A place for families struggling with mental illness. Support, Resources, Sharing Stories
Welcome to Bipolar Lemonade, a blog and website for families who have mental illness in their home. We hope to provide you some useful information and resources. We'd love to hear your story too. Click "Submit Your Story" at the top of the page to share.
It’s 2:30 Monday morning. We’ve been tossing and turning all night. But it’s finally here. Time to get up and prepare for their arrival. We’ve been planning for this day for over two months. First, our visit with consultants in Portland, Oregon. Then, waiting for their recommendations. Finally, the best fit for Chloe would be at a therapeutic boarding school in Utah, an hour south of Salt Lake City and a 10 hour drive from our home.
The consultant advises me to call the school immediately to hold a spot and fly out to interview the program as soon as possible. I arrive there 10 days later. It’s a contemporary beautiful two-story home with an open kitchen and dining area, large living spaces with vaulted ceilings, small group class sizes, and what Chloe will love most, 15 horses and an equine program that is part of the curriculum. It doesn’t take long before I’m sold on the academic, recreational and therapeutic components of the program, as well as the warm and engaging staff.
Though initially in denial, we’ve known since January that this time would come. She had been doing so well. She was on track with school, focused and getting good grades, and there was finally hope that she would graduate high school.
Then winter break hit and too much idle time spells trouble for Chloe, whose brain lacks executive functioning, good judgment and impulse control. Poor decisions lead to more poor decisions and the reality for many of the “friends” she hangs with is that there is little structure and no expectation for them to attend school, work or plan for a future.
Then, one night, towards the end of winter break, Chloe is set up for a fight with a girl that is supposed to be her “friend.” Most likely, because of a comment she unknowingly and flippantly made. The video of the fight goes viral. Between the betrayal of her friends and the social media frenzy, it is enough to set Chloe back two years. She falls into a deep depression and funk. Her behaviors are reminiscent of when she was 10. She can’t focus at school and eventually drops out in late January for the remainder of the year.
Her 15th birthday in May is our next sign that she needs help. She has another set of friends. This time, one has a bad home life and stays at our house for refuge. She also uses drugs (not in our house) to escape her horrible home reality. Chloe feels bad for her friend and wants to help her, unable to see that the friend only uses her for money and to steal from our family to exchange for drugs. It takes Chloe about a month for her to realize that her “friend” will choose drugs over her every time.
The third and final indicator occurs in July. Again, new friends; every time one relationship goes wrong, Chloe desperately seeks new ones, hoping to find people she can trust, who are loyal and accept her for who she is. Unfortunately, the outcome is always similar. This time, she has unknowingly invited a dealer into our home. My younger daughter witnesses through an outside window suspicious activity among a few of the boys. Upon my arrival to the house, my youngest frantically tells me what she’s seen. I race into the house and into Chloe’s room and immediately find the evidence I need to kick these kids out of my house.
Again, feeling defeated and hopeless, Chloe writes a post, “…I’m always put down and I am never ever happy with myself. I always find a way to F@#% something important up and I don’t know how to stop it. I just wanna have a nice life but I can’t because I’m a mentally-challenged person. I didn’t even ask to be mentally-challenged, I was born with it…I’m literally so close to ending my life, you don’t understand. Yeah, I look happy on the outside but on the inside I’m just a disaster and disappointment.”
The next morning, Jeff and I have a session with our therapist and for the third time, she tells us Chloe needs intervention, otherwise we can look forward to a future of probable drug addiction, legal problems or worse, suicide or death.
We know this round of treatment has to be different than last time. One that’s specialized, focused on Chloe’s Asperger’s traits, bipolar diagnosis and all the other co-morbid diagnoses that come with it. We also know an equine component will be critical for her healing and learning. And, our family’s therapy and education will also be instrumental to her success. Though the $11,000 monthly tuition is daunting and almost cost-prohibitive, it’s the step we must take and we’re more than willing to sacrifice our retirement savings to make it happen.
Chloe is absolutely worth it.
I broach the subject with her after another fight in which she gets jumped by an 18-year-old girl. Again, there is a video that goes viral and the shock and trauma she experiences makes her once more question her life and existence. I tell her there are options. A school where she can study her unique learning style while experiencing an equine program. Raw from the attack and emotionally unable to cope, Chloe freaks out at the fact that we would even consider sending her away to a boarding school, “You don’t love me! You just want to get rid of me and my problems.” I tell her that’s not true and try to explain our fears for her future. But her neurological Asperger’s condition leaves her unable to understand my point or see the eventual consequences of her behavior.
