Gaming Addiction – It’s a Real Thing

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5225188282_cc1c7fa459_oI had full intentions of writing more regularly after my last post but the last couple of months have tested every part of me, physically, mentally and emotionally, and the cracks are showing. My words have failed me. Part of the problem is I don’t know what is my story to tell anymore. All the stories are so intertwined. My husband’s, my 18 year-old’s, my baby growing in uteri and the filaments of each story are tangled together with the filaments of the other stories, impossible to completely separate.

I write this blog anonymously but I do know that many of my friends and some family do read this so I have to be careful about what information goes out there that has the potential to hurt the people I love. So my voice and my pen are silenced by fear, fear of betraying the one’s I love and telling too much of a story that’s not mine to tell.

In the same breath the story is one that is becoming all too familiar a story across many spectrums of society, touching so many people. To break the stigma the stories must be told, we must reach out and ask for help. In so doing we put our souls on the line, knowing there will always be those that have negative things to say. My hope is that those people are in the minority and most will try to understand and some may feel comfortable enough reaching out a helping hand.

My 18 year-old suffers with a gaming addiction and depression. It has impacted every part of our lives. It has complicated this pregnancy as I am utterly emotionally exhausted by the unrelenting barrage of craziness that has become my life in dealing day in and day out with an addicted youth. As a mother my heart breaks every day watching him suffer and being unable to help him in any significant way because he has yet to reach the point of helping himself. Options for help are so very few despite all the mental health fundraising and information campaigns to raise awareness. Where does all the money go? It’s just not enough…

It also doesn’t help that gaming addiction is a brand new addiction (no not really) and it is just becoming more recognized by the healthcare community so resources are slow to be directed towards it. Many who suffer with the addiction also suffer with depression or other mental disorders such as ADHD/ADD, or have suffered through some form of abuse or difficult episodes in their lives that like an alcoholic drinks to forget, they game to forget.

Game companies also know exactly what they are doing when they design these games, even some of the simplest ones. The designers build an element of addiction right into the games and anybody who is prone to addiction gets sucked right in. It becomes expensive and like a meth addict needing their next high, the kids look to the gaming companies to source their next hit and they find ways to get the money to pay for it. They can’t control the need or the impulse to do what they need to do to get that hit.

There is no applying rationality to the problem. We can say all the things that make sense but none of it makes sense to the addicted gamer. It’s all about losing oneself in a game, hiding from reality in a fabricated world that allows you to forget everything that sucks in your life, that you aren’t good enough, that you can’t live up to the expectations of others. The outlets into these games are everywhere now, through smart phones, through tablets, through gaming stations, and through traditional laptops and desktop computers. The companies are ruthless and far-reaching with their advertisements and their upgrades and their extra fees that keep you hooked and coming back for more.

So what do you do?

If I knew, I’d tell you. Every day I wake up to this toxic reality running my life and draining my energy. Separating my child from his gaming addiction and seeing him as a lost soul is hard some days. I can’t sit by and enable him. Since he’s not in school and has no job, we lock up the Xbox but he finds other ways to get his fix. The anger and resentment build, on both sides, and it only adds to the problem.

There is a silver lining in this story. I have found a residential treatment program for gaming addicts. It’s only three weeks long. Hopefully it’s a start. I am not naïve, three weeks will not solve everything but if all goes well, he will be admitted very soon and return in time to start his full-time summer job, as well as continue to be supported by his social worker over the summer.

Right now that’s the best help I can find and it beats putting him on the street, which was beginning to feel like my only option and my heart was breaking at the thought of having to take that step. So I am putting out there into the universe a request to anyone who feels called to do so, to hold space for my family’s healing and send us positive energy and prayers as we move through this difficult path. I have to believe there’s healing on the other side and in the baby steps along the way but through all the pain and hurt that shackles my life it’s hard to see those glimmers of hope.

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Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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It’s Not About Willpower!

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2576209288_2747b80538_oPicking, picking, picking

Fingernails digging into flesh

looking for imperfect skin

to claw away.

Making blemishes worse,

bleeding.

I can’t stop.

Fingers always need to be busy,

hurting myself is too easy.

