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October 2019

ADHD… Or Is It?

Nothing makes me more sad than rereading emails between myself and the high school during the time Luke was there. Yes, I still have them. Those emails tell the sorry tale of a momma just trying to help her kid find his way and make it through the teen years as painlessly as possible without pissing off every educator that crossed his path. Sigh. Spoiler alert. The ending will make you cry.

I have written previously about Luke’s freshman year at Wachusett. It was not a stellar beginning. Soon after, November to be exact, Luke ended up with a diagnosis of ADHD. John and I never really understood the diagnosis at the time. We were parents, not practitioners, and the ins and outs of ADHD were a bit beyond us. We thought ADHD was those “hyper” kids who couldn’t stay still in a classroom setting and that was definitely not Luke. I know we filled out some sort of questionnaire at the doctor’s office, and Luke also rated himself, and those results were used to determine the diagnosis. Luke was in the care of a therapist or psychologist, or something. I’m not sure what the official title was, but it was someone parents assume know what they are talking about. The problem was, when the doc made this determination, he didn’t know my child. He had only just met him. He used these checked boxes or the lack of checked boxes to decide what Luke was. And he may have been correct. Again, I am no expert. What I do know is we were surprised. We were expecting an “obstinate child” diagnosis. lol Is that a thing?

So, here is my boy with ADHD. I’m thinking okay, maybe this will solve our problems. Maybe we will try meds and the school will make some changes and we will *fix* Luke. But it didn’t. The anxiety and health issues continued, the arguing with teachers continued, the sleeping in class continued, the lack of motivation around school work continued, the not sleeping at night continued. He didn’t get better not because we all weren’t trying, but because there was more going on than we realized.

Depression is one sneaky bugger. If you’re not careful, you might think you are just feeling down…. for a really long time… because you suck… so why wouldn’t you feel down… and you can’t sleep… thinking about how hopeless you are… and how much better everyone else is… and then you stop caring…. but then everyone thinks you are unmotivated…. and you don’t care…. but you do. And you blame your self for all of this, or life, but no seventeen year old, heck, no ADULT would call it what it is: DEPRESSION.

If you do a Google search using the terms Depression and ADHD you will find lots of compelling evidence around how the two are tied together or misdiagnosed for one another.

Truth be told, when Luke was going through high school, we weren’t talking about mental health the way we are now, just four years later. I used to get caught up asking myself why. Why didn’t any of us think that maybe something was “mentally” up with Luke? Surely his teachers knew his behavior was off – why didn’t they sound the alarm? But depression is one sneaky bugger. And maybe, just like John and I, they didn’t know what to look for. Because sometimes a smart aleck kid who sasses you and sleeps all period and doesn’t do his work in your forty minute block is just a smart aleck kid. But sometimes, it isn’t.

So here’s what I need you to know: Oprah says, “When you know better, you do better” and folks, we know better. Mental health issues are not a fad. Anxiety and depression are on the uptick. And bad news, friends! A child can have multiple diagnoses. As reported, Depression and ADHD could both be contributing to your child’s struggles. As a parent, if you are seeing behavior that concerns you, ask questions and use a professional to help you get to the bottom of it. If you are an educator and you are seeing behavior that concerns you, please, PLEASE talk to the parents, to your peers, to the psychologist in your building to determine how to best help that child. It’s going to take all of us, talking about it, working together, to make a difference, but we can do it. I’ve got my eye on you, Depression, and I am saying “WE WILL NOT BE TRICKED AGAIN!” #NotOneMore

The Rise and Fall

I Can’t Fix It

So, we have had National Suicide Awareness Month and World Mental Health Day recently, and to say the lovelies and suicide are a little on my mind is an understatement. After the loss of yet another young person in our community, I was having a moment with my boss (he may have asked how I was doing at just the wrong time, lol) and I commented that I “just want to fix it”.

But suicide, and the reasons leading up to it, is complicated and layered and there is most definitely not a one sizes fits all solution. When Luke first passed away I convinced myself that if we could just get the kiddos to understand that they are loved and that the same love that exists between a child and a parent when they are living, leaves a gaping hole in our hearts when we lose that child, it would help. Perhaps, I thought, if we focused on reminding the kiddos of the love, it might save one. What I have realized since then is that my own son, despite hearing it every single day from his parents, despite having the most amazing friend group ever, didn’t understand how much he was loved. Could be part of the depression, could be a lack of self-confidence, but he had convinced himself that we were all better off without him. And I don’t know how to fix that same feeling for others.

I used to think if we focused on what gets left behind – parents and friends and teammates, for example – and how devastated an entire community is after the loss of someone to suicide, it might be enough to save one. 13 Reasons Why was airing at this time and my response was you only need 1 Reason Why Not: There is Someone who gets left behind who thought you were their whole world. Unfortunately, it is well documented that once an individual decides on suicide, it is like entering a black tunnel and their only focus is on that final act. The ability to stop and reevaluate becomes almost impossible. Based on the 2017 Youth Risk Behaviors Survey, 7.4 percent of youth in grades 9-12 reported that they had made at least one suicide attempt in the past 12 months. That statistic is STAGGERING. That is a lot of young lovelies in so much emotional pain, they feel death is the only option. They aren’t stopping to think about who might be affected. I don’t know how to fix that.

