Due to the fact that I am out early tomorrow, and likely to be out all day long. I have decided to answer tomorrow’s question – set by my daughter as part of the “Questions To A Parent With Mental Illness” Challenge – this evening.
I remember beginning my answer to your previous question with something along the lines of, “Of all the questions you could ask me, or indeed have asked me, this is one of the easiest to answer.”
Well honey, the same can’t be said about this question LOL. And I simply knew, even before I started to formulate my answer to you in my mind, that this was going to be a tough one.
And I also knew that the very first thing that I wanted to say, within this my answer, is that because we are all unique, the exact way everyone’s mental illnesses or poor mental health presents itself is going to be different. As is the way that they; handle it, manage it, cope with it, or even simply struggle through it.
Of course there will be some similarities experienced. But, trust me honey, there will also be some things which are unique to that person and/or indeed that person’s circumstances of life.
And this is very important for me to say. Firstly because it clearly explains that my answers may be right for me, but not for others. And secondly because it also opens up the consideration that – due to our circumstances of life ever changing – the way in which our mental illnesses can present themselves – or indeed the influence or impact that they can have – can change.
Because of this, as I am sure you can understand, there is no one single way – no super or magical approach – which is going to always help or always prove successful.
But then honey, I am pretty sure that you already knew that. Just as I am pretty sure that my mental health often and pretty much continually fluctuates and that some ‘episodes’ (and you already know about these) can be far worse than others.
Which leaves me with the question, “How do I – as the father who loves you, and who knows how very deeply you love me and want to help me – truly help you to help me?”
It really is such an incredibly tough question to answer honey. But I can, I think (or at least I really hope) offer you some general answers. Even if I can’t offer you actual specifics…
First and foremost – and this one goes out to every single person who reads this – Always remember that I never asked for these mental illnesses and I cannot always control the way in which they affect me. So because of this it is essential that you always try to filter – in your own mind and heart – those behaviors, those actions, those attitudes and statements which are me and which are the me being influenced (even controlled) by my mental illness.
And this is essential in two ways…
The first way is because, although I love you with all of my heart, I am just not always able to love you with all of my mind. And no matter how much I love you, my mental illnesses love neither you, nor me. And they therefore have no respect for either of us.
And this is important, because it (and thus also, at times, the me within the grip of it) will often have little to no filters – often little to no comprehension or understanding – when it comes to what it does (and thus I do) or how this is affecting you.
Honey, in my answer to the second question you asked me within this challenge, I made the statement, “Never take ownership of that which should not belong to you and never keep to yourself that which you should share.”
And this is vitally important when it comes to both my mental illnesses and the resultant actions, statements, behaviors. Because my love always belongs to you but my resultant; thoughts, actions, statements and behaviors sometimes will definitely not belong to either you nor indeed the real (mindful) me.
Children and loved ones of those of us who suffer from mental illness can often face the almost impossible task of seeing beyond such behaviors and statements, and loving, and knowing themselves loved by, the person gripped within that mental illness.
The above having been said, I have always personally believed that although I suffer from mental illnesses, that doesn’t give me (and indeed shouldn’t give me) a total ‘free ride’, (doesn’t remove all my responsibilities) when it comes to my learning to try to combat those negative or unhealthy behaviors or statements which sometimes result from my mental illness.
And this brings me to the second way in which it is essential that you try and filter out – in your own mind and heart – those things which are caused by my mental illnesses.
Trust me honey, you cannot even begin to fully appreciate the amount of despondency, guilt, and even self-hatred, which those of us who suffer from mental illness can sometimes feel when we learn of some of the ways that we have behaved. Or indeed some of the things that we have said, when we have been experiencing really bad or dark episodes of mental health.
So turning these things against us – which I am pleased to say is something that you have never done – can be so harmful and so hurtful and so counter-productive to our mental health and the chances of recovery.
That is not to say that we do not need to hear to know about them, because I truly believe that we do. But it is all about timing and approach and indeed the motivations behind making us aware of these things.
Remember that statement which began, “Never take ownership of that which should not belong to you”? Well the second part of that statement was “and never keep to yourself that which you should share.”
