All You Need to Take Care of a Child With Mental Illness
I was asked a question recently that I wasn’t quite sure how to answer. Someone wanted to know how I dealt with my daughter’s mental health needs. “How do you do it?” They asked.
The short answer is: I love her.
I love her through the pain. I love her through the bad days. I love her through the good days.
Love. It’s all I have.
When the depression strikes and she only wants to curl up on the sofa, I sit with her. I hold her when she wants me to and I sit quietly when she just wants me nearby. I make her favorite dinner and we drink lemonade from crystal glasses. We watch funny cat videos. I know those things won’t make it go away, but she knows I care and that is what is truly important.
When the nightmares come and she won’t sleep for fear of them, I sit in her room so she feels safe enough to try. When she has a panic attack, I try to help her focus on her breathing. I offer a cool rag for her head.
When she has flashbacks, I rub her back. She doesn’t like for me to talk then, because even though she is in anguish and it hurts to watch, she says she is talking to herself in her mind, telling herself the past is gone and can’t hurt her anymore.
When the anxiety is too much for her, I try to help her find a distraction. When she self-harms, I smile and tell her it’s all right. I tell her how much I love her and how brave and beautiful she is. I help her celebrate the days of victory, the days without harming, the weeks, and right now the months. I make sure she knows self-injury is not a weakness and she has nothing to be ashamed of. Not ever.
When my heart is breaking for her, I go into my room, close the door and shed the tears that need to be shed. I emerge dry-eyed to help her through.
I help her find the good and the beauty in every day. I direct her as best I can to find coping strategies to move her into adulthood.
I wrap her in warm blankets and let her cry. I watch television with her when I have “better” things to do because she needs me to. I color with her and let the dishes sit in the sink. I take her for drives to calm her down no matter the gas prices or the miles on the car.
It’s as simple as love. That’s all it is. I have no special abilities. I don’t have all the answers. I listen. I encourage. I do it again. It’s all I can do. Do I wish I could do more? Of course I do. All parents have that same wish. I rely on her counselor. I rely on her doctor. I do the easiest thing of all — love her.
Depression. Anxiety. Self-harm. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Panic Disorder. Those are terms we are very familiar with at our house. We are also very familiar with laughter, gratefulness, respect, kindness and love.
I want to teach her to be proud of who she is. I want to teach her to accept herself for who and what she is. I want to teach her that her mental illness does not define her. I want to teach her to shine her light brightly. I want to teach her to embrace the good days, feel the joy that is inside of her and accept the magic that is found in the world and in her own humanity.
She is a survivor, and the only thing I have done is love her.
Follow this journey on the author’s blog.
If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.
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Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son.
Thinkstock photo via Andrew Olney