The state of mental healthcare in this country is atrocious. I can only say that now after having lived in it for the last 18 months. I liken it to driving in a snowstorm with no chains on your tires and little to no visibility on the road ahead of you. It’s scary. You feel alone and totally ill-equipped. It’s a system of crisis management and it’s hard to get out ahead of it.
I’m a mom and president of my own business. I have 2 teens and my life was going along pretty well until COVID hit and my kiddos started distance learning. My younger one felt isolated and trapped at home. Shortly before the start of 8th grade, we caught one of our kids huffing toxic aerosols. We chalked it up to boredom and experimental teen behavior. Boy, were we wrong!
We started psychotherapy right away but the only options available AND covered by our insurance were via Zoom. “Oh great,” I thought, “more screen time for our kids; just what they need.” Apparently, we weren’t the only parents having trouble with their teens. Sometimes, it was 4 weeks until we could get the next appointment. As nice as the therapist was, we saw little to no improvement in my kiddo’s mental health. And over the next year, things did not improve and at times got worse.
Depression and anxiety led to suicide attempts, incidents of self-harm, and overdosing on over-the-counter medicines. We locked up everything we could think of that could be dangerous including Sharpies, kitchen knives, all medicines, alcohol, paint cans, fire starters, scissors, and more. We were in emergency rooms, acute care centers, partial hospitalization programs, and residential treatment centers. We were contending with psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, insurance carriers, and ongoing med changes. Our teen was tight-lipped and shut down emotionally so it was anyone’s guess what caused the original emotional wounding and the downward spiral we were all experiencing. All we wanted to do was help and yet we felt so helpless.
So much of my energy was wrapped up in how to help our teens get through this life-threatening crisis. My body was in its own high-stress state of emergency and regularly letting me know it couldn’t sustain this heightened state of stress for the long term. We were on a roller coaster ride in which good news turned bad, turned good, again and again.
Over the year we continued to hear from friends and professionals, “This is a long journey.” “Your teen won’t come home fixed.” “You better settle in for the long haul.” “Relapses are common.” Talk about feeling dejected! “There must be a way to get to the other side of this,” I thought.
Meanwhile, there were bills coming in and I couldn’t simply stop working. In fact, at times, work was a respite from the chaos that comes with supporting a kid with mental health struggles. I could control my outcomes at work. I could finish a project and move on to the next. I could turn my attention to my client’s struggles. It’s so much easier to coach others on their issues than it is to address your own messy struggles.
What has helped me get through this wild ride is to:
- Trust my gut. Remember, if something feels wrong, it probably is. Get curious and start asking questions.
- Build a network of professionals I trust and supportive friends and co-workers (especially those who have been down a similar path).
- Not put myself last. Figure out what regular self-care looks like and do it. Take time off as needed.
- Use what I am learning about mental health to educate and support others.
- Take 1 day at a time, 1 thing at a time, and trust that that is enough.
Mental health challenges are messy and they show up whenever they show up. Sometimes you can take action to help and other times all you can do is be present for the struggle. I’ve learned that not every crisis is a life-threatening emergency. I’ve learned to accept my kid in their current state and not wish them to be more or different. I’ve learned that everyone has a unique life to lead; and my role is to present opportunities to my kids and love them with all my heart but in the end it’s their life and they get to choose their path.