The Truth Behind Picture Windows

 

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I’m sitting in the front room of my house, early morning sunlight filtering through the big picture window.  It looks like the sun has decided to shine today.  I’m impressed by this now – the sun’s insistence on shining despite the whole world falling apart.  I hear the meaty footfalls of my three year old and turn to find his giant blue eyes and flopping curls in front of me.  He’s holding a slightly sticky Superman action figure and smells of syrup.

Mama, where is Bubba?”  He knows where Pea is, but he still asks me over and over again. I understand.

He’s still at the hospital at his super special overnight camp for his anxiety!”  I wonder if the false cheerfulness in my voice is perceptible to him and then push the thought out of my mind.  Again.

Yes.  He’s got a sick spot in his brain and he’s getting better so he will want to play with me again.  We will play superheroes when he gets home.”  He nods at me as though he is convincing both of us.  I gather him into my arms and we perch together at my desk, looking out into the quiet front yard, watching the world carry on as though nothing has happened.

Yes, little cub.  That’s exactly right.  I can’t wait.

I’ve sat in my chair endlessly in the wee hours of the morning, pondering this moment.  I’ve wrung my hands while intense, blinding fear washed over me in crashing waves.  Pea was admitted into the hospital a couple of weeks ago and spent four days and three nights having his medication changed and participating in intensive therapy to help him take control back from his anxiety.

Do I share what happened?

My social media accounts stood silent for weeks while I lost the battle to make him better.  I’ve had a crash course in grief.  What will I say?  What will people assume?  What if Pea loses friends?  Everyone knows that Pea has an anxiety disorder.  I’ve shouted from the rooftops on so many occasions that mental health should NOT BE TABOO.  But that was before I had to use the word “inpatient” in a sentence.  Can I talk the talk and then walk the walk?  The answer came to me on what would end up as Pea’s last night in the hospital.  I had just finished dressing down a nurse in GLORIOUS SPLENDOR and was flip flopping down the long, sterile corridor that connects the “Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Unit” to the other properly sick kids with illnesses that DIDN’T deserve a locked door hidden in a corner of the top floor.

Yep, it was right about then.

I found myself smiling through my tears because HOT DAMN, this is what I’m supposed to do.  I’m not going to be quiet.  Honestly, I don’t think I’ve been quiet in my entire life, so why start now?  I have a whole bunch of precious kiddos to stand up for and THOUSANDS of parents who need to hear me say that WE ARE ALL OKAY.  And much more importantly, I have society to educate.  And society turns out to be a lot of people, y’all.  I’ve got to get busy.

I referenced “dressing down” a nurse, but I want to tell everyone right off the bat that Pea was cared for by an AMAZING TEAM OF SUPERHEROES.  We are BLESSED to have access to such wonderful care and his team of doctors, nurses, therapists, and specialists are life savers and TRUE heroes.  The field of pediatric psychiatry has to be the hardest specialty to decide to go into, which would explain the HUGE shortage of doctors and nurses in the field.  I’ve seen things in the past few weeks that made my heart hurt so badly that I couldn’t find my breath.  And I’m not talking about Pea.  There are some sick babies out there and these people come to work every single day and take care of them when there’s nowhere else to turn.  Mental health disorders are fickle and insidious and the same chemical imbalance presents completely differently from patient to patient.  I can’t imagine doing the job those angels do day in and day out.  They have my HEARTFELT AND ULTIMATE RESPECT.  We would not be here today, on the road to feeling better, without them.  And I’m going back to Pea’s very first diagnosis at age 3.  These people are the very definition of selfless.

That being said, we’ve got some BIG ISSUES, AMERICA.  The mental health system in our country needs an OVERHAUL.  A “tear it down and start over” overhaul.  I’ve decided to talk about that.  I know you’re shocked.  I’m generally SO reserved.  Ahem.

Today, I’ll start with one fairly simple concept that I want to lay out for you.  This is my first post on the topic and my “outing” of the fact that Pea was hospitalized for 4 days.  So we will stick with just this ONE issue.

I FEEL LIKE I AM OUTING US.

