As it is Mental Health Week I thought I’d share a little about some of my own mental health journey, as a dad to two autistic sons….
A few years back there was very little that interested me about life. Little that made me happy, or that gave me any kind of excitement. You see, Jude was self-harming every single day, and with the heartbreak of watching that, seeing him so upset, it meant that nothing else seemed important.
If I had a night off to see friends, I’d feel like I was going through the motions, Faking it. Jude would still be self-harming when I got home, or when he woke up in the middle of the night, what was there to be happy about?
I didn’t care about work. I couldn’t get excited by any of our successes, and I din’t really care about any of our problems. I had two boys at home who were dealing with REAL problems every single day, a minor customer complaint was irrelevant.
Unsurprisingly, when you live that way, feeling like that for an extended period of time (especially when combined with very little sleep each night) things can start to go pretty wrong. They did for me, and all I did was bury my head and keep going. I kept it all inside.
Not only was I living with the stresses of life that every parent lives with; of trying to do my best to raise and provide for my family, but I also had a long list of worries that were never far from my mind.
- Will my boys ever speak?
- Will they ever make a friend?
- Are we following the right therapy for them?
- What happens once school is over? What are they going to do each day?
- What happens if I get sick?
- How am I going to cope with Jude’s meltdowns as he gets bigger and stronger?
- How can I stop him hurting himself every single day?
- What happens if he ends up in hospital?
- Who’s going to look after them when I die?
On the many long, sleepless nights, these thoughts would plague my mind. And the worst thing was I mainly kept them inside and tried to deal with them alone.
What made a huge difference for me was starting this blog. I’d always found these issues too hard to talk about, too emotional, so I tried writing them down instead.
I’m not saying this is the right option for everyone, but the point is what made things better for me was finding a way to share what was going on inside my head. Taking what was bottled up inside of me and finding the courage to talk about it, first through my blog, and then much more in person with friends and family. Instantly it made me realise I wasn’t alone.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t still have a lot of these challenges.
As Jude’s life has become much easier so has mine. Yet this year has seen Tommy have an increasingly tough time, and there’s been days where I’ve started to feel the same.
It’s been hard to find anything that brings me joy when my child is struggling so much, being so violent and destructive. It’s easy for his struggles to become all consuming, to take over my life too, and some days I’ve felt myself getting pretty low.
Often as parents we can spend so much time and energy caring for our kids, fighting for the support they need, and worrying about the endless challenges they face, that we neglect our own mental health. But if we don’t look after ourselves, who’s going to look after our kids when we eventually burn out and are unable to?
Which is why it’s so important to find a way. To be able to separate and switch off (even for a short time) ‘you’ as a parent/carer and ‘you’ as a regular adult.
We need to put the guilt and worry aside and do something for ourselves. Something that puts a smile on our face, recharges us, and gives us the strength that you need to be able to do everything we can for our child.
There’s nothing to be ashamed of to admit we’re struggling. Nothing to be ashamed of to admit we’re unhappy, that we’re finding it hard to cope. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad parent, that you don’t accept your kids for who they are, or love them any less.
Life isn’t always easy. Sometimes we just have to admit we need some help. The first step to feeling better is to ask for that help.