After losing Luke I thought maybe the answer was in the mental health component. My thinking was perhaps if Luke had continued to see a therapist he would have delved into the causes around his feelings of self- hatred and being unworthy of love. My thinking was maybe if Luke had been given more information around the stimulants he was prescribed for ADD he would have recognized that having suicidal thoughts can be a side affect of the drug and that quitting cold turkey can also result in suicidal thoughts. So I want to turn this around for others, but in our community there is a six month waiting list to see a counselor. SIX MONTHS. And on top of that is the issue that many of these services are not covered by Health Care plans and one family I know is paying $100 out of pocket when they take their child to therapy. Every. week. So, our mental health field needs a revamp to make it more accessible for our 15 – 24 year-olds for whom suicide is the second leading cause of death. Get me Governor Baker on the phone ’cause Houston, we have a problem. You think our kiddos are dying from vaping? Maybe the vaping, and opioids, and addictions are the numbing agents for all the pain these kiddos are in. I want to shout it from the rooftops – we need better access to mental health professionals!! According to the CDC “the prevalence of suicidal thoughts, suicidal planning and suicide attempts is significantly higher among adults aged 18-29 than among adults aged 30+”. I don’t know how to fix it.

So here’s what I need you to know: Did I mention death by suicide is one complex issue? When Luke first passed away I thought the circumstances around losing my child were unique, but now I know different. I meet parents every day struggling with raising hard kids, or navigating mental health issues for their kiddos and for themselves, or reeling from the aftermath of loss. I am not alone. But it is not all doom and gloom. We have made some progress, friends. There is at least conversation around mental health and suicide and prevention. And although I know I can’t fix it, I can talk about it. Help me keep the conversation going. Talk to your kiddos, your students, your community. It is only together that we have a chance to grow the HOPE and reduce the chances of losing our young people to suicide’s grasp. #NotOneMore

Image result for image of national suicide prevention line
I need you to know

Just a Momma Here

As always, The Universe came together in a most interesting way this weekend. I received a phone call from a very good friend Saturday morning who wanted to share about someone close to them that had lost a loved one to suicide. He had recommended reaching out to me and Hope Lives Here because, well, we know a little something about these things. As our conversation broadened to my hopes and dreams around our non-profit, he gave me some solid business advice which I thanked him for. He seemed surprised at my gratitude, but I told him I will take words of wisdom wherever I can find them. “After all,” I commented, “I’m just a momma here, trying her best.”

Coincidentally, (or not, as we believe at HLH, lol) a fellow grieving momma posted an article from Still Standing Online Magazine today (https://stillstandingmag.com/2018/12/17/on-doing-enough/?fbclid=IwAR3WqgmVLa1q9q9sAeO6yaXYayxr2oBcqamvs_wN5WMnJDzFLpGvo8AMDuM). It is an excellent resource for child loss and this article was focused on the question – Am I Doing Enough? Am I doing enough to honor the memory of my sweet son or daughter? Does it have to be a grand gesture like starting a non-profit or is it enough to remember your child in your own space in your own way? My fellow momma posted the most poignant words and with her blessing I share them here.

“Am I a terrible mother because I haven’t yet raised millions of dollars, because I have a hard time convincing and motivating myself to go to the cemetery regularly, because I haven’t started some type of non profit or hand made baskets and gifts for other loss mamas to help them in those first few moments and hours of the new level of hell they’ve just entered? Is crying a million tears enough? Is living and breathing everyday while my daughter does not enough? Is carrying my girl’s ashes around my neck daily enough? Is sharing my raw and ridiculous emotions and fears and broken family on Facebook and laying bare my heart to people enough? I don’t know the answers but I can only hope S. thinks her mama is enough. But unlike regular parents who question themselves daily, I don’t get to come home to that toddler who runs to you and smiles and hugs you and says I love you mama where you get that moment of right this second my love is enough. No one can ever answer these questions for me, so I have to be strong enough to say to myself that my love is enough, even if it never reaches a million people. I just wish I could know for sure that it reaches her.”

I am inspired and love this momma so much. And this is the reality for a parent who is missing a child. Being a parent is about doing what you can to raise and love and protect the human beings in your care. It is a daily practice that requires time and energy and love. So what do you do when you have that same time and energy and love to pour into a child that no longer walks on this Earth? There’s that well known quote that says ‘Grief is Love with Nowhere to Go’. They are not wrong.

So, after a few years of missing Luke it looks like I have chosen the grand gesture. But it’s not that grand, really. When I started Hope Lives Here, it was with the support of my very best friends, and I said I only ever wanted to help one person and if we could do that, well, then we had been successful. It is almost two years later and volunteer faces have changed, and clients have come and gone, and I have stumbled, gosh darn it. Running a non-profit is not easy, friends. Add to that my amazing full-time job as an educator and supporting my family and well, saying I am busy is an understatement. But we are doing it! Still, I ask myself on the daily if what I am doing is enough. If my efforts are enough. If I am enough.