At 3:15 a.m. that Monday morning, two intervention specialists arrive in a car to take Chloe to the Utah program. We give them her backpack and then head to her bedroom. My knees and hands are shaking, my heart pounding as I turn on the lights and introduce her to the two escorts that will take her to her new school. “I told you I don’t want to go, mom,” Chloe says. “I know,” I say, and the intervention specialists instruct Jeff and me to say our goodbyes and leave the house. We drive a mile to Jeff’s parents’ house, who are on vacation, and sit on their bed crying. “It’s not her fault she has this condition,” I say, painfully. “It’s no one’s fault, Andrea,” Jeff responds.
That Monday was miserable. Jeff and I sat in each other’s arms crying most of the day, wondering how she must be coping in a new state, a new place with people she doesn’t know. We hear from Chloe’s therapist that she’s doing well and is determined. We won’t have contact with her for two weeks and we will see her for the first time, face-to-face, six weeks into her program.
As I’ve said before, some of the hardest decisions in life are also the best. My oldest sister, Kelly, sent me an appropriate Christopher Robin quote the day before Chloe’s departure that I wrote on a note and put in her backpack, “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”
This week, Impulsive Irene came to visit. As many of you may know, having a mental illness doesn’t include just one symptom but a myriad of co-existing symptoms and diagnoses. So, while Manic Marge may be predominantly present one day, Anxious Annie, Impulsive Irene and Depressed Debbie may be lurking around the corner, ready to make their presence known at any moment.
About a week ago, I saw a Facebook post on Impulsive Irene’s account that said if she got 99 likes and 99 comments, she would get a new kitten. I sort of chuckled to myself, thinking, “Where does she come up with this stuff? She knows she can’t really get a new kitten, doesn’t she?” The thought quickly left my mind as I rushed to remind Irene that she’s not allowed to be on Facebook because she’s impulsive and makes irrational, thoughtless comments that can get her in trouble.
As if my reminder would instantly banish her from Facebook, I went about my business, work, life, etc… Then, a week later, like a memory out of a warped dream, Chloe comes bounding into the laundry room, shouting excitedly, “You have to get me a new kitten!” “What?!” I ask. “No I don’t. What are you talking about?”
“I got 108 likes and 101 comments! I get a new kitten,” she exclaims. “Well that was your post not mine. I had nothing to do with that,” I try to reason with her. Undeterred, she goes running off to Jeff to tell him the same thing, to which he responds, “We’re not getting a kitten, Chloe. We don’t need another animal in this house!”
That ended that conversation, so we thought. The same evening, Irene comes into my room to tell me she’s going to go hang out with a friend for a bit. “Ok,” I say. 10 minutes later, she calls me from her room downstairs. “Come here,” she says. “Where are you?” I say, puzzled. “I’m in my room. Come here.” I thought she was with a friend, I think to myself. I head downstairs and enter her room. From behind a pillow she pulls out a little fuzzy gray kitten. “Oh Chloe, where did you get that!?” I ask, bewildered. “A cat rescue house I found on Facebook.” “Ugh,” I say. “Your father is not going to be happy!”
Needless-to-say, daddy was quite angry. However, we did end up keeping the flea-infested kitten that had a grape-sized abscess on its chin. $98 and a vet visit later, Athena the kitten is flea and abscess-free and quite happy with Chloe and our other furry house friends.
Managing a mentally ill youth or loved one can definitely leave you drained of all of your patience and energy. I often feel like I’m running around in circles just to keep up with Chloe and all her “personalities” that come with her illness.
Below are a few tips that have helped me parent and manage Chloe over the years:
- Accept your loved one for who they are. They can’t change. You can’t change. You can only change the way you respond.
- Try to keep a sense of humor. While their behavior can be frustrating and seem manipulative, at their core, they want to be loved, just like everyone else.
- Remain calm. When you get upset, it triggers your loved one to get upset, too. When tempers flare, it’s difficult to think rationally and say things with an open mind and heart.
- Use empathy and listening to discover what they need or to help solve problems.
- Recognize that it’s not your fault, it’s not their fault, it is an illness that they need help managing.
If you need more support, Andrea with Bipolar Lemonade offers one-on-one sessions. CLICK HERE to learn more or schedule an appointment.
Even when we know Manic Marge is coming to visit, we feel like there is really very little we can do to prepare for her. You see, May is Chloe’s birthday month, and not so coincidentally, we also coin it Manic May. I partially blame Manic May on my husband and his family since every birthday in their family is celebrated the ENTIRE month instead of just the day. In fact, they even NAME the month after themselves, like “Jefftember” and “Raytober.” It’s no wonder Marge can hardly hold herself back when May rolls around.
Manic Marge always makes her presence known the first week in May almost warning us, “It’s my birthday month, you know.” As if she’s entitled to do anything she chooses. We try to remind her that just because it’s her birthday month, she still has house rules to follow and expectations. But she can barely hold herself together.
