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Googling parents like us

Have you ever googled yourself?  After you weed through the other yous, the ones you never knew were out there, you might find of things you had forgotten about.  Maybe you have an old My Space page still up.  It could be there are pictures online you had all but forgotten.

If you self-google, you might also find the other people who share your name.  In my case, the “other Lisa Lamberts” include a murderer, a dog trainer, a composer, a small business owner, a tarot card reader, a bartender, a banker and someone with my name who parties a lot.  Some of those are scary.  Some of those are intriguing, like the Tarot card reader.  Do you think I could I get a free session based on our shared name?

There is actually a name for this online activity.  It’s called egosurfing.  Some people do it for entertainment, some to find others who share your name (guilty) and some to see what information is out there that’s all about you.   Mostly, this kind of information is easy to find and can be part of how people form impressions about us, whether we are aware of it or not.

Have you ever googled something like “parenting a child with mental health needs”?  I have, because that describes me too, maybe more than my name does.

Most people are familiar – a lot or a little – with the facts about children with mental health needs.  They might have heard that 1 in 5 children has a mental health condition.  They might have read somewhere that 50% of all lifetime instances of mental illness begin before age 14. They might have seen in the news that suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for children and young adults. Those are sobering and worrisome facts.

Not a lot of people stop to think that children live in families.  And that having a child with mental health problems has a huge impact on families.  They are the ones seeking help, dealing with the symptoms (behaviors) and worry, begging, advocating and persisting. The statistics about families are pretty compelling too.

Unlike when you egosurf, the facts and information about parents of children with mental health needs can be tough to find.  It’s not a subject that receives a lot of study and researchers aren’t elbowing each other out of the way to gather information and data.  But there are still some pretty compelling things to know.

Parents of children with emotional and mental health needs have the highest divorce rate of parents whose children have special needs.  Not really surprising is it?  We argue about whether to okay medication and what parenting strategies to try.  We spend so much time and energy just dealing with crises, schools, treatment and meltdowns that there’s not much left over at the end of the day.  We experience those stages of grief, anger, loss and denial at different rates and never in the same sequence as our partner.

The national survey of children with special health care needs reports that we are more likely to lose our jobs or live in poverty than other parents.  For many years, I used all my sick and vacation time to go to school and treatment meetings, visit my son when he was hospitalized and take him to the one pottery class that was willing to have him there.  I tried not to listen to other parents telling me about vacations that we wouldn’t be taking or how relaxing a three day weekend was. I remember one dad telling me they got an unexpected small inheritance from a great aunt. They had intended to set it aside for college, but ended up spending it on all the things insurance wouldn’t pay for.  Others give up promotions or stay in jobs they’ve outgrown because they need the flexibility and understanding their present job offers.

What does this mean?  A lot of us are single parenting and many don’t have the economic power we hoped would be ours.  It also means that parents are throwing most of the resources their family has – time, money, energy, other relationships – into the mix to see if it will make a difference for their child.

Googling doesn’t capture this at all. Search engines are wonderful for finding people, facts, images and so on, but not these particular facts or this specific information.  If you could google “parenting a child with mental health needs” and get a result saying, this is what your life probably looks like, it would probably surprise people.  Especially those other Lisa Lamberts next time they self-google.

3 questions for the ‘program kid’

Why don’t you like doing the things you once loved? Why do you shut down over seemingly basic things? Why does the GPS say 30 minutes but it takes you 45? These are questions I sometimes hear people ask me. The answers lay deep rooted in the long history of my life.

My name is Tom and I am a “program kid”. Over the past 11 years of my life I have been in over 20 residential settings, and over 15 schools. Some of them were good, some of them I can’t even begin to explain the trauma that has come from them. I won’t get into details, names, or locations. Though I hope to answer 3 questions I am often asked.

Question 1: “Why don’t you like doing the things you once loved?” When you arrive at a placement, they will try and get to know you and the things you enjoy. The first few times that was an easy question to answer. By the 7th or 8th program I didn’t want them to know me, and I didn’t want to know them. I’d had enough times doing the things I enjoyed and either being punished for it or judged. Unfortunately this only made me feel worse. I do enjoy the same things I once loved, but for much different reasons. I still love going fishing, for example. Not because I can be with my dad, but because I can be alone, in a quiet and peaceful environment. I still like wind in my hair because the white noise created by it rushing past my ears distracts me from the countless triggers around me.

Question 2:  “Why do you shut down over seemingly basic things?” You see, hear, and experience many things in program life. Most of it can be scary for a 7+ year old. So, when I hear glass breaking in the distance, “suddenly” my face goes ghost white and I can’t answer any questions. And when I hear someone scream or yelp in pain yet I’m the one in shock.

The best way to explain these happenings is with what I call a “time machine day dream” or better known as a “flashback.” It is as if I am picked up right out of my seat and placed in a program where glass shattered all over you and blood is everywhere. Screaming at night when a strange man walks in your room, but to no avail. I am barely able to write this, let alone experience it daily. This is why these seemingly basic things set me off.

Last, Question 3: “Why does the GPS say 30 minutes but it takes you 45”? The roads you take, I have been down. I will not, and cannot drive past that broken home one more time. The railroad tracks that are a simple non-occurance for you, remind me of a time I wish would be wiped from my memory. That pond over there? I almost drowned in it. This, and my photographic memory, consequentially make me extremely good with directions. I may be late, but I show up in a good space and ready to achieve the purpose of my visit.

I hope that these questions, one day, I will not be asked, and if so, my answer will be a simple, I do, I don’t, and I took 28 minutes, not 30. Until that day slowly comes, I hope that this gives some insight into how I live, and why.

Thomas Stewart is a member of Youth MOVE Massachusetts who enjoys creative arts and helping others.