Saturday, July 26, 2014

Walking Through Darkness With Your Teen - Part 3

A few things we've learned and what we would like others to understand:

This happens to normal families.  I don't know what I was expecting, but the families in our Intensive Outpatient Program were normal, caring, intact families.  Through this process, I've become less judgmental of parents who have what appears to be a difficult teen.  I'll add that these were all families willing to put in some serious time commitment and work to help their teens and themselves heal and improve.  This DBT group was not court-mandated, but completely voluntary. We were honored to share life with these families during the 7-week program.

Parents can't discipline or force their kids into mental health.  We as parents have had to become very aware of behaviors that are simply typical teenage rebellion, which result in discipline, or behaviors that occur because our teen truly does not know how to respond appropriately or how to manage a particular emotion she's having.  For example, we would give a consequence for our kids sneaking out of the house to see friends, but not for engaging in a "target behavior" (self-harm, isolating, etc.).  At first, that was tough for me.  I was treating my teen more like a toddler.  When my kids were toddlers and threw a fit in the store because they wanted a toy, I would not get them the toy.  When my teen first engaged in her target behaviors, I wanted to think the same say: She's behaving badly, so I won't give her the attention she wants.  I can tell you, that doesn't work. If your kid self-harms, taking away their means has also proven to be ineffective.  The first time this idea was presented to me, I bawled. I couldn't accept it.  It was the most counterintuitive thing I had ever been told to do...or not do.  But it's been effective for us. If you are intrigued, as I was, by that idea, read and then click the selection below. Also, please consult a therapist regarding any of this; I am a parent and layperson just sharing our family's experience.

  • Responding to underlying distress is more important than focusing on stopping the self-harm. Excessive control and the removal of implements may make things worse. [Read more here]

My teen is doing well, but that doesn't mean she's "all better."  DBT calls it shaping.  Just like a sculptor doesn't instantly turn a piece of rough stone into a David statue, we won't change in an instant. So we make small, progressive steps.  For a child that engages in self-harm, that may mean that you notice she tries a few different coping techniques, then still engages in self-harm.  You could see that as failure and feel defeated or you could acknowledge that the attempt to cope in other ways is progress.  Then next time, maybe your teen comes to you and tells you they are at risk, tries some coping, has a long, drawn-out crying and anxiety fit, then eventually calms down.  You could focus on the stressful event, or notice that the teen took the more difficult route of coping without self-harm, which has historically given them the quickest relief.  Instead of punishing the freak-out, you applaud the fact that the teen came to you, then used a lot of patience and skill to suffer through the feelings rather than resort to self-harm.  Eventually, over time, little-by-little, the child will sculpt something beautiful. 

In our family, we constantly refer to the "wave."  The tough moments come in waves.  Back in April, the waves were frequent and the swells were high.  As time passes, with therapy and practice, the waves are further apart and the swells don't peak at such an overwhelming height.   

My teen isn't in a constant state of despair.  Just because a teen is fighting with her mental health doesn't mean she is always sulking, angry, or suicidal.  Remember the waves?  It's like that on a daily basis.  

Some days are really, really, really tough.  Just use thesaurus.com to search  "despair" and those are the feelings you'll have some days.  In those moments, it feels like nothing will help. Prayers seem to float into empty space; hope is not a word you can understand; you don't believe it will ever get better.  But it will get better. Admit your hopelessness, keep talking to God even if you feel it's returning void, and remind yourself that it will get better, even if only for a moment here and there.

Suicidal doesn't equal "dangerous to others."  Because my teen is fighting suicidal thoughts doesn't mean she's dangerous or poses a risk to anyone other than herself.  Certainly, there are kids who struggle with anger and lashing out.  This is not the case for most teens who are depressed, nor is it the case for all teens who are in treatment.

There is no shame in getting help!  The more you seek out help, the more you'll realize just how many people struggle.  We've been met with 99% positive support.  We've gained a network of friends and professionals who offer a plan and safety net for our family.  From the doctors and social workers, to family and friends, people have been our lifeline.

How does faith fit in?  If you're a follower of Christ, how does your faith and relationship with God fit in to this?  I'll share my brief opinion: Lean on your personal faith in your thoughts and behaviors. Find time to read scripture and talk honestly with God.  Do not quote scripture to your teen while the waves are high.  Just like you wouldn't say to parents who just lost a child, "Well, God works all things for good," (Gaaah!! Some people have actually done that!) you also don't want to tell your teen, "If you just had the faith the size of a mustard seed..."  Tread carefully with your teen in this area and ask God for wisdom regarding what to say and when to keep your mouth shut.

