Series: Parenting a Child with mental illness – Moms supporting moms

This is part four of a five part series on parenting kids with mental illness. If you haven’t read my first post, you can catch up here. This week’s post will be from an amazing individual who I am in complete awe of. I met Jennifer through a friend at our local recreation center. She is everything you would envision when you describe a Proverbs 31 woman.

Jennifer, is the founder of The Barefoot Preacher Project, were we have the vision to share stories; advocate for wholeness in wildness; and train up families – mothers and children – to see the goodness within reach. It’s a gift and an honor to use what myself & our guest bloggers are sharing as a vehicle for others to know they aren’t alone in mothering, nurturing, and caregiving.

Better Together: Healing In Motherhood & Helping My Child

Let me start off by saying that this post comes at the perfect time. Lately, I’ve been pondering the why beneath my daughter’s journey. And at the same time, the Lord has been gifting me just the most beautiful glimpses (thank you Facebook memories!) of some of the most treasured moments of my life as a mom.

My daughter’s journey has paralleled mine, if I’m honest with us both. At 17 months old, I weaned her from 24/7 on demand, day and night breastfeeding because I planned on traveling for a new business venture. Also, I was a little bit weary from constant touch. I digress. Within two months of weaning, we both found ourselves on new turf. Wild – unable to self-regulate without a breast and being worn (baby wearing was our tool to do life). Mama – in pain from autoimmune disease. It stayed at bay while I breastfed my babies. The hormones put it at ease. But the second I stopped, my body went haywire. Joint pain. Muscle aches. Whole body fatigue. Bouts of pneumonia again and again.

And then 2015 came. By then, I was working from my bed and attempting to take care of two small children. One of which (Wild) never slept. My body and my mind were on edge day in and out. I cried as I dropped off my son at preschool every day. It was exhausting to care for all of us each morning. Since her introduction into life without the “comforts of the womb” Wild cried often too. Actually, it was almost all of the time. We could not separate. And soon, I would give up my membership at the gym (all hopes of keeping my sanity) and be kindly asked to take her out of the in-home daycare she visited part-time because of her aversion to other, smaller kids. I deeply needed to practice self-care in this season, yet here we were at rock bottom… with no family in sight, few friends in our new town, and no true diagnosis for me or her.

Summer changed that. I caught a mosquito-borne virus (Dengue Fever) and found myself at the Mayo Clinic where they diagnosed me with mono-induced Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Basically my body systems were trying to fight a bout with EBV (mono) I had in college… still. At the same time, my daughter was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. While in the middle of one of the biggest fights of my life (barring cancer or re-learning how to walk – but we’ll get to that another day), we both needed help. For Wild, I had already contacted birth-through-three services in my county. Something you can do too – you do not need to wait for your pediatrician to diagnose your child to get support! It’s a wonderful loophole that I found out about in teaching families yoga. God gifts us with tools, oftentimes, long before we need to use them. Such is the case with this. (I’m so thankful.)

What can I tell you about SPD? Sensory processing disorder is best be defined on understood.org as, “issues or difficulties with organizing and responding to information that comes in through the senses. Kids with these issues may be oversensitive to sensory input, undersensitive, or both.” Wild exhibited signs of both over and undersensitivities. She hated some movements – like in the car. But she loved running into walls. She despised lights and loud noises. But some days, she craved extreme sound and would laugh like she heard the funniest joke in the world. Wild loved to sleep on me, and could only sleep touching me for 4.5 years of her life. She overstuffed her mouth with food, often. And over the years, I’ve given her the Heimlich three times.

What I can also tell you is that I believe SPD triggered a lot of her obsessive compulsive tendencies. Yes, in 2018 she was also diagnosed with OCD – and “at risk for autism” was removed from her files. Anxiety is a fiercely dedicated survival mechanism of the brain that allows us to protect ourselves from “what if’s.” So, because Wild is forever unsure of how her body will respond in an environment, her brain tries to protect her… sometimes creating unhealthy coping mechanisms and a bit of paranoia. Looking back, I can now see a lot of her most horrible bouts with OCD have also paralleled my hurts. Her anxiety disorder reached an all-time high in 2018, after I survived months of melanoma-related illness. There were many days I thought I would die. And I’m not being dramatic. (I wish I was.)

