Avoiding a Diagnosis: Providing the Tools to Combat Mental Illness 1

So this was the first paragraph of an e-mail from the Goblin King a couple of days ago:

I’m not sure if me dealing with peoples infidelity is a cause or concern of a so called anxiety disorder? But this is not a concern of mine now. I could see how a lack of a strong union, does play on all our personal relationships, on both sides of that coin that is, outside of any what you describe, so called anxiety disorder? But this is up to others too Judge. 

Sorry—hope I haven’t lost you yet—I know how painful that was to read.  I had to read it four times to even get a basic gist of what he’s saying, and I cringed each time.  I’m surprised he knows a word as large as infidelity.  At first, I thought it may have been another malapropism.

But apparently, it’s not.

This e-mail was the response to one of my own. I took the Goblin King to task. Puck had his Grade 3 State Mandated Standardized Testing starting on a Monday after being at his dad’s from the previous Friday.

Puck has regular tutoring sessions on Friday after school and on Sunday afternoon—when he was at his dad’s.  The tutor e-mailed me on Friday because she’d been attempting for a couple of days to rearrange the session with the Goblin King on Sunday by 15 minutes because she had a family matter to attend to.  She’d offered to start 15 minutes early, or only have a 45-minute session, because of his test the next day.  She even offered to have his session on Saturday—as she knew that Puck was worried about the testing and needed extra prep.  The Goblin King hadn’t e-mailed her back as of Friday—and I texted him, reminding of the test, reminding him of Puck’s issues with anxiety related to the test, and that he needed as much prep as he could get. That was, unfortunately, the best I could do.

So it wasn’t until Monday that I discovered that the Goblin King refused to change the appointment. On the DAY before the test that he was worried about. The Goblin King even suggested to me (as though I hadn’t had the discussion with her myself) that the tutor “canceled” the session outright. (She later told me that he said he couldn’t do it because he had other plans.  The kids attended a birthday party at his father’s house that day, but they had dinner there, so there was no reason he couldn’t have made a morning appointment or attended one of the Saturday sessions she’d offered—or both!).

But it was OK (or so the Goblin King told me). Puck’s eight-year-old cousin had taken the test two weeks prior—and she helped him on the weekend.  Without any prep materials. And did you notice that I said she was eight?

What was I talking about—Puck hasn’t been “diagnosed” with anxiety. He has normal worries just like any other kid. He hasn’t seen anything that worries him.

I admit it. I lost it. I took my time drafting, redrafting, editing and removing all the swear words.  It took me two days to get the e-mail correct.

In my response, I suggested that Puck may not have been “diagnosed” with anxiety, but he has a genetic predisposition to the disease because his father suffers from it. (Yes, I admit that was a punch in the gut).

I told him (again) that children with learning disabilities (like Puck) are more likely to suffer from it.

I told him (again) that I knew that he’d observed Puck’s avoidance symptoms (even though he brushed them off), that I had observed them myself, and the school had as well.

I told him (again) that Puck and I had spoken to a counselor and developed specific exercises to help with his anxiety. I’d even put him in contact with the counselor.  But apparently that discussion went something like “has he been diagnosed with anxiety,”—”no,”—”ok bye”.

The school has assigned him a social worker to help. His primary care physician is also aware of the symptoms and my concerns.

I tried to make it clear that the school, Puck’s tutor, his medical team and myself were working hard to make sure that he will NEVER be “diagnosed” with anxiety. I will do anything I can to prevent it.

I’ve seen the effects of the disease on someone who was never given the tools to combat it. I don’t want to see that in my son. I’m not waiting until he’s so far gone he has to be medicated (like his father).  I want to give him the tools now. I want him to have a resilient personality. So he understands that he has control.

And the one person who above anyone else should have an understanding of the disorder and what it can do to you is not supporting him. At all.

Denial. Denial. Denial. Not my fault. It’s not happening. It’s “normal”.

Maybe if he says it often enough it will be true.

I knew that writing a long e-mail would likely go well over his head. I knew that suggesting that his anxiety was crippling and horrible to watch might have been the wrong approach. I even knew that it might cause an anxiety attack. Don’t get me wrong. I am the biggest proponent for those with mental health issues. I’ve struggled with my own. I wouldn’t want to cause anyone to have mental health issues. I do, however, have an issue with anybody who is an asshat. Especially if they’re an asshat related to my kids.

I had a small hope that the Goblin King might realize that he has trouble coping with the activities of daily living not just because of his mental illness, but also because his parents didn’t equip him with the tools needed to fight it.  I’d hoped that by pointing this out, perhaps he would be able to realize that ignoring it, denying it and enabling it is not going to make it go away.

And what do I get back?  A suggestion that his worrying about my infidelity was his problem all along.  It wasn’t an anxiety disorder.  He’s not worried about it anymore—it’s not “his concern”.

Just to be clear—my ex was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder while we were still together. I have hypothesized on concurrent conditions in my other blogs, but I do know for certain that he was diagnosed with GAD. There are medical records with his doctor and his counsellor at the time.

