Parenting a child who has depression – Mental Health Matters

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Last September my son left home to begin a new phase of his life at university. Like many mums, I felt a mixture of sorrow, pride, happiness, loneliness, and excitement. I also felt something else.

Fear.

My son has depression, something he’s very open about and shares on his blog. He’d deferred his uni place the previous year, not feeling in the right headspace to go but now…

Now he wasn’t entirely sure but after some medication and therapy, he felt it was now or never.

A few years previously, when his brother had plans to go to uni, I found myself googling student recipes to print out for him, articles on budgeting. This time around I googled suicide statistics for male students.

The results were horrifying.

Men are three times as likely to take their own life than women.  My son hasn’t been brought up with a ‘boys don’t cry’ mentality. As a family, we’ve always talked and he’s openly shared his feelings with me, his mood, his ‘I’ll-never-get-out-of-bed-again days.

But I had a constant gnawing worry – what would happen when I wasn’t there to talk to?

Mostly he manages his condition well. He knows his triggers and has coping strategies in place. His new friends are understanding when he can’t face going out or leaves a gig halfway through.

Mostly he manages.

But there are times he doesn’t.  Times when I check his Instagram story and know from the music he’s listening to that his mood has plummeted.  Sometimes he’ll come and spend a few days at home, but sometimes he’ll retreat into himself and these are the most terrifying of times for me. The dark voice whispers in my head that it’s all my fault – something I did or didn’t do – while I anxiously trawl through his social media accounts all hours of the day and night. Not because I want to know where he is, but because if he’s posted, I know he’s alive. I study photos he’s been tagged in. How does he look? But how he looks is no indication of how he feels. As he said on his blogyou can’t see mental health, you can’t look in a mirror and see the damage being caused.”

And living with that fear. The fear that one day it might all get too much for him creates such a feeling of utter helplessness, of hopelessness it’s a constant battle to balance giving him space to grow, with checking he’s okay. I try not to plague him with endless calls and messages (often I plague him with endless calls and messages).

A few nights ago he sent me an email completely out of the blue, completely out of character. It was a long and lovely message about his brothers and me, and if it had come from one of my other children I would have burst with happiness. As it was, a cold dread wrapped itself around my heart. Immediately I rang him thinking something that no parent should ever have to consider.

‘Is this a suicide note?’

‘Umm, no. I can see why you’d think that, but no. I can promise I will never do that,’ he said with sincerity, and he meant it. But I’ve worked in mental health. I know those long, dark hours where sufferers of depression convince themselves it would be a good thing if they weren’t around anymore. That everyone would be better off. Happier.

That is never the case.

My son raises awareness of mental health where he can, particularly amongst males.  I’m immensely proud of him for being so open and honest. Despite the despair he often feels, he has a desire to help others.

He said of his own journey “I went through a phase where I would drink more in the hope it would fix the problem. I can’t begin to explain how badly this impacted my mental health, constantly throwing yourself into a situation you don’t want to be in is crazy, essentially what I was doing was running as fast as I could into a wall, but every week running slightly faster and hoping that the harder I hit it, the better it would be.”

I hope that one day he stops running.

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This was a raw and emotional write I’ve shared with the permission of my son. If you or your family are affected by mental health issues you can access UK mental health services (including emergency support) here and in the US here, or speak to your doctor.

 

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The Journey #FlashFiction

Photo prompt – Dawn Miller

Him

‘I need to find out who I am,’ she can’t meet my eye.

I want to tell her I know who she is; the love of my life. I want to tell her I’ve spent weeks organising a flash mob to dance her perfect proposal, but I don’t. I watch her leave.

I have my dignity, even if I don’t have her.

Her

I tell him I’m leaving and my heart actually breaks. But he’s been avoiding me. My friends have seen him out with a bunch of girls. I walk away.

I have my dignity, even if I don’t have him.

‘The Journey’ was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word story challenge prompted by the fabulous Rochelle. Do read the other entries and/or post your own story.

Coping with chronic pain – that lonely 3am

Image courtesy of @jontyson

There’s nothing quite as lonely as 3am. The house is quiet; my family asleep. At times like these it’s easy to feel alone. My pelvis is fire, my back screaming in agony each time I shift my position. But I have my blog, words. I can let my pain travel through my fingertips and onto the page. Whether I post this or not, it will be therapeutic to write.

I thought I’d got a handle on my health the past couple years. Along with treatments from a fabulous hospital, I’ve overhauled my diet, take light exercise where I can, meditate daily. My pain had decreased, mobility improved. Lately though there’s been a sense of slipping backwards while trying desperately to cling on to the good days, not let the bad days take over.

