recovery.  Neither of those things are self care.  Yet self care gets thrown into the same basket with other “terrible, indulgent advice.”

I completely agree that embracing the symptoms of your anxiety and consistently giving in to every desire to run, hide and withdraw from society on the whole is a very bad thing.  Giving in to the urge to yell at someone or treat them without respect is a very bad thing.  Being compassionate towards yourself however, is a positive step towards recovery.  The World Health Organisation who coined the phrase in 1998 defines Self Care as “the activities individuals, families and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness and restoring health.”  The “dumb fucking self care rhetoric” she refers to is the type of advice that does not promote any of these goals when taken to the extreme.

To this author there is nothing worse than strangers on the internet writing opinion pieces or drawing comics that “tell us that people with anxiety are these fragile butterflies who must be catered to at every turn.” “Just take care of yourself,” this rhetoric says. “Practice self-care! Take a bath! Cancel your plans! Don’t explain yourself! If your friends can’t give you space and be totally understanding, that means they’re not your friends!!! They’re toxic! GET THEM OUT OF YOUR LIFE. You have no obligation to keep around Toxic People. If you need to throw your phone into a river and spend two weeks locked in your room eating Ding Dongs, that’s what you need!! :3”

I’m tentatively along for the ride there.  No one can sustain their real lives by locking themselves in their rooms and eating whatever a ding dong is.  Possibly a prepackaged cake that has an expiry date of 2078 if YouTube has taught me anything about American snack food.  Unless, that is, you work full time, are single and have the leave owing. Then call all your friends, tell them you care about them but you need to practice self care by giving yourself recovery time from the world so you can continue to be your amazing self in future.  Good friends who have an understanding of your illness will understand that you need to look after yourself as well as your relationship with them.  Sometimes their needs take precedence over yours.  Conversely, sometimes your needs take precedence over theirs.  Relationships are about give and take.

I agree that people don’t deserve to be treated with disrespect just because you suffer from a mental illness.  That they don’t have to be understanding if you cancel plans without explanation and neglect your friendship.  I agree that this does not make them toxic people who need to be shed from your life.

However, there is overwhelming evidentiary research pointing to the importance of self care and self-compassion in managing anxiety disorders¹.  So she lost me at the beginning there where the idea of taking care of yourself, practicing self care, taking a bath or cancelling plans was the worst advice that could be given.  Self care and self-compassion need to be a part of your life and  form the basis of a coping strategy.  They do not take the place of your life.  It is is not taking a bath instead of doing an activity that causes you anxiety, it is taking a bath to show yourself the compassion you would treat others with after after an anxiety producing activity.  Pushing yourself into situations that challenge your anxiety is necessary to fully engage in your own life, and on this we completely agree. However we need to recognise the effect of heightened and continuous levels of anxiety on a person’s well-being.

In 2010 a study was conducted into the connection between anxiety and suicide². The results of this two year study of  34,653 adults in the United States is summed up and concluded as follows:

Results
Among individuals reporting a lifetime history of suicide attempt, over 70% had an anxiety disorder. Even after adjusting for sociodemographic factors, Axis I and Axis II disorders, the presence of an anxiety disorder was significantly associated with having made a suicide attempt (AOR=1.70, 95% CI: 1.40–2.08). Panic disorder (AOR=1.31, 95% CI: 1.06–1.61) and PTSD (AOR=1.81, 95% CI: 1.45–2.26) were independently associated with suicide attempts in multivariate models. Comorbidity of personality disorders with panic disorder (AOR= 5.76, 95% CI: 4.58–7.25) and with PTSD (AOR= 6.90, 95% CI: 5.41–8.79) demonstrated much stronger associations with suicide attempts over either disorder alone.

Conclusion
Anxiety disorders, especially panic disorder and PTSD, are independently associated with suicide attempts. Clinicians need to assess suicidal behavior among patients presenting with anxiety problems.