The first week of May this year, Marge started with frequent visits to the park down the street to meet friends. “Be back by eight, Chloe,” I’d say as she dashed out the door. But eight o’clock would come and go and I would call her soon after, “Where are you?” I’d ask. “I’m having a conversation with my friends,” she’d say, annoyed by my inquiry. “Well you were supposed to be home at eight,” I remind her. “You better get back before your dad gets home from soccer practice.” 15 more minutes roll by when she finally saunters into the room where I’m paying bills and announces, “I’m really stressed at school so I think I’m going to stop going until I’m not so anxious.” “That sounds like a great idea, Chloe,” I say sarcastically. “How do you plan on graduating high school or holding down a job if you just ‘quit’ when you’re stressed out? Everyone gets stressed out, you need to learn to manage it.”
As frustrating as this dialogue is to me and Jeff, the fact is, her solution made perfect sense to her and the idea of “managing her stress” is a skill she can barely perform on her best days, much less on days she’s feeling stressed out and manic. It’s easy to forget that our mentally ill youth and loved ones have a disability because we can’t see it! In our rational minds, we can easily pass it off as lazy, willful and rude behavior, when in fact they are most likely expending a whole lot of energy just trying to hold it together.
It always helps to get some perspective with my own mental illness, too. As of late, I’ve been struggling with some depression. We have a lot going on at our house and something to do almost every night. The constant activity gives me little time to exercise and nearly no down time, which my sensitive mind needs a healthy amount of both. The free time I do have is usually spent sleeping. I have to remind myself and my husband that it’s my body’s way of healing itself and recovering. It is a good reminder that it’s okay to take care of yourself and listen to your body. Just as it’s okay for Chloe to listen to her body and respond as needed.
One of the best things we can do for a loved one that struggles with a mental illness is to try to provide support and compassion. Although, you may not understand what they’re going through, trust that they’re doing the best they can with what they have. Empathy works wonders in helping them solve problems and validate feelings.
Collaborative Proactive Solutions (CPS) is a great skill you can use with someone who struggles with a mental illness. You can find some examples in one of our other blogs or on the site of the CPS guru, Dr. Ross Greene, http://cpsconnection.com/CPSmodel.
For one-on-one support, schedule time with Bipolar Lemonade founder, Andrea.
“You just do the best you can with what you’ve got,” is how Alana Nichols describes her continued drive towards excellence and ability to earn three gold medals in both alpine skiing and basketball so far during her athletic career as a Paralympic. Her statement is so true and applicable to everyone we encounter daily. Even people who suffer from a mental illness do the best they can with what they have.
I watched Alana’s story on 60 Minutes Sports on Showtime recently. I was in awe of her unstoppable motivation to push her limits and challenge her athletic abilities daily. At age 17, Alana broke her back in three places leaving her paralyzed from the hips down. Her choices were pretty clear – shutting down and falling into a deep depression or figuring out how to put her phenomenal athletic abilities to work in her new body. She chose the latter.
While I love inspiring stories as much as the next, it made me reflect on how we rarely hear amazing stories of people with mental illnesses. It’s an invisible and shameful illness and is difficult to explain and describe. Even invisible illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, heart issues, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s garner much more compassion and sympathy than mental illness. People with mental illness are questioned about the validity of their illness and shamed into silence. Furthermore, support for those suffering or caregivers is slim to none.
I shared my feelings with a friend after I watched Alana’s story. My friend also has a son who suffers from a mental illness and lives at home at age 32. She is a speech therapist and told me of a couple and their young son she met with. The boy had recently been diagnosed by a neurologist with Tourettes. What she also noticed in his file was a chart note the boy’s pediatrician made about his mental illness, “He’s a boy. His behavior is boy behavior. Deal.” When I hear stories about my friend’s clients’ son, it makes it blatantly obvious why people are silenced into shame and often continue leading a miserable life without support or resources. If we can’t trust a doctor or health care provider for reassurance and support, who can we trust?
Bipolar Lemonade would love to hear your stories of stigma and shame associated with your or a loved one’s mental illness. Please share.
We also offer support through individual coaching with Andrea. To learn more or schedule an appointment with Andrea, click here.
It’s been awhile since Manic Marge has been at our house. We’re so used to seeing Anxious Annie and Depressed Debbie that when Manic Marge pops into the picture, we forget how colorful our life can become in a hurry!
As is typical when we see a large swing one way or another, there is usually a trigger that sets it off. Our recent visit from Manic Marge was prompted by my husband’s trip to Las Vegas. So, really, Sophia and I were the ones that got to experience Manic Marge in all her glory.
