Living with a Parent with Mental Health issues
I’m keeping this person anonymous but I met her in a really bizarre situation. In fact I met her in a taxi over a border crossing, and upon realising I couldn’t travel in the part I wanted to due to the weather, decided to move in with this person for a few days to figure out my next steps.
Whilst at her house, I had some news which broke my heart a little. As much as you can escape feelings when you’re on the side of the world, it seems like sometimes your heart refuses you the pleasure of doing so. Whilst my friend was out, I started for the first time in a year and a half since starting my medication begin to feel my breathing get out of control and my mind begin to whirl. For 10 minutes, I was on the sofa unable to catch my breath, my heart beating out of my chest and pains going down my arms whilst hysterically crying. Imagine that you’ve just had to run from an attack of some kind .. but that attack has come in the form of a break up text. Imagine that you can feel the same “fight or flight” reaction from someone else’s words, and you have nowhere to run .. other than in your head. Imagine the pounding of your heart beating in your chest, in your ears and your palms sweaty, feeling unable to escape the feeling. And then imagine, the feeling of wanting to run and run start to plummet into an overwhelming sense of blackness, blurriness and you’re staring at nothing, numb, the adrenaline suddenly stopping with no warning. How I was going to explain to a girl I’d met three days earlier that I’d just had a full on panic attack in her living room? When she returned from work, I burst out crying again and told her, and prayed she wouldn’t think she was housing a crazy traveller.
It turns out she knew exactly what to say – because her mum suffers from severe Depression. In fact, I was really sad to hear that her mum suffers such serious physical symptoms from her mental illness that’s she’s been hospitalised and she’s lost the ability to care for herself, let alone her children. Whilst hugging me tightly, my friend spoke about how her siblings and herself have personally been affected by the illness and how I wasn’t crazy to feel the way I’ve felt – one of my first thoughts whenever something like this happens. We started speaking about the flip side of Depression and how it can affect family members watching it emerge helpless, the issues that have arisen through understanding it’s not her mother’s fault yet anger at the fact she hasn’t been there in a physical or mental capacity at key points during their lives. How she’s personally had to develop a more rational and hard shell to cope with her mum’s emotional outbursts for fear of becoming too emotionally involved and then have no one to bring HER up.
“I have realised over the past few weeks that I miss my Mum. I grieve my mum. I don’t know how to handle her and that’s hard”.
What I found relatable here, wasn’t so much the mental illness, but the anger and the pain felt at a parent who couldn’t help their situation, but how different a childhood we’ve similarly yet so differently led from it. I felt with such sorrow for my friend and her sibling, not only the blackness of the situation but the fight of wanting to look after a parent and yet knowing that it should be the other way around. Such pain can cause suffering to those affected by physical and mental illness, but who looks after the children who have to be the adults at a young age? Who looks after you when your Mum or Dad gets rushed into hospital? Who gives you a hug when it’s only you left in an empty house wondering what’s going to happen next?
How do you keep strong for a parent when they’re meant to be your safety net? Your safe place? How do you stop the anger and the wistfulness for a childhood that you can only imagine? They’re unanswerable, painful questions that bring up unanswerable and painful memories, and to be honest, I haven’t got a clue how to do so. All I’m aware of after having that conversation with my friend is that I’m grateful for the lack of judgement and in awe of how someone so beautifully happy and honest can be incredibly strong for someone who’s so ill. A shoutout to the children of parents who are having to battle mental and physical illness – we are brave and strong. We are one.