Did we all catch that?  Over 70% of suicide attempts went hand in hand with an having an anxiety disorder. With devastating figures like that, I fail to see how telling people they don’t deserve friends because of the symptoms of their anxiety is constructive.  Telling someone who has a high predisposition to suicide that self care is akin to selfishness and self-indulgence is detrimental. Possibly fatally so.  Some people with anxiety really are the “fragile butterflies” she puts down for needing to take care of themselves. For having the indecency to practice self-care. Take a bath. Cancel their plans.  Take time to enjoy space away from other people and get rid of the toxic people in their lives.

Personally, I would rather a friend cancelled on me regularly than felt so overwhelmed by living their own life that they had to take their own life.

But I concede that the thing the author is railing against in that moment is the aforementioned counterproductive coping strategies touted by a well meaning, yet ultimately misguided internet cheer squad.  I just feel that it is crucial to be unequivocally clear about the difference between healthy self care strategies and self-destructive coping mechanisms. This article consistently refers to self care as a bad thing, throwing it in with all the other advice inimical to recovery.  Healthy self care and self-compassion are pivotal in affecting positive change and keeping people with suicidal ideation alive.  Sometimes you need to take a bath or cancel a plan just to stay on top of things.

I can completely understand the overwhelming relief in cancelling plans.  Oh my lordy that is like crack to a whore for me.  Does that make me flaky?  A little, yes.  Does it keep me from pushing myself to a place where I unintentionally injure myself during a panic attack?  Hell yes.  So I cancel plans to events all the time.  But not if it will inconvenience people.  If it is a large party, I will cancel the hell out of that shit and be honest in saying that I just can’t do that.  I wanted to.  I tried.  I’ll try again next time.  Thank you for thinking of me and inviting me.  Please continue to invite me because one day I will be well enough to come.  And on that day we will celebrate the hell out of that occasion together.  There will be many drinks and much whooping.  Can we have a coffee together soon because I adore you and value your friendship.

But if someone has made an effort for just me and my family or a small gathering, I’m going to go regardless of how much I want to hide at the back of my closet and pretend the world doesn’t exist.

That is where self care and self-compassion come in.  I don’t take baths, to me that is like creating a stew of your own filth.  Not at all relaxing.  But I look at my situation and consider it from the perspective that it is happening to someone else.  What kind of compassion would I show another person going through the same intense emotional crisis as me?  How would I assist them to get through this moment and take care of themselves?  After all, I am as important as everyone else in this world.  No, that doesn’t entitle me to be a “golden anxiety flower that everyone else has to deal with”, however it does entitle me to the same respect, understanding and compassion that I would show everyone else.

I see what the author of the piece is trying to do and say and I applaud the desire to share what she has learned to help other people the same diagnosis, however it is my own opinion that it is irresponsible and injurious to go about it in this way.

So no, my anxiety isn’t an excuse to be an asshole.  But neither is the ability to put my digits on a keypad and mash out an invective against other people’s coping strategies or misguided advice.  Perhaps if a person transitions from treating family and friends poorly to treating strangers on the internet poorly then it isn’t the anxiety that was the common denominator in acting like an asshole.

 

By me.
With actual credentials.
That have fancy certificates.
Diploma of Counselling.
Diploma of Child, Youth and Family Intervention.
Diploma of Community Services Work.
Lots of professional development in mental health.
But mainly from my experience with mental illness, raising a child with a mental illness and not being an asshole.  Except for in the last sentence of this article.  That was a pretty dick move, but well worth thinking about.

 

Citations

¹Van Dam, Sheppard, Forsyth and Earleywine
‘Self-compassion is a better predictor than mindfulness of symptom severity and quality of life in mixed anxiety and depression’
Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 2011-01-01, Volume 25, Issue 1, Pages 123-130, accessed 30/8/16
<https://www.clinicalkey.com.au/#!/content/playContent/1-s2.0-S0887618510001751?returnurl=http:%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0887618510001751%3Fshowall%3Dtrue&referrer=https:%2F%2Fscholar.google.com.au%2F>

²Nepon, Belik, Bolton and Sareen.
‘The Relationship Between Anxiety Disorders and Suicide Attempts: Findings from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.’
Depress Anxiety. 2010 Sep; 27(9): 791–798, accessed 30/8/16
<http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2940247/>

 

Posted on

Use your child’s passion to engage them in their mental health recovery

sw_header_bar_anxiety

“Hi, Mum.  I’m not doing so good.”
“No?  What’s up, Hon?”
“I’m feeling really anxious.”
“Where on a scale of ‘Hobbit in his hole’ to ‘Smaug thinking all this treasure has been stolen’ is your anxiety?”
“Dwarves invading Bilbo’s hole.”
“Sooo… coping on the outside, but running around on the inside making sure they’re not destroying your furniture and eating everything in the larder?”
“Yeah… did you know that in the book Bilbo invites them to dinner and….”

