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Introducing Weakness to Strength!
I have been writing on this blog and reviewing books since April of 2009! It’s crazy to me that I’ve had this website for 14 years! That’s a lot of books! Anyway, throughout that time I have kept my personal life quiet. I’m not one who posts pictures of her family or documents vacations for the world to see. Maybe that’s detrimental to my website’s popularity. Maybe that makes it harder for my readers to get to know me, I don’t know. However, my family is my most important priority, and they are very private people. Despite my willingness to put myself out there, they did not ask for that or welcome it. Therefore, I have kept that part of myself private.
During the past 14 years, a lot has happened in my family. My youngest was just one year old in 2009, and my oldest was seven years old. Now, my baby is almost 15 and my oldest is 21. It’s crazy how time flies, and I am in a much different place as a mother now than I was then.
My children are my reason for this website. They are the reason I review books. I wanted to give them, and children around the world, a place to go to find good books to read that would be age and content appropriate.
My children are also the reason for today’s post. Today’s post is not a book review, a cover reveal, or anything book related. I’m going to be vulnerable and emotional today. I am going to give you a brief glimpse into one of the situations my family has dealt with in the last seven years, and the lessons I have learned from it.
Let’s start by going back in time to April of 2017. My son was 15 years old. He spent hours in the bathroom each day. I asked him countless times if he were ok. He kept saying he was fine, just taking a long time in the bathroom. At this point, I figured he had GI issues. I scheduled a GI doctor visit, and we did an ultrasound on his stomach. Everything looked fine.
Now, fast forward to April. The Sunday before going back to school after spring break, he began throwing up. My husband worked full-time, and even though I didn’t usually work full-time, starting that day I would be working full-time for many weeks because I oversaw the end-of-year testing at my kids’ elementary school. Both my husband and I figured our son had a stomach bug. After an entire week of throwing up, my husband took him to the pediatrician, and they said to just keep him hydrated and sent them home.
The vomiting continued for weeks. Our son couldn’t go to school, and because we were both at work, he ended up flipping his schedule. He would sleep all day and be awake all night. My husband would work from home when he could, and I would check on him when I could. No one had any answers. We took him to our local hospital’s ER, and they did a CT scan and gave him fluids for dehydration. The CT scan looked perfect. We took him to the local children’s hospital’s ER and they didn’t have any answers either.
After seven weeks of vomiting, our son had lost 16 pounds and missed seven weeks of school. At that point, it was the end of May, and we were finally able to get him into a children’s GI specialist at the children’s hospital. She took one look at him, asked how much weight he had lost, asked me to tell the story, and she immediately walked us across the street to the children’s hospital and checked him in. I was so happy!!! Finally, we might get some answers.
They ran a bunch of tests, did x-rays, and couldn’t find anything physically wrong with our son. The doctor inserted a feeding tube and showed me how to take care of it. While we were there, the psychiatrist who attended to him told me he was projecting it. There was nothing physically wrong with him. I thought I understood, but I still really did not comprehend the situation.
Before we left the hospital, I scheduled an appointment with a psychologist, but he was so booked out that the appointment wasn’t until the beginning of October. It was May. We were able to get our son into a therapist, thankfully. We knew he needed therapy because the hospital told us he suffered from severe anxiety and depression, which we had figured out by then. We were all in over our heads.
We left the hospital with a glimmer of hope because at least he had stopped throwing up and he was beginning to gain the weight back. Our son would need to use the feeding tube for about a month to regain all the weight. So, yay the throwing up stopped. Sadly, that hope wouldn’t last long.
Beginning about mid-way through June, our son began passing out. He wasn’t having seizures; he was passing out. He would pass out about every 30 seconds all day long. Needless to say, this was almost worse than the throwing up! He couldn’t stay conscious for more than a few minutes at a time throughout the day. He’d pass out walking from the couch to the refrigerator, so I’d walk behind him and catch him. He’d pass out sitting on the couch, in the car, at therapy, anywhere he was.
