It’s time to celebrate our Athlete of The Day!
Jack Phillips, son of Sports Mama, Cari Phillips, is our Athlete of the Day.
Tell us about Jack’s achievement:
Jack LOVES sports! He is a multi-sport athlete, and he loves to take on new challenges. He is exploring track and wrestling for the first time this year and loves the aspects those sports bring to his competitive nature.
He works hard every day at everything, despite having struggled with a severe anxiety disorder and ADHD his entire life. Sports are his outlet to help manage his mental illness!
Tell us about a character trait Jack has that you just adore:
Jack’s tenacity and his will to conquer his fears, along with the often heartbreaking negative self-talk that his anxiety floods his mind with. Mental illness has certainly caused issues with some of his coaches and teams who could not understand the behaviors he would sometimes exhibit.
However, Jack continues to push through to prove to himself that he can do whatever he sets his mind to do.
Tell us one thing you want your athlete to know:
How so very proud of him we are! Sports are great, truly. They are a huge part of our lives. As parents, we are never concerned with whether our kids are the “best,” but we want them to learn the important life lessons and skills that can be built through teamwork and persistence. More importantly, the person he is becoming through his hard work and the lessons he has learned by trying new things and never giving up is really what makes our hearts swell!
And in a special message from Jack’s mom, Cari Phillips, here’s Jack’s journey…
Being Jack’s mom has really opened my eyes, my mind, and my heart to the kids who suffer from mental illness. There is no easy “fix,” but it also doesn’t mean these children are broken. If I can help even one person by sharing this story, then it was worth the time it took to write and share.
I’m really not a parent who talks much about my kids’ school conferences on social media (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and I usually don’t share their sports pics and annual birthday either. I just don’t choose to share every part of our lives on social media. However, this I needed to share.
This is our son Jack’s journey…
Anyone who knows our family or who knows Jack well may know how much he has struggled his entire life. But, if you only saw Jack from the outside, you would think, “Struggle? This kid?”
Yep, this kid.
This is a kid who is full of warmth, good humor, competitiveness, kindness, and genuine caring for others. He is a great leader and other kids love him. He is so very smart. He’s a pretty good athlete and never stops working hard. Ever. He was chosen as the “Student of the Month” on his team, made high honors, and is all-around rocking middle school.
This is also a kid who has struggled with mental illness his entire life.
Yep, this kid.
We took him to his first counselor when he was four. We were concerned. We couldn’t figure out why he wouldn’t go into pre-school, amongst other things. Or why he would hide his face when others spoke to him. He rarely spoke to us. He had a desire to try new things, but when we would get there, we would literally have to force him to participate. More often than not, we would leave, frustrated, confused, and honestly, a little angry with him. As school continued, we tried to understand why Jack was the way he was.
He was diagnosed at a pretty young age (maybe 1st or 2nd grade?) with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, along with several phobias, a couple of other anxiety disorders, and depression. We quickly moved him into an anxiety program with Family Service and Guidance. We started to make some headway. I could tell you so many stories about how his anxiety impacted him, and us. By third grade, we finally decided that he needed medication.
That was tough.
How does a 9-year-old kid know how to tell you if pills are working or not? By the end of third grade, he started talking about harming himself. How he “didn’t want to be here.” We were on high alert. We had him admitted to a hospital for three horrible, painful days. At that time, his sister and brother were in middle school, and we saw how hard the social parts of middle school were, even for those two, confident kids.
How on earth was Jack going to do once hormones and a completely different environment were in play?
I’m not really a worrier, but my heart broke knowing how hard life already was for him, and how hard it could get. And it did get bad. Like really. All bad. Fourth and Fifth grade brought constant calls from and visits to the school. I won’t go into details about all of the things that happened, but I will say that balancing medications in a kid is some tough stuff. There is no exact science. We had genetic testing done to see which meds could work best with his genetic makeup. Countless school meetings (and the blessing that I had lost my corporate job and had chosen to go into real estate so I could have the flexibility to take care of him during these years).
Eventually, we had an IEP, and then things got worse before they got better. It was suggested that Jack attend a different elementary school as part of their Behavioral Management Program. We asked a lot of questions, and the answers were promising. Reluctantly, Jack made the move with two weeks left in his 5th-grade year.
But over that summer we needed to have him tested for Narcolepsy. He was sleeping..a lot. At school, at home, in the car…anytime he was sitting still. In order to have that test done, he had to come off of all his meds. We were up to three different medications by then. It was a nightmare. Even I was filled with anxiety about it. Truly, it was like taking crack away from an addict. We ended up having the narcolepsy test done twice, but it was somewhat inconclusive both times. However, during that “no-med month” we noticed other behaviors we had never seen before.
The kid was bouncing off the walls.
When we went back into FSGC to talk about how we should re-introduce meds, we realized pretty quickly that he needed to be treated for ADD/ADHD. We found the right combination of medication to treat his ADHD and then added the anti-anxiety meds back. He started 6th grade as an entirely different kid. Well, not different, but as the Jack we knew, as his parents, that he really was.
He started 6th grade at the same elementary school and he breezed through the Behavioral Management Program. He wanted to go back to his former elementary school for the second semester of 6th grade, and he presented his reasons to his entire team at school and to us. My husband and I were pretty uneasy about it, but Jack was determined to go back to his former school and make things right and to show his friends and teachers there that he could be successful.
He did it.
Fast forward to middle school and we have seen our kid grow and flourish. Every single teacher or coach I talked to at the parent-teacher conference was so very complimentary of him. Not only his grades but simply the person he is.
Many of them had no idea where he had been before this year, some of them had. I honestly can’t say I have ever been more proud of one of our kids in my life.
Jack has overcome so much.
He will never overcome mental illness. It is a part of him, and he will always have to balance that with every other part of his life. But he has learned how to manage that piece of himself with such courage and determination.
Most people don’t like to share the not-so-shiny stuff on social media. I’d usually prefer not to. But this is too important to not share. So many people suffer from mental illness.
It not only impacts the patient but their families. Educators also have to understand it. Their students need to come to school and to know that their teachers have their backs.
These kids aren’t “bad kids.” Their brains don’t work the same.
They need support.