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When I first saw the prompt for #sb4mh that focused on Children and Mental Health I knew that I would be writing something for it. I have two set of experiences when it comes to this, both of which I touched upon in my last #SB4MH post. One of being a child whose parent has a mental health issue and one where I am the parent and I have to decide how much information my son needs about my own struggles with mental wellbeing.
When I was 6 years old I went on holiday with my Dad, for 7 days to a well known holiday camp. I don’t think we even stayed for the full 7 days, but in my memories, it feels like we were there for a lifetime. Even as a child I knew something wasn’t right. My Dad was short on patience and seemed to want to be anywhere but with me.
I don’t remember the full details of what happened on this holiday, but I remember fragments of it. I know there was one evening when I stayed in our chalet and my Dad went somewhere, I think to the bar, perhaps to meet a lady. Thinking I’d maybe be asleep and it wouldn’t matter, I remember it did matter though and somehow this was the straw that broke the camels back.
I feel like someone, a woman discovered I was there and when he returned and I was crying and saying I wanted to go home, see my Mum etc he became very defensive and took this as a personal insult and withdrew completely. I think it was maybe 5 days into the holiday when this happened, I know for a fact we came back early, but I don’t think it was by a lot.
The drive home was approximately 90 minutes, which we did in silence, my Dad crying the whole way and I suspect the same was true of me, but I don’t recall that with any clarity.
When we arrived at my Mum’s house she was, of course, shocked to see us, this all happened nearly thirty years ago, there were no mobiles to say we were on our way and we just rocked up days earlier than she expected me back. I have a vague memory of her being annoyed, starting to berate my Dad for not wanting to spend his full amount of allocated time with me. Their divorce was fairly amicable, but my Mum very much had her moments of disapproval with him.
It all changed very suddenly though when he spoke, when she saw him, when it all became apparent that something was very, very wrong. I remember being ushered into my bedroom, which was directly off the kitchen where they were sitting, so very little was actually hidden from me in reality.
Our neighbour at the time was working in some kind of social care setting, a nurse, or a care worker, whatever the setting she had some knowledge of mental health and my mum called her down to ask for advice. The doctor was called and my Dad was admitted to the local Mental Health unit. I don’t know if it would still be referred to as a nervous breakdown, but it was what he was diagnosed with at the time.
In the following weeks, my Mum and my Step-Dad got married, and as he was in the army this coincided with us being posted to Germany. We stayed there for one year. For one year I didn’t see my Dad and for some of that time he was recovering from his breakdown and doing an awful lot of difficult work, working through his past. None of this situation could have been helped, but I felt like I’d been whisked away and the chance to ask questions or seek information was taken away from me because my Dad was out of sight and I suppose in many ways my Mum hoped out of mind. Not from any sense of cruelty to him, but from a Mother’s desire to protect her child from pain.
My Dad’s story is his own, it is painful, it is violent and it is a past I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It is a past that resulted in him being a 10 year old with no Mum and a child that spent the remainder of his youth in foster care. He and his siblings were not protected, they were let down by every branch of society that should have helped them, including the police and the social care system, such as it was in the 1960’s.
Only recently did I discover the true depths of what my Dad went through, including discovering some of what he went through when he was in the hospital. Which treated him very well and got him long-overdue access to much-needed therapy. While I understand 100% why the information wasn’t offered to me before hand, I think it could have been at least in some small way that a small child can understand.
I thought a lot about why I wanted to share this with all of you and as I read it back it feels very fragmented and I wondered if perhaps it had a clear enough voice, and then as I pondered that I understood why I wanted to share. I don’t think this is 34-year-old Floss sharing her story, this is 6 year old me still needing to explain to the world that she needs more information and not receiving it is confusing.
I have a 7-year-old now and that is where the other element of my experience surrounding children and mental health kicks in. As a mother who has occasional brain sillies how much information do I give him? While I believe that too much can be daunting I am certain from my own experiences that too little can be just as harmful and can reinforce negative thoughts and behaviours in terms of dealing with our own emotions as we grow up.
Again I want to be really clear in stating that my Mum was, and my Dad is loving, present and awesome parents. Were they perfect? No. Is anyone though? I doubt it. I think considering what my Dad went through as a small child it’s amazing he’s a functioning person let alone even a vaguely function Dad. My Mum was truly Mama Bear, I swear to God if anyone had ever hurt me she could have torn their throat out with her bare teeth. She was not to be messed with and I have a great deal to thank her for. Sometimes though protection can veer into overprotection and I think perhaps this was what happened with me.
I wish I could have been let in on the fact that sometimes adults have emotions that are tricky for them to manage on their own. I wish I’d known that doctors weren’t just to make you physically better but emotional better. I wish I’d known that medicine existed to help brains that had got a bit jiggled out of balance. These are the things I’m trying to let my son know, in the hopes that as he grows up he knows it’s okay to have struggles, it’s okay cry and no matter how old he is he should always find someone to confide in if it’s all becoming a bit too much.
If no one has reminded you of the above recently, then please remember, it is okay for us to have all kinds of struggles, from