Tonight is the worst I have been for a long time. It hurts to move. It hurts to stay still. It’s been an odd day, much to celebrate. My super agent has sold my book rights to Korea, a brand new territory for me – my twenty-fourth. The Date is in Apple’s top 10 biggest selling books for 2018. I put both things on Facebook and instantly received a direct message. ‘You’re having such a good day! You’re living my dream.’

From the outside looking in, my life does seem perfect, except it isn’t. No-ones is.

My evening has been spent upstairs because we don’t have a downstairs toilet and I can’t face going up and down the stairs.

Worries fill my mind – How can I do my Christmas shopping if I can’t get out? Am I going to have to change my weekend plans as it will be uncomfortable to travel? Will I miss my first author Christmas party with my new publisher on Monday? Gradually these thoughts, as thoughts do, become darker. Sharper. Swelling, along with the panic inside me. Am I going to end up in a wheelchair again?

My mind is in overdrive; anxiety over the future overshadowing my present where, relatively speaking I am okay. I am safe.

I am loved.

I reach for my gratitude journal and this is what eventually calms me. Replacing the negatives with positives and really, I have so much to be grateful for, from the strangers who support me online to the dog who snoozes on my bedroom floor who is always overjoyed to see me when he wakes, regardless of my mood.

My list grows and my pain doesn’t feel quite so all consuming anymore. I know soon I shall be able to sleep.

I have a roof over my head, a warm bed. A family who love me. I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

And tomorrow? Tomorrow things will be different because they alway are. The only thing you can rely on is change and I find this comforting because I am certain that just as things can get worse, eventually they will also get better.

This too, shall pass.

Why we should ALL have the same dream as William Tuke #BeKind

This is William Tuke.

In 1796 William used £938 of his own money to offer an alternative to the inhuman lunatic asylums who ‘treated’ disorders with barbaric methods such as chaining people to walls and blood letting.

William’s York retreat offered ‘Moral Treatment’ for patients suffering with mental health problems. This revolutionary treatment was based on kindness, trust, and respect. Warm baths, nutritious foods and exercise were offered as William believed there was a link between physical and mental health. Patients took up gentle hobbies such as sewing.

Patients were encouraged to assist each other and above all, be kind to each other. Paying it forward. The moral treatment gained popularity with experts agreeing it caused ‘organic changes in brain matter.’

Modern day medication has obliterated moral treatment even though recent scientific studies show that helping others boosts mental health and lowers depression.

William had a dream. His dream was to encourage kindness. We should ALL be like William.

Parenting – Swapping Calpol for Vodka

 

It was my birthday over the weekend. I woke to a still house. Silent. First light filtered through a crack in the curtains and shone a spotlight on the empty space at the bottom of the bed where once small children would bounce, clutching handmade cards decorated with indistinguishable drawings.

“Wake up Mummy.”

My heart would be filled with love as I’d eat a breakfast they’d lovingly prepared – “of course smarties taste good with cornflakes”- before unwrapping gifts fashioned from empty yoghurt pots and cardboard toilet roll tubes.

Two of my three children have grown. One has already left home, another due to go to uni in September. 

As I lay there I felt such a fierce longing for simpler times. For sticky marmalade kisses and time that seemed to stretch endlessly. 

Where had their childhood gone?

The day was lovely. I had a fabulous lunch with my whole family and yet still I felt oddly unsettled.

Sometime. Somehow. There’s been a shift in the fabric of my relationship with my older kids and as I watched them leave after dessert, going back to the grown up part of their lives I was not included in, I was inexplicably scared it was all going to unravel. The invisible thread of love that binds me to them might stretch and stretch until one day… would it snap altogether?

And then I got a text – dinner, Mum?

Saturday found us crowded around a table sharing tapas, before heading to a bar and there was another shift in dynamics. A Saturday night drinking cocktails with the people I love most in the world. 

It’s a different stage of parenting, swapping Calpol for vodka. Baby rice for bar snacks, and it wasn’t better, or worse. Just different. And I realised as we hugged at the end of the evening and went our separate ways that the invisible thread is strong enough to span years and miles and oceans and it will always, always remain unbreakable. 

My heart will forever be filled with love.

50 Happy Things 2018: Bloggers Unite to Flood the Internet with Gratitude

 

Hurrah! It’s one of my favourite times of year again – the annual ‘Bloggers flood the internet with gratitude’ co-ordinated by the fabulous Dawn from Tales from the Motherland. If you haven’t joined in before it’s super easy. Set a timer and write a list of things that you have felt grateful for this past year. Full instructions are below. Here’s mine!

