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To children, on behalf of parents
To children of parents who live with mental illness, I say, above all, be compassionate. This could be you on another day. Mental illness does not discriminate.
As I have said many times, the years have been good to me in teaching me to adopt appropriate self-care. This in no way suggests that I have eliminated all my very intimate struggles. What it means is that I have learned to regularly revisit myself and constantly remember to forgive myself—the ill and intense version of myself.
My struggle over the years, and in the periods of crisis included fits of rage, hostility, irritability, and moods swinging more than a forest of monkeys, which meant that I also experienced bad extremes of some of the good feelings, emotions and conduct, also.
A child having to deal with such fluctuations should have an idea what presents when a parent living with mental illness is episodic. It is important for children to take some measure of responsibility to educate themselves. Without the appropriate information and investment this relationship and its interactions become punishing to children as much as it does to the ill parent.
Here is a list of some behaviour courtesy the website sane.org that may be considered out of character or abnormal when your parent or anyone you know is presenting with mental disorder:
• Withdrawing completely from family, friends and others;
• Sleeping poorly—for example, sleeping during the day and staying awake all night;
• Becoming very preoccupied with a particular topic such as death, politics or religion;
• Uncharacteristically neglecting responsibilities, personal hygiene or appearance;
• Eating poorly;
• Deteriorating performance at school or work;
• Having difﬁculty concentrating, following conversation or remembering things;
• Panicking, becoming anxious, depressed, or talking about suicide;
• Having extreme changes in mood for no real reason;
• Hearing voices that no-one else can hear;
• Believing, without reason, that others are plotting against or spying on them, and feeling fearful or angry about this;
• Believing they are being harmed, or influenced to do things against their will;
• Believing they have special powers or influence;
• Believing their thoughts are being interfered with, or that they can influence the thoughts of others;
• Spending extravagant and unrealistic sums of money.
Parenting, for me, belongs to the realm of things at which I considered myself to have failed. I have long forgiven myself but that came with the very difficult acceptance that my parenting was harsh and exasperating.
I am consoled that when it was possible, in those times without impaired judgment, I made decent decisions, and despite the terrors, I did not abdicate my responsibility to clothe, feed, shelter, and educate.
My parenting record would probably be considered one of the shames of my life by others. I have long let go of that judgment and refuse to be held ransom by the hurt that that realisation inflicts on me and hurts and odium held by others towards me for that period of my life.
That is the advice I continue to give parents along with instruction on personal interventions.
Parents must become more understanding and embracing of their faults and failings. Be sorry for the hurt caused but do not be continually discomfited. As fortunate as I was to know I had a mental disorder from my teens, the interceding years between, until the advent of the World Wide Web, were the uninformed ones leaving me with very little to guide my response.
Now, I live in the hope that people could be where I am at in the knowledge and recognition of these issues. Once I learned the reason and was able to adopt reasoning for the tough challenges, then I determined to love me. I have found forgiveness is rich where love abounds.
Today, I live my life committed to teaching, educating, writing, mentoring, and sharing always with the hope that one person would be positively impacted. And as usual, I remind you as you read this that if what I write affronts you or only cause you anxiety about the subject than I do not as yet write for you.
My hope in every line, every week, year after year is that somehow I am able to reach your heart and mind. In addressing this particular relationship–parenting–I am recalling and rereading many of the parenting struggles that I have counselled over the years.
Remember, mental ill health is not only a burden for the individual in question, but affects in many ways also the entire social environment. Children of parents living with mental disorders are extremely susceptible to the effect. They especially need to have and to receive sufficient love and compassion as they invest in their own healing and in that of their parents.
The stories of love, compassion and support for parents by children is always a heartening one to encounter. Mostly, the conversation over the years has been about parents’ commitment to their children’s life and healing or management of mental disorders. But both dimensions are equally important in a family with mental illnesses/disorders.
Caroline C Ravello is a strategic communications and media practitioner. She holds an MA in Mass Communications and is a candidate for the MSc in Public Health (MPH) from The UWI. Write to: [email protected]