“Ride the waves.”
My counselor gave me this piece of advice a few months ago in a session. I sat there and pondered this, wanting immediately to ask her what exactly she meant, but I stopped myself when I realized that I would need to figure it out for myself.
And I knew, as someone with illnesses that have symptoms that come in waves, sometimes they don’t just go away with a wish or a pill… sometimes I just need to “ride the waves”….until they pass, and then I can move on.
Bipolar moods, fibromyalgia flares, anxiety and panic attacks… these all come in waves, though they are often completely unpredictable. Sometimes the waves are preceded by warning signs and I can buckle down and prepare for them. Other times, they hit unexpectedly and I am completely taken by surprise.
How does this work out for me as a parent?
It’s hard. It’s very hard. But I’ve learned an important lesson: that I need to be transparent with my kids, and that I don’t need to hide my struggles from them.
For a simple example, due to this pregnancy, I have been dealing with severe sciatic nerve pain and find it very hard to bend over. I can get very frustrated when laundry ends up on the floor and I feel the need to bend over and pick it up in order to lug it to the washer, but I’ve learned that I just need to take a breath, and remind my family (even my husband) that dirty clothes do not belong on the floor, they belong in the hamper, and in order to make my life (our life) a lot easier and simpler, please do me a favor and put them in the right place. And in an even lighter example, recently I asked my daughter to paint my toenails, because bending over to do even that task is painful. She happily obliged, and painted my toes a pretty pink.
Sharing Struggles with your Children
So, I’ve learned that sharing your struggles with your family, especially with your kids, can be as simple as asking them to pick up their dirty clothes and paint your toenails, and as easy as asking them to go upstairs to fetch your phone charger because one more trip up the stairs might do your pained pregnant body in. My kids have begun to understand how helpful they can be to someone struggling, especially someone so close to them, and my husband and I in turn serve them when they are in need.
But with mental health, I find it a bit (okay, a lot) more difficult.
Last year, I had two miscarriages. Needless to say, last year was rough. On all of us. But I took it incredibly hard. After my first miscarriage, I sunk into a deep depression, and anxiety took over me to the point that I ended up entering into an intensive outpatient therapy program at a local hospital. I wasn’t as open with my kids then about my struggles then, but over time, I have learned how to be.
My kids are only 10 and 5, but kids really do pick up on a lot. They can tell when I’m not feeling well emotionally, and I have needed to learn to not take anything out on them, but when I slip up and I do, to explain to them that sometimes Mommy’s mind doesn’t feel well, and that while it is not their fault, sometimes I really have trouble. And I am still learning how best to explain mental illness and wellness to them and with them… but I think they are better equipped to approach their own emotional struggles because I am honest with them about mine.
Riding the Waves
And so as I learn to ride the waves of my illnesses, my kids are learning with me.
I’m learning to pace myself, to take small breaks, both mental and physical, and to teach my kids that it’s okay – healthy, actually – for them to do the same. We are learning when we hit brick walls, when we hit our limit, to take a small break before we press on. Where I am right now, that often means a nap for me while they play on the computer or tablet nearby. Once the baby is here, it’ll change and look a little different. Sometimes a break looks like a shower or a bath, sometimes it looks like a snack, or taking a drive to get drinks at the drive-thru just to get out of the house for a few minutes. Other times, we don’t have the luxury of a larger break, and so we learn to take deep breaths, center ourselves for a moment, and then continue.
It’s a learning curve, and what riding the waves looks like changes over time. But we all have our own waves to ride, and we do better if we ride them out together.
We’d love for you to join us in this bumpy ride – and share with us about your own journey, too. We’re creating things like our Fruit of the Spirit printables, available now for subscribers, and more resources are coming soon that we’d love to share with you. Coming soon is our Scripture, Saints, and Hymns printables and coloring book… and also an printable illustrated journal for those who struggle with the winter blues. Subscribe here– and let’s do this thing together.