Parenting a child with mental health struggles is hard. Let me say that again – hard.
What I never could have imagined is how much I would learn about myself in my journey to keep my daughter in a healthy place. Also a surprise to me is how this “recovery” period can be just as taxing as the crisis moments.
I’m sharing some of my family’s story in the hope that it will help others in similar circumstances.
Currently, my nearly 20-year-old daughter is in a good place. Probably her best place yet, including her childhood.
While she is still struggling to find a dating relationship that lifts her to her best potential, her current boyfriend is a step up from the violent abuser that came before him.
My first-born is a high school graduate. I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to say that. She works two part-time jobs. I’ve had days where I didn’t know if one would ever by a possibility.
My precious angel has learned the necessity of counseling and medication. With that help, she smiles more.
Her bones are covered now, her clothes no longer hanging on a starving frame. And we count the time since her last infliction of self-harm, grateful for each step further away from that addiction.
With this level of success, and please do not misunderstand me, this is great success in our world, it is easy for those on the outside of our home to wonder why I am still tired, why I am still fearful and why I can’t just turn loose.
The answer is simply that I am still at war with mental illness.
Each day is a fight to teach my child, the legal adult that she is, how to lead a life that will keep her safe.
Like every mother, I hope for happiness for my daughter. But my kid is darn lucky to be alive; before I focus on her happiness, I’ve got to do my best to make sure she has all the tools to stay living.
What I’ve learned is that my own mental health has changed and requires intentional management.
During the periods of my daughter’s deepest struggles, I was in bed at every available moment, but I rarely slept. My hypervigilance as I tried to stop her dangerous decision-making kept my brain in complete overdrive.
But now that we are in that “good place,” I am still haunted by the darkness that we have walked through. I am afraid that the “good place” won’t last.
My stress hormones flow as readily as ever before as I strive to stay one step ahead.
My feet hit the ground running early each morning, and my rest does not begin until the alarm chime on our front door alerts me that my girl is home.
The little things matter; they are essential, in fact. Regular checks of the medication boxes occur daily. I must check to make sure that my daughter remembered to take her medication and that the appropriate doses are in the daily slots.
I will eventually teach her to fill them herself, but I cannot rush that. Right now, what she can handle is the discipline of maintaining regular dosages, and I rejoice in that.
I still help my daughter manage her time. I am fully aware that it sounds absurd to most who hear that I follow up to see that she is awake in the mornings, but it is where we are.
There was a time, not long ago, when I woke her from a deep sleep every morning. So again, I gladly embrace her progress, though it might be slow.
My “grown” daughter still has a curfew and a GPS tracker on her phone. While I realize that seems silly, it is our reality. I am helping to keep her safe until she can fully manage her own safety.
It is true that, even as my daughter becomes healthier, I am still tired and I am still fearful. My brain is still in overdrive as I weigh carefully when and how to help my child attempt and master skills that come easily to her peers.
I seek counseling for myself as I forge this unknown territory. And I make mistakes each and every day.
Although having a child challenged by mental illness is not what I imagined, I refuse to let it be “her problem.” Our family is in this together.
While it is not what I planned, it is a life that has taught me so much, drawn me closer to the One who created all of us and most certainly strengthened me as a minister.
It is a life that has opened my eyes to the needs of not only my daughter, but also many others.
Kim Divelbiss is minister to children and families and day school director at NorthHaven Church in Norman, Oklahoma.