Sometimes boredom,

sometimes stress,

always pain.

No body part is safe.

Blackheads, pimples, ingrown hairs

and imaginary imperfections.

Making a mess.

Shoulders, back, chest, legs, face

my fingers go everywhere

and I can’t make them stop.

I stick them under my pillow

and breathe into the need

to pick, pick, pick….

3711055069_43e819b138_oI wrote this poem as I lay in bed this past weekend trying to stop picking so I could go to sleep and then the following scenario played out in my home the other night before bed: my daughter came looking for a band-aid. Her finger was bleeding and I asked what she had done. Then, as she held her thumb clenched in the fingers of her other hand, I asked her if she’d been picking at herself again?

She had picked at the dry skin on her thumb until she had drawn blood.

I flash back to myself, I’m about her age and I am picking at the dry skin on my big toe and I dig and dig until it suddenly starts to bleed. The blood startles me and I panic. I get a band-aid, I make up a story, why didn’t I stop before I drew blood? Why couldn’t I stop?

Neither of these stories are isolated incidents and though separated by years and time, both feel all too familiar.

As my husband is tucking our daughter into bed he catches her picking or scratching again and he gives her a stern look. Some words are exchanged and then he says,

“Or you can use willpower to make yourself stop.”

5610963733_f775bd4601_oMy heart breaks as I hear those words. I have heard them too and I know how hard it is to stop. I am all too familiar with the feelings of wanting so desperately to stop because my skin hurts. It is red and blistered and raw from scratching and digging and no matter how much I might want to stop, I do not feel like I am the one in control.

Time means nothing, it could be one minute, fifteen minutes or an hour. Yes, I’ve easily spent more than an hour digging at my skin, sometimes two or three. It’s not about willpower. Of course I want to stop and if it were that easy, willpower would be enough but it’s not.  It’s a repetitive behaviour that soothes the constantly churning whirl of thoughts and anxieties. I have to literally fight with my hands, repress them, restrain them to make myself stop. Sometimes I just want to cry I get so frustrated with myself and now I see my daughter struggling with the same impulses, damaging herself and I don’t know how to help because I have yet to figure out how to help myself.

I do know that telling her to use her willpower is not helpful, it just makes you feel more broken.

I look back over my life and there is a history of self-mutilation but as I would conquer one bad habit I’d replace it with another. I used to bite my tongue and the inside of my mouth until I bled. It hurt, a lot. I finally made myself stop by stuffing Kleenexes in my cheeks at bedtime. Once I stopped, then the picking started.

I still pick though not as badly because I’ve discovered something else to keep my hands and mind busy – my cell phone. I’m always trading up one bad habit for another, and now I see my daughter struggling too, inheriting, copying, trapped.

I do have a theory behind my daughter’s and I’s behaviours. She is diagnosed ADHD and I believe her picking is how she copes with her feelings of being hyper and restless. She hates boredom, mentally and physically, and when there is nowhere else for her energy to go, she picks. It calms her mind, it becomes trance-like, even the pain offers some stimulation, something for her to focus on.

Last year I was reading a book entitled “Driven to Distraction” by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and John J. Rodey, M.D. I was reading it so I could better help and understand my oldest child but it opened my eyes to my own ADD issues, something I didn’t think was a problem for me. I did well in school, I didn’t portray the classic signs of ADD growing up but I believe it was and continues to be something I struggle with. It also helps explain my need to constantly be doing stuff with my hands and the constantly whirling thoughts in my head that I struggle to pin down and sort through and follow to conclusions instead of things just piling up around me as UFO’s (Un-Finished Objects), or forgotten as I move to the next thing. My picking, my incessant need to fiddle with my phone quiets those impulses and crazy thoughts, allows me to zone out the stimuli that are over-whelming me, including the emotions I have not learned to cope with. For those moments, I’m focused.

Through my daughter, I am gaining an understanding of my own habits and through understanding my own habits, I am understanding her.

So what is the solution, how do I fix this, change how the story ends for my daughter?

