I apologize for not writing for a couple of days. I’ve been piles deep in statistics and research about active shooters/mass shootings. After listening to the news and hearing reporters talk about the lack of studies concerning mass shootings, I felt it was important for me (as an American citizen) to do my part. Honestly, it made me feel good to be able to do anything given the helplessness I’ve been feeling watching all the coverage of El Paso and Dayton. As a mother, I feel horrible for all of these individuals and their families.
The information I found did not always correlate with what the news media has been finding concerning mass shootings. I took FBI statistics and used active shooting/mass shooting cases in which 4+ individuals were killed and gathered evidence about motives. I put these motives into categories and created charts and graphs as to whether it was mental illness, minority led, Islamic extremism, ex-partner violent act, disgruntled worker, or white supremacy led. I put all this information into a video format to make it easier to disseminate.
Please remember that we are not helpless. All of us have skills and can help those involved in mass shootings. If you are spiritual, please pray. If you are good at fundraising, please put together something for the victims. If you are effective with public speaking, put together a lecture for the community. If you are an artist, allow others to join you to create a peace of artwork for individuals to express themselves. I think apathy is the worst outcome from tragedies like these. Please commit to something for these atrocities. Believe it or not, sending prayers and good energy (love) is probably the most powerful!
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is now in edition 5 and ADD is no longer considered a mental illness. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) still exists, but a new understanding of hyperactivity has been embraced. Hyperactivity can exist on the outside by not being able to sit still, climbing on things, or running about, but it can also exist on the inside within a person’s mind. An individual can have a mind that never sits still, runs about, and climbs all over the place. This is why ADHD in girls has often been misdiagnosed. The two main symptoms of girls with ADHD are a mind that never stops moving and a lack of organization (messiness).
Some other symptoms of females that have ADHD are losing important items such as car keys, a purse, money, or their phone. Another symptom is not being able to find something that is sitting right in front of their face. If you have a child that says, “I study for hours and hours and I always get a B+ or an A-. Why can’t I ever get an A?” Individuals with ADHD have to study and read four times as long as others in order to retain the information. Reading can be extremely challenging in that an individual might work through 2-3 sentences and then find their mind shifting to something else. They may then have to go back and read those 2-3 sentences over again. This is why it takes a person with ADHD four times as long to read and study as compared to others.
Some other interesting facts about ADHD include children sometimes being immature as compared to their peers, struggling with bed wetting longer, as well as being bullied by peers because they don’t pay attention in school and then get called names because of it. One of the items I wanted to do with this blog post is to talk about the blessings and gifts of ADHD. Yes, there are wonderful things that come along with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Let’s stop thinking about mental illness as only having negative components.
I believe that all 3 of my siblings including myself have ADHD. I am the only one that is medicated at the moment. I think there is great creativity that comes from those with ADHD. My brother is a second grade teacher and his creativity is amazing. When he taught a lesson on farms and cows, he borrowed nursing gloves from a clinic and filled them with colored water and taught his students how to milk a cow. When he teaches math, he uses scooters and has his kids scooter to the sum of 3+6. His students love him and learn so much from him in one academic year.
My sister is the same way! There is never a boring moment when I spend time with my sister and her family. She finds the most unique shows, games, and places for us to go. We spend time talking and her stories are hilarious! Her house looks like a tornado hit it most of the time and she has trouble organizing it, but that’s not where her gifts are and I’m glad she doesn’t focus on what’s unimportant. This is why I wanted to share two books that I really love in relation to ADHD.
Disclaimer – these two books are a part of affiliate marketing. The blogger will gain a small percentage of each book purchased through this site. This helps to keep this blog running and helps to pay for yearly fees.
When we last met, we were talking about Gabe and all of his unique Autistic features. I want to start with his elementary school years, which were probably some of the toughest. After Kindergarten, our family moved to a much bigger city where the classroom sizes increased substantially. This would have been okay for any other child, but for Gabe it was too much stimulus. We continued to work on flexibility with his routine and I started keeping Gabe home from school when I knew the teacher was about to rip out her hair from his continuous schedule questions.
