Maree Dee

@maree-dee | contributor
Maree Dee is passionate about advocating for families with mental health difficulties. Maree knows the deep, unexpected pain of watching her family members struggle with mental illness. She wants others to know they are not alone, and together we can find hope, peace, and joy.
Morgan Turpin

Mamas, We're in This Together: From a Mom of a Child With a Disability

This world we live in can feel so lonelyBut I’m here to tell you that you aren’t the onlyMama who feels this way, you see,For I am you, and you are me In that awful moment when you got the newsI’ve been there too, I’ve walked in your shoesAs you wondered and feared what their life would beBut they told you only in time will you see When the online searches paint a picture so grimI’ve read those words, I’ve felt them sink inWhen all you want to do is screamOr somehow wake up from this awful dream When you can’t sleep with all the words that you’ve readSwirling on repeat inside of your headAs you think “no this can’t possibly be”“Not my baby, this can’t happen to me” Time seems to stand still, like everything has changedThe world feels so different with this news you have gainedThe dreams and the hopes that you had, gone awayConsumed with feelings of mourning, all night and all day… And then when you somehow muster the strengthTo put up a fight, to go to any length“Things will be different for him”, you prayHe will beat the odds, we will find a way That hope is the force that is guiding you throughThis I know, you see, ’cause I’ve felt it tooAnd I have also felt that hope crumble and fallWith each failed treatment, each time you get “the call” The monster shows up, and says “I’m still here”And once again, you sink back into fearI have lived through those highs, I have lived through those lowsI know how this roller coaster goes… Sometimes tears fall with joy from a new milestoneOr sometimes from pain, feeling so aloneFeeling like your life is passing you byWatching him suffer, not understanding why Feeling like every thing is a fight,But vowing to advocate with all of your mightThey will not win, I’ll make them seeJust how important this child is to me You push for services, to help them growYou don’t take it for an answer, when they tell you “no”You summon a strength you didn’t know existed,Eventually you’ll win, because you persisted Then you rally for the next battle to be won,Because, you see, your work is never doneEach night when you finally lay down in bed,A million thoughts are going through your head Those feelings of guilt that live within you,“Am I doing enough?” I live with them tooWanting the best life can offer for this little boyHoping he feels love, hoping he has joy And those feelings most don’t talk about, when you want to give upWhen you have lost your fight, when you throw your hands upWhen you say “there’s not much more I can take,I feel as if my heart might actually break” But then, you gaze into your child’s eyesAnd all of a sudden you realizeThat they are the strongest person you’ve ever metAnd you will spend your life fighting for them, you aren’t done yet Those feelings you feel, I’ve felt them tooYou are me, and I am youWe are both in this together, you seeOur tribe of special needs moms is as strong as can be I want to leave some advice for you,You are stronger than you know, this is true You will never be alone in this world, you seeFor I am you, and you are me. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Maree Dee

How to Help a Loved One With Mental Illness During the Holidays

The holidays are here! For some, this brings feelings of excitement and anticipation of wonderful gatherings full of joy, family, friendship and love. I say if that is you, then embrace it and enjoy every second of it! This season may be taxing for everyone to some degree. However, when you add mental health challenges into the holiday mix, things can become exhausting, discouraging and sad for all. It is not uncommon during the holidays to see our loved ones become extremely symptomatic, in the hospital, overwhelmed, isolated or just barely getting by. However, what if each of us could be a catalyst for making the holidays a little less stressful for someone with a mental illness? Would you be willing to try? I know we all hate seeing our loved ones with extra struggles of any kind. So are you willing to give your best effort? The first place to start would be gaining a little insight into what the holidays may be like for a person who struggles with mental illness. Granted, I am not an expert on what someone with a mental illness might be feeling, but over the years, I have learned a few things from my experiences and from those willing to share with me. Of course, each person is different, but this may help. Why don’t we start with some of the familiar phrases that might come up when the pressure of the holidays starts to mount on our loved ones. “I hate the holidays, everything about them.” “I have to look right, talk right, be right, and it is just impossible.” “Nobody likes me.” “Everybody judges me.” “Doesn’t anybody realize how hard this is for me?” “Doesn’t anybody care about me?” “The people I depend on to take care of me become so consumed, stressed and busy that they do not even notice I am struggling.” “I just don’t belong.” ”All I want is ‘my normal’ back.” What if this time we do not have answers or solutions to everything said? Instead, what if we attempted to climb into their shoes and see what it is like to live with mental health challenges during the holidays. What might someone with a mental illness want you to understand? Holidays feel like milepost markers: As we gather with friends and family, it is a reminder of the milepost markers not yet hit. Social interactions are draining: Now we are out and about with people we do not interact with on a regular basis. All this extra socializing leaves me spent. Change in routine: Change is difficult at any time. During the holidays, schedules are fuller, food is different and life is not quite the same. Increased stress is in the air: Stress is like a magnet. Not only does a person have to manage their additional stress, but now they feel your stress and the added obligations you have made. Holidays are noisy: Extra noise is everywhere they go, including inside their head. Emotions might be amplified: When emotions are amplified, mental processing becomes more difficult. Judgments: Not only do they feel the piercing eyes of others hurling judgments, they too are judging themselves harsher than anyone else could ever do. How can we help our loved ones navigate the holidays? Predictability: Let them know the plans ahead of time. Helping: Ask your loved one what you can do to help to make it less stressful. It might be as simple as dressing down or wearing slippers. I served one year with slippers on, and it was fantastic. Be consistent. Be in the moment: Live in the present moment. Turn your chair, make eye contact and listen. Be effective, not right: Think about what you want, to be right or to have a peaceful home. Safety: Create a safe place in your home. Provide a safe way out at events. Let it be their choice: Be willing to negotiate on plans and expectations. Do they even want to attend or participate? Ask. Communicate your understanding if they choose not to participate. Let them know you don’t want them to feel left out, and you will miss them. Say it is your choice over and over again. It makes it easier for a person to take control of their behavior if it is their choosing. Preparations: Don’t force others to be active. Ask if they want to help or be included. Let them step away if they are getting too stressed. Validate, validate, validate: We all like to be heard and acknowledged. Practice conversations: Practice the anticipated conversations that will come up at the gatherings. Lower your expectations: Let landing the plane be enough. Showing up for five minutes is better than none. Alcohol: Rethink what you are serving. Alcohol can have a significant impact on mood. I believe we can make the holidays just a tad bit better for those we love with a little bit of understanding and a few skills. After all, if our loved ones are a bit better, we will be too. Granted we most likely won’t be able to pull off a “Norman Rockwell Christmas;” however, a bit better goes a long way. Please, share what tips have worked for helping your family navigate the holidays below. This post originally appeared on Embracing the Unexpected. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Image via Thinkstock.