That is utterly and completely ridiculous.  If Pea had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, or the “C” word that I can’t even utter, or suffered a traumatic injury, I would have rushed right to Facebook with a plea to all of our friends for prayers.  I would have kept everyone updated constantly, posting test results and lab findings and surgery times . Pea would have been nestled in a hospital room just around the corner from the giant castle decorated atrium, his room bursting with balloons and stuffed animals and get well soon cards.  Visitors aplenty would arrive with gifts, love and well wishes – if he was well enough to receive them.  There would have been trips to the adorable play rooms as he felt better and fresh air at the elaborate playground off the main entrance.  There would be walks down the halls and high fiving nurses and cheer because it’s a children’s hospital and they do such an amazing job of making it not so scary for the children who have no choice but be there for treatment.

THAT IS NOT WHAT HAPPENED TO US.

We sat ALONE.  We were scared and hopeless and hopeful and worried and prayerful and ALL THE THINGS…and we were well and truly alone.  I hemmed and hawed over every single word I said to anyone, fearing that having to be hospitalized would mark Pea for life to everyone around us.  Word travels fast, after all.  Pea isn’t violent or scary or “a danger to himself or others”.  No, wait.  That’s false.  He IS a danger to himself…in the sense that OCD and Anxiety are ruining his childhood.

He was first enrolled in the Partial Hospitalization Program, or PHP as it’s called there.  It’s the same program that he did last August that I wrote about on this very blog.  This year, it wasn’t helping fast enough.  He barely made it through school and we quite literally heaved ourselves over the finish line by the skin of our teeth.  He was so anxious that he was making himself physically sick.  We just found out that he officially has OCD in March and I’ve learned quite a bit since his spiral downhill started.  OCD is not just about locking a door five times.  The “O” is for obsession and Pea has obsessive, intrusive thoughts around the clock that will not let him be.  His thoughts tell him that he’s not good enough, his school work is horrible, his friends must not like him, his parents probably wish they had a different son, etc.  The problem that brought us to this point is that Pea tries desperately to hide it. He won’t share what is spinning in his head All. The. Time.  He plasters on a smile and tries to fit in.  He tells jokes and makes up silly words and tries to hang on while he’s dying inside.  And everyone buys it.  Sadly, he’s even fooled me before.  My Pea was born with a chemical imbalance in his WONDERFUL brain and put simply, he needed new medicine and better therapists that specialize in OCD.  We want him to be able to go back to school in August and BE OKAY.  We found out that he needed a complete overhaul on his medication and LOTS of therapy from a team that specializes in acute care – people trained to hit the reset button when things are BAD.  We got everything we needed.  He’s home and feeling much better and we are doing the hard work now of attending new therapies and trying new methods and FIGHTING to teach Pea’s brain to unravel everything in his head and rewire it correctly.

But let me tell y’all something else…my son was born with a very unfortunate illness when it comes to sympathy and support.

My son has an illness that isn’t supposed to be talked about.

My son has an illness that we are supposed to cloak in darkness and share privately with the fewest people possible.

My son has an illness that is judged by an ignorant society because it can’t be seen or touched, because he’s had enough therapy over the last six years to generally present himself well, because he’s brilliant and funny and occasionally talks too much and if it looks like a normal 8 year old, it must be a normal 8 year old.  I do not say that with anger or hate…I was once the ignorant person through no fault of my own.  In our country, we have public knowledge about so many diseases – but when it comes to mental disorders, the only “awareness” is from those of us who have no choice but to be “aware”.

My son has an illness with symptoms that are behavioral and therefore it is an illness unworthy of support from the village.  He has an illness that we are carrying him through, one day at a time, one hour at a time, by ourselves.  This should not be, friends.

And so I’m here.  I’m standing up tall and telling you that my fabulous son lost a battle to his anxiety and OCD, but he WILL NOT LOSE THE WAR.  I’m telling you that he was in the hospital and he’s doing MUCH BETTER, thanks for asking.  I’m telling you that we don’t need any dinner deliveries, but I might need a sitter for Little Bear occasionally.  I’m telling you that I’m NOT AT ALL ASHAMED that Pea was born with a chemical imbalance and he fights it all day, every day, LIKE A ROCK STAR.  I’m telling you that he might not ever want to go to a huge party or compete in sports or be class president, but he IS an amazing kid, fabulous friend, and the best and bravest person I’ve ever known.

