Welcome to My Party! 

Many of you know me personally. I am a cheerful person most of the time, however, every now and then life gets me down. I’m not looking for advice. I’m not looking for encouraging comments. I am taking today for what it is….my own personal pity party. Welcome!  Feel free to enjoy some refreshments! There is red wine, or red wine, or maybe you’d like some red wine?! Is it okay that it’s from a box? Only the best at our house. 

I can’t say I woke up knowing that today was party day. It more or less smacked me in the face like a frozen glove not long after that though. It’s dreary outside, it’s cold, and Mother Nature is having a hard time deciding if she wants to make it snow or rain. It’s a holiday, so I should be happy that the entire family was home for at least part of the day. We went for a walk at the mall. I was trying to change the theme of the party, but after my delicious fruit smoothly got knocked out of my hand and spilled all over the floor, like the proverbial kid with the ice cream cone,  I lost all hope. 

Do I know why I am depressed today? I have some ideas. Life. It sneaks up on you, and before you know it kids are getting ready to leave home. It’s good and bad……because they CAN. We have prepared them. They grow so fast though. At times it seems like life is constantly trying to bring us down. We deal with the hand we are dealt, but sometimes it seems like the deck is stacked against us, which brings me to…. worry. I try not to spend too much time partaking in this activity, but sometimes the unknown gets to me. Sometimes, I worry about what is yet to come. 

I saw an article online this morning referring to today as “Blue Monday.” By the time I read it I had already realized that it was party day, but it did explain my feelings a little. Apparently, I’m not the only one who is down today. The holidays are over and spring  is still to far away. The weather is crappy. There are pity parties happening all over the world. As they say…..”misery loves company”…… so CHEERS to you and yours!  This, however, is one party that I won’t miss when it is over. When you leave the party, take all your belongings. There is no coming back. Tomorrow is a new day! 

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Into the Light

A little over four years ago, my son told me about a friend of his from school. He told me he was helping her study for math, as she was close to failing the class. As he proceeded to tell me a little more about her, he told me that she cut herself. Intentionally. She was actively self-harming. My first thought….the very first thing that came to my mind was……she must have a difficult home life. She must have absent parents. How could they NOT know what was going on with their daughter? The visions of her sad, lonely, parent-lacking life filled my head. I was not unique.  I was among millions of other people who don’t understand, or have never experienced, self-harm, suicide, or suicide attempts in a loved one.

My family is your average nuclear family. My husband and I have been married for 26 years. We have lived  in the same house since the oldest child was 15 months old (We lived in Shanghai for four years, but returned to our American home during the holidays and in summer.)  We have two dogs, two cats, great neighbors, and a small-town-feel neighborhood in a large metropolitan area. We go to church. We take family vacations, go out to eat, to the zoo, museum, baseball games, and more. We visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The kids play sports, but not too many. They have plenty of relaxation time. We are always there for our kids when they need us, and at times when they don’t. However, regardless of all we do right, we cannot control what happens all of the time, and things can go miserable wrong.

This will be the first time I have said this publicly. Close friends and family know, but we have kept the circle close. This is very difficult to say, because of the stigma, and they way many of those who have never had to deal with it react. In February, 2014, my 10 year old daughter attempted suicide. More than once. Without my knowledge. She was taking my prescription medication. I noticed I was low on pills, but thought I had been shorted by the pharmacy. It wasn’t until she came downstairs to me crying, on her third try, and told me what she had done, as a result of bullying. As a parent, it was like being hit by a train. How could this happen in our family? What had we done wrong? How could we not know that the bullying had continued at school? What do we do now?

I immediately went into panic-mode. Bill wasn’t home yet and Ethan had just left with my car. I asked what she had taken and how much, then I called a neighbor to take us to the hospital which is luckily only a few blocks away. I didn’t not tell her why, and she did not ask.  In the next few hours we would learn the extent of the situation.

