The Unedited Truth About Parenting A Child With Mental Illness

The ball dropped. Just like she knew it would. And she was fucking terrified.

Four years ago, she put her life on hold, stopped all things, to save her daughter. Therapy, medication, time and time and more time. It was worth it, of course. But she wasn’t good at compartmentalizing – she was consumed and could not focus on anything else. For almost 18 months, her memories of her marriage, her other children, her life are gray and fuzzy and incomplete. She kept them going, obviously – she was still married, her children still fed and clothed and cared for – but she did it as though in a dream, robotically moving through the motions to make life work, but without joy or engagement. There were no date nights, no conversations with her husband that didn’t revolve around her daughter, her fears and worries, the juggling of schedules and bills to make things work. She worried about her other children, but primarily in the context of knowing she was neglecting them and wondering what long-term trouble she was courting by keeping them at arm’s length on the shore while she rescued the drowning one. But she simply couldn’t find another way through it. She panicked her way to the other side of those tumultuous two years, only to find that it took another two years to methodically, purposefully, rebuild her life.

Two years of exhausting chaos followed by two years of hard fucking work. Two years of purposefully focusing on her marriage, her children, and herself. She forced herself to go the gym, to give herself permission to take time for caring about her health and her mental wellness. She joined a support group and was honest and transparent with them. She was vulnerable with her friends and people in her church. She read books on parenting and marriage. She and her husband looked at each other honestly and discussed if it was worth rebuilding, what it would take to dissolve, what it would cost. They fought and fought and fought – fought to find something worth saving, and fought to save it. She felt that she took on the emotional exhaustion of most of that fighting. He was able to put it away after each discussion while she wrapped it around her shoulders and carried it with her day and night. She struggled to find laughter, found it in tiny small spaces of getting to know her children again, the impromptu dance parties after dinner with her daughter, texts from her oldest, and random science facts spurted from her youngest.

She found herself stronger, and yet weary. Exhausted and elated at turns by the growth, by the work, by the day’s drudgery. And piece by heartbreaking piece, she put herself back together. She found the previous version of herself was outdated, rebuilt herself, her marriage, reconstructed her views of the world. She fell in love with this new self she had created, this new life, this new space. She poured out this love into others and found joy in small things. She looked around at the world and found it beautiful.

And then the ball dropped. Another child that needed saving.

And she truly didn’t know if she was strong enough to do this again. She was terrified to find out if she was strong enough to look out at what she knew was ahead and push through. Strong enough to save her child, her marriage, her own life, to do it all again. But there was no choice.

The ball had dropped. And as she dove down to chase it, she was fucking terrified.

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