If someone finds Pea’s hospitalization a reason to distance themselves or their children from him – that is a MONUMENTAL loss for them and, quite honestly, doesn’t mean one damn thing to us.

If there is ONE thing that I will accomplish as his mother, it will be to instill in him that WE ARE NOT EMBARRASSED OR ASHAMED of his diagnosis and NEITHER IS HE.  He is not defined by this illness, but he IS defined by the battle he fights and the BRAVE WARRIOR he has become.  My son is going to grow up and become a champion for pediatric mental health disorders and a voice for all the little ones who have to put one foot in front of the other and walk into that hospital unit buried in the back corner of the hospital – just like he did.  I know this because he told me.  And I believe him.  If you don’t know him, you should.  He’s a big deal.

If this ever happens again (God forbid) – I’m putting it on Facebook and posting updates and asking people for prayer chains and laying it all out there, just like any other illness.

I certainly can’t demand change without BEING THE CHANGE MYSELF.  

I’d love for y’all to join me.  Tell your stories.  Be brave.  It doesn’t help to sit in front of picture windows and wish that people understood.

You have to TEACH THEM.  Dr. Ross Greene, a pioneer in child psychology who is fast becoming my hero, has a mantra: “Kids do well if they can”.  I believe the same simple (yet incredibly profound) concept can hold true for all of us.  Generally speaking, society will be kind, helpful and understanding to the plight of our kids IF THEY CAN.  That means that we can’t expect them to read our minds and innately have knowledge that they’ve never been given.

And so here I stand, dusting the cobwebs off my idle blog, telling you the truth.  He fell apart.  He went to the hospital.  He’s doing much better.  He’s playing superheroes again…

AND HE IS ONE.

Pea and Little Bear

Pea and Little Bear today

27 thoughts on “The Truth Behind Picture Windows

  1. Beautiful post Chalna. I can’t even begin to write something as powerful as you just did. I do know our boys would be best friends if we lived closer!! My boy doesn’t “fit the mold” but I would not change one thing about him. You are an awesome Mom!

  2. You remind me a lot of my mom. I lost one of my brothers to suicide 6 years ago Tomorrow (7.12.2010). He suffered from Bipolar disorder. My parents (especially my mom) are advocates for the people and families who suffer silently with mental illnesses. http://Www.notadaypromised.com. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Nicole, I am SO SORRY for your loss and incredibly thankful that you shared your parents website with me!! I’m so glad you stumbled onto my story and I hope and pray that I can continue to advocate for kiddos like Pea and your sweet brother!!

    • I think this is a step in the right direction. Awareness and talking about it. I lost my adult son almost 4 years ago. Bipolar and BPD. He turned to street drugs. No help ever though we all tried as did he himself. Thank you for posting this!

  3. God bless you Chalna. Your voice and candor will resonate with so many and hopefully bust open doors everywhere for knowledge and acceptance. Pea and Little Bear have been blessed by one great mom.

  4. VERY well said. You are a brave and awesome mom. I will share with you what I learned from some of our doctors. Take one day at a time. What you did yesterday that worked may not work today. That is ok it isn’t your fault or your childs. It is like a moving target. Try to shoot as close as you can. YOU are a great mom keeping fighting and educating the public and always ask for help ?

  5. I am so impressed by you Chalna – that beautiful high school girlfriend of my daughter – all grown up and WISE and BRAVE! As a mental health counselor myself, I am too aware of the black hole in our healthcare system that is supposed to treat and support mental health. Where I live we don’t even have enough psychiatrist who take insurance to refer people to for help. I am and will continue to pray for you and your sweet family, especially for “Pea”. I can’t imagine the struggle and grief you feel as a Mom wanting to fix it and make it all better for your baby but not being able to do so. Hang on to God’s power and love for you all.

  6. We raised you to be strong and independent and honest and loyal and loving. But we never anticipated you would be called on to pull so much from yourself! We are so proud of how you have shared with the world a very real injury no different than any other. The Lord is walking with you and we know Colin is in his arms taking it one hour at a time….And you are teaching the world to change their perspective! You too are a Superhero!!