The early elementary school years were probably the toughest as kids never seem to keep their hands to themselves. Gabe couldn’t handle other kids touching him. Games like tag or basketball sent him into a tantrum and when he asked others not to touch him and they did it anyway, he punched, kicked, and choked his peers. There was no way possible to get it through the other kid’s heads not to touch him. The school attempted to expel him when he choked another girl on the playground. She decided that Gabe was going to play foot tag and kept stomping on his foot and Gabe let her have it.
Thankfully, he was on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and legally couldn’t be suspended or expelled. I was glad that I’d been a public school teacher for 10 years and knew my rights as a parent of a child with a disability. I spent so much time in the elementary school advocating for his rights and trying to get him an organized and routine-centered teacher I might as well of worked there. Very rarely did the school ever listen to me. I was definitely a mom bitch and the staff rolled their eyes when I came through the door. I knew no one liked me, but I was my son’s voice when he couldn’t advocate for himself.
Things started to change when Gabe got a phenomenal 3rd grade teacher. This teacher taught me how to say, “no” to Gabe and that I didn’t need to explain the reasons for my decision. This didn’t mean that Gabe wouldn’t try to compromise his way through being told no, but this teacher gave me the ability to realize that children make their own decisions and have to be accountable for them. Every single day that I picked Gabe up from school, he was in tears as soon as he got into the car. It was exhausting, but I think school was exhausting for him.
The older Gabe got the easier it was for him to manage flexibility with time and to self-sooth himself when he got upset. Gabe’s coping mechanism was always video games and it still is. The minute he gets home from school, his eyes are slits and he heads right back to his room for video games to relax. Gabe will never be involved in limitless extra school activities, but at least he can make it through an 8 hour day without losing it anymore. We work quite a bit on his tact as he doesn’t seem to realize that it’s not okay to tell people when they are below average. Gabe still doesn’t realize how loud he talks in a restaurant or when he’s not following the conversation and inserts his own opinions.
Gabe is going to be in 9th grade this year and wants desperately to get a job. He’s only 14 years old, but wants to be working and paying for whatever he can get. My daughter wouldn’t have worked until she was 16-17 years old if she had her choice. Gabe consistently helps around the house doing anything that I ask him to. Although he doesn’t play football, won’t ever be in a play at school, doesn’t sing in the choir, and loves advanced math I wouldn’t change it for the world. Gabe has taught me so much about life and patience. I developed an enormous amount of patience parenting Gabe and feel like I can handle almost anything. Gabe is such a blessing in my life and I don’t know what I would do without him. I am so proud of him and the man he is becoming. Autism or not he deserves a life like everyone else and I hope all his dreams come true, even if he takes a whole different route than most. Wasn’t there something about a road not taken and how much of a difference it made?
Blessings come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors. If someone had told me 2 out of 3 of my children would have Autism, I probably would’ve gasped and decided not to have children. Both my older son and daughter have high functioning Autism, but my son Gabe is more severe. I noticed that something was wrong with Gabe when he turned 2 years old and wasn’t speaking any words. The doctor performed hearing tests and found that Gabe was only hearing 10% in one ear and 50% in the other. He assured me that if we put tubes in Gabe’s ears that he would hear 100% in each ear and quickly regain language because of his young age.
At 2 years old Gabe went into surgery and had tubes put in his ears as well as his adenoids removed. He did recover quickly from his surgery, but his language did not. Gabe often pointed at items he wanted and refused to provide the names for them. It was obvious my son was bright because he could program the Dish Network remote to the programs he liked and somehow get rid of television shows the rest of the family watched.
When Gabe got tired each night, he grabbed his blanket and headed to bed without letting us know. When he got up in the morning, he would move chairs around in our kitchen and climb on top of them to get what he needed. He didn’t bother asking for what he needed because he knew we wouldn’t understand him anyway. My husband Mike and I quickly learned that life would be really interesting and different with Gabe. We knew he was unique, but we didn’t know why.
I decided to take Gabe to a free well-baby check, which turned out to be a test of speech, vision, and cognitive skills put on by the area education association. It was here that the speech pathologists realized something wasn’t right with Gabe. They noted his extremely adept ability to stack blocks into the air with the precision of a 5 year old, but he still refused to use more than 1 or 2 words. Those words were not easy to understand.
