I’ll be honest, I’ve started and stopped this week’s post a number of times. Every draft I put together wasn’t quite right, so I’d walk away and come back thinking I’d figured it out. The end result? 3 separate drafts. All of which should be great blog posts, mind you, but they’re just not right for today.
So, what are we going to talk about today? Truth. Specifically how telling the truth about our illness affects us, our friends, partners, and most importantly, our kids.
For those of you who are new
I’ve written about talking to my own kids about mental illness. Last February, I explained to my daughter why I was in the hospital, and every visit was full of frank discussions about mental health. Surrounded by people who were all going through their own struggles, it was easy to share and helped to show that it isn’t just her mom that is ill.
To be fair, though, there was no way to get around it. Kids know when something’s up, and my daughter is no exception. She’d noticed my mood in the weekend before I went to the hospital, and she knew it was serious by the way her dad and Morgan were constantly watching me. She knew. So trying to pretend everything was just fine wouldn’t have ended well.
I’ve touted the importance to telling our kids the truth when it comes to our own mental health. After all, they deserve to know (in an age appropriate way) what’s going on in our lives, especially when it affects them so deeply. But what does this truth look like and how does it affect our lives?
The truth and kids
Lets start where I started. I mean, this is a blog about parenting and mental illness, right? What’s more critical to being a parent than kids?
When it comes to parenting with mental illness, there may be no harder discussion than talking about our own mental health. We have a hard enough time telling our friends and partners about it without feeling like a burden. How much more so for our children? And yet, it’s important.
As I said above, kids know. If we don’t tell them or pretend everything is fine, they’ll know we’re lying and they may grow to resent us for it. And yet, there is a fine line between educating and putting the burden of our health on them.
It is possible for kids to feel that they are responsible for taking care of us when we’re ill. And anyone who’s had a major bout of depression will know just how draining that can be. Fighting a battle that doesn’t seem to have an end is exhausting enough for us, let alone our kids. We need to be sure that we’re not putting that responsibility on them, and even work to stop it if they seem to be taking on too much themselves.
Does that mean they shouldn’t help at all? Not necessarily…we just have to be smart about it. With Eileen, I know that “helping” means a lot to her, but we’ve also discussed that hugs are lovely, and they’re a great idea when I’m depressed, but they won’t fix me any more than chicken soup will suddenly cure a cold.
The truth and our partners/friends
While talking to our kids might seem like the harder task, in all honesty, I feel talking to friends and family is a little more challenging. Kids are young and learning. We have a chance to educate them and mold the way they respond to these kinds of illnesses. If we’re lucky, they’ll grow to be compassionate and understanding when someone they love admits a mental illness.
Adults, though, have already spent years forming their own thoughts and feelings, and those are not necessarily helpful.
We currently live in a world where people are speaking out about their personal struggles and fighting to educate others on what it’s like, and that’s great. But we also live in a world where those with mental illnesses are dramatized or used for comedic effect (think Sheldon, from The Big Bang Theory). The result? A lot of people grow up with a very distorted view of what this is like.
What does that mean in terms of our partners and friends, especially those that don’t share our struggles? If we’re lucky, they’ll work to understand and support us. But it’s also likely they’ll get frustrated and/or bored with playing the sympathetic, supportive friend after a few days. After all, most characters they see are either “healed” by the end of the movie, in prison, or dead. They will never see what it’s like to exist in a mundane, day to day world of chronic illness.
And frankly, it’s exhausting.
Still, if we don’t give them the chance to understand, we don’t give them the chance to learn, grow, and truly be a part of our lives.
The truth and us
With all these risks, then, why do we need to talk about what’s going on? Why would we want to burden others with our problems?
It’s a fair question.
A lot of mental health advocates will tell you “you’re not a burden” and that you should tell people so they can help support you. I won’t say that. By it’s very nature, you are sharing a struggle and asking them to exert themselves to support you. Whether that’s through education, care-taking, or anything else, you are putting some amount of pressure on them.
You will lose friends. I can almost guarantee it. You will exhaust people sometimes, I guarantee that, too. But you will also find people who want to be there, who want to learn, to understand, and that’s critical for any of us with a chronic condition.
When we tell our loved ones what our world is really like, we give them a chance to join us there. And more importantly, we give ourselves a chance to get help. Telling the truth can be liberating, because we no longer have to feel hidden and ashamed. We don’t have to create some wild excuse as to why we can’t go out, or why we need to wash our hands immediately after someone touches us. We open the dialogue and say “This is part of my world.” We have the chance to say “This doesn’t work for me. Can we find another way to say hello?”
We get to be truly honest. And, to me, that will always be worth it.
I love you all. Thank you for letting me share my world with you. Thank you for helping me shoulder the burden of this life. You are all amazing.