The Rules of Engagement

In the military, the brave men and women who serve our country follow very strict Rules of Engagement when they enter the battle field. These Rules of Engagement are non-negotiable and are adhered to with the utmost patriotic pride.

These Rules of Engagement are by design to ensure the safety of our troops. They are by design to ensure swift success in defeating the enemy. Simply put, they are the rule of law when engaged in battle.

As a Mental Health Mom of an 11-year Bipolar son and a 10-year old Autistic/ADHD son, I too am engaged in a battle of sorts every day.

The enemy I face cannot be seen nor can it ever be defeated.This enemy lives inside my sons.

When the enemy arrives in the form of an Autistic meltdown, or Bipolar psychotic episode, I know the proper Mental Health Mom Rules of Engagement. I study their disorders. I talk to their doctors. I listen to their therapists. Yet, in the heat of the moment,I subconsciously abandon the Rules of Engagement I STRONGLY believe in and turn into a crazed lunatic defector who engages in the wrong battle at the wrong time. When this happens I lose and, more importantly, so do my kids.

Allow me to explain. On paper, I can recite the Mental Health Mom Rules of Engagement to the letter. They all revolve around the proper way to diffuse an out-of-control episode one of my sons might have.

The basic Rules of Engagement for this type of mental battle of the wits are:

1. Do not engage. I repeat, do not engage!

Even though I know the WORST thing I can do is engage in an argument with my children when they are in full-blown meltdown mode and yet, in the heat of the moment, it is nearly impossible not to engage. I want my sons to understand why they are wrong. I want them to listen to my rational behind the consequences for their actions. I want to explain why they cannot control what is happening to them in that moment. I know with 100% certainty this type of engagement is dangerous in the heat of the battle with this unrelenting enemy within. It will undoubtedly escalate the situation into something serious. Yet, I often abandon what I know to be true and engage anyway. I feel like it is not even a conscious decision; it just happens and I hate the impact it has on our lives.

I know my desire to engage comes from a place of love. In my heart I am trying to calm them down by talking them through it. While this may work for some kids, it simply does not work for kids with Mental Health Disorders.


2. Separate and cool down

According to the Mental Health Mommy Rules of Engagement, my primary goal during battle should be to have the enraged child separate and cool down. This can be anywhere they are comfortable as long as they are removed from the situation and regain control.Regaining control is always the mission.


3. Discuss when coast is clear

Once everyone has cooled down and an all-out war has been averted, it is time to sit down at the negotiating table and discuss what happened and what each person involved could do differently when faced with similar circumstances (including this Momma Bear).

I. Get. It.

But if I get it, truly get it (did I mention I get it?), then why is it so dang hard to follow these Rules of Engagement when my children push my buttons? And, boy do they know how to push my buttons!

Now I’m not saying I never get it right. I have earned many stripes as a Commander in this war against the evilest of adversaries. Sometimes I am just like the brave men and women who fight for our country, feeling pride in my victory when the Rules of Engagement are followed. Other times I feel like a traitor, a total failure, who deserves the harshest of punishments.

It’s like I wake up every day as a 5-star General, fighting the right cause the right way, but go to bed every night feeling like a war criminal who deserves to be in Guantanamo Bay.

As my son Adam enters puberty, and the symptoms of his Bipolar Disorder are intensifying 1000-fold every minute of every day, never has the need to follow the Rules of Engagement been more critical.

It is critical for his struggle and it is critical for my sanity. But, if I’m being honest, sometimes it is so hard to do it literally takes my breath away. However, just because it is hard to do doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Enemy beware.

I will never raise a white flag and surrender to your diabolical ways. This is war and I am a warrior. Some days I may fail and lose the battle but I will get up the next day and fight harder than the day before. I may lose some battles along the way but I will help my children win the war.

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