Tag Archives: mental health needs

Honing lifeskills – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 5

One of the unexpected advantages of living in lockdown has been seeing G and M start to take on a little more responsibility at home and honing some important lifeskills to see them surviving when they hit adulthood. I started with expecting them to fend for themselves at lunchtime, avoiding too many snack-based choices and including some healthier options to ensure a relatively balanced meal and, after a first week of moans and groans about what they were eating for dinner, sat them down to meal plan their dinners for the following week. They had to work together on agreeing meals that they would both enjoy and, where a compromise couldn’t be reached, settling on something that would be similar, but different. An example of this was the great lasagne vs. macaroni cheese debate, as G dislikes the texture of lasagne, whilst M would choose to eat anything but macaroni cheese. They agreed to disagree and so have one night in the week where they eat their own preferred pasta option.

Whilst planning their menu for the week ahead, G and M also had to take into consideration what staples we had in the house and what would need to be added to our weekly food delivery. We have been using a local food co-operative for well over a decade for our fresh fruit, veg and meats and they have been great at continuing to provide their food delivery service during the coronavirus crisis. The natural next step from meal planning was to get them more involved with cooking dinner as well, building off the cookery lessons they’ve both had at school. They were already well-versed in prepping their own fruit and veg for a meal, but they can both now competently fully make some of the simpler meals as well as working alongside either Mike or me with the more complex ones.

G and M have an undeniable sweet tooth and the last few weeks have been a great opportunity for them to flex their baking muscles too. The interesting thing has been that they have worked both together and independently when it has come to choosing and making their sweet treats. The starting point has almost always been to see what recipes they can find on my blog and then checking if we have the ingredients in the kitchen cupboards. So far, we’ve enjoyed chocolate cookies, shortbread and carrot cake and I can’t wait to see what they whip up next.

The great thing is that G and M are not only learning to cook and bake, but they’re also honing their skills in following a recipe and realising when sometimes it might need to be tweaked slightly to make the perfect dish. They’ve discovered the benefits of menu planning and experienced the frustration of when a key ingredient is missing from the store cupboard and needing to think on their feet to find an alternative. They’ve learnt to really work together, to listen to and respect what the other is saying and, when a compromise can’t be found immediately, to walk away and give each other space. I think that they’ve also discovered that cooking and baking can bring a much-needed therapeutic release from the tensions that we’re all experiencing from living on top of each other in uncertain times and re-centre their sense of emotional and mental well-being.

Young Carers Awareness Day 2019

Today is Young Carers Awareness Day 2019 and the purpose of the day is to raise public awareness of the challenges faced by young people because of their caring role, and to campaign for greater support for young carers and their needs. Young Carers often struggle with mental health problems of their own due to the strains they can find themselves under, hence the launch of their #CareForMeToo campaign.

I was recently invited to write a blog for Over The Wall about the impact of their camps on our family and I chose to particularly focus on the importance of the siblings camps for children like G, who is recognised as a Young Carer locally. I thought I’d take the opportunity to share my thoughts here too.

 “…when one person in the family has a chronic illness, the whole family has it…”

Jamie-Lynn Sigler

When you live with chronic illness you know that it is about so much more than just the disease itself. Pain, exhaustion, medicines, appointments and hospital admissions are often accompanied by a loss of self-confidence, doubts about self-worth and mental health issues that need time, patience and understanding to come to terms with and overcome. As parents to a child with a rare illness that is little known and little understood, Mike and I have had to find a resilience and strength within ourselves to not only support M as he finds his way to understanding his condition and living his life to the fullest, but also to fight those battles that he is not yet ready to tackle himself.

For the last 8 years, since our appointment with M’s first gastro consultant, our focus has been on finding answers and researching ways to give him the best quality of life we can despite the challenges he faces. As he now heads into his teens, we are seeing the fruits of those endeavours as M begins to make his own choices about the foods he eats, knowing full well the reactions he may experience, and taking on more responsibility for his medicines.

