Kirsten Panachyda

Writer, Speaker, Singer-Songwriter

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#6 I’m Worried about my Marriage- Counting Down the Painful Top Ten

“I’m ready to give up trying. I don’t want to care anymore. I’m ready to build my happiness next to you but not with you… I don’t know if this can be healed. I’m not even sure I would be up for it. I’m not saying we should end our marriage. I just need to be less desperately unhappy. If that means having no expectations of anything from you then maybe that’s my answer.”

This is an excerpt of a letter I once wrote to Dan. It was after years of constant stress, crisis upon crisis with our son. For most of that time, we had been an effective partnership. But the stress had taken its toll, and I came to the end of my rope. Dan didn’t have the inner resources to hold Nicholas’s rope and mine too.

I was deeply hurt and furiously angry, which pushed my husband away into self-reproach and defensiveness. He withdrew. I chased him with bitter demands. It was a mess.

It’s no secret that marriages can crumble under the pressure of parenting a child who needs special care. But we are not doomed to fail in our most important earthly relationship. We can shore up our defenses.

Further down, the letter read this:

“In my Bible reading the other day, Jesus said that to follow is to deny oneself, take up a cross and follow Him. So I am going to try. I just hope that eventually you will not want to be a cross. If Jesus matters to me then I have to try to keep my vows to you.”

I didn’t know it at the time, but along with the bitterness flowing from my pen came a thread of truth, of hope. The beginning of healing for our marriage came when I stopped looking at all Dan was or was not doing, and focused on following Jesus.

At first it was an angry throwing up of hands, giving up. But under God’s ministration it morphed into surrender, enabling an eternal perspective, and eventually, a compassion for my husband.

I never gave Dan that letter, although later I showed it to him, after a lot of counseling and working on reconnection. Writing it didn’t save our marriage. God did that, through a wise counselor, time, work, and His Holy Spirit. The letter helped me see what was going on in my own heart. It opened the door to God’s work in me.

Every marriage is different, but there are some actions that can help in nearly every messy relationship:

1) Get help from a godly counselor. Sooner than later.
2) Acknowledge the stress of caring for your kid with mental illness and recognize the toll it can take on your marriage.
3) Place your confidence in the only One who can bear the weight of your expectations. That is not your spouse.
4) Pray with honesty abut your pain, write it out in a letter (unsent), cry and grieve over the fractures in your most important earthly relationship. Don’t deny the hurt; process it.
5) Practice kindness and compassion for your spouse, especially when you don’t feel like it. Believe it or not, he is going through this too.
6) Be careful and wise about venting. Confide in those who are the cheerleaders and supporters of your marriage. I’m not advocating putting on a happy face and pretending all is great. Just choose your close confidants with caution.

Dear friends- this is such a hard one. If I can pray for you in a struggle with your marriage, please leave a comment or contact me through my website kirstenp.com. I would count it a privilege.

#7 I’m Worried about my Job: Counting Down the Painful Top Ten

Have you experienced brain fog? It’s that mushy feeling in your mind making it hard to retrieve information, stay on task, form coherent sentences. When we are chronically stressed from taking care of our fragile kids, working through brain fog can be our best effort on the job. Add in distractions like phone calls from the school, memories of last night’s confrontation, or fretting over treatment decisions to be made, and you may be thinking even you would give you a bad performance review.

And that’s on the good days.

The bad days take you away from work altogether. They find you picking the kid up from school. They find you taking the afternoon to go to a doctor’s appointment, because the nearest pediatric psychiatrist taking new patients is two hours away. They find you taking whole days to get your kid settled at the hospital or residential treatment center and going through all the paperwork and family counseling sessions.

If you get paid by the hour, all that time eats into your take-home pay. Even if you have the luxury of a salary and some personal or sick time, your job performance and reputation can suffer. If you run your own business, you are in danger of letting too many balls drop.

No wonder so many parents whose kids have mental illness cite worry about the job as a major stressor.

What can help?

1) If you work in an environment that is supportive, take steps to communicate. Let your boss and co-workers know a little of what is going on with your family. How much you choose to divulge is up to you. If your work atmosphere is more cut-throat, you need to consider and pray for wisdom whether this step is best.

