Happily Ever After In The Present

Sam Smith’s song “Stay With Me,” will forever be my anthem for the summer of 2014.  Despite my belting out I’m on my knees only to realize much later the actual lyrics are You’re all I need.  The month of August came and went blasting me into new perspectives and refreshed determination.  I started securely and ended with so much uncertainty.  I lost my job and I thought my marriage was over.

Through the last two months I have been blessed with compassion and understanding from so many connections.  My appreciation for friends, family and colleagues who reached out, both in direct and subtle ways, can never be explained.  I am truly honored for all of the people in my life, those who are still present and those whose paths crossed at opportune times.  The lessons I have learned through stressful times and challenges difficult to overcome, have been invaluable.

Thank you to my family for unconditional love and support. For encouraging me when I was down, for special unexpected deliveries, for sharing your own personal stories of heartache, for offering reading material, opening your home to me and for being a faithful ear. I am so thankful for an incredibly unique cast of characters I get to call my family.

Thank you to my friends who are like family.  Attending a stress relieving happy hour, receiving a letter or phone call, and meeting up for a meal has been powerful tools in helping me maintain sanity.  I know in the last year I have lost my emphasis at staying connected to friends as my energy has been devoted elsewhere. I am touched to have so many friends who intentionally make themselves available for me.

Thank you to former colleagues in my recent position. I have regrets with how things unraveled and I didn’t have the closure I wanted with the team members, residents and families I had grown so attached to. I appreciate hearing there is no animosity directed towards me, only understanding it couldn’t have been any different, so I will continue trying to make peace with it.  The connections I made there, my advocacy for the team and their hard work was all genuine.  My hope is some of the progress we had made will stick beyond my employment.

Thank you to my daughter for tolerating the uncertainty in our lives in stride.  She was during this time and continues to be my everlasting joy.

And thank to my husband for clearing the muddy waters, for recommitting to why we are together and the future we will develop successfully.  If there is anything we have learned in our six loooooonnnnggg years of marriage, it’s that it takes work.  I know we are prepared to put in the overtime necessary to get life back on track and we are already well on our way.

Life happens for a reason and the challenges we are presented with have purpose.  I know this to be true and in the midst of crisis, this reminder came from my friends and family.  Because of the love I felt during the hard times, August was the both the best and the worst month, and I felt so much happiness despite my life’s circumstances.

Live Happily Ever After Now

The Best Monday

A typical Monday usually starts with hitting snooze.  Lately, by the time the alarm sounds, I have already been alert and consciously dreading the days events ahead.  Mentally trying to psych myself up to conquer the world.  My mind looms over the tasks of the day, appointments scheduled, people to contact, issues to deal with and the limitless amount of illogical distractions associated with middle management.  I hit snooze again and sometimes even a third time doing the exact opposite of what I encourage others to do and stress over all the improbable situations that may potentially go wrong.

With my body aching, partially due to not taking care of myself physically and also from the toll my emotions has taken on my body, I roll out of bed and begin a hurried preparation for the day.  I stand in front of my closet aimlessly waiting for pants and a coordinating top to leap off the hanger, inevitably I settle on an outfit and sluggishly shower and dress.  My hair and make-up routine go quick and end with a “Well, good enough,” attitude because my mind is already consumed with imaginary conversations I will have to have later at work today.

The best part of my mornings are rousing my sleeping beauty for her day at pre-school.  Amazingly the child who always pops out of bed ready to play in the mornings every Saturday and Sunday chooses Mondays to try to sleep in.  We rush to get dressed.  This can be taxing for a four year old who wants to express her own independence and pick out an outrageous wardrobe or one which doesn’t suit the weather and can easily spur an early morning tantrum.  Breakfast in itself can even cause frustration when the oatmeal is too hot, the milk spilled from the cereal or she only wants bacon when there is no bacon.  As she is headed out the door with Daddy there can be up to four times we have to stop for something else forgotten…  The share box, the water bottle, a sleep sack, the leotard for ballet class today, oh and don’t forget the folder…

Today has been different.  This morning I woke up refreshed and not stressed about what lies ahead in a department I am responsible for and yet have no control over.  This morning I was free of the dreaded conversations, problems and people who had previously consumed my life.  This Monday I was able to be excited about the projects and organizing I have neglected in my house for eleven months.  Today I was able to be the first instead of the last to pick my daughter up from school and cherish a mid-afternoon dance off.  This afternoon I was able to grocery shop earlier than 5:00 when we typically battle a child’s growing dinner appetite, and instead thoughtfully plan out some weekday dinner meals I will actually have time to prepare.  Today I was able to write a blog post, something I haven’t done since I started working full time last fall.