I will not go into the details of what happen with the school and the bully, but you can get the story in my prevous blog post for which I attached a link below.

https://superfiveshanghai.com/until-the-scars-fade

In the two and a half years since her attempt, my daughter, and our family, has had an amazing amount of support and growth. With the help of her phenomenal psychologist and her psychiatrist, and with education on the subject and guidance on looking for and dealing with symptom we have all learned. We have not just learned how to deal with suicide, attempted suicide, and self-harm. We have not just learned how to create a new normal. We have learned that no one is immune.

I am walking in an “Out of the Darkness” walk sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I am walking for my daughter. I am walking for her journey from darkness to light.  I am walking for my friend’s son, who gave up on life last October, who couldn’t find light in his life, and for whom I wrote my blog post linked below:

https://superfiveshanghai.com/the-death-of-a-son-the-death-of-a-star

I am walking for all of those who have experienced any sort of mental illness in their life, or in the life of a loved one. I am walking for those who may experience it in the future. I am walking to raise awareness, to educate, to teach compassion and understanding. I am walking because suicide does not discriminate.

i am walking into the light.

 

 

 

 

Why Me? Why Us?

There have been times over the years when I have said “Why me?” “Why us?” Why did this happen to us and not somebody else. Sometimes it just seems that no one else has the same misfortune. I know that isn’t true, and our situation could be much worse, so I don’t dwell for long. I thank God that it isn’t, and for the blessings He has given us.

A majority, if not all, of these events have been medical in nature. My health, and the health of my family. Severe allergies as a child, Crohn’s at the age of 29, which progressed at an alarming rate, cataracts at the age of 32, removal of my colon at the age of 33. Most recently, the Essential Thrombocythemia diagnosis at 42.

The last few years have been no exception to this question. It has floated in and out of my brain, off and on, for months, but after a few moments of self pity, I remind myself of our blessings. This time, though, it was the health of our children.

In 2014 my daughter was bullied, as I wrote about in the post titled, “Until the Scars Fade” (https://superfiveshanghai.com/2015/09/20/until-the-scars-fade/.) At the time, a number of the parents who learned how she attempted to cope were scared of her. They didn’t want their children to be around her. Their ignorance on mental health astounded me. These were well-educated individuals, who must have known that depression isn’t contagious. This is a 10 year old child we’re talking about. She was literally shunned. She had left for the school year and was being tutored, while receiving therapy, and I was encouraged NOT to bring her back for any school functions, so as not to upset other parents, while the bully continued in school with no repercussions.

It has taken two years to be able to take a deep breath. To feel like she is back on track to health. From the outside, it is not apparent. No one else would know what she has been through, and the resulting depression she experiences. No one would know the struggle it has been. As a parent, it has been stressful and heartbreaking. Why my baby girl? Why does she have to deal with this?

Last spring, my oldest son, who suffers from ADD, had some serious anxiety issues. This had never appeared to be a problem before, but it escalated quickly. He was working his first job, taking a few too many college classes, and the pressure and responsibility overwhelmed him. He has always been very independent, and doesn’t like to ask for help. Up until recently, he preferred that we didn’t. We knew he was skipping some classes, and calling in to work, and we had decided that it was time for him to learn the hard way. We had no idea it was due to anxiety until the end of the semester, when he finally told us. After four months of keeping it to himself, he finally released himself from carrying the burden alone. The semester was a bust, and he left his job, but we could, and would, help him.

He spent seven months after the failed-semester ended, in twice-a-week therapy, having medication adjusted, and spending hours and hours in his room. It was, once again, heartbreaking to see one of our children suffering. We spent most of 2015 worried that he might never come back up for air, while his therapist told us it would just take time. She had enough faith for all  of us. She was right. In November, he got a new job, and he started classes in January. He comes home from work happy and talkative, something we have rarely seen from our quiet boy. He goes to class, and has been getting high A’s. Once again, I feel like I can take a breath.

After the events of the last few years, I look for ways to spread awareness about mental illness, and mood disorders. I need to do more. Obviously, I have written about some of it in the blog. I hope that readers will share my posts to spread the word. My Facebook page, Sunrise Strong-Mood Disorder Awareness and Acceptance, is a another step, but it is not enough. As stress at home continues to decrease (fingers-crossed and a bunch of prayers), I hope to have time to find other ways to spread awareness. Maybe that’s why……..why it’s me, why it’s us.