The speech pathologist asked to meet with Gabe in our home to work with him and learn more about his limitations. She arrived each week with pictures, puzzles, and colorful games for the purpose of helping him to speak. The pathologist noticed his lack of eye contact and asked us to no longer give him items when he pointed at them, but to make sure that he provided the words. It was through this painstaking exercise that we began asking Gabe (sometimes 50-80 times a day) to look us in the eyes as he requested something he wanted. We said words over and over again to help him learn each consonant and vowel. Each request was met with tears and a tantrum, but we finally started to hear him form words like he was supposed to be.
Within a month or two, it became obvious that Gabe wasn’t advancing quickly enough. The speech pathologist asked to sit down with us and offered for Gabe to go to a special school about 20 miles away. He would be with other disabled children his age and have special teachers that would help him to develop his speech skills. So, at 2 1/2 years old we sent Gabe on a bus each day to an 8 hour school where we had no idea what he was doing each day.
After a couple of weeks at school, Gabe’s special teachers knew he had high functioning Autism, but didn’t share the information with us. Autism was still such an unknown and scary word to so many people. His teachers did bring in the Autism testing team and Gabe scored 2 points over the limits to be diagnosed with Autism. I noticed that the speech intervention and eye contact that we’d recently worked on weren’t checked off, which means that if we hadn’t done that he would have been diagnosed.
School and early intervention is what helped Gabe to improve significantly. Within the first couple months of school, Gabe started picking up words and putting sentences together. I couldn’t believe how quickly he was now picking up language and sharing his experiences with us. We still had to try and keep the technology out of Gabe’s hands because the minute he got a-hold of Mike’s I-Pad, he would find a way to set a code on it and lock his father out of his own device. Gabe was a stickler for the rules, though, and when his baby brother Kalan came along he made sure his brother followed suit.
As Kalan grew, Gabe made sure to dictate all of Kalan’s bad behaviors to us. He even stole my digital camera from out of my case and began recording anything Kalan did that was naughty. If Mike and I took a nap in our chairs or on the couch, Gabe knew not to wake us, but would get out the camera, record all of Kalan’s naughty behaviors, and then show it to us when we woke up. He even caught the naughty behaviors of our German Shepherd Neko when he stuck his head into the garbage and got the lid stuck around himself. What blows me away is how straight this picture is and Gabe was only 3 1/2 when he took it. I had just gotten home from a school event and caught Gabe in the act so I let him complete his final naughty dog picture before taking the camera back.
I was super excited when Gabe finally reached the age where he could go to Kindergarten at the school across from where Mike and I taught. We knew all the teachers especially his Kindergarten teacher and I finally knew I could get some inside information into how Gabe was doing in school. This is when we started to learn about how advanced Gabe was in mathematics. It was in Kindergarten that his teacher informed us that Gabe had already figured out multiplication and division on his own. He pointed to the number chart in her room and showed her how eight 8’s followed each row to 64. He then explained to her that 8 sets of 8 blocks counted up to 64 blocks.
I couldn’t believe it when I started asking him questions at home about mathematics. At 5-6 years old, Gabe began adding double digit numbers in his head and providing the answers to us. In the car we would quiz him for fun and Mike and I just gawked at each other when he arrived at the correct answer. What was I going to do with such an advanced child in mathematics? It was good that Mike was a high school math teacher because I knew I wouldn’t be able to teach him advanced math when he got older.
The Kindergarten teacher also informed us that she was trying to stop Gabe from doing all the other student’s homework. When Mike and I asked Gabe about it, he said they were stupid and weren’t getting it done and if he finished it for them, the class could move onto something different. Gabe became very upset by students that chose not to listen to their teacher. He would cry in frustration at his peers when they refused to do what the teachers asked. Gabe also hated substitutes because they got the class off track from their regular routine. I swear the Kindergarten teacher didn’t take off many days that year because she feared the problems Gabe would have from her being gone. If she stepped off her routine, Gabe would interrupt the class and inform her that she was off schedule. The teacher tried to explain flexibility to Gabe, but to no avail for the next many months.
Gabe was extremely time-centered at this point in his life and was bound and determined to keep everyone, including his teachers on a very precise time schedule. Mike and I realized quickly that when Gabe asked how long it would take to get somewhere, we were careful not to give him an exact time because if we didn’t arrive on time or got there too early, he would have a fit.
