In The Rising Podcast

Episode 87: [Interview] Gina Heumann- Moving From Trauma-Ridden to Success-Potential

August 03, 2021 Bettina M. Brown
In The Rising Podcast
Episode 87: [Interview] Gina Heumann- Moving From Trauma-Ridden to Success-Potential
Show Notes Transcript




I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Gina Heumann, who tells the story of her son, who has RAD, Reactive Attachment Disorder through dignity, passion, and humor, delivering a message of inspiration, hope, and healing.  She has spoken to change access to mental health via affordable health insurance coverage in her state, and provided a TEDx talk reviewing how trauma shapes and effects us all.

She has started Trauma Drama University in an effort to provide support and information to parents of children who have gone through a great deal of trauma. She is also the author of Love Never Quits: Surviving and Thriving After Infertility, Adoption and Reactive Attachment Disorder


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Speaker 1:

Hello. Hello and welcome to in the rising podcast. My name is Bettina and this is the platform I've chosen to talk about living a life that's really in alignment with your hopes, your dreams, and your goals, basically all in and walking away from the shame blame game. That really does nothing for any of us. And sometimes what makes us rise is not something for ourselves specifically, but we rise up for those that we love family, friends, or children. And my guest today is Gina human, and she talks about her adventure into a very different realm of medicine, social issues, and love. So I'm so excited for you to listen today.

Speaker 2:

So having finally cleared our technical issues, I am so excited to have Gina. Is it Hawaii ? Mon human human. Okay. I'm on my podcast today.

Speaker 3:

That's the actual German present or pronunciation. I am German. I'm from Germany. We've got it right. But

Speaker 2:

Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Gina, for your time for being on my show today. And I, I watched your Ted talk. I read your description and it's powerful. It's amazing. It's inspirational. And so I would like you to just give a little bit of your story to , to start off with,

Speaker 3:

Okay. Sure. Um, my husband and I , um, tried to have kids for many years and went through lots of infertility treatments, then determined we were meant to adopt. So we went to Guatemala, brought home Landry. He , um , was six months old at the time and he was the easiest baby in the world. Easiest, like first three years, he was polite. He would do anything. I asked him to all those parenting books , things worked on him. And then we went back three years later and got medics . And we, none of the parenting books worked at all and he was a cranky baby from the beginning. And we couldn't figure out what was, what was wrong with him. But he was, it , it took, you know, hours for, to get him to sleep every night. So the planets had to align and he was just, he was angry all the time. And then as he got to be about two and a half , um, it started getting kind of violent for a little kid. Um, there was one story where I was driving him to the ER by driving my mom to the airport and he was in the back seat and it was just the three of us. We drove I'm very far from the airport, like 45 minutes. So about 10 minutes into our drive, he starts, he hears a song on the radio that he really likes. And then he says, mama , play it again. And I said, oh buddy, I can't do that because it's the radio people that figure out what to play, mommy, play it again. And it turned into, he escalated so fast and he's screaming at the top of his lungs. This blood curdling scream , um, throws a shoe at my head while I'm cruising down the highway. And so these are the kinds of things we dealt with and we went all the way to the airport. Um, he was, you know, next shoe came flying on the dashboard , socks came fly. I was like, oh my God, what are we doing? Drop my mom off. She says, good luck. And I drove almost all the way home before I had to stop for gas. And he's still screaming at the top of his lungs. And then he at the gas station, he kind of dulls it down to a whimper. And I S I made this huge mistake and said, Hey, buddy, I bet you don't even remember what you're upset about. And he said, because you wouldn't play my song. And he got all escalated off all over again. And it lasted about four hours. It was insane. And those are the kinds of things we dealt with all the time. He would just, anytime we said, no, he would fly off the handle, like immediately go into fight or flight mode. And he was angry a lot of the time. So, but when he was in a good mood, he was a sweet kid. So I don't wanna make it out. Like, you know, I, I adopted Chucky or anything sweet when he was in a good mood, but he just had these episodes where he would flip in no time from happy to angry. Um, we went through years and years of trying to get a diagnosis , um, took about a decade till he got on the right one. So we got the whole alphabet soup thrown at us. Um, at first it was add , then they thought maybe bipolar, maybe he's on the autism spectrum. Maybe it's oppositional defiant disorder. So each time they give us a diagnosis, they give us a new medication. Nothing was working. Um, it wasn't until he was 10 years old that we finally got the correct diagnosis of reactive attachment disorder. And when we learned about that, we found out that reactive attachment disorder is caused by abuse or neglect in the first three, the first few months of life is the most critical because that's when the brain is developing the most rapidly. And we strongly suspect he was neglected by his foster mom. Now that we look back on it, we see all the signs of neglect, but we didn't see it then because we didn't know what to look for. So once we put all the pieces together, we were like, oh, this is what we're dealing with. So, you know, in the meantime, we had tried every kind of therapy and treatment you can possibly throw at me and none of them were working. But I think partly because we didn't have the right diagnosis and rad is a very challenging one to have. And , um , as he got older, he got more and more violent and, you know, kicking or throwing holes in the walls , um, broken lamps, broken computers, broken TVs, and, you know, he would, it was, it was very hard,