The January Vacuum

It pulls everything out of me, and I feel like a deflated balloon. I struggle to function. Hiding in a corner like that lone dust bunny, just trying to make it through the storm. Closer to March, closer to spring. January sucks. It sucks everything out of me.

In Michigan, it is a cold, wet, gray, month.  Long gone are the sounds of college football blaring from the TV, and fall breezes wafting through the open windows. The trees are bare, and the neighborhood children have moved their play inside, away from the winter chill. The holidays are over, and it is too far to the next. There are more overcast days than blue sky days, and warm weather is too many months, or too many miles away. Going out to do errands, on wet and sloppy, or slick and icy roads, is unappealing. Crawling into bed with a good book, or a movie, and a hot cup of coffee, is much more so. Then again, being cooped up brings me down too. I waffle between the safety and comfort of home, and raging cabin fever. I have often felt that there is no way to win the battle of January, at least not in my world.

For years, I let January swallow me whole, but recently I have tried to find ways to overcome the vacuum. We have bought light therapy lamps, and when we consistency turn them on while waking up, they do help. On those days I manage to drag my body out of the warm bed, early morning workouts go a long way to making me feel better, as well. Vitamins. Music. Essential oil aromatherapy. I’ll get there. I’ll find the right mix, and eventually, we’ll move to a sunnier state. For now, I continue to fight for good, for light, and hope for the renewal of life outside my window.

The Death of a Son, The Death of a Star

In the early morning, before the sun rises, a mother should feel like her children are safe. They are home,  protected from the perils of the outside world. She would never expect to wake to find her chid, gone forever.

Early this week, I learned that a longtime friend lost her baby.  His father lost his only son. Their teenage child  took his own life, and now they will never see him grow up, go to college, get married, have his own children, change the world. A sister has lost her big brother. She will no longer have him to look up to, get advice from, be protected by.

It was a beautiful, warm, and sunny fall day, and it should not have started with the death of a child. How dare the world keep moving; people eating, sleeping, laughing, dancing.  This family has lost a child, and it feels like everything should stop, if just for a day. Of course, that’s not possible. People die everyday, but at times like this, when someone close to you is grieving, and you are grieving for them, it feels like it should. It’s so much worse when it is a child.

I never knew Adam, but I wish I had. I have learned that he was an extremely bright and talented boy. He was full of life. A friend to everyone. He could play just about any instrument he picked up, and was very involved in his community theatre program. He  knew more about any given topic, than many adults. Nothing went unquestioned. It was his endless quest to learn about the world, and dream of a better tomorrow.

As with many highly intelligent people, Adam was quirky, and thus tended to be bullied at school. He had been depressed for quite some time, and I’m sure the bullying was wearing on him. His family and friends were trying to help him through these tough times, but sometimes it’s hard to get through to someone who thinks they can handle it themselves. He was a compassionate soul, who wanted to spend his time uplifting, and helping, others. He loved to make people laugh.  He brought light to so many lives, while silently, his grew darker. He wanted to be strong, and self-sufficient, but he didn’t have the tools to deal with something so dark and cruel.

The despair overwhelmed him, and he couldn’t see the light. He couldn’t figure out how to climb out of the dark hole of pain he found himself in. On Monday of this week, a child took his own life. He would never have wanted to hurt his family, he was beyond the point of realizing what the aftermath would be like for his loved ones. His pain was a thick, black fog. Overtaking him little by little until he was lost.

As I stood in front of poster boards full of pictures of Adam, I saw so much light and life in him. It is hard to fathom having him there one day, and gone the next. How do you continue on after your child has died? Are all of those wonderful memories enough? I know for me, the belief in Heaven comforts me. Hoping that he has found his younger brother, and grandparents that passed before him. I am usually too uncomfortable to approach the deceased at a funeral home. I pray for them from afar, but not this time. I had a chat with Adam during the visitation. I told him that I hoped he had found peace, and that I wished he could have found another way. I asked him to watch over his sister and parents, to protect his family.