Right now, I don’t know but I am going to explore this further through my blog, as well as how we live and cope with ADD/ADHD in my family. Almost every one of us has some degree of handicap because of this disorder, and the one thing I do know, willpower alone is not enough to break the cycle of self-harm, negative thoughts and bad habits.

I do believe that there is a power that is more than up to the task: love.

“…. love works. Positive human relationships work. The human connection is indispensable. I call it “the other Vitamin C,” Vitamin Connection. And if you do not get enough of it, you will languish and never thrive.” pg xvii, Driven to Distraction.

For more information about excoriation or the need to pick at one’s skin, follow this link: http://www.trich.org/about/skin-picking.html

Who is in Control?

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Lack of choice

Other’s voices singing in your head.

You must do things our way.

Change direction.

Don’t argue. Don’t stop.

Just do.

Do it our way.

Who controls me?

Who controls us?

Is it my three-year-old?

Or is it society

disapproving of my ways?

Is it my ten-year-old?

Or is it all the clutter

in our lives

keeping us from authentic connections

with each other?

Is it my seventeen-year-old?

Or is it the emotional baggage

born of years of anger

and frustration?

Or is it mental illness?

ADD/ADHD,

Aspergers,

High-functioning Austism,

Depression.

All of us dealing with it

in our own way,

but never tackling it as a team.

Who is really in control

of our lives?

I have been exploring the idea of control. What is control? Does my youngest control my life? Some people apparently think he does and are concerned about me. Should they be? He’s three. He’s at a very busy stage, learning so much all the time, and I try to provide healthy environments for him to learn and grow in. I have a couple of memberships, we try to attend playgroup as much as we can and we’ve started regularly going to the library to return and discover new books.

He is becoming more independent all the time but still needs me for a lot. I let him do some things that some parents would think are crazy. He’s used sharp knives under supervision, he plays out front of our house and in the gardens while I work in the kitchen. I let him more or less freely explore his environment, make messes with soap and water on my kitchen floor, let him clean – he loves spray bottles and he loves pretending to clean. Yes, sometimes it makes more work, but no one ever said parenthood was clean and tidy!

I’m struggling to understand what is meant by control and how, as was suggested to me, my Facebook posts are giving off the impression that my three-year-old is controlling me. I spent some time re-reading them and there were some expressions of frustration and exhaustion but many were recounts of our adventures or a clip of something he said that I thought was amusing. I don’t even post that frequently, especially since we stripped the data service from my phone so when I’m away from the house I have no internet access anymore. I have to wait until I get home to upload my pictures and put up a status so often I don’t even bother.

So who is reading my status updates and concluding I’m being controlled by my three-year-old? I just don’t see how they are making that connection from my words. As I mentioned, I sometimes express elements of frustration or fatigue and legitimately so, parenthood usually entails some degree of both, but add in my health issues and yes I often do too much and the fatigue and frustrations can get the better of me. Does that mean my three-year-old is in control? I don’t think so. If anything my health issues are running that show. I’m working hard to take that control back but it’s a work in progress.

At the moment I am a stay-at-home mom by choice. If I really wanted a job I could find something in retail but then our lives would be controlled by a chaotic, often unpredictable schedule, and by the time I paid for any daycare, I’d probably be no further ahead financially, and certainly not enough to make the added stress worthwhile. So I have chosen to make my family the priority, even if it has meant choosing a financially frustrating path while I work on building a business for myself that will hopefully begin to fill in the gaps within a year or so, hopefully less. I just need some support to find the time to do that work so that I’m not up all night working on my studies which drains my energy for looking after the children and family during the day. No one can run 24 hours a day, not even a mom…

The three-year-old may be part of the reason for my lack of time but he is not the only reason, and I don’t feel like he is the controlling reason. He is just being three, curious, rambunctious, full of energy and very loving. His behaviours are normal. He doesn’t like to be alone. He’ll play independently but he likes to be able to look up and connect with a familiar person. He is more reserved than my older two were, he’s slower to join in to large groups, preferring smaller groups or one-on-one interactions, but he amazed me the other day!

