My Little Storyteller

In the moments Parker will go play by herself it’s not unusual to peer into her room and find her occupied with books.  Sometimes she curls up in her brown corduroy rocking chair and looks through the illustrations.  My favorite is when she lines up her dolls or stuffed animals and presents the books as though she is reading to her own make-believe classroom.  She carefully tells the story of each page before lifting and turning the book to her viewers to see the pictures.  01booksEach night we read each other one story before bed too.  She has several stories or lines out of books memorized and even mimics the inflections and character voices I use when I read to her.  A lot of her reading is completely made up as she goes along incorporating characters from the story I had read or from events that happened in her day.  It won’t be long before she is truly reading the words on the pages but for now she is using her imagination and her own words for storytelling.

Parker has an advanced vocabulary and communication skills for her young five years.  She is full of opinions, questions and comments and is fearless about opening her mouth to speak.  I want to empower her to continue this since it demonstrates curiosity and leadership, while also trying to rein her in and ensure she remains respectful with her words.  It’s also been a priority for me to educate her on the proper use of her vocabulary and practice pronunciation.  It’s not uncommon for her to completely make up words and throw them into sentences.  She has a few words she frequently stumbles over, like before she could say computer and asked to play on the “paduter.”  There are two words which come to mind I hear currently mispronounced, as long as she is not still saying them this way five years from now they will be a fun memory of her growth.

“Mom, we are out of skabetty?  That’s just rediclius.”

(*Spaghetti, ridiculous)

Like Mother, Like Daughter and Daughter

“You have to slow down and watch what you are doing,” the words escaped my mouth echoing from my own childhood.  My mom would calmly and assertively interfere in careless actions or growing frustration with this statement.  Now decades later with my own child it seems an automatic response, my mom’s words filtering through my mouth.  When I first noticed this and other comments I have relayed to Parker, I couldn’t help to stop and think I am turning into my mom.

I know this thought evokes a comedic horror for many, the idea of resembling parents.  For me, the thought of turning into my mom carried a chuckle in a different sense, there is no way I can live up to who my mom is.  It would be a blessing if I could maintain a portion of her patience, an ounce of her generosity, or a sliver of her organization.  I envy her diligence and work ethic while I have mastered procrastination – efficiency under pressure.  She is the most dependable person you will encounter, and since she is a horrible liar you know you can trust exactly what she says she will do.  There are so many incredible characteristics my mom emulates, it wouldn’t be a burden to be more like her.  So I guess if I mimic some of her phrases, that’s just fine with me.

Nana & Parker

Nana & Parker

If I do my job right, decades from now, Parker won’t mind repeating my words either.  These days she is constantly cracking me up with the things I tell her for encouragement or warning which get reflected back to me.  Parker congratulates me with “Good job Mommy,” when I use the toilet.  She cautions me to “Be careful Mommy,” when I am mopping and the floor it wet.

I so appreciate the statements from both my mom and my daughter.  It’s a small reminder of the beautiful generations of women in my family, strong influences who have shaped who we are and how we think.

Two words, out of the blue.

danceBehavior is lawful, I learned this phrase when I became an instructor for Positive Behavior Support.  It has been a long time since I have taught the class, however this phrase always stays with me.  In short it means no behavior is ‘out of the blue,’ as we sometimes describe actions of others.  Any action an individual takes is a response to something whether we are aware of it or not, the trigger could be anything in the environment noticed by our senses, a reaction to another person’s behavior or behavior can stem from a thought.

There have been many occurrences, since by daughter began speaking regularly, where I would have been caught off guard by her simple communication.  Sometimes it’s while I am driving the car with her behind me in the car seat sitting peacefully observing the scenes passing outside her window when I hear the two words in her sweet high-pitched voice, “Thank you,” she says.  She is very polite expressing thanks to family, friends and strangers on a regular basis; it’s the times when there is no apparent prompt for the comment I am boggled by.  The comment appears to come out of the blue, except I know behavior is lawful and it must have a purpose.  thankyou

I’m so curious at the thoughts in her two-year-old mind which evoked this comment.  She didn’t get anything, no compliment received or favor helped.  Is she thanking me for the ride, praising me for being a safe driver?  Is she as appreciative to get out of the house as I am?  Was she just trying to start a conversation to break the silence and these are the words others respond to?  And then my mind takes me to wondering if it’s simply a thank you for being, kids are present in a way we lose as life gets more complicated.  They are not congested with the volume of thoughts, opinions, data and stresses we have in our adult minds.

