Can you trust yourself?

Have you ever felt like you can psycho-analyze other people really well? You know, like you can just pinpoint what their issue is. By seeing their behavior on the outside, you feel like you can guess what is going on in their head. Like this guy – he has low self-esteem – that’s why he keeps buying more clothes to try to look good and impress other people. Maybe you have seen other families on a reality show on TV and thought – wow they are so dysfunctional – they don’t know how to discipline their children.  Maybe you are right. Maybe you are wrong. We all do it – sometimes it is just funny or silly.

But when we do, we are really simplifying life.

Photo Credit: HumpPhoto.com via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: HumpPhoto.com via Compfight cc

Think about it. When someone meets your family, they are going to observe just a brief moment with you, and they don’t know about all of the different relationships happening, the good times, and bad times. You are the only one who knows all of the intricate details about the relationship between you and your child. And inside you have many desires for them and worries about them. It is quite tough to step outside of your role as a parent and someone who cares so much to think about your child in a more removed way – like you might about someone else’s child.

This is why it can be totally normal to think, when a doctor tells you your child is depressed or anxious, to think, what? they don’t know my child or me, that’s not true. But if your child is depressed or anxious, then your family dynamic is your normal – and until your child gets treatment and you learn to develop a new normal – you might not be able to realize how depression or anxiety may be affecting your family life.

Try instead thinking, ok what is our life like now and how would I like it to be? Is there someone we can work with who could help us get there? Instead of thinking do I agree with them that my child is depressed? I don’t feel that way. What do they know?

Working WITH someone you trust – like a healthcare provider or therapist – can be so helpful. They have the eyes to look at your child from the outside. The more your child shares about what is going on with them on the inside and you share what it is like living with them in your family, the more the therapist can help. But for you to try to get outside of your family life to really take a removed look at your child can be very tough – without someone’s guidance.

Do you agree or disagree? Please let us know in the comments!

Empty Vessel

Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.
Eleanor Brownn

Photo Credit: Josh Self via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Josh Self via Compfight cc

What does this quote mean to you? Imagine you have a big bowl of punch. You made an awesome punch with orange and pink sherbet, Sprite, orange juice, pineapple juice…you even put grenadine syrup – this stuff is good. You’re so excited about having everyone try some. So you throw a party and you invite your relatives, your kids’ friends, and the neighbors. Everyone is free and excited about the punch. They even bring people you didn’t invite and some take the punch home with them before they leave. You are busy talking to everyone and pretty soon, you realize there is none left, and you haven’t even tried any yourself. You feel tired, worn out, defeated.

Sometimes we want to give and give and give more of ourselves. Especially if your child is struggling, you may feel like the best thing to do is everything you humanly can. But if we don’t feel good, there is not as much of us to give, and if we don’t work hard on filling up our own cup, we are running on empty most of the time.

We’ve written about how important self-care is before. We’ve even recommended self-care cards, and ways to get more sleep and exercise and other ideas.

How do you make sure to fill up your cup and include self-care in your life?

Being labeled

What words describe your child? If someone did not know them at all – how would you describe them? You could probably make a long list of things. People are not one-dimensional. And even if most of the time if they are one way, in certain situations they might be the opposite. Let’s say most of the time they are a peace maker – but if someone makes fun of their sister, they will pick a fight with them. There may even be things about them that seem to be opposites – but they are both there.

Photo Credit: Tulane Publications via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Tulane Publications via Compfight cc

For example, maybe they have a lot of skill in math and science – but when it comes down to it, they could spend all their days just drawing with a charcoal pencil. People have many sides to them. And in one snapshot of their lives – they are one way – at another stage they might have left certain things behind and now there are new adjectives to describe who they are.

That being said, what does it mean to get a mental health diagnosis? Now is this something else that describes your child? Does it put a damper on their life – what does it mean when someone uses a word to describe them? He’s a depressed guy. She is an anxious girl. Sometimes when people use labels – it feels like a condemnation. Maybe it feels like they are really saying – he’s depressed – that means he is weak, no good, a failure at life, and he’ll never amount to anything. Maybe it feels like they are really saying – she’s anxious – that means she worries too much for no good reason, she takes everything seriously, and cries and complains too much about everything.

Think – are those things true? How could your child have been something else – and now this label makes them a one-sided person. Sometimes labels can make us feel so very small. Or feels like getting one means we are doomed. In medicine, a more humanizing way to talk about any illness is instead of saying: “Sally is a depressed 15 year-old girl” saying “Sally is a 15 year-old girl who has depression.” What’s the difference? The difference is that Sally is a multi-dimensional person and depression is only one part of the story.

Some people do not want to get help because they don’t want to own a label. Well, no one is a label. For the sake of figuring out how to help people, sometimes medical people will use labels so they can make a plan of what can help someone. But in reality, everyone’s illness is unique and different, has a different course, and could have been caused by different things. Using these labels is a simple way to talk to each other so we can communicate and try to help. Remembering each person is unique and not a label is always something to keep in mind.

Have you ever felt ashamed of your child being labeled as being sick? How did you cope with this?

Watching Our Family Struggle

If you are told your child may have a mental illness, you might fast forward their lives to pictures of other family members (or even yourself) who have struggled with mental illness. Mental illness is common and many of us have been affected ourselves or have affected family. Especially if family members have not received treatment it can be tough to watch them struggle. Maybe they are someone you enjoy spending time with sometimes, but other times you feel let down because they neglect you or hurt your feelings. Having a mental illness that is not treated often means you are not doing things to be good to yourself – and if you’re not being good to yourself, it is hard to cultivate quality relationships with others.

