Nothing prepares you for being a young carer of a parent with a mental illness. I grew up in a home where no-one ever explained to me what was going on. There is no such thing as a young carer’s manual that can help and guide you. Can a child be prepared for a situation where their life changes instantly when mental illness strikes? My mother became ill and life suddenly changed. It became totally unpredictable and incomprehensible, going from one extreme to another, and I had to learn to deal with each situation in a completely different way. For this reason, I never had the chance to build a relationship with my mum and I taught myself how to be the mother in the family and care for my younger brothers.
There were times when my mother was very ill and at home because she could not be admitted to hospital for one reason or another. I was left with no choice but to take over the parent role and keep everyone safe – tolerating verbal abuse and extremely aggressive behaviour, including, hearing death threats and witnessing the house burn whilst we were still inside.
My childhood was traumatic and confusing but it never stopped me from looking at the world positively. I believed that after every struggle comes ease and that if I carried on believing and had patience, then I could have anything, and be anything, I wanted to be. There were many times where I did view the world as a dark place, where we were not safe. But, over the years, I have learnt how to manage life-threatening situations.
I realise now that I lied to myself over and over again, claiming that I can cope without help and that I can be ‘superwoman’. Circumstances at home left me struggling but finally I decided to ask for help. I wish I had sought support much sooner as things would have been very different. The biggest obstacle for me was accepting that I needed help. Engaging in psychotherapy marked a turning point for me and the start of a process of regaining control of my life.
At the present time the world feels like a new place in that I am no longer
coming from stress and anxiety, and limited by a restricted view of the world. It amazes me to think back to what my life was like a few years ago and how far I have come in my journey of mental recovery. What I would like to say to others in similar circumstances is: it’s never too late to seek help. If only I had known then what I know now – three simple words – IT IS OK!
No-one knows the right thing to do or say in such circumstances but simple kindness always helps. Unless you’ve experienced struggles with your mental health how can you know what to say or do? We aren’t taught from a young age how to think about mental health or how to talk about it, so how can we deal with it well? This means it is important to be talking about mental health and connecting with people who have personal experience of it, so that it isn’t a taboo subject. It’s something that needs so much more attention, care and time. Showing empathy could make that a lot easier and speaking openly will help break down those walls of denial which keep the stigma alive.
Throughout my journey, I have learned that everything happens for a reason; whether we understand the reason or not. I wouldn’t change any part of my life – this has all happened to me and it has made me who I am. My mother’s illness has made me a stronger, more determined and empathetic person. But it’s not these positive attributes that people would think of if they saw ‘mental illnesses’ as part of family history. I will never fully escape the stigma from the outside world – but, at least I know now that I don’t have to keep running from myself. I’m not embarrassed about who I am, and I am not embarrassed about how I feel.