For Now

March 26, 2024

Since I last shared an update, this little human joined our world. During a welcome respite from family crises - and an actual small window of good health - my child became a parent. 

How I wish this grandbaby could know her father, my child.

How I wish she could learn to swim from the safety of my child's arms.

How I wish my child could lift her high overhead to make a basket.

How I wish she could sit on my child's lap and lay her hands over my child's fingers as they glide over the keys of a piano.

But for now, that is not to be. For now, I am just grateful to know that this little human is well-loved and cared for. 

I am still hopeful there may come a day that my child gets to know this little, beautiful human.

But, for now, as always, I remain still hopeful.

It Can All Be True

August 24, 2022

It's been a while. I've wanted to come back here to you for so long. To update you. To share our ongoing struggles and successes, to bring you little bursts of hope, to remind you that you are not alone. But I couldn't bring myself to do it.

With all that was going on in our world - Covid yes, but also our nation's collective reckoning on so many social justice and human rights issues including critical conversations and calls to action about systemic racism, LGBTQ+ rights, women's rights, climate change, political unrest, so much more... Our story just felt too indulgent and self-involved, so very small by comparison. 

So I took a step back, because honestly, what could I possibly have to say here that mattered to anyone in light of all that was happening in the world? 

This blog has always been focused on my experiences navigating family mental illness. What it has been like as a parent, and also now as a professional mental health advocate as well.

But I'm back now because recently I realized something. Our collective experiences nationally and globally are big and impactful and life-changing. 

But my family's experiences are also big, impactful, and life-changing. It's not either, or. It can all be true.

And with all big, impactful, life-changing, true things, over time, something can happen.


Resilience changes us, it empowers us, strengthens us, and makes us more capable, despite how very incapable we may feel. 

Resilience allows us to keep going - all the way through it - to get to the other side. 

And as we do keep going, we see that things can get so much better. We find support and information, and we stop feeling so alone. We find our people, our place, and our purpose. And we find ourselves. We thrive.

Nothing can bring back what has been lost. Nothing will ever be as it was. Nothing will ever be the same. We will hurt. This is all true.

But with time and with patience, new growth appears. And it is beautiful. 

This is also true. It can all be true.

So, today, I'm back to rejoin this conversation with you. Moving forward, I intend to use this space for more conversations about mental health advocacy in general. Sure, I'll give you personal family updates as they become available, but really, this space is my story. My experiences with my child inspired this work originally, but my child is no longer a child at all. He's a grown-up. So it's time to allow him the space and privacy and grace he deserves to move past his past and create the future he deserves. 

But before I officially transition this blog space to something outside the scope of our family's story, I will share this news with you.

My older son has found his people, his place, and his purpose. He is living a full, happy life. He has his own family now. He is thriving...and I am so proud of him, of the man he's become. And the father he will be. 

Yes, he still struggles, yes, it's still sometimes difficult, and yes, there are still challenges. But he is thriving. And it is beautiful. 

Healing happens. Resilience happens. Beautiful, new growth happens.

It can all be true.

13 Months: An update after a death from addiction

August 31, 2019

Dear Dave,

It's been 13 months since we lost you. And it's been 17 years and 13 months since you and I were a married couple, but our parenting partnership never ended despite the fact that our marriage did. Until you died, we had an understanding that when it came to our boys, we were a team.

This letter is to fill you in on what's happened over the last 13 month.

After a really rough year, our older son has decided he needs a change. Next week, he's moving halfway across the country to your hometown, a place you had always wanted to return to but never did. We are seeing this as an exciting fresh start for him, and he's looking forward to it, but I think he might be a little nervous too. Rightly so. He's never lived outside of our state before, and he's never been so far away from us before either. But your family has offered to help him get settled, and he's going to live with your niece and her kids. It's going to be great for him especially since he'll get to use those incredible fatherly instincts he inherited from you.

I wish you were here to see it.

Our younger son is almost finished with college. He's got one more semester to go for a political science degree. I can't help but remember the way you used to walk the halls of the high school where you taught with a miniature copy of the Constitution in your front pocket. Our boy is studying what you loved. And he's a research and policy intern for our agency this semester. His work will involve researching and supporting legislative efforts related to mental health and addiction. He is figuring out his life and his future. He's going to do great things.

