It’s never an easy task to open up a public conversation around your mental health, but it’s even harder when it’s your kid.
Today, I am going to open up some doors and windows to my family’s private journey for a very intentional reason.
The protagonist in this story is my daughter. I wish she could be authoring this post, but alas, she’s seven. So I am choosing to write about our experiences parenting a child with a mental health obstacle to climb and the journey that brought us tremendous help. I sat down with my daughter and asked her which parts of her story mommy could tell people about and which she doesn’t want shared.
In March, I stumbled across a random account online that was a woman talking about her mental health journey with full vulnerability. She shared her experiences, her symptoms and her solutions. I began to follow the holistic psychiatric clinic she used and the psychiatrists she attributed to helping her. When my husband and I hit the end of our ropes, I knew that if anyone could help our daughter it would be this practice. And they did.
It’s much easier to talk about this now that the hardest moments are all in the past and are memories. Today she’s in full health. My hope and desire is that someone else who is walking in the pain of uncertainty and helplessness will also be able to find answers because we decided to tell our story.
I tried my best to format this post in a way that is easiest to read and most helpful to all. I’m using a Q&A format below so you can easily scroll through the parts that you’re curious about:
What is the mental health issue you were/are facing?
We realized around the age of five that our daughter exhibited many symptoms of childhood anxiety. By age seven we reached a point where the symptoms were elevating and we needed professional help.
What were/are her symptoms?
Most people in our lives had no idea she wasn’t neurotypical. She is an angel at school, with friends, with family, in social settings. She has always thrived. Her symptoms only ever manifested at home.
Rather than share her specific symptoms, I am going to post some common symptoms of anxiety because many parents don’t realize that’s what is happening. Many people try to discipline their children’s behaviors or will ignore them rather than realizing it’s anxiety manifesting and they need help.
For the sake of brevity, I picked a few. For a full description on the seven types of anxiety and the symptoms, here is a link to the page on the clinic’s website.
- Frequent feelings of nervousness or anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Avoidance of people or places due to a fear of having anxiety or panic attacks
- Symptoms of heightened muscle tension (headaches, sore muscles, hand tremor)
- Periods of heart pounding, nausea, or dizziness
- Tendency to predict the worst
- Multiple persistent fears or phobias (such as dying or doing something crazy)
- Conflict avoidance
- Excessive fear of being judged or scrutinized by others
- Being easily startled or a tendency to freeze in anxiety-provoking or intense situations
- Shyness, timidity, and getting easily embarrassed
- Biting fingernails or picking skin
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (stuck on negative thoughts or actions)
- Phobias (stuck on a fear)
- Eating disorders (stuck on negative eating behavior)
- Excessive or senseless worrying
- Upset when things are out of place or things don’t go the way you planned
- Tendency to be oppositional or argumentative
- Tendency to have repetitive negative or anxious thoughts
- Tendency toward compulsive or addictive behaviors
- Intense dislike for change
- Tendency to hold grudges
- Difficulty seeing options in situations
- Tendency to hold onto own opinion and not listen to others
- Needing to have things done a certain way or you become upset
- Others complain you worry too much
- Tendency to say “no” without first thinking about the question
- Persistent physical symptoms (such as headaches, digestive problems, or chronic pain)
- Restlessness, irritability, or excessive crying
There are many more listed on this site or other reputable sources, but this starts to give you an idea of how it can easily go undetected as a personality trait, bad attitude, etc.
What is the clinic you took her to and what makes them different?
We used the Amen Clinic. They have many locations around the U.S., but the one closest to us is in Atlanta. Their approach is to do specific brain scans on a patient, figure out exactly what’s happening in that brain, and then design a treatment plan to give that brain the support it needs.
Their treatment plans involve a combination of lifestyle changes, food plans, exercise, and prescriptions. Every situation is different. I highly recommend reading through their website to understand more about what they do.
What did the brain scans reveal?