I took a leap of faith last week and quit my job.  It was not planned nor was it a method I would have chosen.  I quickly came to realize despite the stress, my dedication to the position, to the team and the community I was working with; the corporation did not appreciate my advocacy or questions and it was best we parted ways.  The uncertainty of what it means to be unemployed in society at this time is concerning and I am optimistic about how my path lead me to this and I know my purpose will be fulfilled elsewhere.  So I can happily say, this is the best Monday I have had in a long time.
wings

Daycare Nightmare to New School Padebure

“Mommy whatcha talken bout?” Parker inquired about the phone call I had just ended.  The closer we approach the age of three, the questions have tripled.  No matter how complete and thorough an answer might be it will always be followed with another ‘why’.  My latest tactic has been to return the questions to her and insist she tell me what she thinks.  Sometimes this is effective and sometimes it prompts her to change the subject.

“That was Mommy’s new boss, I’m going to start a new job.”  I began to explain expecting to have to expand a lot more on what this means.  It’s been almost three years since I have been employed at a full-time job, and I have appreciated getting to be home with Parker as much as possible.  It was a deeply personal choice for me to be there in the early years, to feel responsible for her development and to know she was protected before she could talk.  The idea of returning to work carries a lot of excitement for independence, professional building, and real regular adult conversation.  Of course with it comes the anxiety of change, of missing important moments, and of not getting to be present to have fun with her all day.

After a short pause, out came her reply without any question.  “Don’t leave me mom,”  She said with the raw honest emotion we both share.  I wanted to cave, say I agree, and retract my acceptance immediately.  My convincing her it would be fun to go to school, to meet new friends and it’d be okay to be away from Mommy helped to mask my nerves.

We found Parker a nationally accredited child care center in a location close to my parent’s house for the days my mom might need to pick her up.  During our tour of the facility Parker got to join in on watching a puppet show and demonstrated no concern about being with strangers or the classroom.  Still apprehensive about the life adjustments Parker and I were about the embrace, my husband and I felt confident in the choice to start her there the following week.

Prepared with a new Hello Kitty backpack, curly Qs in pony tails and excited about her first day of school we cracked the door to the Bumble Bee classroom.  An overwhelming aroma of left over processed food breakfast hit my nose just after the screaming from the child hanging off the assistant teacher’s leg stung my ears.  Kids were all over the room digging in papers, pulling things from cubbies, and dumping out toy bins.  If anything would have been hung from the ceiling I am sure there would have been kids climbing it.  Disturbed by the vision so starkly contrasted from our tour just days ago and not wanting to feed into my fears, we slipped in and followed the teacher to where Parker’s cubby would be to hang her things.  I knew Parker’s shock must have subsided quickly since she was off to the other side of the room to play before she even said goodbye.

I did, as most parents do when they drop their child off at a center for the first time, left the room and cried.

My husband and I both called to check in on her the first day.  He called the following three days as well.  Each time we were told everything is fine, she was getting along well, and each day seemed better than the previous.  My first day getting to pick up Parker I fully expected a running happy hug, instead the whole first week every time I walked in she stopped what she was doing and began to melt down.  It was as if the stress of the day had built up and she was crying from relief I was back for her.  Parker continued the sour emotional state through the evening too, she was not napping in her new environment so by the end of the day the screaming fits and mood swings were taking a toll on me.  This is temporary, she will adjust, I will adjust and it will be fine, other people do this all the time I kept being told.

After the first week there seemed to be improvements.  Parker did successfully sleep for 45 minutes one day.  She verbalized happiness to Daddy about returning to the center when he was dropping her off one morning.  And the meltdown greetings stopped, I was finally seeing a smiling, excited child at the end of the day.  For me, there never came a feeling of being adjusted or knowing it would be okay.  Because while some things were getting better, her first month in this new arrangement she grew increasingly defiant, wild and aggressive at home.  In addition, my newly potty trained child started having accidents twice a day.  At first I reasoned maybe some of this extra defiance was related to her age and we would just have to increase our structure and consistency at home.  Then when she turned to biting and pulling hair for not getting her way, I knew there had to be more going on.