I wish you were here to see it.

And I've been focusing our advocacy work more deeply into the issues of addiction. Now, when I train or consult, I have a more personal view on how a person's life, as well as their loved one's lives,  can dramatically change when substance use disorder is involved. I don't share the details of our story, your story, but I do talk about the fact that it affected us all. I do say it cut your life too short. And I say it stole you away from us years before you actually died. We watched you slowly fade away, a gradual suicide.

I wish you were here to see how hard we are all working to make our lives and others' lives better. Each of us in our own way is trying to make losing you have a purpose.

Forever your parent partner,

P.S. Did you know September is National Recovery Month? How I wish you were here to celebrate it.

The Gate

May 2, 2019

The other day, I accidentally drove by the state prison. Right in my line of vision, there were those giant steel gates again.

I don't think I exhaled for a full minute.

But you may be wondering how this happened by accident. Here's how: I had been blindly following my GPS directions to a workshop on Trauma. 

I know. The irony is not lost on me. 

Without thinking at all, I just hopped in my car, plugged in the address, and began to drive. Before I knew it, I was right there looking again at those giant, steel gates topped with swirls of barbed wire.

Seeing them brought lead to my belly and metal to my tongue.  

And, though my car windows were rolled all the way up, for just a moment, I could almost hear the inmates yelling, banging on the window bars, calling out their last-minute declarations to their visitors headed to the parking lot after visitation time was up.

A whirred blend of dread, anticipation, fear, hope, and love made up those Sunday afternoon visits to the prison.  With ever-varying amounts of each ingredient in this recipe, the concoction was never quite the same from week to week.  

Seeing those gates again triggered me. 

And they reminded me what it felt like to be on the outside looking in, not able to alter the reality of what I knew was on the other side. I could only show up to visit and hold the telephone receiver, stare into my boy's eyes and utter mother-ramblings and anecdotes about the family cat, ignoring the reality that a thick wall of plexiglass divided us.

But this post isn't about driving by the prison gates the other day and feeling triggered.

And it's not even about Trauma, though I should mention that my state officially declared May as Trauma Awareness Month. That, paired with the national observance of Mental Health Awareness Month during the month of May ought to give us plenty to talk about.

But no, this post isn't about Trauma, either. Not exactly.

When I was teaching middle school, I read a great book with my students that included this quote from an old poem:

"Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage."

It appeared in the book when the young protagonist was pondering whether or not to help break someone out of jail. No, this post has nothing to do with breaking someone out of jail. 

But that quote matters. I can't stop thinking about it. Some people can physically be inside prisons, yet feel emotionally and spiritually free. And, some people may put themselves in prisons of their own making. But what about the walls, or gates, or bars that exist between us and the ones we love that we can't seem to penetrate? 

A barrier still stands between my son and me. It's thicker than the plexiglass and fiercer than the barbed wire-topped fencing. This barrier exists because of his illness and because of his repeating pattern of agreeing to and then refusing treatment.

I'm sitting on one side of the barrier and I can see him there on the other, but I just can't get through to him. I can almost hear him calling out a declaration of hope and acceptance, but then I realize I'm only dreaming.

For now, I wait. And gently stir my new recipe: equal parts anticipation, fear, grief, frustration, and love. And, I hope that someday he'll break through that stone wall, say he's ready, and this time, he'll mean it.


February 23, 2019

Alone, in the driver's seat, I white-knuckled the steering wheel the whole way. Terrified. Not sure where we were going and not sure how I'd get us there.

My eyes strained, hard-fixed to the black ribbon of road unraveling ahead. Visions of all the turns I had missed clouded my thinking. Where might those other roads have led us instead? I'll never know. And, worst of all, the rearview mirror held nothing but pain, visions of pasts lived and not lived, blurring what was real from what my mother-hopes invented.

That drive, for me, is over. And though our destination was not expected, and not welcome, it was not as tragic as it could have been. For that, I am grateful.

But I don't drive much anymore. Instead, I ride in passenger seats, co-piloting other drivers.

These drivers are much like me. Some are seasoned, and some are not, some are solo and some come in pairs, but they are all terrified, just like I was. They strain to see the road ahead, they worry about crucial turns they may have missed, and they fight ruminations of what might have been.

