Category Archives: Mental health

Hello 2015

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It’s a new year and it’s a good time to reflect on 2014 and think about the possibilities for 2015. I’m not big on resolutions but I like setting a few manageable goals to guide me over the next twelve months.

I did pretty well in meeting my goals for 2014. On the sewing front, I started and finished my Staples dress.P1040384

I also made a zippered sleeve for my laptop, which is very useful.

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The zipper is sewn in a little tight (it was my first time putting in a zipper), so it jams from time to time. Usually not a big deal, except for the time it decided to seize up entirely as I was going through security at the airport. Fortunately, the security guard was very nice and didn’t demand that I take my laptop out of the case (that would have involved scissors).

I made a few pieces of jewelry, for the Bead Soup Blog Hop and gifts for a few friends and relatives.

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Earrings – Bead Soup 2014

BD gift for a favourite niece

BD gift for a favourite niece

I finally organized my craft space, which was a 2014 goal (no pictures until I can improve the lighting).  It’s small but functional. While my paper and sewing supplies are easy accessible, I still need to spend a bit more time on organizing my beading supplies. Mostly because I need to find my box of jump rings – as I discovered recently, it’s pretty hard to make a piece of jewelry without them. In the course of the cleanup, I collected and sorted all my art beads and various hand-made components to several containers, so when I do find the jump rings, I’ve got lots in my stash to work from. So much, in fact, that I don’t need to buy any beads.

The one thing I made lots of this year was cards. Once my supplies were in one place, it was relatively easy to spend an hour putting together a card or two. In November, my sister-in-law and I went out of town on a crafty weekend. It was organized by a woman who sells StampinUp products and she brought all her own dies, punches and equipment to use. It was scrapbooking/card making heaven. It was fun and I got a head start on birthday and Christmas cards.

Birthday card for a friend

Birthday card for a friend

Crafty weekend Christmas card

Crafty weekend Christmas card

Christmas card - my own design

Christmas card – my own design

However, my SIL and I discovered that while we like making cards, 12 hours a day, two days in a row is a bit much for us. Between the weekend and my own time, I made about 25 Christmas cards. Unlike last year, I actually sent them out too.

2014 was a good year for M. He wasn’t too happy with his marks at the end of Grade 7. We didn’t make a big deal about it as neither his dad nor I care much about his grades. He’s a bright kid and we figure if he does his work in class, he’ll do fine. Sure enough, since he started Grade 8, M’s been completing most of his assignments and his first term grades were significantly higher than last year’s. He got a zero on a French assignment that he didn’t hand in (and no sympathy from his parents who thanked his teacher – much to her surprise). When he told me about it, he said that would be the last time that would happen. He was recruited by a couple of very high-achieving girls to be on their team for the school’s annual stock market event, which was very good his ego, even though he told me they were bossy. He’s even keeping up in Art – the bane of his existence last year. He still has the same teacher as last year and while they’re getting along better this year, it is not his favourite subject. He snapped at me when I suggested he could take it next year, in high school.

That’s our big family challenge for 2015 – M starts Grade 9. I expect I’m a lot more nervous about it than he is. He decided he wanted to go to the same school as most of his friends, which is fine as it’s a good school and has a good support system for ADHD students. It’s closer than the middle school, so he can walk. But it’s big – well over a 1000 students. That’s a huge change compared to the program he’s in now, which has less than 200 kids. I worry that he’ll fall through the cracks or fall in with a “bad” crowd. Even with his meds, M is pretty impulsive. The challenge with having a child with ADHD, is that as a parent, you’re never quite sure if silly behaviour is normal 13-year-old boy stuff (with two younger brothers, I know teenage boys do goofy things) or the attention deficit. It’s reassuring that M tells me that drugs and drinking are really stupid, but I fully expect he’ll drink before he’s 18 and try at drugs at some point – to think otherwise is naive on my part. I do try to live in the moment and enjoy my child – he’s much easier to live with at 13 than he was at 7 or 8, despite the occasional bouts teenage angst/surliness. But past experience has taught me that if I don’t acknowledge possible M’s challenges and work with him to plan for them, the results are usually messy and stressful for all concerned. M’s in a good space this year and I want to help him maintain his forward momentum, throughout the rest of Grade 8 and into Grade 9.

