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Where We Are At

This was SUPPOSED to publish yesterday. I just assumed no one felt it was worth commenting on. I didn’t realize until I sat down to write this morning that it was still in “draft” mode. So, maybe you get two entries today!

WOAH. I’ve dumped some serious word babble on this here blog this week. Let’s lighten things up and let’s start with the best picture of my kid ever.

11402751_10153930932008496_5973684110158484163_n His hair is just curly enough to be adorable at this length. Donnie kinda wants to cut it but Wesley likes feeling it “swish” around his face. But – he has basketball camp coming up – so Donnie insisted we find him sweat bands to wear in his hair to keep it out of his face when he plays. That on top of him losing both of his front teeth in the same week and his love of a crossbody bag Donnie brought home from his last business trip (it says “Visual Studio” on it – HA!) and this picture is just all sorts of awesome. It captures so much of his personality and it cracks me up every time I look at it.

If you follow me on Twitter or if we’re real-life Facebook friends, you’ll know that Wesley offered a profound statement yesterday: “Everyone has a butt. Unless you’ve been murdered and the person who murdered you chopped off your butt.”

That kind of stuff is a regular occurrence around here and it’s fantastic.

He has been slowly easing out of the terror phase of the last few years. He definitely handles his anger better, does a lot of deep breathing. He also understands the pain his anger inflicts on others and is much quicker to offer sincere apologies. But really? His anger just seems less. He’s not as quick to be angry as he once was. And when he turns that corner it’s not as hard to get him back. It doesn’t go from one jackass retort to a night of punishments anymore. He’ll deliver the jackass retort, apologize, and then make a joke about naked butts.

I’d love to say “THIS IS WHAT WORKED!” and regale you with some sort of method someone taught us but really? It was a little bit of everything and a whole lot of failures. Some things suggested by some people worked some times but everything failed most of the time. The only thing I can say that helped 100% was that we quit with timeout.

Whenever Wes would do something minor, like make a jackass retort (Yelling, “No!” when I told him to do something.) I would send him to timeout. But – he would refuse to go. So…the small retort turned into hours of fighting, sometimes requiring me to physically carry him to timeout and hold the door closed. He would kick me the whole way there and then destroy his room while I had him in there but I felt like I had to do it because I told him to go to timeout and he didn’t. You HAVE to follow through.

So, I stopped sending him to timeout because the follow through was impossible.

I would just take away his DS, or tell him, “Okay. No TV for the rest of the night/week/lifetime.” I distributed a punishment that required nothing on his part, it was all me. He would still get pissed but it didn’t turn one small smart aleck comment into a night of abuse from him towards me.

The other thing is that I worked on my own anger. Donnie was not as big on this part of the process but since Donnie wasn’t the primary caregiver, his behavior wasn’t as important as mine. I really, REALLY, worked on how I handled when I yelled and how I yelled. I am not perfect by any means, but I tried to show him I was working on it and I reminded him that I was trying to be a good example. “You don’t like it when I yell at you, do you? I don’t like it when you yell at me either.” That’s not a guarantee, but I do think it’s necessary. That was a lot of what we talked to our counselor about – anger management. He talked to him separately and then he talked to me about it.

So…no timeout, manage my own anger, and really try to set aside alone time with just him and I. We have the periodic date night, sometimes at his request, where we just go to dinner together. I think that helps.

But really? I think a lot of it is just he’s older. The older he gets, the more understanding he gets in terms of the scope of his world and the effect of his behavior on those around him. This summer he’s also going to a daycare where they WEAR HIM OUT and that is super important for someone with as much energy as he has. He swims and plays basketball all day and many nights he falls asleep watching TV at 6pm. IT IS LOVELY.

