Jessie vs Mental Illness – To the Victor Go the Spoils

mentalMental illness has been such a destructive force for Jessie, that has seen her life stripped back to the bare bones. She became unable to cope with human contact and attending school became altogether too much for her. Living in the dark of her bedroom, she came out only for food or the bathroom. She shut right down and pretty much closed herself off to the world for close on 12 months.

Her re-emergence has been a slow and gradual process, but she’s been able to do it in her own time. Because of this, she’s been able to create strong foundations for herself. No-one has built them for her, she’s put in all the hard work, making them pretty sturdy. Her time’s been well spent researching all about bipolar and anxiety as well as positive coping techniques. Jessie’s level of insight into herself and others is amazing and is continuing to grow.

♥ After refusing professional help for many years, appointments are now requested, willingly attended and well utilised.

♥ After being fired from a job at 14 because she was too quiet and shy, she’s now making new friends where she works in customer service. She has to deal with all types of pesky people, some of them quite rude. Just the other night we we’re talking about how resilient it’s helping her become.

♥ After missing probably half of her education since Year 4, being educated at home has allowed Jessie to get back into her studies. She plodded along for the most part but I’ve spoken with 2 teachers who have both said how much things have changed over the last 6 months.

mentalI’d been contacted a few weeks ago as Jessie had won a Principal’s award for her mockumentary she made for English. I was also told that her gothic poem has been printed in the Year Book! That was a good day, made even better seeing Jessie really happy as well. I haven’t seen her outwardly care about her results like that for a long time.

Last week I had a call and a letter to say Jessie was getting another award and could we attend Presentation Day so she can “be presented with her ‘portfolio’ of awards”, whatever that means. It sounds impressive but we joked it could be a plastic sleeve folder with one award. …’To be added to’!

The icing on the cake for Jessie was being accepted into a talent academy. It’s such an awesome opportunity for her and who knows what doors it could open. This will give her training and exposure to agents, and she’s really excited but keeping her feet firmly on the ground. I’ve been receiving emails from Star Now for a few years. The interest’s been there, just not the self esteem.

I’m so rapt that she finally has the confidence to be moving out of her comfort zone. It shows that mental illness no longer holds the monopoly. It hasn’t gone away, but Jessie knows her triggers and symptoms and has a good grasp of her emotions. She’s learning to control the symptoms of her mental illness, instead of them controlling her. And she so deserves these outcomes.

She’s said to me that she’s waiting for it all to fall apart because things don’t go this well for her. Luck has had nothing to do with her academic achievements I reassured her  – they have come from her decision to put the effort in. Her acceptance into the talent academy was due to her creativity and the immediate impression she made at the audition. Jessie has her own green screen and has starred in her own short movies for years. She has earned loads of merit awards throughout  her school years for her stories and poetry. Writing is something she has always enjoyed, even when not engaged in school.

I’m so proud of the person she is becoming. I’m feeling more and more confident that she’s not only going to be okay, she’s going to be awesome. Even during her last full on manic episode where she didn’t sleep for two days, she decided to use it to her benefit. She washed all her bedding, did a big clear out of her wardrobe and drawers, tidied and cleaned her room and did a week’s worth of schoolwork. She was so productive which I think helped her keep it together. By having tasks to focus on, her energy was directed instead of being scattered.

It takes great courage, determination and inner strength to overcome the challenges Jessie has faced in her young life. Like an iceberg, people only see what’s above the surface. However what’s unseen is the largest part of the equation. People like to make judgement on what they see, presuming they understand and are therefore entitled to do so. Jessie’s learning to recognise her worth and not allow others to undermine her achievements. Unlike her mum, others opinions no longer affect her so negatively and this is going to help her immensely in life.

The harder the struggle, the more glorious the triumph.




An Inspired Jessie Is Hard To Stop

inspiredSeeing Jessie’s comfort zone expand this year is something I’m loving. I’m equally loving the person she’s discovering herself to be. She’s been inspired being in Year 10, and as such her motivation levels have increased. The effort she is putting into her schoolwork is paying off with encouraging grades ranging between 83 and 100 percent. Her English teacher rang last week to ask if Jessie’s poetry could be published in the end of year book. Jessie gave her permissions with a smile. *Proud Mum*

Being strong willed, determined and switched on can be positive traits when used constructively. Jessie is all those things in abundance. For her to catch that pendulum on the constructive side, and hang on to it all term, is a celebratory feat. Being inspired is bringing out her best.