Speaker 2:

You know? And, and when you gave your Ted talk, you , you did your whole bio. You, you talked about how this starts with childhood trauma, very initial moments. And the more people I talk to, it doesn't even matter what topic we're talking about. It just seems that childhood trauma is the trunk of the tree, and we have so many different things. And what I really liked is, I mean, the persistence that you showed and the love for your son, this is your son. Um, one of the questions I had, you know, I heard about the time, the money, the research you put into, how did your marriage survive? I thought of,

Speaker 3:

That's a really good question. And , um, and I'm not joking when I tell you this, my , my husband and I had a pact . We're , we're actually really best friends. We have a great relationship, but we had a pact that , um, if either of us decides to leave the marriage, for any reason, they get to take the rad kid with them. And we both knew that we couldn't do this alone. Like it's, it's way too hard. I don't know how single parents do this. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And that's, that was the first thought I had because you have to have a solid, especially in our divorce rate today. I mean, you have children that don't have this much, and we have a lot, I, myself am divorced, you know, like we have this. So I'm really a huge kudos to you and your husband for maintaining your relationship and friendship and partnership through this journey, because that's something that's huge. I listened to your zeal, your emphasis on changing our view of this diagnosis, recognizing signs. What gave you the courage and the resilience to continue researching year after year while you're going through this?

Speaker 3:

You know, I don't know. I just, I just, I'm not the type to give up. I'm like, we are going to find something that's gonna work. There's gotta be something that works. And I don't know what are other alternatives or like we were living in chaos. And so I was really motivated to have a peaceful place to live. And , and look now it's quiet.

Speaker 2:

Motivation is big. And so, you know, you're talking about rad this reactive disorder and that it's, it all is in the limbic system. You had this diagram up where really literally a, of the brain is not active during certain events. And you talk about being in survival mode when you have gone through these events and you're that child. But it also sounded like when things were great, they were great. But when they were rough, they were rough. Where you not also in survival mode with

Speaker 3:

Yes, as it turns out, I was diagnosed with PTSD and mine got worse after he got better, because I just kept waiting for the next shoe to drop. And , um, you know, I had to get my own treatment for that. I've been doing neurofeedback now. I think I've had about 18 sessions and it has changed my life.

Speaker 2:

That's wonderful because as parents, and you mentioned this a lot of times, we look at anything as bad parenting. And with books we look at as a parent myself, it is always on you. You did not do something right. It's and you can love your child, but loving them is not the same as guiding them. And if you don't know what panels to guide within, it definitely makes it so much more difficult. Um , on that topic, how did you feel with, or cope with having people look at you or tell you that you're not, not a good parent with all of this?