And that’s where we are with Wesley right now. He’s “all boy” which I found to be an annoying phrase before I had Wesley, but now that I have him I realize what people mean by that. He’s wild and insane but also loves a good fart joke and to talk about his butt. He’s still very sweet but also is already showing some of that teenage attitude. The sarcastic/annoyed, “I’m sooooorrrry!” accompanied by an eye roll and arms in the air is the thing I want to strangle him for the most now. THE ATTITUDE. Man, where do they learn that shit from? I’m assuming some hooligan at school because it’s always the hooligans, but I don’t know.

All in all? Better. Much better.

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Challenges in the Zoot Home.

I’ve spent this week resting to an INTENSE degree. Partly because I was so sore after Saturday and partly because I just have no time to run this week. I had to take time off work on Monday for Wes’s doctor appointment and time off yesterday for my monthly library duties at the kid’s school. That means any free time during the day had to go to work and we had three nights this week with basketball related activities AND I had a book club which had me out until almost 11 one night. (Not the book club I’m in charge of, that one fell through the cracks months ago…this is a book club someone ELSE is in charge of. I didn’t finish the book, but I went for the conversation.) So…all of my free time at night went to watching my favorite TV shows. Some shows I’ll just let build up until I have free time, but not my favorites…they have to be watched the day after they air! IT’S IMPORTANT STUFF…IT CAN NOT WAIT.

So! I’ve been “recovering” this week. I’ve also been “eating all of the food” this week. I’m not being too hard on my 5000 calorie days since I did just complete a pretty awesome 10 week running challenge, but I exhausted my excess burnt calories after my 4th batch of french fries on Monday, so if I don’t nip this in the bud I’ll need another 10 week running challenge just to help me lose the weight I gained back EATING OFF THE FIRST CHALLENGE.

RECOVERY! NOM NOM NOM.

We found out before Christmas that Wes had been taking random AR tests over books he hadn’t even read, and failing them terribly. His percentages are awful and he wasn’t even meeting his “point goal” for the terms which was INSANE because he is a really good reader. SO! We talked a lot about reading and being a responsible test taker and about how doing poorly on a test hurts more than not taking one at all, SO ONLY TEST ON BOOKS YOU’VE READ, DUDE. The first week back he read two higher-level books and told me he aced both AR tests. WOO! Doing better.

But then I looked this week to see how much those 100s helped his percentages and HE LIED TO ME. He didn’t even get half of the questions right. BUT HE READ THOSE BOOKS. I know he did, we talked about them, I listened to him read…WHAT IN THE HELL? I emailed his teacher about it and talked to him AGAIN about A) Lying and B) Taking his time because that was my first thought: He’s just rushing.

This is the kid who has STAR TESTING scores on file at school that test him in the “Needs Immediate Intervention” category in Math and Reading. Now…his teacher did NOT recommend him for any intervention because she knows he does great, but she also pointed out: It took him 12 minutes to take the test. Most kids take 35+. He basically just sat down, answered as fast as he could, and left.

SO! We talked about TAKING OUR TIME. We also talked about how to really think about what you’re reading. I asked him questions about the books he was reading again. And crossed my fingers.

WELL! The last two test? 100%! And I checked to make sure he wasn’t lying! For real! Actual 100%s! WOOT.

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Of course, it sounds like the act of taking the test may have nearly killed him because it was SOOOO BOOOOORRRRRIIIINNNNNGGGGG…but, you know, it’s progress!

I’ve said time and time again – Wes would be the perfect candidate for an atypical learning situation. Homeschooling, or private school. He seems to have a natural ability in math and reading but HOLY CRAP he has no desire to do well nor to even focus. And I have no desire to work with him on any of this BECAUSE I AM BEHIND ON AGENT CARTER, DAMMIT!

So! He’s working on taking his time on tests even though they are SOOOOO BOOOOORRRRRRRINNNNGGGGGGG and I’m working on A) NOT eating all the food in all the land and B) Catching up on my favorite television show. It’s a week of challenges in the Zoot house. We all have a burden to bear.

(Is it bear? Or bare? It’s bear. Right? I’m too lazy to look it up but NOT too lazy to type a whole other paragraph at the end of this entry discussing bear v/s bare. I should teach classes on productivity and effective uses of time.)