In terms of my goals for 2015, I’m going to continue to run and go to the gym regularly. After a hiatus of several years, I started running again in July and ran 3x a week until the late fall. Between the time change and a couple of illnesses, I dropped to 1x a week and then before Christmas, after a bad cold, I stopped altogether for a few weeks. However, I’ve discovered that I really love running and am going to work harder to get out more often. I’ve already been out twice since Christmas and will start going out for my long runs on Sundays again. When we finally get some snow, I can go x-country skiing on Sunday mornings with friends. Going to the gym a couple of times a week breaks up my routine, plus it’s helps strengthen my muscles for running.

My personal challenge for 2015 will be dealing with my hearing. It’s gone from being a minor annoyance to being an impediment. M now automatically puts the closed caption function on when we’re watching TV together, but following along in large groups, movies and plays is often a struggle. I attend a lot of meetings for my job, so being able to follow the conversation is important. I’m getting a hearing aid for my left ear, which is a big step for me. However, I continue to have issues with my right ear. At my request, my specialist put a tube in it just before Christmas and my hearing is worse than it was before. Having a hearing aid in one ear may improve my overall hearing, so I’ll wait and see. I keep crossing my fingers that my right ear will improve. However, in the grand scheme of life, a hearing problem is a minor bump.

For 2015, I’ve decided to complete at least one craft project a month – sewing, knitting, jewelry, etc. Cards won’t count, unless it’s a particularly elaborate project, a  set of cards or mastering a new technique. A project a month may not sound like a big deal to most people, but it’s realistic for me. I’m going to do my best to start and finish the project in the same month, but I may use this as an opportunity to complete a couple of works-in-progress. By December 31, 2015, I want to have completed 12 projects.

I’ve already got the January project lined up. It’s a sewing project, as a belated Christmas gift for a friend.

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2015 project #1

I’m not going to commit myself to posting the finished project on a specific day of the month. I want to nurture my creativity, rather than setting conditions that will get in my way. I haven’t selected any of the projects beyond January, so that will be part of the fun each month.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2015.

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A walk in the woods

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A walk in the woods

I’ve been doing some reading recently on the positive impacts of nature on mental and physical well-being. On the weekend, I got an opportunity to put the theory into practice.  I went for a long walk along a series of trails near the cottage. Except for a few birds, I was alone the entire time. It had been a long, busy week and as I walked along the trail, I could feel the tension leaving my body. After an hour or so, I began to feel more mentally alert. So I just kept walking. I had my camera with me, which forced me to notice my surroundings, rather than just on my thoughts. Eventually, it started to rain, so I headed back. Refreshed and much more relaxed.

Leaves on the road

Leaves on the road

Funghi

Funghi

Watcher in the woods

Watcher in the woods

Fading flower

Fading flower

Three little mushrooms

Three little mushrooms

Late bloomer

Late bloomer

Bright bittersweet

Bright bittersweet

Fun funghi

Fun funghi

Pod

Pod

Single leaf

Single leaf

Trail games

Trail games

Where moss grows

Where moss grows

Red oak

Red oak

 

Note to self – live more, worry less

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Flower nature

Flower nature (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

The last month or so has been a stressful time for me. In addition to being very busy at work, I’ve been dealing with a difficult colleague. M got suspended for 3 days for fighting with another child (he didn’t stop when asked and then kicked a teacher). In addition to her on-going health challenges, my mother had an early morning visit to the Emergency Room a couple of weeks ago (she’s ok). I was co-coordinating the school’s annual plant sale, which is lots of fun, but takes of a fair amount of time and energy in the weeks leading up to it. And to top it off, the weather (cold and wet) has kept me off my bike this spring more than I’ve been on it (I’ve been a bit wimpy about riding in the rain).

In short, I was dragging myself through the day and coming home and collapsing. The fact that our home team made it into the second round of the NHL playoffs gave me something to do in the evenings, as well as an excuse not to do other things – M, his dad and I usually watched the games together, so  I could at least tell myself it was family time. I wasn’t even keeping up with my personal emails and reading my favourite  blogs.

I wasn’t depressed; just tired and feeling a bit overwhelmed.  I wasn’t doing much that I really enjoyed. But as I’ve learned over the years, the universe has a way of reminding me to stop spending so much time in my own head (the mental equivalent of looking for belly button lint).

In this instance, my cosmic kick in the butt occurred when I read about the death of Kathreen Ricketson. She wrote Whip Up, a great craft/idea blog.  Kathreen and her family were on a trip into the Australian outback – she was writing a book about their experiences, and she and her husband accidentally drowned. They had two children, relatively close in age to M.