Without having the words to provide an explanation, I am left to imagine.  Her enduring two-word expression, when the environment is otherwise silent, has developed meaning for me even when I don’t know what it means from her.  It’s a reminder to focus on the present, no moment is ordinary, I need to appreciate it all.

Borderline – An Outside Perspective

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“Borderline individuals are the psychological equivalent of third-degree-burn patients. They simply have, so to speak, no emotional skin. Even the slightest touch or movement can create immense suffering.”
-Marsha Linehan

I am human, I have emotions like all humans and at times I could reflect many of the diagnoses in the DSM manual for the behavior I exhibit to deal with my emotions – we ALL could. I currently do not identify with a mental illness, though I know plenty of people who do. Long before I started working in this field I felt a calling to try to help, protect and educate others for the mentally ill who could not do it on their own. This post is for people who want to better understand their friend, colleague or family member who have a borderline diagnosis.

Borderline personality disorder is diagnosed twice as often as schizophrenia and bipolar disorders combined, effecting six to ten million Americans. From experience, I know mental hospitals would prefer to treat a true diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar over an individual with BPD. The reason is – medication is the form of treatment for schizophrenia and bipolar. Once the correct cocktail of prescriptions is discovered, symptoms subside and a discharge is planned. Personality disorders cannot be medicated away, medication can only reduce symptoms associated like depression or anxiety, what is left is a continued thought disturbances. What’s more, the stressors which likely caused an individual with borderline to have a mental breakdown are still problems which will be present during and after a hospitalization (ie relationships, legal issues, financial crisis etc).

Personality disorders can arise in individuals for various reasons and no single person will have the same story or exhibit the same symptoms. Typically borderline personality disorder begins with a combination of mental and environmental factors. The mental side being a family history of mental illness, developmental problems or early severe neglect in infancy. And related to environmental problems, an individual has been subjected to invalidating environments throughout their life. In other words, past emotionally charged relationships, places and events were not properly recognized for the effect it had on an individual. Consider a child hearing “stop crying,” “you shouldn’t feel that way” or “it’s not that big of a deal.” After months or years of having emotions belittled, an individual internalizes these thoughts as their own. The conflict of feeling their emotions are wrong and not knowing how to cope effectively creates chaos in the mind of someone with BPD.

“The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fourth edition (DSM-IV-TR) defines borderline personality disorder… Five (or more) of the following:
-Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
-A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
-Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
-Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., promiscuous sex, excessive spending, eating disorders, binge eating, substance abuse, reckless driving).
-Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats or self-injuring behavior such as cutting, interfering with the healing of scars or picking at oneself (excoriation).
-Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).
-Chronic feelings of emptiness
-Inappropriate anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).
-Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation, delusions or severe dissociative symptoms”

It would be really difficult for a typical person with stable mental health to imagine the suffering a person with borderline might be feeling to engage in these types of behaviors. So I will offer you a mild metaphor some might be able to relate to. The game of golf is much more a mental game than physical, and those who play understand a round can be disasterous or successful depending on this condition. A golfer who begins a round with a stroke of bad luck can easily AngryGolferbegin judging each shot more critically. With each bad swing, missed opportunity and hazard found on the course a golfer’s frustration continues to grow. A golfer might resort to comparisons to others, feel they don’t have the proper equipment to be effective or disconnect from the others they are playing with to keep their misery to themselves. Golfers have broken clubs, cursed and yelled, thrown whole bags into ponds and even walked off the course giving up for the day.