She is making plans for her future and looking at how she can get there. Initially she had decided to do the extra assessment tasks to receive her ROSA. Having completed all but one section of one, she is rethinking that now unfortunately. We need to talk to her career advisor and check what her best study pathway is, as there are many these days. As long as she is motivated and enthusiastic, I’ll be happy with whatever she decides to do. Most of her schoolwork bores her, so she will thrive if she can find something she’s interested in.

Full-time enrolment at her distance ed high school has now been applied for by Jessie’s home school. It was never expected that Jessie would return there, however temporary enrolment was the administrative rule. Being so impressed with her efforts, distance ed are more than happy to grant her upgrade! I’m told that for kids similar to Jessie, her consistency and standard of work isn’t usual.

inspiredThis year has also seen Jessie reconnect with those few who have proven to be her closest friends. Seeing and hearing her relating, sharing, caring, having fun and belly laughing again is heartwarming. There are so many things we take for granted when our kids aren’t struggling! I think I enjoy her friends staying over nearly as much as Jessie does. She has great taste in homosapiens, being a special one herself, and having that energy bouncing around is lovely.

This year has also seen Jessie inspired and return to tennis lessons which is a big move. She has not missed a lesson and it’s a sport she looks forward to each week. The coach tells me that she’s formed new friendships over the term. He’s also impressed with her ‘wicked’ forehand! She’s been playing on and off with this coach for many years now, and I’m so glad it is safe place that she is comfortable returning to.

Despite the fact that she still spends the majority of her time in her room, the changes in her suggest a growing sense of confidence. She’s slowly widening her world again as she’s feeling more like a friend to herself than an enemy.


“Believe you can and you’re halfway there”

– Theodore Roosevelt


really scared

I’m Really Scared Mum. They’re So Loud…

really scared“I’m really scared Mum. I keep hearing all these voices, like I’m in a big crowd of people talking. They’re so loud and I can’t sleep.”

It’s 2.35am Friday 26th February 2017 and I’d been in a deep sleep. Tired, and voice trembling, Jessie’s standing at the side of my bed.

The voices won’t shut up. She’s hearing other sounds outside and doesn’t know if they’re real or not. Understandably, she’s frightened and confused. I tell her to jump into bed with me as I’m half asleep and dazed myself. In the past it’s always comforted her and given her a good sleep. She’s nearly 15 though, and wanted to go back to her own bed – she just wanted everyone else to go to sleep too.

This week has been a particularly difficult one for Jessie. The high of a sleepover on the weekend plummeted Sunday night although a manic component remained. All scissors had been hidden last week due to powerful urges to cut off her hair being back. Her appreciation of that fact was commented on.

really scaredWhile I was out cleaning my brother’s place, I’d missed numerous calls from Jessie. My phone rang again as I turned off the vacuum cleaner. It was Jessie, bawling hysterically whilst trying to talk. ‘Cut’ and ‘scissors’ was all I could decipher and I FREAKED! *I thought she was saying that she’d cut herself and there was blood everywhere!!! Brain spinning, I had to remain outwardly calm and reassuring while in my mind I was seriously thinking ‘I need a Police escort so I can fly home.’

I asked her if she needed an ambulance then told her to get a towel and wrap it up tight. She must’ve thought I’d really lost it this time, because as it turns out, it was her hair she had cut. We’d missed a pair of sewing scissors. If only I’d heard her first call. But I didn’t. And when things go to shit, you make compost and watch something brand new grow.

So after a big hug, a cry and a talk (or mainly a listen for me), I suggested we go to the hairdresser and have her hair styled. Not only that, we found out where we can donate her hair. It’ll be made into a wig for kids who have lost their hair because of illness. Jessie’s coped so well and willingly made something positive out of what was a devastating experience for her. Beautiful.

really scaredLast night I was in my room and she came and sat on my bed and we talked. She was really scared and worried. The sound of voices was really loud and she could feel someone next to her. The voices don’t talk to Jessie, but the way she described it reminded of the noise in a really busy pub. You know, where you can’t hear the person next to you for all the loud conversation around you? When you’re out with your mates getting drunk that might be okay, but when you’re 14 and at home trying to do schoolwork or sleep it’s a bit much.

With other sounds and voices, not knowing if they’re real or not is making her really scared as well. She said she’s frightened about what is happening to her. Naturally, she needs it to stop.