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Normalizing Mental Healthcare

We bloggers talk about when our kids get the flu or colds, we discuss how long they’ve been sick and how much medicine we gave them and whether or not they puked on our carpet. But when I talk about finally seeking help for Wes and his anger issues, I get thanked because it’s kinda rare. And so I’m going to keep writing about it in hopes to normalize it a bit. I won’t talk specifically about anything Wes said in appointments, but I’ll talk about the general experience and anything helpful we learned.

The first thing Wes asked me when we talked about seeing an “Anger Doctor” was, “Did you ever see an anger doctor?”

I told him that no, I didn’t, but when I was little things were different and I didn’t really know or understand such things existed. I explained to him that anger wasn’t my issue as much as stress and anxiety and sadness. I explained to him that I might start seeing a similar doctor for my issues if his doctor does a good job helping him! I told him how many friends and family I have that go to those kind of doctors and that there’s nothing to be afraid of or embarrassed about.

When you cut your eye we went to the eye doctor. When your foot was hurting we went to a bone doctor. This is a doctor for when your feelings are hurting, basically. Some people go when they’re too sad and they can’t get happy. Some people like me go when they get so stressed over stuff that it hurts their body. Sometimes they can give people medicines that help their brain work with those feelings better, or sometimes it helps things called “glands” that make hormones. We’re hoping to find a doctor that can talk to you and talk to us and teach us how to help you cope with anger. Just like when Daddy went to a doctor about his back, they taught him a better way to sit? It’s the same thing. This doctor is going to help us learn a better way to deal with anger.

So, last week we met with a Psychiatrist for an evaluation. If you’ll recall, it’s in an adjacent city because our insurance doesn’t cover anyone in Huntsville. The only appointment they had was at 10:30 so I kept him out of school that morning and by the time we were done and ate lunch there was no point in sending him back. THIS is the sucky part about an hour an 1:30 minute total commute to a doctor. The school day is only 7.5 hours long. The appointment took over an hour, then we had to eat lunch, so I need to figure out the best time to schedule the appointment to get the maximum amount of school in. 10:30 was not the ideal time, but that was all they had.

He talked to Wesley for awhile, just general questions, obviously looking for signs of any wider compulsive behavior. I was very nervous seeing a psychiatrist first because I was worried he would just say, “Here’s a prescription! Be on your way!” I wanted to try counseling for a LONG time before anything else, so I was a bit worried when I felt like he was looking for a medicatable diagnosis. BUT! That didn’t last long. We didn’t think Wes fell into any “diagnosis” either, just a simple anger/aggression issue.

He asked Wes if he knew why we were there. Wes did, he even told him some of his bad ways of processing anger. The doctor talked to me about who all Wes crossed that boundary with. Just me and his sister. Never his Dad and never at school. The doctor said we came at a good time. Obviously, because he doesn’t reach that point at school or with Dad, he has boundaries there. Maybe fear of punishment, maybe respect of position (sometimes kids are more respectful of teachers than parents), but either way – there are boundaries there that he doesn’t cross. We just need to get those back in place for everyone else.

He got us in to see a counselor and we go today. It will be interesting. In some ways, I feel like it’s already helping because I’ve been able to stop a few of his episodes just talking about how we’re learning how to deal with anger better. But then, it’s also gotten worse. Leaving our first appointment with the psychiatrist last week (and I swear to you, the timing of this is REAL LIFE, not a comedy script) Wes got mad I wouldn’t give him his DS and he threatened to jump out of the car and run away. AND HE WENT TO JUMP OUT OF THE CAR. Now, we weren’t moving, but just the idea of it scared me to death. Jumping out of the car AND running away. So, what if that was just his “Go To” reaction now that he’s learning not to hit?

And then last night he punched me again when I was carrying him away from a situation that had unfolded. And then he said he wanted to kill himself.

Yep. That really happened. My 6-year old said he wanted to kill himself.

