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What’s Up with Me?

This morning I woke up feeling sick to my stomach. Unlike my son, feeling crappy doesn’t keep me from eating nor do I sleep all day. Even though I was nauseated and loopy, I managed to finish my first chapter of my book. Working with Sarah Fader as my book coach starting last week, I’ve drawn up character sketches, a book outline, and a draft of the first chapter. The first chapter focuses on childhood up to eighth grade: born in San Francisco, five years in Saudi Arabia, two years in Massachusetts, ending the chapter in Rancho Palos Verdes. The second draft will begin with our move to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. My goal is to have a working draft by the time I attend the Sunriver Writers’ Summit in late May.

Parenting a High Needs Chronically Ill Teen

My 17-year old son’s been sick and suffering from migraines (again, still, nothing new). He frequently gets ill, has had migraines since he was a toddler, and struggles with anxiety and depression.

Honestly, I’m exhausted trying to care for him, trying to take him to doctors’ appointments when he won’t or can’t drag himself out of bed, trying to get him to eat when he doesn’t feel well, trying to get him out of bed and to school. He’s been a very challenging kid to parent. Now he’s a young man — a sweet, highly intelligent, and handsome young man — but difficult to help, difficult to parent. I’ve tried. Oh, how I’ve tried.

Recently my husband took him to his psychiatrist (my son has an army of specialists). They agreed on lowering his topiramate dose. My son doesn’t like the negative cognitive side effects of topiramate, nicknamed “Dopamax.” When I took it as a mood stabilizer over a decade ago, I was a complete idiot. My son can’t find words or understand concepts as quickly as he once did. He complains that he used to read his Spanish vocabulary once and had it memorized. Now he has to read it multiple times. I told him, “Welcome to everyone else’s reality. Most people must study harder than you do.”

My son keeps hoping that he’ll outgrow the migraines, which he still may, for testosterone protects against migraines. He had asked to see an endocrinologist hoping he’d be prescribed testosterone, but the pediatric endocrinologist wouldn’t prescribe it. He just told Matthew that he had delayed puberty (late bloomer), and that he’d catch up.

When I heard that the psychiatrist again suggested lowering the topiramate dose, I emailed his neurologist who responded that it was a bad idea, for his migraines return whenever the dose is reduced. Got him back up to his therapeutic dose, but he’s still not 100%. Last night he threw up, as he did once last week. Migraines + viral illness = miserable son sleeping 24/7.

Sarah Fader: Parenting a Special Needs Child

Guest Post by Sarah Fader

Being the parent of a child with special needs is inherently difficult. But when it comes to a child who has mental health problems it is another echelon of challenges. I never imagined that my son would have special needs. But I guess nobody knows that they will have a child with special needs when they’re pregnant. There are exceptions to this rule. People find out that their child has downs syndrome or spina bifida or an obvious disability that can be detected in pregnancy. But mental health issues, that’s a different story. There are exceptions to this rule. People find out that their child has down syndrome or spina bifida or a very obvious disability that can be detected in pregnancy. But mental health issues, that’s a different story.

My psychiatrist told me there was a 6% chance that my son would develop depression; that was my first pregnancy and I had no idea what I was in for. I knew that my family had a genetic history of panic disorder, depression, OCD, and anxiety. So there was a good chance that one of my kids would develop one of these issues or something else that was mental health related.

But I was naïvely optimistic and thought it would not happen to my kids. When I first had Ari I was a new mom and figuring things out. The last thing on my mind was whether he would have mental illness. I was concerned with developmental milestones and the chance of him potentially having autism because that is what is stressed when you have a child. Even in the hospital they don’t talk about mental illness they talk about shaken baby syndrome. They talk about caring for your infant and making sure that you satiate that baby’s needs. Doctors warn you about postpartum depression and the baby blues but they don’t tell you about mental illness for your child.

So when my nine-year-old son started showing signs of OCD I was nervous. When my baby boy who wasn’t a baby anymore showed me that he needed help and was oppositional and had irritability and rage, I didn’t know what to do. There is an extended timeline in which things happened and I felt like they were out of my control.

What was out-of-control wasn’t me. The thing that I could not control was what was happening to my son. I was doing the best that I could I am doing the best that I can trying to find the doctors to help my kid. Trying to fight with the flawed mental health care system and find out what it is that he needs and how I can provide that to him. But I am one person and asking my friends for help is getting exhausting for me and for them. I don’t want to be a burden on others. I don’t want to ask for something that people can’t give. All I want is for my son to find peace. I want him to live a life where he feels like he can be himself.

Speaking out about what I’ve been dealing with has been difficult because I faced much judgment from people online when I share my struggles. As the founder of a mental health nonprofit organization it is bizarre to me that people would criticize me talking about mental health issues even as it relates to my family and more specifically my child. Would people be angry if I was discussing my child diabetes? Would people be upset if I was talking about a child that had cancer? Mental illness is just as it indicates, an illness.

I’m writing this for every parent who has a child who is dealing with mental health issues. You are not alone and you don’t have to stay silent. You can do what you need to do to use your voice. You can be private about these issues or you can speak out. You can internalize them or you can tell the truth in whatever way you need to: whether that’s in your journal, call friends and family, or speak about it online. There is no right answer to this struggle. Just know that your experience is valid and your feelings are real. I’m listening. We should all be listening to your story, because one in four people in this country have a mental illness and one of them is my child.

Sarah Fader 10 Step Depression Workbook

Sarah Fader is the co-author of The CBT-based 10 Step Depression Relief Workbook, which is available on Amazon. She is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.

Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.


New Year’s Resolutions

Love more, Worry less, Exercise more, Eat better, Laugh more, Stay stable, Finish my memoir

Thank you, BipolarOnFire.com, for inspiring me to borrow and amend her resolutions for myself.

  • Love more
  • Worry less
  • Exercise more
  • Eat better
  • Laugh more
  • Stay stable
  • Finish my memoir

Bipolar on Fire‘s list included:

  • Find a job [she] can enjoy
  • Find a place [she] can call home that is peaceful and safe and affordable.

Thank You, My Love, for All You Do

Wedding Kiss Close-Up
Our wedding day kiss at Cal-Neva, North Lake Tahoe.

Thank God my husband, a civil engineer, provides for us well. He makes life much less stressful for me. Honestly, he shoulders that stress. He does a lot around the house — too much, for which I feel guilty that I’m not doing my fair share.

Over a decade ago, I kept our house immaculate, like something out of Architectural Digest. I was an overachiever at home and at work, but didn’t take care of myself and was not available to adequately care for our son. Since overworking led to voluntary psychiatric hospitalization, I’ve made caring for myself and our son a priority, and put housework on the backburner.

I’m truly blessed to have my husband in my life. He’s my caregiver, and I’m grateful for all he does. Thank you.

Happy Holidays!

Peace & Love KittOMalley.com

I have not been up to writing recently. Just been binge watching TV and doing jigsaw puzzles on my iPad. This season is emotionally fraught for me, starting with my mother’s birthday in October, Thanksgiving, my father’s birthday in December, then my husband’s birthday, then Christmas, finally New Year’s (which we sleep through).

Never much liked the holidays, for they usually involved my parents getting drunk. Arguments often ensued. But they were better behaved at our homes, as we created new rituals with our own families. My parents didn’t want to risk not seeing their grandchildren. Thanks to my sister for putting her foot down and clearly defining that boundary.

Years ago, I would host Thanksgiving. Believe I quit about the time I was hospitalized for bipolar disorder. My sister has taken on the role of hostess, which I appreciate. Her sons are the closest thing my son has to siblings.

Now that my parents are both in memory care and not able to join us, I miss them. Sounds odd, but even alcoholic families can be loving. Our illnesses do not define us. I miss communicating with my mother who since her stroke has severe aphasia. She doesn’t understand language, cannot speak, read, or write. Carrying on a conversation with my father, who cannot remember what was said two minutes ago, takes patience. My parents live in a lovely community. They seem happy together. But I miss them both. They are simply not the same. Dementia, both alcohol-related and vascular, and aphasia have taken so much of them away.