  7. Thank you so much for writing this. Lots of tears when I read it.
    My mom suffers from depression mostly stemming from severe abuse (every kind) when she was a child. She repressed everything until I was about 8 years old. Everything buried came to the surface for her and she fell apart. Up until that time, my family had been members at a baptist church. We were always there – every Sunday, Wednesday bible study, summer camps…my Mom even volunteered for the church. After my mom was admitted for treatment after her breakdown, the pastor of the church came to my mother’s hospital room and told her that she and our family were no longer welcome at the church. I still have hot tears when I think about this. A woman who was treated and told that she was worthless since childhood was being discarded because she was seeking treatment. I suffer from anxiety and Micah was diagnosed as bipolar when I was pregnant with Quinn. Most people fall into 3 camps – the camp that thinks that mental illness is an excuse and we should just “get over it”. Then there is the camp that thinks that anyone who suffers from mental illness are damaged goods, etc. Lastly, there is the camp that understands that we are speaking about ILLNESS and that treatment helps! The small minded can be very vocal but please remember that you are not alone!

    I am here if you ever need anything! We would love to have Preston visit any time, seriously. I am also a very good listener – anytime day or night.

    -Shanna

    • FRIEND!! Somehow, I turned off my email notifications for blog comments and I’m just seeing everything right now! UGH! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING THIS WITH ME!! I do not have words for what happened to your mother. NO. WORDS. I am hard pressed to think of a more UNGODLY man of God than the person who would do such a vile and reprehensible thing. I’m praying that I can add to the positive voices advocating for change when it comes to mental illness. The “damaged goods” part is like a knife to my soul. I aim to make a LOT of noise about it. 😉

  8. I am so proud of you and I don’t think we’ve ever met. I love that you’re willing to share. People need to hear. I needed to hear. Prayers from the Rector Family to yours. Precious!

  9. I am a part of this world as well. It is terrible how many people blame the patents because the symptoms of the illness are behavioral. My thoughtful, sensitive, dramatic, fun, highly intelligent and loving daughter is a joy to be around 90% of the time. However the other 10% are scary, violent, screaming, name calling, obsenities, harming others, harming herself, heartbreaking, hating herself, hating others, wanting to die, wanting others to die… and it often ends in police transports, adolescent psych units (she is 10) or a residential pediatric unit. What do I tell my boss? What do I tell her friends, my friends and other parents? Our treatment options are limited in my small town. It is exhausting. Often I am treated like I caused this, by being a bad parent, until they get to know me and find out I am a special education teacher. I taught students with emotional and behavioral disorders, I am savvy and I have more skills and knowledge then a lot of parents. Then they treat me differently. But what about the other parents? Do they always treat them like they treat me in the beginning. Like I did something to cause this, like I am an abusive parent? When she is having a rough spell it takes so long to get help and it is so isolating. I worry about what the screaming and violence does to my 3 year old and what will her life be like as an adult. No one really understands what it is like.

    • Oh, Ginger…I wish I didn’t understand your plight as well as I do. Bless you, friend. I’m so glad you read my post and thankful that you commented with your story. It feels so much better not to be alone. I met an AMAZING little girl who sounds exactly like yours just a couple of weeks ago and she was part of the reason that I wanted to dive back into my mission. These kids aren’t any less deserving of friends, love, hope, sympathy and HELP than anyone else is!!!!! HUGS TO YOUR FAMILY!!!!

  10. Hugging you all in my heart. You have my support. Pea is amazing, and so is his family.

    And holy cow… I just discovered Dr. Greene’s book “The Explosive Child” about a month ago, and that phrase “Kids do well if they can”… absolutely stuck with me ever since I read it.

    Thank you for sharing this journey. You are going to be a light for many people.

  11. You are one awesome writer, Mom and a very strong strong intelligent person!! I have so much respect for you!! You are an amazing writer !! I will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers. ???

  12. I cried as I read this today. You are such an incredible advocate for your son and for mental health. You were meant to be his mom Chalna and he is so blessed to have you taking care of him.
    Thinking of you and your family always. I still can’t believe we haven’t met in person with our kids.

  13. Chalna you are amazing!! You and I have had long discussions about PHP, GAD, OCD, and ADHD because both of our babies struggle with MH disorders. I’m so proud of you and Pea, and the progress you have both made. This normal we live in, no one understands… And you are right, the system does need an overhaul. Shout it from the roof tops, make them aware, be the change. But in the quiet stillness that comes in this territory from time to time, know if you ever just need a shoulder…. One is always right here.

