Suspended and what that means for us…
sus·pend səˈspend/Submit verb past tense: suspended; past participle: suspended [from school]
1. temporarily prevent from continuing or being in force or effect. “work on the dam was suspended” 2. hang (something) from somewhere. “the light was suspended from the ceiling”
Not long before the anticipated end of the school year, we had what one might term “a tough day”. I got a call while in the carpool line and I was asked to come into the office. While I have had many of these calls over the years, I had no idea this one was more serious than the others. More serious than the time he put paperclips in the electric sockets, more serious than the time he ate every piece of paper they placed in front of him, more serious than his books hidden behind the fridge in the resource room, more serious than him running through a parking lot after escaping summer camp, more serious than hiding in closets crying incoherently while they try to make him do his work, no now he is 14 everything is more serious. I locked the dog in the car, opened the sunroof and added as much shade as I could before walking in the front doors as nonchalantly as possible (while my stomach knotted itself tightly into a ball with anxiety). I was greeted in the office by both the principal and vice-principal so I knew this was bad. Firstly, I have to say, this school, out of every educational scenario we have found ourselves in before, has been one of the best. They bend over backward to help us, they make modifications and accommodations wherever they can and while some would say “that’s their job” – I know that while that may somewhat be true, 95% of similar places are not doing their job as willingly and collaboratively as this but the sad fact still remains: My child has a mental health condition and school personnel are not mental health providers. They are not trained for this, they are not paid to do this, they are not compelled into that field, they are teachers/educators/administrators and parents just like us. We have felt lucky that this team truly has shown empathy, they seem to care and we believe they are doing their best, but again, they are not trained mental health professionals, they are teachers. They are teachers who are doing their best to understand some pretty odd coping strategies in a child who is as complex as they come. I know one cannot truly understand the impact of someone else’s problem until living with the what “it” actually is – be it cancer, infertility, cyberbullying, learning delays or in this case, mental health. So unless we personally live with whatever it is, I think people can try but it’s often impossible to understand the true impact of what that really means and sometimes it feels like you are fighting the whole world.
The back story…
We had actually known for several weeks that B was unraveling. The medication we had done so well on had to be stopped, suspected of causing tremors in his arms and hands, so stepping down over a period of 12 weeks created some new challenges while causing some old issues to reappear. Specifically cognition, executive functioning, and decision making. Then a weeklong investigation into an incident at school, two very frustrated school personnel were on hand to fill me in.
So those are the details, they are all just “details” but that doesn’t explain the behavior. Rationally we know a child who acts out is doing so for the payoff, but the big question with this one was “what was the damn payoff this time”?
A group of people can look at a situation and each one will see it differently. “It’s bad parenting”,”it’s a deviant child”, “attention-seeking”, “hopeless case”, “struggling kid”, “socially inept”, “poor teenage choices”, or “it’s a bad kid”. Is any of this true? Is all of it true? It doesn’t matter honestly, because even though it is helpful (and satisfying) to figure out the “WHY” – what we need to do from here is still redirect the trajectory this child is on.
TRAUMA rears its ugly head again…
We know this kid has struggled for his entire life. The identity is of a kid adopted (this translates as “rejected” for him), into a culturally different family (white family, dark-skinned kid), living in a predominantly white area (completely accidental and via a job relocation but the demographic is 78% Caucasian, >18% African American, >3% Hispanic/Latino, >1% other), surrounded by teenagers who feel that their parent’s financial success gives them their own sense of inflated importance; where many of the kids struggle to survive in a school district that overemphasizes gifted and talented and pushes test scores as a measure of competence and success but offers few alternative schooling options for kids who don’t make that famed academic curve. Nope, doesn’t sound like a recipe for failure at all. Throw in a hefty dose of mental health challenges related to a treatable medical condition that was missed for many, many years and limited access to resources despite having parents who fight tooth and nail… and you sit where we are right now, a child who still feels worthless, hopeless, isolated, burdensome and different because it took so darn long to get the medical treatment he needed. It doesn’t help, it’s isn’t an excuse and for what it’s worth, the parents are also both a little humiliated and sadly have to acknowledge that even though they saw the spiral happening, there was nothing they could do in time to stop what ultimately got us to here. We are dealing with the repercussions of years and years of untreated medical conditions that manifested as mental health challenges in a system that undervalues humans and their potential. Mental health has historically been seen as some kind of unfathomable chemical disruption. I call bullsh*t, every single parent in the encephalitis and neuroimmune community calls bullsh*t. Times they are a-changing….