Again this metaphor is mild compared to living with borderline personality disorder, the point is, the golfer is stuck in the emotional suffering of being defeated. Much like BPD, there is not separation from one event to the next, there is no rational thinking in an emotional state and there are actions taken one regrets when their mental game is not together. Now if the metaphor helped, imagine it’s not just a round of golf and it’s your life. Everywhere you go, everyone you encounter and everything you do can consume you with the same erratic thinking. Individuals with BPD are desperate for relief from the suffering, and from the outside we can sometimes see their actions making their situation worse. And for the individual with BPD they are doing the best they can with how they have learned to handle life.

If you know someone who is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder or who you believe exhibits some of the criteria listed above there is treatment which has proven to be successful for improving the quality of life for people with BPD and has been shown to reduce and eliminate many of the symptoms of the disorder. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, was created by Marsha Linehan who was quoted at the start of this post. DBT has been used effectively to treat a number of mental illnesses by teaching and practicing skills in the following sections: Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance and Interpersonal Effectiveness. There is a big commitment to treatment for individuals to follow including individual and group therapy. Additionally, participants are required to record developing awareness of their thoughts, behaviors and applicable skills on a daily basis. The skills help with problem solving, coping with emotions and learning to communicate.

And if the person you know suffering from BPD is someone who is very close to you in your life you might have been deeply effected by the words or actions of the individual. You might have engaged in conflicts with this person, got wrapped up in the chaos of their world or unknowingly contributed to making the situation worse. Knowing what you know now, maybe you can approach with a greater sense of empathy for where the individual is coming from. It is also reasonable for you to set healthy limits and boundaries with the individual to maintain your own personal mental health. And in the situations when you feel blindsided by the emotional outburst of someone with BPD, don’t jump into the emotional state with them.

Not escalating to meet someone else’s anger is vitally important and can be an emotionally taxing skill to practice, yet critical for maintaining relationships with people who have BPD. In place of trying to argue your point of view, trying to fix the situation or threatening the individual. (Think of the golfer’s response to another player adding jokes or belittling the game during the bad round.) The best practice to help defuse an emotional crisis is to validate the individual’s emotional state. This simply means reflecting what they are feeling, verbally repeating what they are saying and letting them know you see them suffering. You don’t have to agree with them or even understand their point of view. Validation will not fix the situation and it won’t treat the disorder. Validation will help deescalate an emotional state and prevent a situation from getting worse.

Finally, encourage the person you know to get help. Existence doesn’t have to be painful, life can get better.

If you are living in the Kansas City area there are many community mental health providers who facilitate DBT programs.
Lilac Center (KCMO) is specifically designed as a DBT program and can be contacted at 816-221-0305 or go to http://www.lilaccenter.org/
Synergy Services (Parkville, MO) offers a range of theraputic services including DBT. 816-587-4100 or go to http://www.synergyservices.org/
Johnson County Mental Health (Offices in Mission, Olathe & Shawnee KS) 913-826-4200 http://mentalhealth.jocogov.org/

Marriage and Club Misery

e&mMy grandma, Eleanor, passed a little over a month ago. I wrote about her the day it happened, blessed with the image of her passing surrounded by family and love. Grammy has been on my mind daily since. Our family gathered at her home the night before her memorial service and I spent a great deal of time going through and collecting photographs. Call me a hoarder or even obsessive, I don’t mind, I love pictures. I waste hours upon hours looking through photographs, taking pictures and editing pictures. For as much as I stress to others the importance of being in the present, I spend too much time stuck in frozen images from the past.

I never met my grandfather, my sister and I even commented last month about how awkward we sometimes felt not knowing how to refer to him. I don’t really know how he was addressed by his grandchildren, so I sometimes would say “my dad’s dad,” or “your husband” if I was asking Grammy about him. She did talk about him a lot too, often telling us how he would have loved us and how much he adored children. He died of a heart attack while my dad was in college. Grammy was never interested in dating or remarrying, she already had the love of her life, she would tell us.
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And even though I never saw them in real life together I know it was true. Grammy teared up talking about him sometimes, as if the decades since he had been gone hadn’t eased the grief she felt. I knew she still missed him desperately. During the memorial service family members talked about the love they shared, how they were always affectionate and caring towards one another. I still can’t wrap my mind around how she loved to iron his clothes just because it was for him, I do try to mimic the same enthusiasm for mundane tasks – trying to appreciate the ordinary.