This went on for months. Many months. Many LONG months. We took him to several doctors, and no one had a clue. I called around and found a mental hospital to take him to, but they wouldn’t admit him because they considered the passing out a medical condition. This time was brutal for everyone in our family. Our three other children suffered greatly. We only existed in survival mode.
Finally, at the end of September, a few days before his 16th birthday, we took our son back to the children’s hospital. We told them we were NOT leaving until we had answers. Thankfully, they admitted him. He was there for several days again, and this is when I finally began to comprehend.
I had known it was some kind of mental issue for months, but I hadn’t known how to handle it. Should I make him do his chores? Should I make him read? Whenever I asked him to do a chore he’d panic and pass out, and I would cave. I’d send him to the couch to lie down. Unknowingly, I had enabled this pattern.
At the end of his hospital stay, we finally had a diagnosis. Conversion Disorder. Severe Anxiety. Severe Depression. Panic Disorder. It was ALL mental. Our 15-year-old had just suffered from a complete mental breakdown. The hospital staff recommended to us that we check him into the day program at the mental hospital the following Monday (it was Friday). The doctors at the hospital told us in very strong language that his anxiety, depression, and panic were NOT to get him out of anything. He needed to do his chores, go to school, go to church, etc. Anxiety was not an excuse to get out of living.
We got to see a glimpse of our son that day when he said he would NOT go to the day program. His 16th birthday was the following day, Saturday, and I knew that he would be more invested in his own healing if he had a say in it. So, we compromised. My husband and I told him we would give him one week. In that one week he had to make MILES of improvements. If he did not, he would start at the day facility the next Monday.
My husband and I wrote a contract for our son that included the improvements we needed to see in order for him to not go to the day facility. We discussed each one with him, and we all signed it. During that week I also took him on a tour of the day facility, which strengthened his resolve not to go there. At the top his list was no more passing out (or throwing up).
Miraculously, he passed out one more time after returning home from the hospital, and that was the end of it. He did not pass out at all after that. He wasn’t quite up to school just yet, but we had an AMAZING home and hospital teacher that came and worked with our son a few times a week. It took many weeks of therapy, and some great medicines, but starting with the new term in January, he went to a class in school and the rest at home.
Don’t think he just up and went to school. Oh no, getting him to the point where he could go to school was no small task. Previously to the start of the term, I would drive him to the high school, and we’d sit in the parking lot. Just looking at the school caused high anxiety, tears, and panic. After many days of this, his home and hospital teacher would walk with him to the front doors. He wouldn’t go in yet, but they would make it to the doors. Then, his home and hospital teacher would walk in with our son, and they’d have their tutoring session inside the school. Eventually, our son got to the point where he could take one class in person, and the next term he was there for half a day.
Starting his junior year, he was back for the full day. At first, he would have daily panic attacks at school. He had an AMAZING counselor, and she would sit with him during these times. He’d call me and I’d tell him to take a Hydroxyzine (best invention ever!!) and go back to class. He’d play with putty or a fidget toy, breathe, calm down, and go back to class. I think there was only one time I had to pick him up because he couldn’t calm down. We made it very clear that he had to be able to handle these panic attacks on his own, or he’d need to go to the day program.
At this point in the story, let’s circle back. You’re probably wondering why he had spent so much time in the bathroom in the months preceding his break down? He was so depressed, and he would have panic attacks. He didn’t want us to see his panic attacks, so he’d go in the bathroom and stay there until he felt better. Then, he’d come out, and we wouldn’t know. I didn’t know. I didn’t see his depression. This is still difficult for me to admit. I wish I had known and seen earlier. Maybe I could have prevented some of the awfulness to come.
The other thing I want to circle back to is conversion disorder. What is conversion disorder? I had never heard of it. You see, our brains and bodies are very connected. When the brain does not know how to properly cope with or handle anxiety/depression, it creates physical symptoms as a way to cope. These symptoms are REAL. They hurt just as much as if something physical were causing them. My son’s stomach did hurt to the point where he would throw up. His brain was so overwhelmed that it would cause him to pass out so it could have a little break.
