We have a New Resident

I think middle school and high school teachers are saints. They work very very hard to come up with engaging, thoughtful lesson plans and are often met with eye rolls and inattention. When they try to talk to the parents about it, they’re often met with “Well, maybe you’re just not teaching it well.” Still, there will always be that one kid that gets something out of a lesson; that one kid who participates and loves that class. Every teacher has one kid who inspires them to keep going.

It’s no secret that I’ve never had any plan to have my own children. Something that many don’t know, though, is that I have always taken care of children that were birthed to others. I babysat from the time I was 11 years old. I taught Sunday School and I visited my mother’s kindergarten class regularly. As an adult, I even had a job doing personal care work for 14 years, in which I often ended up having children as clients. I knew I would probably raise kids, but I knew I wouldn’t have biological ones. I don’t even know if I could; I just never felt a leading to be a biological mother. I assumed that I’d probably adopt or be a foster parent. I never dreamed that I would be a stepmom.

I don’t know if ANYONE ever dreams of being a stepmom. Disney movies have made it very impossible for young girls to think of stepmoms in a good light. Between Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Rapunzel, and Snow White, why would anyone want to be the villianess? Disney stepmonsters not-withstanding, this woman would have to take on the job of mom in a household without any of the recognition because the biological mother is given that recognition very naturally. Who really wants to clean, cook, and nurture the household of someone else?

Now that I’ve been in this household for 11 years, I’ve learned that it’s not someone else’s household. I have helped raise 2 young men. I met these guys when they were 5 & 10; we married a year later. Now, at 21 and 16 I have moments where I see the lessons I have tried to teach them come through and feel a small amount of parental pride. As they get holder, I have more moments like that and less at the same time because they are not around as much. The 21 year old rarely sees us anymore; he’s a man who’s too busy for his parents. The 16 year old is finding friends and moving toward driving and has a job. Plus, they both have been living elsewhere; the man where he wants, the teen with his biological mother.

That changed this last week. Jason, who’s the 16 year old, has moved into The Girl Next Door with us. Jason, Jeremy and his ex have decided it is in everyone’s best interest for him to be in our household.

You see, Jason’s had a hard year. I mean, all teenage years are rough. Teens brains are growing and changing. My sister says that it’s like road construction: While one part of the brain is developing, it may be closed down and take some detours for different thoughts to get through. This is where the moodiness, “laziness”, inattention, and indecision of teendom come in. “It’s a little like a traumatic brain injury, only the hormones make it happen,” is what my mother said. Her Masters degree is in early childhood development, but she definitely has a unique perspective on the development of teenage brains because of her 35 years in teaching.

Jason’s hard year came after a pretty hard childhood too. Development is something that really gets stung hard in children of divorce and Jason’s parents split when he was only 2. Along with the divorce, his father has a mental illness that greatly effects the ability for relationships and healthy coparenting.

To put some icing on the cake, Jason was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome when he was 9. Tourette’s is an anxiety related disorder that creates tics through shorts in the brain’s wiring. Much like OCD or ADHD, it is led by compulsions, so it can be hidden for a time. Jason hid his all day at school, then had to let it go at home or he would have exploded. At 9, he was diagnosed and began medical treatment. The primary medical treatment is through pharmaceuticals and anxiety control. I’ll try to discuss this soon when I talk about why the last year has been hard for Jason sometime this week.

For now, I’ve run out of time to type. I’ll pick up again sometime this week, but just know that 2 have become 3 and we’re loving having the boy we love sleeping so close. Have a great day and we’ll see you on the road.

How does genetics fit in?

Genetics is the study of inheritance; it’s finding out what traits are handed down from lineage and what is environmental. Everyone is affected by genetics because we all have parents, who we got our genetic traits from.

Many factions of scientists track genetics through the generations. Most use a “genogram”for a reference for their research in one line or for one person. A genogram is like a family tree in that you put all of your ancestors, siblings, and relatives into the chart. Then, you track who had the trait in question and who may have had the trait but was unconfirmed. The creator may use interviews with family, birth & death records, as well as criminal records and past diaries to fill in the blanks. This is usually a good way to find out if a trait is environmentally induced or if it is genetic.

