What I wish I'd known sooner: 9 learnings from the past year

Hindsight is a helpful thing. It allows you to look back on past events and see with clarity how they came to be. What you did, what you said and what impact they’ve had.

We’re a year on from the shell of a child my teenager became when anxiety and depression took up residence in her brain space. She has come so far since that initial diagnosis and I am enormously proud of her courage and her tenacity as she has moved through these illnesses. Looking back now I can reflect with a wider view and see the things I really do wish I’d know sooner.

What kind of a beast I was facing, that would have been useful. If I had to draw a picture of anxiety and depression there would be twin heads, enormously long twisting limbs and slippery scales involved. It was so, so hard at the start to know what to do, where to start and what would be the most important first step. Like a mythical creature I had no idea which limb to attack first and what the consequences of attacking said limb would be. In the end it didn’t really matter where we started, the most important thing was that we started. Take a step, if its wrong take your next step in another direction.

To have been alert to the early warning signs, seen them for what they were and taken them more seriously. They’re way easier to deal with on their own. The eczema that plagued her from 13 - 18 disappeared the day she finished school. Sleeplessness, restlessness, jiggling, lack of interest in a robust social life: all on their own they’re no big deal, but put together and left for several years they were part of the early symptoms. By the time she had an official diagnosis they were well established patterns, and much harder to shift along.

That school grades don't count for anything much in the end. Are they worth the cost of anxiety, stress and lack of sleep? Putting a time limit on her study and teaching her to study effectively would have helped. And while I was proud of all her excellences they didn’t make a jot of difference to our lives last year. For sure they were not worth their cost. Having said that I do agree that school is important, just not at the expense of mental health. Instead I would have scheduled in dates, walks in nature and time to pursue activities together, like painting or jewellery making. Quiet, random and a chance to connect.

I would have turned around my attitude of ‘You don’t need to work, I’d rather you spent your time concentrating on your studies’. Knowing you can contribute financially to your future is important. Part time jobs and a savings plan with money going towards uni or a car that you’ve accumulated yourself is empowering stuff for any teen.

Dedication to a sport comes at a cost. Parenting is where you have to make the call that enough is enough and know that by saying “No” to something you’re also saying “Yes” to something else.

That my working full time outside the home did impact her negatively; not so much because I was away but more because my energy levels were so drained once I’d gotten through a full day of work. I wasn’t present enough with my own teens and let the prestige of an important job suck away my time and energy from the people I cared about most. At the end of the day I was replaceable at work, but I’m never replaceable in my family - I used to tell my team that all the time!

My state of mind mattered more than I realised. I so needed to take better care of myself and get myself professionally supported sooner. Juggling all the balls and coping badly is not setting a great example for your teens. Set your priorities and stick with them.

Shifting past the shame is a good thing. It allows you to start sharing your story and gives you a chance to access help, start conversations and reach out to others. Know and accept that to struggle is to be human. It took courage to start telling people what was going on, but everyone was incredibly supportive and by sharing our story we have started many more conversations about mental health and teenage struggles.

Get a pet. He’s a rescue dog and while we have technically rescued him I’m very sure he’s done his fair share of rescuing as well. Watching the kids love, care for and play with our newest family member has been so rewarding in so many ways.

One of my favourite quotes is “There’s no way to be a perfect parent, but a million ways to be a good one.” Know that what you do is important, and it’s in the little things that you learn and grow the most. None of us are perfect, but it matters that we give our best to everything we do. Think about the circle of people you are impacting in your day to day actions, reactions and energy. Do you have the right focus in your life?

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