From the passenger seat, I don't claim to be an expert navigator. I don't make promises I can't keep. But from the seat beside them, I try to offer them hope.

No, I don't have the answers, but I've asked the same questions. No, I can't see their destination, just like I couldn't see mine, but I've gripped the same wheel before. I don't know where their road ends, but I will sit beside them and be their co-pilot, sharing their view and their pain. We travel together, scanning the road ahead looking for signs of hope.

Untangling Your Holiday Stress with a Little Help from the Griswolds

December 10, 2018

Every year, sometime between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, my extended family watches "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". It’s been a tradition for as long as I can remember. My parents, my brothers and their wives, my two grown children, my husband and I - we all know the lines by heart. In fact, to be truly inducted into our family fold, one must embrace the brilliance and versatility of the line “Save the neck for me, Clark,” as well as whole-heartedly agree that every holiday grace should begin with “I pledge allegiance to the flag…”

But for me, watching this Christmas comedy is about more than honoring a family tradition. It's a critical part of my holiday self-care kit. If you or someone you love lives with a mental health condition, perhaps you can relate. For many, the holidays can be difficult.

For me, the holiday season means one thing: Anxiety. I'm talking about the kind of free-floating anxiety that lurks overhead even while you sleep if you’re lucky enough to do that. It slinks in, thick as fog, right before “Trick or Treat” and doesn’t dissipate until well after “Happy New Year!” 

Perhaps, like mine, your holiday anxiety takes the form of a giant tangle of Christmas lights wound up and spun like a runaway snowball stuffed into a crumpled box in the attic. Each year, just after Thanksgiving, you retrieve the box, grab the ladder, and head for the roof. 

Teetering precariously ten feet above the ground, you reach into the box and try to unsnarl the madness, unravel the mayhem, while still maintaining enough balance not to land smack on your head in your front yard. 

If you’re lucky, eventually, you get most of the lights up and most of the bulbs illuminate, after a lot of trial and error replacing the duds. And if you’re lucky, you climb back down without any Clark Griswold moments involving dangerous staple guns, malfunctioning ladders, or minor zaps of electricity.  

You've managed to untangle the strands and replace any bad bulbs you've found. You're ready to reveal to your loved ones your sparkling display. But somewhere inside, you feel the tangle of nerves and you worry a few bad bulbs may remain, undiscovered. And you fear they may dim the display you've worked so hard to create. So by the time you’ve climbed down off that roof, you're hoping for illumination equal to your efforts, and that nobody discovers the truth. 

But, if you're like me, you're also hoping there's someone around who sees what you need and can help.

Like Clark Griswold out on his lawn trying to give his family a breath-taking spectacle, we are trying to light up, too. And, like Clark, we may be struggling with the cords and the switches and trying to convince those near us to "just wait, it’ll get better." 

We say, "hang on, I think I've got it this time." And we may say that over and over again. Maybe we’re even saying this to ourselves. And just like in the movie, it feels like it takes forever to show them the brightness, to prove that we really can do it.

In the movie, Clark’s complex light display eventually turns on…because, unbeknownst to him, his wife Ellen has flipped on the power from the circuit breaker inside the house. He never knew she did it, but we, the audience, know and we smile, relieved that she's got his back and his hard work has paid off. Ellen Griswold understands and adores her husband's complexities. She supports him. She helps keep him safe and she loves him unconditionally.

This holiday season, I hope you practice self-care that untangles you. I hope you seek out your own sources of inspiration, laughter, and fulfillment. Please stay safe and surround yourself with people who understand your complexities and love you for them.

Your energy, your enthusiasm, your hope, while sometimes a tangled strand of mayhem, can light up the world. Sometimes, though, you may need a little help, so keep your eyes out for your own Ellen Griswold. She's out there.

Oh, and “save the neck for me, Clark.”
Happy Holidays!

Based on the original post "How Christmas Vacation Saves Me Every Year" found at

Measuring The Progress of Our Village

Nov. 10, 2018

It's important to measure progress. I wrote this more than three years ago as a blogger for the International Bipolar Foundation. My feelings are still the same but, thankfully, our village is ever-growing.

May 27, 2015

Parenting isn’t easy. Anyone who’s ever parented, or has even just been parented well knows that. Don’t they say, “It takes a village to raise a child”? As if to say raising children well takes more than just one person, it takes a community, right?

