Tag Archive | new school year

The Dreaded New School Year

school.supplies.worry

When purchasing new supplies and new clothes for your child with mental illness (MI), did you buy some new worries too? I did. Chris would have to face changes in his senior year of high school. He’d have to trust new people. Would he be able to handle the stress? Would I?

My greatest fear: another breakdown. With God’s help, Chris finished his junior year of high school on time. His studies were interrupted by hospitalization, followed by out-patient care, followed by home bound instruction. Yet, Chris successfully completed eleventh grade. I convinced myself things would be smooth sailing for Chris from then on. That happy place of denial didn’t last long.

The only thing worse than watching your son “lose his mind” is noticing some warning signs that indicate it’s about to happen again.

In October of Chris’s senior year that’s exactly what happened. From my first experience with Chris’s breakdown, I learned to notice early warning signs. When I realized Chris getting close to the edge again, I felt very helpless. I didn’t know if anything could be done. He already was on medication.

At the same time, I felt confident the Lord would sustain me as he had before. But I dreaded having to watch Chris suffer like that again.

When I picked Chris up after school he acted differently than normal—especially on days he had band practice. He either talked incessantly or fell asleep immediately. He started getting some nose bleeds, which indicated his blood pressure might be unusually high again.

I knew we had to do something, but worried there was nothing that could be done. Worry led to shame…I felt ashamed I wasted emotional energy worrying. God tells us in His Word we shouldn’t be anxious because it can’t add one day to our lives. In my mind I knew worrying wouldn’t accomplish anything (except maybe cause me health problems!). In my heart I believed God was able to do beyond all I could imagine. Yet, I feared the situation would only get worse. Sometimes our imagination is our greatest enemy.

When I took Chris to see his psychiatrist, Dr. Newman, I learned there was a very simple solution.

“We can give Chris a tiny bit of extra medication at the time of day when he experiences the most stress,” explained Dr. Newman.

“How will that help? Most of his medications cause him to be drowsy. Won’t that just make him sleep more?”

“No. When Chris experiences additional stress, his brain produces adrenaline. Adrenaline reduces the effectiveness of his medication for psychosis. The adrenaline makes his mind race so he can perform under the stressful conditions. That’s why he’s more
talkative when he first gets in the car after school.”

“Why does he fall asleep sometimes?”

Dr. Newman went on to explain. “Once the stressful condition is over, Chris experiences a “bounce” which is a sharp decline in his mental energy. That’s why he falls asleep so suddenly. It’s the way his body allows him to recover from the stressful experience.”

It started to make sense to me. It seemed like what happens to infants when they get an injection. Sometimes they cry a lot and then fall asleep after the ordeal ends (the sharp decline in mental energy following a stressful experience).

We agreed to try administering just a tiny bit of medication as needed, at just the right time of day. I was still worried. I thought it could be dangerous to increase the dosage of a psychotropic medication with a teenager who was on the brink of another breakdown.

I needed to know, “What if this doesn’t work? Could this bring on a psychotic episode?”

“That would be a mini-crisis and you should beep me. Say it’s an emergency,” Dr. Newman replied casually. His casual demeanor didn’t reduce my level of concern.

Chris would be the one who would determine when he needed the extra pill, based on elevated stress. I knew Chris wouldn’t go to the nurse to get his medication. That could make him late for band practice. Being late for practice would just add more stress. Having the nurse show up at band practice to give Chris his extra pill would be an option either. What teen would appreciate that?

The best solution: Chris would carry his own extra pill. The school nurse initially wasn’t willing to let Chris do that. The school’s zero tolerance policy against drugs was the issue. But Chris was entitled to a reasonable accommodation. A compromise was proposed to have Chris also carry a note from the nurse giving him permission to carry the pill and administer it to himself.

When I picked Chris and Robert up from school, Robert got into the car before Chris.

“How did Chris act during band practice?” I asked him.

I never realized Robert had grown tired of my asking him how Chris acted in school (all during Chris’s junior year). Robert’s response was a wake-up call for me.

“Please stop asking me how Chris acts!”

“I’m sorry, Rob. I won’t ever ask you again.”