Maree Dee

First Day of School for the Mom of a Child With a Mental Illness

As I sit in my comfortable chair outside listening to the bird’s chirp, I think to myself: life today is not bad. It feels smooth, easy and comfortable. I relish in the fact that today, school is starting, and it is no longer a part of my world. I consciously make a decision to ignore those old feelings of what it used to be like struggling to get a child to school. I say to myself, “not this year.” It is my turn to avoid the feelings of the first day back to school, or so I think. My thoughts of bliss are quickly interrupted as I hear a child’s cries from afar. I surprise myself at how quickly the old feelings well up. My heart begins to beat faster, and my mind starts racing. Oh, that out of control sound. I wonder, will it rise to uncontrollable or will it be a short quick outburst? I know change can be hard for anyone, but add mental health issues and the first day back to school can be excruciating. It can catch you off guard, and things can quickly escalate to a level one rarely expects. The shouting now rings throughout the neighborhood. I don’t know why, but I go to that familiar place of shame. Are the parents worried about what others will think? Are they so consumed at the moment, they just don’t care who hears? Many children and parents find the first day of school each year to be a tough day. Children with mental health issues have extra challenges to overcome. It can be a day filled with anxiety, fear, and trepidation. The children may have a running conversation in their heads: “My teacher will hate me,” “My parents will be mad at me,” “I hate school,” “I am a failure,” “Nobody likes me,” and so on. My heart hurts for the child in such pain.  Oh, how I wish I could wish it away. I think back to a time before I understood what I know today. The ignorant things I said to my child, “It will be OK, your teacher is kind,” “Your teacher will like you,” “Don’t be silly, of course, you will have friends.” Though they are well-intended and sincere statements, those remarks brought no comfort to a child who was hurting. It was her pain, not mine. It was a real pain , one needed to be… Recognized, a ccepted, and v alidated. Instead, in my ignorance, I sent a scared little girl to school thinking her feelings were invalid, “stupid,” and wrong. I go back to the screams and Momma Bear trying to do what is right and get her cub to school. I wonder, did Mom wake up thinking and hoping this was the year when the first day back would be different? Did she have her armor on and was her skill belt tight, ready to face the day? Would she be able to coax patiently on, her child, in the midst of the hurling accusations aimed at her? The screaming stops, and I think to myself, what just happened? What worked, or did they just shut the windows so no one will hear? I remember before mental illness came to reside – when I stood so proud thinking to myself, “I will never have a child who screams at me.” “I will do it right.” “I will always be that encouraging mom who coaxes her child lovingly into every difficult situation.” Oh, how I used to judge those parents ever so harshly. I had all of the answers: more discipline, do it like me, tough love, more love, etc. But today I am wiser. I know how very difficult it is to coax and patiently prod along anyone who doesn’t want to do something. Adding unique struggles like mental illness means the challenges are compounded. These are battles that can’t be wished away or entirely understood. I know what it is like when school officials breathe down my neck insisting I make my child perform. I know what it feels like to stand there and be judged by others who have not walked a minute in my shoes. I know what it is like to have your heart broken as you gaze into the eyes of the child who wants you to take her pain away, yet you push on with doing difficult things. I apologize to all of those moms I once judged . I was ignorant, and I didn’t realize, until you walk in someone else’s shoes you have no idea. I applaud all you parents out there struggling on that first day back to school. I encourage you to keep pushing, keep learning new skills, and keep fighting for what is best for your child. So when the stares from others begin, the judgments fly, and the shame starts to rise… Hold your head high. Know you are not alone. Remember, you are an exceptional parent warrior. You love and care for your child in a way most will never know or understand. So maybe today you didn’t use your skills or handle it well. Don’t beat yourself up. I am sure you will have more opportunities to try again at helping your child through the changes they don’t want. If you are not a mom who struggles with getting a child to school, seek out that mom who is struggling. Find a way to help her. Offer encouragement instead of judgment and advice. Follow this journey on Embracing Life in the Midst of the Unexpected. Image via Thinkstock.