Category: mental health (page 2 of 2)

When None of This is What You Expected or Asked For

One day, as you make the umpteenth call to the psychiatrist for one reason or another, it will hit you: this is not what you signed up for.

This: the mental health upkeep. OCD, Anxiety, Bipolar, Depression, ADHD. You name it, we got that. A veritable smorgasbord of variety in the brain-aberrancy-department. Children who wash obsessively, who think obsessive thoughts. Children who cannot pull themselves up by their own bootstraps (and what the every-lovin hell does that mean, anyway?). Children who struggle with so much anxiety over doing what the world would label “simple” things, it wrings tears from their eyes on a regular basis.

But hey, what did you sign up for?

Joy. Peace. Love, both given and taken. Sunshine. Smiles. Children rising up and calling you blessed. “Well done, good and faithful servant”. Certainties.

Certainties.

Oh, those were nice, weren’t they? Remember them? The idea that if you did X plus Y then Z would result? Homeschool, teach scripture, sew dresses, wear dresses, bake bread, break bread, get rid of the tv, don’t allow the m-word (magic), carefully monitor movies, go to church, etc etc etc…..then your children will grow up happy and healthy, and in the fear and admonition of the Lord, to boot!

But that was Before. Before reality took hold. Reality, that major buzz-kill that swoops down and pours rain on your carefully-crafted parade on a regular basis. And does the guilt ever stop? Is there an end to the self-accusation, much less the others-accusation that you face on a daily basis? Because yeah, others do look, and judge, and point, and advise, and thank their lucky stars that they are not in your shoes.

Maybe you exist only to be an example, a thing to cause others to be thankful for their own lives.

Would that be okay?

Mother Theresa is said to have voiced the thought: The Lord did not call me to be successful, he called me to be faithful.

And that, right there, shakes me to my core.

Because I want to be successful, in the way the world judges success: happy children. Independent children. Children who are resilient, who bounce back from disappointment. Children who find love and raise families and are financially independent. Success = an empty nest and a full heart. That is, according to the world.

But what is success to God Himself?

What if success looks entirely different to Him? What if being successful means keeping the faith even in the face of utter adversity? What if success looks like having a child who cannot, without taking their own life into their own hands, step outside the safe walls of your home? What if success looks like utter failure in the eyes of the world? Who cares, anyway, what the world thinks? The world can go fuck itself, for all I care.

In the end, this is probably how I’ll be found: with the phone in one hand and a stiff drink in the other.

All I know is, I will keep loving my children in the best way I know how, and keep making those phone calls. Til the day I die.

 

 

 

Things Nobody Tells You

So somebody just placed a wet, squirmy newly-born babe in your arms. It’s beautiful. It’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, actually.  It’s perfection, from its exquisitely formed fingers to its nubbin of a nose. Perfection. A vision of the Almighty.

Yes, that newborn might as well be God Himself, in the flesh. He’s come to earth to save your soul from selfishness, pride, impatience, and greed. He’s come to show you just how imperfect you are, until you fall to your knees and cry out for help.

He’s come to make you something bigger, something better.

But here’s what no one tells you.

Here’s what no one tell you it will take.

It will take you, watching that wee babe struggle to tie his shoes until you want to grab the laces and soothe “I’ll do it” for him. It will take you, watching her labor over a homework assignment that you can’t help with because you weren’t there, hanging over her shoulder all day at school so that you know what the teacher wants, until she’s done in the wee hours of the morning. It will take you, throwing your hands up in the air more times than you care to admit and saying “I’m sorry, I don’t have the answers you need.”

It will take ADHD diagnoses, dyslexia tests, fretting about mental issues, and sleepless nights worrying about scores and grades and countless meaningless numbers.

It will take you, letting go when you most want to hold on tight.

It will take you, trusting when you want to snatch back and say NO.

NO, THIS IS NOT OKAY WITH ME.

NO, YOU CANNOT HAVE YOUR WAY HERE, IT’S TOO PAINFUL TO BEAR.

NO, THIS IS NOT WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR.

It means sometimes your kid tells you that they’re constricted with social anxiety, overwrought with the terror of human interaction, afraid they will never feel at ease in any given situation that other seem to have no problem with.

It means sometimes they don’t leave when everyone else’s kid seems to be moving on, doing the normal thing, and achieving all the societally-approved markers. It means sometimes they need more help than you were sure they would need, just to get from point A to point B.

It means sometimes your kid falls in love with the wrong person, or the right person at the wrong time, and is left holding the bag in a relationship full of empty dreams and long-reneged promises.

It means conversations full of tears and helplessness.

It means committing to be there to the bitter end, when everybody else bails and everything feels hopeless.

It means being the last one standing.

Standing on promises that you stubbornly cling to.

Standing on the tattered remains of what was your certainty when they were placed, wet and squirming, into your arms.

Nobody tells you things will be this hard.

Nobody tells you, but still…they are.

I’m here to tell you that you are not alone.

We are in this together.

It’s not just hard, it’s impossible.

But here we are.

Can we set aside our preconceived ideals, our notions of what good and right and perfect look like? Can we see the perfection in struggle and the beauty in the agony?

Can we love one another through to the other side, where victory awaits? Or if the other side tarries, can we love one another anyway?

