We’ve been talking recently to lots of families that are caring for someone with mental illness. We’ve discussed a wide range of topics from ADHD, to Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, Self harm, suicide, BiPolar Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. We want to share some stories from these talks, as everyone has their own struggles and their own perspectives, and sometimes we can gain some insight from others. Sometimes, we can just nod our head in agreement and say wow, they deal with that too? I thought it was just me! Mental Illness does not define a person, and stigma has no place in society today. If you or a loved one struggles with some type of mental illness, feel free to share a piece of your story or some advice in the comments. We’d love to hear from you and want to build a community of caring individuals that promote compassion, empathy, and hope.
Here is One Such Story:
Our household has been a hot zone lately. Things can be sailing along when out of nowhere it’s like a hurricane of emotions flying everywhere, destroying everything in their path. While ADHD is part of our lives, we also have a child that not only has ADHD, but other mental illnesses. This child is a beautiful, talented, amazing gift that we are thankful every day to have, but honestly, I can’t imagine living one single day in the pain that is their normal. My heart breaks that I am helpless to make it go away. They deserve to live a happy, normal, drama free life, and yet, I fear that it will never be in the cards for them. Oh, yes, they can thrive and have a life of their own, but it will never be without difficulty. It will never be a life free from the mental illnesses that shroud them like a dark cloak.
I have ADHD (so I’m sure the kids can thank me for that lovely trait) and I also have Anxiety and Depression. My anxiety is mainly social and has never really been under control, but my depression has been relatively under control for years. And by under control, I believe that I concentrate so much on caring for my child and making sure their needs are met and worry so much about their mental state, that I ignored my own well-being and pretended it was fine.
Some circumstances of late have caused my depression to rear its ugly head and I have to say I’ve struggled far more in the past few months than I have in a long time. I’ve tried to hide it as best I could because I know my child will feed off of negative emotions. They will soak in what is around them like a sponge, and if it’s worry, depression, or anxiety, their own will be tenfold. I’ve felt empty, lost, and alone. I cry myself to sleep every night, and can’t stand the thought of dragging myself out of bed. I’m overwhelmed, and can’t decide if I’m in the crying stage or the numb stage.
So it’s safe to say that it’s been tense at home. My child has been struggling with their mental health for several months and just when things started to get a bit better, another wave hit and knocked us to the shore, skidding on the sand.
My child cannot help behaviors that are caused by mental illness. I cannot help that my depression has left dark spots in my soul of late (Yes, we are both getting regular help medical and therapy.)
Still, how do you make a teen aware of behaviors that may be caused by a mental illness, but behaviors that are harmful just the same? How do we teach them that actions have consequences, even when they don’t understand why what they did was wrong? How do they learn social cues that they don’t understand, how to curb impulsivity and manipulative behaviors when they aren’t trying to be manipulative and have no idea that their behavior is seen as such? How do we make them aware of the fact that they do not remember details when they dissociate, even when they think they remember everything? How do we stop the anger and resentment that comes from trying to tell them no, or trying to help them see one of their behaviors? It’s walking a tightrope while juggling. And the tightrope is on fire.
We love our kid with everything inside of us. We ache for them with every breath. I’ve even been known to ask God why, and I know this isn’t a question I should voice.
I had enough today. We’ve had some sort of fight every day for over a week. Some mild, some almost more than I could bear. Every single day. This cannot be my new normal. This cannot be how it is going to be for the rest of time. I won’t accept that. We’ve been close. We’ve always been able to talk and share. We’ve never given up on this child and we never will, therefore, there has to be a better way than the fighting, the anger, the animosity, and the silence. This will be a work in progress, but we made some promises. We set some boundaries and talked in a way that I hope got through. We made concessions as parents that weren’t easy to make, but hopefully those concessions will help our teen see that they matter and that their opinions and desires are heard and taken into consideration. Hopefully we can all work on coming to a place of compromise and building a better relationship. It was time to find ways to help save our relationship before things get out of hand.
We were on our way somewhere when our child asked something and was told no. Now because they didn’t understand the reason for being told no, they started pestering us. No explanation is good enough when they get fixated on something and the standard because I said so doesn’t work either. They get fixated and it becomes like an obsession and all they can talk about. It’s very tiring. With my anxiety and depression being what they are, this leads to me getting unnaturally irritated. I start to lose the calm I strive to maintain and even though I know it’s impossible, I start to wonder why my child can’t “just” stop. The incident was beginning to escalate into an argument when I decided that I was just too tired to continue with this. Instead of going where we were supposed to be going, I pulled the car into a space at a local park, turned in my seat and told my teen that it was time we all had a talk.
