Imagine that there are four people about to get on a ride at the State Fair. It’s the Graviton, the ride where you stand up against the wall with a thin chain hooked loosely in front of you and the ride starts spinning and spinning, faster and faster and then it tilts and the bottom drops out. The only thing that’s holding you in is the centrifugal force of the ride.
One of the people has been on this ride before and knows how it works and loves how it works. That person remains calm. They get off the ride and they’re fine. We’ll call that person A.
The other person hasn’t been on the ride before but assumes that the people running the park know what they’re doing. That person feels nervous. They get off the ride and they’re fine if a little shaky. We’ll call that person B.
The third person doesn’t trust the park owners and thinks that when the bottom drops away that the ride has broken. They’re afraid for their life. They get off the ride sobbing and are greeted by warm, loving friends who embrace them and comfort them. That person is C.
The fourth person doesn’t trust the park owners either and believes the ride has broken, too. Think think they are about to die. When they get off the ride, there is no one there to greet them and they feel miserably alone and abandoned. That person is D.
All four people were on the same ride. All four people had fundamentally different experiences.
Here is the definition of trauma: If you are fearful for your life or the lives of those around you.
It doesn’t matter if the ride was safe if a person does not perceive it as safe. (As an aside? I was told by my mom all of my growing up that those State Fair rides aren’t safe. There is no way I’d get on the Graviton and if I accidentally did? I’d be person C.)
A is going to be fine because they liked the ride, they liked how it worked and how it felt. B is going to be ok, as well, because B has faith that the people in charge know what they’re doing. C will likely be all right, too, because C is immediately surrounded by people who validate their experience and offer comfort and support. But D? D is not going to be OK because what mitigates trauma (and even if this does not look traumatic to everyone there and wasn’t experienced as trauma by everyone there, for D it was) is connection and D has no one to connect with.
This is my message to you. We do not get to decide when people get to be afraid or what their experiences ought to be. There are people in our community who are afraid right now; maybe you are afraid right now. It doesn’t matter if person A or B doesn’t get it; you have a right to your feelings. And what you need — what we need — is to find each other. Mr. Rogers says to look for the helpers and now is the time to do that and now is also the time to be the helpers.
If you are person C or D, please reach out. Find your safe people and start planning some specific ways you can spend time together. There are lots of ways to create good, solid connections and sometimes that’s coffee together, sometimes that’s phone calls, sometimes that’s joining together and organizing, and sometimes it’s joining together to help someone else. We need each other to mitigate our fear when the bottom drops out.
If you are person A or B, please understand that your experience is not everyone’s experience. You may not be afraid, you may even be having fun but we are a community and we must recognize that many people in our community are suffering.
To that end, I am partnering with Columbus Birth & Parenting to host a supportive gathering this Sunday in our offices from 10am to 2pm. We have no idea how many people will be here and we don’t have an agenda; just some ideas to give people space to feel validated and supported. Because the event has gotten larger than we anticipated and because some people who can’t attend would like to feel included, we will be using #hopeandaction on social media to find each other. We encourage you to Tweet, Facebook or Instagram using that hashtag on Sunday in order to connect with like-minded people near you to create and strengthen community ties. If you are currently a client, please know that you are invited, too. I will not acknowledge our connection and will respect your confidentiality but I will welcome your participation. If the fact that I’m hosting this event feels uncomfortable to you, please let me know and we can talk about it. I respect that my clients have diverse experiences, backgrounds and beliefs and want you to know that I support you, period.
I see you over there, avoiding playdates, avoiding Facebook (or staying up late reading Facebook like a punishment, because you think you deserve to feel bad about yourself). I see you at the grocery store with the tantruming 3-year old, trying not to cry or scream or completely lose it yourself. I see you at the high school, hurrying by to meet with the guidance counselor yet again. I know that you dread family gatherings where people will give you advice you didn’t ask for and don’t need.
I know your baby’s birth didn’t go the way you hoped and you think it’s your fault.
I know your child will only eat buttered noodles (straight, not curly) and you think it’s your fault.
I know the teacher keeps calling you for conferences and you think it’s your fault.
I know your teenager is depressed and you think it’s your fault.
You know what? It’s not your fault.
I don’t want you to beat up on yourself anymore.
So much of this parenting thing is out of control, which is one of the scariest things ever. That’s why we give ourselves (and each other) such a hard time over it. It feels safer to say, “This is a direct result of that!” instead of acknowledging that in so many ways kids are exactly who they are no matter what we try to do about it.