Let’s suppose, God forbid, that your child has been diagnosed with a very serious illness, such as diabetes or, dare I say it, cancer. My assumption is that the outpouring of support would be ample from the very start. From what I can tell, serious childhood illnesses like these are publicized and supported locally and nationally in many ways. There are 5K races, online campaigns, viral videos, fundraisers, and celebrity spokespersons offering their support to encourage donations and community involvement. And, of course, in our local communities, neighbors and friends seem to be willing and able to offer random daily kindnesses. They are bringing over lasagna, mowing the lawn, or caring for your other children when you take your sick child to the hospital. Yes, the entire village certainly seems to step in and help. And thank God, too. Because caring for a sick child is not only heart-wrenching, it is exhausting. Caring for a sick child can break you.

But now, let’s suppose, that your child has been diagnosed with a mental illness. What does the community do for you? How do they reach out and help?

(Crickets, the sound of crickets)

Childhood Cancers and other similar illnesses are tragic diagnoses, life-changing, and sometimes terminal. Parenting a child with such an illness requires on-going support. Parents need to be thoroughly informed, comforted and encouraged to stay strong through the challenges ahead.

But, have we forgotten, Childhood and Teen Mental Illnesses are tragic as well? Life-changing...and yes, sometimes even terminal. Parenting a child with such an illness requires on-going support. Parents need to be thoroughly informed, comforted and encouraged to stay strong through the challenges ahead.

Parenting isn’t easy. But when you are parenting a child with mental illness, the walls cave in. I know this first hand. And there are no neighbors offering lasagna at your doorstep. Because it is likely, you haven’t told anyone. Because who would you tell? What would people think? What would they say? And what could they possibly do to help? So, often times, it’s just you. And your child. With perhaps their siblings, frightened and alone.

I met a mother this week, a mother of a son who has schizoaffective disorder. Her son is exactly my son’s age. We traded stories and some tears over coffee. The onset of my son’s bipolar diagnosis paralleled her son’s situation in many ways, only her son’s illness is relatively new, while my son’s illness has been a part of our lives for five years now.

As I relayed our family’s story to her, the tension in her neck, the quiver in her voice, the furrow in her brows all seemed to lessen a bit. She kept saying, “How do you do it? How have you been so strong? I am not sure I can do this…”

But, clearly, she can do this. Because she took a step I didn’t take when I should have. She reached out for help. When my son first presented with his illness five years ago, my walls all caved in. I didn’t tell anyone. And there was definitely no lasagna, no one to share stories, coffee and tears with. But now, thankfully, the stigma of mental illness is finally breaking down a bit. This other mother and I met through a local mental health organization that put us in touch when she contacted them for help. I became involved with the organization about a year after my son’s spiral into serious illness, after he’d begun self-medicating out of denial and after he made life-altering decisions that ultimately led to his incarceration. She, however, became involved at the onset of her son’s diagnosis. So her son, thankfully, is now getting help...and so is she.

This is progress.

Our communities need to acknowledge that parenting children with serious conditions, whether they are illnesses of the pancreas, the blood, or the mind, need help.

We need a village of support to do this right. I hope to be part of that village, if only for this one mother. Because nobody should have to do this alone.

Original post titled as "Be the Village" on

Examining Fear

Nov. 4, 2018

Today I dug up an old post from six years ago. Looking back, I still identify with a lot of it, but there are a couple of key differences. First, I claimed that "I am speaking out for all other parents..." yet, at that time, I was still writing blog posts anonymously fearing the stigma. Eventually, I would find the courage to overcome my anonymity. And second, in this post, I am really fearful. I remember, six years ago my son was so unpredictable. He'd already shown that he was potentially dangerous. I lived in a constant state of fear. At the time, he had not yet been arrested, but his erratic behavior was increasing and his arrest was imminent. Of course, I did not know that then.

But looking back, perhaps the fear I expressed here is less about him being dangerous and more about the uncertainty I felt. Not knowing what might happen terrified me. Today, six years later, I cannot say that my son's situation has completely stabilized. But in a way, I think I have. My stability comes from gradually accepting the uncertainty of serious mental illness, not only his illness but mine. That fear came from not knowing. My evolving courage comes from accepting the fact I may never know.

