Parenting an emotionally disturbed or mentally ill child can take a toll on the best of parents, result in post traumatic stress, depression and a variety of different feelings for the parents themselves. As the mother of such children I understand the importance of the fact that I cannot help anyone else if I don’t take care of myself.
Life seems to go along fine for periods of time, things seem to be stable and whatever normal our family has learned to accept as normal. When a member of the family is mentally ill however, it is almost a guarantee that something along the way will rock the boat and a crisis point will occur. These times can last hours, days and in some cases months. When the dust is settled it is important for a mother to get herself back on track. There is no time to dwell, as the next crisis could be looming around the next corner.
Out of necessity I have managed to develop my own survival steps, in order to recover as quickly as possible and manage daily life:
- Journaling is a very important step in maintaining sanity. I keep several journals in order to keep the focus, document progress and avoid repeating things that have not worked in the past. For my child who suffers mental illness, I keep medication and behavior journal. Often looking back through these pages offers me hope that things are improving, or helps me recall things I have chosen to block out. My own journal helps me keep my own emotions in check and gives me inspiration to keep going.
- Respite, babysitters and Girls Night Out: No person can live in a situation where they don’t give themselves a break now and then. Many communities have established Respite providers experienced in dealing with mentally ill or emotionally disturbed family members. For parents respite might mean the opportunity to go out on a Friday night and wake up on Saturday morning without the responsibility of jumping right into the parenting role.
Respite providers are generally trained to deal with the issues the family faces, and able to maintain the rules and control the family needs. Whereas babysitters generally take responsibility for a few hours, respite providers are equipped to provide longer care. Babysitters are wonderful for a quick break when parents are willing to get things back under control after the short escape.
Girls night out is an absolute requirement for mom’s. Even if the night out is walking the mall, or sharing Nachos with a friend for an hour. Mothers need time to remember we are girls too, and still like to talk about the current popular nail polish colors, even if we have chewed our nails to the quick.
- Setting Priorities and Getting ANYTHING done. When coming out of a difficult period of time I often feel paralyzed and unable to accomplish much of anything. I have learned over the years to be careful about what I expect from myself. The fact is that following a mental health crisis generally means looking at all the things that I wasn’t able to do when the crisis was full blown. When I face that quiet moment and have a chance to take a breath the first thing I do is look at those things that must be done and start working to get them completed.
Generally, there are follow up doctor appointments to make, prescriptions to fill, and in many cases a whole new approach to be set up. I find getting the immediate needs of the child taken care of helps me move on to the other important things on my list.
Usually, that includes the ignored and overlooked needs of the other children and my husband. They may need simple appointments set, or supplies that no one has had a chance to get. It might take me a whole day to set up appointments for everyone needing them, but at the end of that day I usually feel progress has been made.
Once a day has been spent filling the calendar up with one appointment after another, the next step can be made. The Action steps, which might be as simple as catching up on laundry, actually cleaning the bathroom or even shaving my legs. The priorities often change but the important thing is to jump in and try to knock as many little things as I can off the list.
- Checking my own mental and physical health. It is easy to skip that pap smear another month, or ignore the fact I should have had my first mammogram three years ago. It is easy for me to put my hair in a ponytail and skip the trim for a few more days. It is easy to say, “oh, I will pull out of this depression pretty soon.”
Easy to neglect the things I need to be the best mother I can be, but terrible to do so. When I am attempting to recover from a prolonged crisis the first thing I need to do is plan to take care of my own mental, and physical health. During recovery I need to be sure and set up at least 2 “take care of mom” appointments a month. See the dentist, have my hair done and monitor my own mental health. Doing so gives me the peace of mind that I am healthy and can look good when I am dealing with parenting my special needs children.
It all seems to be one day at a time, but keeping focus and remembering that I cannot do everything in one day helps me find my way back to balance. I would rather not have the crisis points to recover from, however parenting a mentally ill and emotionally disturbed child doesn’t allow me this luxury–the moment I think things are normal someone in my house proves me wrong. The goal today is about building myself up to face the next crisis point a little more prepared then the last.