Speaker 3:

Oh my God. I cried a lot. I remember one story where I was at target and he was having a huge meltdown and I was dragging him out of the store and I just left a whole cart behind that. I'd spent an hour filling and I was like, we have to go home. I have the screaming child. I'm, you know, he's big enough that I'm really having to force him out the door instead of like lifting him up as a baby. He was like, you know, eight or nine. So , um, as I'm getting to the door, this woman says to me, you should be embarrassed. I've raised six children. And none of them ever acted that way. Um, you should be embarrassed. And I was like, oh my God, I am embarrassed. And I am a terrible parent. You know, if I hadn't had my first one who was so easy , um, I , I really would have thought it was just me, but I knew that there was something more going on.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And I think it's what you, what that comment is that we tend to just pass judgment with little to no, to little knowledge. Right. And so there is a learning lesson for, for each one of us. We don't know the story behind a kid at target or , or anyone we don't know each other

Speaker 3:

Well, exactly. And I think , um, it , it, this whole experience has made me a much more empathetic person. I used to, you know , have the easy child. And I used to be like, well, why can't they get there ? It , mine does . And so it's really put me in my place, but I didn't meet 10, 15 years of this to get there. I mean, a few months would have done the trick, but

Speaker 2:

All, we are a place where we can make the impact. Right. Um, and so, you know, you, you said also that parents feel guilty about their children's behavior. They either enable or disable their children or themselves. Like they disconnect parents just let things happen. But what actionable steps would you recommend for another parent regardless of what their child is going through?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I think it has to be a multi-faceted approach. I don't feel like , um, because as parents, we're not necessarily with our kids all day long, so we have to get the right schooling on board . We have to have the teachers on the same page. We, and if there's a therapist, we need to get the therapist on the same bus . So I always say we had the magic triangle because we finally got to the point where we had the right therapist and the right school. And the school was using this new discipline tactic or what a parenting tactic called , um, collaborative problem solving. And so they had a class and taught us how to do that. And so once we're doing the same steps at home and at school, he got into more of a routine. And that really helped, I think routine is huge for these kids, but I also saw a lot of great , um, improvements when we did, like, we did a skills therapy when he was a little kid and he learned, you know, anger management, socialization skills. I think that helped him a little bit. Um, we also, he plays the tuba. I think music is great for these kids. And especially because the tuba has all this deep breathing that goes with it, I'm like, that's what people need is nice, deep breaths, cleansing breaths. And I think that helps him to exercise is huge. He got his black belt in TaeKwonDo, so yeah. But , um, he doesn't exercise anymore. I'm working on that. Well, a lot of us should

Speaker 2:

Do it and we don't really, but you know, it's a lot of, you know, you, when you got them , you were very, he was very young. Um, those first six months are so critical and, you know, there's research to it, but research doesn't do anything. Knowledge doesn't do anything unless you do something with that knowledge. And one thing that you did is you, you did publish your memoir. You want to describe a little bit about that.

Speaker 3:

Um, it's called love, never quits. Um, and it's basically takes you from our , you know, journey to parenthood. So starting with our infertility process and like how we met and how we got together and stuff like that. And then it goes into what happens when we got a red kid. And it was funny because in one of these horrific meltdowns he was having, when he was about 12 years old, I was laying on the floor of the closet. And I said, God, if I ever figure out how to get out of this situation, I'm going to make it my life, you know , purpose to help other parents. So , um, after he had settled down, I actually had a hand analysis, crazy story, but the woman who did my hat hand analysis told me that one of my gifts was writing and speaking. And she said, you really should write a book. And I said, you know, I've always thought about writing this book about my son and all that we've gone through. And she said, well, you need to do it. You need to do it. And I said, I'm not a writer. And she said, oh, that's what editors are for just telling you . So , um , so I sat down and it really only took me a couple of weeks to get it out. I had so many like notes notebooks, where I kept track of all of his behaviors and all of the medicines we took and all of that. So I had a lot to go off of when I wrote the book. And , um, I , I don't feel like it's just a book for rad parents. I feel like it's a book for other people as well, because it helps you understand what's going on in someone else's life. So, yeah .

Speaker 2:

Yes. And you know, the title love never quits. And , and that is the action that we do in the name of love is that, you know, it's not the feeling love is really action and continuously looking for answers for your son and staying , you know, in this pact with your husband shows your commitment to that action hands down. So I think that is, you know, that, that I think the title itself surviving and thriving, both of those, yes.

Speaker 3:

And both of my kids wrote a chapter at the end. So on what it's like to have a son , a brother with red, and then my younger son did his on what it's like to be a kid with red . And he's , um, he's 17 now and he's going into his senior year. And right now he wants to be a rad therapist and help other kids. So really proud of that.

