One of the great things about social media, at times, is it can help encourage you in your parenting. Of course, there’s always exceptions to that but overall, you can find it easy to rally support and encouragement when going through hard times. I’ve seen over the last few weeks this happening with parents who are struggling with a hard diagnosis for their children. I’ve seen it happen on a smaller scale with moms and babies not getting sleep. It’s great to find that little “pep talk” from those who are in the battle with you.
I wish such support existed when parenting children with mental health issues. Maybe it would if I had the courage to share what is REALLY going on and I could, with great confidence, know that I’d be supported. However, the stigma for mental health still exists. Parenting a child with a mental health issue is often seen as a parenting issue. The shame can feel like a giant weight on your chest. And most often, it’s a lonely place to be. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of talk about what to do, how to deal with it, where to find support–although that’s getting better every day. But sharing anything like this on social media isn’t happening all that often. Places like Facebook shine a light on how great our lives have become (and probably make mental illness much worse). Even sharing health concerns on Facebook is often a way to update everyone on how good the child is doing that day.
Don’t get me wrong. I am glad people share their stories. I just can’t help but feel sad that I can’t share mine. Of course, I’m able to share it, but not without some judgment along the way. I do so here, knowing that in sharing this, I won’t be understood completely. I do it to raise awareness of the difficulties involved.
Parenting & Mental Health: My Story
Last September, I sat in the ER with my daughter who couldn’t promise she’d go home without killing herself. I cried as I came to the front counter. I could barely keep it together. My daughter sat there stone faced, pissed off that I had brought her there. The nurse said, “You did the right thing”. I wondered if I had really done anything right up until that point with her.
Doctors came in asking me question after question and my daughter refused to answer, but overall offered me no help except to wait for a social services lady. The ER is a bit of a joke when it comes to suicide. It’s basically a holding place that charges you thousands of dollars to tell you something you could find on the internet. They told us about a program she could go into–a program I already knew about through her counselor. They did make her sign a statement that she wouldn’t harm herself. Refusal to sign meant a bigger hospital bill and a 72 hour hold, which she didn’t want so she signed it and eventually we went home.
There were no photos and updates to share. No support from well-wishing friends. It was my burden, along with my husband, to bear. I didn’t share any of it with relatives or friends until a few weeks later. I felt completely heart broken that the hardest thing I was going through wouldn’t be understood by most people. And it’s true. Even the people I shared it with just couldn’t understand. That’s not their fault. They just weren’t in my shoes. And if they couldn’t understand it, then there was no way I’d be sharing it via social media either.
It’s now February and we’ve gone through partial hospitalization programs, DBT programs, doctor visits, weekly counseling, medication, and more. I’ve personally sat through really hard counseling sessions where my own parenting was questioned or my own past was brought up, as if that was the reason my daughter had these issues. I’m a damn good mom and yet, the thing I prided myself in–motherhood–was the thing that now brought me shame. What did I do wrong? How could I have been better? What did I miss? My own emotional state continues to suffer through it (which makes it all the more hard).
Of course, if I could go back, there would be things I would change. I wasn’t perfect. But her mental health, I’m learning, is not because of how I parented. It has everything to do with adjusting as a teen, genetics, and brain chemistry. I can’t own those things. If I do, my own mental health will suffer.
This past week, my daughter was in a state of decline again. She refused to take her medication. She ran away and I had to call the police. I spent 2 days sobbing at the realization that my daughter was making choices that I couldn’t control and that would damage her for her lifetime. My other two kids were confused, having no idea what was going on. My husband was out of town and I was relaying messages through the phone. My sister was the only one I could talk to because she understands mental health. But she couldn’t do anything either. It was my issue and I had to solve it alone.
Parenting & Loneliness
Today, I sit here feeling numb and alone. No one could possibly understand the hardships of raising a daughter who sees people, herself, and her parents as constant enemies. I know I have two years left with her at home and then she can run off and do whatever she wants. That part scares me the most. Because when that time comes, there will be nothing I can do and it might mean I have to distance myself from the child I spent so much emotional energy, finances, and mental power on. It makes me sad to think that everything I tried to do might end up in ash and dust. Of course, I hope for miracles and change just like every other parent who deals with medical issues, but I know the statistics are downright sad. Still, that is my goal–to see her happy, healthy, and emotionally strong and making choices that are good and wise. I have to put my energy into that goal and try to put my feelings of failure in the back of my mind. It takes herculean effort on my part to not flop over in a heap of exhaustion.
Last night, after a humiliating, energy-sucking morning, we sat down together at a restaurant as a family. We laughed together. The kids talked. We seemed like every other “normal” family. I came home, depleted. My husband asked why I felt depleted after having such a good time together. It was because I knew those moments were few and far between. I wished I could freeze moments like that and store it in a bottle and make it come alive when I needed it to. Peace and calm and serenity can happen, even in families with mental health issues, but sometimes it’s just hard to focus on the good when you are dealing with a lot of chaos. The days get lonely. The battle sometimes seems hopeless.
Tips for Your Own Mental Health
There are few things that get me through lately and I’ll mention them here:
- Counseling for myself. I have found that counseling, although I don’t always want to make the time, has helped me learn how I deal with stress. It has helped me improve my own self-care. And without it, I would feel more alone.
- Taking breaks. Sometimes I just go and do something all by myself. I don’t want to talk to anyone, be around people, or talk about therapy, depression, or whatever. I just want to enjoy the silence, the calm, and living. So I try to do this once in awhile.
- Connecting with my family. Instead of always seeing my family members as problems to fix, I just take time to connect with them. My daughter might struggle with depression, but she still enjoys going out for coffee, shopping, or whatever. We still have fun. Increasing these memories helps to stop seeing her as lost cause or seeing myself as an awful parent. She struggles with depression and anxiety, but she doesn’t have to be defined by her mental health issue.
- Marriage help. I’ve done some counseling with my husband and we are trying to work on our own marriage issues. We are struggling–that’s the battle in dealing with mental health issues–your own marriage start to deteriorate and suddenly you start to hate the person you married. If one checks out and leaves the other one to hold the bag, it can cause resentment. So we are taking the time to work on our marriage and hold on to hope that it will improve.
You won’t see me posting a status update on Facebook like this one:
Hey guys, just wanted to let you know that we are in the ER for suicidal tendencies. The nurses have been so great! Our girl is on the mend! Everyone is doing great!
Oh, I wish that was how mental health could be addressed. And I wish that it was easily fixed with a hospital stay. Instead, it’s still a hard thing to talk about in parenting circles. There is no caringbridge page or fundraiser event to help support someone with mental health problems (if there is, please let me know!) The effects of depression and suicide attempts are financially, emotionally, and mentally burdensome. In fact, after getting our hospital bills and paying for on-going counseling, we can barely afford much else. Of course, we don’t share this for pity, but to say–most families are doing all of this without much help from anyone. The weight of it all can seem draining. Because the outcome is still so up-in-the-air, it can seem hopeless.
Will our love and care and parenting support stop at age 18? No. That’s not true of any of my children. But no one can see the invisible effects on my husband and I. It’s a battle we will fight, but a battle that makes me increasingly aware of how fragile I am. It takes great strength to find outside help for my own issues when I am just plain tired from holding everyone up.
If you know a Mom who is battling this invisible battle, be sure to buy her a cup of coffee, offer to help her out, or just be there to listen. You have no idea what a simple gesture means. It might not solve all her problems, but it solves a very big one, sending her a message of hope: I’m not alone.