When you’re struggling…
3 September 2020
If you’re waking to another day where you feel like your stomach can’t drop any further, or you’re just waiting for another pile of poo to be delivered to your door in the form of unhelpful friends, family or professionals, or you just wonder how your head isn’t bursting with all the pressure that builds with all the stress and worry, come on in. Grab a brew.
Let me tell you a story.
I was in your position for several years. At 14, my beauty of a daughter came to the conclusion that the only way out of the pain of her existence was suicide.
Bullies had stripped her of her strength, her self belief, and her peace, and all that was left by the end of 2015 was a shell.
Back to school that year had started so well. Despite a summer where we’d had to drive to a cottage instead of getting on a plane for our holiday because she couldn’t bear to be near people, and where she’d seen no-one bar her brother, her Dad and me, we set off on the first day with positivity. She hoped for the best. And so did I.
But it was not to be, and within weeks she couldn’t leave the house, she wasn’t eating or sleeping, and she told our doctor she had a plan to end her life imminently.
I was thrown out of the norm quicker than you could say ‘Back to School’ and had no idea how to cope, or deal with this, or how I felt about it all. As we meandered along this difficult road, we left behind school and friends and the future I had expected. It was tough, isolating and painful.
And when I saw the posts from ‘normal’ parents living the life we expected to live, it broke me. Back to school photos. A dagger through my heart. Awards, parties, plans. Not for us, and I thought, not ever. Happy, glamorous prom pics. Let’s just say I wasn’t at my most generous looking at those.
I spent many hours wondering, why us, why Iss?
It’s a question I could only answer with hindsight. By allowing myself to feel all those emotions – blame, shame, guilt, fear, anger, frustration, grief, sadness, desperation – I would come to terms with it over time and stop looking at what I thought we should have had and embraced what we did.
I remember setting up the Parenting Mental Health Facebook page and writing my first post about Partnering Issy. It felt like I was pulling back the curtain on the world I’d not admitted to existing in. But as I did, I felt more and more empowered. The more I embraced the new normal, the stronger I became.
Partnering is the approach I took that was counterintuitive at first, because it went against the usual approaches us parents take, but had a transformative effect on Issy and our relationship while she was ill. It took away the pressure from us both, and gave us space to grieve, to explore and to grow.
And I can’t say everything turned around overnight, but gradually, not only did Issy improve, but so did I. I stopped looking at what we expected to experience and started to see the possibility in what we were experiencing. The wonderful gifts that ‘normal’ parents don’t get – like the sweetest, deepest connection because of life changing shared experience, like midnight drive thru chats, like no school run!
Issy was at a very academic school and it didn’t cater fully for her true passions. Mental illness gave us the pause we needed to redirect her towards the things she loved. And after 2 years out of school, she went to college and did a BTEC – and smashed it out of the park and got the highest possible grades. I share that not to boast, but to show that everyone but us had written her off. With the right environment, support and belief, and at the right time, your child is capable of whatever they dream of.
Sometimes we have to hold the faith, but it’s possible. There are stories on home ed sites ( a source of inspiration to me when Iss was ill) of young people going to uni with no qualifications. I learned to not take today as the truth of the future. There is always hope. There is always change.
My point to you today is if your child can’t get to school or college, it’s ok. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just a day. And it might end up being the start of a prolonged period where they can’t leave the house or do the work or go to all lessons, but it really is ok.
You have a powerful role to make it ok. To set aside your fears for their future and your judgment on what you’ve done wrong ( nothing!) and see what’s really going on.
What support does your child need to succeed?
How can you get them that?
Can you see what really matters within all the darkness and worry?
And to do that, you need to be in a good place – using self kindness and self care to strengthen yourself as you navigate the choppy waters of mental illness.
I know now that what really matters isn’t found in a classroom or with a load of qualifications, lovely as they are to have if you’ve got them. It’s found in your relationship with your child. It’s found in the moments when you accept them completely, particularly when they’re at their lowest ebb. It’s found in the belief they and you have in their bright, brilliant future. It’s in connection, not attendance. It’s in standing out, not fitting in. It’s in being happy with who you are and what you have, and how you do family.
So today, if you’re wishing you fitted in, that your child wasn’t the absent one, that you could just push this experience away, that you didn’t have to battle, my 2015 self hears you. I felt that too. I just wanted ‘normal’ back, because I knew what that meant.
But my 2020 self wants you to know that there are opportunities for connection and understanding in the challenges you face. And you might not want them, but they are there, waiting for you. So if you’re sitting at home today with a child who can’t go to school or who isn’t in education, try to embrace it. Set aside your self judgement and do something positive together today. We drank a lot of tea in car parks! And I love those memories, they were the building blocks of recovery and our deep connection.
And if your child won’t join you, be kind to yourself today and do something for you. Things will change in time. And while they’re deciding to, don’t beat yourself up.
Please share a way you’re taking care of you today and join us, if you will, in finding the things you can be grateful for. Maybe not doing the school run is something you could be thankful for after all?
If you’re struggling today, send us a and we’ll reply with support and hugs.