One afternoon when I went to pick up Parker she happened to be on the playground with half of her class and one part-time teenage staff member who was minimally supervising the three-year olds.  Once she

On a weekend trip to Minnesota, PJ demonstrated the worst behavior in public she has ever had.  Trips are always hard with a lack of sleep, on this trip even a butterfly would make her cry.  A family brunch with 5 timeouts required made me want to cry too.

On a weekend trip to Minnesota, PJ demonstrated the worst behavior in public she has ever had. Trips are always hard with a lack of sleep, on this trip even a butterfly would make her cry. A family brunch with 5 timeouts required made me want to cry too.

finally noticed me standing there, she stood up from her hidden spot and greeted me.  I told her about Parker’s recent aggression at home and asked the employee about aggression taking place in her classroom.  It’s what I dreaded most about putting my daughter in a setting where I am not present, angered at the thought of anyone putting a hand on my daughter even if it is a peer.  The inexperienced employee gave me an honest and dissatisfactory answer, explaining if a child aggresses and leaves a mark on another child both parents will be notified.  The key phrase which said it all was when it leaves a mark, knowing staff at the facility will avoid an incident report if there is no physical evidence.  Just behind our conversation I had to point out the child crying who had just been hit on the head by another child, before taking my daughter’s hand to walk out.

It was incredibly difficult to return the next day with no back up option.  I didn’t know for sure if my daughter had been aggressed on by a peer at the child care center, I knew at minimum she was witnessing it and bringing it home.  My husband and others tried to reassure me by saying it happens everywhere and she will have to get used to it.  This was no reassurance to me, in my mind it is unacceptable to happen anywhere and if aggression does happen it needs to be addressed in a way which will deter the behavior from continuing.  For a child who has never witnessed violence, hadn’t been pushed or hit, the bullying Parker saw was impacting her a lot.  The obvious lack of structure and discipline in the room was also providing for negative learning opportunities.

Through word of mouth I began hearing the new agency I started with also operates a Montessori school offering half price tuition for employees.  With some concern about whether making a transition would be harmful for Parker and not wanting to base the decision entirely on cost, we decided to tour the Montessori School.  In Montessori Schools the learning is at your own pace so children engage in activities at their level and ages in classrooms are all integrated to provide for peer role models.  This school offers extracurricular activities like ballet, soccer and spanish.  The environment of the rooms are quiet and calm, the kids wear slippers and practice family style dining of passing the food and trying everything.  There is life skills learning, books being read and flowers in vases as centerpieces on their tiny tables.  My husband and I left the tour separately as he had to rush off to an appointment.  When he called later to say he wanted Parker to go there I had a secret celebratory dance.

We gave a thirty-day notice at the child care center, she only attended another week.  On her last day she didn’t come home with the Hello Kitty backpack or pillow, and calls to locate them were unsuccessful.  Parker got a one week break from school and childcare getting to play with Nana and even coming to work a few days with Mommy.  Her behavior began improving immediately and my cooperative, sweet child was returning.

Parker and I went to pick out a new backpack and hyped up her new school experience.  The morning of her first day she wavered between not wanting to go and being excited.  She told me she didn’t want to go because she can’t sleep, which is reasonable considering the chaos happening in her previous classroom.  We talked about the fun she will have making new friends and all of the things to learn and grow smarter.  By school time Parker marched in and joined her class without fear, and when I got to peak in the window later that morning she was smiling peacefully in a circle with her peers.

On her first day she even got to participate in the ballet class.  After school, I asked her what she learned in dance class.  Parker quickly reported “Had a good day Mommy.”  I tried to reiterate I was asking for what she did and she again responded “Had a good day.”  Stopping to give her my full attention and look at her directly I asked again.  “Had a good day.”  It sounded like she said…  Then I realized her frustration at my not understanding.  My little ballerina was telling me she learned a padebure.

Parker greets me with a smile everyday, she is taking naps, she is engaged with learning and she has not had an accident or tried to bite or pull hair since starting.  It will continue to be an adjustment for both of us after spending the last three years together, now we are finally on the right track.

merrygoround


Borderline – An Outside Perspective

blogformentalhealth2013
“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/

Pawnee For Life

In my last semester of college I was coming down to weeks before graduation still wondering what my next step in life would be.  I enjoyed every ounce of the college experience and probably didn’t give enough thought to looking past that.   Lucky for me, a peer in one of my psychology classes told me where and how to apply for a job at the community mental health center, where she had been working.