When Gabe stayed with my mother for a couple of days, he asked her when they could go to the park and my mom answered, “In about 15 minutes, Gabe.” My mom got busy doing something else and strangely the timer on her stove went off a little while later. She got up and turned off the stove trying to remember why she had set it. Gabe then busted into the kitchen and announced, “Time to go to the park, Grandma!” Somehow, Gabe at 6 years old had climbed onto her counter, set the timer on her stove, and was bound and determined for her to keep her word.
Gabe was the child who would come to check my alarm to find out how many minutes I still had to sleep before my alarm would go off and then tell me this when I was out cold, “Mom! Your alarm says you have 94 minutes of sleep left.” The first time it happened it was quite strange. I heard this little voice in my ear and then recognized what he was saying. “Oh, my God! Gabe! You don’t have to wake me up every couple minutes telling me how much time I have to sleep!” The next couple of mornings I had a strange feeling that someone was standing next to the bed and staring at me. I awoke to find Gabe standing right next to me, staring right into my eyes. “I waited till you opened your eyes. 61 minutes to sleep till your alarm goes off,” Gabe stated.
“You gotta be kidding me!” I thought to myself. The minutes thing about drove me nuts! Gabe watched every pattern that we had and then started fulfilling those patterns before we could do them ourselves. When I got home from teaching school, Gabe would instruct me to sit in my chair and when I did so, he would run and get a blanket and throw it on me. He would then run and get me a Diet Dew from the fridge and hand it to me, without me even asking for one. Every 30 minutes, Gabe would run and get me a Diet Dew and I would tell him I didn’t need one every 30 minutes, but that didn’t stop Gabe. I started just hiding them behind the chair every time he brought me one because it wasn’t worth the hassle of trying to explain it to him.
At times, Gabe was absolutely exhausting because he had to stay busy every single second of every minute of every hour of every day. It was hard to stay ahead of him. He loved technology and figured out how to illegally download games without paying for them. I think he was 7 years old when I finally found out what he was doing. Thank goodness we never got in trouble for that because I thought for sure the police would show up thinking that Mike did it. Would they believe that a 7 year old could do that?
In other ways, Gabe was the easiest child to raise. Gabe informed us at 3 years old that he was finished with diapers and he took them off and put on underwear. Both Mike and I freaked out thinking he would have an accident in bed or all over the house. Nope! Gabe only had one accident in the middle of the night after that point and he screamed and cried for 2 hours and then fell asleep. He never had an accident again.
There were many times that we had high school babysitters and Gabe would inform me the next morning what they hadn’t done and that we should just pay him to babysit from now on. He told me what they watched, what they did every hour, and how often they were on their phone and weren’t watching Kalan. I knew that Gabe was going to watch Kalan better than the babysitter, but I didn’t bother trying to explain to Gabe that the rest of society would frown upon a tiny little babysitter. Gabe has always had this way of viewing the world and although it makes perfect sense to me, it has never fit with society’s views of children his age. I always thought that Gabe would probably love to be in a classroom in China where there is strict obedience by all students. He would love the quiet as well as the advanced mathematics and science, but there’s a reason he was born here.
I recognize that this blog is getting long and I will need to separate this into two parts. I want to show you a picture of how Gabe looks today at 14 years old and our biggest concerns now. Currently, Gabe has texture issues when it comes to eating and at 14 years old he is now 6 foot. He tends to only eat rice, cheese, and ice cream and really doesn’t enjoy eating very much. His Autism had posed different challenges at various developmental points and although it has gotten a bit easier as he ages, it is still difficult for him to navigate the social world and all its complexities. Please read Rainman Jr. (part 2) when I get it finished to find out more about this Autism journey we are on.
My second year of teaching high school in 2003-2004, didn’t prove to be much easier than the first. At some level, I knew I had depression, but I didn’t want to get on any medication for it. I was raised in a family where anti-depressants were feared. I heard my mother say, “You know, she’s on anti-depressants.” My father would say, “I don’t need pills. I’m not crazy.” To this day, I still believe my mother, oldest sister, and two brothers believe that taking anti-depressants makes a person weak. At the most recent Christmas (2018), my younger brother had a moment alone with my daughter (who was 18 years old at the time) and she happened to share with him that she was on anti-depressants. Instead of finding out why, my brother began telling her that she needed to get “off those things” and that she could simply think her way through bouts of depression. My daughter left the conversation feeling deflated, unsuccessful, and that she wasn’t good enough. I was pissed when she told me what he said.
