Wednesday, 10 October 2018

You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf

World Mental Health Day is an opportunity to talk about a topic that is still considered shameful by many. It is still uttered in hushed tones and avoided altogether in some communities. While we experience an upturn in young people reporting anxiety and depression we also need to offer support for these issues. A fellow adopter shared an article the other day about how anxiety can manifest as anger in children. This can be so difficult for all involved. The child has no explanation for why they are so angry / aggressive. The parent is frustrated by behaviour that makes no sense. Other adults just see a kid playing up and might make unhelpful remarks that add to the frustration and anger. I mention this because my children's school has introduced mindfulness sessions. If they have an incident of behaviour that falls short of the school policy they attend mindfulness during playtime instead of detention. It is an acknowledgement that children's mental health is important and I appreciate this more than I can say.

I've practised yoga with my boys since they were very young and I check in with them regularly about their feelings and wellbeing. They are used to me asking if they are hungry, tired or sleepy, but I also ask about their feelings. I want them to grow up knowing it is ok to be sad and to be open and honest about their feelings. If I don't give them the space for this how can I expect them to function in a world that asks them for so much ? There are times when I can see that they need quiet and space. Sometimes one of them needs to run around to use up some energy and the other needs to just lie down quietly and unwind. I have the luxury of being able to assess what they need and we have outdoor space for the running off energy and quiet indoor space for relaxing and resting.
Maybe I am more tuned into their mental health because of all the assessments and training we underwent in order to adopt. It's possible that my being at home with my children (which I appreciate is again not a situation we can all afford) meant I picked up on the nuances of attitude and behaviour that I might otherwise miss. In fact I think it is more that I had mental health issues as a child and I struggled to maintain 'normality' in my family or at school. As a result I pick up on any small sign of concern or worry. Of course that might be a symptom of my own anxiety.

Blue Bear has thrown his toys down the stairs. Is that a tantrum or is it to put off going to bed as he has nightmares ?

Brown Bear keeps going to the toilet during meals. Is it disruptive behaviour or an eating disorder ?

Blue Bear screams at night, but is still asleep. Is it a bad dream or a trauma from his early life ?

Brown Bear keeps making random noises for no reason. Is he just annoying or is it a sign of anxiety ?
I had no language to describe my depression as a child. I  mean what has an eleven year old got to be depressed about really ? I was no more able to explain why I was anxious all the time than I was capable of asking why it was my responsibility to care for siblings when I feared they might get hurt or lost in my care. They did and I felt so guilty for that despite it having nothing to do with me. Kids have accidents and fall over and get hurt, but I would be held responsible for them even though I was a kid myself. It is possible I already had anxiety at this point, but it certainly didn't help.
Now my anxiety manifests as a compulsive need for order and planning. I keep a diary and a kitchen calendar so I know where I and everyone else is supposed to be. The kids' timetables are printed and laminated and on the bedroom wall and by the front door. We know what clothes they need for school, when they have swimming or after school clubs and what parties they have been invited to this week. Hubbie and I check in regularly so we know each other's plans and if he is even a minute later than he said he would be I am already talking myself out of the possibility that I am now a single parent as he has been killed in an accident on the way home. If I hear sirens it is even worse.
I've played the part of a 'normal' for much of my life. I pretend it's fine to have loose plans with friends when actually it creates massive panic in me if I don't know what time or where we are meeting. If they cancel or change plans at short notice it is really difficult for me. I need certainty and sometimes the laissez faire attitude is just too frightening. It can take me weeks to stop being upset about a last minute change of plan that they think nothing of, but that I had built myself up towards and was taken away from me at short notice. This is why I reiterate to my kids what we are doing and when. I remind them what they will be doing at school, after school or at the weekend. They may not even have the need I do for a long term forecast, but I do it for myself as much as them.
Managing other's mental health when managing your own is a big ask. I have been doing this for over 30 years - with varying degrees of success. I was in a relationship that tested my mental capacity and made me doubt my sanity. It took a long time to stop thinking negatively about myself after that. I still do sometimes. It is far easier to blame myself for not being good enough and if the other person knows the triggers they can do a lot of damage. The only reason I can do this now is because I have a husband who is concerned for my mental wellbeing and a prescription that helps keeps things level. I know that if I swim or run I feel better and taking care of myself is a necessity. Others need me to be well.
I don't want my kids - or anyone else's - to take a lifetime to work this out. I talk to my kids about mental health. I am honest with them about my struggle to keep well. Silence helps no one.

Today is World Mental Health Day.

If you or anyone you know needs help there are amazing organisations out there:

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