My wife, Diana, has such an incredible way with words and images. They way she has captured the heartache of living with mental illness below is breathtaking.
In our little home by the sea, we are packed to the rafters with people and personalities. Our house is filled with two crazy Love Birds, our five children, and all the beauty and chaos that brings. But also packed in tight in our not so little family is mental illness. It’s something that over the years I have tried to be transparent about, and secretly hoping that with that transparency it would become something I became more okay with. And most of the time I am alright with that.
This week, however, I’m not okay, and I’m finding it so hard to be okay with that too.
I’m shipwrecked. We had a severe, violent incident on Monday with our daughter. Windows were shattered. Holes were put into doors. Words raged. Other family members were injured. In the moment of crisis, I was there. I showed up and I handled it. I followed the instructions from all the years of advice and instructions given to us by different psychologist and specialist- to the letter. It was completely by the book.
I intervened, de-escalated, contained, protected, and eventually spoke calm and wisdom into the situation. I comforted my other children and gave them the space they needed to unpack their own trauma caused by the event, and when everyone was calm and collected Murray and I spent hours cleaning up glass.
At the end of the day, there was new glass in the window, new safeguards put into place, and some new boundaries and tactics introduced. It was all fixed.
But I wasn’t. I was shattered, and I couldn’t just sweep up the broken pieces and install wholeness back into my soul.
The rest of the week rolled on like it always does though. We jumped straight back into school runs, work meetings, appointments, and grocery shopping. Being a veteran at this all, I did what I knew needed to be done. I reached out for support. I called my daughter’s Psych, I contacted the Paediatrician, I called the Special Ed support person at her school, and I tried to be open and communicate to those around me what happened. But for all the reaching out I mostly received answering services and unreturned phone calls.
I did have a dear friend who called to check up on me during the week. She listened and spoke encouraging words. By the end of the phone call, she was just as frustrated as I was by the lack of support and the lack of answers, and in that moment, I still didn’t have answers or solutions, but I didn’t feel so alone.
By Thursday night I could tell I had reached my limit. I texted Murray at work- “Can you please move heaven and earth and find a sitter for tonight. I really need a night out with just you and me.”
No one was available.
So we did the best we could, and put the kids to bed and tried to have a date night at home with take away burritos and a movie. In the end, we went to bed early, hoping a good night sleep would recharge our batteries.
The next morning was Friday-my morning to take the kids to school. It was all going so well! Lunches were packed, uniforms were on, and jobs were done. It was all ticking along beautifully until suddenly it wasn’t! In a split-second, chaos erupts, and a full-on meltdown exploded. This time though, I was still shattered and unhealed. I stood in the middle of my house crying and muttering “I don’t know what to do,” between the tears.
Somehow, I got the kids into the car, but I’m pretty sure the neighbours were about ready to call the police. As I drove out of the neighbourhood, the only thing that I had left in me where deep, hot tears and frustration.
The whole car trip I just sobbed and screamed at the kids. I dropped the kids off at school, and as I drove off I remembered that today was my daughter’s birthday.
I came undone.
In my 15 years of parenting, I have only come undone like that a couple of times. I remember every single detail of each of those incidences. Those are my lowest moments of mothering, and in each of the other instances, they came out of nowhere. They hit me like a freight train I never saw coming. But this one was different. I saw this one coming at me. For days I saw it coming closer, and closer. And I reached out for help. I did everything right. I kept the lines of communication open with my husband and my friends. I reached out to the professionals. I asked for help, over, and over, over again. All those calls for help, recorded on answering machines were never returned.
This week the amazing Designer and Business Woman, Kate Spade, committed suicide. Personally, she has stood out as a business woman who has achieved the dreams and goals of so many of us! She was creative and classy while still being whimsical and fun. Everything about her brand and business is an example to me of the sort of business leader I want to be.
I’ve read so many comments all over the internet saying, “How could this happen?”, and every time I read this I just want to scream, “I can tell you how it happens!” It happens when the mirage of connectedness falls away and someone suddenly realises where they once saw the threads of community that made up a safety net, is actually emptiness.
We are made for community, yet we live on Drive-thru-Meals and Scroll-by-Friendships.
These Scroll-by-Friendships are as good for our mental health as the Drive-thru-Meals are for our physical health. It’s time to start getting serious about mental health, and we do that by getting serious about community building. Somewhere in all the scrolling, and chaos, and noise, we’ve lost community. We share pictures of our dinners with friends, instead of sharing our meals together. We read our friends’ thoughts in a post, instead of hearing them over a cup of tea. We send emojis instead of giving hugs. We send Facebook messages instead of cards.
This weekend we’ve been trying to rebuild community in our home- trying to weave back together the broken strands of connection. As a reaction to last weeks event, we took a day trip down to Bunbury yesterday. Just our family. No iPads or phones or work emails. Just the seven of us, taking turns picking our favourite songs and enjoying the beautiful views. We went to Bunbury Markets and had so much fun picking out what to eat for lunch. Each kid was able to pick whatever treat they wanted, and it was hilarious to see those who chose Toffee Apples get covered in red stickiness- even the teenager had some on his nose.
And although it was a day late, we took our daughter birthday shopping. Together. All of us. And while all the hurt from the last week is still tender, there were moments in that where we found some healing. Mostly, though, we just had a little extra space to see each other. REALLY see each other, and it was in that seeing each other that suddenly we weren’t all alone.
Yesterday, was exactly what our family needed. But today I needed to care for me, and in order to do that, I needed to be alone. I left early this morning and went for a walk by the stormy sea. For only a couple of moments, the sun broke through the clouds. It’s the only sunshine we are going to get today, as the rest of the day is forecasted to be filled with showers and storms. Those few rays of sunshine felt like they were just for me, and as they shone, I saw the most beautiful picture of community! Ahead of me on the sandy beach were two men working together to get a ship that had been blown to shore in the storm, back out to sea.
And that is when I understood.
Having community doesn’t mean that we will never get shipwrecked. Community means there will always be someone there to help get you back out to sea.