When I started my first year of teaching in 2002-2003, I was very optimistic. I double majored in sociology and political science at a 4 year college, only to have no idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I grew up in a nuclear and extended family of public school teachers. Holidays were spent with relatives talking about school administration, funny answers students gave to questions posed in class, and different curriculum ideas that aunts and uncles had attempted in their classrooms. In college, I had met my future husband whose name was Mike and he was a perfect fit for my extended family. He was striving to be a high school mathematics instructor so when I introduced him to the family, he instantly found allies among them. It was during Mike’s student teaching, that I began to substitute teach and realized the talent I had for explaining hard concepts to students. I heard students say, “I wish you could be our teacher. I learned more in this one day than I’ve learned in the last month.”
I substitute taught for a couple months before I returned back to school to earn my teaching license. Social studies had always interested me so I decided to get a third major, which would be called a Social Science Comprehensive Major. I earned this degree at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville, which greatly prepared me for the classroom. I can’t understate my preparedness for the classroom also came from my nuclear and extended family, though. Being raised in an extended family with 17 public school educators provided me with a plethora of classroom management techniques, curriculum ideas, and many role models that I could seek out if I needed help. I took to teaching like a pro. I definitely wasn’t the best instructor at the school, but I was much more prepared than most first year teachers that enter the classroom.
My husband and I took jobs as educators with a small rural school district in the northeast portion of Iowa. The district had taken a risk on hiring a husband and wife to teach within the same high school, but we were committed to excellence and giving the most we could to our occupations. It wasn’t long before we got involved in extra-curricular activities beyond teaching full-time. Small school districts often have teachers fulfill the role of sports coaches, speech teachers, musical directors, prom advisers, student council directors, math teams, mock trial coaches, and field trip coordinators. To say that I worked from 8-3:30 P.M. would be a joke. Those were the contracted hours teachers were expected to be present. Often times, I didn’t leave the school until 6-9 P.M. In 2002-2003, my first paycheck (take-home-pay) for 1 month of teaching was $1,450.00. My husband’s paycheck was nearly the same. Getting involved in coaching or advising extra-curricular activities helped to earn extra money for our family. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
It was during a high school basketball game and in a small concession stand that I started to notice strange changes in my body and my thinking. My husband was the junior class adviser at the time and I had to wait for him to finish running and closing the concession stand before we could go home. It was 8-9 P.M. before we could begin to head home. It is hard to describe (even to this day) what that bodily thought process looked like. It was almost like a casting out or a rejection of all events related to the school. It was so confusing because I had worked so hard to get my teaching license. Why was I now starting to reject being at school and teaching? As the days moved on, the feeling inside my body and mind became worse and worse. I started to reject driving to extra-curricular activities to direct and coach on the weekends. Couldn’t I have 1 or 2 days to myself?
The minute that we were home, my daughter needed my time, but it felt like I had nothing left to give. I resented her. I resented my husband. I just couldn’t get my body or mind to get excited about “going to school” and I began to sit on the couch at home and stare at the television, although I realized I wasn’t watching it. Each day my legs and arms felt more heavy and I wondered how I was ever going to get through the school year? I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel anymore because there were still over 100 days left of the school year. If I called in sick too many days, students and community members would begin to talk. The town that I taught only had 2,000 citizens and they seemed to know everything about the teachers at the school as well as aspects of their personal life.
My body refused to care what the citizens of the school district, thought, though. What made the matter so much worse was that I had Celiac Disease and after seeing over 30-40 doctors within the last 10 years, no one had figured out the diagnosis, yet. It wasn’t abnormal for me to throw up once or twice a morning before heading to school and feeling nauseated throughout the day. Feeling terrible with no energy was more my normal than my exception. During my student teaching, I had to hide my throwing up from my cooperating teacher. There were times where I would head to the bathroom or even throw up in the wastebasket next to my desk. No doctor seemed to want to believe me. Even when I arrived at the emergency room and almost passed out in the bushes next to the hospital doors and the doctor found only scants of water in my system, he still couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.