So, how do we manage it all? Together. I think that it is so, so incredibly easy to ask your support system to provide the tools necessary – and then to allow them to manage it all for you. But honestly, it’s not enough. There is therapeutic value in going the course together.  This has looked like parent-coaching through our developmental delay system. It has looked like chiropractic, naturopathic, and homeopathic consultations and appointments. We’ve even needed meds at one point – something I struggled with as an Eastern-minded woman. Yet it saved her from some really dark hours. I’ve read dozens of books. We practice yoga together – and separately – and meditate. Wild regulated her bladder through equine therapy (we are forever indebted to Miss Kate, the best horse on earth!). And I have shouted from the rooftops both in-person and online about our path. (We have fabulous support systems from this alone.) I journal. I pray. We’ve simplified life. My husband and I have found wonderful sitters so that we can still date. We’ve brought our son to countless special siblings workshops – so he’s supported too. I’ve even done a 12-step in Faith-Based Recovery to get to the roots of my hurts… so they won’t all become hers.

And lastly, by the time you’ve read this, we will be in our first really honest therapy session. One in which we begin to conquer our traumas together. Because truly, I just realized how much my hurts have become hers. (No guilt here. Just reality as a woman who has done life with a serious chronic disease… that can take a toll on a whole family.)

What I want to be clear about as I share our story is this: it’s not us or them. We both grow when we do life together. So while I never want my kids to see me sick ever again – I also know that they might, and I’ll be honest again so we can all thrive. The same goes for Wild’s sensory and anxiety disorders. While we want both to be in the background of our lives so, so badly some days, we’ve taken to being very honest about what she’s going through. And in return have received so much trust from our daughter (and our son – who is just her biggest cheerleader ever). Wild is an amazing human being. One that has heard her value and amazingness voiced even on our hardest days.

I’ll end here. You’re not alone. If your mental health is fragile. If your physical health isn’t quite where you want it to be. If your child struggles with challenges in either realm. You’re not alone. We are better together, we are worthy of well, and we are made for more. I urge you to get in community. I urge you to never give up hope. And I urge you to fully understand that even if life is hard, your potential is limitless. I know this because mine is, too. We are loved and created with purpose and intent.

I’m cheering you on. xox J.

Moms supporting moms

As Moms, we need to build a community of inclusion. It is the only way we will be able to heal the world of its hurts. I am so thankful to have met Jennifer. If you ever have the honor to meet Wild and Mild, you will see that they are moving through life – together. Its beautiful to be a witness of their journey. Jennifer is the support Jesus put in front of me on this journey of helping my kids with their mental illnesses.

Please follow Jennifer on Facebook and Instagram. You can also follow her on her blog The Barefoot Preacher Project.


He never fails

I wrote this post for a Motherhood series for The Barefoot Preacher Project. I wanted to also post it here because it is such an important part of my history that I believe it needs to be included on my blog as well. I highly recommend you visit Jennifer’s blog to read more about her journey and how Christ has been the center of her strength to move forward. I am so blessed to have met her and I know once you read her blog, you will be blessed too.

**TRIGGER WARNING ** If you are easily triggered by recounts of assault, please use discretion when reading this post.

My life would not be the same without Christ. He has been the cornerstone of my existence – even when I didn’t believe He cared about me. My life hasn’t been ideal to say the least as I am a survivor of childhood trauma, codependent to a recovering drug addict, experienced miscarriages, and became my own mental health advocate. All of the events in my life could have truly brought me to the end of myself but with Christ’s grace and mercy, I am here today sharing my story…

Growing Up

I grew up as a devout Roman Catholic. I did the whole deal – baptism, first Holy Communion, and confirmation. I never understood why I had to put time and effort into all of these traditions. All I knew is that it was important to my parents; it was absolutely required that I complete each step. We were taught never to question our religion and if I did, I would be called disobedient.

became disobedient.

Being noncompliant was my M.O. (modus operandi) from childhood to young adulthood. You see, my parents are immigrants to this country and their values didn’t make sense to me growing up. So I rebelled. I rebelled so hard that I’m not even sure how my parents loved me through it all. I did everything in my power to be defiant at all costs. Looking back, I was just trying to find my voice and where I fit in the world and forge my own path with acceptance.

Trauma

Along with my rebellion, I was dealing with a huge secret that ultimately caused a large part of our extended family to disown me and my immediate family. I have experienced childhood trauma at the hands of a relative. And I did not share my horrific experiences with anyone until I was in 6th grade. By then, I had experienced multiple episodes of assault that no child should ever experience.

To this day, I can’t compute the amount of time these encounters would go on. I just knew they were horribly wrong. Once I shared my truth, our family became divided. I felt responsible for this major rift. Fortunately, my Dad (who is not emotional at all) stood by me through it all. This is one memory I will hold close to my heart because when the world was crumbling around us, he stood firm and believed me. I went to counseling and worked through my feelings. I can now talk about my experiences without crying.

