Musings on Mental Health
Many people think they know what it looks like or is supposed to look like but how many really know what a mental illness looks like in real life? I’ve had three people that I am biologically connected to, suffer from mental illness. It is not pretty but it is not something to be afraid of either.
Both my mother and father suffered from mental illness during several periods in their respective lives. My dad had schizophrenia. He was not medicated much of his adult life. His refusal to get the help he needed made him unstable. My mom had what was known at the time as a nervous break down shortly after her marriage to my dad. Today doctors call this a Psychotic Break. Once she became a mother, she remained stable until the last chick (me) left the nest. The last four or five years of her life we searched for the right medications for her, but never found them.
Between the ages of six and seven my daughter was diagnosed with first ADHD and then Bipolar Disorder . We can now add OCD to that combination. Since I saw how difficult mental illness was on my parents, I pushed harder for my child to become stable. I researched, joined an online support group and sought out qualified doctors and therapists. There was even a time when I searched for the best behavioral health hospitals in a hundred mile radius of our house.
I had no real control over what medications ultimately helped my child become stable. Her body pretty much dictated that. We never kept her on any one medication any longer than was necessary. Some psychiatrists subscribe to the idea that if you just titrate up on a medication, eventually, you will see some benefits from it. Dr. Wonderful’s belief was that we should see some changes, no matter how small, before increasing a drug. As a result of this and all of our doctor’s cutting edge practices, Princess has been stable for over a year now.
Another benefit to having parents who had mental instability, was that when my daughter was at her worst, I knew how to deal with it. I never told her what she was thinking or feeling was silly or irrational. Instead I’d try to get her to work through it or distract her. It’s funny, when she was a toddler, my husband and I would distract her to get her mind off of something that was off limits or bothering her. Now that she’s older we still employ those same tactics but we have to be more sly about it.
The great thing about having a mental illness (Yes I just said that), is that the person who has it enjoys life more when they are stable. They, and in turn their family, know how hard it was to achieve stability. They realize that every day of stability is a gift. My husband and I have noticed that our daughter feels things more deeply than the average person. If someone is hurt or sad, my daughter is the first to console them. She has a tender heart because she knows what it feels like to hurt or be sad.
The stigma surrounding mental health is one of its biggest stumbling blocks. Many people do not want to talk about it. I feel like it’s the elephant in the room. When I am at a gathering and mention that I have experience with mental illness, invariable one or two people will say, “Me too.” I thought I was all alone in my struggle to get my loved ones back to being mentally healthy but it turns out there are lots of people just like me.
While living with someone with mental health challenges is difficult, it is not impossible.