Although the symptoms are somatic (caused by the brain), they are REAL and can be painful and debilitating. Other manifestations of conversion disorder are paralysis of the arms or legs or blindness. People will think they are paralyzed, but they aren’t. It’s somatic. It’s caused by the brain and can be helped through medications and therapy.
As you can see, this time was very difficult for my son and our family. Showing him tough love was extremely hard because it was traumatic for both of us. Making him do chores or go to school when he was crying, telling me he was going to throw up, having a panic attack, or complaining of being sick was so hard. I’d usually get off the phone with him, or walk away, and cry. I felt like the worst mom in the entire world. How could I do this to him?
However, as we look back, that was the best advice the hospital could give us. Although it was difficult, it pushed him to know that he could do it. He could work through the anxiety. He could do HARD things! As he conquered things little by little, he learned that he could live a wonderful and successful life with anxiety and depression. Was it easy? NO! No, was not. Was it worth it? Yes!! Yes, it was.
This son is now 21 years old. He graduated from high school (barely—thanks, COVID—in 2020). Our son is currently living on his own, serving a two-year mission for our church. Although he still suffers from some anxiety and depression, he can now work through these emotions. I’m so proud of him! He has come so far! He has overcome many difficult challenges. This may be a lifelong struggle for him, but he now has the knowledge and tools he needs to overcome and succeed in whatever he wants to do in his life. It’s taken many years of therapy and finding the correct medications, but he’s on the right path!
Not only was this time difficult for our son, but it was also hard on my husband and me, and on our other three children. Mental illness does not just affect the sick patient. It affects the whole family. We all learned about this as we went. I knew about anxiety and depression, but I had never seen how it affected anyone’s day-to-day life. I did NOT fully realize the connection between brain and body. This was a traumatic experience for all of us, and I think some of us are still healing from it.
One of the most difficult parts of this whole thing was not knowing and understanding how to navigate the mental health system. I searched through our entire insurance list and never found a qualified psychiatrist near us. I found a psychologist, but he was booked four months out. Well, my kid was passing out NOW. I needed help NOW, not four months from now. We were surrounded with great doctors, hospitals, and pediatricians, but they did not know mental health. Many of them didn’t even know the basics of mental health meds.
Consequently, we felt all alone. We had to become the advocates for our son. We had to call, push, beg, call again, search, and search, and search until we finally found the correct people and resources. We live in the United States of America in 2023. Granted, this was almost six years ago. But still, we can do better. We NEED to do better. Many children, adolescents, and adults do not have great support systems. There needs to be a “mental health contractor.” Yes, I just made up a new position.
When someone you love struggles with a mental health issue, you should be able to call this person and he or she can tell you who you need to talk to, and what you need to do. He or she can tell you who you need on your team. This person can help you put together your team and coordinate care. Please. Pretty please, someone important make this happen!
In the meantime, I have done my best to help parents out. I have taken all the research I have done about mental health in the past six years, and put it all on a website. This child’s story is only one story of a few that I will be telling about my family in the coming months. This website is a labor of love, and I hope that parents and families will benefit from my research. It is not fully complete—it’s a work in progress! Please check back often, as I will be adding resources as I find them.
Also, if you have a great resource, please email it to me at: email@example.com. I would love to add your resource to the site. I hope that by collaborating with each other we can put together a great site that will help parents and families more easily navigate tough mental health situations.
It’s time. It’s time to end the stigma of mental health, and start normalizing the conversation. I don’t want anyone else to hear that their mental health issue is “made up” or that “everyone deals with that.” No. We can do better. We NEED to do better, and it starts right here. Right now.
Let’s band together and begin making this change. Please share the address to this website. It’s called ”Weakness to Strength,” and although it’s in its beginning form, I hope that when people come with a weakness they will leave with a strength. Please share it with everyone you know. You never know who is struggling right now. Please be the good examples and show love and compassion with those who share their struggles with you. Listen. Love. Believe. Show empathy and kindness. Help them find the help they need. Share the website with them.
Together, we can end the stigma and turn our weaknesses of mental health into greatest strengths!