A woman who escaped an abusive relationship wonders if that has contributed to her son’s mental health issues.
Tonight, neuroscience educator Nathan Wallis (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahungunu) deals with Jan-Marie, a solo mum of four who is trying to get her and her children’s lives back on track.
Jan-Marie is also looking for ways to support her son Anthony, who is struggling with severe anxiety, ADHD and PTSD.
“I need help understanding the anxiety side of my boy. [In] some situations he is just crippled in fear and hides in really weird places, or he will just not get out of the car even [if we’re about to do] something he enjoys doing. A lot of my time and attention is focused on the one child, and my other three end up being pushed to the background a lot,” Jan-Marie tells Wallis.
“I guess I put more time into him and more love and care into him out of fear that he would mirror the environment he was growing up in, and the male figure/role model that he had.”
Jan-Marie said she and Anthony’s dad were in an abusive and violent relationship.
“So he [Anthony] did see some pretty bad stuff from a young age,” Jan-Marie said.
“The twins were nine years old when their dad went to prison – he went to prison for domestic violence against me.”
After her ex was jailed for the abuse, Jan-Marie and her kids went to a Women’s Refuge and have started a new life from scratch.
“It has been an incredible journey, both for my personal self and in my journey as a mum,” she said.
“I’m just finishing up the second year of my social work degree. I decided to do that because I wanted to help other mothers who were stuck in the same situation I was.”
Jan-Marie is concerned about the impact of this domestic violence on her kids, Anthony’s PTSD in particular.
Wallis sits with Jan-Marie and her whānau to get a clearer picture of where their lives are at and what coping mechanisms may be needed.
“When people ask me to come in and help with the situation, I often see it like they have the solutions themselves. You have actually already done 99 per cent of what you need to do. It’s just about persevering with what you’ve done and staying on this pathway, and they will be adults who grow up with their teenagers in a normal, stable environment, and that’s what gives you good self-esteem and stuff,” Wallis said.
He breaks down what happens to the brain during an anxiety attack.
“What’s actually happening in the brain when you’re having an anxiety attack? Well, typically on a normal day, you’re in your frontal cortex, you can control your emotions,” he said.
“You can start to feel sweaty, and what you need really is to calm down. We need to calm that amygdala down and bring that frontal cortex back online.”
Wallis suggests a number of ways to help alleviate an anxiety attack, including mirimiri – a traditional Māori healing technique that seeks to restore and rebalance the body. This is achieved through applying pressure to trigger points and pressure points, using tools such as kōhatu [stones], spine and joint alignment techniques and the use of hands, feet, elbows and bodyweight to work muscles and tissue.
“Rituals are really powerful for calming anxiety. It’s sort of like programming the brain. So if you have little rituals that are associated with self-calming, [someone anxious is] less likely to flip out,” Wallis said.
Jan-Marie also reveals that Anthony has been diagnosed as having conduct disorder, which along with his ADHD, PTSD and anxiety has left Jan-Marie unsure how to interpret it all, particularly his unpredictable risk-taking behaviour.
Jan-Marie is joined by her two big sisters for a whānau hui as they celebrate how far she has come on her journey. They unpack the best ways to support Anthony and the whole whānau – after all, part of being a functional whānau is helping one another.
Watch the full episode tonight on Whakaata Māori at 7.30pm or on Māori+ on demand.