I didn’t know Kathreen personally. But Whip Up was one of the first “crafty mom” blogs I followed. For at least a year, “Whip Up” was on my daily list of must-reads.  Even though I’d stopped following Whip Up as regularly in recent months, I was always struck by struck by Kathreen’s thoughtfulness and her creativity.  To my mind, it takes a lot of gumption and spirit to pack up your family and travel around the country for a year.

When one of my neighbours was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago, I decided to focus on taking action, rather than just thinking about it.  I started this blog a few weeks later. I completed a number of jewelry projects, made lots of cards, started knitting again and even took sewing lessons. I still spent time mentally gazing at my belly button (it’s part of my personality), but I felt like I was moving forward, instead of standing still. Doing dishes, folding laundry and grocery shopping require a modicum of energy, but they don’t do much in terms of nourishing my inner self.

I’d gotten lazy. I’ve got several half-finished projects lying around the house. My craft cave (the basement) is a disaster and it’s impossible to find anything. The lack of regular exercise didn’t help my mood. The terrible events surrounding Kathreen and her family reminded me that  we just never know what’s going to happen. And pushing myself out of the house everyday and feeling like I hadn’t achieved anything at the end of the week (or weekend) wasn’t a healthy or productive way to live my life.

I’m not likely to chuck my job and move to Paris (a woman can dream), but in the last couple of weeks, I’ve made a concerted effort to do at least one thing a day that bring me pleasure. I’m back riding my bike to work on a regular basis. I’ve been spending time in the garden. I committed to making a piece of jewelry as a gift for one of the staff members at M’s school. I’m working on ideas for my nieces’ graduation cards, as well as a class thank you card for M’s teacher. I’m even contemplating submitting a bracelet design to a magazine (still on the fence about this one). At work, I’m focusing on what I get done, rather than what’s still on my to-do list at the end of the day. M and I went garage-sale shopping last weekend and we may do the same this weekend.

Baby steps. Even though I have a tendency to dwell on the worst-case scenario, I’m not spending my time worrying about the fact that something dreadful could happen. But life is a gift and I’m working hard to treasure it every day.

Back on the bike

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This picture is in the public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)”]Ride a Stearns and be content. Poster by Edwar...Last year I started riding my bike to work at the beginning of April.  I rode until mid-October, until the time change and then it was too dark, even with a light. I loved riding my bike – no line-ups, no crowds, no listening to someone else’s music blare out of their earphones.  Just fresh air and peace and quiet.

 I took the bus during the winter and counted every month until I could get back on my bike.   I purposely didn’t buy a public transit pass for April.  My bike was ready and I had located the essentials = my panniers (to carry my stuff), my lock and my helmet. We have access to showers in our building, so it is just a matter of throwing on some weather appropriate clothing and saddling up.  But when Monday rolled around, I found myself making excuses about riding to work.  I wasn’t feeling well, I was tired, I was volunteering at school and riding would make me too late (It takes me about 40-45 minutes to ride, lock up my bike and shower and get ready)

But I have found I have been impatient, especially with M, over the last couple of days.   He pretty much always tunes me out when his is watching tv or playing computer games, but yesterday, I could hear my voice going up a few octaves as I kept asking him to do something.   I usually get out for a walk with a friend at lunch at least 2-3 times a week, but the last couple of weeks have been too busy.   So I knew I needed exercise.  

For me, exercise is a way of managing my stress and improving/sustaining my mental health.  Too little exercise, even over a couple of weeks, has an impact.  I get impatient, crabby and tired.  Which just makes me less patient and even crabbier.

Cycling is a good fit for me – the distance is long enough so I am actually working at it, but not so long that it is arduous.  I usually ride along a public pathway that follows a river, so the scenery is pleasant.  The only real hazard is the geese – they like to graze on the grass bordering the pathway and it can be a bit nerve-wracking when a flock of them decide to cross in front of you as you are rolling down the path.  Despite a couple of close calls, I’ve never made contact with a goose. 

So this morning, I packed my clothes in my panniers, along with my lunch, threw on some warm clothes and headed out on my bike.  I deliberately went slowly.  It was a bit chilly to start but I warmed up quickly.  I got to work refreshed and in a good mood.  I don’t hate the bus, but getting there on my own steam is much more pleasant.

It wasn’t supposed to rain, but of course it did.  My office window affords me a good view of the storms coming and going and I watched a series of them blow by over the course of the afternoon.  I managed to get home in between storm fronts and again, it was enjoyable.  It will probably take me a few days to back into the routine of  being back on my bike.  It may take a few days longer before I start to notice the positive effects.   M probably still won’t answer me the first or third time I talk to him while he’s playing on an electronic device, but hopefully it won’t bother me as much.  Plus I will start to get thighs of steel.

