I am a huge fan of the TV show Glee – the one centred around a glee club at a high school in Ohio.The kids that belong to the glee club, called “New Directions”, are the lowest of the low on the school’s social hierarchy and sometimes I can truly relate to what they’re feeling. Not just from my own high school days but even now, in my mid-thirties, I can feel awkward and self-conscious. But I don’t really watch it for the story lines, which can be a little more than cheesy at times, I watch it for the music. These people are amazing singers – I end up with goosebumps at least once per show as they break out in song and dance in the gym or school hallway.
The most recent episode featured an original song called “Get It Right“. In the story, the character named Rachel, who seems to suffer from OCD and a few other undiagnosed issues and has difficulty socially, even within the glee club, writes a song about how hard she tries to do the right thing and how it always seems to blow up in her face. Wow, talk about hitting home. This song didn’t just touch me, it reached inside of me, grabbed me by the heart and soul and squeezed. Tears were streaming down my face as I listened to this powerful ballad. The words, “what can you do when your good isn’t good enough?”, express how I feel most days. I think it expresses how my kids feel most days too.
I don’t think many people understand how hard individuals with mental health problems, especially children with mental health problems, work at being “normal”, even when they fall short of that goal. I love the expression “Normal’s just a setting on the washing machine”, and as much as I practice this philosophy at home there are certain societal expectations, norms if you will, that we all must meet in order to function within said society.
Most of my working life has been at jobs that involve serving the general public. Before I become a mother I worked in an office and after the kids were born I was able to stay home with them for a few years, which I loved, but finances forced me out into the work force so I went to work at Tim Hortons, then Kelsey’s, then The Gospel Lighthouse Bookstore and finally St. Thomas Public Library, all work that has involved meeting societal expectations. By the end of the day I am exhausted, not because I’ve been run off my feet, although sometimes I have been (especially at Kelsey’s), but because my energy is drained. If you’ve ever worked with the public you know what I’m talking about – the amount of effort it can take to work with people. I call it “people energy“, there’s “mental energy”, “physical energy”, “spiritual energy” but when my “people energy” is gone I don’t want to see another living soul. I just want to be alone in an effort to rebuild my resources so I’m ready for the next day and the challenges, and triumphs, that will come with it.
Kids with ADHD and other mental health issues work very hard at trying to meet those social expectations while at school, in public and at other people’s houses. Many of these children have an abundance of physical energy but their “people energy” is often a low reserve to begin with and is drained very quickly so they must constantly make conscious efforts to meet social expectations which come effortlessly for most children. It is exhausting for them and frustrating when so few people acknowledge their efforts. It’s amazing they keep trying.
My kids prefer to play by themselves after school or with one friend at a time. I’m guessing it’s because their “people energy” is drained after spending the day with 20 to 30 other children, some of whom suffer from their own issues, including mental, physical and learning disabilities, and they can’t bear the thought of being around any more people. They need time to recuperate, so they seem like loaners, and this further ostracizes them from their peer groups.
My daughter has an especially difficult time with her peers. Rian seems to have difficulty reading social cues and processing the different tones of voice and expressions people use. Just this evening she had a misunderstanding with her brother because she misread something he was saying, she couldn’t understand how his tone altered the meaning of his words. Rian apologized for yelling at Alexi once I explained to her what her brother meant but Alexi was still upset and refused to accept her apology. His refusal further upset Rian, causing more frustration, bringing to mind the line from the song “cause my best intentions keep making a mess of things/I just wanna fix it somehow”. Rian really does have the best of intentions, most of the time anyway, but she keeps “messing up” and wants desperately to fix it but sometimes she just makes the situation worse. It seems her “good isn’t good enough”.
It’s a fair question though, isn’t it? What do you do when your good isn’t good enough? I think it’s very relevant when you’re talking about kids, or adults for that matter, who suffer from mental health issues. Often their very best efforts to fit in, to be “normal”, to meet societal expectations are regarded as substandard – their good isn’t good enough.This can cause much heartache and frustration for them, and the people around them, in the classroom, the schoolyard, the playground, family gatherings and, potentially, the work force.
How do we help them? I’m a big believer in positive reinforcement so when my kids do something correct socially, like shaking hands when one is offered to them, speaking politely to someone they’ve met for the first time or any other simple social act that is often a challenge for them I let them know, in some way, that I am proud of them. For instance I will wink at them, give them a big smile or wait until we have a quick moment where I can whisper “good job” in their ear. It tells them that their good is good enough and encourages them to do better.
please note: I encourage you to seek out services in your community, people to help you teach your children coping skills, people to help you advocate for your children at school and in your community. I have included links on my Glossary and Resources page to many Canadian and Ontario services. I know these services are offered worldwide so please, seek out the help you and your child need.