Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Stages

Stage 1

Rescue-the stage most of start at/are born into. When born into the rescue mode a shadow child is taught early that if they are just more of this, less of that, than their mi parent will finally stop the madness. We are put into the role of God, actually. Talk about a heavy burden! Some of us are slowly indoctrinated into the role after a parent’s divorce or the death of their spouse. We spend inordinate amounts of time trying to rescue our parent after their repeated suicide attempts, being fired, another relationship breaking up, etc. We fully believe that THIS time will be the end, THIS time our parent will get help and stick with it, and that THIS time they will see the lengths we will go to in order to prove how much we love them.

Stage 2

Anger-After repeated crazy making many of us get good and angry. We are angry that our own lives have been put on hold while we attempt to help our parent put their life back together again…..and again……and again. The anger starts slowly, simmering like a stew until it is hot and thick. It’s able to coat everything, even the parts of our lives that have nothing to do with our ill parent. Our anger can’t be shown to our parent. The capacity to put themselves in our shoes just isn’t there, especially if your parent has a personality disorder. So we boil over and make a mess of everything else.

Stage 3

Indifference-At this stage we decide what will be will be. Our tanks are empty, the lady at Target thinks we have some sort of Kleenex fetish, and we just don’t care. Let them die, let them be committed. We wash our hands of it.

Stage 4

Guilt-I struggled with this one for a long time. It was more than trying to rescue mom. I felt bad as a human being when I walked away from someone that was obviously in great pain and turmoil. I constantly asked myself how I could live with myself if mom actually did kill herself. Eventually the guilt becomes overwhelming and we start back at Stage 1.

Stage 5

Knowledge-Some of us never learn that our parent is mi. For those of us that are fortunate to learn this, knowledge becomes the turning point. We begin to realize our parent is ill, that we really aren’t the cause of their unhappiness nor are we responsible for making it go away. Knowledge is the key. Knowledge teaches us boundaries, it teaches us to forgive ourselves, and it opens our eyes to what we missed out on.

Stage 6

Grief-The knowledge of what we missed as children usually hits a person like a ton of bricks. The fact is, because most if not all of us spent so much time pretending (but not believing) that everything was OK, the initial unveiling of what we went thru is extremely traumatic. When the blinders are finally off the feelings of grief can be overwhelming. We are forced to see things for what they really are-screwy, often times abusive, and tragic. It’s a Lifetime movie and it’s our life.

Stage 7

Rebuilding-Rebuilding was and is to me the most exhilarating yet terrifying experience. Suddenly I had the knowledge that I was OK and that I had the brains to pick out something as simple as a bedspread. I had never done that before and it took me a year to find “the right one” but I did it. I felt a thrill when I bought a pink lipstick and completely bypassed the brown shades I had been told were the only shades for me. I cried when my husband and I bought our first grown up piece of furniture a month ago. I’ve gone back to school, I’ve repaired my relationship with friends I let go, and I’ve gotten rid of the right friends I believed I had to have.

Rebuilding is a heady experience. In some ways we go thru the stages of childhood at warp speed. Suddenly intoxicated with being able to have things our way, we can be a bit insufferable. The teenage years most kids use to find who they are arrive on our doorstep when most of us are in our mid 20’s and on up. We may look immature to those who don’t know us and in a lot of ways we are. Trying to go thru the stage of defining yourself at the point most people settle down is a bit of a juggle yet it can be done. It has to be done.

Stage 8

Acceptance-This doesn’t mean we accept our parent’s continued abuse or manipulations, It means we accept they are ill. We accept that we can’t save them. We accept that to want help is one thing but that to accept is quite another. For many of us we accept that our parent may quite possibly never be well. It’s acceptance and a little bit of self forgiveness when we can detach from the tantrums and tears without rushing in to “help.”

Stage 9

Happiness-Arriving at happiness doesn’t mean Glenda waved her wand and all our problems are solved. Our happiness comes from the fact that we know we are survivors. That simple fact, that we survived and are not the cause of our parent’s misery, is priceless. Bad days will happen, hard times never go away but…..we have the knowledge that we can go on. We have gone on. We will go on. Come what may it’s all up to us and we know we can handle it. Our life is our own. We can walk away from the chaos without guilt or anger and finally put our happiness first after a lifetime of making it ride backseat to our parent.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Myths & Facts About Children of the Mentally Ill

I learned of a new group advocating for the mentally ill. It is called "What a difference." I visited the website and I have to say I like how they humanize mental illness. So many people believe that mental illness is either hopeless or a character flaw. Why, I don't know. We don't punish people with diabetes or cancer yet we punish the mentally ill? But, that is another entry.

What struck me as I read the website was that nothing really exists on how friends can help a child (adult or a minor) cope with a mentally ill parent. I have great friends that have a parent with BPD, schizophrenia, and depression. They are invaluable to me. Our shared experiences let me know that I am not alone, and that they too have moments of being angry. Angry at the abuse we go thru, angry at society's expectation that simply giving birth to a child means a mentally ill parent has some right to abuse me, and that I have no rights to not accept abuse.

The most important friendship I have is with a friend who does not have a mentally ill parent. She can't always say "I know what you are feeling/talking about," etc. She often disagrees with me. I treasure the simple words she says to me: "You don't deserve that." "Tell me more about that" "I believe in you"

It is so important that the children of the mentally ill are not forgotten. While this new ad campaign gives me hope that some day soon more attention will be paid to the children of the mentally ill progress is not being made fast enough. Too many of us are caught in a web of guilt, self recrimination, and despair. Too many of us, like myself, turn to drugs or booze or other self destructive behaviors because we don't have a support network of friends.

I believe a lot of that has to do with some commonly held, yet erroneous beliefs, about children of the mentally ill. Belief are a few situations I have encountered, and some words to think about.

Myth: All children of the mentally ill are mentally ill themselves.
Fact: Not even close to being true. Some of us develop a mental illness. Some don't. Simply having a mentally ill parent doesn't mean it's ok to write my feelings or emotions off. It frustrates me to no end when people who know my mom is mentally ill write my bad days off because "you know her mom is mentally ill and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." We are all crabby at times. All of us have times of wanting to just stay home and have alone time. Yet, when I am crabby or just want to stay home I am being "difficult like my mother" or "trying to isolate like my mother."

Myth: A mentally ill parent needs their children in order to recover
Fact: Recovery from mental illness happens when the person suffering wants to recover. I hate it when I read about people commenting on Brittany Spears and how she "needs her children." When did it become OK for an unstable adult to put a child thru trauma simply because they "need" their child? What about what the child needs-stability, predictability, safety. Again, we are sacrificing the child's well being in order to placate the ill parent. I don't know Ms. Spears and I don't mean to mock her, honestly. What I want people to understand is that a child is not a therapeutic tool or a carrot to hold in front of mi parent in order to get them into recovery or to make them behave.

Myth: It is the duty of anyone with a mentally ill parent to take care of their parent.
Fact: Nope. Not even close. In the same way that Al Anon advocates taking care of you first, children of the mentally ill must do the same. This may mean not being available for every crisis. It may mean a parent has to find an alternate means of transportation to appointments. It doesn't mean we love our mi parent any less. It means that I didn't cause my parents mental illness, I can't cure it, and I can't control it. It means that in order to recover, a mi parent must take their recovery into their own hands. It means that asking a child of a mi parent to sacrifice their own life is asking too much.