The more I write, the more I want to add, but I'm going to stop here.  Hopefully, my rambling will give you some ideas and encouragement. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Walking Through Darkness With Your Teen - Part 2

Since the first week in April when our teen went to an inpatient hospital, we've set up regular visits with a psychiatrist and therapist. We learned of and used an excellent service here in Austin, the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team, who will come out to the house to check on a patient. What an amazing service.  After a second hospitalization in May, we learned that not all hospitals are created equal.  While Shoal Creek doesn't look like much at first glance, they provide excellent care. Due to a lack of beds available in May, we were forced to send our teen to another, newer, seemingly nicer, inpatient facility in town.  Just two-and-a-half days there led us to get her out and file a formal complaint with the state.  Fortunately, she was able to get a bed a Shoal Creek fairly quickly and got the care she needed.

This time, upon discharge, we were set up with IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) in a group called "DBT." Thursday was our last night of the 7-week, 3-time-per-week program and I have one word: wow.  Ken said DBT should be required in every high school curriculum.  I agree!  I spent an entire 9 weeks of my high school Home Ec class planning a mock wedding.  I was the bride.  It was a total waste of time! Why not spend the 9 weeks having kids learn the four modules of DBT:
1. Mindfulness
2. Distress tolerance
3. Emotion regulation
4. Interpersonal effectiveness

I would say that DBT has helped Ken and me as much as it's helped our teen, if not more.  DBT has helped us as parents really think through how we communicate with each other and our kids.  Before DBT, when any of my kids came to me with an emotion I didn't understand or I felt was over-exaggerated, I would try to lecture or reason.  For example:

Old Way
Teen: Everyone hates me. I'm disgusting.
Me: No you're not! You know plenty of people like you. (I'd list examples.)

New Way
Teen: Everyone hates me. I'm disgusting.
Me: The way "Bill" talked to you made you feel worthless. What a jerk.

Okay, this is a super-simplistic and cheesy way to describe validation, but you get the idea.  Think about when you are upset and are venting your feelings.  You don't want someone telling you to just stop feeling that way.  One of the therapists said, "Telling your teen to stop being sad is like telling a person standing in the rain to stop being wet."

DBT has helped shift the way I view any type of conflict or high-emotion moment with my family.  We aren't perfect at it, but we're constantly working on it.  There is SO much more (12 hours per week for 7 weeks-worth) to DBT that I won't share here, but I'm happy to visit in person with anyone who has questions about it.  Also, let me add the caveat that we had excellent leaders/social workers.  There was one family in our group who had attended another DBT group before coming to Shoal Creek and they said it was horrible.  It's just like anything else.  Do your research and get some feedback from the community before deciding where to go.

My next blog will bullet-point some things we've learned over the past few months.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Walking Through Darkness With Your Teen - Part 1

I’ll never forget the moment my teen first came to me and showed me the cuts on her arms.  I said the first thing that came into my head.  Big mistake.  I rolled my eyes, “Really?  That is SO stupid.” I wish I could take it back.  I’ve learned a lot since that August afternoon; one of those things being to bite my tongue and look for a way to validate what she’s experiencing.  The first thought in my head is most often not the appropriate response.  A better response would have been,  “Thank you for coming to me. Can we talk about it?” or “Wow…I’m not sure what to say right now,” or "I'm sorry I didn't realize how bad you were feeling." I simply could have hugged her.  But in that moment, I was angry.  I was instantly hearing criticism in my own head, “If you were a better mom, she never would have done this.”  “That family member was right. You couldn’t even manage 3 kids, so why would you have 2 more?”  I also heard, “Don't reward her behavior by giving her the attention she wants.”  “She did this to piss you off.”  

In that moment, those inner thoughts were wrong, but loud.  Just like my teen's thoughts, telling her she’s worthless, telling her that if she hurt herself, she’d feel better. Telling her that her life is insignificant and even burdensome.

We went to some family counseling, but didn’t directly address the self-harm.  I was hoping it was just something she dabbled in after seeing it online and that she wouldn’t do it again. I told myself that it wasn’t too bad.  I prayed prayers of deliverance over her, but even while praying, I knew we had a long road ahead of us.

Then in March, she came to me to reveal that she was having thoughts about suicide.  She envisioned the details and had a plan.  (I've learned since then that having a plan is significant in many regards.) We visited a counselor within 48 hours of that admission (She slept in our room those two nights).  That counselor recommended in-patient treatment at a facility where she could be safe while we developed a game plan.

Taking my teen to Shoal Creek was surreal.  It was one of those out-of-body events you experience, thinking, “I never thought this would happen to us.  To me. To our family.”  But it was happening.  From the moment the counselor said “hospital” until, hours later, after an afternoon full of telling our story, listening to her speak out loud the horrid thoughts she was fighting in her mind, I was sent out into a waiting room while she spoke alone with a psychiatrist.  It was only then that I was able to break down and cry.  I sobbed, sitting alone at 10:00 pm in the lounge area of the adult floor of the psychiatric hospital.  I knew the staff would understand, so I just let my sadness release into tears.  I wanted to “fix” whatever was troubling her.  I wanted to pray away the demons.  I wanted to speak truth over the lies in her mind and have her simply believe me.  Believe God.  Then came the accusing questions again: What did you do wrong?  Should you have sheltered her as extremely as some of your Christian homeschooling counterparts?  Should you have just said “no” to any type of social media access?  Should you have kept all family stress out of eye- and ear-shot of the kids?  Should you have not discussed second and third-world problems and atrocities?  Maybe if we had never moved.  Maybe if we had kept that job.  Maybe if we had never moved to the apartments. Maybe if I had never given her that medication. Maybe if….  Should have….  What did I do wrong?  Parents of kids who struggle will identify with these thoughts, I’m guessing.