Again, I can only speak for myself here. (Although I am certain others will also experience this) But there is nearly always a point – when my mental health improves after a bad episode (no matter how bad that episode may have been) when I sit in complete fear of what I might have said or done during that episode. What damage or hurt may have been caused.
So by your lovingly and carefully sharing those things which have happened and which are worth sharing, you can remove this fear and not only improve my chance of recovery, but also limit the chances of my immediately crashing back into another episode.
Ok, this is already a very long answer and there is so much I want to share with you.
The next thing which I wanted to offer – by way of things that you can do to help when my mental health is bad – is to encourage you to understand (and always bear in mind) that I may not always know my mental health is bad.
In fact, even when I do, I may be at that point where I am so frustrated at myself, so despondent, that any suggestion of help is interpreted as criticism or a reminder of my own weaknesses or my own inadequacies or perceived failings.
As hard as it may be to say this – for every good parent so very much wants to be just that, a good parent. I have to accept that there are times when I will not be able to be that good parent. In truth there will be times when I will not be able to be any parent at all. Times when I will in fact be childlike. If not in my actions (although sometimes that is one way my mental illnesses present themselves in me) certainly in my capabilities.
At times like these, you will need to not only understand that I not capable of being a parent to you, but that actually you need to become the responsible one (perhaps even parent-like towards me).
Honey, at times like these I need you to love both me and yourself enough to take on the role you need to take on. And in the process of doing so to try not to rob me of either my dignity or indeed freedom or ability to return to being your parent once my mental health has improved.
So many times I have witnessed children limiting their parents ability to parent, not because they don’t want that parent to be a parent, but because they are trying to protect that parent or that parent’s mental health. And again, it comes down to never failing to share that which you should share.
Allowing a parent with mental illness to be a parent when they are able and yet knowing when to step in – even trying to find out when to step in, really can be very difficult honey, and I know that.
For example, very often (and again I am speaking about my own mental health here) despite thinking everything is and has been fine. And despite giving you all the assurances that everything is fine. Because I believed they were or are. I will suddenly become aware that something has slipped. Something has gone wrong.
Perhaps – and this is for me a fairly common one – I will get a call saying that I haven’t been paying a bill for some time. And this, as you no doubt know, can truly unsettle me. But it can also cause me to check other bills and other things and to suddenly realize that actually my mental health – although I truly thought it was fine – has been declining for some time. And this, and the sudden realization that I have messed all or many of my finances up yet again, can send me hurtling into another episode.
So honey, always feel free – and please do – (whilst remembering to afford me my dignity and my freedom to be your parent when I am able) regularly ask me about things like my finances. And please do gently, lovingly and respectfully, (which I know you always do) push for me to check. Instead of simply telling you what I think or believe.
OK. Now I really am getting so very self-conscious of the length of this answer to your question. So I am going to close this answer now, by saying something which is – to me – more important that anything else that I have said so far in this response.
I am very much aware that in my answers to your questions I seem to often be repeating things that I have said in earlier answers. This was by no means intentional and I promise you I never sat here writing those things thinking “Oh good, I can use that again later.” And I know that sometimes having a parent saying the same things over and over again can become monotonous, even tedious.
But honey truth, is truth and some things are so very important that they and stand being repeated. In one of my earlier answers I made the statement, “that my mental illnesses sometimes (even often) robs me of the freedom and the ability to be the me (even the Dad) that I want to or should be.” And I went on to say that, “I never want for my mental illnesses to rob you of the ability or freedom to be the you (even the daughter) that you want to or should be.”
Those statements are important because they emphasize this one single and most important truth and one which I never want for you to lose sight of.
Honey. Everything I have said in this answer so far, has been about being able to see, to know, and to hold onto the me (your dad) that is often hidden behind my mental illnesses and the me so often caught up in and controlled by my mental illnesses.
I know only too well that I can’t fully control or remove my mental illnesses ability to sometimes rob me from being the me (the dad) that I want to or should be. But you can control it from robbing you of being the you (the daughter) you want to or should be.
And by doing that one thing – by refusing to allow my mental illnesses to rob you of the freedom and the ability to be the you (even and especially the daughter) you want to and should be, no matter how hard that may at times be, then trust me you will be the biggest help you could ever be. And trust me honey, that is exactly what you have been doing so far.
With all my love,