You could say that we’re achieving what we set out to do when we got his diagnosis: to raise a young man who won’t let his illness define or constrain him and who believes that he can be successful no matter what; but we have not been alone in supporting M. Family, friends and our local community have walked every step of this journey with us, helping us in more ways than we could ever imagine was possible; but there is one person who has been there since the very beginning, without any choice and yet who loves M unconditionally and is an indisputable rock for him, even when they don’t always see eye to eye.

She is, without a shadow of a doubt, the unsung hero in our family story.

Since the day her baby brother arrived prematurely in her world, G was determined to help out whenever she could. She put up with his incessant screams from what we now realise was undiagnosed pain and looked to comfort him however she could – making him laugh, giving cuddles, reading stories or just bringing him “Cat” when nothing else would do. Like so many siblings to children diagnosed with chronic illness, G has inevitably been side-lined when that illness has dominated family life and despite our determination to make sure she doesn’t miss out because of it, I know there are times when we haven’t got that balance right and given G the attention she deserves and needs.

From the interruption of frequent hospital appointments to badly timed admissions over her birthday 2 years in a row, G has had to take the back seat to M’s illness more times than seems fair and these are not the only ways in which her life has been affected by his diagnosis. We cannot ignore the reality that having a chronically ill sibling has had a massive impact on G and her mental health too. Anxiety, panic attacks, facing fears and anger management issues are all inextricably tied up with the role of being a young person caring for another and it has been crucial we find a supportive environment for her that has taught strategies for dealing with her yo-yoing emotions and provided a safe and understanding outlet for them. Encouraging G’s involvement with our local Young Carers group as well as applying for a place at the Over The Wall Siblings camps have been important steps in recognising the impact that M’s health has had on her over the last 15 years and have helped her feel that we really do understand and appreciate all that she has had to put up with and sometimes give up too.

That time away at OTW was a week for her to be herself, not defined or viewed in her role as M’s big sister and encouraged and allowed her to take time to focus on herself without worrying about him. G came home a different child to the one who had left us, having realised that her life experiences didn’t isolate her in those circumstances and she had found a sense of self-worth that she had been struggling to develop at home and at school. G’s second camp experience saw her develop a confidence and willingness to take on new challenges, knowing that, with a little bit of self-belief and perseverance, no mountain is too big for her to conquer. OTW brought G out from the shadow of M’s ill health, helped her rediscover who she is as an independent individual and gave her her childhood back – and for that I can’t thank them enough.

Reflections of an appointment

I started writing this blog post 12 months ago and had put it to one side then because I wasn’t sure that the time was right to share all that was going on with M’s care at that point, particularly when it came to expressing my hesitation about whether the decisions being made were the right ones or not. Today we find ourselves in an even more emotionally charged situation and are becoming increasingly vexed with the marked lack of progress made over the last year. I revisited this original blog post tonight and decided that it now feels right to express that turmoil and the frustration in dealing with a medical team that appear to have lost their impetus to engage with us and with M. Those words written in italics are about our current experience.

There’s been lots going on over the last 6 months as many of my blog posts about our mini adventures have shown, but the one area I haven’t yet shared is the journey we’ve been exploring with our local consultant as I briefly mentioned last November. The decision to move almost all of M’s care from GOSH to our local hospital has not been an easy one to make, but for many reasons we have concluded that it is possibly the best one for now. Having a complete MDT (Multi-Disciplinary Team) close at hand to discuss all the challenges of M’s health has been invaluable and experiencing first-hand their willingness to see him at the drop of a hat over a 6-week period, where we’ve had 2 “emergency” appointments and 1 planned one, has been a relief, especially when you consider the problems we’ve had with them in the past.

