Saturday, 12 January 2019

A Mental Health Conversation with my Mum

Often the conversations I have surrounding mental health are with other people who "get it", so I thought let's shake it up and so was born this new series. In this series, I will have a range of conversations about mental health with various people in my life and what better way to kickstart this series than with my mum. Enjoy!

Hi mum, thank you for doing this, can you start by introducing yourself please? 

Hi I am Angie's mum, Celine.

So the first set of questions have been written by me, if there is anything you don't want to answer you can just skip it, so what is it like having a child with a mental health problem?

I love my daughter dearly, she started developing mental health problems around the age of about 15/16 when we went through a traumatic family experience due to my health. She felt that she had to cope with everything for everybody and I admire her for that strength. Unfortunately, this took a toll on her and she started to self-harm. It was really hard finding out about it because she hid it from me for a long time, until after I had my surgery. It was hard to see my beautiful daughter hurting herself to a point that I never quite understood how she could be addicted to this. It is hard to see your child suffer and, more to the point, not be able to do anything to make them better.

What does being mentally healthy mean to you?

Well, I think it is about reaching a balance where we are contented with everyday life, where we can go through the challenges of life, deal with the curve balls that are thrown at us and be comfortable with everything that we are and with everything that happens.

What advice would you give to a parent who has just found out that their child has a mental illness?

Giving advice on that one would be difficult because I am not quite sure that I have been the best supportive parent myself. It is hard. When you give birth to a child you want that child to be happy and balanced. You want to protect them against harm and pain, but when a child suffers from a mental illness it's difficult as there nothing you can do. I would say give them love and reassurance, keep telling them how much they are loved and be there to listen. I found that it is listening without saying anything because sometimes you can't say the right thing. Try not to judge it either which is hard, judge the situation, not your child. Give them space, listen carefully, love them no matter what and be there. Sometimes you get phone calls where you think "oh my goodness, how do I deal with that?" or you might find out that something has happened and you don't know how to go about it. Be patient with yourself as a parent, look after yourself as well because your child needs you, so you need to remain strong.

You are a primary school teacher, does being a parent to a child with mental health problems affect the way you treat your students?

Yes, it has made me more aware of the demands that are on young people these days compared to before. It has definitely made me more aware of the signs of emetophobia as well.

As a parent how do you manage your own mental health?

Well, I would say that at times it has been difficult because people from my generation are not that educated about mental health. At times I have believed that I needed to be strong for my children as a single mum and have maybe ignored the state of my own mental health. I was diagnosed myself with mental health issues and it was hard to accept but it was Angie who helped me to accept it because of her knowledge and her understanding of mental health. She also showed me compassion and understanding which made me feel that I didn't need to be that ashamed of it. Sleep, eating a varied diet, exercise and fresh air are all important, as well as having pets! It is important to look after yourself and preserve, not by shutting the world down but saying you know what I need a little bit of time for me.

Telling a parent about your mental health issues is hard, are there some things you wish you didn't know?

Thats a difficult one. I would say no. I much prefer my children to have a good open communication with me because I think as a parent, if you aren't too self involved, you would notice something isn't quite right with your children. It does hurt to find out your children are suffering because when they are little you can just give them a kiss, make them laugh and everything is ok again but with mental health issues it doesn't work that way. I do prefer open communication definiety, I think if your children can share things with you then its a good thing. You are their parent so you are meant to love them unconditionally and accept them whole, even if there are things you would prefer not to hear.

So I took to social media and asked if there was anything they wanted to ask you so the next set of questions are from the internet, again anything you don't want to answer you don't have to, have you ever been ashamed of your child for having a mental illness?

Absolutely not, I think a lot of people my age (40-60 bracket) don't talk about what their children are going through, about their mental wellbeing, about drugs or about self-harm. Now some parents don't even want to know but I really believe that knowledge is power, if you know something you can try to help, try to understand and try to be compassionate. Sometimes in my experience, I have shared things with people who in turn have said to me: "my goodness I am so glad you are saying this because I am going through something similar" or "it's nice to be able to talk to somebody who understands." I know somebody at this point in time who is going through very similar things to my son with their son. It's just nice to know that you aren't alone.I really believe that there is nothing to be ashamed of.

Would you say you have become a stronger person because of the experiences I've had?

Well, I believe you don't know how strong you are until being strong is the only solution you've got. I think sometimes life throws curveballs at you, in order to see how you are going to react and i think sometimes getting up and getting on with it, just that, makes you strong.

How do you know when to encourage your child to talk and when to give them space?

With my two children I have learnt one thing, you ask the question and then you see the reaction. If the reaction seems to be quite shut i leave it, I give them the space because they need to process but I tell them I am here so whenever they are ready I am here for them.

Where can you go as a parent for support if you are worried about your child?

I have spoken with Young Minds for advice and there is a lot of stuff online about mental health and for being a parent of someone with mental health issues.

This one is a bit heavy but do you blame yourself for not having paid enough attention to how I may have been feeling or how I may be feeling now?

It is a difficult one but what I am going to say is I am a mother but I am also human. There is one thing that is certain, I love my children dearly and I definitely would say I have always tried my very best. I've made mistakes and will still make some mistakes. I tried to do my best, all the time, it might not be enough and I am sorry if at times it hasn't been enough but I do try. Being a parent always comes with the guilt factor anyway, you always feel guilty from the moment they are born to the moment you die. Did I do this well enough? Could I have done this better? But I would definitely say on the whole I have done all that I could. I don't know what else I could have done.

Thank you so much, your answers have been great and really insightful and I am so excited to share them. Thank you for doing your best, I know it hasn't been easy. 

So that concludes my first post of the series, the next post of this series will be a mental health conversation with my dad. So if you have any questions please comment them below.


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