The brain scans were amazing. They gave us so many answers that I just sat on the couch and cried as I finally got a glimpse of what was happening in her mind. Everything made sense in one moment. We were able to see that the reason she was struggling almost exclusively at night is because her brain is in hyper activity in certain centers all day long, so by the end of the day her brain was exhausted. It was giving out before the rest of her body.
When we saw the specific areas of the brain that were overactive, and the list of behaviors that may manifest when those centers are out of balance, they DIRECTLY correlated with the experiences we were having.
In summary, the scans revealed that she needed help balancing a couple centers, and that her brain doesn’t rest well throughout the day.
What was the treatment plan?
The Amen Clinic works with every patient to put them on a completely different plan, so our experience will not be the same as others. In our case, they prescribed the following:
- The elimination diet to discover what foods, if any, may be causing inflammation
- A list of very specific supplements that target the specific centers she needed balancing
- 30 min daily exercise
- Daily breathwork exercises
- Blood work
- Specific food schedule (We may laugh about getting “hangry,” but it’s a thing. Hunger can cause behavioral changes)
Elimination diet? What’s that? And did you find out anything?
The elimination diet is where you remove the most common allergens for an extended period of time and then reintroduce them slowly to see if symptoms arise. We put her on a crazy strict diet in June that was a lot of work, but worth it. In July, as we reincorporated foods back in we discovered that food dyes, high fructose corn syrup and gluten triggered her symptoms.
Isn’t gluten, food dyes and high fructose corn syrup in everything?!?!?
Yep. Pretty much.
But it’s not as hard as you think. Grocery stores have come a long way in the last 10 years. We can find alternatives for almost anything.
However, it requires intentional planning. We went to our first kid birthday party last week and packed our own gluten free pizza, snacks and desserts. She’s been a real trooper and so brave.
I am so proud of how well she is handling this new lifestyle. We pack her lunch and snacks for school as well. We’ve basically eliminated other people feeding her. It requires a lot of pre-planning on our end, but it’s worth it.
Have you noticed a difference?
OH MY GOSH YES!!!!!! It’s been 8 weeks since her last meltdown!!! You don’t understand. We were having these a couple times a week. I referred to them as panic attacks before when I didn’t know what else to call them. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. I’m not a psychologist. But I do know that she would have a 15-30 minute episode where she didn’t have control over her mind. And we haven’t had one in two months. That alone makes all of this worth it.
We also don’t have any of the whining and resistance that were nails on a chalkboard for us daily before. She is pretty happy, chill and compliant. She’s a normal seven year old so tries to test her boundaries when we tell her to clean her room or do her chores, but it’s age appropriate responses now.
So is it “fixed”?
Mental health is a fluid, ongoing experience. We all need to be monitoring and managing our mental health. The more we understand about how our brains work, the better we can take care of ourselves.
Currently, eliminating the foods that cause her inflammation and taking a very specific combination of vitamins and supplements are keeping almost all the symptoms at bay. The beauty is now that she understands what’s happening in her brain, she has language to tell us what’s going on. And vice versa, now that we know what’s happening, we can help her better regulate her needs.
I’m really interested in this conversation and want to learn more about this topic and other mental health issues, how can I learn more?
The website is a wealth of knowledge, but the most fascinating part to me is looking at the images of the brain scans they do! You can actually see what things like ADD, depression, PTSD, trauma or so many more things look like in the brain. I initially found the clinic and Dr. Amen on Instagram and absolutely loved their posts and videos before I finally went to their website to understand more. Their content on mental health is great, so I highly recommend following them. Click to follow Amen Clinics. Click to follow Dr. Amen.
P.S. Just so you know, I am only blogging this because I want to. The clinic has helped our family so much that I wanted to share our story. This is not a sponsored post or partnership of any kind. Just a mom sharing my experience.
If you have any other questions, drop them in the comments. I will answer them if I can.