  14. I read this, and I can only imagine. Having a depressive disorder I know the stigma it can present. What I have realized, as I guess you have, is that silence leads not only to more shame but adds to the ignorance. I’m blessed to be a part of a church that encourages me and sees my struggles in the past as a way to help others who are struggling (I have been stable for a year and a half).
    I don’t know where you are at, but please know that you are in my prayers.
    Michelle

  15. This is beautiful. I too am a momma to a beautiful 11 year old with bipolar disorder, ADHD, and severe anxiety. It is HAAARRD. Thank you for having the guts to “put it out there”. It’s funny, we are very open in our family, church, and community (my husband is a pastor at our church), but I always feel this little quiet voice telling me, “don’t share so much. it’s too hard, people don’t want to hear this” But you are right, when a member of our congregation is sick, the prayer requests are VERY specific — sometimes embarassingly so with all the procedures, results, etc and I don’t think anything of it. So, why do we feel the need to “edit” ourselves with our kids? Thanks again for sharing — I will be sure to follow you!

  16. I would love to translate your post into Spanish. I have a very anxious and depressive extraordinary daughter. These symptoms were budding in childhood, a brilliant, perfectionist, self-critical tremendously smart young woman whose grief and suffering overflowed during her college years, she is valiantly, persistently fighting her battles, one day at a time. I have been surrounded by depression, suicide and all sorts of mental illness all of my life; and yes, the stigma, the silence, the closed doors and windows in our hearts make the problem so much worse. Let me know if you are interested, I’d like to share your tremendously powerful words and offer them in Spanish to communities in which mental health is still more of an embarrassing, unmentioned elephant sitting on our laps.

  17. I am crying as I write this! If you had changed “Pea” to my son’s name, this could be my story! I felt so alone for so long! My son was hospitalized 2 years ago at age 6 with mania induced hallucinations. It was a result of the serotonin levels building up in his brain from the SSRI he was on for anxiety. He is also diagnosed as ADHD. During that time, I felt almost ashamed that we were where we were. The worst part is that I myself have Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia and am the first person to talk about my battles, but when it came to my son, I wanted to protect him from the ignorant.
    We still fight whatever “disorder” God gave him and we still fight the ignorance of those around you. I am learning to not give a damn about what others think, but some days, I just want to keep him in a bubble, sheltering him from the hurtful stares and words of others. I will pray for your strength as I pray for my own. We are a unique, wonderfully BLESSED tribe and we have to depend on one another to pull through. Thank you for “outing” us and sharing your story!

  18. Dear Nicole,
    Thank you for sharing this and for advocating for mental health issues.
    I have stood where you stand now, it is not an easy place to be …stay strong mama and continue to fight for your son Pea, he is an amazing little boy with so much life ahead. If you ever need a shoulder to lean on , cry on or to just plain pick you up when you are down.. I am here.

  19. Thank you so much for this post! My son with autism was hospitalized over Christmas for 9 days and he was not able to get the behavioral therapy he needs, even at a psychiatric hospital, because ABA therapy is not approved and not available by insurance even though it is the only type of behavioral therapy that matches his needs including communication. His medication was adjusted and he is doing better but I continue to push to get him the therapy that he so desperately needs. I appreciate all that you wrote and find strength and courage in it.

  20. Thank you for sharing your story and bringing awareness to mental health. I wanted to share some information with you ? Dr. Daniel Amen is a psychiatrist who believes that to truly/thoroughly help others with brain health, our brains need to be examined to see exactly what’s going on and therefore be treated appropriately. His very simple point is this: psychiatry is the only medical field where an examination of the area needing treatment isn’t (or hasn’t) been “looked at.” Think about it: chest pains? Get an echocardiogram or chest x-ray; knee or joint pain? Get an MRI. Possible broken bone? Get an x-ray. Mental health problem? Shoot in the dark and try different meds until symptoms are “controlled.” Ugh!!! Wouldn’t it make sense to get a brain scan (he has been doing this for years) so once the doctor can see the part/area of the brain that’s affected, the proper treatment can be given??? I would love to hear your opinion on this. ? Thank you, again for raising awareness!!

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