Speaker 2:

Sometimes we go through what we go through so that we can help other people, like that's , that's all what it is about. For sure. You also said that you have testified in the state Congress for better mental health laws, like mental health is a thing we don't really have here. Yeah , no , I know

Speaker 3:

The, the bill that we testified on, I went with my friends who , um, founded the rad advocates. They're friends of mine. And I don't know how they got hooked up with this, but they reached out to me and said, you know, we're going to go to Congress in February. We need another person to tell their story. And so we went and like three of us told our stories and the bill that they were trying to pass was trying to make it easier for parents to get into residential treatment facilities if they need that. We didn't go that route. But , um, but the current or the current law at the time was that you either had to relinquish your kids and, you know, not be their parents anymore, which you don't want to do, or have CPS open a case on you, which could affect your certificates, your jobs, your, your livelihood. Um, so there was no good option for parents. And so we all testified about it and unanimously, they passed a law that if your child has a red diagnosis or other, you know, severe diagnosis , um, you can just apply and get in. So, so that was good.

Speaker 2:

Yeah . Amazing because that's needed.

Speaker 3:

Yes. And I wasn't part of this one, but we also passed a law here in Colorado now that says , um , you need to, insurance companies need to provide a mental checkup and a physical checkup every year. I think that's going to help our society hugely. Yes.

Speaker 2:

And so, you know, I think just as a healthcare practitioner, cause I'm a physical therapist and I get to work with a lot of people. And when you spend that time with people, 30 minutes, 45 minutes an hour, every single week, you start to talk, know what they keep saying, and I've said it myself, we don't address the mental portion. And so much of our mental , um, thing or illnesses or whether it's just traumas affect us physically, which they're willing to pay for. So yes, I think that is a forward-thinking motion with getting mental health. And it's not a negative thing. Like there's still a huge stigma with,

Speaker 3:

And there's , there's a great book that's out right now called what happened to you , um, with Oprah and Dr. Bruce Perry, and it's all about like how childhood trauma affects you, every single person and how, if you have childhood trauma and you're a parent to a kid with childhood trauma, you're going to be triggered. And, you know, I didn't realize that either until we went into family therapy and I found out I had all my stuff that I had to deal with as well. So

Speaker 2:

Yes, someone was saying like, we almost need a gold medal for making it to adulthood because there are so many traumas that happened and then not always, always intentional. Right. It is , uh , it is just lack of awareness. Um, right . And then you did numerous speaking engagements, including Ted talks, which I got to watch. Tell me a little bit about that experience and how did that, how do you feel that's helped you and other other parents?

Speaker 3:

Um, I was really, I just wanted to raise awareness about rad because it's such a rare disorder and, and yet it seems like it's getting more and more common. So , um, again, I was just trying to tell our story and get the information out there and, and show that it's, it's not just a problem within our house. It's a problem of society as a whole. I mean, a lot of , um, a lot of our criminals right now have suffered from a rad diagnosis, a kid, or had childhood trauma. Um, the Oklahoma city bomber was one of them. Um, but there was a couple of serial killers. There's , um, there's a few school shooters. And so this is what I thought at one point was going to be my son's future. So I w we were lucky that we got the right therapy, but there's a lot of kids out there that don't get the right therapy. And if they don't, they're gonna affect the rest of us. They could be the person that shoots you at the grocery store someday. You know, if we can't get that anger under control , um, it's, it's going to just multiply. So it's scary to me, and I wish we could do more to help these kids with trauma.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And , and it was, it was a very passionate , um, Ted talk, but it was so informative. Like I came away with that 20 minute conversation with just like, wow, this is something I did not know, especially with how many children are affected, because we always look to, and I'm not trying to get on one topic, or we always look to the gun. It doesn't matter what side of the gun law that someone is on. There is someone behind it that is really needing the help. Right . And that is a good place to start to look at also. Yeah . I really felt that. And then you are starting this trauma drama university. I, I went to that site. I am excited. Tell me, tell us all about that.

