Do you know what it's like to live with a mental illness or someone who has one? There are a lot more people doing it than you realise, it's just that nobody really talks about it. Like I've said before the social norm is that mental illness or mental health issues are not normal, that the people who have them are weird and that they should be hidden away so that society does not judge you.
Today is Mental Health Awareness Day and much like R.U.OK? Day it's all about raising awareness of mental health issues and encouraging people to openly discuss them in order to remove the stigma and promote prevention and the treatment options available. I have discussed what it was like when my dad committed suicide, now I want to let you know what it was like after that.
I was not really aware of my dad's issues until after he had already committed suicide and I am only discovering more about them now as an adult through my quest to discover who he really was as a person. My mum's issues however became very apparent when I was a child and were a direct result of my dad's suicide. After he died she had a mental breakdown. I don't really blame her I mean I can't imagine what I would be like if my husband died, let alone killed himself and then I was facing the world as a single mother and a widower. I'm pretty sure I would have a breakdown too of some degree. She had a big one. Nearly to the point of hospitalisation and I believe she still to this day has to take pills for it as she can't function properly without them.
She became like a child in a sense. She had immense anxiety and couldn't function properly at first. She couldn't leave the house, she was too scared. I remember so many times she was in tears because she was too scared to do something. She lost a lot of weight - I think it was something like 10kg in a week or so. I remember she spent a lot of time in her room. We didn't go anywhere except school and her friends would drive us there because she was too scared to drive the car. She didn't have a job for a long time because she just couldn't go out and be around people. It probably sounds strange when you're reading this (it even does a little to me), but it just became normal.
It kind of happened overnight, but it just seemed like a natural progression to me. And so for a few years I traded places with her. I took on the role of the parent because in my mind I had to take care of her and my brother because if I didn't, who would? I'm not even sure if she knew that was happening. I started cooking the majority of the food. I remember doing washing, collecting the mail and I'm pretty sure I even knew when all the household bills had to be paid. Every time I would talk to her I would first think is this going to make her have a panic attack? I put aside my own grieving for my dad in order to focus on getting her better and making sure my brother didn't flip out altogether. I had to be the strong one because everything and everyone else around me was falling apart. I had to hold the family together because I knew if anything happened to either of them as well I wouldn't cope. I lost my childhood. I grew up way too fast and had to deal with issues that children of that age should not even know exist let alone have to live through. It's ok though, I wouldn't really change it. Partially because I don't know anything different and because it moulded me into the empathetic and understanding person I am today. People who have not dealt with mental illness can easily put it in the too hard basket, but when it becomes your life you have no choice but to accept it, deal with it and work through it.
Nobody (apart from our family) knew what was going on at home. Nobody knew what was going on in my head either. My mum and brother went to psychologists for their depression, grief, anxiety etc and I didn't. Because I was the strong one. I couldn't show what I was feeling because they wouldn't have been able to handle my issues on top of their own. Besides nobody ever questioned what I was going through because I was so good at hiding it and so nobody ever really asked me. I kind of wish someone had asked me how I was doing or at least encouraged me to have a discussion about it so that I could have worked through my issues earlier.
If you know someone who is dealing with a loss, going through a tough time or is acting out of sorts please at least ask if you can help. Or if you notice someone who is withdrawing, being quiet and not being as social as they normally would please try to get them to talk to you or at least let them know you are there if they need you. Knowing someone is there to listen and to help is a huge support to someone who is suffering. Even if you can't actually help, knowing that you want to help is huge.
P.S. My mum got back on her feet thanks to the help of professionals, family, friends and neighbours.