It sounds fantastic doesn’t it? An almost perfect solution to meeting the complex and on-going medical needs of M; and yet, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that we’ve had our ups and downs with some of their suggestions and have not yet found ourselves moving on and making progress from the starting point we had 12 months ago. The overall opinion held is that M’s ongoing problems are not really related to his EGID diagnosis or the numerous foods we have previously identified as being unsafe, but rather a physical problem that is massively affected by psychological influences that are still to be fully explored and identified. We don’t disagree that there absolutely has to be a psychological element to M’s health: how can any child live through the experiences of his first 12 years and not be impacted in that way? But it also feels as if they’re throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water and ignoring all of M’s physical symptoms from birth to 5, a time when it was impossible for him to have developed any fears of new foods or associations that certain foods would cause certain health problems.

It’s been challenging for us to adjust our thinking and look to embrace their suggestions of how to move things forward for M. Experience is constantly nagging at the back of my consciousness, gently reminding me that so many times I have been proved to know my son far better than the doctors treating him; but Mike and I have both worked hard to be positive about their new ideas because ultimately we want what is best for M and what will improve his quality of life beyond his, and our, wildest expectations.

In August 2017, my thoughts stopped there. I wanted so desperately to believe that things were going to change, to improve for M and it was, I think, a conscious decision to not air my hesitations and doubts because I was afraid to unwittingly jinx the improvements we were hoping would come about. However, nearly a year on and things have not changed at all. I now have a child who has struggled his way through the first year of secondary school and has lost the spark that makes him him. M no longer sees a positive in being treated at our local hospital and just wants to return to the care of GOSH, which is the last place he can actively relate to seeing any major changes to his day-to-day living. He has gained a couple of extra foods, but we are only at 9 (chicken, rice, cucumber, apple, pear, parsnips, bacon, onion and banana) and not the 20 that his consultant expected when we met him at the start of June.

At that appointment, the entire MDT acknowledged that M is not the child they knew 12 months ago and commented on his lost enthusiasm for choosing new foods to trial. I have tried so hard to explain to them that I am certain that M is not thinking his body into failing those challenges, but none of us really knows that for sure. The truth is that there are some foods that cause an unquestionable reaction and with others it’s difficult to judge if they’re causing an issue, or if it’s simply a case that we’re not really giving his body time to rest and recover between each trial. I’ll be honest, we’ve decided to relax the rules a lot at key times because it’s becoming increasingly evident that M needs the emotional boost that occasionally being able to eat more “normally” gives him. However, every decision to eat something we wouldn’t usually allow brings with it a set of consequences that are difficult for us all and not just for M to process.

I don’t know where we’re heading or what the next few months hold for M. The one thing we’re all agreed on is that we can’t keep living the current status quo because every day like this destroys another small part of the confidence we have in his medical team and buries his spark even deeper.

And so it continues….

After last week’s unexpectedly busy week, I was hoping that this week might slow down a bit; or at very least, enough to allow me to draw breath and properly put some thought into my blog posts! However, things often don’t quite work out as planned, especially when you’re me and I’ve found that the roundabout hasn’t quite slowed down enough just yet for me to get off. There’s been little time to stop and smell the roses…or the coffee…the latter of which is probably more apt as it’s been huge quantities of the black stuff that’s getting me through each day right now.

With work full of “stuff” – legal, finance and HR bits and pieces to get my head round; Mike slowly winding down to his last few days in his current job and both children back at home after a fantastic week away for G (hurrah!) plus rehearsals for concerts, fundraising plans to finalise for Over The Wall and some rather meaty health/education issues to tackle for M, I can honestly say I’m looking forward to a quiet-ish weekend to tackle the growing piles of ironing that just don’t appear to be shrinking.

Whilst we’re in the midst of dealing with the challenge of school not really understanding all of M’s educational, physical and mental health needs, I found this wonderful image this week, which truly summaries what I want both him and G to remember and hold on to as they grow up. They really are so much more than their school achievements and exam results #kindhearts #generoussouls #greatfriends