Mental Illness

When to Help Your Adult Child With Their Mental Health

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Amy and Danielle share their mental health journey.

In Her Corner

Hands up if you’ve ever judged your mother and thought to yourself, “When I have kids, I’ll never do that!”

Here, I’ll go first – two hands, way up.

For me, one of the biggest irks was the way I felt my mother over-involved herself in my life as an adult. It seemed to me she was often in the middle of my parenting, my marriage (even its demise), and many other areas of my life. It made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to grow up, and so I determined that, when my children became adults, I would treat them like adults – be there as a sounding board and support, but mostly trust them to figure things out. No helicopter momming over here.

Daughter’s Mental Health Struggles

I watched my daughter Amy struggle with physical and mental health challenges from a fairly young age. Most of the time, I didn’t really know what to do. But, once she was an adult, married and living on her own, I was frequently filled with admiration (still am) at her perseverance, courage and aplomb in the face of her struggles.

I tried to be an encouragement, a soft place to land, and, when asked, a sensitive advisor, while letting her make her decisions and chart her own course. It seemed, for the most part, to be an effective strategy.

Until 2016.

I worried that a crash was coming. So did Amy. It was like we could both see the train coming and just hoped she’d have cleared the tracks by the time it arrived. Not so much.

Mental Health Comes to a Head

Living in a small, remote town in east Central Alberta, both her mental and physical health support options were very limited. And, to boot, she’s a young, progressive hipster with strong positions on personal values and political views. To say she didn’t fit there would be a significant understatement.

Her fibromyalgia pain was not being managed. She continuously overextended herself, feeling ashamed of her limitations and fearing being labeled as “lazy” (not without merit, as many people in her life and community were profoundly ignorant). After a big push, she’d find herself barely able to move for days, sometimes weeks.

Anxiety and depression are common partners to the condition, and Amy struggled mightily with both. And I must also point out, if you’ve ever had chronic pain, like a back injury or extended migraine or bowel condition, you know: when one is in chronic pain and physically low, there’s a strong pull toward emotional and mental despondency. It’s super hard to keep your spirits up and be bright and cheery when you are in debilitating pain.

Compounding these factors was the frustration of not being able to get people who are supposed to be there to help and support to listen and hear her. Time and again, she felt minimized and brushed off. It was so painful to watch, but I’d think to myself, “I’m not *that* mom. I’ll be darned if I’m going to start going to my adult daughter’s doctor appointment and raising hell.” Even in hindsight, I’m not sure whether that would have been helpful or harmful.

Mental Health Crisis

At any rate, one afternoon I got a tearful call from her, saying that she was in crisis, and was going to the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury in Ponoka. I went from being pretty worried to being off-the-charts anxious.

Still, I told myself that she was a strong, assertive person, she had a husband who was supporting her through this, she was in a leading facility dedicated to mental health, and a family that loved her. I figured I should hold steady as an encouragement and support and resist the urge to go in guns ablazin’.

But.

When I spoke with her husband, he seemed to have a pretty laisse faire attitude toward the situation. He didn’t think she was at risk for suicide (contrary to the evidence), and I got the distinct impression that he was sort of out of patience for the entire illness. That was a pretty big red flag. Then, when I would visit her, what she was reporting about the psychiatrist’s recommendations and treatment of her – “You should just get some exercise!” and “Maybe you don’t have fibromyalgia or depression. Maybe you’re just sad.” – was incredibly alarming.

When people with a whole bunch of letters after their name, who have dedicated their lives to improving people’s mental health, tell you crap like that, and the rest of the world kind of already has that attitude, and you’re feeling powerless and overwhelmed, how are you gonna find the strength to stand up and scream: “I’M NOT FREAKING MALINGERING!!”

The Turning Point

So yeah, at this point, I had a thunderous revelation: Amy needed someone in her corner. She needed someone to champion her cause, to fight for her when she had no fight, to take charge and pull her through. I had thought it would be the husband, or the doctors, or the counsellors, but no; Amy needed her mom to dig in and get into her corner with her. My Mama Bear instincts kicked in and I suddenly didn’t care how I was being perceived. Meddling Mama to the rescue! I figured if it turned out that it was the wrong thing to do, I’d rather be wrong fighting for my kid than leaving her twisting in the wind.

 “Here’s what’s going to happen,” I announced. “When you get released from here, you’re going to go get some medical marijuana and do everything you can to get on top of your pain. That is your first priority, because if you don’t get in front of the pain and get a solid pain management regime, you won’t be in a position to focus on your mental health.” (Seriously, though, this is not rocket science. How is it that the folks who do this for a living couldn’t grasp Pain Management 101?)

“Next,” I said, “You’re going to get into and stay in regular counselling, and not out there in the sticks. Somewhere where there are better options and better support. Lastly, for as long as you guys live out there in that little town, you’re going to come spend two weeks of every month at my place.”

Then I held my breath, hoping she wouldn’t tell me to back off and mind my own business. To my great relief, Amy mustered her resilience and will, picked up the reins of her deliverance and, yet again, and showed me what she’s made of. She took the plan, worked the plan, and emerged from the darkness.

Results on Her Mental Health

Let me make it clear: I didn’t save Amy. She saved herself. She has displayed more pluck and bravery than just about anyone I’ve ever known. Her marriage didn’t survive, but she did. Beyond surviving, in many ways, she thrives. She’s learned that she doesn’t have to be strong, push through things, hide her illness, be ashamed, apologize or justify herself in any way. She doesn’t have to explain herself, EVER, and she doesn’t have to submit herself to patronizing, condescending, or dismissive people, even if they have a degree on the wall.

She’s learned to advocate for herself and for others. She knows that she can use her compassionate, empathetic nature to be a leader, an ally, and a tremendous support to other people who suffer and struggle. And, when she needs to, she can be kind to herself, release herself from her own expectations or those of the world around her and know that she is always worthy as a human being.

Does she still have severe fibro flare ups? Yes. Does she still deal with anxiety and depression? Absolutely. Does it ever get on top of her? Oh, for sure. But, in and through it all, I hope with all my heart that she knows that her mom, meddling or otherwise, is in her corner.

Besides being a mom to three children and a step-daughter, and Nana to eight, Danielle Klooster owns and operates Danikloo Consulting, offering coaching, training and strategy development to businesses, not-for-profits and municipalities to help them achieve clarity, work smarter and get better results. Danielle lives in Penhold, AB.

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