Talking about and noticing these types of traits gets me jazzed. I have my Bachelors of Science in Chemistry with an emphasis in DNA analysis & Criminalistics. Genetics was my favorite college course because the connections are so interesting. When you know a lot about a subject, it becomes more interesting. Plus, genetics is kind of a puzzle with clues as far as I’m concerned; it’s like a mystery novel.

It got even more interesting for me when Jeremy and I started talking about mental illness. He and I are both strong believers that mental illness can be both genetic and environmental. How this is described in the scientific world is usually comparison of expressivity and penetrance. In layman’s terms, expressivity is how much an individual displays a given gene trait and penetrance is how many individuals in a genetic pool are likely to have the gene for that trait.

This is where most average people hit a wall right now. There hasn’t been a phenomenal wealth of research done on the genetics of most mental illnesses. There are also a lot of barriers to proper diagnosis of mental illnesses because of the lack of research.

The National Institute of Mental Health, a division of the National Institute of Health (NIH) is trying to remedy that. They have greatly increased their research basis in the fields of mental health in the last 10 years. As a result, new medicines, treatments, and diagnosis protocols are being created every day.

Now, we are hoping to be a part of some of the research. The NIMH is currently running a research study called “Investigating the Genetics of Bipolar Disorder in those affected and their family members”. Finding this study has really opened our eyes to how our family members, primarily Jeremy’s family of origin, may be affected by Bipolar disorder. We’re hoping they will also partner with us to help with this study.

To really understand why we’re interested in it so highly, we need to talk some about Jeremy’s illness. He was diagnosed at 28 years old after years of struggle. He was divorced, had two children, worked the same job for 8 years, and had recently lost another relationship. When first treated, he was treated only for depression. He was given Effexor. As was common with this medication, when Jeremy still didn’t feel “well”, they increased his dosage. The more they increased it, the more his symptoms grew. He started having days and weeks of mania, very high anxiety and agitation, and delusional thoughts. One day he couldn’t take it anymore and he was taken to the hospital.

He ended up in an inpatient psychiatric treatment program. This is what you’d do for anyone with a severe illness; for severe pneumonia, they’d go to the PICU; for an infection they’d stay in the ICU. Think of inpatient treatment as the Intensive care unit for psychiatric cases. While there, he participated in many tests and many group sessions, as well as individual counseling. The psychiatrist determined that his response to Effexor was because he wasn’t depressed; he has bipolar disorder or cycling manic-depression.

Finding the right diagnosis makes it a lot easier to get the right treatment, but it is still not easy. Many of you have read my entry here about the mental illness in our life and the treatments we are currently seeking for it. There are hundreds more treatment options that we haven’t had to seek out yet. There are also a lot that we have tried that have not helped a lick. While in the hospital, the doctors tried many different medicines with Jeremy. Since going back on medication in 2012, there have been a few more added to the list. For some, they never find the “right” medicine for them. We are grateful that Jeremy’s found one that helped him.

Now, bring in the fact that his children struggle with illness too. The youngest is currently in residential treatment. Over the last month, the doctors there have reached out to see parallels between Jeremy’s evolution with mental illness and his son’s. In turn, they tried the medicine that’s been helping Jeremy. Lo and behold, his son has started to see some progress with impulse control and mood stabilization. That got me thinking of genetics.

When I started searching information on genetics and bipolar disorder, I found the study on the NIH site. Jeremy and I have discussed a little how his illness may be genetic. We have looked at his kids dealing with what the do, but we’ve also taken information from his family about some of Jeremy’s relatives and possible mental health issues.

Mental health is just becoming something that is viewed as a health issue instead of a stigmatized character flaw or weakness. In generations past, people were billed as “crazy”, “unstable”, or “psycho”. They were pushed out of society because of their odd behaviors or ideas. People with mental illness were avoided instead of being understood. There may well have been quite a few people who had some high functioning form of mental illness that were just outcast because of their odd life. Even in more recent generations, such as our parents, people with mental illness often didn’t seek diagnosis and treatment because of the stigma attached to it.