Manic Marge made her presence known Tuesday, one day before Jeff was to leave for Vegas. I’m at work and get a call from a police officer saying that Chloe (Marge’s “real” name) had posted some fairly violent comments on Facebook. In fact, the officer notified me, a month earlier, the police had handcuffed and arrested a student from a local high school for making similar comments. Only in his case, he directed the comments toward the school. Marge was smart enough to make sweeping generalizations about how she’d target half the town.
“What were you thinking?” I asked Marge. “It was a joke. I thought it was funny,” she said “Well, it’s not funny at all and we have a meeting with the officer this afternoon.”
Within minutes of hanging up the phone with her, she texted me and said that we’d need to meet the officer another day. She had to go help a friend with her injured horse. I called her immediately, enraged. “What is wrong with you? This is serious! You could go to jail for something like this! We will meet with the police officer this afternoon. You may not go off and help your friend with her horse.”
I met Marge and the officer at a school to talk. She immediately burst into tears. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “I was supposed to go to Salem (four hours away) with my friend and now I can’t go because they couldn’t wait for me!” she sobbed. “Salem?!” I said. “I thought you said you were going to help your friend with her horse?” “Well I knew you’d say no but we were going to be back by eight tonight.” Exasperated, I said, “Chloe, Salem is four hours away and if they just left, they’ll be getting there at eight. You wouldn’t have been home until one o’clock in the morning!” Not concerned at all by having to talk with the police officer or by what she had done on Facebook, she said, “Well now it’s all ruined because of this!”
Later that night I calmly explained to Marge why I wouldn’t have let her go to Salem with some stranger that I didn’t know, to a location I didn’t know, to meet up with some other stranger that I didn’t know. I know, right!? It gets better.
Jeff was off to Vegas the next morning and I went to work as usual. I get a call around noon from Marge asking if her friend could come spend the night (it’s spring break, you know; even though she hasn’t been to school in more than two months). Fine, I agreed. I told her I would be going to exercise class after work and then needed to pick Sophia up from an event, take her to soccer practice, attend a parent meeting, and then I’d be home.
My class was from 5:30-6:30 pm and when it was done, I had eight missed calls from Marge on my phone plus a text, “Jenny and I are ordering Olive Garden online and you need to go pick it up and pay for it.” I call, “What did you order and what time will it be ready?” “We ordered fettucine, salad and bread sticks and it will be ready in an hour,” she said. Okay, I thought, the timing will actually work out fine. I went and picked up Soph from her event and dropped her off at soccer practice. I jumped on the freeway and got to Olive Garden in plenty of time to pay the bill and drop it off with Marge at home. I proceed to pay the dinner bill and it’s over $60 for two teenage girls! “What the heck did they order,” I ask the cashier. “Two fettucine plates, salad and 48 bread sticks,” she said. “48 bread sticks!?”
Sending back most of the bread sticks and fixing the order added another 10 minutes to my trip. I hustled home to drop the order to Marge only to find the house empty. “Where are you!?” I called her, frustrated. “We went with my friend to give her horse medicine and to Walmart,” says Marge. Irritated, I reply, “Well your hot food is here and waiting. I’ll see you after I get home with Sophia.”
More than two hours after her initial call for food, Soph and I return home from soccer practice. Again, no Marge in sight. “Where the hell are you?!” I call her cell. “We’ll be home in 10 minutes,” says Marge. 10 minutes pass, no Marge. I’m doing laundry when a half hour later I hear her come through the door. Marge comes sauntering to the laundry room with a box and small bag from Walmart. “What’s in the box, Chloe?” I ask. “I couldn’t leave them on the side of the road,” says Marge. “You didn’t find them on the side of the road. Don’t lie. What’s in the box?” “Baby bunnies,” she says. “Oh, Chloe! Where did you get them?” I sigh. “In Grants Pass. Look at them. They’re so cute.” “How many are there?” I say. “Three,” says Marge. “Your dad is going to kill you.”
Thankfully, the next day without dad passes with no harm, no foul and Marge plays happily with her bunnies. Friday rolls around and her friend comes over for the night again. This time, they want to go out with some other friends. Asking the standard questions, “Where are you going? With who?” I agree, stating that she needs to be home by 10 pm. About an hour after she leaves, she texts me and says that she and her friend are going to stay the night with another friend, who I trust. However, I was a little suspicious because of all the lying, so I messaged the mom to check it out. I didn’t hear from the mom but I was pretty sure Marge was up to something. I told her that the friend’s mom said that there were no plans for a sleepover and that she needed to come home immediately. “No!” she curtly replied and then sent a long paragraph about how we never let her have fun and we always say no. I called and told her she needed to talk to me next time and that I would let her stay out a little later. “Be home by 11 pm,” I said.
1:15 am rolls around and in comes Marge and her friend. Needless-to-say, the next day I took the baby bunnies to the local animal control center and firmly said, “No!” when she asked to go out again the next night.