 

  1. My children – I made humans – actual humans! They always make me laugh/smile/my heart swell with pride.
  2. My sister – she’s my hero for many reasons.
  3. My husband – often the one who holds everything together while I write ‘just one more page…’. 
  4. My mum – I wouldn’t be here without her. 
  5. My family – It may be getting smaller but they take up a large space in my heart.
  6. My friends – I value them dearly. 
  7. My puppy – he may currently be chewing his way through EVERYTHING but he lifts my day – always. 
  8. My cat – whoever said cats don’t love has never met our affectionate ball of fur. 
  9. The NHS – it’s helped me literally get back on my feet.
  10. A mattress – a sufferer of chronic pain I value a soft place to lay.
  11. A home – a place I can just be.
  12. My garden – I love the outdoors.
  13. Nature – The world is so beautiful if we just stop and pause.
  14. Mindfulness – my practice enables me to appreciate the here and now.
  15. Food – a luxury I never take for granted.
  16. Words – I adore the English language.
  17. Stories – I’m making a career making stuff up – a dream come true.
  18. Water – we turn on taps and voila – we’re incredibly lucky.
  19. Fresh air – I live near the countryside and it’s lovely to just breathe.
  20. Bloggers – such a supportive community.
  21. Charity – we can all do something.
  22. The animal kingdom – It’s humbling observing them in their natural habitat.
  23. Education – my son is off to uni this year & I’m so excited for his future.
  24. Chocolate – Heavenly.
  25. Readers – I love meeting and hearing from those who read my novels.
  26. My publishers who reach an audience with my books. 
  27. My literary agent who has guided me this past year.
  28. Music – I play piano (badly) and love going to gigs.
  29. Creativity – Art, music, writing – it’s all so inspiring.
  30. A dining table. Nothing makes me happier than sharing a good meal with my family.
  31. My gratitude journal – the last thing I write before I go to sleep.
  32. Kindness – no act is too small.
  33. A smile from a stranger often makes my day.
  34. Literary festivals – a chance to hang out with other writers and readers & I spoke at my first events this year. 
  35. Books – my favourite pastime – always.
  36. Wine – a luxury at the end of the day.
  37. Flowers – Watching bees buzz lazily around the borders.
  38. Colour – makes everything seem a little brighter.
  39. Photos – I still print mine out and stick in an album.
  40. A car – not being too mobile I’d be lost without mine.
  41. Stationery – Nothing cheers me up like a notebook.
  42. Cake – baking is therapeutic.
  43. A hug – human contact has the power to heal.
  44. Medicine – I’m incredibly grateful for the advances we have made.
  45. Random acts of kindness.
  46. Memories – Making new ones every day.
  47. Laughter
  48. Time – the greatest gift of all.
  49. Electricity
  50. Mistakes – I’ve learned & grown & I’ll make them again!

Gratitude is so important. Here you can read how and why I keep a gratitude journal every day.

To join in with ’50 things’ set a timer for 15 minutes. Once you start the timer, start your list. The goal is to write things that make you happy, or things you feel grateful for. Don’t think too hard; just write what comes to mind in the time allotted. If you use the numbered mode and just type what comes to mind, it’s easy. When the timer’s done stop writing; finish whatever sentence you’re on. If you haven’t written 50 things, don’t worry. If you have more than 50 things great; you can’t feel too happy or too grateful! Add the photos, links, instructions, etc after you finish the list––the timer doesn’t matter for getting these details down; it applies to the list only. Add your link here.

 

The one thing I loathe about Christmas has taught me this…

There are rolls of sparkly wrapping paper stacked in the corner of my bedroom, a bag of silver bows, shiny red tags. Today, the first of the gifts I ordered from Amazon arrived and I had a fleeting thought I should wrap up the presents as I buy them, before dismissing it instantly. It’s my least favourite job. There’s never enough room cramped around the table and my back screams with pain if I’m hunched on the floor. No matter how careful I am, I can never, ever, locate the end of the Sellotape and making anything beyond a square shape look enticing is far outside my very limited capabilities.

With a sinking feeling, I totted up the amount of presents I’ve yet to buy, calculating the amount I’ll have to wrap, until a slow and sickening dawning crept over me.

Yet again, there will be less under the tree than last year.

The children are older, two of them adults now, and the enormous pile of plastic, noisy, toys we used to accumulate are long gone. Instead, a sleek gift-wrapped gadget or two will replace all the smaller, cheaper presents, they’d shake and sniff, hazarding wild guesses before excitedly tearing off the paper to see if they were right.

It’s not only my growing family responsible for diminishing the pile of presents under our tree, there’s the inevitable, heart-wrenching loss we’ve experienced. One less person to buy for. One empty space at our dining table. One less cracker to pull. And suddenly having lots to wrap doesn’t feel like the worst thing, having nothing to wrap does.

Tonight I shall pour a glass of red wine before sliding off the plastic coating from my rolls of paper and think how grateful I am to still have people I love to buy gifts for, and the money to buy them, and you never know, my most loathed job, might just become my favourite.