It was time to send me to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN where if they couldn’t find out what was wrong with me, no one could. My husband and I went to the emergency room, were steered to another room, met more doctors and were shifted again, until finally they put me in the hospital so that endocrinologists could look at my case. Mike and I had brought all my records and scans with me and I was told that they would look at these and talk about my case. They attempted to feed me and I picked at a hamburger they had brought and swallowed it, trying not to vomit it up and knowing this food would give me the important energy that I needed to try and get better. The next morning, I was told by a doctor that they had looked through all my records and scans and had decided that I probably had some psychological issue that I needed to see therapy for. Are you kidding me?
We left the Mayo Clinic without any answers. I ended up seeing a psychologist and getting a psychological evaluation only to be told that I was normal. There didn’t seem to be any answers left. This was my normal. I was going to be nauseated, dizzy, and throw up almost every day of my life. When my body began rejecting school, my daughter, my husband, and all other aspects of my life I couldn’t get up anymore. I couldn’t get out of bed or off the couch. My legs were in pain. I couldn’t concentrate. I felt like I was 500 pounds and it was exhausting to get up and go to the bathroom. I thought I was going to die. And this whole time, I couldn’t get over the need to just rest and relax my body. I had to provide for my family. I was going to lose my job. We lived paycheck to paycheck and I couldn’t lose my job.
My husband didn’t know what to do. I begged him to stay home with me because I worried that I would kill myself if left alone for too long. I think many men wouldn’t have lasted what Mike did. He did his best to balance everything out. It became obvious that we were going to need to move closer to the town in which we both worked in order to get through all of this. I finally decided to make one more doctor’s appointment with a local guy that I had heard was extremely good. I knew that something beyond mental illness was wrong with me, but at this point…I couldn’t take it anymore. “Do you think I might have Depression?” I asked, not really wanting to know the answer. The doctor smiled and asked, “You might. Do you think you have Depression?” I explained to him all the tests that we had been through and that there was no answer. I was truly at my last straw. I asked that doctor a million questions before I took my prescription for an anti-depressant that truly changed my life and its meaningful pathway.
Within 3 days, I could get up from my bed and carry a load of clothes from the washer to the couch. The doctor told me it would take 6 weeks for the medications to fully get into my system, but I was feeling it already. I didn’t know anything about antidepressants other than the negative things my family had said about them. I couldn’t believe that something my family had said was so bad, could be helping me this much! Little by little, I started to move again and not feel the heaviness of my body in everything that I did. My mind seemed to have hope again. I started to have goals and wanted to go back to school and to teaching. I was still nauseated and throwing up almost every morning, but a little bit of strength could take me a long way. I was finally going to go back to teaching and was starting to feel an enjoyment toward it again.
In the 6 weeks of teaching that I missed, I also lost 40 pounds so it wasn’t hard to convince the staff or administration that I had been ill. I wasn’t a big fan of the principal at this time, but he seemed to have an innate knowledge of what was going on. Without saying that he thought I had depression, he asked me to come back half days and then had a teacher within the classroom with me when I started back in case I needed to suddenly go home. I know that he got it and he was amazing with helping me back and feeling comfortable and confident. I don’t know what it was about this time that I started to get really serious about figuring out why I was throwing up every day. Maybe it was the hope that this antidepressant had given me about the future.
It was a couple years later when the doctors finally figured out why I was so nauseated and throwing up each day. I was in LaCrosse, Wisconsin visiting an endocrinology specialist about my wonky thyroid that didn’t seem to want to balance itself. My numbers were all over the board. I remember telling the doctor, “I’m not taking that damn thyroid medicine. It is making me sick!” The doctor rolled his eyes and snapped back, “Fine! We’ll do an absorption test if that will make you happy.” It didn’t. Visiting the doctor for any reason didn’t make me happy. I didn’t have any faith in them anymore so I avoided them at all costs.
I knew that the test was going to be worthless, just like the hundreds of other tests they had conducted on me. From spinning me around in a chair to investigate my vertigo to drinking awful substances for a variety of scans, nothing was conclusive. I was surprised to get a phone call the next day from the endocrinology specialist saying that my absorption blood test was a little off. “What does that mean?” I asked, praying for an answer to three decades of feeling awful. “Well, it means you could have Celiac Disease, but I doubt it is the case. Your blood test showed it was just a little off. We would like to put a camera down your throat and check your duodenum to see if you have Celiac Disease.” I agreed to schedule an appointment and then looked on the Internet to see what Celiac Disease was. The symptoms made too much sense. “Oh my God, Mike! I think I have Celiac Disease!” A week later, the doctor took one look at my small intestine and I remember him saying, “Positive. Celiac Sprue.”