This morning, on my way to the funeral, a rainbow stretched across the expressway, on a beautiful, sunny day, with a spattering of raindrops on my windshield from one tiny cloud in the sky. I fumbled with my phone for a bit trying to get a picture. It seemed to remain in the sky for longer than it  should, until I finally got a few shots. I put down my phone, looked up, and it was gone. I thanked Adam, and God. I have no doubt that rainbow was from him.

As the funeral started, in the auditorium which I imagine his plays were performed, a place where he most likely found reprieve from his sadness, I looked back to a standing-room-only crowd. It was full of students, parents, teachers, friends, family, and maybe even some who knew neither him, or his family. Strangers come together in a small community like his, especially when a child dies so tragically, and unexpectedly. As the music began, chills ran down my spine. It was “Over the Rainbow”  by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole. I later learned It was his favorite song. He loved to listen to the song, and then play it on his ukulele, interchanging over and over again. I get it. You’re watching. Well played, Adam, well played.

 

And She Danced……

It has been a long couple of years, since I saw my baby girl happy. I didn’t realize it was gone at first, then I brushed it off as hormones, and then, as written in my previous post, we learned of the bullying. It has taken a long time for her to recover from the experiences, but yesterday, I saw her dance, just because, and my heart danced too.

For the last month, I have noticed some drastic, but very positive, changes in her behavior. She joined volleyball again. It was not a surprise, we knew she would, but last year this was the only extra-curricular school activity she wanted to participate in. During the summer, when she was invited to parties that classmates were having, she was leary and nervous. I pushed her to go, and she did, but she was very anxious. When the school sports night email came last month,  I threw it away. I assumed she wasn’t interested. I mentioned the emal to her a few days later and she, very enthusiastically I might add, said she DID want to go, even though she didn’t know if any friends were attending, and my heart danced.

One night, last week, I woke up at about 3:30 AM, sleeping on my stomach. I don’t normally sleep in this position, but that wasn’t the most unusual part. There was a head on top of mine, coming from the opposite direction from where my husband was, and a sweet, soft, snore, whispering in my ear. My not-so-little girl, had come in and laid down with me, something she has rarely done, and not for a very long time. She has never been a hug-and-a-kiss-goodnight kind of girl, so this was highly unexpected. My heart was bursting with love, and it danced.

Recently, she has put down the itouch more, or at least switched to just listening to music, instead of incessantly texting, or playing games. It is no longer super-glued to her hand. Instead, she is outside with a volleyball, practicing her overhand serve. She has been turning her electronics in earlier at night, for my review, and I have much less content to  peruse. My girl is making me proud, and my heart dances.

A few weeks ago, she handed me a permission slip for the school choir, and spirit brigade. She turned them in a little late, but was assured spots next semester. She is looking forward to both. Yesterday, she asked me to sign her up for the school swim team, and S.T.E.M club. I am in awe of her bravery. This kid sure can make my heart dance.

Finally, as her volleyball team met with the coach last evening, a group of girls stood still, listening intently, and one danced. Normally I would tell my child to stand still and pay attention to their coach. But she danced, and I’m pretty sure she was listening. Regardless, she danced, and my heart danced too, and I thanked God.

 

Until The Scars Fade

This post has been brewing in my heart, and soul, for a long time. I knew, however, that writing it was something  I could not do until the scars began to fade.

My daughter was bullied.  All three of my kids have been bullied at some point, just like many children have been, including myself. The difference with her, was that she was bullied to the brink, and it wasn’t at your average public school. It was at a very expensive Catholic school, with small class sizes, and a strict behavior policy. It consisted of children of wealthy families, mixed with a few from the middle class. We were part of the latter.

Affording this school was a huge stretch for us, but it reminded me of her school in Shanghai. A school that still included a second language, as well as art, gym, and music classes, that were scheduled more often and delved a little deeper than public school. It was also conveniently located very close to my boys’ school. We decided that the financial sacrifice was worth it. We would, however,  still need to apply for scholarships and financial aid.