Let’s just say I would have rather run that really exhausting 31 miles all over again, 10 times in a row, than ever hear those words.

We talked awhile but it was a touchy situation because he also says/does stuff sometimes he KNOWS will upset me, mainly because he wants the reassurance of the love I give in return. So now I’m trying to talk to him about THAT. “If you are upset and need some love from me because you’ve done something you know upset me, can you think of a way to just ask for it instead of talking about killing yourself?” We talk a lot about asking for hugs in this family. Instead of acting out, if you just need some love, ask for it…it’s okay. And that has actually been kinda helpful and I think that’s what he was trying to do last night. He knew he screwed up. He knew he hit me, hard, often. And I think he just wanted me to hold him and remind him that losing him would break my heart. No matter what he does, I’ll always love him. I think that’s what he NEEDED so he said something extreme in a hope to garner that love.

But it was still really difficult and something I have no idea if I handled well or not.

Looks like our counselor has a lot to look forward to, today!

So! First counselor appointment: Today! I’ll keep you updated on my experience. If I’m there for any part of Wes’s sessions, I obviously won’t talk about those, but I want to share anything we learn that might help anyone else in similar situations. Some kids take longer to learn how to ride bikes or swim. Some kids need extra help with their emotions. There’s nothing wrong with talking about that like we talk about when our kid gets the flu.

The One Where I Feel Really Dumb.

(Should I stop falling on that Friends titling gimmick? Does anyone even get that anymore? If you don’t know – every episode title of Friends started with “The One…” And often I used that gimmick on my blog because I loved Friends but is that reference outdated now? DOES THAT AGE ME? I am so old.)

Okay! So, here’s a funny story. Yesterday someone ask why I didn’t go to my pediatrician first in regards to Wesley’s behavior! Isn’t that funny? I mean…of course not! Why would anyone start with their pediatrician in regards to their child’s health?

Oh. Wait. I am an idiot.

Seriously. The more I think about it the more part of me says, “Duh, Kim. Of course that’s where you should have started. You might be the dumbest person on the planet.”

I mean – how much stress would that have saved me? First of all – referrals probably help a whole HELLUVA lot when it comes to dealing with insurance. Second of all – she probably would have been able to tell me exactly what type of doctor we needed (we are avoiding medications, so we’re nervous about psychiatrists) or what services to go through.

But, the defensive part of me also thought: No one told me to see my pediatrician first!

And you know what? I’m guessing the reason why no one told me that? THEY ASSUMED I HAD ALREADY DONE THAT BECAUSE IT’S THE MOST OBVIOUS STEP IN THE WORLD.

So! Before we go around thinking “Kim’s an idiot!” – I do feel like I should clarify. Here’s a few important notes regarding me an pediatricians:

  1. My Dad never took us to doctors for anything, so I have a weird perspective on when you go to a doctor. I went for an ear infection once as an adult and the first thing the doctor did after looking at my ear was say, “WOAH. This looks really bad. Why did you wait so long? If we had treated this when it first started you wouldn’t have needed pain pills. But now you obviously do.” No, doctor. I didn’t come earlier because I’m still not sure how much pain/illness is appropriate for doctor’s visits because my Dad never took me to a doctor for anything ever.
  2. Our first pediatrician we had for the little ones had a waitroom time of about 2 hours. We loved her, but you had to just about ask for half of a day off just to take the kids in to the office, so we saved it for last resort until we found a new pediatrician 3 years ago!
  3. But the new pediatrician had a snarky voice/attitude and three separate times made me feel REALLY stupid and so I kinda stopped wanted to ever see him…ever.

So…those three things combined show that my natural instinct is not to call my pediatrician first. We even have a new one! So you would think reason #3 and reason #2 are null and void! But did I think of it? No! Partly because reason #3 may have burned me forever. I still can’t stop the voices in my head that says, “The doctor is going to think you’re stupid.” But also because reason #1 is still so ingrained in me. I think my logic was that I knew I needed a mental health care provider and I knew my insurance wouldn’t cover just whichever one I chose (I learned that one with the first search) so I knew I needed to talk to my insurance before making an appointment. But it never occurred to me that my pediatrician could be a help during any of that searching/referring.