With her thoughts come fear for her too. As she said, if she can cut off her hair which she really loved, what else could they make her do? We’ve battled cutting her hair for six or more months now. Jessie asks a reasonable question. That she comes to me because I am her rock and hold all the answers is an honour to hear. To have to admit that I don’t have the answers for her on this one, was the regrettable response I had to give. But, I was thinking just now that she already knows I don’t have all the answers. However she does know that I will find out and that I will do what it takes to get the best solution for her. Maybe that’s all she needs…not perfection.

really scaredAll I could do at the time was increase her Seroquel dose and talk to her about the strength of her mind. I really do believe that she needs the antipsychotics to allow her a quiet mind. This isn’t something inconsequential. I do also think it’s worth a try practicing standing up to that noise and those voices. My theory is that it’s somewhat a conquest of power. This may actually be the only circumstance in which I not only endorse but encourage bullying. When the voices are loud, they have the power. Your voice becomes muted. Unmute your voice, take back some power. Get louder and louder, taking back more and more power. By doing that, and bullying the voices into submission, in theory, should quieten, if not mute, them.

Jessie’s going to test it out. We’ll see how effective or otherwise the power of one’s own voice can be in this particular situation.

really scared

*Does your child’s most frightening behaviour remain your default fear and assumption? 

I ask this question after my reaction to Jessie’s state and the only words I could pick out. In hindsight, the cutting of hair wasn’t a new urge. I heard ‘cut’ and ‘scissors’, however didn’t consider the possibility she had cut her hair. I deducted that she had self harmed and frightened herself. Was it purely the level of panic and distress in her voice? I’ve never wanted to be somewhere else instantly so desperately before…

little steps

The Little Steps That Mean Big Things

little stepsWe’ve had a surprisingly positive start to the year. The little steps Jessie has decided to take, mean so much more than just the actions themselves. To read that Jessie had finished her first day of schoolwork, on the first day of school, before I got home at lunchtime that day, doesn’t sound huge. But for us, it is. And we’ve had a few of them.

Getting Jessie to complete all schoolwork – and with some effort – was a bit of a battle towards the end of last year. With only being required to complete 12 weeks work, I had expected that. As contradictory as I know that sounds, it’s strangely not. Over the Christmas holidays she kept saying she didn’t care about school. So I was dreading the start of Year 10. It was such a massive relief to get home and see work completed on day one. I was SO proud of Jessie. Each days work has continued to be completed and I’m loving her sharing what she is learning with me.

little stepsEducation was something we’d talked about a lot on different occasions, for which I was ‘finger waggled’ by Jessie’s counsellor. I have to work out my own boundaries though. I’d explained to Jessie how important Year 10 is to her future. Without it she would find it hard to go to TAFE, which she wants to do next year. But I went on to say that she is the only one who can achieve what she wants out of life. I can’t force her to study, I can’t force her to do the best she can – she is the only one that can make that choice.

Sometimes Jessie needs a reality check. I’m happy with the balance I’ve found with her however it can be a fine line at times. Naturally I want her to have a better life than the life I’ve been able to provide her, opportunity wise. Plus I’d love her not to meet her future partner in the queue at the dole office!

She is busily planning her future in education though, so something got through. The current goal is to do nursing. She’s put a lot of effort into researching how she can achieve her goal, and is communicating with the Career Advisor from school. That’s another little step meaning big things. Last year she refused to communicate at all with her teachers. This contact is via email, but still, it’s contact! So at this stage she wants to do a Diploma of Nursing at TAFE next year. Apparently she needs to be 16 to attend uni, so will apply to uni the following year. She has it all thought out. Here it comes again – the mum happy dance with disco moves!!

Back tracking a little to the start of the school holidays. I’d accepted the fact that we were having Christmas without Jessie. It wasn’t a good sign as to where she was at. I saw it that way anyway. I’d begun to worry that her isolation might go on for years as it does with Hikikomori. In my eyes that would be disastrous.

little stepsBut the first little steps were made early on this year. And they have continued. Jessie had a couple of friends stay over in the holidays. She ventured up to the shops, they went swimming, we went to the beach. She’s even come with a close friend to her Nanna and Pop’s a couple of times. They went swimming there and another time played tennis. It’s the most time she’s spent outdoors in over 12 months.

Jessie is back at tennis, which she is really enjoying and looks forward to each week. I’ve always asked if she’d like to go back at the start of each term, and her response this time was unexpected and definite.

She’s coming out of her room more and more to talk to me. I’m loving her communicating her trust and faith in me. It’s pretty special that my girl, who can be quite unwell at times, puts me on a pedestal. She’s chosen to re-engage with her mental health care team and is proactive in her own daily management of her issues.

Jessie’s growing up and I’m seeing the strong foundations of an incredibly aware, balanced and empathetic young woman building. I couldn’t ask for more.

This has taught me to always have hope – you never know what’s next.

