Thursday, October 25, 2012

Shedding the Masks

Boo!  It’s Halloween, the time to put on a mask while facing all the other masked boogie men hiding in the dark.  Regardless of how you may feel about Halloween, it is interesting to ponder how the rituals around this day parallel our daily lives. Many of us live with and are governed by our many fears, for example, the fear of the unknown, our mortality, what others may think, and how we are measuring up to the world’s standards.  In order to cope, we don, what we feel is an acceptable mask to interface with the world.  It is very uncomfortable to wear a mask and a costume all day so when we arrive home we stuff ourselves full of candy, or something else we find satisfying, to relieve our anxiety and reward ourselves for making it through yet another day without being seen for whom we really are….or so we think.

Interestingly, the young child is exquisitely genuine.  They say what they think without editing their thoughts or their words.  If you ask them their opinion they will indeed tell you the truth.  In our attempts to socialize them unfortunately we sometimes teach them that they are not okay being who they are. Eventually they too don a mask and costume and endure the cumbersome weight of being inauthentic.  It is very tricky business to socialize a child while allowing them to be themselves and accepting them for all their quirks and imperfections.  I think this process is particularly difficult for the parent of a child with disabilities.

 Parents desperately want their children to be accepted and happy. In our attempts to make this happen we often inadvertently send messages to the child that they are flawed, weak, incapable and powerless.  There are no easy answers for this conundrum but hopefully the following tips will provide you with some food for thought.

Tips for empowering special needs children:

  • Evaluate your feelings about your child and their disability.  Have you really accepted their disability or are you, due to your own grief process, still trying to fix your child and make them better?
  • Seek support.  The process of accepting the loss of your dream of the perfect child is extraordinarily painful.  Many parents will deny that this is difficult but their denial speaks to their lack of acceptance of their loss.  As a result of the denial one is unable to truly meet the needs of their child. The process of truly accepting your child’s disabilities is difficult.  There are many others who have experienced this path who have developed support groups. They, as well as counselors, are eager to assist you.  Take the time to find them and nourish yourself.
  • Allow your child the gift of struggle and failure.  It is through struggle that we grow strong and through failure that we learn.  A child with a disability needs an enormous amount of strength.  If we hover or attempt to anticipate our child’s every need, we disempower them and send the message that they are weak and can’t possibly make it in the world without us.
  • Focus on your child’s strengths and gifts. 
  • Enjoy your child.  Slow down and give your child and yourself the time needed to explore the world and rejuvenate.  Sit down and play with your young child without teaching or directing their play.  Sit with an older child and wait and see if they will invite you to join them in their activity.  If not, just quietly sit with them.  Do this on a regular basis and observe how powerful an experience this can be in strengthening your child’s sense of self and your relationship with them.
  • Be honest with your child about their disability. By not being honest and not discussing the disability you foster shame.  You are giving your child the message that there is something to fear and hide.
  • Seek authenticity in your own life’s journey.  Shed the masks and costumes and relish in your flaws, gifts, and idiosyncrasies.  These so called imperfections are the foundation of your uniqueness and when you allow them to be visible to the world you become exquisitely unique, likeable and approachable.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bipolar Disorder

  I work with children and adults who struggle with mental illness on a daily basis. I am frequently surprised at the degree of misconception there is about mental illness and its impact on the individual and their loved ones.  It is extremely difficult to cope with the symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other disorders.  Unfortunately, many if not all clients, also suffer due to harsh judgment that accompanies the misconceptions about these disorders.  Recently I received the following letter from one of my clients. She is an amazing woman who just so happens to suffer with Bipolar Disorder.  Thankfully, she has found her voice and is no longer hiding under guilt and shame. I would like to share her letter with you and encourage you to “Say it Forward” in an effort to promote understanding and empathy rather than judgment of those who are suffering.

International Bipolar Foundation ( has created "Say it Forward", an email campaign, as a way to educate as many as possible about mental illness. Stigma is an unfortunate reality for those who suffer from mental illness, and the cause of stigma is ignorance. There are a lot of misconceptions about mental illness and those who have it. Read on and learn - it will only take a few minutes but you can really make a difference in someone's life by better understanding them. Then, help me to "Say it Forward" and send this on to as many as you can. Together we can make a difference!


Myth #1: Psychiatric disorders are not true medical illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. People who have a mental illness are just "crazy."
Fact: Brain disorders, like heart disease and diabetes, are legitimate medical illnesses. Research shows there are genetic and biological causes for psychiatric disorders, and they can be treated effectively.

Myth #2: People with a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, are usually dangerous and violent.
Fact: Statistics show that those who suffer from mental illness are much more likely to be the victim of a crime than the perpetrator.

Myth #3: If you have a mental illness, you can "will" it away. Being treated for a psychiatric disorder means an individual has in some way "failed" or is weak.
Fact: A serious mental illness cannot be willed away. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away, either. It takes courage to seek professional help.

Myth #4: Mental illnesses do not affect children or adolescents. Any problems they have are just a part of growing up.
Fact: Children and adolescents can develop severe mental illness. In the United States, one in ten children and adolescents has a mental disorder severe enough to cause impairment. However, only about 20 percent of these children receive needed treatment.

Myth #5: People who complete suicide are weak or flawed.
Fact: Suicide can be the unfortunate result of failing to get treatment and support. Having a mental illness is painful, and society does not do enough to support and understand these individuals. Stigma is a huge barrier to receiving the treatment that is necessary to live a fulfilling life with a mental illness.

Myth #6: I don't know anyone who has a mental illness.
Fact: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in every 4 people, or 25% of individuals, develops one or more mental disorders at some stage in life. Globally, it is estimated that 450 million people suffer from mental disorders.

Thank you so much for educating yourself by reading this email. Now you can do your part to end stigma and "Say it Forward"! Say It Forward