I opened up to my child about my depression. I told them that even though I was an adult, I felt all alone, and the one person that I thought would understand what I was going through was the one person that seemed hell-bent on giving me an even harder time lately than usual. I told my child that I know it is not their place to take care of a parent and that I never wanted that, but at the same time, I needed support sometimes too. They knew I was struggling but in the past few weeks have even made comments that were so insensitive that they seemed to come from someone that had never felt the dark grip of depression for themselves. I told my child how hurtful their behavior was, and how it made me feel. I told them how disrespected I felt lately and how their actions, even unintentional, were not okay. I told them this in an open, honest way, and even though we all shed many tears during our time in the car hashing out some things, it was all done from a calm place of love and wanting to move forward.
It’s a difficult thing to talk openly to a child with a mental illness about negative behavior. There is a fine line between what they can understand, and what feels like being belittled and hated. We kept reassuring our child that we loved them very much and wanted only the best for them, but also for our family. We tried very hard to make a point to separate our child and the amazing person they are from the harmful behaviors that come from mental illness. We asked for ideas and input on what we can do as we move forward to stop the cycle of escalation. We wanted them to know that their ideas would be appreciated and considered. We also made sure they knew that we weren’t just picking on them, that we were willing to listen to their side of the story about how we could improve too. What traits did we show that we could do better?
We talked and cried, and then I went by myself to a local fast food place and ordered a soda (something I rarely have) and I sat at a table all alone sipping my drink and scribbling ideas in a notebook. Our child does better with a plan. We needed some sort of control journal for how we can operate as we are all, in essence, caring for someone with mental illness, but also to find helpful tools to save our relationship.
I came up with a few ideas that our child actually embraced.
- Notebooks: We all get a little notebook. When we have something we want to talk about that might be a hard topic to bring up, we write it down and then say whether we want a response via text message or to talk face to face. We have to honor whatever means is chosen to discuss the topic. We all have a designated spot that our notebooks can be left for us when there is something in them for us to see.
- Time out word: We designated a word that can be used at any time during a conversation to abruptly end the conversation if emotions start to run too high to continue.
- Household responsibility: Right now I need some extra help. My child has been angry in the past at me for never asking for help, but I am also largely ignored when I do. Each week we will divide up different duties and everyone completes a task or two to the best of their ability.
- Discussing behaviors that are due to mental illness: Our child loathes discussing some of their more difficult diagnoses. They do not want to admit to certain behaviors and have a hard time dealing with them openly. We agreed that if any of us see a harmful behavior that we will write our concern in the notebook and then follow up with printed articles on the subject, including tips to deal with the behavior. Our child has to come to terms with their illness in their own time, but they also need to learn the coping skills they will need. We didn’t want them to feel picked on however, so we made sure they knew this went for everyone. If my depression is out of control and my child is worried or wants to talk about something I’m doing, they know it’s okay for them to write it down in the notebook for me. There is acceptance in knowing no one is being singled out.
We still had to address some of our child’s recent issues with severe mood swings and even anger. I wrote down on the paper various ways I was going to start making self care a priority. I was going to exercise more, meditate, eat better, and work on getting back into hobbies that I love but currently hold no interest for me. I was going to try some alternative approaches to treating my depression. I asked my child to do the same. They were to make the same commitment to some level of self care, whatever felt right for them and write it down. Make a contract with themselves to take their health into their own hands, instead of just relying on the medications to make things bearable.
They also had to be aware that giving in when things got hard might have been something we’ve been doing to avoid the effects of them being angry and unable to regulate their emotions. When they get upset and get so angry at us when they don’t understand a decision it can lead to self harm and loathing. As a parent it’s hard to watch your child go through that, but giving in to what they want isn’t a solution either. We asked them to try to come up with ways that will help them accept that sometimes an answer is no, and that fixating on a subject and obsessing over it could not change a no to a yes. We needed them to accept our parental authority but we also need to keep them safe from harm. Our child cried as they said they didn’t mean to be a brat that got angry and acted out to get their way, they didn’t mean it like that at all, and didn’t even mean to do it, they just didn’t know how to stop the anger and frustration when they didn’t understand something. They agreed to try to help come up with a solution. I’m not sure exactly what the solution is to stopping emotions from getting out of control and leading to rage and self harm, but I’m researching it. I hope I can gain some insight from others who deal with this.
Above all, we told our teen that we would try to compromise. Of course some things were going to be a hard no, but the fact is, they rarely ask to do anything that would lead to that kind of response. Their biggest problem is understanding why we might not want them hanging out with someone in particular, or when we see behaviors that are harmful but they don’t see the behavior.
It’s a work in progress, for sure, but our family took steps today to start to mend relationships that were unraveling due to mental health. I don’t have all the answers and I will willingly accept any advice anyone wants to share. I just know my family is too important to me to let mental illness come between us.
We all have our struggles, our victories, and our pain. We are all different, yet we share some common bonds too. Our stories unite us, I think, and make us stronger. Our stories let us know it’s okay to talk about mental illness. It’s okay to share what is real and true in our worlds. Let’s keep the conversations going. Let’s not be afraid to talk about the hard stuff.
Keep climbing those mountains, people. We are all gonna get there!!