Turns out, as I reflected this morning, it doesn’t matter if I am enough. Because through all of this, through this crazy journey of Grief and Hope Lives Here, it has never been just me. I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by the most incredible people and it has only been through ALL of our efforts that my healing continues and HLH continues to grow. So, if you have ever hugged me, or sent me a card, or donated an hour of time, or donated a dollar, you have my thanks. It started because of this face –

But it’s only because I have ALL of you that I get through. I NEED all of you. Afterall, I’m just a momma here. Doing her best to honor her boy. I hope he thinks it’s enough. Xxx

I need you to know

Pete

Pete is my dad’s nickname. I don’t think I have called him “Dad” since I was a teenager. My father is the King of Nicknames, lol, and as a result, no one has a proper name in my family. Instead of Dave, Judy, Patty, Scott, and Janet, we are Pete, Dolly, Alex, Rupret, and Peanut, respectively. Don’t ask!! 🙂 This is a tradition I have continued in my own family (JB and Lolo) and my students are often gifted with a nickname. I consider these labels a term of endearment and incredibly personal. A label of Love!

My father and I are a living testament to the fact that relationships take time and effort. Pete and I struggled in my early years as so many eldest children do with their parents. As the eldest we are blazing the way for the siblings behind us and as a new parent you don’t always know how to handle each situation you are presented with the first time. My parents were young when I showed up on the scene and I often felt like we were raising one another. lol So, we had some blow outs. If you know me you know I have an opinion about well, pretty much everything 🙂 and I don’t mind sharing it. My boss calls me “passionate” hahaha. He is not wrong. So Pete and I would battle over our differences – we were both always right – and it took me a long time to forgive him for dragging me around from town to town and the emotional toll it had on me. I also spent a looooooong time trying to earn his approval. Sigh. Classic young adult struggles here.

It was when I finally became a parent myself that I began to appreciate my dad. Turns out this parenting thing wasn’t so easy lol and the things my dad had done with me were sneaking into my day to day activities. We really do turn into our parents! 🙂 Here are the things I love about HIM that have made me who I am:

I spent all this time thinking my dad was a hardass and in reality, he is a huge softy. This man is SO sentimental. My mom would argue he cries more than me these days. lol He loves tradition and family history and collects artifacts and stories that I hope are passed down for a few more generations. Presently, Pete and I are getting great mileage out of AncestryDNA. We’re from Ireland! Maybe there is a trip in our future.

My father is a reader. If I had to pick a time, I would say it was in middle school in Toronto that I realized he loved books, but in truth I don’t remember a weekend he didn’t have something in his hands. He loves detective stories and military non-fiction and probably owns every book about Winston Churchill. Me? Well, you KNOW I was a librarian, right? Nuff said.

I was raised on politics. As a businessperson, my father was always interested in policy and local representation. Don’t forget to vote! lol Whether on the phone or when visiting, I love watching my dad get all worked up over the decisions that are being made both in Canada and the US. Thank goodness Logan will have these same talks with me.

The goofy stuff: My dad can make up a story or a poem on the spot. This entertained me to no end as a little and my students are the beneficiaries of this same skill in me. I love to change the lyrics to songs to suit the activity we are working on. “Did you just make that up, right now, Mrs. Inwood?” Yep, thank my Dad. 🙂 Pete also has almost never talked in his regular voice and loves to act. He channeled Dudley Moore in Arthur for more than a year or two. 🙂 Yes, yes, I have a flair for the dramatic. Totally missed my calling for Broadway.

My father is a teacher. He began in the business world and mentored a good many folks into some incredible careers. Later in life he would teach at community college, write a few books, and currently, he was asked to go into the penitentiary system and conduct courses on running a small business. It would scare the bejeezus out of me, but he loves it because it gives the inmates HOPE. Isn’t that inspiring? I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Speaking of Hope, it is from my father I inherited this desire to give back and work toward changing our little corner of the world. My father has always loved his community and volunteering whether it be for the YMCA or the Canadian Cancer Society. I have been volunteering since I was sixteen years old and can’t think of a time I wasn’t involved in some sort of service project. I believe there isn’t anything more important than taking care of each other and where we live. Hope Lives Here is a second full-time job for me, but it is joyful and I can’t imagine my life without it. I am grateful every day that my dad modeled this for me and taught me to make it a priority.

So, those are a few of the highlights. It is startling as an adult child to reflect on how someone has shaped you over the years, but no one has impacted me more than my dad. The good, the bad, and the ugly have all contributed to the “whole” that I am today. I love you, Pete. Your great hair, your love of bread, and that you have taken so many risks where others would have backed down might be the three things I love best. <3

So here’s what I need you to know: My dad messages me every morning at four or five am when he wakes up. He remarked once that it must drive me crazy, but I have to tell you, it is the best way to start my day. Yes, they make me roll my eyes. Yes, it can be annoying to have to respond when I haven’t even had a coffee yet. But when the time comes that Pete is no longer on the Planet Earth, I just might miss those messages most of all.

Wishing the best Dad ever another year of spreading sunshine and sprinkles! Love, Alex Xxx

Milestones