Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities, Personal Learning

Stepping Into the Light: OCD/Mental Health Awareness

the serious one… the humorous one

the focused… the squirrel chaser

the rule follower… the teenager

the brave 15 year old, who stepped into the light, leaving the elephant in his shadow

the one who has added awareness to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is now 17

my incredible son, Trent

At the age of 15, Trent was just beginning to see life differently… the life he was gifted, not burdened by. The one that he shared responsibility in. The one he was able to take charge of, given the right tools. In 2017, he asked me to talk about “The Elephant in the Room.” He wanted me to share his story. The thing is, he didn’t want me to share it so that I had something to blog about. He didn’t want me to share it so that he could obtain likes and shares within social media. As a matter of fact, not once has he ever even asked me if it was even read.

He simply wanted others to know they were not alone.

Leading up to this point, he had been consumed with thoughts for so long that he had almost forgotten what life was like when he himself could turn it around. The time when he felt a sense of control. As an 8-year-old child, he was in need of skills. The kind of skills that we weren’t prepared to teach him. The kind of skills that would take years of practice. There was no “quick fix.” My teaching background urged me to dial the phone for help, while my husband’s hand wanted to hang it up. Not because he didn’t want to help, but because he only knew how to keep personal worries and concerns to himself. He knew how to push forward with a tough mindset and resiliency. He knew how to break within the privacy of his own space and forge ahead projecting strength, even when he didn’t have it. He thought that it would be the same way for Trent. He thought Trent would grow and be the man we were wanting to raise him to be or more like how we wanted to raise him. Trent would do just that, but in order to get there he needed a different upbringing, different supports.

The elephant was sitting right there, staring at us in full control. He had us running around making everything perfect so Trent wouldn’t hurt. He had us walking on eggshells, just trying to get through a dinner out with family and friends. He had us working overtime to create the “perfect scenario” in hope that Trent would survive the moment, whatever moment that was on that day. He was in charge… not us, not Trent, but the elephant in the room.

Then the day came that my husband knew it was bigger than us and my hand freely reached for the phone once again.

As Trent has aged, he has grown stronger than ever. That is not to say that his life is easy, or without the whack-a-mole effect of OCD, but “the elephant” is no longer his best friend. It is actually not even a friend at all. It is more like an acquaintance. One that passes through, but does not dictate his world. Impacts it, yes. Challenges it, most definitely. Creates walls in place of bridges, yes… but the difference is he knocks them down over and over again. He now takes full advantage of the strength within his OCD, as he knows it will always be a part of his world. Now he finds positive use for it. Obsessing over his grades so that he can maintain high scholastic standing. Obsessing over the next big catch, as fishing eases his mind. Knowing how to distract when OCD wants to gain attention. If you ask him how he got this strong, he will tell you that his family loved him like no other, but that without therapy he would not be able to answer that question to it’s entirety. Therapy has given him a new lease on life, one with conviction and strength. Reaching out to the experts was the best decision we had ever made.

Some ask me, how I handled it as a mom.  How did I “handle” watching my son painfully navigate his world of anxiety.   My reply… the best that I could. That is where I myself took pause. “The best I could!” Was my best enough?  The answer was no. My best could never have brought Trent to where he is today. Yes, I had a background that was very supportive of Trent’s needs, but to truly be the best mom I could be, I needed to see beyond my strengths and value the ones that were one phone call away.  One call away to make an appointment for therapy.  My role as his mom was to give him the opportunity.

As we talked to others about this, we felt the cringe. The secret society that we just entered. The judgement being made in place of support. I’m not sure how or when the term “therapy” became such a cringe-maker in society, but to me it was a gift that I was ready to open.

So I ask you, are you going to be the one that tries to break him by cringing over the topic of therapy? Are you going to be the one spotlighting your “perfections” so that he questions why he is incapable of such a high non-existing standard? Are you going to judge him for being brave enough to share in this very conversation?

Or are YOU going to be the one driven for a better tomorrow by walking alongside my son as he ventures into this world contributing to the society that you helped to create?

Let me ask you something. As an educator do you find yourself opening doors of possibility for others? Do you try to link passion to purpose? Do you try to teach the whole child and then tell others to do it too? Do you speak at conferences about Project Based Learning, Universal Design for Learning, Building Character, Creating Leaders and Making Changes for the Betterment of Education? Do you sit on your own thoughts to stop and listen to others speak so that you can learn more about their WHY, their purpose? Do you take time to network because relationships matter to you? Do you want to be better?

If you said yes to any one of these questions, I ask you then… do you have conversations about the gift of therapy? Do you engage in tough conversations? Do you open yourself up to vulnerability, either to allow your story out or to let someone else’s in?

As long as we lead others to believe that this is a taboo topic, a private conversation, something that we attach shame and guilt to, what good is the rest? What are we really trying to say or not say? Are we truly equipped to function in the society we have helped to build without the supports of those passionate about the whole person, the mind, the balance, the brain, mental illness, social emotional learning and so much more?

In education we do not get a free pass on our impact. We will create an impact and it is up to us if it will be positive or negative. Where do you stand on this? Are you having conversations about self-care, mindfulness, and balance? I am asking you to amplify those conversations… to be courageous. I am asking you to open your heart and mind, and use your ability to make change by having conversations about the importance of therapy. For educators looking to prepare kids for their future role in society, you must do your part to remove the judgement cast. Then and only then can we build up human growth and potential by walking in one’s shoes.

