Things I’ve Said that Helped and Didn’t Help During Illness (a post that doesn’t make you feel guilt
I have wanted to post something like this for a while. I am not as natural a writer as Megan so I need time to think through words and ideas before I begin (and when I say I need time, I mean like, oh, 2 or 3 months).
The post started as a What Not to Say/Do type thing – but that just sounded so negative and articles about what I shouldn’t say to someone who is dealing with depression, anxiety or chronic illness always make me feel bad because I’ve usually said every single one of them (Megan is usually gracious enough to tell me that wasn't helpful/don't say that again/WRONG MOM!).
Then I thought it should be a What To Say/Do type post – but I know from talking to parents that there are no words or actions that work for everyone. We are all doing the best we can and sharing our struggles is so helpful. I know I can cross over the fine line between quietly listening to you share the struggle and commenting about how it should have been handled differently. Never should we judge each other about how we parent our family. We are all doing the best we can because we love each other. Apologies for when I do cross that line with you (in the past, now and probably later...).
So the below is a list of things that have been helpful and a few that haven’t for us around here during illness (chronic and mental).
1. Truth. So why do I always say "CALM DOWN!!" during a rush of emotion or a panic attack? Seems silly now but in the heat of the moment it tends to be my fallback position. My best ever response in the heat of emotional turmoil was the one and only time I needed to hold Megan down to keep her calm - I remained calm and talked her through it. It was the longest 15 minutes ever but it helped her get it together and move forward after her brain told her the opposite. If I had screamed CALM DOWN? My guess is it would have turned out phenomenally bad.
2. Depression, anxiety, chronic illness (actually ANY illness) can rob a person of energy to do anything. My least helpful phrases often are along the lines of "well, you used to do that, why can't you do it now?" Its temping to say that - and in my mind I think I am helping: "Hey! Remember?! This isn't scary or beyond your reach, you can do this... because you did it before!" But before the illness has no bearing on the reality of how the illness is actively working today. So do you get credit and praise for just getting out of bed when the depression whispers lies? Do you get credit for getting dressed when your whole body hurts? Do you get praise for getting out the door when your anxiety screams that it isn't safe? Hell yes you do. Praise and gentle credit coming from a parent? HUGE!
3. Doesn't it seem this way? Everyone else is having a great time in school/work, has an active social life, enjoys their job. Everyone else is DOING GREAT!! And you and yours are floundering, lost or can't seem to do all the things you see others do on Facebook. We started this blog because we wondered what would happen if just one family in the cartoon turned to another family and said "We don't know what we are doing and we don't have it together right now. Are you feeling that way?" Its been vulnerable and scary. And it has completely and totally changed our life for the better.
NOTE: grab your thickest skin for this one because some won't respond the way you need (fear on their part, not knowledgeable about what you deal with...lots of reasons that are theirs to own and not yours). That's okay - you showed them a door they can open later when they need it. I'm going to keep building my support one honest, vulnerable moment/blog post/conversation at a time.
4. Good heavens, I love this graphic so much. I am now and forever replacing "cry for help" in my vocabulary with "incredible will to survive".
When is the last time I told someone how proud I am of them for actively working to find sticks to beat their illness to the ground? For going to therapy? For continuing to question the medical profession that says its all in your head? Holy crap, that is so very brave and fierce.
Note to self: do it more.
I love you guys! Thanks for reading our blog and reaching out to us. It means so very much!