Sometime in early 2013

If my twenty-year-old son knew I was writing this, I'm not sure what he'd do. Bipolar disorder can be a dangerous thing when it goes untreated. I am a mother who is afraid of her son, but I am speaking out for all the other parents out there who fear their own children.

First, you should know something about me. I have bipolar II. I was diagnosed in 2011, a year after my world crumbled. A year after my older son walked out my door. With a right-for-now cocktail of medications plus a wonderful therapist, I function well day to day. My colleagues would never guess that I have bipolar II. They probably attribute my high spirited antics to being a creative teacher. They don't know there is electricity tingling underneath my skin when I'm hypomanic. And when the melancholy settles in, I rely on my finest acting skills at work and my peers are none the wiser. From the outside, I seem just fine. But on the inside, I struggle.

Thanks to a proper diagnosis and treatment I manage my life better now than I ever did before. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for my older son. Though his diagnosis came over two years ago, he has refused any treatment. Instead, he self-medicates with drugs and alcohol. He dropped out of college. Twice. And he's usually unemployed. He is trapped by his own apathy and sees no way out. And I am powerless to help him.

His story is my story and I want to share it with you. His story, my story is one of heartache and tragedy, broken promises and last chances. But it is also a story of hope. I am still hopeful that he will get help for himself. I am still hopeful that his life will turn around. I am still hopeful that he will become whole again. I am his mother and I will always love him. But because I fear him, for now, I will have to love him from a safe distance.

This post was originally used as a blogger biography on


September 29, 2018

The incessant throbbing wasn't something I could ignore anymore. It underscored most of my waking hours, and it wasn't getting any better on its own. I finally visited a podiatrist and received the diagnosis: stress fracture. This differs from a standard bone fracture in that it is not caused suddenly. Instead, a stress fracture is the result of repeated stress on the bone(s).

This made sense to me.  I had been trying for months to get back in shape for a September half marathon after the Great Plantar Fasciitis Drama of 2017. So recent over-training combined with naturally bad feet appeared to be the culprit. I dropped out of the half marathon and I'll be wearing the boot for three weeks.

I'm told rest will heal it.

This current state has got me pretty blue. While I'd never call myself a Runner, I would say that running has proved to be the very best way for me to feel healthy both physically and mentally. There is no other form of exercise that seems to give me the same full-body healing than running.

Wearing the boot isn't all bad. They say black is slimming, and I'm saving on sock-laundering since I only wear one now. But today I realized something else: this boot has made me slow down enough to think. It's made me deal with something I'd been trying hard to ignore.

This summer, my sons' father died. He was 50 years old.

Some say what killed him was a sudden illness - a rapid decline over a few short weeks before the end. But I know - and his sons know - that what killed him took several years. The organ failure was the physical cause, but the actual illness had been slowly swallowing him for what feels like forever.

Though we had been divorced for nearly 17 years by the time he died, his death still rocked me. He had been my parenting partner, and before that, he had been my friend. He had been the man I married in 1991, fully expecting to be partners for life. But, things change and people change, and our marriage only lasted 10 years. Hindsight allows me now to understand more fully what happened all those years ago. But, in any case, he and I were good co-parents for the majority of our sons' childhoods. We were so amicable in the early years apart that it was several summers of swim meets before the other swim team parents knew we were, in fact, divorced. It was the talk of the snack shack when the news finally broke. All those summers ago, standing beside each other at the end of the pool, we were lock-step, rooting for our little boys with complete, unified devotion. I always thought we'd be that way.

While those swim meet-tandem moments became less frequent as our lives gradually diverged, I never, not for one moment, doubted his love for our sons. Ultimately, for reasons I am only now able to truly see, we became estranged. The recurring theme of our conflicts was always connected to the subject of his drinking. This hadn't been what ended our marriage. It was what ended our co-parenting partnership.

Repeated stress.

Today, I look down at this boot and can identify the root cause of my current condition - this stress fracture. It wasn't over-training. That was just the symptom, inspired by my yearning to run more, push myself harder and focus on something else, anything else besides the fact that my sons were losing their father and there was nothing I could do about it - the reality that despite our years of trying to get him help, this illness was finally going to kill him.

Repeated stress.