Update:  This morning when I headed out on my bike, it was cold and there was a head wind that made me feel lie I was pedalling through molasses.   My right leg wasn’t very happy with having to work  so hard – I could feel the strain from my knee right up my thigh.  The river looked gray and angry.  But the sun came out about 5 minutes before I got to work.  I  had a warm shower.   I feel much calmer and relaxed compared to mornings I take the bus.  Must be all the oxygen.

Little boy blue

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The Blue Boy

Image via Wikipedia

This week is a break week from school.  M woke up on Sunday feeling ill and spent most of the morning throwing up.  He felt better as the day went on, but would bounce around, hang upside down off furniture and then feel sick again.  So he’s spend the next 30 mins with his head in a bucket, lamenting how awful he felt.

On Sunday night, he went to bed and slept for 14 hours.  A first for him and a sign he was not feeling like himself.  He was enrolled in a drama camp for the week and although he missed the morning, he decided to go for the afternoon.  This was a brave decision on his part, since it is hard to come in to something half way through the day.  Plus, the program he was attending was not his first choice; we had signed him up for circus camp but it had been cancelled due to low registration and he had been given a spot in another drama camp.

M doesn’t do well with change.  March break is a change in his routine and is hard enough.  Being is a different programme made it all that much harder.  He knows the instructor who was supposed to do run the circus camp.  His favourite drama teacher isn’t teaching over the break.   He didn’t know the person in charge of his camp.  So the first day was challenging.  In fact, in his words, “it sucked.” 

He had nothing good to say about the day – the play they had chosen was the “stupidest play ever”.   I shouldn’t come and see the performance on Friday afternoon because it “was going to suck big time.”  The instructor for the circus camp was “teaching little kids” this week.  No mater what I asked him, it was all doom and gloom.  His dad had a long talk with him about being sad – everyone gets sad, it’s ok to be sad – and tried to get him to come up with one good thing that had happened at camp.  No luck – it just “sucked”.

We got him into the shower which helped calm him down (plus he smelled a lot better – stale sick child smell is not at all pleasant).  But he was clearly still upset.  Normally, he falls asleep himself in his own bed, but last night, he struggled to fall asleep.  At one point, he got up and I put him in our bed and lay down with him. 

M is a child who struggles to express his emotions.  Sometimes he will confide in his dad, but he rarely tells me what’s bothering him. 

Maybe it was because it was dark or because I was just lying beside him not asking any questions, but he started telling me how sad he was and why.  Mostly, he was sad because he doesn’t think he has any friends.  Most of the kids he plays with are away this week.  He used to play with a couple of older kids who live across the street, but his dad and I decided he couldn’t go over to their house because they mostly play video and/or computer games and there is little to no supervision.  They are allowed to play games that are not appropriate for a 10-year old.  Moreover, we aren’t convinced that the dynamic between them and M is 100% healthy – he usually comes back from playing with them in a total rage.   But this is hard for him to understand – despite the fact that he knows they are not always very nice to him, they are generally accepting of his behaviour and they live close by.  

I found it hard to know what to say to M to make him feel better.  He was clearly sad and lonely.   A couple of his friends will be home this weekend and he may be able to see them.  But the larger issue is that he doesn’t have a lot of friends, even though he desperately wants them.  He’s insightful enough to know how this made him feel.

I could have told him that it will all get better, but that seemed to be the easy answer, as opposed to an honest one.  M is not an easy kid and I have no idea if he will ever have lots of friends.  I did tell him that his cousin, who is now 15, didn’t have tons of friends when he was M’s age.  I tried to reassure him that he is a terrific person – funny, smart, curious.  I also told him that chances were pretty good that he would feel better in the morning.

It was a struggle, but he eventually fell asleep.  Sure enough, today was a better day at camp.  There wasn’t anything great about it, but there wasn’t anything bad either.  Given that M tends to see the cup as mostly empty, we can put a check mark beside today, instead of an x.

I have a strong sense that this won’t be the first or the last conversation about sadness that I have with M.  I hope that eventually we can help him look on the sunny side, rather than going straight to the dark side.  I wish I could wave my magic mommy wand and make it all better for him.  But I have had more than a passing acquaintance with sadness and loneliness in my own life.  I’ve learned that while other people can point out the path, you have to find your own way. 

For now, I will tell M how much I love him and how much other people in his family love him.  I’ll scratch his back when he asks (he tells me this calms him down).   For as long as he lets me, I’ll lie with him in the dark and listen to his secrets.