Little steps, one foot in front of the other… 

little steps


Life Raising A Bipolar Child/Teen

raisingI’ve been asked to write an article on what it’s like raising a child with bipolar. With so many complexities involved I’m having trouble deciding where to start.

It’s been seven years since Jessie first began experiencing overwhelming emotions and raging tempers. Those years have been a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s been exhausting, distressing, trying, heartbreaking, intense, humorous, enlightening, complicated, stressful and confronting.

raisingI like this meme. It’s true! But on a bad day it makes me laugh, even if it’s a just a chuckle on the inside. I’m getting better and better at this negotiation with swinging moods and thought processes, however there are still times when I go on strike. Well I try.

Unfortunately there’s no-one to take over, so even on strike, I’m always on high alert. That speaks a lot about my personality though. I worry too much about the what-ifs. Worrying is not only counter-productive, it chews up much needed energy. Despite knowing this, it’s my number one barrier to a peaceful mind. Accepting the fact that I no longer have control is something I’ve struggled with. Having to let go and realise that Jessie’s life is actually hers now, is hard! I want to fix everything, I wish I could. But I can’t. Jessie needs to find her own way, and learn to work things out for herself. Being so protective, it can be upsetting for me to take that step back at times.

raisingJessie’s aggression and verbal abuse was incredibly difficult to cope with in the first few years. The work I’ve put in to learning about what is happening for Jessie, along with teaching her new skills, has seen that aggression almost dissipate. She is now 14 and it’s been three years since I’ve required Police assistance. It’s been three years since she has been sectioned by Police under the Mental Health Act.

Communication is now our strength instead of being our downfall. It has taken time, but I have no doubt it has enabled us to move on in a positive direction from such tumultuous times.

With growing maturity Jessie is also taking responsibility for herself. We’ve both learnt the importance of repair after an argument. A big part of that is forgiveness – forgiveness for self and the other party. With Jessie now feeling safe with her emotions, she is able to apologise if she has been rude or has snapped at me. She also has an acute sense of empathy which she is becoming more and more comfortable showing. Taking blame out of picture changes the whole dynamic, it’s amazing.

Raising a child with bipolar has been life changing. I have learnt so much about myself and so much about how to be the best parent I can be. Jessie is a quirky kid and has expanded my mind with her thoughts and experiences. As much as times can still be difficult, I actually think most of that comes from societies perception that our life is not ‘normal’. These labels apply pressure to get your child back into a ‘normal’ life – but who is to say what is normal?

Perfection is not a requirement for love in my heart.



Who Cares for the Carer?

caresWho cares for the carer? It’s a good question. Raising children with mental health issues, it’s not often something we think about. All our efforts go into parenting and dealing with the daily issues or stresses associated with mental health conditions. We are usually the last person we think about, if we consider ourselves at all.

Why is that? Do you tell yourself you don’t have the time or the money? Does it make you feel guilty doing something positive for yourself while your child is struggling? Whatever the reason, it’s a faulty way of thinking that we can change.

We are the rock for our kids, we need to be the strongest we can be. At some carespoint that rock is going to crack without regular self care. When I first began learning to take time for myself amidst the chaos of daily life, it was suggested I make a Safety Plan. It’s simply a list of things to do when life is not going so well and I’m feeling really stressed with Jessie.

When the brain is acutely stressed we can’t think clearly. The idea of the safety plan is to give some written direction and respite in those occasions of extreme crisis. It takes you away from the potentially unsafe situation and allows you time out to calm down. In turn it is hoped that the risk of harm to yourself or others (physically, emotionally or mentally) is greatly reduced.

My daughter read my articles last week  about her early onset bipolar. She told me how she was glad that she went through that really violent time when she was younger. Her reasoning was that she is only getting bigger and could have really hurt someone if she was an older teen or an adult.  Even at 12 her strength in her rages was overpowering. De-escalation before it gets to that point is a skill Jessie now has and uses. As we use our Safety Plans and learn to de-escalate, it eventually starts to have a flow on effect.

caresThe simplicity of the Plan is what makes it so effective. If you are no calmer after the doing the first thing on your list, you go to the next, etc, etc. If you get to the end of your list and you’re still feeling wound up, start from the top and work your way down your list again. Do this as many times as you need.

Make your Plan personal for you. Remember it is NOT for goal setting, Don’t add going for a jog if it’s something you think you should do, but never do. Don’t leave out having a cigarette if you’re a smoker. This is about indulgence! Anything that could cause us to feel like we’ve failed at something is categorically forbidden!!

