My oldest son has been through a lot. Way more than a 10-year-old boy should ever have to go through. From the loss of his twin sister to brain cancer to his own battle with Type 1 Diabetes to adults disappointing him, he’s been through the wringer in more ways than one.
There was a time when our sweet little boy was so burdened by the difficulties he had faced that he couldn’t muster a smile for a single family photo. He would scowl and hide his face. He struggled to relate to other kids his age because he had walked through so much more life then they had. My husband and I have fought hard to help get him out of that place and to help our son find the joy that should come in childhood.
Last night I was laying with my little boy at bedtime just chatting about his day. He told me, “Mom, I realized something - I’m not sad anymore. And I’m not worried about anything anymore. Do you think that’s okay? Is there anything I should be worried about?”
It took everything in me to not burst into tears as I wrapped my arms around, and told him there is nothing for him to worry about. And it is a great thing that he just feels happy and safe these days!
As I finished tucking him in and walked out of his room, I was in awe as I reflected on the tremendous growth we’ve seen in our little boy. I’ve had the pleasure of watching him interact with his classmates and friends during a few year-end activities over the past two weeks and it has been such a joy to see him play and act like a joyful 10-year old kid! It’s such a simple thing, and yet such a huge victory!
It’s taken a lot of work to get to this place. We’ve sought help, we’ve had many, many tough days, but it has all been worth it to see our boy finally find joy in his own childhood. In fact, more often than not, he has the biggest, brightest smile in all of our family photos!
Our story might be completely different from yours. But if your kids are struggling with hard things, and your heart is aching as you watch them go through the ups and downs, please know there is help available for you! We have support groups in session now that are led by a licensed therapist that will help connect you with other parents who are going through similar mental health struggles with their own children.
These groups are meant to give parents a safe space to connect, work through their own feelings, and get ideas on how to tackle the tough pieces of childhood. If you are interested in joining one of our support groups, please visit https://www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org/support-groups.html and sign up. The groups are free! And are also completely confidential. Any parent, guardian or caregiver can attend these groups whether their child has a diagnosed mental health condition or is simply struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc.
If you have any questions about the groups, please feel free to reach out to anyone on the OCF Staff. Just know you don’t have to walk this tough road alone!
Never would I imagine I would get to the age where I love getting to bed early, reading a good book and seeing my garden grow. But here I am with seedlings growing in every windowsill of my house, finding it hard to stay up past 10pm and I head to the library every two weeks for a new book to read.
All of these activities have become a great way for me to relax and relieve stress. Life gets crazy with all of our responsibilities: raising kids, all the sports commitments, having a career, keeping friendships alive, working on your health, providing dinner every night and somehow keeping our houses somewhat clean amongst all of that.
I’ve always been a go-go-go type of person and I was starting to burn out. So I have made much more intentional time to slow down. I prioritize taking time to read a good book instead of watching tv. I get to bed at a decent time so I have enough energy to take on all of life’s responsibilities (which many times means the to-do list doesn’t get complete but life goes on). And I’ve found a new joy in growing a garden.
There’s something remarkable about an entire plant growing out of a tiny seed and even more exciting when it provides food for your family to eat. Now, I definitely don’t have a natural green thumb but I’m learning and it’s been a neat experience to include my kids in.
Let’s explore why gardening is a great stress reliever according to Elizabeth Scott, PhD:
Sunlight has been proven to improve mood. Everyone can benefit from more Vitamin D, especially those of us who have just experienced the prolonged winter months where sunlight was limited.
“Sunlight also provides an influx of vitamin D, and the fresh air that goes with it is good for your health. Getting outdoors to work with your garden is a great excuse to get more of this good stuff.”
Spending 30 minutes tending to your garden will give you extra sunlight you may not have had otherwise.
Connection To Nature
“Being in touch with nature and the great outdoors can help you feel more removed from the stressors of daily life. With the amount of time we spend indoors (at work, watching t.v., etc), many people feel an urge to connect with nature that goes unfulfilled.”
Most of us don’t have time everyday to go on hikes, go camping or do other activities that allow us to connect with nature but simply going to your garden and helping it flourish is a great way to help mother nature do exactly what it’s meant to do!
There’s something magical about taking a seed and watching it sprout. It’s exciting and I find myself rooting for the little plants to be fighters so they can all grow into mature plants.
Also, plants can add a great pop of color to any space.
“The beauty of nature is a great stress reliever in itself. Just think of how many times relaxation has been connected with pictures of stunning landscapes or recordings of nature’s sounds.”