He didn’t pursue further diagnosis. He didn’t seek counselling. His doctor suggested a magic pill. The “easy” route.

He was put on and continues to take a clonazepam (Klonopin)—a sedative—to control his anxiety attacks. A drug that he continues to take daily, despite his protestations to the contrary. A drug that he was advised he’d have to take for the rest of his life—because withdrawal is also crippling.

The cause of his diagnosis was “work stress”. I was never part of the equation (although I’m certain our marital issues didn’t help). His discussions with his counselor and his doctor centered around work stress. He actually had to take time off work for it. He wasn’t hospitalized, but he took a month off “stress leave”. And when he went back, his job was “accommodated” to relieve the stress.

This wasn’t something that I made up.

I understand. He has anxiety. He’s worried—anxious—because there is a genetic link to him. It will be his “fault” if Puck develops the disease. My e-mail hit him over the head with the fact that he’s potentially passing this nightmare down to his son.

Puck has his genes and is his son (although if I was so unfaithful, why is he so certain of that?  He had me test Flower, but not Puck). If there is a genetic predisposition to the disease, both Puck and Flower have an increased chance of getting it.

Truthfully? I really don’t care about Puck’s genetic predisposition to the disease. He has the genes he has, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. There isn’t a gene splicing machine that can take out the genes his father has passed down.

I’ve had this discussion with the Goblin King before. I’m not worried about the past and things I can’t control. I can’t control the genes or predispositions Puck has.

Puck is left-handed in part because I’m left-handed. It may have contributed to his dysgraphia. Do I think it’s my fault? No. I deal with its consequences and give him the tools to deal with it.

Puck’s vision is poor because mine is poor. Is it my fault? No. I got him glasses—the tools he needs to help him to read.

He has a predisposition to anxiety disorder because his father suffers from the disease. It’s not a certainty. It’s an increased risk. Is it his dad’s fault? No. It’s a familial trait passed through his father’s family. Mental illness.

But even if it’s not his “fault”, it’s a risk, that in combination with other issues (his learning disability and his avoidance behaviors) that I’m concerned about now. I’ll be damned if I’ll sit back and ignore it. I got him occupational therapists and neuropsychologists and special writing paper and a tutor and glasses. I’ve given him the tools that can help him to work with this vision issues and his left-handedness. And I will give him the tools to deal with the very real anxiety he is experiencing in his present.

I know there are no guarantees in life. He’s not guaranteed to develop a mental illness just because his father has one. Or similarly, because his uncle (his father’s brother is schizophrenic) has one. But I’m not going to put my head in the sand and ignore the prospect.  I’m going to teach him about mental illness and the signs and symptoms. I don’t want him to get down the creek without a paddle.  I will teach him to build his own paddle.  Or—if he has it in him, to build a motor. I’ll be on shore waiting for him to throw a line if he needs help. I’ll always, always be there for him.

I watched my ex’s brother struggle to his diagnosis. His family buried their heads in the sand and let him continue to sink lower and lower until he was too far gone to function. He might have had a chance if he understood the signs and symptoms and his parents had given him the tools to cope with it. If he had been raised in a home that taught him to fight instead of to give up.  If he believed in himself. Instead of ignoring and denying and aiding and abetting. They taught him that mental illness is something to be ashamed of. Denied. They enabled him. They ignored his symptoms. And now, he lives in an apartment in my ex’s house with a small disability pension. He’s sedated and on heavy anti-psychotics. He can’t work. He can’t have a relationship with anyone. He’s too far gone.

I also watched the Goblin King struggle. I did my best at the time to help him. He didn’t want help. He was already beyond help. And now, he lives in the house below his mentally ill brother. Since our relationship, he’s been unable to have another long-term relationship. He takes his daily “magic” pill—that doesn’t take all the symptoms away—but it’s the only way he know to deal with the anxiety. Aside from his other coping behaviors. Avoidance. Obsession. Compulsion. Clearly, from the e-mail above, it’s my “fault” he doesn’t trust anyone. And because this has apparently become his focus, he’s unable to move on.

There may be nothing I can do about Puck’s father. His head is clearly buried fairly far…well I’d say in sand, but I’m pretty sure it’s up somewhere else. Nothing I can say will help him to pull it out of there. And I have to accept that and move on.

So I’ll continue to work with Puck’s teachers and his health team, and with Puck himself. He will grow up mindful. He will learn to relax. That not doing well on a test isn’t the end of the world. That I’m proud of him as long as he tries hard. And I won’t always have to tell him those things. He’ll be able to tell himself.

He’ll know that if he does experience symptoms, he  can identify them and will have the tools to deal with them. He doesn’t have to be diagnosed with the disease. If he is, we’ll deal with it. But I’m not going to worry about that. I’m working to give him the tools and techniques and the mental flexibility to accept and move with his life. Without shame. With the support and love and acceptance.

And I guess his father will continue to live in the past that he has made up in his mind. Externalizing blame. He has no control over his destiny at this point because he doesn’t realize he can take control. He’s too old and to fixed to realize that it’s nobody’s fault but his own.

But Puck is not.

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