The Parent Perspective

A few weeks ago I interviewed my dad in order to gain some insight into what it is like to be the parent of someone suffering from Mental Illness. My dad has been a rock for me and he has always been there through the good times and the bad. In the past I was really bad at opening up to him but recently I have found it easier to let him in and allow him to support me in the best way he can.

I asked him the following questions and these are his responses, in his own words:

1. What is it like having a daughter with a Mental Illness?

It’s really difficult. It’s not like a physical illness where the treatments are more obvious and there is an expectation that the person will recover in a certain time frame. With Mental Illness everything takes much, much longer. It can be quite stressful over a long period of time. It’s also more difficult if your child is living somewhere else and you are not able to see her every day.

2. Would you say it is frustrating?

Yes, the whole process is frustrating. Mental Illness is not easy to diagnose as it is complex and there may be several different things happening at the same time.  It seems to take a long time to find the right treatment and therapy.  It is even more frustrating as you cannot see when it is going to end.

3. Do you ever get used to it?

I think you gain a sort if acceptance. I wouldn’t say you get used to it, but I think you gain an acceptance that this is how it is and how it is going to be for some time. You adapt your life to live with it, but it is very hard because things could change at any moment. You may need to be there to help, if they want it, and that could happen at any time because Mental Illness is unpredictable like that.

4. What is it like having a daughter with an Eating Disorder?

It’s hard because eating is such a big part of socialising. It’s particularly difficult when you don’t live in the same place as your daughter because when you meet, you want to be able to invite her for lunch or dinner. If she comes home after a few months away, you want to make a meal to welcome her. Food is such a big part of life and if she has a problem with eating then it can get in the way of things. You’re also going to see your daughter lose weight, get very thin and look much less healthy. It’s distressing because it’s not something that can be sorted out quickly, overnight, there’s not a simple solution, there isn’t a pill you can take that makes it all go away. It takes quite a long time for that person to recover and that’s what makes it so hard.

5. How did you feel when I was first diagnosed with Depression?

It was a big surprise to begin with because we’ve never had a problem with depression in the family, I had never come across it and to hear that a young person had depression was really a surprise. I also think I found it hard to accept because I didn’t think you appeared to have depression as you didn’t behave in the way that I imagined depressed people to behave. More importantly, as a parent, you begin to wonder if you are responsible in some way. Or if there is something you should have done or shouldn’t have done which might have caused it.

6. What about EUPD? Was it quite scary hearing that diagnosis?

When they told me they had diagnosed you with EUPD it was the first time I had heard of it. It wasn’t until afterwards that I started researching and reading about it and trying to find out what it was. So how did it feel? Well, in some ways it was reassuring to put a label on the illness because something was clearly wrong. It was good to have that clarity so that we could say this is the condition and this is what can be done about it. We could then start to ask about the treatments available. So it was good actually getting to a point where it was described as something. I have read that with the right therapy and a willing patient there is a very good chance that the illness can be cured.

7. When did you become aware of my Eating Disorder? 

For a long time you covered it up so well and I wasn’t really conscious that this was going on. It was probably when you were away at University and we saw you less.  We’d take you out for meals and you would be eating fine but looking thinner.  So it took me quite a while to notice the disorder because you hid it.

8. What advice would you give a parent of a child with any Mental Illness?

It’s difficult to be specific as each case is different. The first thing is not to have any sort of hang-ups or be embarrassed about seeking psychiatric or psychological help.  Also try and read about the disorder as much as possible to understand what is going on. I found the health service very, very slow. I don’t know what advice to give on that but maybe you need to be quite persistent if things don’t seem to be moving. You really just have to keep on going. And provide all the support you can and just be there as much as you are able.

9. What advice would you give to parents whose children are shutting them out? 

You have to be patient and leave it up to them. There are probably things you will never know. I think the longer you can spend with them or around them, the greater chance there is that the young person will open up or a time will come when they are willing to speak. And very often you will ask them how they are and they’ll bite your head off because they don’t feel like speaking. You’ve really got to wait until they are ready to share something with you. And you have to think about creating opportunities to spend some time with them.  A simple example is going out for a walk in the country, and we’ve done that a lot. That’s been a great opportunity because it’s away from distractions and we’re in a private place. Nobody can overhear and it just opens up that space where you can have freedom to talk as much or as little as you want. Hopefully the young person will take advantage of that but you cannot force it.

10. Any other comments or advice?

I think a parent needs to find a way of staying positive. You’ve got to find a way of helping yourself and supporting the rest of the family as well as the young person with the illness. You’ve got to keep your outlook optimistic through good self-management. That could be just giving some time to yourself.  Don’t give up on the things that you enjoy because you’ve got to keep your own spirits up and you need to do that for the benefit of your son or daughter. So I think it is important to look after yourself and try to keep yourself in a positive place, which then means you’re in a good position to provide the support when it is needed. And don’t neglect other members of the family, particularly siblings, because they have needs as well.  So you’ve got try and get that balance right.

So thats my Dad’s take on Mental Illness, hopefully some parents will find this helpful. And as always, thanks for reading.

xx

Coping With Bad Body Image Days

The vast majority of us all have days when we struggle with our body image. However, to those suffering with an Eating Disorder these days can seem unbearable and incredibly difficult to cope with. They can massively impact our behavior and social interactions. I cannot count the number of times I have refused to go out because I knew simply getting dressed would be a totally traumatizing experience. So how to cope with these horrendous days? Well, I have eight things to remember for when I am struggling with my body image.

