Stronger than You Feel
Stronger Than You Feel
Having a child diagnosed with an illness is tough. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s devastating. Given that this was a diagnosis of a mental illness, it was made all the harder by not being able to see it, and to somehow feel ashamed of it. For a while I thought her diagnosis was a reflection of my failings as a parent, but as I learned more about her illness I realised it was never about me.
There are questions that need asking of professionals, who may or may not have answers for you. And there are the questions you ask yourself. Questions that involve the ‘whys’ and the ‘hows’ and the ‘What did I do wrongs?” And most importantly the “How can I fix this?” But actually you can’t.
Your child is the one with the diagnosis. Not you. You can help, support, guide and direct but this isn’t something you can put a plaster on and kiss better.
All your child’s life their body has had the ability to heal itself. Your role has been to support their body. To provide the right food and nutrition, to say the right things at the right time or to give the right touch just when it was needed. And that’s your job now. You can’t fix another person, nor can you heal them. They must do it themselves. But you can be there for them. You can choose to do that. And choose I did.
When it comes to your own kids I think you choose right from the start. You have already chosen to cherish, nourish, love and support them the best you can. No one ever questions the love of a parent. It’s this deep abiding love that keeps you going, feeding your strength when you really don’t know how you’re going to make it through. When you wonder if your teenager will still be there when you wake up in the morning, or after you have had a shower. When you know that they have to come to the grocery store with you because they can’t be left alone. When you can see their pain and sadness and feel it radiating out from them like heat.
You still have to hand the healing back to them. Is it a sign of strength to do that? Some would say so. But really it’s not a choice, it’s simply the only thing you can do. To not do it is to question your faith, your knowledge, that it will be okay. Maybe it’s that deep belief of knowingness, that life will work out that gets you through. Or maybe its the appreciation of the winters that make the summers and the buds that grow after the pruning. The lessons from nature are there for us when we’re ready to look and see what they’re telling us.
Strength can be grown through building muscles, through regular training and specific exercises. But it is also there inside us, waiting for its chance to come out and shine.
Letting it out takes dedication, patience and hard work. The faith that is inside you is something you learn to lean on by taking each day as it arrives. I remembered to roll with life and let the little things slide. It was like having a small baby to care for all over again, only this time the small baby was stronger than me, mobile and had a mindset that didn’t want to live anymore. At the end of everyday I would sit and appreciate that we’d made it through the day. That today wasn’t the day when everything would change. That we still had tomorrow to live for.
Acknowledging all the little wins out loud changed the way we talked about the disease. I would say things like “Well done for enjoying the sunshine” after she’d spent 20 minutes just sitting in it. And she’d say “Yeah”. Then we’d chalk it up as a win, after all she’d gotten out of bed and made it as far as the front door. Celebrating any win when we made it was so important. The day we managed to nail the driving emotion so we could sit with it was the beginning of the change from downward to upward. After we’d spent 30 minutes sitting and crying and talking we went for a walk and stopped at a cafe on the way home to celebrate.
Providing a routine for day to day living was a constant battle and one that took all my energy, staying focused and positive and keeping my faith that things would work out. My daily mantra became “She will get better” and everyday I said “I expect you’ll get better. This will pass.” As we sat inside, sitting with her feelings, accepting them and, YAHOO, letting them go.
Keeping my own mindset positive took inner strength. Every day I would look in the mirror and be self compassionate. I took the time to talk to myself, saying things like “I know it’s tough right now. Keep going. Things will get better & you’re doing a good job.” I didn’t beat myself up over past mistakes or waste my precious energy worrying about what other people would think.
Telling others what was happening was so important. The support I received was amazing and rewarded my courage tenfold. When friends or family offered to help, I would leap at the chance to have a long bath or go for a walk by myself without having to worry about my daughter. I was blessed to have such empathetic support, in a physical presence and on the end of a phone.
And I wrote. Like my life depended on it. All my worries went into my journal. It was like a tap had been turned on in my head and was gushing out all kinds of rubbish, but it was good to get it out. Then I could turn off the tap and get on with my day to day reality without the anxiety I felt hanging around inside my head. It was out, it was down on paper and if I wanted to I could reread it but it didn’t really matter anymore now that it was written down.
Looking back over the past year we often comment about how far we’ve all come. I don’t regret her getting sick now that she’s getting better. It’s made us all appreciate our life and our time together. Every moment is precious and when we rush through our days being busy and getting stuff done we miss the little gems that make life sparkle.
My strength now is in remembering to keep adding to my collection of gems.