Parenting and Mental Illness

 

 

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Parenting is like the ocean. Somedays are rough and turbulent, other days more calm and serene. Learning to go with the flow of the waves is the challenge.

Being a single parent it often feels like you are alone and swimming against the current.

When you are a single parent with mental illness, raising a child with mental illness;  it feels at times like we are both drowning.

My daughter was 6 years old when my mother died and my mental breakdown followed. Despite struggling with deep depression, I swallowed my tears and used every bit of strength to provide for my daughter; but, there were times when I couldn’t move weighted down with sorrow. I think my sadness scared her because I was all she had, and my condition threatened our stability.

She was often emotional and had major separation anxiety since childhood. She often threw fits when I had to leave, and she hated night time. She cried to sleep with me most of the time. Family and friends would comment and suggest that I should get her on medication, or I shouldn’t let her sleep with me, or she needed help. I didn’t believe any of it. I just wanted to pacify her fear.

I started her in counseling when she was 10 years old as a preventive measure. She had been through some trauma and I thought it would be helpful if she had someone else in her life she could talk to.

When she was 12 years old she started cutting herself. I can not express the horror in my heart as my babygirl felt compelled to hurt herself. I have a memory of tucking her into bed one night and noticing some cuts at the bottom of her pajama leg, as I lifted the material up I discovered a whole paragraph carved into her skin. Nooo! Not again!

I have another memory of coming home from the grocery store, and as I opened the door, she was on the kitchen floor in tears, “Mommy, I didn’t want to do it.” “I can’t stop myself.” There was a large steak knife stabbed into the cupboard door. Cuts on her arms. She had taken handfuls of ibuprofen. To the hospital we went.

I was completely traumatized and couldn’t leave her alone at all. The school called several times a week for me to come pick her up, because she had hurt herself or had thoughts of doing so. That year she was placed in the state hospital five times and endless trips to the ER.

She continued in therapy, DBT groups and we had family therapy. She did really well using her skills to refrain from cutting for four years, until she turned 17 years old. The pressure of her approaching adulthood got the best of her. We have spent the last year in and out of hospitals and programs. She refuses medication, so there is only so much treatment that is available to her. She is now doing better but the depression and mood swings are mainstay.

Her anxiety about becoming an adult is partially my fault. She lacks confidence in her ability to take care of herself, because I have always protected her. I lacked in structure because of my own depression. I failed to discipline effectively because of her eruptions. I try not to beat myself up and I truly know I have done the best to my ability; but, still feel guilt.

Today I woke up to her crying and bellowing. I held her and let her release it. There is nothing I can do or say to make it better. I feel completely helpless. A few hours later she is crying again. It is draining and I wonder how much more I can take. Will she ever be able to be on her own?  I start feeling hopeless. Then I catch my own depression. The tricks my mind is trying to play on me. Trying to convince me that it is worse than what it is. Taking me to a dark place that is all too familiar.

Truth is, I can’t take away the pain, the fear or the mental illness. I can support and love her while she learns to love herself. I watch patiently while she figures out how to cope with her own mood. She went for a walk as I write. We both need space to calm our own minds. We are very close, too close maybe. Our feelings effect each other on deep levels.

Some days are filled with laughter and happiness. Days that are sunny and the surf is good.

Then there are others gloomy and gray, and we are pedaling water furiously just to stay afloat.

 

photo by LanWu on Deviantart

 

 

 

Update: Post Meltdown

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“On the outside, I appeared  untroubled. I smiled and remained calm. On the inside, I was screaming, crying, frustrated, and clawing away at my skin.”

Every now and then there will be a sequence of life predicaments that overwhelm and paralyze my nervous system. During these periods, it takes every little bit of my energy and focus to remain grounded and in touch with my own realities. I want so badly to write, to blog and to share while I am in the midst of pain, yet, I have not reached the point where I am able to do that yet. That is why my posts are sometimes sporadic and I post these updates to share where I’ve been.

Fortunately, I’ve come far enough in mental illness recovery that I am able cope and survive these tests; but, it is not without the deep pain that growth and change bring.

I was barely recovered from my hysterectomy when I got my new diagnosis of DID. Then I began working on my rape traumas. As if there weren’t enough to process, an array of events followed, that eventually led me to a major meltdown. Beginning with my sister coming to stay with me.

My sister and I have had a topsy turvy relationship through the years. We had a difficult childhood and we were difficult children as a result. Her and I share an immense love for each other, coupled with intense resentments. We open one another’s doors to our pasts and therefore, we are huge triggers to each other. We will be getting along joyously for awhile and then eventually, we always end up in an argument and not speaking until the next time.

When she called me in June and stated that she wanted to move back to NH from Pa. I offered her to come stay with me. Part of me thought that maybe it was time we started working on our relationship and confronting our feelings about each other. I felt ready. Plus to be perfectly honest, I wanted a distraction from therapy, DID, and myself in general. A few days later she drove herself, her son and whatever belongings she could fit into her car and arrived at my front door. I was already full of anxiety but was distracted by my love for her and my nephew.

The second night she was there, we bonded about some of our emotional issues and our traumatic past. We giggled and reassured each other. Sisterly love at it’s best. She shared a fragmented memory of hers that suggested possible sexual abuse from our father, involving me. I have absolutely no memory of this and the worst part was I couldn’t even be sure that it didn’t happen. With DID and suppressed rape memories, I had no reason to not believe her. I cried myself to sleep that night in horror that my daddy abused me.