The staff at the hospital was fabulous.  From the phone intake and assessment to the moment she was discharged, they cared.  They cared about us as parents.  They cared about her.  They never once made me as a mom feel worse for being there.  They offered a plan and the plan offered hope. 

From that April evening when she was admitted until now, we've received a lot of support from quite a number of sources.  Ken and I are so proud of our daughter for her openness, willingness, and hard work. We've learned a lot and healed a lot.  We've decided, with our teen's approval, to share our journey so far.  Our hope is that it can encourage other parents and give them some basic information or at least a place to start if they are seeking help. [Click here for Part II]

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Austin June Summer Fun

Flying high at our neighborhood park.
A few months ago, the older 3 Brownies and I made a summer bucket list.  Much of that list consisted of some of Texas' best swimming holes.  We made it to 3 of the places on this list, plus a few more to boot.

In the Texas summer heat, staying cool in the springs is one of the only ways we can enjoy the outdoors, although finding some nice shade in the awesome parks around here will also do, especially in the hours before noon or just before dusk.

Our Austin June Fun
Giving Sid some lovin'!
We kicked off June by celebrating Austin's own celebrity dog, Sid's recovery from an unfortunate accident.  We had been following Sid on Instagram and Facebook for over a year and were happy to finally meet him and under such celebratory circumstances.  As the sun set, we were treated to a show by talented performers, Tian and Travis.

Our first swimming hole of the summer was Jacob's Well.  We were drawn to this location because of the gorgeous photos we had seen online. We went on a weekday just before school was out, so it wasn't too busy.  There isn't a lot of space to swim around.  It's better suited for hanging out and keeping cool, watching everyone take turns diving.  The older Brownies got to dive, but if you go when it's busy, there may be park rangers there, reminding people that diving is forbidden.  Click here for the creepy scuba diving stories.

Petting a bunny at Little Stacy
Friends picked the perfect park for a summer birthday party. With lots of natural shade and a wading pool, Little Stacy Park was a cool place for a petting zoo celebration.

Another great shady park is Garrison Park in South Austin. Even on warm mornings, there is plenty of shade and a cool breeze running through the park.  We haven't been to the pool yet, but it looks fun, diving board included.

Garrison Park
Rio Vista Dam in San Marcos
We met up with some friends to play at Children's Park in San Marcos, just south of Austin.  **Be aware, Children's Park location is not correct on Google maps. It shows the park by the library, but actually, it's southwest of there. The link here provides the correct location.**  This park was not shady or cool, so we made the short walk along the railroad tracks to the Rio Vista Dam area. What a fun place!

Splash Pad at Pease Park
Thanks to our church's summer student event, we got to explore Pease Park near downtown.  We had been there once before, but had just walked around the playscape briefly. This park has a great splashpad, vast playscapes, and beautiful walking/biking trails that connect to Townlake and Shoal Creek trails. The entire family enjoyed this park.

Last year, we enjoyed Deep Eddy several times. After going twice in June, I've decided this is the most stress-free place for me to take the kids. No hiking, plenty of shade, beach-entry pool, and attentive lifeguards allow me to truly relax or visit with friends while swimming here.  We pack lots of drinks and keep a few snacks in my bag. Even though the signs say not to bring in sugary drinks and food, the lifeguard told us that staying hydrated is more important, so they've always allowed us to bring in Gatorade or tea and some simple snacks. We are very careful to pick up trash and even our crumbs!

Our great Father's Day Adventure was a hike to Sculpture Falls.  Read my previous blog entry for all the details.

Umlaf Sculpture Gardens
After having lived here two years, we finally made it to the Umlaf Sculpture Gardens downtown, taking advantage of free summer visits. We enjoyed our time there, met a new special friend, and plan to go back when it's cooler.

We managed one visit to the Thinkery. With our annual pass, it's easy to go spend a couple of hours here and there.  We intend on going once a week in July.  If we aren't going to get wet, indoors is the best place to be in Austin summers.  We could barely peel Travis away from the circuit display, then both boys had a ball cooking up "dinner" for their siblings and me.

"Cooking" at Thinkery
Even though money is extremely tight this summer, we have been able to have a great time and stay cool. You can't live in this town and say you're bored!  We are looking forward to revisiting some of these places during the month of July, as well as hitting the Blanton Art Museum, Hamilton Pool, Lake Travis, and the new Townlake Boardwalk.

Click here to see more photos than you probably care to peruse.