My daughter has barely been to school this year.  I’d say it is fair to say that she has done about 7 classes in total outside of the first day of school.  It’s not because she doesn’t want to be there.  God knows she tried her hardest to get there every day.  And she made amazing progress with her anxiety disorder on the holiday we went on.  But the first day of school for term 2 this year wasn’t exactly a good day for us.  I’d go so far as to say that life put her in a Vulcan Death Grip and gave her an overacted Shatner-esque death scene that morning .  (On a side note, I am unsure what is worse, Spock being pissed off at you or having to watch Shatner act).

So back to her doctor and psychologist we went to try and get things under control.

The conversation at the beginning of this post was a spur of the moment way to ask her to discuss her anxiety while keeping it light yet descriptive.  It worked.  And after using her Hobbit anxiety scale for a week or two I realised it had become an invaluable tool.  Finally we had a known scale to communicate an abstract concept with. One that she could embrace and not roll her eyes at as she sometimes does with the professionally made scales and cards used in counselling.  These often come off as either too generic and sappy or childish.  Now we could use fantasy and metaphor to describe the feelings that weigh her down every day.

“Hi, Hon”
“Hey Mum”
“I’m just calling to check how my little hobbit is doing.”
“Bilbo left his hanky at home.”
“So, feeling anxious about everything ahead and trying to find any excuse to go home where it is safe?”
“Yeah.”

Her psychologist had suggested she try to imagine her anxiety as a monster at her last appointment, and this tied in nicely to her new Hobbit Anxiety Scale.  Together we worked on a predefined scale that she could visualise her anxiety on.  She wrote the scale then I drew it up and had it printed as a poster for her room so she would always have a reminder; she now didn’t need to stress about remembering or creating in the midst of her panic.  And we never need to get back on this carousel:

“How bad is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Imagine it is a scale of 1 – 10”
“I don’t know.”

Sound familiar?  We had been going around on the same carousel for about six months before my daughter and I found our way to step off of that spiralling roundabout of pointlessness.  After all that time I had begun to navigate our situation by blending my training and experience as a youth worker with my love and knowledge as a parent.

As a parent, I wanted to do everything I could to work within the parameters given to me by trained professionals.  My fear and desperation to keep my daughter safe had blinded me to the fact I had skills and knowledge of my own to bring to the table which were every bit as valuable.

Skills as a youth worker and knowledge of the things that my daughter was passionate about as a parent.

About 18 months previously I had been participating in a train the trainer course for the anger management course RAGE.  Drawing heavily, in fact, I’d go so far as to say exclusively, on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, it used scaling as its central theme.  The majority of participants worked with teens as the course was primarily designed to deal with.  However, one woman worked with 5 – 8-year-olds.  We got talking during a participatory exercise, she was concerned with her charges being unable to rationalise their anger on to an abstract number scale.  I suggested replacing the numbers with superheroes instead.  One being Bruce Banner, two being Ironman, all the way up to ten being The Hulk.  Her face lit up with excitement with this simple change, she knew the children she cared for would be able to identify the intensity of their anger far better with this change to the scale.

So today I would say this to you.  You know yourself and your children better than anyone else.  Find the thing that helps them connect with their anxiety.  To define it and understand it.  And run with that.  It doesn’t matter if it falls into the predefined categories or standardised boxes that professionals have already created to manage the disorder you’re fighting together.  Take the framework that they have laid out for you and give it the twist it needs to engage your child.  Life is to be lived and loved, the battle does not have to be a long dark tunnel.  Take your child’s passion and bring light and colour to the tunnel you’re in.