While attending #TeachBetter19 this past weekend, I continued to build my professional growth portfolio, but even more I made incredible friendships. I witnessed a truth and vulnerability like never before among educators. You could feel the sense of comfort, acceptance and care in every room that you walked through. Towards the end, I started to get pulled into private conversations revolving around this topic, the elephant, OCD, mental illness, therapy, and Trent’s bravery. Each conversation came with pain, emotion, emptiness, questioning, and a whisper. Yes, our personal lives are private and we hold these conversations close to our heart, but I am left wondering if we can turn up the volume just a little bit. How has my son found the strength to tell his friends, family, and acquaintances and we are left with a whisper?

As I left the conference I heard my name being called one last time. It was then that I knew my purpose was clearly being conveyed. It was then that I knew I was being seen for the imperfect human I am… and it filled my soul. That’s when they said, “Thank you for being vulnerable, you will never know how much I needed to hear this today.” They went on to say, “you are always smiling and so positive that I would have never known if you wouldn’t have shared. You give me hope.”

I challenge you to follow my 17-year-old son’s lead. I challenge you to share vulnerability. I challenge you to better yourself and others by spotlighting the whole child.

Let’s give HOPE

Personal Learning

Who or What Are You Following?

Conversations buzz around who to follow on Social Media. For educators, that can mean one thing and for other professions, it means another. For those simply socializing, an entirely different perspective is taken. For teenagers, yet another. But the more I think about it, if there is anything in life worth following, it is happiness.

Happiness

Happiness is “the state of being happy.” To be content, pleased, and satisfied. So how is it that so many of us struggle at times to find it? Are we searching for what others have by comparison? Are we searching for an unknown? Have we forgotten what makes us tick? Did we lose ourselves among our responsibilities and obligations? Did we forget what simple joys look and feel like? To know, and appreciate this state of mind, I myself lean into 4 Rs… I must Reflect, Reset, Restore, and Recreate.

Reflect

Reflection is the key foundation to my success in happiness. It is the time that I take to look at where I have been, where I have “traveled” so to speak, what worked, what didn’t, where I went wrong, and hopefully what I got right. It helps me to stop and create meaning around my choices. Let’s face it, they were my choices for the most part. Whether it was an idea, initiative, or my reaction to someone else’s, it was my choice. Note: for some reflecting may not happen until the very end. Some may need to plan backwards to finally reflect for meaning.

Reset

We may think that the logical meaning to reset is to “set again”, but the gift of resetting is that we can do it differently the next time around, which ultimately can lead us to happiness. If that reset button means that I can say no with confidence and without a follow up reason/excuse than I get to make that choice and change. If by hitting that reset button I remind myself that my growth is dependent on the value of how I am saying yes, than that too becomes a major factor in the difference I am looking at for my next chance and opportunity. I am in control of my happiness and resetting my mindset by following up with different choices becomes clearer.

Restore

Restoration is key to the longevity of one’s self. We are not made to take on the world without time to restore our physical and mental well-being. Might I add, this should be done without apology. If we think otherwise, we are failing ourselves and the lives we impact. To restore, we must each find what works for us. Some may simply need a little escape from the pressures that come with life. Others may need to rethink their outside commitments and even pull back on some to restore their commitment to themselves. The important thing to remember is that if we want to accelerate, to truly push ourselves forward into betterment, restoration must exist. The question is, how might that happen for you?

Five Steps to Restoration

  1. Try being alone. For some, that is difficult and for others it is die-hard me time. Alone time is your time. Your choice. Your voice. Make time for you!
  2. Open your eyes to what is around you. Find the good. Something that speaks to you. Find that sense of joy right there in the midst of your chaos. It is there… look!
  3. Not to overdue the obvious, but exercise. I can’t jog anymore due to surgery years ago on my leg, but I can take a bike ride, a power walk, even a little skip counting with a jump rope. Figure out what you can do and match that up with what you love to do and the power of restoration is moving ahead. Note: I love to dance and last weekend when I was at a wedding, it reminded me of just how much. The joy, the freedom and the smile that engulfed my face reminded everyone around me of how happiness was right there within my reach.
  4. Never underestimate the power of therapy. We were not made imperfect by mistake or accident. Think about that for a minute. In addition, we each made a choice to venture into our own expertise. So why not embrace the expert? The one that has devoted time and attention to their field. Friends are fabulous soundboards and closely coveted experts on our own lives, but therapist are unique to their profession of human understanding. Did you know they are required by law to have their own therapist due to the impact of their profession? So why is it we as educators, spouses, friends, parents, think that we have to navigate life all on our own? My betterment is dependent on knowing when I am maxed out. Part of restoring that balance in myself is by seeing a therapist that in turn helps me to reset what doesn’t always happen through an isolated perspective of my own.
  5. Grace is a gift and one that we must have on others and ourselves. Do not take it lightly, but hold on to it and feel the immense impact of it. Then, when you see that others are in need, give it away. Have grace.

Recreate

Time to set a goal! Now, write it down… in PEN or even permanent marker! Commit yourself to YOU! In order to achieve this goal you will need a plan. Part of that plan will be to practice, just like anything else we do to be better… we must form better habits. “Readjust.” “Swing the bat differently.” YOU ARE WORTH IT! Now, find your people or person. The one that will rally around you and remind you that you actually should come first in order to be your best for others. Reality check… do you really think that you are your best for others when you are spent to the core? Come on, now! Let’s get real! It’s the whole oxygen ask moment… put yours on first in order to help others! Last, print out a 2 week calendar or put a remind in your phone, but you need to check in and cross off when you have accomplished a step in your recreation.

You Got This! I Believe In You! I am Your Fan In the Stand! Follow YOUR Happiness!

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Maya Angelou