One of us follows the book to a T and our 6-month old sleeps through the night. One of us follow that same book the same way and yet we’re going on a year without more than two unbroken hours of sleep a night.
I’ve got a secret for you. Are you ready? This insight comes from decades of working with other people’s kids and reading about child development and having my own kids. It’s hard won wisdom and I’m going to share it with you:
Some children really are easier than others.
Some go to sleep more easily and eat a wider variety of foods. Some handle their emotions better. Some are naturally neat and clean and sweet and even-tempered.
Some parents just get lucky.
Then there’s this other thing, which is that life happens. Bad things happen and hard things happen and sad things happen and parents lose their way sometimes. We all lose our way sometimes.
There’s not a parent alive who hasn’t made mistakes but that’s not the same thing as being a bad mom. Making mistakes doesn’t mean that this is all your fault. Making mistakes doesn’t mean you’re not doing a good job.
You know the best way to handle mistakes? Try again. Get help if you need it and try again. Try it differently. Try it with more support. Try it with better information or better friends or better tools. And you know what’ll be great about that? Your kids will learn that mistakes are inevitable but we can do something about it. They’ll learn that taking responsibility is not the same thing as succumbing to blame and shame.
When we can do that, that’s called resiliency. Really when it comes right down to it the best thing we can do for any of our kids is teach them how to be resilient, teach them to survive the hard stuff, even when the hard stuff is us.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month and October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. On the 15th many families who are living with loss will light a candle at 7pm their time to create a “wave of light” in remembrance of their babies.
At Kobacker House at 800 McConnell Drive, Columbus Ohio 43214, they are hosting a Pregnancy and Infant Loss Art Wall exhibit. The building is open 24/7 and the art will be on the wall on the main floor, just outside of the family kitchen as you walk toward the in-patient unit. The exhibit will be up through the end of October.
They are also hosting two events later this month:
Mourning Walk in the Afternoon, Sunday, October 19, 2pm. This exercise of remembrance will be a reflective, meditative and guided walk on Peggy’s Path surrounding the Kobacker House. The approximate distance is 3/4 mile and involves some hilly paved terrain so please wear comfortable shoes.
Instructor: Sarah Phillips, LISW-S
Location: Kobacker House
Register by phone: (614) 533.6060
Healing Drumming Circle, Sunday, October 26th, 2pm. For thousands of years, drumming has been a part of almost every culture. This ancient ritual remains alive today. Studies reveal that drumming can accelerate physical and emotional healing, boost the immune system, and have a calming effect. Children are welcome. No experience required. Drums will be provided or you may bring your own.
Instructor: Sarah Phillips, LISW-S
Location: Kobacker House
Register by phone: (614) 533.6060
Kobacker House also has an ongoing monthly support group for parents who have lost a baby before, during or within the first year after birth. The next meeting is November 7th at 7pm and there is no cost. Call for more dates and times: (614) 566-4509
Mount Carmel hosts a Pregnancy & Infant Loss Care Line hosted by chaplains who are specially trained “to provide spiritual and emotional encouragement and support to patients and their families from all faiths and cultural traditions.” The number is: 614-234-5999
They are also taking registrations for their upcoming Coping with Loss Educational Series. “A three-session forum designed for grieving parents and their families who would like to learn more about the normal grief process and how to effectively heal. The meetings include guidance and teaching from trained grief facilitators on practical ways to live with loss and find hope in life.”
To learn more or to register, call 614-234-5999 or e-mail email@example.com.
Finally the SID Network of Ohio has a resource page for families struggling with the loss of a baby to SIDS. They have a support group but it may not be meeting again this year. To find out more, contact the Sudden Infant Death Network at 800-477-7437 or by e-mail: Leslie@SIDSOhio.org
For those of you who are grieving, you are in my thoughts. I hope you are able to reach out to find the comfort and support that you need and deserve.
Another therapist commented on this post about finding a new therapist and I thought it’d be great to bring it over to a new post and continue the discussion. Anna said:
I agree that being a good fit is important. I try my best to be a good therapist and I believe I am open to clients sharing anything with me. I believe in creating a non-judgmental environment. I even like when clients say they are mad at me or didn’t like something I said. It tells me we have that open relationship to talk about those things and sometimes those discussions lead to a greater understand of the situation. Yet, I sometimes get clients who don’t seem to connect with me, or maybe I don’t connect with them. These are the clients who don’t stay long. I’d love any suggestions on how to improve this (if it can be improved). I wonder if sometimes you just have to find the right therapist for you. I have an example without giving any specifics, I had a client recently who called asking for help with a certain issue. Whenever I brought the issue up, the client deflected. I tried working on other issues because I didn’t want to push too hard but the client kept going to “safe” topics. Needless to say, the client quit coming. Do you have any suggestions for this situation? Does it mean it isn’t a good fit or the client isn’t ready? Any suggestions are welcome.