5657180323_d57b0abb2e_o

Because of this, being told your child may have a mental illness can cause anxiety because you are predicting their life will be a struggle and that is not something you want for them.  It’s understandable that you might worry or be upset. But then take some time to think about it a little more. It’s true that mental illness can run in families, yet every person is unique and it affects each person in a different way. Also, we are learning more and more about treating mental illness. Some of our older family members maybe did not receive enough treatment when they were younger, and we know getting treatment when you are younger helps more.

If you feel this way, remember we are like our family and then we are not like our family. Focus on yourself and your child. Sometimes when we do that, others notice and in time, help themselves as well.

Have you experienced worries your child’s life would be similar to a family member’s who struggles with mental illness? How did you cope with these concerns?

Grr!

Photo Credit: DimitraTzanos via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: DimitraTzanos via Compfight cc

Have you met adolescents or does your child seem irritable constantly? Nothing ever seems to go right for them. They are always slamming doors or talking back. You feel like they should be really happy about something and instead they just seem pissed off. What is their deal?

You understand that sometimes some things just don’t work out. Some days are just rough. But for adolescents who have depression, every day can be like this. And they run out of explanations for why it is like this. Its called irritability. And for adolescents, it can be a major part of their depression. Sometimes it makes depression hard to identify in them because a lot of people can be irritable…sometimes… But not all of the time. They might be called by other people angry, uncooperative, insubordinate, impolite, antisocial – but under it all, under how other people react to them – is this feeling of irritability that they can’t shake off although they don’t understand why.

Continue reading Grr!

A’s and B’s

It can be difficult to guide your child about making the decision to start therapy if their grades are already suffering. How can they afford to go to all of the sessions? Especially if they have to miss school? Do they really have time for it? Is it worth it?

If your child already has good grades – it might seem unnecessary for them  to go to therapy, because good grades means they are functioning well, right? Well…grades are only one part of their life.  They might be struggling in others like with their relationships with others and their relationship with themselves. Some young people also try working harder at school as a way to deal with their emotions. There are other important ways of functioning – see our past article talking about this.

Photo Credit: Robin Hutton via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Robin Hutton via Compfight cc

If on the other hand, your child’s grades are getting worse because of their symptoms, can they afford to miss school for therapy?

The problem is if they don’t get therapy their grades are likely to get worse. That is because depression can make them feel not motivated to do their work or go to class, they can have trouble concentrating, and anxiety might make them too worried about going to class or getting through a test without second guessing themselves.

Continue reading A’s and B’s

Nah, therapy is not for me

Photo Credit: JustLikeWasabi via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: JustLikeWasabi via Compfight cc

Studies show when people have a bad experience with therapy it can make them have a bad attitude about therapy in general. Sometimes I tell my patients that therapy could help them, and they tell me, “Nah, it’s not for me.” If they had a bad experience before, that response totally makes sense.

What are some reasons you feel your child or others you know have had negative experiences with therapy?

Here are a few examples your child may relate to:

The first time they went, it wasn’t their decision.

Going to therapy can help with a lot of different problems your child may have—but if they were made to go or it felt like it was a punishment versus a decision they made to become more healthy, they might have a negative attitude about it. My mom used to make me pick weeds in our driveway, and I kind of have a bad attitude about gardening! Even though a lot of people enjoy it.

The therapist and you did not seem to connect.

We know a big reason therapy works is the therapeutic alliance, which we wrote about in a prior post. If your child felt like they didn’t connect with their first therapist – or especially if they didn’t feel like the therapist cared about them, that might have been a tough experience for them. Telling someone your deepest thoughts makes your child vulnerable and if it didn’t work the first time, maybe they don’t want to take that risk again.

You (the parent) were too involved.

Your child may have felt like they couldn’t be honest if you were always around. Or maybe they felt more nervous and weren’t able to listen because they were worried something they might say would get them into trouble. Parents can still be involved without being overly involved.

Your child felt betrayed.

If your child received therapy when they were younger and the therapist was worried about abuse, that is something that the therapist has to report to the state for their safety. But when you are a kid in the mix of it, sometimes you feel like your trust was betrayed. That can be hard to deal with.

The thing is – one bad experience does not mean the next one will be. And your child’s experience as a young person or child may be different when they are older. There are things you and your child can do to help make sure that their next therapy experience is a good one. We know therapy works and can get your child to better mental health.

If your child had a bad experience before, but wants to try therapy again, here are some things they can try:

  • Make a list of the pros and cons about going to therapy – go over the list with someone they trust like you, another supportive adult or their primary care doctor and together, make a decision if this is a next best step for them
  • At the first session, tell the therapist what their expectations and hopes are from therapy
  • If they feel like they don’t connect with their therapist, ask for a referral to see someone else—therapists are used to this as everyone is different and sometimes certain personalities don’t click
  • If you would like to be involved, talk to the therapist about the best way to communicate with them without making your child feel like they cannot be honest with their therapist. If you feel more work is needed between you and your child, ask your child’s therapist if they recommend family therapy in addition to individual therapy
  • at the first session, your child should talk to their therapist about the limits of confidentiality – what do they always keep private and what if anything, are they not allowed to keep private

Do you have any other examples of negative experiences you or your child have had with therapy? Or tips you have about how to make the next experience positive?