My daughter has given me permission to share her scale with you and provide a printable version for your own anxious geeklings.  She hopes it helps.

I’d love to hear how you’ve faired using this yourself below or the individual flair you’ve brought to supporting your own child.

Hobbit Anxiety Scale.  Click to print.
Click for a printable PDF of our Hobbit Anxiety Scale

 

Posted on

PMS is the Path to the Dark Side

We all know that your teenage years are the best years of  your life complete and utter hell on wheels half the time. Any adult who tries to tell you that they are the best years of your life is not to be trusted with important decisions like whether brussel sprouts are a vegetable or a tiny ball of fart.  (It’s the second one, trust me.  I know things.  I’m the kind of grown up who has never told a child that high school is the best years of their lives.)

Ash: “My uterus is trying to kill me.”

Me: “There is a distinct possibility that your uterus is trying to claw its way out of your stomach and strangle you.”

Ash: “I think it’s trying to take me to the dark side.”

Me: “Don’t do it.  They don’t really have cookies.”

Ash: “They probably do.  But they’d be the ones with sultanas and other nasty things.”

I’m pretty sure that Star Wars would have been a completely different movie if Anakin had been smart enough to realise the cookies were laced with raisin traps *before* going to the dark side.

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to cookies. Cookies lead to raisins. Raisins lead to disappointment.”

The lesson here is that my daughter is more suited to being a Jedi than a Skywalker is.  And that raisins and sultanas are tools employed by the dark side to break the youngling’s spirit.

Posted on

Interns and Insults

Mayne, long suffering husband, good natured tormentor of children and aficionado of ‘dad jokes’ had been off work sick for the a week with bronchitis.

Ash, 14 years old at the time,  future world traveler and girl of many scarves,  had been off school as it is school holidays.

Me, I was in the sucky position where I have to behave like a grown up because people will die of scurvy or neglect if I don’t.  

I came home from work and after stopping at the shops and headed straight into the kitchen to dump the groceries before going out to kiss all my people having between away from them all day.  Ash, however,  beat me to it and came into the kitchen to meet me.

Dressed in Mayne’s remarkably oversized tracky pants (tracksuit pants for those of you who don’t speak fluent Aussie slang)  and a t-shirt she stole off him when we first started dating (Mayne and I, not Ash and I – what the hell is wrong with you!?) she looked innocently up at me and said “Is there anything I can do to help you with dinner? ”

Firstly I’m a little taken aback, this is not the child who offers to do housework. The other two,  yes. This one… not so much. But I recover in fine style and don’t let on how shocked I am.

“That’d be awesome, thanks.  We’re having pasta…

…nice outfit.”

<pleased that I’ve mentioned it, she grins like an idiot> “Thanks! I’m interning as Dad since he’s been sick and can’t do dad stuff”

<laughs with delight>  “You’re amazing. How are those pants even staying up?”

<confused look> “I’m Dad.  D’uh!”

How foolish of me. I should have realised that I was living in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Trackies. She proceeds to spend the rest of the evening being chivalrous, helpful and making really bad puns to continue her internship.

The next morning Mayne, Ash and I were leaving the house to go to the post office to put in Ash’s tax file number application. I called back up the stairs to Bek “Love you, Honey.  We’ll be back soon,  make sure you’ve got your guitar ready to go for your lesson when we get back”

Ash (not dressed in her father’s clothes that morning) leans in past me and calls one of Mayne’s standard lines to the kids up the stairs “Also, you smell!”

“Still interning as Dad?”

“Yep”

“You’re really getting the hang of being Dad. It’s an absolutely flawless likeness. I’ll have to get you to intern as me next so you can take my place if I get sick.”

“Naaah. I don’t think so.  Being Mum looks like too much hard work.”

I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing so hard and looked at Mayne. “She called you lazy. Did you hear that?”

Much laughter and discussion on the pros and cons of being each of us ensued. Apparently M&M’s are a big pro to being Dad. Exercise is a con to being Mum.

I love my kids so much. They’re hilarious little weirdos.