I don’t think that any therapist can be the right counselor for every client because we are all so very, very different. I think sometimes a client who doesn’t get very far from us may not be ready to go far but also I think sometimes they just aren’t going to be able to do that work with us.
As to whether it’s because we’re not a good fit or because the client isn’t ready, sometimes I don’t think we’ll get to know. Sometimes it might be a little bit of both.
And that makes me think about counselor ego (not that Anna brought this up but it made me think about it).
Being a therapist is weird because we don’t really get any feedback. I mean, we do, we get feedback from our clients but given the nature of counselor/client relationships, we can’t really go with that. Sometimes a client will say, “I love working with you!” and it’s because we’re not being confrontational enough (like Anna says, sometimes our clients need to be mad at us and maybe NOT love working with us, at least not right in that moment). And we get to be witness to client success but any therapist worth her salt knows that client success belongs to the client.
Besides we can’t get our egos all wrapped up in any definition of success like a marriage saved or a job promotion secured or a child who learns how to behave because that’s a very limited view of success. Sometimes success looks like understanding a marriage is over or quitting a job or realizing that “good” behavior in one child doesn’t look like “good” behavior in another.
But back to the bad fit — this is one of those go with your gut things. If you feel like it’s time to push a client, then push. If you feel she isn’t ready, don’t push. I also think that in these cases where we’re not sure that we should seek out peer support. I don’t think any counselor — no matter how experienced — ought to be working in isolation. That means finding peers whose skills and knowledge overlap in some ways (so they can help give you perspective on kids if you work with kids) and don’t overlap in other ways (so they can help broaden your ability to work with all kinds of people).
If connection is an ongoing problem, if a counselor is feeling like her connection rate is down, then I’d say it might be time to look into some counseling ourselves. When we’re depleted or overwhelmed or preoccupied with other things, sometimes this can come through in our ability to be present with our clients. We might need help focusing on some self care or getting the attention we need (because to give loving attention we need to be getting loving attention).
If you are the client who isn’t connecting, I’d bring it up to the therapist if you feel comfortable or if you think the relationship is worth salvaging. Remember, it’s your relationship with your counselor that is the best predictor of your success in therapy so if you’re not feeling it, talk to her or go elsewhere. Just don’t give up on counseling because there are a zillion and one counselors out there, which means there is definitely the right one for you.
I’m a huge fan of parents supporting parents and I know that most especially when it comes to parenting kids with special needs it’s vital to connect with other families who can help you find resources; navigate your options; and support your whole family in your journey. The Early Childhood Resource Network+ operates in North Columbus and offers an equipment lending library, support groups and information. Next month there’s a Back to School event, which would be a great time to get to know this wonderful resource. If you’re interested in learning more, please contact Amanda Biel at 614-543-9000 x215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special Needs Family Support Group
Brought to you by ECRN+
Join us for an informal monthly gathering held in an environment for families to foster connections and networking opportunities with other families of children with special needs. We offer a place to help families of exceptional children meet their unique challenges through advocacy and peer support. Typically our meetings are held on the first Thursday of every month at ECRN+ office located at 6555 Busch Blvd, Suite 112, Columbus, Ohio. Occasionally we will come together on other dates or at different venues. Please call to confirm next month’s details or check facebook.com/ecrnplus for the latest updates!
Parents, family members and guardians of children with special needs. Both YMCA Members and Non-Members are welcome!
Thursday, September 18th from 6:00pm to 8:00pm
(Note: Meeting held on the third Thursday this month due to back to school season)
JASONS DELI – 1122 Gemini Place, Columbus, OH 43240
(Located directly across from Rave Motion Pictures, Polaris Mall)
Parent’s night out! The kids are back in school! You did it and it’s time for YOU to take a breather! Join us this month for some relaxation & emotional support in the company of other families who truly understand the unique struggles and celebrations of raising a child with special needs.
COST & MISC INFO
First order of single soft drinks, coffee or tea will be provided.
Further yummy food purchases are at your expense.
Not hungry? No problem! Fellowship & Friendship – Always free!
No formal childcare is available but children are always welcome.
RSVP & QUESTIONS
Amanda Biel, ECRN+ Family Support Specialist
Phone: 614-543-9000 x215