That’s what a genogram looks at. Jeremy and I both believe that doing this kind of exercise could be very telling for our family. We are hoping that this NIH study will accept him as part of the study; we are also hoping that some of his family members will join him in participating if they can. It would be telling to find out if there are genetic markers for bipolar disorder. To have a definitive way to diagnose this horrible disease would be one step in the right direction for a viable treatment.

Until then, we’ll keep doing what we can find that helps; we’ll be working on running the race that God has put in front of us. Stay safe out there, my friends. We’ll see you on the road.

Our crazy beautiful life- Part 2

I wasn’t kidding when I said that everyone in my family struggles with mental illness. My husband is the longest diagnosed and probably the most integral case in the family. He is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 1, Borderline Personality, Generalized Anxiety, and Intermittent Explosive Disorder. He is currently only on one medication for it, but he does take multiple supplements, as well as a blood pressure medication that may or may not affect the ability of his psych  meds to work. He also participates in almost weekly counseling and still tries to do some natural supports. For 5 years, he was unmedicated and trying to treat his illness with natural methods. In 2012, he agreed to go back on medication to help him be stable for our family. It has helped immensely. He’s gone from an angry, erratic man that we didn’t recognize to the husband and father the kids and I have always really needed. Thank God for medication and counseling.

I am diagnosed with minor depression and mild PTSD from some emotional abuse I’ve suffered. The PTSD was treated in my early to mid-20s through counseling, exposure therapy, and lucid dreaming. I have very few symptoms now, although I still deal with some of the anxieties brought on in my relationships because of it. My depression has been recurring since my mid-teens. I wasn’t treated at all for it until I sought treatment for my PTSD symptoms as well. For the depression, I was on an anti-depressant for 6 months then and I have recently started them again. I have spent the last 6 months just more sad than I should be; life is harder to function than it should be; I recognized that I needed a boost to my usual natural & lifestyle “treatments”. Usually, my depression would go away on its own with added vigilance in self-care along with nutrition and exercise changes. This time, it did not go away, so 3 months after it started, I started seeking medical care. I have been on Prozac (fluoxetine) for just over a month now. It is helping quite a lot.

Our oldest is not diagnosed with any mental illness. However, I have seen him struggle with anger and anxiety, as well as some impulse control issues. He’s 20 now, almost 21. He’s an adult, so we can’t really help him other than getting him the numbers for places he can get help. We can only help him as far as he’s willing to reach out himself. He has to make his own appointments; he has to get himself to the appointments. I hope at some point he is able to deal with the demons that haunt him.

Our youngest is in the midst of massive turmoil right now. He’ll be 16 in January. Just being at that age is hard enough for any of us. On top of that, he was diagnosed with many different illnesses; when he was 9, Tourette’s syndrome; generalized anxiety came a year or so later; ADHD and Emotional Dysregulation disorder came later in middle school; just in the last 6 months we have had to add Chemical dependency to the list. He is currently on multiple meds and placed in a residential treatment facility to try to stabilize his life and his medications. He’s a great young man and we’re all pulling for him to get through this time. We’re looking forward to what he can do once he has his treatment under control.

The whole family has dealt for years with Jeremy’s illnesses and the implications of what it brought to our lives. That is what we will primarily try to focus on in our blog when it comes to that part of our life. We have seen this illness from many different treatment perspectives and many different levels.

This tangle of diagnoses is not always bad. There are times that hypo-mania is a lot of fun and brings creativity and excitement to our lives. None of us can even begin to claim that there was any extended times of boredom. We have experienced a lot of things that other people never will experience because of those times. We are also a lot stronger than many other people because of dealing with mental illness. I have noticed that both of the boys are more empathetic toward others with disorders because they see what happens to people in these situations. Jeremy and I have grown extremely close as a couple because of how we need to lean on each other for support. We don’t just want to be around each other; we need each other to survive and we’re ok with that level of dependence. I am bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. God could not have created a better life for us to share together.