Anxiety? What anxiety?

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High Anxiety

Image via Wikipedia

A couple of months ago, at the request of the school board, we had M assessed by a psychiatrist. 

Initially, we were told that she was accepting patients into her private practice and depending on her assessment, he might be able to see her for follow-up care. But within the first few minutes of meeting with the psychiatrist, she made it clean that her only role was to provide the assessment, as requested by the board.  If M needed any follow-up, we would need to seek out these services in the community.  Since we have been trying to find a child psychiatrist for a couple of years, this wasn’t terribly helpful.

But we kept an open mind about the process and did our best to answer the psychiatrist’s questions.  As part of the assessment, she also spoke to M and to the principal at his school.

It took a while for the report to arrive.  When it finally did come, it contained a number of recommendations, the most puzzling of which related to his anxiety.  The recommendation began “the parents see the child as anxious” and went on to conclude that once found a medication that better managed his ADHD, any anxiety could be expected to diminish.

The recommendation was supported in the body of the report by the following observations: “the principal did not see M as anxious”  and “M didn’t see himself as anxious”.  Even though we raised it during the interview, the report did not mention that both the psychiatrists in the treatment program M was in a couple of years ago had diagnosed him with anxiety.  Nor was there any reference to the fact that the psychologist M has been seeing since September definitely sees him as anxious. 

The principal’s statement made no sense to us.  She sees M every day and we’ve had numerous discussions about how to help him manage his anxiety.   

But even more confounding was the fact that the psychiatrist appeared to give more weight to M’s perceptions than ours.  He doesn’t think he suffers from anxiety?  He’s 10.  When he gets angry, he punches other kids.  And sometimes he thinks he’s a cat.  I’m all for taking the child’s perception into account, but wouldn’t we, as his parents, have a pretty good idea of whether or not our child is anxious?   

It turns out the that the principal was misquoted – she did tell the psychiatrist that M was anxious but that she wasn’t always certain how much his anxiety played into some of his interactions with his peers. This is a fair observation, because when he lashes out at other kids, it isn’t always obvious to us that he’s anxious, as opposed to pissed off. 

I prepared a long letter back to the psychiatrist and highlighted a number of factual errors and other areas that were problematic for us. To her credit, she responded promptly and made the requested revisions, including a reference to the previous diagnoses of anxiety.

Although the process was a bit frustrating, it was highly instructive.  Perhaps the most important thing we learned is that we know our son better than anyone else.  While the principal may not always see a casual relationship between M’s behaviour and his anxiety, his dad and I know that anxiety is at the root of most of M’s issues, particularly at school and daycare.  But connecting the dots isn’t always easy –  it’s rarely a straight line from point A to point B.  More like start at point P and veer off to point T and then swing back to point F.

The connection between M’s anxiety and how he interacts with the rest of the world was brought back to me earlier in the week when we had to go in and speak to the daycare about his behaviour.  It was clear to me  that M was increasingly anxious about his recent difficulties with a group of boys at daycare (admittedly, totally of his own making).  As a result, the daycare was seeing an escalation in M’s behaviour – he was starting to react  negatively to things the other were saying and jumping to conclusions that weren’t based on any observable evidence, to the point where he was striking out and being verbally and physically aggressive.  After M punched another child earlier this week, for no apparent reason (that they could observe), the daycare staff decided he couldn’t participate in active games for the next couple of weeks.  At first, M was upset, but he didn’t have any additional conflicts this week at the daycare.  By sitting out the active games, he hasn’t had much contact with the group of boys he’s having difficulties with, significantly reducing his anxiety.  It isn’t just his relations with the other kids, it’s the fact that the games are mostly unstructured and a free-for-all.  Not an ideal situation for M, who finds this sort of mass chaos really stressful.  He won’t tell us this, but the fact that he hasn’t yelled rude words or punched anyone since Monday is pretty strong evidence that this is the case.  Plus, the school was starting to see some escalation in his behaviour late last week and early in the week, but things were back to normal (M’s normal) by mid-week.  I did get a call from the school today, but as the principal hastened to tell me, M was not feeling well.  The fact that he was coming down with a cold may also have played a part in some of his struggles this week – we know from experience that M often starts to act out a few days before he actually falls ill.

So the next time someone tries to tell me that M isn’t anxious, I will be as polite as I can and suggest to them what I already know – just because they can figure out what’s causing the anxiety, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  We just have to look harder and dig a little deeper.