We met my husband for lunch at McDonald’s, one with a playland, and for the first time my three-year-old went straight to climbing, never asking for help, and when there were other kids to play with he went up and introduced himself and asked their names. It surprised me and filled me with happiness that he was finding his strength and his voice. I didn’t have to force him, or train him, it happened naturally when he was ready. He played for nearly three hours on the playland and still didn’t want to leave but we had to get home to meet my daughter off the bus. I spent the better part of that three hours while he was playing, writing, mostly uninterrupted. It was really amazing.

I’ll take my moments when I can get them but my three-year-old is still at an age where he relies on me for a lot of his needs. Yes, I could plop him in front of a TV or let him have my phone all the time, I’d probably get a little more done but is that truly preferable? We do enough of that when we’re cooped up indoors during the winter. Now that the beautiful weather is here it’s really hard to keep anyone indoors and that’s how it should be. So we walk the dog, take even more advantage of our memberships because we don’t have to fight with layers of outerwear or clear the car off. We go to parks and beaches for the day, pack picnic lunches and explore wherever our feet take us.

I try to squeeze in time for the things I need as best I can, unfortunately cleaning, studying, writing/blogging and reading often find their way to the sidelines. But I am okay with that. My kids will be young once and only really need me for such a short time in the scheme of things, I’m going to enjoy the ride. If that looks like control to the outside world, well I guess it is what it is.

For those who are concerned my message is this, parenthood is a tough gig. I have three children, all with unique needs and personalities. Some days I do feel like I’m being pulled in too many directions, and like I’m going to burst from the frustration. Add to those three different directions, my family as a whole entity’s needs, my husband’s needs, my marriage’s needs and my own needs. It’s a tight rope walk of epic proportions and it’s too easy to stumble and fall, it’s too easy to sacrifice my needs for the bigger picture, or unwittingly hurt someone or overlook someone. If you are truly a friend and you have these concerns, the best thing you can do is be part of my safety net. Listen when I need to talk, don’t judge my mistakes too harshly because I’m harder on myself than you can ever be and if I am to learn self-forgiveness, I can’t also feel like I’ve wronged you somehow too.

Most importantly, if I ask for help and you are able to help, then please help me, not with criticism but genuinely true understanding, love and support, and if you aren’t sure exactly what I need, just ask. Sometimes it could be as simple as an ear to listen, or a shoulder to hold me up, other times it could be physical help with the kids or the house. It is always immensely appreciated, and often rewarded with baked goods.

If I knew then what I know now…..

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NewbornshotI have a 17-year-old son and a 3-year-old son and the way I have parented them has been completely different. Even with my 3-year-old I wish I’d known some things when he was real little that I know now.  Over the last 18 months I’ve explored and read information on birthing practices, baby care, nutrition, particularly breastfeeding, circumcision, attachment parenting practices and so much more.  And I believe I’ve read pretty widely and many different view points which has led me to feel for the first time as a mother confident in my parenting choices.  Before I did what I knew and took advice only from a small group of women, which while it was not bad advice by any means, it was lacking, and not intentionally lacking either.  Practices change, improve, as information sharing becomes easier, and old ways of doing things are discredited. Every mother only wants what’s best for their children, and the wealth of information available now is mind-boggling.  I have waded through a great deal of that information and here is my list of what I wish I had known then that I know now.

  1.  Circumcision is wrong.  It’s not up to us as parents to make that decision for our sons.  It is their body, and most when given the choice do not choose it.  My oldest is circumcised because 17 years ago I didn’t know any better.  Most of the men in my family were circumcised, it was what I knew as normal.  My 3-year-old isn’t and I’m glad I just decided not to by default because I was too tired to look into it.  Now I’m glad I didn’t and wish I hadn’t with my oldest.  Aside from inflicting incredible pain on an infant too young to understand, there is just no medical reason to do it.  Thankfully in Canada we’ve come a long way and most boys are left intact now, but I still believe that this is an important message to spread as there may still be people who believe the outdated information.  I encourage you to check these sites for more information:

http://www.wholenetwork.org/

http://www.savingsons.org/

2.     Breastfeeding and more importantly, extended breastfeeding – as society has termed it – is incredibly healthy for both mother and child and completely normal.  I will admit I used to fall into the camp of thinking breastfeeding past a certain age, about a year, was wrong, but now I have learned better. The health benefits don’t stop as a child grows.  Breast milk changes constantly to meet the needs of the child, even when tandem nursing children of different ages.  Breast milk is liquid gold, and the benefits of breastfeeding an older child is huge to both mother and child.  In the mother extended breastfeeding can help lower the risks of illnesses such as breast cancer and ovarian cancer.  In the child it provides continued immune support against common ailments and is the perfect building blocks to help them grow strong mentally and physically.  Emotionally it is an easy way to help soothe a child in pain or who is over tired.  No matter what formula companies may say, they can never duplicate the amazing, adaptive qualities of breast milk.

That brings me to my next point on breastfeeding; support systems.  In Canada, partially because of our maternity and parental leave benefits, there’s a decent support system in place and it has definitely improved since my 17-year-old was born but there’s always room for improvement.  Even with my 3-year-old I wish I’d had a stronger support system and that when he was three months old and I decided due to my extreme post-partum depression to quit, someone had said “No, what do you need to keep breastfeeding?” because the truth is I didn’t want to quit, I just didn’t have the support I needed or the words to express my frustrations.  I sometimes wonder if I would still be breastfeeding him.  He totally loved it and still will reach for my breasts occasionally like there is a lingering memory there.  So support isn’t just about hospitals supporting skin to skin immediately after birth (weighing and even cord clamping can wait, unless there is a medical reason to whisk the baby away, the baby should always be placed skin to skin on the mother’s belly right after birth), or providing good qualified breastfeeding consultants if they are needed both in hospital and after discharge, but it also includes community and family support, especially in the first 3-4 months after birth, which is labelled the fourth trimester for a reason. Community support also includes supporting a nursing mother when you see her out in public.  Women should be applauded and encouraged for providing the best possible nutrition for their children and not made to hide or feel ashamed in any way.  As a by-product of encouraging breastfeeding in public, it also normalizes it for the next generation.

3.     Birthing practices is one I’ve spent a lot of time reading about.  I started my training to be a doula a year ago but after doing the weekend course, decided to put the practical side on hold as I still have a young family to care for. I continue to read extensively on birthing practices and absorb all the information I can.  I’m an advocate of natural birthing practices as much as can be possible but each labour, each woman is different and at the end of the day just needs to feel supported and loved as she moves through this rite of passage to motherhood, whether it’s for the first time, actually most importantly if it’s for the first time, but also for each subsequent child she births as well.  Birth isn’t just about delivering healthy babies, it’s about birthing strong, confident mothers, and the quality of care and support will have a huge impact on how a woman sees herself both as a woman and as a mother.  I have learned an incredible amount and I will revisit this topic again in future posts. Suffice to say my views on the pregnancy and birth process have changed quite a bit over the last 18 months, and I hope will be an integral part of my career path. I’m actually already signed up for two Sacred Pregnancy courses this summer where I hope to extend my knowledge and care skills exponentially.

4.      There are other areas as well that I have learned so much about, like attachment parenting for example.  Some elements of the practice I always knew deep down but society insisted on different approaches, and especially with my 17-year-old I didn’t have enough wherewithal to argue the status quo.  For example, I left my 17-year-old to cry it out because 17 years ago that was an acceptable method.  Now, never, not even with my 3-year-old.  About 8 months ago he suddenly developed a fear of shadows, and after that his easy bed time routine evaporated.  It became a long protracted affair, but when he cried, I, or my husband, was always there.  And now, he’s learned to handle shadows and scary monsters, but even more importantly, he also knows without question we are here if he needs us. The relationship I have with my 3-year-old is the most connected and natural of all my children. Attachment parenting does not breed spoilt brats, it breeds confident, happy, well-adjusted children.  Yes, it’s more work but the rewards are worth it.