I could go on and on about the mental health reasons she did what she did but quite frankly, I’m exhausted. And, if you know anyone who’s ever been manic, your’re smiling and shaking your head. Off to take a nap!
Managing a youth with a mental illness is challenging and a struggle to say the least. Andrea with Bipolar Lemonade provides support for families with a mentally ill loved one. Click here to Schedule An Appointment.
HALT – Do you know what it means? It’s a great technique for anyone to use to manage emotions and moods, but it’s especially useful for those with the mental illness.
HALT – Never let yourself get too:
Makes sense, huh? Have you ever noticed how much any of these, when ignored too long, can really affect your mood. For those with a mental illness, managing HALT is critical to avoiding major relapses and keeping a healthy balance in life.
HUNGRY – As you probably know, the food you eat can have a direct effect on your energy level, physical health and mood. And when your blood level drops or spikes, it can also have a dramatic impact on your mental stability. For those who struggle with depression, some vitamins and minerals may help with symptoms. These include folate, vitamin B12, calcium, iron, selenium, zinc and omega-3. Experts agree that regular meals and snacks, combining a protein, nutrient-dense carbohydrate and healthy fat, is the key to a balanced diet and mind.
ANGRY – Anger is a normal human emotion that can cause slight irritation to a strong rage. Suppressed anger can be an underlying cause of anxiety and depression, which can disrupt thinking, behavior patterns and even physical health problems. It’s important to learn ways to manage anger and stress.
- Use deep belly breathing as a way to calm and center yourself.
- Use positive self talk and words that combat angry thoughts, like “relax” or “slow down.”
- Be assertive calmly and directly instead of aggressively about issues you have with someone.
- Seek out the support of others to talk through your feelings.
- Keep a log of when you feel angry.
- Use empathy to put yourself in someone else’s place.
- Learn to laugh at yourself.
- Seek professional help if you feel your anger is affecting your relationships or your health.
LONELY – Everyone feels lonely from time to time, but long periods of loneliness or social isolation can have a negative impact on your health as much as obesity. Research suggests that people need to attend to loneliness in the same way they would their diet, exercise or how much sleep they get. So what should a lonely person do?
- Recognize the loneliness.
- Understand what the loneliness is doing to your mind and body, so you can do something about it. Studies show that loneliness increases the risk for death by 45 percent and the chance of developing dementia by 64 percent.
- Respond to your loneliness “safely.” Social media isn’t a substitute for face-to-face contact, but it’s better than nothing. Sometimes it’s best to sign up or join something that’s a bit outside your comfort zone. You may be nervous or self-conscious at first but it’s typically worth it.
- A therapist can also help if loneliness comes with anxiety or depression.
TIRED – Sleep is so critical to the good mental health of everyone. Sleep deprivation for someone managing a mental illness can trigger depression, manic episodes and psychosis. However, everyone needs a good night sleep to think clearly and keep your mood in check. If you struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, below are some tips that might help out. Consult a health care provider if you have more serious sleep challenges.
- Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning.
- Establish a bedtime ritual.
- Avoid caffeine after 1 p.m.
- Eat on a regular schedule and avoid heavy meals before bedtime.
- Exercise daily but try to avoid strenuous exercise right before bedtime.
- Play soothing music or read.
- Take a warm bath or shower.
- Place lavender oil on your pillow or by your bedside.
Andrea with Bipolar Lemonade can provide support through one-on-one services. Click here to Schedule An Appointment.
Awww…sleep. Seems like such an easy concept, doesn’t it? “Get at least 8-9 hours of sleep per night for optimal health.” But in reality, getting quality sleep can be difficult to attain and maintain, putting our mental health in jeopardy. In fact, sleep is so critical to our well-being, it can make the difference between balanced mental health or full-blown depression or psychotic relapse.
March 6-13 is National Sleep Awareness Week. If you struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, below are some tips from the National Sleep Foundation that might help out. Consult a health care provider if you have more serious sleep challenges.
Prioritize your sleep and take the #7Days4BetterSleep Pledge with us.
Lately, I’ve come across several articles that touch on how Aspergers in girls is often misdiagnosed and missed altogether, robbing them of developmental opportunities, school resources, and the much needed praise and validation for who they are. Their symptoms often go unnoticed because they mimic the social behaviors of their female peers and are often quiet and unassuming in class. It wasn’t until we sent Chloe to treatment when she was 13 that she was officially diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
…I was extremely emotional due to the guilt I felt over robbing her of the love, support and understanding she needed for 13 years, angry at the school system and her doctors for missing her diagnosis and blaming her and us for her inadequacies and lack of skills at school, while feeling relieved that we could move forward with a better understanding of who Chloe was and how we could facilitate her growth.