Posted on

Just because it isn’t real, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

My daughter is writing a paper at the moment about Freedom and she was discussing with the family how she was going to compare the ‘Kony 2012’ movement with the women’s rights movement. And during this discussion on how ideas start and spread I pulled out one of my favourite Gloria Steinem quotes:

gloria_steinem_quote

And then I gave her a wonderful one by Jane Goodall:

Jane_Goodall_Inspirational_Quote_EnvironmentAnd finally I pulled out a deep and awesome quote that teaches us that small, every day acts make a difference, but I didn’t tell her who said it until afterwards.

gandalfAfter hearing this she nodded and said “Yeah, I like that. It’s really good.”

I asked “Do you know who said that?”

“No” she replied, looking enquiringly.

“Gandalf.”

She tilted her head and looked at me as if I had been no help whatsoever and I was just being silly.

Now I take exception to this notion she seemed to convey that imaginary people can’t be deep and inspirational. Or right. Because he is right. Just because he isn’t real doesn’t make the point any less valid. I reminded her that a very real man had that thought and wrote it down, in the same way that a Jane Goodall or Gloria Steinham did. Tolkien just did it under the guise of fiction. Fiction I might add that has graced the bookshelves and movie screens of generations for over 60 years and sold over 150 million copies in print and grossed $871,530,324 worldwide at the box office. * Fiction that makes wise thoughts and lessons about the human condition accessible to the masses.

Paraphrasing Chesterton, Neil Gaiman said “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

The Brown Coats showed us that it is important to stand together and fight; and even if you don’t win the battle – you don’t have to give in and live life like those who oppress you have won the war.

Malcolm shows us that there is strength in protecting those who are important to you. Compassion doesn’t mean weakness or softness of character.

Zoe shows us that women can stand alongside men as equals, without apology for who they are or explanation for their belief that they have every right to do so.

Inara teaches us that there is beauty and power in owning your choices, values and sexuality.

Kaylee reminds us that there is beauty in the world around us no matter where or when we are and that attitude does not have to be dictated by circumstance.

Wash is particularly important in showing our young girls that men can love and respect a strong woman and find her attractive without trying to control or dominate her. **

Simon is a constant reminder that family is of the utmost importance and that we should travel to the ends of the ‘Verse to make sure that family, in all its forms, know that we love them and will protect them from harm.

River is instrumental in showing us that no matter how broken we are, we can kill people with our minds we can still make connections the best way we know how, be a valued member of a community of people. And through the broken pieces of our lives and minds, stand up and kick arse when pushed too far.

And Jane. Jane reminds us that no matter what happens, assholes can be tolerated and useful in life as long as you remember to be cautious about their motivations and loyalties.

So read your children fairy tales. Immerse your teenagers in dragons and wizards and space cowboys. The most important lessons are waiting for them dressed in robes or carrying rings or flying a spaceship.


*According to Wikipedia. Please don’t tell my Uni lecturers that I quoted a Wiki as a credible source. I’m not sure if they can issue a failing grade for this blog post, but I don’t want to risk it.

**Also, Joss, you know that I love you, your work and your feminism to pieces but I’m waiting for my written apology for killing Wash. I still haven’t come to terms with his death and I’m not sure I ever will. Go stand in a corner and think about what you have done.


Save

Posted on

There is a Shrine to Me – I might be a Deity of Some Kind. Also, it is Ryan Reynold’s Fault I Can’t be Trusted with Your Souls.

Oh my god, you guys!! My daughter came home from school with the BEST story to tell me today.

“So my friends Dad is a teacher at our school and he was wandering around the staff rooms and he found something that was so awesome he had to tell me about it straight away. He came running up and he was all ‘OMG LISTEN’ and he told me about this cork board in the PE teachers area, it has a bunch of stupid excuse notes and it has Every. Single. One. That I handed into the sport teachers. The mutant squid cyborgs and the time dinosaurs ate my sport uniform, everything PLUS a two page letter from my teacher to the head teacher about how I shouldn’t be able to get away with this and how I should make up for the lessons missed.”’