Include activities that are practical and doable in any moment. Add between 10-15 activities. Choose things to do that you enjoy and that will have a calming effect. Keep it on the fridge or somewhere where you can’t miss it as a chaotic mind is likely to forget you even have it. This I know from experience!

As time moves forward you can alter your plan to add new hobbies or delete old caresones. My Safety Plan is still in use, although I now call it my Self-Care Plan as I feel safer now with less volatile and distressing times. I have so much more confidence in myself as a parent than I’ve had in preceding years. I must admit it could do with an update. You will find that the more you use your plan, it will become second nature and will not require as much consultation. Still, it’s a handy tool to always have.

To give an idea of what a Safety Plan can look like, this is my original list;

  • sit on my balcony and have a cigarette
  • make a cup of tea, sit outside and be grateful for my garden
  • do some work in my garden
  • smile and think of things I’m grateful for
  • sit on my bed and do a quick meditation
  • read over my Tuning Into Teens course books
  • call Mum
  • play HayDay
  • write in my journal
  • contact a friend
  • call Parenting Line  1300 1300 52
  • call Lifeline 13 11 14

Smiling and feeling grateful has an amazing effect on mood. It really does make you feel more positive. Try it, and if your mood doesn’t lift, smile for longer, be grateful for something smaller (could be as simple as being grateful the sun is shining).

So, who cares for the carer? The answer is you.




Giving Kids Language Around Emotions

Language is the most powerful tool we have. 

 Language gives us the means to:

• communicate our thoughtslanguage
express our feelings
ask for what we need
• learn
• teach
• understand
• belong

Take a long, deep breath in through your nose…and slowly exhale.

Imagine you are in a tiny space, about the size of….you. There are no windows and it’s dark and usually stormy. The door seems to be stuck closed and you can’t get out. The thunder is so sudden and deafening. The lightning strikes so bright and frightening. The air is becoming thick and clammy. Fear starts taking over. Then you start fearing the fear. Claustrophobia starts to set in…

This is too much, you need to get out! You NEED to get out!! You can hear people out there. Your breathing is fast and feeling laboured. You think you are pleading with them for help, but all they can hear is the storm. You are begging, crying. You just need someone to open the door, even just a bit. But all they hear is the thunder. All they see is the lightning. There’s only one way you’re getting out of there – and that’s to explode. With that comes collateral damage, but at the time there doesn’t seem to be any other option.

Now imagine you have language and are simply able to say, “The storm’s getting too much in here. Could someone please open the door for me? It seems to be stuck and I can’t open it on my own today.”

languageThat’s my analogy on what it’s like for kids who have mood disorders before they learn language around it. Jessie grew up with me reminding her to use her words, but she didn’t ever have the intensity of emotion she grew to have. When emotions hit the red zone for Jessie, she used to become extremely abusive and aggressive. Those feelings can be consuming, confusing and frightening for adults. Children can find them even more so as they simply don’t have the maturity or understanding to handle it.

As parents, with the right tools, we can empower our kids with positive language skills.

We started off with a sealed jar of water with coloured glitter in it. It’s purpose was to encourage Jessie to recognise when she was escalating. It then gave her a means to communicate that to me in a more positive manner. The jar sat on the kitchen bench. She would go to it and furiously shake the jar and say through gritted teeth, “my glitter is all over the place!!”. The colourful glitter would flutter around in the water, taking her focus off the blackness of her mood. Jessie used that until the glitter had no more colour. It was well used and very effective.

We then had an emotion chart that I put on the fridge. It was for both of us, so we could let each other know where we were at. We had a magnet each and would place it in the relevant quadrangle. Jessie used this willingly as well. Kids want to have a better outlet, just as much as they need it.

self harm

There are so many emotion charts to choose from online. Click here for some examples on Google. They are a fabulous teaching tool, because it requires the kids to read through the emotion names to choose the relevant feeling. Without them even realising, they are learning language to help them express themselves constructively.

A favourite of Jessie’s, used during our admission at Coral Tree Family Services, were St Luke’s Innovative Bear Cards. From the picture you can see why children are drawn to these.

coral tree

Talking to our kids about the cards or emotions they have chosen is an important part of their learning (or re-learning) process. It gives us insight into how they are thinking. It also gives us the opportunity to emotion coach.

With language around her feelings, and the confidence she has gained in communicating with me, Jessie has a much better handle on things. 2 years on she will still have low scale outbursts, yell, swear and slam doors. However she de-escalates very quickly now, and without fail comes and apologises and we talk about what’s upsetting her.

Being able to recognise and name emotions, makes kids feel more in control. The more in control they feel, the less out of control they will behave.



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