I bring attention to this misdiagnosis because it was a huge “Aha” moment for us and a diagnosis that would have helped us structure our parenting and her schooling much differently during her young and critical developmental years. I remember the therapist and psychologist providing us that diagnosis and I just burst into tears. I was extremely emotional due to the guilt I felt over robbing her of the love, support and understanding she needed for 13 years, angry at the school system and her doctors for missing her diagnosis and blaming her and us for her inadequacies and lack of skills at school, while feeling relieved that we could move forward with a better understanding of who Chloe was and how we could facilitate her growth.
Autism is not a disease, or a reaction; it is a developmental neuro-biological difference in brain functions. People with autism may evidence difficulty in social interactions, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and odd or restricted activities and interests. Symptoms of autism are usually recognized during the first three years of childhood; however, high functioning autism or Aspergers Syndrome is often not recognized until children are of school age.
Autism, characterized in the past as a result of an “extreme male brain”, is far more prevalent in women than previously thought but is still often untreated because the stereotype focuses on male behavior. Girls mask their symptoms by learning to imitate the behavior of non-autistic people. But without a diagnosis, experts say, their difficulties with social interaction and attachment to routine are misunderstood at school and then work, leaving them at increased risk of mental health problems including depression, eating disorders and self harm. Often naive and fearful of displeasing people, autistic girls and women are also vulnerable to abuse, which Jeff and I experience often with Chloe. She is often so desperate for friends and boyfriends and naive about her surroundings, she’ll find herself in dangerous and risky situations with “friends” who are more interested in how much money they can get from Chloe for drugs than an actual relationship. These lessons have been hard and devastating for Chloe, to say the least.
Below are ways girls differ from boys with Aspergers Syndrome:
- Girls use social imitation and mimicking by observing other children and copying them, leading to masking the symptoms of Asperger syndrome (Attwood, 2007). Girls learn to be actresses in social situations. This camouflaging of social confusion can delay a diagnosis by up to 30 years.
- Females can experience “social exhaustion” from the enormous energy it takes pretending to fit in.
- Girls, in general, appear to have a more even and subtler profile of social skills. They often adopt a social role based on intellect instead of social intuition.
- Girls often feel a need and are aware of the cultural expectations of interacting socially. They tend to be often more involved in social play, and can be observed being led by their peers rather than initiating social contact. They often only have one or two close friends and/or may find boys easier to get along with.
- Cultural expectations for girls involve participating in social communication, often made up of social chit-chat or surface-type conversation. Girls with Asperger Syndrome find this type of communication exhausting, tending to desire having conversations that have a function to them. Girls on the spectrum are also are socially confused by teasing, bullying, and bitchiness, and the teasing that often occurs at school.
- Girls often misunderstand social hierarchies and how to communicate with others based on the level of the hierarchy that the person is on. This can tend to get girls in trouble with adults.
- Girls have better imagination and more pretend play, with many involved in fiction, and the worlds of fairies, witches and other forms of fantasy, including imaginary friends.
- While the interests of girls on the spectrum are very often similar to those of other girls, it is the ‘intensity’ and ‘quality’ of the interest which can be unusual. For example, many are very focused on their animals, celebrities or soap operas.
- Girls and women on the spectrum are generally skilled in one-on-one social relationships, but are uncomfortable and anxious in large groups of people.
- Girls may have great difficulty in attempting to explain their difficulties in social situations and/or groups. Instead, they may skip school, complain of headaches or stomach aches or refuse to go to school.
- Girls facial expressions tend to not match their moods. They may say that are fine, but on the inside they are unhappy, anxious or both.
- Girls tend to be more passive-aggressive (avoid social activities, refuse requests from others or refuse to complete tasks), tend to blame themselves and/or internalize their feelings and anger.
- Girls on the autism spectrum are more likely to come to the attention of health professionals due to difficulties with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, behavioral problems and/or social skills challenges. The presenting problem then becomes the ‘diagnosis’, with the larger picture and explanation for feeling “different” is missed.
- Women with Asperger Syndrome are most likely to have had a long history of misdiagnoses, often with borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, depression, selective mutism, OCD, but somehow those labels just didn’t seem to fit adequately. Up to 42% have been misdiagnosed.
Many girls and women with Aspergers Syndrome are not being diagnosed and are therefore not receiving the help and support needed throughout their lives. Having a diagnosis is the starting point in providing appropriate support for girls and women in the spectrum. A timely diagnosis can avoid many of the difficulties women and girls with an autism spectrum disorder experience throughout their lives.
What should I do if I suspect my daughter has Aspergers Syndrome:
If you think your daughter may fall in the spectrum, you are most likely receiving psychiatric services. Bring this blog article or other articles to your next appointment and address your concerns. Your psychiatric provider should have some evaluation resources to make a proper diagnosis. If your daughter does in fact have Aspergers Syndrome or is on the autism spectrum, she will be eligible for special services from your school district that will make it much easier for her and you to navigate the social nuances of school.
