Have you ever been ill at the same time as your child? When their body aches and they need medicine, but so does yours and you don’t know how to find to energy to go downstairs to get it. But they need it…so you do. When you want to collapse into bed and sleep but they’re crying because they hurt, so you sit and comfort them instead. At least you know that in a few days you’ll both get better and be back to having energy and fun again. And you can call on family or friends to help, you know they’ll understand.
But what happens when it’s an illness nobody can see? You still have to go to work; your child still has to go to school. You still have the tears, the hurt, the pain but you just have to go on. And nobody seems to understand.
I’m a single mum with mental health difficulties, and I have a child with mental health difficulties.
Anxiety, depression, OCD, self-harm, suicidal thoughts…. we’ve had it all. When your child tells you they no longer want to live, but instead of experiencing complete shock and horror you know exactly how they feel – that’s when you know you need help. But reaching out is a different matter.
I tried every day. Really tried. I did the school run. Made out I was ok as my child was breaking her heart when she didn’t want me to leave. I hid the fact we were on the last minute because of the all the checks she needed to do before we left, and that last night she was hitting herself on the head because she couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t sleep because she had so many worries.
Then I went to work, numb all the way, not knowing that things would ever change. There’s no hope that things will get better in a few days, no magic potion to take it all away. The GP didn’t seem to be able to do anything other than offer medication that I didn’t want or long waiting lists. Previous bad experiences had left me scarred. How can I make my daughter better on my own when I’m feeling so broken? But still I just said ‘I’m fine’, about twenty times a day.
So what did change? Well school noticed there was a problem and wanted to talk to me about it. I broke down, again. They put some support in place, someone my daughter could talk to each day, and some time out for her when she needed it. I finally admitted that I needed help and found the courage to open up to a friend. It didn’t go well, I couldn’t get my words out, but I think she got it through the tears.
My daughter is also now receiving professional help, she’s braver than me. I still can’t imagine feeling ready to do that. But when your child is ill you do what you have to do to help them feel better, no matter how you’re feeling. We’ve worked on things that help us both at home, we bake together, we draw and we chat more, about all sorts of things. And there are hugs, lots of hugs.
My advice? Do what you can, take small steps, no matter how scared you feel – reach out. I had no choice to admit we weren’t ok, and I was petrified, but it turned out for the best. People do understand if you let them in, I guess you just need to try to understand yourself first. So that’s what we do now, we’re kinder to ourselves, do things we enjoy and let ourselves rest when we need to. We’re not there yet, but each day feels less like a marathon. Look after yourself, always.
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