Part of me really wants to laugh at my own idiocy.

But then, you know? I don’t feel too bad because I know the majority of the problem was I’ve never really established a good relationship with my pediatrician. But the good news is that I have a new one as of about 6 weeks ago so…maybe this is just a good reminder of what a good relationship can do, and a good motivator to build a good relationship with this doctor.

So! Monday I’m calling the pediatrician to make the annual checkup appointments for my kids. (We hadn’t done the last yearly visits at the old doctor yet because we had kinda grown to hate him, and were hoping we’d find a new one. So, they’re both overdo.) I’m going to go to try to go into this leaving all of my old baggage at home. I’ll remind myself a million times that this doctor is NOT the same as the last one and will NOT make me feel stupid with every little problem. (Once my old pediatrician actually snarked to me when I told them that my daughter’s last “fever” check was 99.8, “Um. Do we need to talk about what is an actual fever? That’s not an actual fever.” I still cringe a little in shame when I think about that moment. I mean…that wasn’t her only symptom! I wouldn’t have brought her in for a 99.8 fever if that was the only thing off! ARG. I STILL FEEL DEFENSIVE AND SHAMEFUL AND THAT WAS TWO YEARS AGO.) I need to leave the OLD doctor baggage behind and try to build a relationship with the new doctor that is NOT tainted by my fears of feeling like an idiot every time I walk through the door.

Be honest with me now…how many of you assumed I had already talked to my pediatrician about Wesley’s behavior issues? Or how many of you are like me and totally would have started with the insurance first? I’m trying to gauge on a scale of 1-10 how obvious it was that I should have started with his pediatrician. (10 being “OBVIOUSLY”, obvious and 1 being where I fell on the spectrum.)

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This Is What They Mean When They Say Our Mental Health Care System Sucks.

Several weeks/months ago I finally decided…I am past my own skill level in helping my child with his anger and aggression. It’s time for professional help. I can’t remember if I decided it on my own, but I think it was probably with the help of my Twitter friends. Oddly enough, Twitter is the place I go when I’m my most vulnerable. And I have yet to be disappointed with the feedback I get.

Anyway – that’s a big step. Admitting there’s a mental health issue that your child might need help with. My defensive instincts felt like this was was another way of saying, “I suck as a Mother.” Logically, there is a part of me that knows that’s not true. But emotionally? Admitting I needed help? Was like admitting failure to my child.

But…I made that step. I admitted I needed help. His violence and aggression towards me was not getting better and I didn’t want him continuing these habits into adulthood. It made me feel better when someone compared it to having an obese child due to their own bad health habits. “You wouldn’t want them carrying their obesity into adulthood, right? You’d want them to learn better habits as a child, before those habits settled into any sort of permanence.”

So! I admitted I needed someone to help me, help him.

I pulled up my insurance and did the whole “find a doctor” thing. I selected my “network” based on the letters on the card. I found several doctors in town. I even found a few at one practice that came highly recommended. I contacted them via phone (which was very tricky to work up the nerve to do) and then they called me back the next day and said, “Sorry. We don’t take your insurance. You can come to us, but we’re out of network and it will cost the deductible and then your insurance will pay for half.”

All of that effort, and we had nothing.

The most frustrating part was that I wasn’t sure what I had done wrong in my search to end up at a doctor that my insurance didn’t work with. I USED THE WEBSITE! That doctor was on the list! ARG.

I decided maybe the need wasn’t that urgent, and went about my life.

But things weren’t better. We still had several bad anger/aggression episodes. Every time I kept thinking, “I need help.” But I didn’t want to go through all of the effort again just to find out we couldn’t afford it.