  1. You are so much more than that number on the scale. It does NOT determine your worth as a human being. It is just a number, nothing more, nothing less. The scale cannot tell you how loved, valued or special you are.
  2. Fat is not a feeling. One cannot feel fat, just as one cannot feel orange. It is simply not possible. It is much more likely that you are feeling something deeper, such as insecurity or depression and it is these feelings that need to be examined and dealt with.
  3. Treat yourself as you would treat others. I was once told by a nurse that if I spoke to my friends in the same way I speak to myself, I would have no friends left. And she is right. You wouldn’t judge a friend on their size, weight or shape, so why would you judge yourself? Treat yourself with the same compassion you show others and it will make a world of difference to how you feel about yourself.
  4. Don’t focus on what you cannot change. Focus on what you can. Think about the reasons behind your negative thoughts and the impact they have on your feelings towards your body. Your body is wonderful. And when it is healthy it allows you to do so much. It fights hard to keep you going and it deserves to be treated with respect.
  5. Fight the negative voice in your head. The negative thoughts are just that, thoughts. You can fight them. You can challenge them. And you can recognise them for what they are and choose to dismiss them.
  6. You are not alone. No matter how much it feels like it. You are not the only person who struggles with accepting their body. And in a world of diet culture and where thin is in; body dissatisfaction amongst woman AND men is at an all time high. It may surprise you how even the people who seem the most confident, will still have days when they struggle with their body image.
  7. Look after yourself. However hard it feels, self-care is so important. I never used to shower on days when my body image was particularly bad. I couldn’t even get dressed. But I soon learnt that taking care of myself on my bad days actually made me feel better as I was taking control and not letting my negative thoughts win.
  8. You are unique. You are worthy. You are beautiful. And life is far too short to be caught up with worrying about the size and shape of your body. There is a lot more to you than that.

xx

Hope

Today I felt hope. A little burst of light burning inside of me. If only for a moment I belived I could do this, that I could pick myself back up and become stronger for it. I felt that maybe, just maybe, I could move on from my past and the people who hurt me. I felt hope and that terrifies me. I’m so afraid to admit it as I felt it was something I had lost forever.

It may have dwindled slightly now. The light may have started to fizzle out but I will try my best to keep it burning and not allow the darkness to extinguish it completely. Keeping it burning is my weapon against the darkness. This is MY war and MY victory and MY recovery. And I will keep it burning, I will keep fighting. Because that small light is all I have left to hold on to.

Xx

Taking Control Again

“It is the courage to continue that counts”

So I’ve been rather quiet these last few weeks and the truth is I’m not doing well. On the 18th of February I had to come back into hospital, and in all honestly I feel ashamed to admit that. I feel I should be doing better and able to cope on my own in the community. I wasn’t going to blog about this admission but I’m tired of being embarrassed. When I started this blog I decided I was going to be open and honest. And this is the reality of Mental Illness. Recovery is not a straight line by any means. It is full of hurdles and twists and turns. Sometimes it can feel like you are running in circles. Other times you can feel like there is a 10 foot wall blocking your way.  But I have to remember relapses happen and it doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It just means I have to find the determination in me to get back up and try again.

It is scary how quickly things can change for me. How I can be doing OK one minute and the next feel as though I am being propelled back into the suffocating darkness. These last few weeks have been some of the worst I’ve ever known, I have been all over the place and experienced every possible emotion. I’ve felt lost. I’ve felt stuck. I’ve felt trapped in a body I hate with a mind that has declared war on itself.  These past few days I’ve just deteriorated. I’ve given up and seem to have hit my own self destruct button. And actually the harsh reality is that there is only so much people can do. People can support me as much as they can, they can try and help, but ultimately I have to be the one to change. I have to be the one to decide to fight again. I have to be the one to pull myself out of this hole. And that terrifies me.

But today something changed in me. I got a wake up call from my psychiatrist who just looked me straight in the eyes and said “where is this going Jenny”…and I just broke down. Because I don’t know where it is going, I just know its not forwards and I cannot continue like this. So I’ve decided it’s time to take control again.  I feel like I’m at a cross roads. I can continue down this self destructive path which is so horrible yet so familiar. Or I can take a leap of faith and start fighting my way back up. That road is much harder to take because first I have to believe in myself. I have to believe I am worthy of help. I have to believe that I can recover. But most of all I have to believe that I have the inner strength to keep going.

You see in recovery you don’t have another option. Sometimes being strong is all you can do. It is all you have. It is all you can hold on to. We fight because we have an instinct of survival. We live for other people when we cannot live for ourselves. We keep holding onto that tiny slither of hope that tomorrow can be better, can be brighter. And today, for the first time in weeks I felt that hope inside of me. Hope that maybe, just maybe, I can do this. And I can come out the other side, fighting.

xx

 

Fighter

I hope to find a place someday

Free from sadness and disarray

Where feelings come and feelings go

But I still feel like I’m in control

 

I hope to fight head on my fears

And live a full life without tears

I want to know what it’s like to laugh

And not be living behind a mask

 

I hope to find the strength inside

To ride the waves and know I’ve tried.

I want to get myself to a better place

Where I can feel the sun shine on my face

 

I hope I can find the light in darkness

And recognise what is true happiness

I want to end this deadly war with me

And learn what it’s like to simply be

 

I hope to remember that I’ve survived

Things over which I’ve cried and cried

That have struck me down and left me broken

Yet I am stronger for I have spoken

 

I hope I can fight my darkest thoughts

And untwist myself from all the knots

That have kept me tied up for so long

That have made me tired and not feel strong

 

I know the struggle that lies ahead

Is long and hard and I’ll wish I were dead

But I have belief things can be brighter

Because, I know that I am a fighter

xx