Speaker 3:

Okay. So, like I said, I, I felt very alone, very isolated, very clueless when I got this diagnosis and couldn't figure out what to do. Um, I am, I , I, I'm a lifelong learner. I would get a million masters degrees if they were free . So I just researched, you know, I could have a doctorate in psychology by now, I think, but , um, I , uh, I just kept reading about rad and following different paths of, you know, what other people have done and kind of figured out what worked and what didn't work. And now I understand trauma so much more. I keep telling my kids if I could go back and reparent them, I would, because I wish, you know, I think things could have turned out better and we wouldn't have had so many years of this chaos, but , um, so I'm trying to do that for other parents so that, you know, they, I can shorten the process. I can like get them the resources they need. So it's going to be a community that you joined for a year. Um, there's four classes that come first , um, in the first month, will you get a class a week on what is trauma, how to change your mindset towards your trauma, trauma affected child , um, then PTSD and parents. Cause I think it's really important that we also do self-care and , um, the last one is on treatments and therapies and how you know, which direction you can head. And then each month we're going to have a , like a zoom webinar where industry professionals will talk about trauma, or, you know, in, in August I have a woman coming to talk about 5 0 4 is in the IEP and how to write them and how to prepare for that meeting. Um, because most of our kids need that in schools. Um, I have a guy coming to teach a little calm parenting class in October, and, you know, I have, I have a lot of cool ideas for education and resources. And so the people who are coming are also people that can help you so you can connect with them and get help if that's something in your wheelhouse that you need. Um, we're going to have a monthly, I call it RNR day. So we're either going to have a self care activity, a book club discussion, or a , uh , like a movie watch party. And we're going to do rotate every month. Um, there's going to be a private discussion board. That's not on Facebook , um, because I've seen some issues where people can make up a fake profile and go in and hear everything that's going on in your family. Take pictures of it and send it to court. So we don't want that. So this'll be very private through my website only. And , um, you know, we're just going to try to give the parents the empowerment and the , um, the resources and tools they need and the support

Speaker 2:

That is amazing. And I will also in my podcast have all of that information there as resources, you know, and my last question to you today is where you are right now, this moment. What would you tell that woman in the closet back then just struggling and feeling frustrated?

Speaker 3:

Yeah. I would have hugged her and said, this is not a parenting issue. This is not your fault, but let's get up and let me help you let's get up and keep going every day. You know, I ended up making a , um, a poster, like a vision board that I put next to my bed. And I found all these like, quotes about trauma that I put up on there. And so every day I'd look at it before bed. And I look at it when I woke up and it kind of reminded me of what he'd been through. And that really helped me go at it with a different attitude. Like he's not doing this on purpose. This is how his brain is wired. So I took that vision board and made it into a professionally designed poster now. So if anybody wants one free, they can go to trauma, drama, university.com/poster and , um , and click on that. And it's a free poster. You can just print it out and hang it up.

Speaker 2:

Oh. So, you know, what I, what I think is so huge about your experience and I've so enjoyed learning from you a lot, I was so excited is that in that moment, the tools that you're using in that moment are absolutely the tools that you're going to use later on to give to something else, to someone else. Right. It's bigger than you. And it's a change in perspective. So when you looked at that poster, it was not, this is against me and woe is me, right . A perspective change.

Speaker 3:

Right. And that was huge for our whole family was to get to the point where we said, okay, he's not doing this on purpose. And, you know, I also learned that, you know, as a 12 year old , he was physically 12, but emotionally like seven, you know, he was, he had missed a lot of brain development in that area. So, so, you know, we're also putting expectations on a 12 year old that he can't do. So. Yeah. Wow.

Speaker 2:

Well, I am going to put all of this information on the podcast. I am so excited. Um, I am so thrilled for all the work that you're doing, and it was definitely a labor of love, you know, love never quits, and it's still not quitting cause you're still out there and not only empowering your son with his future, but so many other people, thank you so much for your time. Oh, thank you for having me.

Speaker 1:

So in this podcast interview, I learned so much, you know, the , the power of love that love does not quit. That in that love of not just being a feeling but being continuous action, never giving up and always striving for a better answer, no matter how many people don't have the right answer somewhere deep within you, you know, if you're on the right track and ultimately being on the right track did so much for Gina son and so many other children out there that do not have the resources available. So I will have all the information down below. If you enjoyed this podcast, I encourage you to leave a five-star review. It does so much for the show and this helps it reach out to other people that could use these words. And until next time let's keep building [inaudible] .