Written by Special Guest - Abi
My experience with mental health; mainly anxiety and depression is not what I’ve suffered from personally, but is what close family members of mine have suffered and are suffering right now. I’ve written this post to help you see how I have and how you can push aside the overpowering forces of a mental health illness.
My earliest memory of experiencing the effects mental health is from when I was about 8 years old and watching my dad be physically sick from struggling with anxiety. He was not able to drive a car, or be out of the house due to the worries that would demonise his brain. At that age, there wasn’t much I could do, or was aware of – I didn’t really understand what was going on and that is where my earliest memory ends.
Fast forwarding to my teenage years and this is where mental health illnesses really took its toll on my family. Of course, being a teenager aged around 13 to 14, I was the typical moody, hormonal girl that thought that the world was against her, and I just wanted to be out with my friends. At the same time of this all happening, my Dad hit his 2nd relapse of depression and anxiety and this hit me hard. I responded with anger and negativity to why my Dad was like this and just thought he was behaving in this way to spite me. In all, this probably exacerbated his illness and made him feel like he was not being a good parent due to his anxiety and depression. Before we move on, I would just like to say that my Dad is without a doubt the most amazing dad I could ever ask for and I am very blessed. Once this bout of illness had calmed down after a couple of months, I was left feeling rather confused and angry still about why dad was behaving in this way, but very unfortunately I pent up my feelings and would get quite irritated at anyone who asked if I wanted to talk about what was happening to him. This is not what you should do, you should talk to people about how you are feeling, believe me.
Since that 2nd heavy relapse for my dad, from the ages of 14 to 18 my Dad’s mental health really improved and calmed down to the point where I almost forgot what it was like to live with someone with a mental health illness. That was until his 3rd relapse when I went to university in 2015. I won’t be going into why my dad struggles with mental health issues in this post, as I feel that’s too personal to discuss and is not something everyone needs to read, but it is thought that one of the main reasons why he relapsed is because I had left to go to university, which triggered a childhood trauma for him. Currently, this relapse is still happening and my Dad has been so brave in dealing with it and after many months off, is finally back to work, which is great news.
Due to being at university I was only told bits and pieces of what was happening at home by Mum as she didn’t want me to get upset or worried about Dad whilst I was away. His mental health really kicked in just after I left to go back to university at Christmas in 2016 and my first experience of this was when we all met up to go to a family friends house in the March. My family turned up and Dad had lost so much weight. I was completely taken aback by it and in a way he didn’t even look like himself, it was crazy. That weekend he was still in really good spirits and it was great to enjoy that with him. But of course, with mental health, there are so many bad days that Dad has. So, when a good day comes you have got to make the absolute most of it and when a bad day hits, you must remain positive and upbeat, do not let how the person is feeling affect your mood, you must encourage them, not dissuade them and whilst they may not show thanks for it, they are feeling it so much inside.
Over the past two years of being at university I have come back for the holidays and weekends here and there. Sometimes I caught Dad at a happy time, but other times I caught Dad at bad times. An example of this is when I came home for my sister’s birthday in February. Over the 4 days I was home, Dad remained very recluse, he didn’t want to talk much and slept for most of the days I was there. Of course, this did make me upset, but after expressing my feelings to Mum, I felt a lot better and remembered that Dad wasn’t doing this to upset me, he couldn’t control it and he was just removing himself from the environment so I could enjoy my weekend. At age 14, I would have felt quite angry at this, but now being older, I finally understand and I have so much respect for my dad.
Currently I’m back home from university for the summer and after around a year of not working, Dad is back at work and whilst he does struggle with his anxieties still, he is coping pretty well and I am so proud of him. The older I get, the more I understand the demons of mental health and realise just how hard my Dad is trying manage his condition, even if sometimes it looks like its defeating him. Not only has his local GP and counselling helped him in managing his mental health, but also charities such as MIND and VOS (Veterans outreach support). The charities are there to help your loved ones, and as carers you can also have access to all the services mentioned above too. Whilst I haven’t offered much advice at how to cope with someone with mental health, I hope from this post you now know that it’s okay to not get it sometimes. It is confusing, and it is quite upsetting to see someone you know so well, slip into a shell of themselves. But do not let this fault what amazing care you are providing for your loved ones who are suffering. Remain positive, always. Even when it feels like you can’t do it anymore, and when it feels like that, talk to someone. Please, talking about what’s wrong is so helpful. It releases bottled up feelings which might come out at the wrong time and helps you to understand better. Show your affection whether it’s to your family, friend or partner. When they are feeling low, whilst you know inside that you love them and care for them, they may forget this, so showing physical feelings is; whether it’s a hug, or a card to say keep going, helps so much as they will then remember.
I’m still learning every day how to help my dad get better, if I can learn, than others can too. Spread love to one another and remain peaceful and happy. Take each day as it comes and always start the day with a smile on your face, it’s the best thing a person with mental health can see when they wake up knowing they will be facing their demons for another day. Be positive, always.