2) Recognize that worry for your kid is going to invade your thoughts. Expect it. When it comes, take a breath and acknowledge the distraction. Then practice techniques to help you minimize it and return to focus. Try a mindfulness exercise. Get up and walk around for a few minutes. Have a dedicated notebook where you write down a sudden urgent thought or to-do to get it out out of your head without the fear of forgetting to call that doctor or renew that prescription.

3) Analyze your work. Are there tasks that could be performed remotely if necessary? How can you delegate if you are called away by an unexpected crisis? Having a plan before the crisis helps immeasurably. It’s the equivalent to having a bag, stashed in the closet, packed and ready to go. Consider creating a document you can quickly email to boss and co-workers and updating it weekly.

4) Make sure you understand your rights and benefits. Develop a good relationship with people in your human relations department. If you are truly worried that your situation might jeopardize your job, find out the laws for termination. Find out what you would need to do for unemployment. Being educated gives you peace of mind.

5) Any steps you take to deal with your stress in a healthy way will also benefit your performance on the job. Enough sleep, some exercise, good nutrition and hydration will help your mind as well as your body.

6) When you pray and when you ask others to pray, don’t leave out your anxiety over your job. It’s important and deserves a place on your prayer list.

#8 I am Lonely- Counting Down the Painful Top Ten

Illness can be isolating, whether it is our own or in the family. The world narrows. Mental illness is no different and is sometimes harder to explain.

When my kids were 14 and 12, I decided they were old enough to stay home without a parent for short periods of time. What freedom it was to sometimes go out for coffee with a friend, or browse through a shop for an hour! Because we homeschooled, we had a LOT of together time. I looked forward to transitioning into a stage where my kids were more independent.

But when they were 16 and 14, the situation had completely changed. My younger son was in the throes of deep suicidal depression, with frequent episodes of self-harm. We never left him home alone, nor did we place the burden of supervision on his older brother if we could possibly avoid it. My world narrowed again.

I was so lonely sometimes.

Many parents struggle with the isolation that comes from having a child who needs special care. It’s not unique to the mental illness situation. But there are unique challenges. It’s hard to find a “babysitter” for a teenager. It’s hard to explain why you brought your kid to the coffee shop when you manage to meet a friend, even if he’s at the next table with a book. It’s hard to disappear from your life for weeks at a time because of a crisis.

If invitations are declined often enough, they slow to a trickle and dry up. I’s disheartening to be going through a painful parenting journey and also have to be the one who keeps up communication with friends. It may be natural, but it can also leave you feeling unloved.
Forgotten.
Lonely.

For some parents, the illness can be so disruptive that they don’t want to have anyone over to their own home either. They can’t bring their kid to the coffee shop. Even family gatherings are fraught with chaos. Social media, far from being a blessing to connect us, can make us feel even more isolated. Posts and and pictures of other people’s “normal” lives leave us feeling like we’re locked inside, looking out to a world that is passing us by. The loneliness can be stifling.

What can help?

1) Support groups can be a lifesaver. These can be online forums, but groups that meet in person are more effective for combating isolation and helping members with challenges. Some resources to find a group are Hope for Hurting Parents, NAMI, and Al-Anon. Local Offices for Mental Health may also have groups.

2) Even though it takes so much effort, find ways to see your friends. Even a half-hour meet-up (while your kid is at an appointment maybe?) can boost your sense of connectedness.

3) It may feel old-fashioned, but email and letters combat loneliness better than social media. Don’t be afraid to write some and ask your friends to write back. They are your friends, they love you, and if you tell them your circumstances make you lonely and getting an email or letter helps, many will respond. Be careful, though, not to take it personally when someone doesn’t respond. They may just be terrible correspondents. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you.

4) Remember that the Lover of your soul is always with you. Here are some verses to assure you of God’s presence:

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
‭‭Psalm ‭46:1‬‬‬

‭“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.”‬
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭139:7-10‬ ‬

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:38-39‬ ‬

#9 I am Confused: Counting Down the Painful Top Ten

Clinical Depression
Depression with self-harm
Depression with suicidal ideation
Depression with psychotic features
Major Depressive Disorder
Major Depressive Disorder with disordered eating
Major Depressive Disorder with Borderline Personality features
Bipolar Disorder II

These are just some of the “official” diagnoses that have shown up on the paperwork for my son over the years. In psychiatric diagnosis, fluidity is more often the norm than certainty, especially for adolescents. If there is a list of ten diagnostic features, and a child has five of them, instead of seven… well, do they have that or not? And so many symptoms, like hearing voices, or disordered eating, cross categories. Is it schizo-affective disorder or depression? OCD or Borderline Personality?

