Saturday 10 January 2015

It's Okay Not To Be Okay

It's tough growing up in general. It's even tougher growing up without a stable family unit.

My mother was diagnosed with mental illness when she was about my age and has had several breakdowns because of it. For most of my teen years I deeply resented my mother for being ill and not being able to be the kind of mother I wanted and needed. I know she did the best job she was capable of doing, but it doesn't ease the pain or burden of having so many of my own needs go by the wayside.

As a teenager I had to be my own mother, sister and even grandmother at times, more so now that I'm older and wiser. I hated coming home with a full head and heart and just wanting to pour it out to my mother like I'd heard other girls talking about doing at school, only my mother wasn't terribly well versed in over comforting words. Any time I was upset about something, she automatically believed that she'd caused it even if there was no connection at all to my problem and her logic. The other times when she knew it wasn't something she'd done, her best advice was just to pray about it.

Looking back on my teen years I once asked myself why I never prayed for mum to get better, to not have an illness and to be the mother I desperately longed for. The only answer I could come up with was: because it was too hard, too big to ask for.

I couldn't comfortably hang around other kids because they got to be kids, I went home and had to be a carer of sorts to my mother who refused to even acknowledge that she had a serious mental illness making that much harder for the rest of the family. She was able to switch modes as it were, from normal wife and mother, to 'mental patient' and only we saw the difference and had to deal with it the best we could even if that often meant not dealing and just trying to find a way to get through each day. Aside from mum's psychiatrist, we never contacted any organisations that specialized in her particular illnesses, it was too hard to admit there was a problem especially since we spent so much time and effort pretending there wasn't.

Mum has always been the centre of the family, not intentionally, more because we've had to go out of our way to make sure she's happy just to avoid any kind of conflict. I think it's the same for everyone who has someone in their family who isn't well, all the attention and focus goes straight to them and everyone else just finds a way to deal with it.

A close friend of mine who was once one of my high school teachers and has always been a second mother to me, shared her experiences dealing with one of her brothers who has the same condition as my mother although much much worse. She told me of some of the things he'd done and how bad things had gotten and that you just have to find a way to cope because there's little else that can be done. She also told me that as hard as it was for her and her family, it was that much harder having a parent with the illness. This person is meant to raise you and teach you how to be a decent human being, instead you kind of have to raise yourself and the other person because they have the attention and need the childlike care that is taken from you. It's not okay, but you find a way to make it so.

The people who put the effort in whether voluntarily or not to care for the person are hardly ever asked if they're okay, perhaps it's because there's no real way to answer it. When people asked me if I was okay back in school and high school days, I'd just nod and smile not entirely sure how to answer the question. I'd then overcompensate by going out of my way to make sure that everything was okay around me for everyone else if only to remove the focus from how not okay me and my life really was.

One of my present close friends has a sibling who is ill in a different way but requires care and she's told me on many occasions how fed up she is with it. She doesn't want to care for him because she's having to put her life on hold and get treated badly by her family because they're afraid to rock the boat with her sibling. At the same time she doesn't want to just leave him high and dry but isn't sure what else to do so spends as much time as possible either working or with her partner. She finds a way to make it okay when it's anything but.

Not too long ago she texted me explaining the headspace she was in and how she was just sick of dealing with her family and everything so took a day for herself which she desperately needed. I texted her back telling her to not be so hard on herself and that she was doing the best she could with what she was dealing with. She texted me back thanking me and telling me that was exactly what she needed to hear.

It's okay not to be okay especially when you know things aren't okay and you don't know how to make them okay. At least you're not alone, and that's okay.

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