As soon as Chris got in the car I could see for myself how things went. He wasn’t talking incessantly. He didn’t fall asleep at all. It seemed like the problem was solved and the crisis was over.

Peace returned to Chris and to me. But there would be more critical periods that year. Times when I’d succumb to worrying. Occasions for God to reveal His faithfulness once again.

God can always make a way when there seems to be no way. Let Don Moen’s song “God Will Make a Way”  remind you of His unending faithfulness, power, and love.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zo3fJYtS-o

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Anxiety

stuffedbunnygraduating

Picture a girl clinging to her stuffed bunny on her first day of school. Now picture her as a sixth grader.

That’s how I first met Leah. It didn’t surprise me. Her application clearly stated Leah suffered from separation anxiety.

As the director of instruction of our Christian school, it was my job to process student applications. The headmaster and I felt led to accept Leah. We believed God could do a mighty work. Leah was transferring from public school to our Christian school. The exposure to God’s peace in our school could help Leah overcome her separation anxiety.

Leah’s parents were very supportive. They said they’d put us in touch with her psychiatrist.

I spoke with Leah’s mother before the new school year began. Mrs. Jones prepared me well, providing information beyond the usual school records.

“How did Leah’s last school year go, Mrs. Jones?

“Leah needed home-bound instruction for most of fifth grade,” Mrs. Jones explained.

“How many days did she attend school?” I asked.

“During the last quarter we gradually weaned her from home-bound instruction. Each week she attended more hours.”

“Did she eventually make it for an entire school day?” I inquired.

“No. She couldn’t make it. Often the school had to call me because she experienced a panic attack,” her mother answered.

“What were her panic attacks like?”

“She’d complain of stomach aches and headaches. She’d ask to go to the nurse.”

“Did the nurse find any evidence of a physical illness on those occasions?”

“Never. The psychiatrist recommended that I pick her up from school when her anxiety reached that level. I had to bring her home every day.”

Leah’s mother gave me the name and number of the psychiatrist and encouraged me to speak with him.

When I called the psychiatrist, he laid out a plan.

“If Leah complains of any physical ailments and asks to go to the nurse, send her. If the nurse determines that Leah’s physically well, she’ll bring Leah to you. Casually ask Leah about school and things in her life. Your calm demeanor should help her relax. If she complains of any physical discomfort, tell her that the nurse said she’s fine. Then quickly change the subject.”

As the school administrator, I’d be the person to determine if we needed to call home and ask Mrs. Jones to pick her up.

We put that plan into action. The first week of school I needed to call her mother twice. Mrs. Jones picked her up. Even during that first week, however, Leah was able to remain in school for several entire days. Maybe not in class, but in school. Sometimes all she needed was to talk to her mother on the phone. That calmed her. I’d then take Leah for a walk outside and she’d relax enough to go back into the classroom.

By the end of the year Leah was attending entire days. She still carried her bunny, but rarely needed to go home. Her visits to the nurse diminished. She and I met only occasionally.

On the last day of school I asked to speak to her in my office.

“Leah, you’ve made it to the end of the year. God has helped you overcome your anxiety. I’m so grateful to Him and proud of you. Let’s thank the Lord.”

After a time of prayer, I presented her with a gift. I gave her a miniature graduation cap for her bunny.

“It’s time for both of you to graduate. You’ll be graduating sixth grade. Your bunny will graduate from school. He’ll no longer need to accompany you next year. You’ll be fine on your own with God’s help.”

Leah attended seventh grade without her bunny and without needing to go home. She never again needed to call her mother from school. Later in the year, Leah even slept over a friend’s house. Quite a remarkable accomplishment and testimony to God’s faithfulness in her life!

Leah went on to attend college and get married.

We’re not very different than Leah.

Don’t we also worry? Forgetting God is in control.

Aren’t we vulnerable to fears? Allowing our thoughts to be consumed by the what if’s.

Aren’t we prone to the contaminated thinking of the culture which tells us we can solve all our problems? Believing we don’t need God.

Like Leah, our minds are easily led astray. Forgetting how much God loves us and our kids. Paul knew that danger when he warned, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3).”

What a comfort we have in the reminder Peter gives us to, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).”

Let your mental anguish melt away as you listen to “You Are My Hiding Place.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElVC6rfX3Z8