Until this morning when Wes had one of the worst episodes he’s ever had, triggered by one of the most benign incidents that have ever triggered him. It was bad. He was verbally abusive (which is an everyday thing most days) and he got physical with me. Several times. Over and over again.

So I decided to jump through the hoops again.

I started by calling the insurance company. It turns out my error last time was in choosing the network based on the letters on my card. Yes. That seems like the logical choice. But it’s not the RIGHT one. Our plan is actually a little different, so I had to choose a different type of network, one that wasn’t written on my card ANYWHERE. And when I chose that network? No doctors in my city popped up. So I started crying to the lady on the other end of the phone. Because my son had just smacked me in the face – on purpose – with his jacket and I couldn’t find him a doctor that was covered by my insurance, inside my city limits. Here I am, desperate to find him help to keep him from being an abusive adult, and I’m running into road block after road block. And I lost my shit on the phone with a stranger. I just sobbed. There’s crying, and there’s sobbing. I was sobbing. I was sobbing so hard I gave myself a headache.

Donnie was pretty sure there was ancillary benefits that we could look into, he found something in his benefits package that might help. But…it required a phone call to human resources and I was NOT in the mood to do that. I was having a hard enough time keeping my shit together with the lady at Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Don’t stick me on the phone with someone my husband actually works with.

So…I called someone listed in my network from an adjacent city. We’re still talking only a 45 minute drive, not too bad. And they had pediatric specialists. But I had to call again and go through a lot of stuff on the phone again. I had to explain what Wes was doing so they’d know what to evaluate him for. I had to say, out loud, “He is getting violent with me.” And this is just my KID. All I kept thinking about was – WHAT IF THIS WAS A CALL FOR MYSELF? All of these hoops…at least I could say they were for my kid. But if they were to find myself a doctor for my own mental health? I’m not sure I would have made it past the first attempt. Hours of failed attempts to finally find a doctor that MIGHT be covered by my insurance and then…

“What does the doctor need to evaluate you for?”
“Anxiety and Depression.”

No. I don’t see that happening. I would see me hanging up and never seeking the help I need.

Here’s the thing. If you’re bleeding? You go to the ER. If you can’t drive yourself? You call an ambulance. You don’t have to worry about anyone judging you because you couldn’t fix the gaping wound yourself. No. Saying, “I think I need stitches,” doesn’t make you feel shame. And no one makes you jump through hoops just to find a doctor 2 towns over.

I had a hard time and it took several weeks to finally make an appointment to get my son help. And who knows…the doctor might suck. Then what? Will I go through it all again? If it were for me? No. I would not. I’d suck it up and try to treat myself. But it’s for my kid, so I can be a little more detached.

My point? Be aware of these challenges. Be aware of the difficulty in finding affordable mental health providers. And we at least have some coverage on our insurance. Some people have none. And be aware that when/if you find a doctor that your insurance covers, it feels very shameful to ask for those appointments because our society does not acknowledge mental health as a priority.

If you have a parent, or a sibling, or a spouse who might could benefit from mental health care…maybe you can advocate for them? Ask them if they’ve ever considered it. If they have? Offer to help them find it. Tell them you have this friend who was trying to find a doctor for her son and she had a full-blown anxiety attack in the process. Tell them you promised this friend (me) that you would help any other friend or family who might need to schedule the same kind of appointment. If they’re family? Offer to call the insurance company to find a list of doctors. Offer to make an appointment. Offer to jump through the hoops for them if you really think they could benefit. Because after my own challenges? I have now decided that there are too many people out there who NEED help, but aren’t getting it because it is such a giant pain in the ass to just make an appointment to ask for help.

We’re lucky. We found a doctor that is covered and it’s a reasonable drive. Now, there weren’t many on the “reasonable” drive list. If this one or the others don’t work out, we may have to drive 2+ hours for help. Or we may have to just pay for it out of pocket. Here’s hoping we don’t have to cross that bridge and that this doctor in the neighboring town works out great.

Because I don’t want to have to cry to another complete stranger on the phone.