When Mental Illness Strikes a Family
I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression almost 17 years ago. In that time, I’ve had to learn how to cope and adjust to the challenges that living with a mental illness brings. In the course of those 17 years, both my children were also diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Learning and coping took on a whole new level of importance as I began caring for and supporting my children.They were now facing the same challenges I faced and, in the midst of my own struggles, I needed to equip them so they could be successful in life, in spite of mental illness. It was overwhelming to say the least. How do you keep it together to show your kids that there is hope? How do you tell them there is light in the midst of their dark moments, when there are days you don’t believe it yourself? How do you reassure them that God’s plan for their life is perfect when in the midst of your own darkness, you question that plan in frustration and despair?
The Heartbreaking DiagnosesWhen my son was diagnosed with childhood depression and anxiety at the age of 10, I was heartbroken Click To Tweet
When my son was diagnosed with childhood depression and anxiety at the age of 10, I was heartbroken. I knew all too well the confusion, fear and darkness my boy was dealing with at that time. The early years of his diagnosis were marked by the same frustrations I dealt with. We saw social workers and crisis workers. We met principals, special education teachers and school board officials. We also met with doctors, psychiatrists and counselors. He was prescribed medication upon medication as our family doctor tried to find the right combinations to help him. We felt utterly helpless. There didn’t seem to be any help for our precious son. We watched him struggle every day as the anxiety took over every area of his life. Seeing your 13-year-old son, in the midst of a complete emotional breakdown, crying in frustration because his anxiety is so severe he can’t go to school and thinks he’ll ever have a normal life, is too much for any parent to bear, let alone one struggling to keep her own depression at bay. I blamed God, I blamed the school system and the health care system and most of all, I blamed myself.
My daughter was diagnosed with anxiety/depression about two years ago. Our girl who loved to sing, spend time with friends and enjoyed school, became withdrawn and sad. Social interaction absolutely terrified her. In the course of a school day, I would get text messages from her because her panic and anxiety had come out of nowhere, paralyzing her with fear. She would come home from school and sleep for hours on end, wake up to eat, then sleep through the night. She lost interest in her friends, church activities and family gatherings. She began to doubt her talents and abilities and her self- esteem completely bottomed out. We took her to our family doctor, and the trial and error to find the right medication began again. The same feelings of anger and frustration I felt when my son was diagnosed, resurfaced as I watched my daughter struggle.
Family SupportOur family now had three members of four, battling diagnosed mental illnesses Click To Tweet
Our family now had three members of four, battling diagnosed mental illnesses. Needless to say, learning how to support each other took on a whole new level of importance. With the help of counsellors, family doctors and psychiatrists, we learned how to support each other through our illnesses. Thankfully, after a lot of trial and error, we each found the right combination of medications to help with the physical symptoms of our depression and anxiety. That enabled us to learn new coping skills and strategies. We learned how to be patient and accepting of each other’s symptoms and do whatever needed to be done to help bring each other through our meltdowns and relapses. When my son was overwhelmed in the mall, he needed to know that we were all ready and willing to leave when he says he’s had enough. When my daughter is frozen in panic at school, we support her through text messages, and let her know that we’ll always be there if she just can’t make it through the day. We speak a little softer and kinder to each other and offer encouragement when we’re struggling. Practically, we remind each other to take our meds and call each other out when we start beating up on ourselves. When we’re overwhelmed and need time to recover, we give each other time and space. And when all else fails and the darkness becomes too much to bear, we cry together, hug each other, and walk through it together.
A Shaken FaithMy faith has been shaken, and I’ve wrestled with God on so many occasions. Click To Tweet
The past five years have been incredibly tough at times for our family. My faith has been shaken, and I’ve wrestled with God on so many occasions. Our family now had three members of four, battling diagnosed mental illnesses. I’m so grateful that even when I’m angry and frustrated with him, God understands. He knows what’s going on in my heart and in my mind, and He’s right there, loving me and listening to me. When my broken brain causes me question His plan for me and my children, God shows me, in so many ways, that He’s got everything perfectly worked out. Since moving to Oshawa, both of my children have found the kind of support that could only be sent from God. My son has found an amazing counsellor, was placed in a program at school for kids with severe anxiety and earned his first four credits in high school. He became a Senior Soldier recently, and believes with all his heart that God will guide him through every challenge he will face. My daughter is also working with a wonderful counsellor, and her confidence is getting stronger every day. She has good friends who accept her, anxiety and all, and encourage her through her challenging times. She will start University soon, and knows that God has an amazing plan for her future too.
God in our LivesMy own broken brain will tell me there’s no hope but I’m learning everyday to challenge those thoughts with what I know to be true Click To Tweet
I’m so grateful for all of the incredible people God has placed in our life who support us and pray for us when things become overwhelming. My husband Terry is one of the greatest gifts God has given. In the face of incredible stress, he has cared for me and our children while working outside the home to ensure we’re all provided for. He is patient, kind and encouraging. He selflessly holds us together and does whatever he can to support us. As a team, we’ve worked together to get our kids the help they need, even when it was overwhelming and frustrating. He is an amazing husband and father, and I will be forever grateful to him for being there with me through this journey.
I am very proud of how both my kids, who in their own ways, have done their part to help to shatter the stigma surrounding mental illness. They have shared experiences on Facebook and other social media, spoken with their friends and encouraged others who are struggling too. They know this illness is nothing to be ashamed of and that there is acceptance and help available for those who are willing to reach out.
I know there may still be difficult days ahead for my family. My own broken brain will tell me there’s no hope but I’m learning everyday to challenge those thoughts with what I know to be true. God hasn’t failed me yet. I have been through the darkness, but he’s been there with me, each and every time. He has brought both of my children through their own darkness, and will be there for them too. His plan for us is perfect and even in the darkness, I’ll trust him and his unfailing love and strength.