How about medications? Before my son was ill, I had no idea there were so many psych meds, or that hitting on the right one was often a system of trial and error. And then there are combinations and dosages, and the possibilities become endless. Each possibility has its own host of side effects.

Finding therapists, managing to get an appointment with a doctor, researching treatment facilities, plugging into outpatient programs…

And how do we pay for the care our kids need? Even if we have great insurance, it’s still complicated. If the insurance isn’t adequate, the process is opaque and frustrating at best, and heartbreaking at worst. Many resort to the juvenile criminal justice system just to get their kids into any kind of mental health pipeline.

Is it any wonder parents are battling against a paralysis of confusion?

What can help?

1) It can be perversely comforting to look around and realize that everyone else also experiences bafflement when navigating mental illness and its treatment. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and incompetent (I feel so stupid- I don’t understand any of this!), but the truth is even the smartest people have to deal with the steep learning curve. And the curve doesn’t necessarily lead all the way up to expertise.

2) Educate yourself with good, reputable resources. There is a lot of information out there. A lot of it is not helpful or dependable. Get recommendations from mental health professionals for books. Check out the National Institute for Mental Health (government), National Alliance for Mental Health (advocacy), or Mayo Clinic (hospital) websites to start gathering information.

3) Ask God for wisdom and guidance. In our family, we received answers to specific prayer for a Christian therapist (in our own town, no less!), and a pediatric psychiatrist (only a half hour drive). These came from unlikely friend-of-a-friend type connections. Ask your praying friends to join you in these requests. God cares about the particulars of our situations.

Here are some Scriptures to reassure that God wants to give us wisdom and guidance when we ask:

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James‬ ‭1:5‬ ‭

“For You are my rock and my fortress; For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me.” Psalms‬ ‭31:3‬ ‭

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” Psalms‬ ‭32:8‬ ‭

“Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left.” Isaiah‬ ‭30:21‬

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” John‬ ‭14:26‬ ‭

Do you have stories about how God has guided you through the mental healthcare maze?
Would you like us to pray for anything for you and your family?

#10 People Don’t Understand- Counting Down the Painful Top Ten

“Boy, those teenage years can be tough, can’t they?”

“Heh, heh, heh, Mark Twain said, ‘When a child turns 12, he should be kept in a barrel and fed through a hole, until he reaches 16…at which time you should plug the hole.’ “

“Kids are so over-medicated these days.”

“Just let them know the consequences and then be consistent.”

“Every teen has mood swings. It’s the hormones.”

“Siblings always fight.”

“Boys will be boys.”

“Girls are like that.”

People. Don’t. Understand.

In a way, how can we blame them? Did we understand before it was our kids? Aren’t we, let’s be real, still bewildered by the whole thing? And don’t we have the sneaking suspicion (or full-blown confirmation) that even the most educated professionals are not totally sure about diagnosis or treatment?

Still, it’s painful to be confronted by the proof, through an ignorant comment or blank look, that other people just don’t get what we’re going through as parents whose kids have mental illness.

So what can we do? How do we treat this wound?

1) For the important people, the ones whose support you crave, those who love you and want to understand- take a deep breath. Take some time with them. Maybe gather some materials so they can get educated. Let them know that it’s not the same as everyone else’s parenting journey and why.

2) Develop your own blank look.

3) If you are up to it, confront the misconception and stigma with a gentle but truthful reply. This is better practiced ahead of time. For example: “Actually, teens with Borderline Personality Disorder experience an inability to regulate their emotions far in excess of the typical teenager. They need to learn special skills, just like someone with dyslexia needs to learn special skills in order to read.”
You don’t always need to take this step. You don’t “owe” anyone an education. But if you are feeling strong at that moment, go ahead and be an advocate. If not, see #2.

4) Talk to the One who understands. God has known every kind of parenting grief. Self-destructive choices? Check out Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Believing lies about themselves instead of the truth? See Moses in Exodus 3 and 4, arguing with God about his inabilities. Violent and paranoid? Saul, I Samuel 20. Deceptive and manipulative? Jacob, Genesis 27 (helped along by mom- codependent?). Impulsive? Go back a couple chapters to Genesis 25 and read about Esau selling his birthright for some lentils. Suicidal? Elijah in I Kings 19. Or Judas, Matthew 27.

No matter what you are going through, He has too. And more, He sees into your heart and your days. He cares about your hurt.
He knows the sorrow. Jesus looked at His children and mourned, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” (Matthew ‭23:37‬)

People don’t understand. How you choose to respond to their misunderstanding is up to you and depends on the situation.

God does understand. I pray you find comfort in His deep knowledge of you.
“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans ‭8:26-27‬

How about you? What have people said to you that showed lack of understanding? How did you respond?

Painful Top Ten

Every child is unique. Every family is different from every other. Yet in this “weird little club” (see post here) we share common ground. Here are the things I hear the most from mamas whose kids are struggling with mental illness:

The Painful Top Ten:
10) People don’t understand
9) I am confused
8) I feel lonely
7) I worry about my job performance/security
6) I worry about my marriage
5) I worry about my other kids
4) I am exhausted/burnt out
3) I can’t get my kid the help that is needed
2) I feel defeated
1) I don’t know what to do

Oh man, I have been in each of these quagmires. It hurts. These pains are impossible to ignore. A heaping double handful of self-doubt, anxiety, heart-ache. Life just feels hard. All the time.

How about you? Can you find yourself in the painful top ten? Or maybe you are a grandparent and you recognize it not only in yourself, but in your child who is parenting your precious grand. Or you are watching a dear friend fight the battle. Are there other painful feelings in your top ten these days?

Over the next weeks we’ll be tackling these topics in turn. My prayer is that we will offer each other some hope, some solidarity. We are unique, we are different, but let’s spend some time meeting on our common ground. I look forward to seeing you there.

Proclaim

I spent Wednesday afternoon through Sunday morning at the Florida Christian Writers Conference. I spent Monday sleeping fourteen hours and taking ibuprofen for my inflamed knee- a flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis brought on by fatigue.

Totally worth it.

I attended workshops on world-building and the hero’s journey. I learned about connecting with readers on social media. I sat, inspired and motivated, under the teaching of novelist Tosca Lee.

Most of all, I talked, talked, talked from the heart about my passion for my book project. It was hard to put myself out there, to offer up my “baby” for scrutiny. But I was determined, because doing it was an act of obedience to God.

Before 2018, I never had a “word of the year” like some people. I never tried to be attuned to the Spirit in that way. At the dawn of this year though, I could not ignore the word that kept popping out at me, beckoning me to follow in obedience.

PROCLAIM.

Why am I doing what I’m doing?
“That I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving And declare all Your wonders.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭26:7‬ ‭NASB‬‬

How often?
“Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭96:2‬ ‭NASB‬‬

I have received so much from the hand of God during my struggle and heartache as a mom of a kid with mental illness. Healing of body and soul. Comfort. The embrace of love when I grieved. Assurance that my pain and tears and effort matter. Restoration when I feared I was shattered beyond repair.

Now it is time to speak up about the wonders of the God who steps into the pit and draws us out into His embrace. It’s time to raise my voice and refuse to be silent about the good news of a God saves in this life and for the life to come. It’s time to proclaim.

At the same time, I’m listening- to you, the moms who email, the parents in the forums I’m a part of. You are devastated, mourning, overwhelmed. I know. I’ve been there and return regularly. And I long to proclaim with a gentle tone and full compassion that God is loving you through all of this.

So I’m trying to find a publishing home for my book. I’m trying to make myself available on social media when you need support. I’m trying to get out there and tell about how to rest in God in the chaos.

There is good news, and I am going to keep on proclaiming it with a voice of thanksgiving, day by day.

All that Loveliness

A pair of sandhill cranes has taken to wandering my parents’ neighborhood. In fact, I’m pretty sure they believe they have taken over the neighborhood. These four-foot tall birds poke their beaks into open garages. They linger, chatting, in the middle of the street. If a human should be so impertinent as to tap a horn, they cock their heads, look the car up and down, then slooowly meander off the pavement. The huffiness is palpable. On my daily walks, I look for their red-crested heads and greet them. Sometimes I know where to look, because I can hear the distinctive echoing call. I am quite fond of them.

They always seemed funny and friendly to me until one day when I came home with a car full of groceries. There were my buddies, foraging in my parents’ front yard, next to the driveway. “Hi guys!” I sang out, lifting the first bags and heading into the house. I walked back out, and saw these masters of the neighborhood in a different light. They came toward me purposefully, not meandering at all. For the first time, instead of admiring their red and variegated gray plumage, all I could see were those beaks. Six inches long and pointed like a rapier. And they weren’t making the trumpeting call. They were sort of… growling. In fact, they sounded just like the velociraptors from Jurassic Park.

Why were they mad at me? Did they think I was after their bugs? Or did they want a share of the groceries? Was this a shakedown? All I knew was it felt risky to walk past them to the car. I retreated, and my dad, God bless him, was left to shoo away the tall feathery dagger-raptors.

I still love them. I love that they mate for life. I love that the male and female build the nest together and care for their fledglings for nine or ten months. I love that these mated-for-life pairs still perform ritual mating dances together, until death does them part, which can be as long as twenty years. They are beautiful and entertaining.

I would rather have a few risky moments than not have all that loveliness.

It’s the same with all the best things in my life. My marriage, my children, ministry- all these come with risks to the heart. Loving anything or anyone is a risk, because it always comes with a sharp edge of possible hurt, possible loss.

I would rather risk loss than not have all that love.

Bonked on the Head

There it is. The deception, again. The hiding, the lying, the misleading- so often a part of relating to a loved one who struggles with mental illness. The broken trust, the processing, the rebuilding. Helping them have healthier coping skills and responses to distress. Being supportive, drawing loving and firm boundaries.

But… but… but… What about the fact that I am down-deep hurt? What about that knife wound of betrayal? What about my anger and frustration?

As caregivers and support system members, we are supposed to recognize that the illness is the enemy, not the one we love. We are not supposed to take it personally. We are supposed to stay the course with kindness and good training. Especially when we are the parents- we are the ones who need to be mature and act like grown-ups.

But you know what? It does hurt. We do get angry.

When my kids were little, one of the hardest things for them to learn was that it is right to say sorry even if you hurt someone unintentially. If they threw a ball that missed the mark and bonked someone in the head, they should apologize. An apology is not an admission of guilt in that circumstance, but a recognition of being the cause of someone else’s pain.

My kid can cause a wound with behavior that is not aimed at me personally with the intention to inflict hurt. But I still have the wound. What do I do with that?

Forgive. Recognize he is the cause, even if he didn’t mean to. Every good answer starts with: bring it to Jesus. Talk about it. And listen to His gentle but implacable command to forgive.

Reminding myself that my kid is not the enemy and to not take it personally might take some of the sting out. But only forgiveness cleans out the wound and allows for healing.

Comparison

“Comparison of wit to wit, courage to courage, beauty to beauty, birth to birth is always odious.” Miguel Cervantes

Comparison. That poisonous cycle. It is so easy to fall into the trap of comparison, and it can be so hard to escape. In a world which measures everything from movie ticket sales to singing talent to determine success and failure, it is easy to feel like we never measure up.

I’ve seen some positive pushback in recent years, though. The “Every Body is Beautiful” movement helps women appreciate their unique physical attributes. Lots of articles and blogs have taken on the “mom wars” and offer support instead of criticism to different parenting styles. Even something like the tiny house trend speaks of a growing desire in our society to stop comparing our material wealth to feel successful.

The temptation to compare can be more subtle though. As people of faith, we want to serve and glorify God. But what if my service isn’t as “good” as someone else’s? What if my gift is not as important? What if someone else’s task seems like more fun?

Nostalgia can be another kind of comparison. Remember when our women’s Bible study was full every week? Remember when we all prayed for a miracle and that little girl was healed? More personally- remember when I used to sing all the songs in church, happy and loud, my feet dancing and my hands clapping? What happened? Why can’t God work like that now?

2500 years ago, Jewish exiles, led by a man named Zerubbabel, returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. The place had been devastated and was barely recognizable. God sent the prophet Haggai to the little band of returnees with this message:

“’Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land, take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts.”
‭‭Haggai‬ ‭2:3-4‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Comparing one work of God to another is as pointless as comparing physiques, parenting personalities, talent. He does the unique, right thing for the time and people He is working with now. We are asked to “take courage… take courage…. take courage… and work.” God is with us. Let’s focus on what He is doing now in our lives, and join in.

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