Child and Adolescent Mental Wellness

A couple of weeks back, a pilot of a commercial airliner, while in flight, experienced cardiac arrest and died. With the assistance of his co-pilot and the jet’s built-in autopilot system, the plane was fortunately guided down safely onto the tarmac without incident (so skillfully, in fact, that the passengers were surprised to learn about the events upon landing).

Autopilot serves a great purpose when it is needed. In our daily lives, our own built-in autopilot system allows us to carry out umpteen routine tasks without having to think critically through each and every step. But occasionally, the autopilot can get stuck in the “On” position in my life, and I find myself with the realization that I’ve been functioning for the last 10 minutes, lost in thought or “daydreaming.”

One of the most common reports of children with ADD/ADHD is that they are constantly “off in another world” when they should be completing the seatwork their teacher assigned. In adults and children with ADD/ADHD, getting “side-tracked” is commonplace. Staying on task is a huge task in and of itself, because the autopilot keeps grabbing the controls out of the pilot’s hands and taking the jet off in a different direction.

But those dealing with ADD/ADHD are not the only ones who are frequently lost in thought. People who are under various stresses in their lives are also very prone to “zoning out.” Anxieties of all sorts consist of turning thoughts and concerns over and over in the mind, regarding the past, the present and worries about the future. While attention is on those thoughts, it cannot at the same time, be directed to the task at hand. The result is that you are robbed of the joy of expeiencing the beauty of the details of life. Unaware of what is happening in the world around you at that particular moment, you miss out on life. A walk outside is just that: a walk. A drive to work is the same old, same old. Soon, pretty much everything in your day is dull, routine, humdrum, and gets to be downright depressing.

Indeed, Depression holds captive your life in a similar way. Thoughts are turned right off, there is a deadening of mindfulness, a retreat deep into the cloak of self. Joy is found in few, if any, places.

The common thread here, lies in the loss of mindfulness, a lack of intentional, mindful awareness. Being mindful of everything happening in my world at any given moment is what enables me to experience new and fresh facets of life that energize and inspire me. As I sit and write this at this moment, two stunning yellow finches have just touched down outside my window. As I study their depth of colour, I realize one is a male and one is a female. They are so tiny! So precious. I am delighted by them. In my past, when deep in anxiety or depression and living in a perpetual state of unawareness of the many goings-on in the world right around me, my mindset would have prevented me from noticing how spectacular these two adorable little birds were.

Mindset matters. I will have a whole lot more to share about mindfulness in the future, but for now, if you are wanting to gain back control of your thoughts, to disengage the autopilot mechanism that may be robbing you of the moment by moment joys to be had in life, then know this: mindset matters. Deeply.

{ 0 comments }

Imagine being born without arms.   No arms to wrap around someone, no hands to experience touch, or to hold another hand with. Or what about being born without legs? Having no ability to dance, walk, run, or even stand on two feet.   Now put both of those scenarios together: no arms and no legs. What would you do? How would that effect your everyday life?

nick-vujicic Here’s Nick Vujicic, a man with no arms, no legs, and one incredibly inspirational attitude. Take a look at his outlook on life (see video clip below):

For more on Nick Vujicic, visit https://www.attitudeisaltitude.com.

{ 1 comment }

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are terms that are often confusing to people, as the phrases are frequently used interchangeably. What do they mean, and is there a difference between them? [read: ADHD vs ADD…]

{ 0 comments }

It all began when I was 9 years old and I choked on a piece of meat.

Fortunately, my Dad, sprang into action and dislodged the obstruction from my throat. Having now been turned off the rest of my dinner, I was excused from the table.

Consciously I was a little shaken up by the incident, but the days and weeks to follow revealed a deep trauma that had actually occurred within me. When I attempted to eat anything solid, my throat clamped shut like a spring-hinge. Feeling not terribly hungry anyway, I resorted to liquids (juice, water, and creamy soups with no big lumps). After about three weeks of this, I began to be quite hungry, and the notion came over me that I could handle boiled chicken.

“Boiled chicken?” my Mom questioned back. “Who eats boiled chicken!” But she knew that anything crispy, hard or dry would be simply repelling to me, so she boiled me up some tender chicken, which I mashed a little and managed to swallow without too much difficulty. Eventually I must have eased back into eating anything and everything, but I was soon to discover that a change had come over me, outside of eating, that would paralyze and immobilize me unexpectedly for the next 19 years to come.

I grew up always fearful of being focused on and picked on publicly, and had always felt uneasy in situations where there was the potential for someone to point and laugh at me. I had been the butt of jokes and the recipient of public mockings at the hand of someone I had trusted deeply to protect me. I had not realized, at the time, the degree to which I had become petrified of being singled out and put down. Following the choking incident, panic started coming over me in certain situations, when I was out in public. It didn’t happen all the time, and so I never could predict its arrival, which made it all the scarier for me.