This trauma had directly affected my relationships with the opposite gender. I was looking for acknowledgement and acceptance in all the wrong places. I was “that girl” in high school. I allowed teenage boys to use me at their leisure. It was demeaning and I didn’t know how to pull myself out of it. So much so that I had a few pregnancy scares. By the end of my high school career, I vowed to be single through my first year of college. I wanted to meet new people, reinvent myself, and be a better version on me…

Boundaries

Well that vow didn’t last very long.

I met a guy through a friend on AOL Instant Messenger (am I dating myself – absolutely!). He said he had a friend who didn’t know the area and wanted to see if I could show him around. The “new” me decided that would be a great idea! I asked this guy what he wanted to do and he said go to all the mall in the area. So we did and I haven’t let his side ever since.

Yup, we got married!

Four years into our relationship I got pregnant. I took a test around my 21st birthday, it was positive. I went to Planned Parenthood and took another test, positive. We were both young college kids who knew nothing about the real world even if we swore we did. This pregnancy didn’t last as I had a miscarriage at 11 weeks. I was devastated and relieved but we had not learned our lesson. A few months later, I was pregnant again. With this pregnancy, I was urged to get an abortion. I made the appointment. Thankfully, I did not go through with the procedure. We got married a year and a half after my daughter was born because I didn’t want to get married just because I had a baby. I wanted to know this guy was committed because I didn’t want to be a divorced single mom.

Life continued on – and then four years into our marriage, I learned that my husband was hiding an addiction to drugs. I was floored and felt betrayed. I mean I was consumed by three toddlers under the age of 5, of course I never saw that coming!

We unofficially separated for a short time and decided that we would have to go to counseling – Christian counseling. Prior to us getting married, I decided to convert from Catholicism to a Christ follower. No special or fancy conversion process, just praying with my whole heart that I believe Christ is my savior. So this relationship with Christ was very fresh and important to me when I discovered my husband’s addiction. I can honestly say, the recovery process through our then home church, saved our marriage and our lives. I credit our marriage to them. I was taught how to say NO and have healthy boundaries. I learned so much about myself and it was up to me to change my own behavior. While the road to recovery isn’t an easy straight one, it has definitely been rewarding to see the transformation in myself, my husband, and our marriage.

I Have No Joy

God had a sense of humor when he blessed us with our final (and I do mean final) child, nine years after our last child was born.

That’s right guys, we had to start all over. Unfortunately, this pregnancy was a very difficult one for me. Since I had girls prior to this pregnancy, I believe that my body didn’t know how to grow a boy inside of my womb without torturing me. I experienced so many things in this final pregnancy that I didn’t know how to deal with from major acid reflux to major food aversions to car sickness the entire pregnancy. I was also commuting to work everyday until I began to have preterm labor and I went on maternity leave early. He was delivered via c-section after I would not progress past 7.5 centimeters and his oxygen levels began to drop.

I didn’t know it at the time but I was experiencing antepartum depression, depression during pregnancy.

Looking back, the symptoms were there but I didn’t want to see it. On top of a difficult pregnancy, my Dad went through multiple serious hospital stays and a genetic disorder diagnosis. It was a rough year, so much so that once my son was born, I began to experience depression even more. I finally came to the realization that I had depression after I self-diagnosed through Dr. Google (I don’t recommend this – it’ll make you a hypochondriac. The best way I could illustrate my symptoms is that I felt like Sadness from the Disney movie – Inside Out. So sad right?

sadness-inside-out.png

So in my bathroom, while my husband was in the shower – perfect time for a serious talk right – I told my husband that I “think” I have depression. He had apprehensions at first but quickly became my biggest supporter through this mental health journey. He encouraged me to do whatever I needed to feel like myself. I believe he is the main reason why I have become a mental health advocate because he believed me and now I believe in myself.

Through It All

While it doesn’t seem very apparent, God was in all of that mess.

He took everything I went through and made it hope for others. I was tested, time and time again. I went through an enormous amount of life lessons and I have become a testimony to other survivors and codependents that there is hope. Today, my life isn’t perfect. I’ve gone through some huge life changes! But the most consistent presence in my life is Christ. He has shown me that he will not leave me or forsake me. He will carry me through when I can barely stand. He is my rock and my shield. He has a plan for me.

This plan became apparent in the middle of a major health crisis in my immediate and extended family. God told me to start a blog about mental health specifically in the Filipino community. In the Filipino culture, it is absolutely unacceptable to talk about your feelings and your struggles. You are taught to “stuff it down” and ignore it. With all that I’ve gone through and learning that sharing my story bring hope and comfort to others, I decided to start my blog. I wanted to change the narrative and be the change in our community. Too many people were suffering in silence and I wasn’t okay with it anymore. So I became obedient and put my experience in my blog to show how Christ can make a broken, girl into a woman who strives to show others they are not alone.