Andrea with Bipolar Lemonade can also provide support through one-on-one services. Click here to Schedule An Appointment.
Now, I know that eating disorders are a mental illness and fall right in line with my bipolar disorder, anxiety and underlying depression. And, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as my daughter, Chloe, is unhappy with her weight and doesn’t like what she sees in the mirror either.
35 years later, I still struggle with body image issues and fixate at nearly every calorie I put in my mouth. Now, I know that eating disorders are a mental illness and fall right in line with my bipolar disorder, anxiety and underlying depression. And, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as my daughter, Chloe, is unhappy with her weight and doesn’t like what she sees in the mirror either.
Eating disorders are a serious mental illness and disease that can be easily overlooked, denied and, if left untreated, cause death. Below are some startling statistics that shine light on this often unspoken illness.
- 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat
- 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner
- Up to 8% of the U.S. population suffers from an eating disorder (that is nearly 24 million people)
- 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25
- An estimated 10-15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male
- Only 1 in 10 with eating disorders receive treatment
- Eating disorder research is extremely underfunded
What Causes Eating Disorders?
There are a variety of reasons someone develops an eating disorder. And, usually, it’s a combination of factors. In my case, it helped distract me from the anxiety that was constantly gnawing at me. To this day, the more stress I’m under, the more fixated I am on what I eat. The medications I take to control my anxiety and depression have helped immensely with my eating disorder.
Below are some other pieces that make up eating disorders:
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of control in life or feeling inadequate
- Depression, anxiety or stress
Dieting & Social Pressure
- Being teased or ridiculed based on size, weight or body image
- Cultural factors that praise thinness or being muscular and obtaining the perfect body
- Social pressures that value people on their physical appearance and not inner-qualities
- Professions and careers that promote thinness and weight loss (i.e. ballet and modeling)
- Aesthetic and weight-oriented sports such as diving, gymnastics and wrestling
- The risk of developing an eating disorder, according to the Eating Disorder Coalition, is 50-80% genetics.
- Researchers from the University of Iowa and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have identified two gene mutations, ESSRA and HDAS4, that increase the risk of eating disorders.
When Is It Time to Seek Help?
Like any other mental illness, early intervention is critical to treatment and a successful recovery. Below are some signs that someone may be struggling with an eating disorder:
- They have guilt & shame about eating
- They have low self-esteem
- They have a compulsive need for body perfection
- They are extremely concerned about appearance
- They are constantly occupied with food and/or weight
- They significantly reduce eating and/or have a significant weight loss
- There is evidence of purging (vomiting, diuretic abuse, excessive exercise)
How Do I Approach Someone I Think Has An Eating Disorder?
I believe the best approach is to focus the conversation on how the person is doing emotionally rather than their eating. Because, again, the eating disorder is a coping mechanism for other issues in their life they don’t know how to healthily confront.
This is tricky since there is so much shame associated with having an eating disorder, and it’s often a coping mechanism to “control” part of their life. I believe the best approach is to focus the conversation on how the person is doing emotionally rather than their eating. Because, again, the eating disorder is a coping mechanism for other issues in their life they don’t know how to healthily confront. Here are some tips to try:
- Acknowledge that the person doesn’t seem themselves, maybe something like, “You seem really stressed and upset lately. I’m worried about you, what’s going on?”
- Use empathy to open the conversation; “I know you have a stressful schedule and a lot of after school activities…I would really struggle with what you’ve got going on, how is it affecting you?”
- Be compassionate and encourage them to seek professional help. Also, don’t be surprised if they refuse to talk on your first attempt to talk with them; this is a frightening and shameful situation to be in.
- Listen without judging. Validate the feelings they have rather than telling them how they should feel in this situation.
Learn more about eating disorders at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org, or call the confidential, toll free Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
Andrea with Bipolar Lemonade also offers one-on-one support for families with a mentally ill youth. Click here to Schedule An Appointment.
If you have a difficult or mentally ill kid, you’ve probably heard every piece of advice out there. “Have you tried putting him in a time-out?” or “Just take away his favorite toy until she behaves;” or “Have you locked him in his room until he stops throwing a fit?” or “You need to take away the TV until he stops that behavior.” My favorite is, “I would never tolerate that kind of behavior in my house!”
And if you do have a difficult child, these statements either make you want to cry, scream, run away or all three…If only it could be that easy!
I recently attended a training with Dr. Ross Greene, who developed a groundbreaking approach to working with difficult kids. It’s called Collaborative and Proactive Solutions and it’s amazing how simply changing your approach and wording with challenging youth can produce enlightening and mutually agreeable conversations. That’s right, I said “enlightening and agreeable conversations” and “challenging youth” in the same sentence. A friend of mine and a middle school teacher I shared this method with recently texted me after she used it saying, “It feels so mutually respectful. How did I not know how to do this before???”