I just don’t know. I’ve rarely seen acceptance like that in action. Far too often, I see parents rejoicing in other parents’ perceived failures because it makes them feel better about their own job. Or parents distancing themselves from other parents who are hurting, as though the pains of one family are contagious. But I believe it is possible.

There are things nobody ever tells you, on the day that newborn is placed in your arms. Are you there, in that hard place now?

You are not alone.

I am there, too.

Can we remove the falsehood and just be real? This shit is hard, folks. I’m here to testify.

Can I get an amen?

 

 

10 Ways to Help Someone Dealing with Mental Illness

Mental health is an enormous issue in the world today. Many of us know someone or are someone with a mental illness. The National Institute for Mental Health reports that 9.6 million adults in the US have a Serious Mental Illness, one that interferes with their daily lives, requiring medication and therapy in order to overcome its effects. This is 4% of the population, but these are only reported cases. The NIMH estimates the actual number of people suffering to be in the tens of millions.

As someone who is part of the statistics (hello, my name is Jenni, I have a bipolar 1 diagnosis), I have some insights that I think might be helpful to others. This has probably all been said before, but it bears repeating. If someone you love or even sort of like has been recently diagnosed, they may be reeling from the implications. You may be unsure how best to help. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

(in the interest of keeping things readable, the term “loved/liked one with a mental illness” shall henceforth be abbreviated to LOWAMI. This sounds vaguely Hawaiian, which makes me unreasonably happy.)

1. Be there. Please don’t disappear. Please. Your LOWAMI needs you. What we have is not contagious. We don’t expect you to have answers. We don’t want you to have the perfect words. We wouldn’t know what to do with perfect words. What we want is to know you are still our friend, still available for lunch dates or phone calls or bitch fests or gossip sessions. We still need these things. Maybe even more than before. These things make us feel connected, make us feel a part of life, keep us from feeling alienated and alone.

2. Take some pressure off. On the other hand, don’t expect your LOWAMI to be a social butterfly. If their diagnosis is new, they may be struggling to understand what it all means. They may need some time away from large events where they are surrounded by people. Having a diagnosis feels a lot like loss. Suddenly you realize you are not who you thought you were. To me, it felt like part of me had died. I needed time to deal with the loss. I didn’t want to be around large groups of people. Actually, I still don’t. I’m not sure when that will change.

3. Listen. Okay, so really. Listen. You may have to hear the same things over and over, but try not to get frustrated. Change takes time. You may want to reach over and throttle your LOWAMI at times. This is normal. Punch a pillow instead. Mental illness often involves a lot of circular thinking; what you are hearing is just a fraction of what is in our heads. It helps us to get it out.

4. Encourage. If your LOWAMI thinks throwing pottery might help, sign them up. If their therapist suggests journaling, buy them notebooks. Sometimes small steps are large victories. It may not seem like much to you that your LOWAMI made a phone call or went to the Post Office today, but for them it might have taken a Herculean effort. Appreciate that. Tell them they are spectacular.

5. Avoid Platitudes and comparisons. Hooboy, this one’s a biggie. Platitudes, for those who are not sure, are saying and advice that have been said and given so frequently that they lose meaning entirely. Saying things like “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” and “God won’t give you more than you can handle!” are surefire ways to piss off a LOWAMI who feels like a train wreck. Don’t say “I was depressed once too….” to a LOWAMI with clinical depression. Don’t say “oh yeah, my hormones wreak havoc on me once a month too…” to a LOWAMI who is bipolar. Just…don’t.

6. Seek to Understand. The brain is a freaking complicated thing. It’s pink and gray and mushy and amazing. The secrets it holds have only just begun to be unlocked and made sense of. If your LOWAMI’s illness has a handbook written about it (and I’m fairly sure it does), READ IT. I’m not kidding. Read it. Doing so will help immensely in your ability to understand what your LOWAMI is going through. It will help you deal with the emotional crises particular to your LOWAMI’s illness with greater efficacy and may very well help you maintain a firm foothold on your own sanity in the process. It also makes your LOWAMI feel like you give a crap.

7. Just say No to Quick Fixes. Black paste made from the smashed seeds of the Chihuahua plant in the remote rain forests of South America might have cured your second cousin’s sister-in-law’s niece’s nephew of his crippling ingrown toenails, but please don’t suggest your LOWAMI take it for his/her OCD. If you think something might help, it’s okay to suggest it, but don’t be hurt if your LOWAMI decides to discuss it with his/her doctor before buying a case of whatever it is. And please don’t use us as a platform springboard for your latest MLM.

8. Expect turbulence. If you are truly available to your LOWAMI, you just might find yourself on the receiving end of some pretty epic shit. You might get buried under an avalanche of tears, rage, angst, worry, sorrow, fear and/or any number of other violent emotions. Don’t be surprised if progress is two steps forward and one step back at times. Or two steps forward and three steps backwards. Or standing completely still. Or any combination of those. Over time, progress will be made, as long as movement is happening.

9. Offer Help. Bake cookies. Babysit. Make a meal. These things are invaluable to a LOWAMI who is feeling completely overwhelmed by life.

10. Pray. However you can, however you do, just do it. And keep on doing it. Have faith that the light will dawn, slowly but surely, in the end.

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