Below I’ve listed my favourite websites and Facebook pages for information on all the above.  It’s just a sampling, I have many, many favourites and can’t possibly list them all.  There are some amazing women and yes, even men, changing the face of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and parenting in general.  I encourage you to check them out.  I’m sure I will be writing more on these subjects in the future, both to provide information and to relate how they apply to and affect my life.

http://www.handsfreemama.com/

http://www.evolutionaryparenting.com/

http://www.ourmuddyboots.com/

http://www.drmomma.org/

http://freeyourkidsblog.com/

http://www.thebadassbreastfeeder.com/

http://www.littleheartsbooks.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Consciousparentingnow

http://www.positive-parents.org/

http://www.birthwithoutfearblog.com/

http://guggiedaly.blogspot.com/

Finding love in distraction

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my jacket!

Jacket hung over a chair instead of in the closet.

There are words for everything it seems. Cafuné, means to run your fingers through your lover’s hair.  Dormiveglia, the space that stretches between sleeping and waking.  I’m wondering if there’s a word for trying so hard to remember to do things you still end up forgetting?

I’m not talking about big things like my kids’ birthdays or where I live.  It’s the little things, that should become rituals, but no matter how hard I try, I still forget to hang up my puff when I get out of the shower, or rinse the sink after brushing my teeth, or taking all my clothes with me when I leave the bathroom…

The list of all the little things I’m always forgetting is tediously long, at times seemingly endless. Things, like my car keys and my purse, are often dropped in random locations and I’m struggling to find the item as I’m running out the door.  I’m told there’s a place for everything and if I would just put the items where they belong I wouldn’t lose so much.  That just might be true, and I do try.  I try to mentally walk myself through the motions ahead of time, but I still forget and struggle to hold all the information in my head so I can hopefully avoid driving my husband completely crazy once and awhile.

I just feel like my brain is sabotaging me, like it doesn’t work properly.  These should be such simple tasks, that I should just do without having to think about, but no, for me it’s a mental marathon to go through the motions and remember every step correctly.  Then when I have to try to explain why yet again something is not put away properly or I’ve failed to adequately tidy up, the words, the excuses just feel that much more exhausting and demeaning.  I just want to yell “this is how my brain works, I can’t do it the way you want me to”. Instead I mumble apologies and angrily tell myself to shape up, this shouldn’t be so hard.

The raw truth is, it is that hard. With three children at very different stages, and a household to run, maintain and generally hold together, the minutia of information I have to remember is endless, and yet I am the same woman who used to know every file in my dad’s office by name and number, without having to check the file list.  How did I do that and yet can’t remember to hang up the dishcloth instead of just dropping it in the sink where it gets buried under dirty dishes and becomes yucky and unusable.

Some of it is likely my laid back attitude.  If I come across something either my husband or kids have neglected to put away or clean up, I just deal with it.  If they are around I will sometimes ask them to take care of it, other times I just do it. For me it’s not worth the effort or negative energy of actually getting upset.  I’m more like my dad, I can let the small stuff go, but many would say that I let too much go, that I don’t get frazzled enough.  Funny, I’ve heard the same said about my dad too!  And I will concede that there is definitely some truth to that statement.

What would happen though if I could stop feeling so bad about myself, what if I could find a way to make peace with my distractibility? What if all it took was my husband accepting that part of me for who I am? What if instead of getting angry and frustrated, he just stopped thinking about it as cleaning up after me all the time, and instead visualized it as an act of love, honouring all the other things I do accomplish by silently taking care of the ones I forget, even if it means hanging up my jacket every time he finds it hung over a chair.  He might also find that when he stops focusing on all the things I don’t do, he may be able to truly see what I do for him and this family, which will in turn allow me to let go of the shame, the self-directed anger and frustration I feel because of constantly feeling like I am letting him down.  I would be able to reinvest that energy into more useful, positive endeavours.  My husband might also discover that the act of letting go of his anger, frustration, and resentment, and turning it into something more positive would lead to feelings of less stress and more connection with me.

It really truly does come down to our perceptions.  If we perceive something as done deliberately to annoy us, we respond accordingly.  If we perceive it instead as someone who got side tracked and just forgot, it becomes less personal, and then taking the time to rinse the toothpaste from the sink, or hang up the puff or the jacket, even if it’s for the gazillionth time, becomes an act of loving that person despite their short-comings. And at the end of the day we all have short-comings and want to be loved despite them.