I’m as healthy as I can muster at the moment. I go to bed early when I can and I try to smell the roses as often as possible. It’s not easy, but I try. And isn’t that what any of us can do? In this topsy-turvy world, we can keep on plugging away and working hard while managing the prospects of our goals and dreams. Sure – a synapse could get angry at me and this house of cards could tumble. But I can only do what I can – take my regime of medications, stay healthy and monitor myself regularly.
My youngest daughter graduated from high school in June. A milestone? Yes, but also expected, right? Kids are SUPPOSED to graduate from high school. However, life doesn’t always follow our expectations. Just ask any parent raising a child with a chronic illness. In our case, mental illness. There is no doubt that silver linings exist, especially when I take the time to notice them. Every struggle, every crisis, every setback brings the promise of immense joy when success finally comes.
Today I wanted to write to those who support the ones who are fighting. Whether it is depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or any of the many mental health disorders there is much to be learned. So if you are a solid rock by the side of someone who is fighting then I pass on these words of advice to you. I speak from the perspective of a person who has fought the battle and the person who now helps someone else fight it.
Being open about mental health is hard enough when you are doing it to your dog, let alone to your boss or client. But, as my daughter can attest, you spend more time with the people you work with than you do your own kid. And there, for the obvious reasons, is where most people try to keep their mental health a secret.
My days will be spent searching for new resources, for that one person with lived experience whom truly understands what this feels like. I will access support forums, read books, and have even written this blog in the hope that someone will reach out to me and share their own experiences. I am clinging onto my sanity here by the skin of my teeth.
Here is a question: are those who struggle with mental health disorders (or who have struggled with them) outsiders? A majority of the world may say that they are because stigma is so prevalent around the topic. I looked at my daughter last night though and told her we are the most amazing outsiders there are, the survivors and the fighters of mental health disorders. We can lend a voice to the world and vast perspectives. Together we can open doors and we will!!
We are dealing with (in most cases) a chronic illness that will have periods of remission and periods of relapse. Mental illness is complex, our children are growing and developing, changing at a very rapid pace. So treatments that worked at one point may not at another. And, treatments that were unsuccessful at one age may be very successful a year or two later. Over and over we were told ‘this is a marathon, not a sprint’ so pace yourself. We are told on airplanes to put on our own oxygen masks before helping our child. The same holds true here – if we are run down, depleted, and spent, we cannot adequately help our child. Self-care is not indulgent, it’s a matter of survival.
A child with anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder lives with emotions that play tricks and surprises on them. A panic attack comes on without warning in the middle of recess; the crushing weight of depression makes getting out of bed impossible, much less going to school; mania shows up without warning in the form of extreme irritability and anger that is targeted at friends and family.
I’ve retooled a few coping skills for managing my currently stressful, topsy-turvy life. A diagnosis of bipolar doesn’t own me – it’s something in my life that I manage carefully. In this new frontier, it’s my responsibility to put this transition in perspective, keeping stress at bay and watching for telltale signals that my disorder could rear its ugly head again. Every day is different, but understanding how enormous change affects me is critical to maintaining my health.