My mother always told me when I was feeling like a crap mother, a feeling that I think is a pretty universal one. I had this feeling even in the halcyon days when life was going OK. (Obviously a lesson in noticing and recognising when things are going good that I was too dim to understand at the time.) that motherhood does not give you an angel’s wings at the point of delivery.
This is very true and having a kid with mental health problems challenges parenting ability. It is parenting on steroids. It is parenting without the benefit of shared universal experience.
Everyone has their funny stories of their children and the great potty training disaster. Of embarrassing stories of them asking the loudly in the supermarket queue why that lady has a moustache, you standing there making a swift sidewards glance hoping that it will actually be a man with long hair rocking a beard and a Jesus complex, never is. Not so many are forth coming about the experiences of being with the kid who is mentally ill.
It is a weird experience because despite the difficulties, life is pretty normal in many ways and there are many funny experiences, experiences that we in our house call ‘fun with your hallucinations’.
My kid has many self derogatory and denigrating voices and the running commentary, I think this is fairly typical but sometimes the voices and hallucinations can be a little more light hearted. Their hallucinations were mostly hideously frightening but sometimes, just sometimes they could be funny, laugh out loud funny and influenced by things going on in the world, on TV, movie posters, adverts.
It is hard to convince someone that the voices and other symptoms are products of their imagination, that they are not other and only have the same knowledge that they have. When the voices are all consuming they must seem as if they are coming from somewhere else because even in a person’s most disordered times they must wonder why they would be so unkind to themselves. But then distorted perceptions are a very big feature of being mentally unwell.
For us it has worked by recognising these symptoms and discussing them, it helps as anyone who has a mental health issue seems to be also gifted with an innate ability to hide it. Every day is an Oscar winning performance of acting ‘normal’ of trying to keep it together, to try to have conversations with other people when the voices in your head are screaming at each other and you. When you are seeing weird stuff that is scary and just not there. It is knackering.
Being an inherently lazy person and also having a massive need to know what is going in their head, knowing kind of feels that you can reduce the risks and maybe see that train coming – it does not always work but at least it feels like there is some level of control and anticipation available, we took the route of acknowledging the symptoms and checking in with what the voices were up to. It is a whole world of weird.
We were told that the voices and hallucinations are a stress response so therefore when less stressed the voices were less nasty. Therefore, they are at their happiest when on holiday.
We like the seaside, we go body boarding, I am a great advocate of any exercise that can be done lying down and being of a lardy persuasion we are all able to bob about in the sea in April for hours without a wetsuit, although the invention of a rash vest is a great thing for hiding scars.
There is the checking in as to whether anyone else can see something, ‘no’ we cannot see Jean Claude Van Damme lying on the bonnet of the car, ‘no’ that pink crab sidling across the stones and waving is also not real, ‘yes’, that noise is a car alarm going off in the distance.
There is amusement in the most peculiar situations and although they are laughs that others don’t get and looked slightly po-faced when you try to share an amusing anecdote, such as when they are bored the voices take part in the Weakest Link and Michelle and Barrack Obama eat cheese sandwiches after yoga.
It gets us through the day and sometimes laughing at the absurdity of it all can pull us through the more grim moments.