It took another week to meet with a physician assistant who gave me the official diagnosis and was so caring and empathetic that I could have cried. He told me that I would have to follow a gluten free diet and would be meeting with a nutritionist to find out what I could and could not eat. I would now need to avoid wheat, barley, rye, malt, and oats. Excuse me? What the heck was I going to eat, now? I would also need to be concerned with cross-contamination. What the heck is cross-contamination? I dove head first into understanding my own disease. A pencil point of wheat could damage the intestines?
It took many months to learn about my disorder, but I was determined to feel better again. I told Mike that I wanted 1 more dinner of gluten before I went completely gluten free and that I was going to celebrate a gluten free birthday each year to feel better about my situation. I had Chinese food on my last night of gluten and I never looked back. I wanted to see what feeling healthy felt like. My friends were the first to notice the change. “You are so different. I can’t believe it! You don’t get grouchy anymore and you have so much energy, now.” What do you mean grouchy?
I didn’t want to admit that sometimes I couldn’t handle having people around and would lie in bed and not answer the phone because I thought I was going to “lose it” if I had to talk to anyone. They were right. I did look and feel so much better! The energy was the biggest shift. I couldn’t believe the lack of pain in my body. My legs were the biggest change. It had always felt like I had the flu 24/7 in my legs and the pain was completely gone. I basically now had zero depression and no anxiety. There was no longer any tightness in my stomach or in my neck. I couldn’t believe it! It was hard not to feel so angry, but so blessed. I didn’t realize that I would have to mourn the 32 years of my life that were somewhat stripped from me because of food that I thought was healthy. I was angry, but now I finally had answers. I wanted to share my story with others, but was quite angry with my family’s reaction. “We really thought you were faking all the illness,” they stated matter-of-fact. “Are you kidding me?” I asked, furious. I knew I was getting nasty looks from them each time I told them I didn’t feel good and no one seemed to have any empathy. Nothing is worse than feeling like crap for years only to have those closest to you, not believe you.
I don’t wish this disorder on anyone, but many years past my diagnosis my sister was diagnosed with the same disorder. I got a phone call from her, apologizing for her behavior and stating that she just didn’t understand how I felt or what I was going through. I was glad to have the apology and maybe some much needed empathy, but not in a manner that she would have to suffer. My sister has asked me questions about whether or not cross-contamination brings me anxiety or depressive symptoms and I answer her, “Yes, absolutely.” The most important part of the whole story is that I always believed myself and I always believed the signals that my body was providing me with. I had to fight hard for myself and my needs and it wasn’t easy, but I am proud that I can now help others navigate their journey. I have an empathy for physical and mental illness that extends way beyond what most doctors have and I have given my life to teaching about mental illness and helping to prevent its stigma.
I teach psychology at the community college level, now. I have had soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq each semester that are struggling with their own depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I do not tell them to get on medication as a solution to all their problems. I teach about the physiology of the human brain and neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. Then, I tell them about my story and how medication changed my life. In a world where media, some healthcare establishments, and the general public still see antidepressants as “pill pushing” and not dealing with your own problems, I teach about the biopsychological aspects of depression and that it is no different from having Type 1 Diabetes (which my youngest son has). A person cannot think their pancreas to produce insulin just as an individual cannot think themselves to produce more serotonin or dopamine.
My life’s purpose is in direct contrast to what most of society attempts to say, but antidepressants saved my life. I believe they have saved the lives of many of my students and has opened the door to an understanding of the disease that doesn’t seem to be covered accurately. I have recently started a YouTube channel to help spread the truth about mental illness and its stigma. If you are interested in learning more about the human brain, Major Depression, various anxiety disorders, or any other mental illness please check out my YouTube channel below. If you like any of the merchandise below, please consider purchasing it as it helps me to continue my blog and YouTube channel through affiliate marketing. It is greatly appreciated!