For most, there are times when parenting is overwhelming. Sprinkle in a newly diagnosed mental illness and you have a recipe for loneliness, isolation from other parents, depression, an enhanced fear of screwing up the kids, and an exhausting (sometimes bleak) future outlook.
Depending on the age of the children, there is a fluid process of deciding what to share, being careful not to overshare, while learning to cope with your illness. It’s important to let the children remain children. They may be old enough to help with caregiving needs, but there is a line between caregiving and placing them in a parenting or therapist role.
As I was coming to terms with my past and began to understand the effects that my trauma had in my everyday life, my world turned upside down. I felt terrible all the time, as the pain of the past oozed out in fierce emotional waves, that sometimes found me dissociating as the only way to cope.
Trying to maintain a semblance of family and what I thought it should still look like, had me feeling depressed and overwhelmed. It was hard to believe that things would get better and have a positive outlook that healing could happen.
Mental illness does not just affect one person, it affects the whole family. There is an ever-changing definition of “normal.” My son called each stage, our new normal. He said that new scenarios that were initially confusing and scary (mom can’t work anymore, can’t be alone, or hop in the car to run to the grocery store) turned into regular life as the family adjusted.
Going through therapy for trauma and beginning to come to terms with a mental health illness can be a very lonely, confusing and scary existence. However, It does not have to be an alone existence. Find support!
Although we often feel we are hanging on by our last parental thread, it is an amazing show of strength to ask for help. I tip my hat, to people who risk asking for help, especially when it comes to parenting. It’s often hard to initially confide for fear of being judged.
I understand how frightening that can be! It was terrifying to let myself trust people enough to help me with parenting those first few years that I was in intense therapy. I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I wanted more than anything to maintain my sense of family and I needed a lot of feedback and support.
The old adage that it takes a village to raise a child was for me, ever-present while I was going through the worst of my symptoms. I learned that I had to learn to trust the process, ride the waves, and keep my eye on why I wanted to heal. I understood that in order to be the parent I wanted to be, I had to go traverse the rocky terrain of facing my past and learn to live with the effects of my trauma that manifests as PTSD.
Parenting is difficult. Parenting with a mental illness (or any illness) brings a whole new level of challenges. Recently, I’ve had some candid talks with my kids, who are now adults. I understand that when I got sick ten years ago, certain things were imprinted on their young minds. The unconditional love they felt was strong and steady, but the everyday routine of their lives was altered in a frenzy of unchartered, waves of an ever-changing family dynamic, and new normals.
My youngest went from feeling secure and living the life of a carefree teen to worrying about her mom’s health, the financial structure of her world, and the helplessness of watching me suffer through some pretty harrowing PTSD symptoms. That shaped her intense need/drive to get the best college education she can, to make the most money she can make in order to take care of her family in case we ever need anything again. That may sound altruistic, but she puts immense pressure on herself which is hard to watch sometimes. I believe that if she hadn’t seen me get so sick, that she would have picked another easy-going career.
I understand that due to my illness my kid’s sense of who they are, and what they need to do to feel comfortable in the world was probably altered when my complex PTSD manifested. That makes me sad, and I had to deal with a lot of guilt. That being said, even though they are affected by their past (like us all) I can see, and they tell me that they are okay mentally, emotionally, physically, and socially. They have gotten the support they need to live the best life for them right now.
It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a world of acceptance to understand that 1 in 4 people struggle with a mental illness. With emotional support, parents with a mental illness can raise well-adjusted children. Children that one day will fly from the nest, carrying into the world a strong base of unconditional love and support, and the knowledge that it is okay to ask for help.
Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph