I am a mother of three, two of whom have mental illnesses. My role as caregiver was ‘upgraded’ when my eldest was diagnosed with bipolar at the age of fifteen, and four years later, my youngest son with the same. Nothing can prepare you for what follows. It felt as though our family lost our anonymity to life in a fish bowl. We were inundated with professional and community supports, and our home became a revolving door. I went from being a mother to often playing the role of a nurse, therapist, pharmacist, crisis worker, and gatekeeper depending on the day or hour.
From the time of their diagnoses to now, everything’s changed, for better or worse. On a practical level, check-ins with psychiatrists, counsellors and appointments for blood work has become part of our regular routine. This disrupts everyone’s schedule and requires sacrifice from myself and my kids, not to mention their schools and employers- as well as my own. On an emotional level, their disorders accentuated my round the clock worries and concerns over and above the typical teenage stressors, financial stressors (loss of wages for time off as well as unexpected costs associated with treatment), and most significantly, the toll of ambiguous grief. Although I have not lost children to death, I have lost them to the life I envisioned for them. Grieving this reality is a process. I get tired, I feel sad, I worry about the futures of all of my children -including my own- and wonder if we will all get our needs met and maintain mental wellbeing over the long haul.
Well this may all sound like doom and gloom, these are some of my honest confessions as a caregiver, and yet, I would not trade my learnings for the world. Through our experiences, my compassion has increased ten-fold for myself, my family and others going through the same. Navigating the ups and downs of mental illness, and the systems that go with them, is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage everyday and I applaud everyone of you who are doing it. Embrace the hardships and forge ahead. Remember, diamonds are made with pressure.