My oldest daughter struggled with mental health as a young teen. For parents who want to help, but don’t know how – please learn from my mistakes and learned lessons. Kids don’t know they have depression … it’s a slow gradual feeling, like a blanket wrapping around them, peacefully and slowly, until it’s a tight constriction that there’s no choice but to just submit to the security of complete isolation and retreat.
The flags – It’s the children that aren’t talking, the ones who are always “fine”. The ones isolating themselves in their bedrooms and seem to have lost the little sparkle in their eyes. Get them to the Dr. immediately. Avoidance and denial won’t make it go away. It’s not about you – it’s about them.
If a child advises feelings of worthlessness and general defeat in life, my advice would be not to advise them, they’re not broken and don’t want to be fixed: they want to be seen and heard. They went someone to just be there, support and empathize. They need someone to get through it with them, without judgement, advice, most importantly – not directed to “cheer up” snap out of it, walk it off.
Those we hear of that take their own life, they’re not cowards, they feel hitting the off switch is the only possible relief to make the physical and emotional heavy weight that they don’t get a moments rest from carrying. They’re tired.
Allow them whatever they need, to rest, and never stop reminding them how much you love them – even if it feels like they aren’t listening, I promise they’re hearing every word.
It was evident from very early on, that you were extremely intelligent. All of the milestones I was following in the “What to Expect” books, you achieved well ahead of the “norm”. Walking by 10 months old and talking in full sentences by 16 months. Once you started to speak, you never stopped. “precocious” was a word often used by others to describe you, but to me, you were just my precious baby who was adored and so loved.
By the age of 4, you were extremely intuitive, your creativity, imagination and ability to communicate with a high level of articulation, often made me do a double take – surprised that this mind was in such a tiny body. “Old Soul”, “highly sensitive” and a very “deep thinker” were characteristics that were always apparent. You loved preschool, dance, socializing and playdates were requested often. What was also becoming noticeable, was that you were easily excitable, chatted constantly, if you were focussed on a favourite tv show, you were in a trance like state, it became a bit of a challenge to calm you down if you became frustrated or upset but it was just you being you and were honestly the light of my life, I was truly blessed to be your Mom (still am).
By grade 6, a student who always excelled, suddenly grades all together began to plummet. You loved your teacher, being at school and the friendships made. You never got into trouble, the teachers all adored you and commented often on how empathic & nurturing you were with “special needs” children, you were never disruptive – the grades concerned everyone, further testing showed an enriched mind, so a learning “disability” wasn’t in question. It was suggested we see our family Dr and be referred to a Psychologist. This is when it was diagnosed, you had ADHD & Anxiety.
You’re grown now, but I really need you to know; you deserved so much better, so much more than what I provided you. The truth is, I failed you on many levels as your Mom, I wish I had handled things so much differently – I need you to know it was never your fault or anything you did wrong.
I wish I had taken the time to research every single aspect within the scope of ADHD. I didn’t, I continued to raise you as I always had, with love – but not making adjustments necessary not just to effectively communicate with you, but to understand things from your perspective. That was so unfair to you.
I wish the times you “spiralled”, I hadn’t lost my patience so easily, that I didn’t raise my voice to stop or to be quiet and calm down. Instead, I should have held you in my arms and allowed you the time you needed to calm your mind and decompress. I should have sat with you until you were settled, instead of walking out of the room to calm myself down. That must have hurt you so much and made you feel alone.
I wish I had taken more time to just “be” with you, not just at bath and bedtime, but during so many of the times I became frustrated with you, asking you to stop talking, to calm down, to pay attention etc. The truth is, losing my patience with you – frustrated you more, it must have made you feel “bad” or “wrong”, also must have made you feel misunderstood, simply for being you. This was my fault, never yours.
I wish so many times, I had remembered the age you were, as on so many levels, you were “wise beyond your years” and forgot this far too often.
As you grew into a teen, now old enough to be medicated to aid in your mental health, the nights your mind wasn’t able to be shut off and you watched the sun come up, I wish I had been so much more understanding, instead of so easily dismissing it, in a rush, getting angry to hurry and get ready for school. I wish I hadn’t been selfish with my own time at night, to make the time to lay with you until you were able to rest by focussing on something other than the tornado of lights, sounds, colours, conversations and ideas – that were in high definition during these moments. I wish I took the time to listen, all the times you were in full out “chat” mode, instead of dismissing you or being “too busy”. I wish I was so much more understanding of how much of a struggle school was for you, not appreciating that the classes you excelled in, were ones that you had interest in, high grades were effortless, I wish I recognized that it was the other courses that when you managed to simply pass, needed the most praise & celebration.
What I wish the most, is that I was more supportive, understanding during the times you struggled, recognizing that it was that much more difficult for you, that I spent more time validating your efforts, instead of criticizing as when looking back, you were doing your very best. I wish I never made you feel that you had a problem that needed to be fixed – you didn’t sweetheart, you were being you – and thats all you need to ever be.
What I need you to know, from the bottom of my heart, is that it was my job (and privilege) as your Mom, to be there for you, to support you, to empower, guide and encourage you – all you ever had to be, was you. The times I lost my patience, temper and showed frustration – these are times I failed you. It was never for one single second, you failing me. The only responsibility you ever had, was to be you – for the times I must have made you feel like that wasn’t enough, it was MORE than enough, I love you and I’m so sorry. The truth is, you never needed to do “better”, I needed to do more.
