Numb Little Bug

Kendall Antonelli, parent of Elia '32 and Everett '30
Numb Little Bug
by Em Beihold

… I don't feel a single thing
Have the pills done too much
Haven't caught up with my friends in weeks
And now we're outta touch
I've been driving in L.A.
And the world it feels too big
Like a floating ball that's bound to break
Snap my psyche like a twig

… And I just wanna see if you feel the same as me

… Do you ever get a little bit tired of life
Like you're not really happy but you don't wanna die
Like you're hanging by a thread but you gotta survive
'Cause you gotta survive
Like your body's in the room but you're not really there
Like you have empathy inside but you don't really care
Like you're fresh outta love but it's been in the air
Am I past repair

… A little bit tired of tryin' to care when I don't
A little bit tired of quick repairs to cope
A little bit tired of sinkin'
There's water in my boat
I'm barely breathin'
Tryna stay afloat
So I got these quick repairs to cope
Guess I'm just broken and broke

… The prescriptions on its way
With a name I can't pronounce
And the dose I gotta take
Boy, I wish that I could count

… 'Cause I just wanna see if this could make me happy

This morning, I came into the kitchen to find Elia sitting on the counter singing her heart out to this song. Our daughter Elia, currently wrapping up her second grade year at St. Andrew’s, said she heard her friends singing it at school. I asked if she had listened to the lyrics or was just into the catchy tune. (After all, I’d been sent to the principal’s office in 2nd grade for singing “Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby” in the hallway with no idea what that meant but with that dang earworm tune stuck in my head.) She responded, “Yeah, it’s about having a tough time and going through some big feelings.” 

Big feelings. We have a lot of those in our house. In fact, I’d grown up with a lot of big feelings, only we didn’t really talk about it that way. Looking back, I was one of the fortunate ones, or rather, very privileged because I had access to and received services that many others don’t get. I grew up with a mother who valued therapy, who worked with our school counselor and also sought outside help from a therapist. Despite these advantages, I ended up hospitalized in the psychiatric ward of Georgetown University hospital one scary night in college. My mom’s colon cancer diagnosis (she’s a survivor), my father’s unexpected passing, my nana’s fight with Alzheimer’s… it was a lot to process. But these were also just triggers for my underlying depression and the year-anniversary of my father’s death was the catalyst for those actions that led to my hospitalization that one fateful night. It was only in hindsight, while hospitalized, did I realize the trend of how often I’d need to go to therapy. That, in fact, I’d had “periods” or “spells” when I’d start therapy again. I was diagnosed with major depression, stayed in the hospital for a week, attended outpatient services for another week, and moved back home to “go to regular therapy, get a dog, and get laser hair removal.” (I don’t know why, but that was what I felt I needed to get back to myself; my bewildered mother was willing to try anything. This is not a prescription for laser hair removal as a cure to depression!) I am out, loud, and proud of my mental health journey. I talk about it a lot. I’m not embarrassed, nor ashamed. I went through hell and back - and through services and a personal combination of therapy, medication, self-care/love/practices, healthy routine, support systems, and just darn luck - I made it. I am not just a survivor. I’m a mental health warrior on a mission.

Fast forward to my first date with John our senior year of college. He treated me to Melting Pot, a national fondue chain. I’m still not sure how he mustered that on his meager work earnings. (Yes, our first date was over cheese!) In turn, I treated him to two hours of my life history - complete with stories of shame, hospitalization, everything I once thought wrong with me, and more. I also declared firmly that it was all me - a full picture - a whole woman - and I would no longer hide or suppress any part of me, especially to seek approval from someone else. “Okay. Is that all?” John responded with those four words. The rest is history (or is it herstory?!). Together almost twenty years, a business baby, two biological babies, and somehow always two adopted dogs. 