In third grade, her first year at the school, our daughter had a small group of friends, and was relatively happy.  Most of her classmates were well-behaved and kind. By all appearances, we seemed to have her in the environment we were looking for. A safe place for her to thrive.

As her fourth grade year began, she seemed more irritated, and reserved. She was easily aggravated by questions about her day, or just general conversation. I assumed it was pre-teen hormones, and began preparing myself for the moodiness of the next few years. Unfortunately, we were still months away from learning  what was actually happening.

One afternoon right before Christmas, I  pushed her to tell me why she was upset.  She admitted that she had been slipped a threatening note by another student.  Instead of bringing it to someone’s attention, she had thrown it away. I called the school, and a very considerate receptionist dug it out of the garbage for us. The next day, we were told the incident was addressed and taken care of. This would be the first, and last, we heard of any bullying for quite some time.

Several months later, while we sat at the kitchen table arguing about whether she had to go to swim practice or not,  the flood gates broke open. She told me that the same child had struck her several times, and continued giving her threatening or demeaning notes, as well as verbally telling her.  “No one likes you.” “You don’t have any friends.” “You should just kill yourself.” It didn’t matter that she did have friends, and that they liked her very much. The more she was told these things, the more she believed them. She told no one, and if anyone observed it, they did not take action.

Our baby, our confident little spark plug, our kind, funny, smart, beautiful, daughter, was crumpling into a little ball. Her self-confidence shattered. She could not see her own self-worth. She thought that she was not deserving of love, or attention. One wintery afternoon, in February 2014, the stories started spilling out of her, and our world as we knew it fell apart.

There was no quick fix for this situation. We had to pull her out of school. She finished the year in a small tutoring center, while undergoing counseling several days a week. We intended to send her back to the same school for fifth grade, as we were assured that the bullying was being addressed. I didn’t want to teach my daughter to cut and run when things got difficult, and she really liked her group of friends there. I still had faith that they would take care of the situation. It was a Catholic school, so how could they not?!  It was run by women who had sworn their life to God. How could we not trust them to do the right thing?!

For the next six months, we had countless meetings with the head of the school (although she had a habit of cancelling and rescheduling them, often for weeks later), as well as the tutoring center, and therapist. There were dozens of phone calls and texts.  We were constantly reassured that our child had a spot at the school and would be welcomed back the next year, but it was a never-ending process, with many delays. We were 10 days from the school year starting, and she still wasn’t officially enrolled again. They still wanted more meetings. I have no idea about what. She had been cleared by her therapist to return. Worried about the quickly approaching school year, and in our daughter’s best interests, we decided we should leave the school. It was “our choice” to change, but it was obvious we were being pushed out.

I  forgave that little girl long ago. She knew what she had done, and I believe she learned a valuable lesson. However, I never would have imagined that a Christian school would bury this incident, even amongst the staff. During our meeting with the middle school, we found out that they had not been advised of the bullying; where class assignments and schedules would have had to be considered for both girls. The head of the school had lead everyone to believe that my daughter had  broken down for no reason at all. The one who was bullied, was struggling to get back into school, while the the bullier continued as if nothing had happened.

In the end, we learn. This is not my first scar in life, but it is my baby’s. At least the first she vividly remembers. I can only imagine how being adopted effects her psyche. These lessons in life shape us. They make us stronger and more resilient. They remind us of the feelings of others, and how to treat people properly. They teach us of the importance of honesty and integrity, and what happens when they are lacking. They remind us to be the best we can be, because that is the right thing to do.

Our  daughter is in her second year at her new school. It is also Catholic, but possesses the Christian values that you would expect. Fifth grade was tough for her, she was in protective mode at all times. She made friends, but had trouble trusting people. We have had many discussions, and she continues to see her therapist for “maintainence” visits every now and then, but she is a new girl. Or maybe her “old-self” with improvements.

She is wiser than most her age. She has learned lessons that many do not. Sixth grade has started out wonderfully. She is beginning to trust again. She has loosened the protecctive shell. She has put herself out there, to try new things, without fear, or at least facing her fears. I am one proud mama. Those scars have started to fade.