You’ve grown now, into the incredibly special, intelligent, independent, beautiful person both inside and out, that was always without question, the result of your hard work and efforts. I’m so proud of you and who you’ve become, who you’ve always been. I never want you for a single moment, ever to doubt or question how loved you are, how magical your mind is and mostly, that you do and always have, made me so incredibly proud. This world is so much brighter, all because of you.
Mental Health, for lack of a better description is at a current global #crisis state. #endthestigma, #shame, #anxiety, #depression, #PTSD, #suicide & #addiction, in many cases aren’t because people are sick broken or weak, they’re tired from being strong for too long and are suffering. After taking a poll I posted on #Twitter, 50% say they are suffering in silence due to the fear of criticism, judgement and or possible dismissal from work. The reality I’ve learned for many, is simply this – saying #I’mFine for too long, the load became too heavy and something had to give, their mental health. This is also my personal truth. I’m part of the 80% suffering of those who took the anonymous poll. Currently, 1% of medical funding within Canada is put towards Mental Health. The suicide rate, prodominantly with First Responders is skyrocketing to all time highs. I can say from personal anecdotal experiences I’ll share throughout, its a very broken, weak system with very little accountability and direction from the relevant professionals in the field. A little personal insight, I’m 48, a Self Employed Health, Safety & Mental Wellness Professional, Certified First Aid Instructor, single Mom, on the outside, a positive, happy person with a “great life” – who hid behind the #shame of admitting to mostly myself – that it was just that, appearances. If only Mental Illness could appear on the outside – I ‘d surely have looked like I fell into a wood chipper. I managed to get to my 19th year of marriage, which came to an end, amicably, where the events, choices and experiences began to add up within the 6 years following, much of which resulted in significant anguish and multiple traumas.
It was spring of 2019 after being faced with 3 individual traumas/stressors within an 8 month period, the final one, pushing me off the “edge”, resulting in a severe anxiety attack (literally felt like I was having a cardiac episode – or dying, lasting for hours & into the next day) followed by a deep dark depression and ultimately a complete breakdown of my mental health (I’ve just recently even been able to share this with my parents – apparently I’ve mastered the coping mechanisms to hide behind the smile) I saw my physician, was prescribed medication & secured and have attended recommended therapy. For two months, I barely if ever left the security of my home, completely isolated myself from all friends and family. It was a good week if I decided to simply take a shower. It is only as of very late, I can see a little bit of sunshine through the dark black skies of depression. The reason I’ve chosen to share this insight is as follows; I have always been an advocate for others to speak up with their stories, the non-judgemental listener, advised to consider seeking medical attention for professional help, I shared the posts with the #’s supporting mental health and wellness – the reality is, I felt like a complete hypocrite & was doing exactly what so many others do – submit to the #fear of the #shame stigma. I’ve learned that speaking your personal truths, knocks walls down, it encourages others, resonates with some that “OH MY GOD, someone gets it.. its like reading my own story, I thought I was alone”, its completely empowering! I’m here to tell you that you’re NOT alone. The reality is, I feel anyway, my mind, body & soul – had to completely “power-off” to rest and heal. I don’t know if I could have possibly faced another single challenge during this time, that terrified me, how fragile I became/am. Was all I could muster just to not let my daughter’s home fall apart taking her Mother along with it, I felt grateful that my oldest daughter lives in London, Ontario so I could at least spare her.
I met with my therapist early this week (best decision ever BTW), she asked me what fuels my internal “guage”. My honest answer was – “helping others”. I’m admin. on a private Women’s Support Forum which I take so much strength from, however its intentially small. As soon as she mentioned journalling (which is a big help, just to write thoughts down – even if all you have is one sentence that day, its making the decision and allowing some of the internal chaos – out) It IMMEDIATELY resonated to share my journey on my Blog. It’s win win, I can express openly to help heal myself & even if it allows one single person to feel less “broken” and alone – to possibly allow someone else hope that they CAN get through this, aiding to smash the stigma surrounding Mental Health, be part of the solution, not add to the problem – then HELLO – this seems like a perfect forum.
Following this post, under the title The UN’Becoming Truth, I’m going to share as often as I’m able, my story, broken down into “chapters” as each one is relevant to my breakdown. The story and journey is 100% authentically mine, however, I’m not an academic in this field in any regard, I am however jam packed with real life experience, and my journey back to a stronger, healthier version of myself, along with the tools and methods that aided the process, in the hope to raise awareness – can’t learn that in a text book.
I KNOW, and have learned the hard way, you can’t possibly build a strong future, on a broken foundation. I didn’t truly think a month ago, I’d ever feel “ok” again, and a few really bad days following that, I was just too far gone – BUT, here I am, typing this blog, as effortlessly as fluid, I can validate that this has been hands down the most difficult time in my life, its not cliche’, the words we’ve all heard, that sometimes you truly have to personally hit rock bottom, and then plumet lower after that, before you can begin to rebuild. It WON’T be easy, but I PROMISE that you’re worth it, WE’RE worth it. Minute by minute, thats all it has to be – remembering to look out the windsheild ahead, the rear view – is to look back and learn from, which is also an important part of healing, at least for me, I had to look alllllllll the way back, to understand who I had become, and “UN’Become” that person to make room for who I will be …