At the end, he didn't have people in his life to help with the details. His family lives across the country and he'd distanced himself from all of his friends. He'd had trouble holding down jobs, so there weren't colleagues either. That left his two sons...and me.

There is nothing that can prepare you for the details surrounding the death of a loved one. And despite everything, despite our estrangement, despite my disgust at his countless rejections for help, despite it all, he was still the father of our sons. So, as his final days approached, our boys, just 26 and 21, the "next of kin," were tasked with all the details of the death of their father. After all this time, after all that they'd been through, that was not something I was going to stand by and watch them have to do alone, so I stepped in. And beyond the mere fact that their dad was dying of an illness we believed could have been prevented, there had been further complications that only surfaced when he became hospitalized and terminally diagnosed. A pending foreclosure, mounds of debt, and unpaid life insurance premiums just added to the emotional torrent.

Repeated stress.

The funeral is now over. And thanks to the incredible generosity of his college friends, our sons and I were able to travel to his childhood home for the service. They got to see their dad's relatives and reunite with cousins they'd seen mostly in photographs. And the night before the funeral, our boys got to meet their dads' college family and were overwhelmed with the stories they heard, stories about a man they hardly even knew. A man who had gradually disappeared sometime during their youth.

The boys are working hard to move forward, each in their own way. I am incredibly proud of them for what they've been through and for their steadfast love for their dad despite everything. They have seen firsthand the fracturing of a man because of addiction. But now that it's over, and I think they are healing.

As for me, sitting here with this boot on, I'm finally getting some rest. And I think I feel myself starting to heal, too.

The Benefits of Re-Routing: Finding Hope When There Are No U-turns

June 3, 2018

A few weeks ago, I traveled out of state for work. After a full day of school presentations, I was tired and ready to get back home. Three hours away, on an unfamiliar highway in the mountains where cell service is spotty, my phone navigation lagged in a dead spot for just a moment and I missed my exit. 
Worst yet, there was no place to turn around. I had to drive 20 miles the wrong way before I could finally head back in the direction of home.

But on that road traveling the wrong way cursing emphatically, I was reminded that in life, we rarely get to turn around. Sometimes we have to go the wrong way for a long time before we get a chance to get back on the right road.

I haven't always known this. As a kid, I loved "do-overs". Whether it was a roll of dice, a hand of cards, or a final shot at the free throw line, if I didn't like the outcome the first time, as the big sister, I often declared the need to do it again. And my younger brother, always eager to please, would agree. I'd always get another chance: another roll, another hand, another shot at the basket.

In middle school, our family got our first computer. My brother and I were supposed to take turns - one complete game per person and then switch. The problem was, I rarely finished a whole game so he didn't get many chances to play. I would constantly find a reason to start over. Looking back now, my brother's patience was saint-like. I ought to give him a call and apologize.

As I grew older, my desire for a do-over when things didn't go my way continued. While rehearsing for piano recitals, I'd start over every time I flubbed a note. Eventually, I would get through the piece error-free, but the beginning of the song was always better than the rest of it.

I've done this a lot over the years, looking for the do-over so I can get a better outcome. Lots of staccato-moments, lots of beginnings, lots of starting, stumbling and seeking to start again. Parenting, though, doesn't offer do-overs. There's no time you can turn around and try again. You just have to keep going and hope there's another way to get where you're headed, hope for re-routing.

There have been plenty of times I would have loved to call "do over" when I'd flubbed as a mom. The little mistakes like when I let my son eat too much Easter candy before church and he vomited all over the crowded pews of parishioners. And the big mistakes, like the times, I promised I wouldn't tell anyone about my son's crisis, letting stigma keep him from getting help.

Knowing what I know now - that the impact of stigma can be devastating and that the lack of information and support can lead to the lack of hope - I would definitely do things differently. But, sadly, there are no U-turns in parenting. 

The good news is when our life roads get re-routed, we have new opportunities. My re-routing has allowed me to meet some other wayward travelers.

Recently, I gave a presentation and I included parts of our family's story. One of the participants followed me out to my car afterward and asked if I had a few minutes to talk. 

"Thank you for coming today and telling your story," he said, and his eyes cast down before adding, "I feel like you came here just for me." 

For privacy, I won't share the specifics about his loved one in crisis, but he said it was the first time he'd told anyone about it. He appeared visibly shaken, yet also somewhat relieved.