It feels so mutually respectful. How did I not know how to do this before??? Middle school teacher
First, let me be clear. This approach doesn’t make miracles happen and it’s also not easy. However, if you use it, practice it and refine it, it’s about 1,000% better than the alternative – either your child raging or you screaming and living in crisis day in and day out.
Before we get to the nuts and bolts of the approach, let me give some background. Dr. Greene is a psychologist that lives in Maine and teaches this approach worldwide. His assertion, as is mine, is that children DO NOT intentionally want to behave badly. In fact, they want to do well just like other children. However, he believes poor behavior is a symptom of skills that a child is lacking. If we can identify what the lagging skills are and the problems they cause, we can work with kids to create solutions together. Hence, the name Collaborative and Proactive Solutions. So, instead of focusing on behavior, our focus should be on the lagging skills and creating a plan for unsolved problems.
…Children DO NOT intentionally want to behave badly…Poor behavior is a symptom of skills that a child is lacking…Instead of focusing on behavior, our focus should be on the lagging skills and creating a plan for unsolved problems.
The following tips and examples are an abbreviated version of Dr. Greene’s method. If you want worksheets that walk you through it and information on how to be more effective with it, visit his website at www.livesinthebalance.org.
Tips that Actually Work with Difficult Kids
- Use empathy – Using empathy with your challenging youth goes a long way in breaking down barriers and encouraging open communication. This can be a difficult mindset to change for many parents and authority figures. Instead of “Do as your told,” think more, “What’s going on? Are you okay?”
- So, instead of: “It’s 10 p.m. and you haven’t even started your homework! What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just come home and get it done after school?!”
- Try: “Hey, so I’ve noticed that you’ve been having difficulty getting your homework done. What’s up?” And then, be quiet and let them talk. If they respond with, “I don’t know” shoulder shrug, offer some suggestions, “Are you having trouble with a class? Is it hard to do your homework right after a long day at school?” Etc.
- Instead of: “Stop screaming at the dog! He’s just drinking his water. You have to drink too, right!?”
- Try: “I’ve noticed that you get really upset with the dog when he drinks his water. What’s up?” Again, zip it and see what your child says. You’ll be amazed at what you learn.
- So, instead of: “It’s 10 p.m. and you haven’t even started your homework! What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just come home and get it done after school?!”
- Let them know you heard their concerns – After you hear “what’s up,” repeat back to your child what you heard and ask, “Is that right? Is there anything else?”
- Once you know the concerns, brainstorm a plan with your youth to help solve or alleviate the problem.
- The first scenario might sound something like this:
- Parent: “So, you said after a long day of school the last thing you want to do is homework. You want to relax and play video games and all I do is nag you. Plus, your math class is really hard and you’re getting behind in it. Is that about right?”
- Kid: “Yes.”
- Parent: “Well, I know dad is really good at math and would be happy to help you get back on track. Would that be okay?”
- Kid: “I guess so.”
- Parent: “What about the homework thing. What would help you get started on it?”
- Kid: “Maybe give me an hour or so to have a snack and chill.”
- Parent: “Okay, so would it be okay if I set a timer or let you know when you’ve been home for more than an hour.”
- Kid: “The timer would be okay. It’s not as nagging as you.”
- Parent: “Great, let’s try it out and see how it works.”
- The second scenario might go something like this:
- Parent: “So, you say when the dog drinks his water it really bothers your ears?”
- Child: “Yes.”
- Parent: “Are there other things that bother your ears?”
- Child: “When he cleans himself. That bothers my ears. And sometimes during school when kids tap their pencils, that bothers my ears and I can’t concentrate.”
- Parent: “Oh, okay. Well, what if we move his drinking water to another room? Do you think that would help?”
- Child: “Maybe. And maybe I could go to another room to watch TV or play when he cleans himself.”
- Parent: “That sounds like a great idea! Now, what about school? What would help you there?”
- Child: “Maybe we could talk to Mrs. Wood and she could put me at a different table where the kids aren’t so noisy.”
- Parent: “I think that sounds like an awesome plan. I will email Mrs. Wood tomorrow to set up a time to talk about your concerns during class.”
- The first scenario might sound something like this:
As you utilize this method with your child, keep in mind that this will be an ongoing process and will never be perfect. It takes continuous effort on both your part as a parent or caregiver and the youth. The method may go more smoothly at times and not so well at other times. Be gentle and forgiving with your child and yourself.
What I can promise you from experience with Chloe is that you will gain a better understanding of your child, their concerns, fears and struggles, and establish a closer bond and relationship.