Even without the stories, I know my grandparents were in love through the photographs I found in Grammy’s albums. Many of the pictures have one or both of them looking at each other instead of the camera, in many pictures his arms are around her squeezing tightly. Happiness and mutual respect exude from the black and white images. Their smiles are pure joy.

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My grandparents appeared to have the marriage everyone dreams of, they managed to stay dedicated to each other and their relationship. Was it just easier back then?

On Oprah’s interview with Jamie Foxx they got to talking about marriage. Without directly quoting, she said something about having a difficult time naming 5 couples she knows who have a “happy marriage.” Of course this statement made me ponder the same idea, how many couples do I know who appear to be happily married? Why is it so hard to stay happy in a relationship?

It’s as if married couples buy into Club Misery after saying “I do” and forget it takes work to create mutual satisfaction in a relationship. Friends can get carried away griping about their spouses, unintentionally creating a breeding ground for negativity in a relationship. On top of the social acceptance for the misery of marriage we are also tainted my social media distractions. There is less necessity to correspond with the love of your life when you can connect with whoever pops up on the Twitter or Facebook feed about the appealing subject of the hour. By the end of the day when significant others finally reach each other they have exhausted the day’s news with virtual friends.

I’m frightened for the next generation of individuals hopeful of finding love and happy marriage with a significant pattern being established of meeting and dating online. Manti Te’o, for example, maybe the only national story of this kind though he is certainly not the first to fall in love with a fake profile. The MTV show Catfish highlights even more of these cases, I can’t stop watching because I am shocked at how much people will trust in the hope for love.

e&m4So part of me wonders if my grandparents had it easier with their relationship in the era they fell in love? Or did their passion for family and love stems from some early struggles long before the internet. They did get married following The Great Depression, a time when Grammy’s family lost their business and had to close their stores. My grandfather was also drafted to World War II after Grammy gave birth to their first child. I wonder if these major life events helped to shape their relationship and reinforce what really matters the most.

Without being devastated by financial loss, being separated by war, natural disasters, illness or any other tragic events, what would it take for couples to focus on what really matters? Couples need to strive to love more, to be more devoted and to demonstrate more respect for marriage, it doesn’t have to be miserable unless you allow it.

Not your average holiday letter.

One thing I love the most about this time of year is all of the mail! The tradition of catching up with old friends by a Christmas card, a family photo or yearly update with a good old fashioned stamp on it makes me smile, plus fresh frame-worthy pictures to update frames is a bonus. Snail mail anytime of the year is welcome, though, I know I send and receive the most in the month of December.

The holiday letter is kind of a funny thing to me. When a simple card or picture will not do, individuals and families might opt to generate a quick synopsis of the last 12 months to update friends and family who might not otherwise hear all of the news flashes throughout the year. I’m not sure when my mom thought this would be necessary to write one for our family, though, I remember the year I did not approve. In 1996 I was 14 years old and read over her draft of the family holiday letter. I’m sure she highlighted many major events, boasted about how wonderful her kids were and used proper sentence structure and punctuation, yet it seemed to make us even more boring than we actually were. By pointing out the yawn factor, she challenged me to come up with something better. The product ended up being a sarcastic summary of life in our household and I was required to continue writing holiday letters until long after all of us kids were grown.

A few years back my mom’s friend Sue mailed me a stack of my holiday letters she had been saving. Her note said she had been doing some deep cleaning and heard I hadn’t been keeping copies. I guess rather than holding onto the letters themselves I will purge them onto the internet to be able to look back on and maybe inspire someone else to create entertaining holiday notes. Starting with letter #2.
-letter1997
-letter1998
-letter1999
-letter2000
-letter2001
-letter2002
-letter2003
-letter2005
-letter2006-letter2007
-letter2008
-letter2009

Amazing how my mom folded each letter identically over the years, huh? Now I am anxiously awaiting the mailman’s arrival!

Baby Doll, Parker

“Baby,” she asked as quickly as her feet hit the ground this morning.  “Wha es baby?”  She looked and gestured towards her play cradle in the corner next to her crib for her doll.  Parker is the third generation to play with this cradle, my grandpa originally made it for my mom.

“I don’t know where you put her, where is baby?”  I replied to ensure she knew I understood her inquiry.  Her language is rapidly developing in the past month and it’s amazing to witness progress from one day to the next.  She is formulating her own statements and questions in a way she only used to be able to repeat after hearing.  And for each exclamation she is able to create it is met with equal or greater insistence for someone to verbalize acknowledgement of her new found vocabulary.

When properly rested she can communicate almost anything, both with her language and continued use of signing.

“Maybe baby is in mommy’s room,”  I encouraged her to go look.

The doll could not be found, though, she was happily distracted by a bottle of body spray her daddy left within reach while shrugging  “Wha es baby, I unno wha es baby?”  She easily gives up the bottle of spray as I sent her to the kitchen to search again.  My last memory of the baby doll was Wednesday evening when she got upset because the doll didn’t swallow the jello dessert she was trying to share with it and we had to wash it’s face.  Again a reminder of why I shouldn’t try to wash dishes while she is eating.

A minute later Parker returns with the doll, pleased with herself for the safe recovery.  She carts the baby off to her room and back to the cradle to tuck the doll in.  Shortly after I hear a small thump and whimpers from Parker.  In the corner of her room I can see she was attempting to climb into the cradle herself when the bottom fell out.  When I was two I got in the cradle with my baby dolls too, although, after three generations of play the wood and glue is just not holding up the same.  

I crouched down to gently remind Parker the cradle is only for the doll and not for Parker while I reassembled it back together.  When it was ready for use again I helped her put the doll back in place and tucked under the blanket.  At this point she tried to tell me “Pawker, Pawker, Pawker,”  pointing straight down into the crib.

Curious of what she was trying to tell me I guessed.  “Did you name your baby doll Parker?”  My guess was obviously wrong.

She gave me a very serious frown and bawled up her fist to use her thumb pointed towards herself.  As if to say Are you stupid, I’m Parker.  

 

The Power of BUT.

A few years back (July 2008 actually) I started working at a facility where I began learning and utilizing DBT with a team.  DBT stands for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and is very well-known in the world of Borderline Behavioral Disorder and also has been used in treatment for addictions.  I am positive that I will write a lot in regards to DBT because it has strongly influenced me in terms of how I see myself and how I view others.

Long story short…

DBT was the first time I can remember anyone making a big deal out of the word BUT.  BUT is outlawed in the world of DBT and since then it has become a word I have tried to extinguish from my vocabulary as well.  In order to really understand this point you have to be willing to acknowledge there is truth in every statement – even if it only a miniscule piece of a statement that holds validity.  And unlike most of the thinking we naturally assume, there is no black or white, right or wrong, all good or all bad allowed when comprehending the importance of BUT.

So, with that in mind.  The word BUT sort of acts to negate a statement and discount it as truth.  We all have spoken the words or heard them from others in a heated debate  – “yes, but…”

“Yes, BUT…” Really could be the same as saying “what you said is wrong BUT this is right.”  I learned to use the word AND in place of BUT.  For example “You see it one way AND I see it another,”  speaking this way challenges viewing situations or people as all right or all wrong.

The power of the word reaches way beyond it just being said or not said though.  When we make a conscious effort to change what we say it eventually will affect the way we think.  When we can challenge the way we speak and think our attitudes follow as well.  Can you imagine how different our attitudes could be if we weren’t so quick to assume people for being bad, or being wrong?  So you see, there is a lot of power in the word BUT.