Not ready to abandon my college roommates or completely emerse myself into career minded adulthood across the country somewhere, I submitted my resume.  At the time I wasn’t so sure the interview went well, the boss lady seemed bitterly all about business.  I figured either I missed something good about the interview or there were few applicants for the position when they called me back to offer me the job.

When I went in to sign the initial hiring paperwork, I met a hunk who was hired on the same day.  He later became my husband. And the mean boss lady was a bridesmaid and is one of my best friends.  She told me she hired me because she liked my purse…

In the moment working at the community mental health center was the logical next baby step for me after graduation.  Looking back I understand how this job, the team I worked with and the people we served made a deep impact – much grander than a baby step.  The team consisted of dozens of bright and creative minds, all complimenting and balancing each other out.  We worked with children diagnosed with mental illness and their families, I witnessed growth and change for some kids I would have doubted possible.  In the workplace the team seemed to be synchronized like a grandfather clock, finding strengths and supports within each other to do our jobs well.  Of course our grandfather clock would be wildly colored, with constantly evolving pieces being added and removed, provide laughter every hour on the hour and have a tiny toy rat terrier in place of a cuckoo bird.

Working with kids with emotional issues did get a little cuckoo at times, and not only did we have the support we needed in the workplace we all got along outside of work as well.  All the credit goes to the boss lady for hiring some amazing individuals, with whom, I am happy to call my friends.

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While we did have some great times and continue to maintain friendships, things were not all golden and drama free.  The team consisted of many strong-willed individuals who saw situations from opposite perspectives, though, I have never seen a group be more respectful in figuring out how to work towards solutions.  And I know I may be a little extra persuaded by the experience finding my husband there and all, though I think others share the same insight about the incredible group dynamics.

I worked there for three and a half years following my college graduation and left to further my education in this field.  Few of the staff I worked with are still there since many used the opportunity as a step like I did.  Those years were invaluable to me personally and professionally.  I appreciate everyone I worked with and learned from, unfortunately now my dilemma is being unable to replicate the fun workplace I remember, anywhere else I have worked since.

Let’s just say…  If I were granted a corporation to save the world, I know just the people I would recruit to be a part of the team.

Can inspiration be drawn from state government?

I am no expert on state government, I don’t get involved in local politics and I am not into advocating for different ordinances.  I have consistently paid my state taxes on time and I have been a state employee.  Based on these items, I felt compelled to write about my thoughts when a letter from the State Department of Revenue arrived in the mail.

First, my history working with the state was not a fulfilling, healthy employment experience.  Once I realized my position in middle management I understood my battle to supervise staff could never be won with the hypocrisy of administrators managing things above me.  At times I described my situation as trying to reverse a freight train of unproductive behaviors, beliefs and systems that would/will perpetuate the wasteful spending and abuse of the system.  Ultimately this effects every single state taxpayer by draining their pockets to continue this cycle whether they realize it or not.  Just think every state taxpayer has something they wish would be improved in the state – education, healthcare, roads, support for the military – and we continue to hear about limited budgets and financial crisis.  My experience working for the state felt immoral, illogical and toxic at times since I maintained my common sense and strong ethics.  I was able to appreciate the job for educating me on how my tax dollars are blown, for the knowledge of how the state tolerates negligent employees and an understanding of how individuals work their way into positions of power not by evoking change for the positive, rather schmoozing up the ladder by helping others to cover-up situations and make themselves look better.

Needless to say, when a letter from the State Department of Revenue arrived and declared the state does not have a record of us paying state taxes in 2009…  Anger erupted from the dark black box inside of me where I have been burying hatred from this job and the recognition of what is wrong with the state government.  And at the same time I realize, it makes sense they would loose the paper work for our taxes.  It makes sense they wouldn’t look this over back in 2010, maybe, and try to correct mistakes then.  It makes sense they are out of money and have to go back years to collect on it now.  It makes sense that governments can be corrupt, spend wastefully and demand that we have to go out of our way to provide them evidence when they loose it.  Who is there to make the government accountable for change?

I wish I knew the answer for effecting change in such a damaged system.  Going back to the title of this post, I hope there will be inspiration to change the status quo of our government systems.  I hope at some point sooner then later, the populations living within these government systems realize how to unite to hold the governments accountable for the disasters they have created for us big and small.

Until then this disgruntled, former state employee had better go resubmit my 2009 state taxes to settle my small disaster.