When I share my family's story in presentations or at meetings, people often seek me out later, privately, either that day or days, weeks, even months later to tell me their own story, relieved and grateful knowing there are others who've been through this too. Sometimes I say to them, "we're members of a club we never knew we joined -but we are in it together." 

These encounters are powerful. No matter how many times someone says, "Thank you for telling your story - I feel so much better because of ..." something washes over me. Their relief and their gratitude fill me up, temporarily quelling the guilt I still feel about my own son and what happened years ago. Often, they conclude by saying something like this, "Just know that you helped someone today."

This isn't about my story, though. And you don't have to have a blog or change careers to make a positive impact on someone else. Each of us traveling, whether by broken GPS or not, has the power to help other lost travelers simply by sharing our story. It's not complicated and it doesn't require special training. It might be hard at first but it's worth it. By sharing our stories with other solo travelers, our own roads become less lonely.

I've met amazing people and learned so much on this re-routed journey so far. My road has even intersected with my older son's. Sometimes, I have the chance to travel with him briefly sharing a leg of our journeys together before our roads diverge again.

But I'll keep going this way - allowing the GPS to reroute me, trusting that the highway I'm traveling is the right one for me. And hopefully, at some point up ahead, at an intersection I can't yet see, my road will merge with my son's again and we can travel the rest of it together.

Unwinding the Stress Ball That Is Today's American School

May 20, 2018

I don't miss it. 

I do miss my students. And I miss my teacher-colleagues. But I don't miss my work in the classroom.

Jockeying for my turn in the faculty restroom. Feigning interest in faculty meetings that should have been e-mails. Trying to unhear the parents abuzz in the parking lot brimming with their Pinterest-post plans for their kid's next project.

Talk. Task. Test. 
Lather. Rinse. Repeat. 
And, of course, the Anxiety.

The average eleven-year-old should not even know the word Anxiety. But during my 25 years, more and more often, my students arrived in August with this diagnosis already documented. And it's not only the students' anxiety that increased over my years in the classroom. The teachers and the parents felt it, too. Achievements. Recognition. Ribbons. Awards. Each came with its extra bonus dose of stress to be the best.

I couldn't see it from the inside because it happened so gradually. But now, a year later and metaphorically miles away, I can see what's happening and what we can do about it.

These days, teachers are reporting very high rates of stress. This article explains the multiple impacts of teacher stress. Teacher turn-over is on the rise and our newest teachers are the first to find the door. Nearly half of all new teachers change careers within their first 5 years. But the impacts of their stress go beyond the teachers and their colleagues - their stress impacts their students.

Our kids are feeling pressures at levels I didn't see when I first began teaching. Their stress may affect their ability to view the world as a safe, welcoming place, an understanding place where efforts are encouraged and failure isn't a dirty word. One of my mantras, when I was a teacher, was "failure is an opportunity" - meaning that without failing we don't really learn. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed with that messaging. This report explores teen depression and anxiety in today's youth, identifying social media and school pressures as leading causes of the rise in mental health-related concerns in recent years. 

In extreme cases, student stress may even be killing them. While I am not suggesting that stress and anxiety singularly lead to youth suicide, I am saying it could be a contributing factor. Suicide deaths are complex, not caused by one isolated incident or issue. And we know that 9 out of 10 suicide deaths are due to underlying mental illness. But did you know that anxiety can be a mental illness?

Nearly 3,500 high school age young people attempt suicide every day. Look at the seasonability of suicide in adults versus youth cited in this article. Adults tend to complete suicide in the summer, but for young people, the highest rates of suicide are in the fall - which for a great majority of young people, is the start of a new school year.

And, we mustn't forget the parents. It seems that everyone looks to parents to be the solution. We want to hold them responsible for everything, don't we? This report aptly explains that it takes a balance between school, students, parents, and the community at large to create a healthy atmosphere for today's young people to thrive.

This is a virus that is spreading but we can stop it. Not every school environment is teeming with pressures tied to AP course enrollment or state-test achievement, but our children - and their teachers and parents- feel pressure to be the best at something. Or, worse, they feel like failures if they aren't considered good at anything.

But we can help alleviate the stressors affecting today's students, teachers, and parents.