In an attempt to find truth and heal, I decided to include a separate note in my yearly fathers day card, apologizing that I hadn’t called in awhile because I’d been dealing with some suppressed traumatic memories in therapy. Then I added, that my sister shared this memory with me, and I asked if it was true. I of course immediately followed it with I’m sorry and I love you, recognizing my own constant desperate need for his approval.

Meanwhile, I had two birthday parties to plan for my daughter. One at home with family and one at a roller rink for friends. This was very important to me because following them, she was going away for three weeks to visit her father and family in Alaska. I knew I wouldn’t have much quality time with her before she left, because of the chaos of school ending, her birthday and planning for her trip, on top of the fact that our home environment temporarily lacked the personal space we were used to.

It was the evening of my daughter’s birthday when my sister found out that I had confronted our father, she was extremely upset with me, saying she’d never share anything again with me. I explained that I had a right to know. We did work through it and continued to celebrate a lovely evening. That night I lay down, drained on all levels, too tired to process it all and cried myself to sleep again.

A week later, after successfully throwing the roller skating birthday party for my daughter; I saw her off  for her trip with tears in my eyes. The same week, my sister confessed that the situation with our dad, may not be what or how she remembered. Exasperated, I sent a message via Facebook to my father apologizing.

By the end of the third week that my sister was there; my body was in extreme pain from sleeping on the recliner. I had given her and my nephew my room, because I thought it’d be easier for them. I was in physical therapy already for my C spine arthritis. The stretches and massages helped a great deal; but didn’t entirely alleviate my symptoms. l couldn’t sleep, I was overtired, in pain, missing my daughter,wondering about my dad, if he would respond, the list went on, and I honestly didn’t know how I would keep going.

The whole time I was in therapy twice a week, as I worked through my different parts, personalities and triggers that surfaced with all that was going on. The rape traumas and EMDR was put on hold right before my sister came. My therapist thought there would be enough going on, and she was right! I also decided to not confront the possibility of my father’s abuse at this time. I had no memory of it and now my sister wasn’t sure either. Therefore, I said to my therapist, “Unless of course he dies, I think that I’d like to put this aside.”

My father died three weeks later. It was a cruel cosmic joke. He died the same day my daughter came home. It was extremely unexpected, He was in great health and traveling the world, living his life. Then one day, on his way to meet his sister for their weekly coffee date, he lost control of the vehicle, ran off the highway and tumbled. He was dead when the EMT’s got there. They say he didn’t suffer. He had no seatbelt on but he was sober, which means a lot, because of his alcoholic history. They think he may have had a heart attack or stroke. In which case, my father would have probably wanted to not survive. He would rather die than be invalent. He was a very proud man.

My sister was settled in her new apartment in the building next to mine. When I came home with the news, we clung to each other desperately in hysterical tears. Only the comfort of my sister could help me confront this unbelievable reality. For my sister and I, it was even more unbearable with the open wound from confronting him and not hearing back from him. The only thing that brought us comfort were the words our Aunt, “Your father was just talking about you both a few days ago, and said how beautiful your hearts are.”

My system shut down and I was on auto pilot. On the outside, I appeared untroubled. I smiled and remained calm. On the inside, I was screaming, crying, frustrated, and clawing away at my skin.

It would take all I had to get through the services. My sister and I got into arguments all the way through; but, I figured we all grieve differently and I tried my best to just let it go. I knew that I’d be processing the loss of my dad for a long time. We all would be.

A month later was my sister’s birthday. I wanted to throw her a belated welcome home/birthday party. However, we got into another huge argument. Something snapped in me. I’d been on thin ice for awhile. I ran to my room, slammed the door, and couldn’t stop screaming and crying. The worst part of this meltdown was I felt unsafe. I wanted terribly to hurt myself. I picked up a pair of manicure scissors and contemplated where I’d cut myself. My mind was gone. Though there was a small voice telling me not to. I absolutely couldn’t cut myself after my daughter struggled with self harm. I dropped the scissors and fell to my knees and prayed. I hadn’t had that strong urge of hurting myself since my teen years. I helplessly cried and prayed for what seemed like hours. The cleansing brought relief; but, I was aware that this had been a major meltdown.

Luckily, I had therapy the next day. She saw it as progress. She said that this part of me surfaced because of the work we’ve been doing. This part of me obviously felt safe enough to show itself to be healed. It was hard to believe that darkness and desperation was progress; but, I went along with it.

My meltdown was a month ago. I am not only better; but stronger and wiser. I am relieved it happened because for years I’ve been fearing another breakdown. Now, I know I’ve come to far to let it tear my life apart. I have been working with this part of myself that wanted to self harm. She is where all my anger and rage has been stored. She is what I considered my dark side. I am learning to balance this and will write about it in another post.

Since this meltdown, my other sister moved to NH as well. She was struggling with grief and addiction; but, she is doing better now. My family has seen some hard times. The loss of our dad was the loss of our last parent. Both our half siblings and us lost our mothers before this.

It’s a strange point to be at in life. An adult orphan. All we have is each other now. Our family will continue to persevere, because our love for each other is stronger than any resent or blame, and our parents are smiling angels shining down on us.

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