Years later, in the midst of a failing spinoff business concept downtown that threatened financial ruin (at least in John’s eyes), coupled with physical health problems for me that resulted in him being a full-time caregiver to me and our children, and a couple other confounding factors, John realized he was in a bad space mentally and needed help. Honestly, I didn’t even really see it. As someone who has been through it, I feel like I should have. I feel like I failed him then. At a national industry food conference, two weeks after closing down the spinoff business, owner after owner approached John with tears in their eyes. Our own story was not unlike theirs - and the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship, small business ownership, and - yes - resulting mental health challenges. As each person relayed their own story to John, it built up his strength and resolve. He walked outside the conference doors in San Francisco, googled the closest therapist to our house, and made an appointment. (It’s worth noting it’s often not this easy, but luck was in his favor that day.) Today, John is a huge proponent of therapy. He’s referred over a dozen guys to his therapist. He’s doing well in his recovery and feels equipped with tools to help him when he feels his brain tries to trick him back into that dark place. I didn’t know it, but when we were both at a speaking gig recently, John mentioned that he credited me with his awareness and recovery. He said that, because I’d always been so open about my mental health journey, he never had to hide his anxiety, he was able to see it happening to him, and he was aware that there were resources available to him, like therapy, to get through it. Through open conversation about mental health in our house, there has never been any stigma around it - which makes identifying, addressing, and fighting those challenges easier.

Before wrapping this up (yes, I’m a wordy woman), I just want to add that you don’t need catastrophic life events or tragedies like my father’s death or a failing business concept and huge financial loss to go through mental health challenges. Those were just two of our personal experiences. Folks go through mental health challenges with seemingly no cause. Indeed, that’s how my childhood was. I grew up in a loving family, attended a private school similar to St. Andrews, and was afforded much support. Yet I was still depressed. Know that you may be feeling “big feelings” with no cause at all. Or it may be your kid(s). Those feelings are real. That’s okay. Let’s let go of preconceived notions and myths about mental health. Let’s resolve to check in with our mental health, just as we do with our physical health. Let’s bring it out in the open and talk about it. Will you join us in our journey to create “No Stigma in My House”?

Back to this morning’s singing session. While it has a somber message, “Numb Little Bug” prompted a great conversation about feelings - and talking about them, and processing them, and asking for help when we just can't. Before we took the Elia and our son Everett (4th) to school, we put Alexa on repeat and sang that song three more times at the top of our lungs. #NoStigmaInMyHouse

***

Everett still remembers a video he watched at school years ago that put music and colors to feelings, and he references it often. He has also taught me a breathing technique of tracing the outline of my hand, that I now use on a weekly basis. And daily, I see him take a step back from his sister and take a huge breath. He’s learning tools and tips to cope with life - from little to big - from SAS. I’m grateful our school community is teaching all of us Antonellis how to process our “big feelings.” This is a public love letter of sorts not only to our school teachers for creating encouraging environments on a daily basis, but also specifically to everyone who works in the SAS lower school to make sure our kids feel heard and included, as well as value the importance of naming and processing our feelings. Those folks contributing to our kids’ student life include our religious leadership, the Support & Wellness departments, the DEIB team, and the Social Emotional Learning guys. Special thanks to Counselor Jasmin; DEIB Specialist Priya Kenny; SEL guru Scott; Learning Support Team Pam, Brianna, and Amy; and Chaplain Ashley - all in the lower school. And here’s to those we’ll surely be seeking counsel from in our middle and upper school years: Brearley, Heather, Nuala, Kendall, Adam, and Whitney. Thank you. 

Parents often reach out to us asking how they can support children’s mental health and, in many cases, where they can find resources. In addition to supporting and reaching out to our school counselors, other great local resources include:
  1. Austin Child Guidance Center: ACGC is a nonprofit located within a half mile of school in the Triangle and the first to bring children’s mental health services to Austin. They are practitioners of trauma-informed care, as well as the premier educators of many of Austin’s therapists through their work-study programs. Unfortunately one of Austin’s “best kept secrets.” Help them spread the word. PRO TIP: Anyone can seek services here; services are provided on a sliding scale. Those may include assessments or, if needed, ongoing therapy. Also, if you’re on a waitlist for a private specialist in Austin, you can immediately bring your child to ACGS’s walk-in clinics each week to start seeing care while you’re on that waitlist.
  2. National Alliance on Mental Illness - Central Texas: NAMI does not provide direct therapy, nor mental health services. It does provide educational resources and, most importantly, support groups to others going through similar challenges. Have a child going through crisis and feeling it yourself? Join one of their support groups. After all, caregivers need care too.
  3. UT Health Austin Pediatric Psychiatry at Dell Children’s: Providing both outpatient as well as inpatient services at their Inpatient Grace Grego Maxwell Mental Health Unit for families in immediate crisis.
Essay written by Kendall Antonelli, Families of Cultural Understanding at St. Andrew's (FOCUS). To learn more about the committee, please email Monica May (monica.may11@gmail.com). FOCUS wants to hear from you!




Back