I suppose this blog post is going to be a bit of a PSA. If it sounds preachy, I'm sorry. If I sound angry, I guess I kind of am a little bit.
If you feel like something is not right with either you or your children, physically or mentally, listen to your instincts and get help.
One of two things will happen...either you can rule out anything major OR you can find out your gut was right and take the steps to make things better. Just get help.
If your friends or loved ones express concern about anything with their family, BE SUPPORTIVE.
Don't tell them it's just a phase.
Don't tell them to look on the bright side.
And whatever you do, don't laugh it off.
Their fears may be completely justified.
Obviously, I speak from experience. My family's mental health journey continues to evolve and take turns that will take all of my strength and attention. My parenting instincts were right in thinking that "this just isn't normal behavior," even at puberty. Yes, there is drama, yes there is disrespect, yes there are tears. The issues of a pre-teen or teenager are very real and very difficult, different than toddler or elementary age problems, but typically problems on a bigger scale....this is all true. But I know what's normal and what is not normal.
MY INSTINCTS WERE RIGHT.
The journey to professional help began two years ago, when I had to quit my job to focus on helping our daughter, but it hasn't been a consistent journey. After a few months of counseling sessions, I believed that perhaps we could deal with the issues that my daughter faced and we discontinued counseling. Over the next year-plus, things continued to get worse and worse until we finally had to face the reality that we needed serious professional help for her. Over the last 10 weeks she has been in psychotherapy. But even then, we knew it went even beyond this.
WE WERE RIGHT. The journey continues on a new path and it will be something that she has to deal with potentially for her entire life.
Considering my own mental health struggles I guess I should not be surprised by this. But I am angry and frustrated.
We have been told by those around us that "she's a girl," "she's a pre-teen," and they are "difficult" at that age. That she will outgrow this. Or to "just wait...it gets even worse!" followed by a laugh or two. Probably all true statements, but it completely invalidates our concern and need for support.
My husband and I have doubted ourselves so many times over the last two years. Thank God we walked into the psychologist's office and were told that this is not normal and she was there to help us and our daughter. She validated every single thought we've had and has been there to help us make sense of it all.
We begin today processing everything we believe to now be true, to finding a new path, and to helping our daughter (and our son, who struggles dealing with our household issues on a daily basis) to lead a happy and balanced life.
I am so angry about all of this. I am so frustrated that we were dealt this bad hand in life. I'm feeling very sorry for myself. I'm trying to let go of those selfish feelings, but for now they are real.
If you have a friend or family member going through a very real and very scary struggle, be supportive.
If you have not dealt with mental health struggles in your immediate family then you can't truly know what it means. If you do not have children of your own, then you can't know what this is like. I would never presume to know how it is to live with something I have no first-hand knowledge of. I know I've done it, however, and for that I'm sorry. But what you can do is be a listening ear if someone needs it. People always need a friend. If you have "the greatest kids ever," embrace just how lucky you are.
I know that in the face of all of this, my husband and I need to take care of ourselves as well. The stress is very overwhelming at times and we need our outlets for that stress. I take medication for my anxiety, and I use exercise to help cope. I will always need that. But I'm also cutting myself a lot of slack by resting as much as I can. I'm looking forward to a summer spent in my backyard, enjoying what we've built and created and using it for stress therapy. I wish I could just run away from all of it sometimes but parents don't get that choice. We must face what's given to us head on.