Tell your child that you are proud of them, not only when they have completed something with "success". But, more importantly, choose a time when they are struggling and let them know that THAT makes you proud of them. Their determination, their curiosity, their tenacity is what makes you proud. NOT their blue ribbon or their "A+". Speaking of grades, STOP looking so closely at them. Instead, focus on what your child LEARNED. A grade, regardless of where it came from, is inherently subjective. Even nationally-standardized tests have some level of bias. And while I am not suggesting you completely ignore the grades your child brings home, since that's not exactly practical today, I am suggesting you discuss with your child what they learned rather than focus on what score they received. With this refocusing of values, you, too, may feel your parent pressures lighten as well.

Convey the message to your students that "Failure is an opportunity" and learning happens when there is a challenge to overcome. Find that "sweet spot" between too easy and too difficult and lead them to it. Recognize their efforts - genuine efforts - rather than just their "achievements". Maybe instead of posting high scores on the bulletin board, post students' responses about WHAT THEY LEARNED in the process. And don't be afraid to challenge your leadership if you think the expectations they have for your students are not developmentally appropriate. You know your students far better than your leadership does. Your students and their parents trust you to look out for them. Seek ways to educate your leadership if they dismiss students' social-emotional needs in lieu of school-level achievement. I know this can be risky, as you may feel you could lose your job, but no job or school achievement is worth a child's life.

Recognize that your value is not determined by a score, or a ranking, or a label. Your value is so much more than any of that. Rather than defining yourself by your achievements define yourself by your character. Be the kid who is always kind and who always tries and who is always curious. THAT will expose your VALUE so much more thoroughly. Seek out others who appreciate you for you. Spend time with those who make you feel like your best self, the person who you know yourself to be. And if you feel pressures or stress, know you are not alone. There are people who can help you and who will listen. You can call them. You can text them. And, I am one of them. I will help. I promise.



"Three Hours Outside Myself" - Another Mother's Story

January 19, 2018

There's nothing like an ambulance ride to the emergency room to help you put life back into perspective. On Dec. 28, 2017, I experienced a sudden onset of symptoms that presented much like either a Panic Attack or a Stroke.

After three hours of terrifying symptoms, including the loss of feeling in my limbs as well as a brief spell of aphasia (speech disruption), my condition improved. I regained full use of my limbs and the ability to speak. It was like someone flipped a switch and turned me back on.

The final diagnosis, arrived upon through the process of elimination, was Migraine with Aura.

I'm not writing this post about Migraines or Panic Attacks or Strokes. Instead, I'm writing about what that near brush with death taught me.

I don't claim to understand what it feels like to truly face death, to be diagnosed with a terminal illness or to miraculously survive a catastrophic accident. Nope, I was just really sick for a few short hours. But the things I thought about, the things that swirled around inside my head for those scary hours, really impacted me. Actually, no, it wasn't the things I thought about. It was the things I didn't think about that really caused me to take note.
  • I never thought about how much money I had made.
  • I never thought about much I weighed or the size of jeans.
  • I never thought about whether my purse or my shoes or my coat were this year's hottest trend.
  • I never thought about whether or not any gray sprouts were peeking out of my hairline.
  • I never thought about how many followers I had on social media.
  • And I never thought about who the president is.
  • Believe me.
No, for those few scary hours, I thought only about people, my people, the people in my life that matter most to me and how much I love them.

I thought about how my older son had been through so much and how proud I was of his journey. How much I wanted him to continue his recovery and eventually be out on his own.

I thought about my husband and, although we found each other late in life, how lucky we've been to have shared these years together.

And I thought about my younger son, and how proud I was of the young man he is becoming. 

Luckily, this frightening experience was brief and my symptoms subsided quickly. I had only about three hours to worry that my time was up. 

But it's taken me three weeks to get myself to write this. And it was watching the movie "Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri" that finally inspired me to open up at all. The mother in that movie was filled with such rage, such regret, such pain. And all she wanted was to feel some sense of resolution. She thought she knew exactly what would fix it.

If you've seen the film, you know if her efforts get her what she wanted. If you haven't seen the film, I won't spoil it for you. I'll just say watching that film inspired me to write about this. 

I'm grateful that I had those three hours, just long enough to remember the things that matter and the things that don't. Sometimes you need a few hours outside yourself to bring life back into perspective.

Happy 2018.