The panic attacks continued, ninja-style, unannounced, throughout all of my teens and most of my twenties, until I was twenty-eight years of age.

By that time, I had built up a significant wall (no, it was more like a fortress) behind which to hide, so that no one could see the real me. I was unaware of this wall, but took every measure, sub-consciously, to have it on duty at all times. It was not a conscious decision I had come up with, to conceal myself. It was a built-in, natural defense mechanism to protect me from future public, verbal scourgings. My psyche had determined that protecting me was of life-or-death importance, so the stakes were very high.

Now, to a rational, self-aware human being, it would appear logical that being embarrassed publicly would not result in death or anything near death. After all, what is the worst that could happen? You’d feel like an idiot and then move on, right? Pretty simple.

The trouble was, I was not self-aware, and so lived in the grip of terror, not knowing what was inducing the fear, or why. Panic Disorder involves the triggering of the body’s autonomic system, releasing adrenalin and other hormones into the system in preparation for the body’s fight-or-flight from a perceived perilous situation. When real danger is present, the body needs to be able to react with beyond-normal speed, strength and intuitiveness. Yet when the danger is merely perceived, the body receives the same signal from the brain, that triggers the same amount of adrenalin as in a truly perilous situation, but because it is not really needed, the amount of the hormone arrives in overdose quantity, sending a chain reaction to all the body systems, elevating the heartrate, and sending power to all the extremeties, so that the person can run, kick, fight, and in any way, get away. Blood, and hence, oxygen, are borrowed from the brain, the heart, the lungs and from any organ that can surrender it temporarily, leaving pounding heart, shortness of breath, and the inability to think straight in the moment.

And all this, because of a perceived danger, that the unconscious mind has picked up on, but to which the conscious mind is not privy.

One thing is certain: the unconscious mind, responsible for all of this, believes there is something HUGE at stake, that is life-threatening. My task was to figure out what that was, so I could reprogram my mind to process the same situation as non-life-threatening.

The answer for me came about all quite by accident. I had sat with several Christian women to whom I had grown very close and trusted deeply, and during one of our times together, we were sharing about how transparency in relationships enables the iron closet of hidden secrets to be purged, the conscience to be cleansed, forgiveness to be sought, and relationship bonds to be strengthened. We all shared, one by one, about the deepest, darkest, most rotten, dirty little secrets we had stored up in ourselves throughout our lives. Assured that this was how I could deepen my relationship with God and find forgiveness for what I had done not only to humans but also to Christ, I poured out every last detail I could think of, of every single moment I had lived. The cleansing felt unbelievably scary, but I had no idea at the time that the reward would be as monumental as it turned out to be.

It was perhaps months down the road before I began noticing that certain settings that would have triggered a panic attack in the past, were no longer doing so. I continued to walk in my new mindset of transparency, allowing who I truly was to be seen, so nothing new would get stashed away, guarded inside any locked and hidden pressure-cooker like before. Miraculously, no panic attack every struck again.

What I will say, though, is that there have been moments when I have felt the precursors to a panic attack….that uneasy, tense and guarded feeling of high-alert and an unreasonable sense of fear (in comparison to the real danger at hand) when I have been in certain public situations. As soon as I picked up on those signals, I stopped immediately and consciously removed the protective guard, that mask that I hid behind for so many years, and allowed myself to be consciously vulnerable to potential embarrassment and even deep humiliation. What if someone laughs at me? What if I make a complete moron of myself? What if people look down on me and gossip about me? What is the worst that will happen?

This self-awareness and willingness to be completely transparent now calms me profoundly. I let the embarrassment in, picturing myself opening the front door and letting the wind flow right through me, and right out the open back door. I no longer lock and latch and press on that front door, trying with everything in me to keep the intruder of humiliation out. I now invite it in, like a best friend, to come an linger inside me and spend time with me. The more I invite it, though, the less power it has over me, and it slips quietly out the back door.

If you or someone you know has ever existed in the prison of fear, dread or panic, whether fear of heights, fear of flying, fear of anything perceived or real, I welcome you to visit the site of Dr. Reid Wilson, who has a free program on overcoming fear, Panic Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. You can work on the online program at home, at your own pace. I applaud him for continuing to make this resource free. It speaks of his commitment to being a great humanitarian first and foremost, by helping as many fear-crippled people as he can. His site, anxieties.com, is located at www.anxieties.com.

{ 0 comments }

As the parent of a child with special needs, I soon discovered that my child was not the only one with the special needs. [read more – Special Needs Parents…]

{ 0 comments }

There is good news and bad news in receiving the results of a special education assessment. [read more: Finding a Children’s Psychologist…]

{ 0 comments }