It’s a jungle out there, so they say.
As the parent of a child with significant mental health needs, we have times where is feels like a jungle and times when it feels like far less threatening… more like a petting zoo. Often times, I feel like the petting zoo we are living in feels like a jungle. The schedules, the daily interventions, providers, lists of things, trips to the pharmacy and on and on. However, it’s not until the stampede of elephants comes that I am reminded what the jungle really feels like. And it’s not pretty.
I read an article recently about how to survive an elephant stampede. All I could think of was how I survive in the jungle of raising a child in the children’s mental health system.
When an elephant stampede begins, you have 3 options. These options have some serious correlation to my actual life advocating for my child’s treatment.
Tactic 1: Take available cover. Hide from the elephants in a safe place where you won’t be hurt.
This sounds like every time I have been blamed and shamed by providers for my child's mental health needs. I have to take cover. I have to create a barrier between what our reality is and what the “provider of the moment” perceives as my life. My child’s mental health needs are not my fault and I swear if there was ANYTHING other than cycling through shoddy systems that would make this better, I would definitely choose to stand in the sun instead of taking cover.
Tactic 2: Climb a tree. Get up high and hang on tight until the threat passes. If you can’t climb a tree, you can stand behind it to use it for cover as an elephant isn’t likely going to run into a tree.
I lost count a long time ago of how many times I have chosen to take the high road with a provider. Yes, I must take the high road with the people that are compensated to work with my family. Now, personally, I have been lucky enough to have built an amazing team that supports us. However, it’s taken 10 years to get to this place and honestly there are some other people and services we still need. So, I have had to take the high road when clinicians and mentors and other staff turnovers occur every 6 months in an agency. What’s my option? Get on a year long waiting list and have nothing for all that time? Or when people as me ridiculous questions that probe into areas of my life that are none of their business. Or when I have to remind providers to stop feeding my child cookies and fast food every time they see him. I need these people and services. But, moreover my beautiful child needs them. But the management of it all is a full time job with mandatory overtime. So I have to climb to the top of that tree and hold on tight while people try to shake the tree from below. These roots have grown strong.
Tactic 3: Lie down. Right there in the middle of the stampede. Unless an elephant feels like you are a threat, it will likely not step on you.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to hide your face when you are laying down so you are not perceived as a potential threat like a poacher or hunter that an elephant may have run into in the past.
Seriously, this one is basically my life. There have been so many times that I have had to lay down and feel like I was risking my life, to advocate against the odds for my child. Navigating through systems and agencies. Watching my child be out of my home for lengthy times to receive treatment and praying that it was the right thing for him. Racking up hours in the car taking him to appointments near and far; hoping that appointment will be the turning point. Debating on medications and will the benefits outweigh the potential side effects.
I’ve been laying in the stampede. And with every new decision and new approach, I cover my face, thinking so many thoughts: “Please let this time be the last time.” “I can’t keep my eyes open anymore in this storm.” “God, make this work.”
I have also had times where covering my face in a stampede was because I knew I was the perceived threat. I know my ability to advocate can made providers upset or nervous. I am a warrior, after all.
Conversely, there have been times when I was so lost, sad and alone that I had to cover my face to cry quietly. I covered my face to grieve. I’ve covered my face to pray. I’ve covered my face to shut out the rest of the world.
I’ve survived so many stampedes. I’ve had to learn these tactics along the way. As families, we must support each other. Warn each other when a stampede is coming. Point out where the trees are, where people can take cover and help each other up after the stampede has barely missed stomping us out. We can and will survive this jungle.
From Disney's "The Jungle Book":
Bagheera: "This will take brains, not brawn."
Baloo: "You better believe it. And I'm loaded with both."
Kristi Glenn is Co-Founder of Pinnacle Partnerships and a professional with lived experience of raising her own child with emotional health needs. She has worked in government, community, and direct service to support family driven care and advocate for family voice at the highest levels.