The thing is, I think that physical health is important. But I don’t think that it is important to make children spend hours running around the perimeter of the school in the mud and rain in winter. That’s just stupid. Especially when yoga, indoor cricket, hot chocolate and common sense exist. So I write notes letting my children get out of cross country running when the weather is wet and slushy. And out of competitive sports that they don’t give a damn about. Which is most of them. Except Mario Kart. Mario Kart is a sport, right? Poorly spelled notes like this:

PE Note

Rebekah is excused from PE today due to a particularly vicious & fashion impaired heard of wild dinosaurs attacking the house & stealing her PE uniform, her running shoes & a pot plant. This has caused her untold amounts of stress and physical imparement.   She now, quite curiously, has been able to smell nothing but sauerkraut since the incident. As such, no PE for her on Wed 27/2.

And this:

PE Note #2

All hail the dark overlords.

Rebekah, in accordance with the wishes of our Evil Cyborg Squid Zombie masters is unable and unwilling to participate in Cross Country Running today so as not to anger the ECSZ overlords.
Only indoor sports may be done.
And eating braaaaaiiiins……
Brains mmmmmmm…..
Braaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiins……..

Now I was quite proud of these notes and had written many like them in the past for genuine absenteeism and sport related apathy when the children were at other schools, and it had amused the teachers and excused the children. Not so much with this school. The 2 page letter writing whimsy police sports teacher prompted the head of the department to call me to tell me that I was weird. Not at all offensive. And by not at all, I mean TOTALLY. He went on to tell me that PE was the most important lesson that they have. To which I politely disagreed that running around in a circle would further my daughter’s chances of getting into NIDA as she plans to do, especially as she was making straight A’s in her other classes and I also politely (read firmly but respectfully) informed him that I was her mother and I was comfortable with my decision to excuse her from running around in the rain. To which he quite abruptly informed me that as her mother I had no right to have a say in her education. Cue me hanging up after informing him of the importance of my role in her life and education. And cue a less dinosaur studded letter to the principle to complain about his rudeness.

The next note was every bit as weird.

This was back in 2013. And I haven’t had cause to write too many zombie notes in the past year. On the odd occasion I have filled in medical consent forms and added chocolate as a recommended medication/incentive for laziness or wondered in writing if not being able to find things when looking for them was a medical condition. But all in all, Jurassic housebreakers and undead overlords have been kept to a minimum. (Also, my spell check doesn’t think undead is a word. It is. It knows this now.) And these notes are still on display in the teacher’s lounge nearly a year and a half after I wrote them.

So the take home message from all of this is:

  1. Teachers need something to break the boredom, besides putting vodka in the water cooler. Because I’d become a teacher if they had vodka coolers. I’d be the most drunk fun teacher there if there was a vodka cooler. Also, I’d invite the students I didn’t like into the staff room and give them a drink of ‘water’ from the cooler and then BAM!! I’d have them expelled for drinking on campus.
  2. It was worth it. Mwahahahahaha
  3. There is a shrine to me. This is undeniable proof that I may be a deity of some kind. But not the kind of deity that anyone should trust their soul to willingly. I can’t be trusted with souls. I’d probably lose them in a game of strip poker with a heavily muscled and slightly oiled Demi God. Like Helios, Kevin Sorbo or Chris Hemsworth. Or Ryan Reynolds. And yes, I know Ryan isn’t a real Demi God like Helios, Kevin or Chris, but c’mon – its Ryan Reynolds guys. I’d totally gamble your souls to try and see him up close and personal without his shirt.
Posted on

“It Fits Perfect!”

Boys are weird.

That statement really stands alone now I come to think about it.

I came across a picture of my best friend’s daughter today and I thought it was adorable.  Not that I’m biased or anything…  She was holding a picture of her mother’s x-rays showing the massive spot on her lung from the pneumonia that almost killed her landed her in hospital a while back.   I showed it to my husband and he was all like “Oh my god, that’s a big spot”.  And that is the difference between my husband and I.

He sees a trivial by comparison spot on a lung and I see a beautiful little girl that has grown too much since I last saw her, wearing a Flint Lockwood style lab coat, pretending to be a doctor by pointing to an x-ray with a chopstick.

Boys are weird.

But that’s okay.  I love you anyway.  You’re welcome.