Create a space in your yard that can become your garden sanctuary. If you live in a small space or apartment, find a space where you can have planters and watch how it improves your space.
How to get started
If you’re new to the gardening world I would recommend doing some research before getting started. You can certainly purchase your supplies but there are plenty of cost effective ways to create your own space as well.
Some seeds require indoor growth before planting outdoors so pay attention to these details on the seed packages. I do find the details on the back of the seed packets to be rather vague so take the time to do extra research on best methods for the plant you’re growing.
Don’t forget about local nurseries and growing clubs- these are a great place to purchase plants that are more mature and have a higher likelihood of growing to full potential.
A resource I’ve learned a lot about regrowing produce we already purchase from the store is @creative_explained on Instagram. It’s pretty amazing to learn how we can utilize the resources we already have to grow something new.
Living in a world full of information at our fingertips I know you can find what you need to grow a successful garden. Just keep in mind it may take a few seasons of trial and error and it’s more than okay to start small.
Please share any gardening tips you have in the comments!
I feel as adults we have all had something at some point in our life that has made us feel some sort of guilt. Whether it be the piece of candy you stole from the dollar store when you were 6, or the lack of time spent with a loved one only for it to end before you had the chance. Guilt is such a hard pill to swallow. Because once it hits, it can consume you and hold you hostage. It can creep on you when you least expect it. It is a dirty little devil.
A couple years ago, my life as a mother changed forever. My son was diagnosed with a rare cancer disorder that showed up after an appendix rupture. I can remember the doctor's face, the tears that followed those words and the look of fear on my oldest son's face. I don't think that kind of news ever really sits right. How could it? My entire knowledge of the word ‘cancer’ was horrifying. I have lost many good people in my life to cancer and everything I had ever known about it was just plain bad.
The real picture of my son’s diagnosis isn't black and white. It is still one of the most rare forms to have and the knowledge behind it as a whole is still in the process of lots of research. Especially since it is even more rare for a pediatric case. He will forever have it. He will continue to be tested his whole life to watch for growths and complications from it. When there are no growths to be found, he is for the most part healthy. You think I would be ecstatic at this fact. Which I am. But this is the point my friends where that fun little feeling of guilt creeps up.
There is a saying that “things could be worse.” And man could they be. My son could have a death door knocking condition, going through horrid treatments and spending his days in the hospital away from everything he knows. But he isn't. Aside from the routine testing and quarterly doctor visits, he gets to live his teenage life tormenting his siblings and testing every last parent button I have. As a mother, I am beyond grateful for where we are at with his cancer. He is currently healthy and has minimal complications. And when I start to overthink, I start to feel the guilt set in. What did I do to deserve the ladder of this experience? Why him, why me and why not all others?
I feel a good portion of guilt about this almost everyday. Maybe it is part of the grieving process. I am not sure. But all I know is the weight of the guilt some days can outweigh the fact that my son is ok. I have many friends that have lost their children to cancer or other illnesses. Young lives taken before they really were able to live a full life. That just sits heavy on my heart. How can I talk about my son being healthy when others weren't lucky? How can I sit back and be Ok with the fact if there was a good diagnosis, this is probably it. Am I happy about the diagnosis? Absolutely not. I wish everyday that it wasn't a thing. I wish life was like it was before the diagnosis. But it's not.
So why would I allow myself to have these guilty feelings? I shouldn’t. Every situation is different. Every diagnosis is different. Every person is different. I have spent so much of my time not allowing myself to be upset and bothered by my son's diagnosis because “it could be worse.” Just because it isn’t as critical in the moment as others have been, doesn't mean it is any less real or any less worthy of my true feelings.
I share this story because my hope is to enlighten others about a few of the emotions that come as a parent with a child that has a complex medical condition. What it's like to live in a not so perfect world. I want others to know that their feelings are valid and they aren't alone. But I mostly want them to know that it's ok to feel relieved at any sight of hope, even if it isn't fair to those around you or you don't think you deserve it.
Your emotions about your current situation do not need to diminish because others had a not so happy outcome. Your current situation is just as important as others even if it doesn't seem like it. It is time to let go of the guilt you feel because your situation is different or “better” from others.
Here are a few ways you can let go of that guilt.
Allow yourself to feel just how you need to heal or deal.
Allow it to be ok even if it feels like you have no right to feel that way.
Give yourself grace.
Stay out of your head.
Don't be afraid to talk about it.
Don’t be afraid to get help if you have trouble sorting through the emotions.
If you need additional support you can also always reach out to our Patient Advocate, Katelin, who would be happy to be a helping hand and to connect you to any help you might need to get through this.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.