Whilst this is a stand alone blog You may find it useful to read part 1 ‘parenting with mental health issues’
Five years ago I faced the realisation that my relationships with my children were no longer that of a parent and child. My children who had been teenagers when I was first admitted to psychiatric services were now adults, adults with their own lives without me.
They had developed a very strong sibling bond that had sustained them throughout my time in hospital and my sons saw their big sister as being more like a mum to them than me. I was no longer able to offer them the support and guidance I once had, I was discharged from hospital but that didn’t mean I was suddenly well. I still had complex issues and needs and I had become very institutionalised by the system.
When I came home from hospital that last time I was in truth still a mess, I carried a bear constantly and I was afraid of basic everyday things. I would ask if I was allowed to make a drink using the kettle because I hadn’t been given freedom to do that for what felt like forever. I was so drugged on medication that I napped in the day and I was switching rapidly and dissociating a great deal. I wasn’t that used to living in the community, it had been something I hadn’t done for a while and it felt alien to not have to seek permission to go out. Taking medication without having to queue at a hatch felt weird and the TV seemed like a frightening object which scared me.
Initially it was agreed that I would stay with the family, that wasn’t so straight forward as I was no longer in a relationship with the children’s dad. But I moved into what had been the dining room, everyone else arranging for a bed and other furniture to be provided. It felt alien in the house which now felt odd and not my home, the kitchen which had once been mine now felt like my daughters territory.
My sons were both away at university still, my youngest came home every weekend whilst my oldest son returned in the holidays. My daughter was working and my former partner was busy too so it was decided that in order for this to work I needed care in the daytime. My returning home caused disruption to everyone’s life’s, it meant my family once again had to accommodate me and my needs. I had support workers every day of the week in order to cope with life in the community, support workers who came each morning and invaded not just my home but the families too.
Initially I just felt strange and uncomfortable with the children, they were noisy, they interacted so well together and I felt detached. I soon realised that I knew very little about what was going on in their lives, despite regular contact during my time away. I only knew very basic information and not the things I felt I needed to, I didn’t know their favourite TV shows or who sat where on the sofa, day to day things that mattered now I was home.
It soon became apparent to me that we needed to rebuild our relationships, especially as they seemed to tip toe around me for fear of upsetting me. They worried about me self harming or trying to commit suicide to such an extent it frustrated me, I wanted them to trust me. I felt like they didn’t believe me when I said I wanted to live, to rebuild my life. We often talked about our feelings and frustrations with them but how could they trust me when the mum they last knew was on mission self destruct.
I suggested that they see me as a friend and not a mum because my sons especially seemed to have found a surrogate mum in their sister. I had to accept my daughter now ruled the kitchen and I needed to not get upset when my sons turned to their sister for advice and not me. It wasn’t easy but over time I think I adapted into my new role within the family.
I moved to my own flat a few months later which I think helped everyone, though I knew they worried frantically about me at times and I felt more detached from the family. Moving was the right step for everyone and gave me time to observe and rebuild my life as a mum. The toughest thing for me has been when my eldest son told me he wanted to get his sister a Mother’s Day card, because she was more like a mum to him than me. It was painful to hear but I know it was true too, she had been there when I wasn’t and he is grateful to her for that.
Today my daughter is my best friend, she and I have now learnt to trust one another more and I believe she has learnt to let go and not worry about me as much. It’s taken time yet slowly we have found our way through a minefield of emotions and come safely out the other side. I feel like her her mum now, a mum who can offer advice and go shopping with her, a mum who can laugh with her too. She lives nearby so visits or calls me every day and she no longer fears I will suddenly disappear never to return.
My eldest son has returned from university and together we have found mutual interests which have helped us forge new bonds. He now lives with me though he says that at times that’s hard because of my switching and my dissociative symptoms, I know he gets frustrated when I lose things and then panic looking for whatever I have lost, but we also laugh and have fun too. He is learning to seek my advice as well as his sisters, and he has slowly learnt to trust me again. He has got used to my alters and now understand which cartoons the littles like to watch.
My youngest son is a bit of a workaholic and very much like me in lots of ways, we have found mutual interests that have enabled us to spend time together. We both enjoy music and theatre so have been to a few concerts, having time with him is precious especially after so long apart. I know he sees me as mum again though I know he still seeks out his sisters advice too. Initially we struggled to find time together but now have found that it’s important for us both to make an effort to spend quality time one on one. Even though he works what sometimes feels like non stop he makes an effort to call or text most days.
The relationships I am now building with all my children are built on solid foundations, together we have all rebuilt our relationships. The children have been extremely forgiving and also very much appreciate that having Dissociative Identity Disorder isn’t easy for me. They understand D.I.D so well and are so sensitive to not only mine but other people’s mental well being. Carving out a new relationship with each of them hasn’t always been easy, but having maintained contact and visits during my admissions has helped so much with this process.
I know I am truly blessed to have 3 wonderful, compassionate children who understand me and my alters, their love, compassion and tenacity truly amazes me. I look forward to their calls and enjoy spending time with them and doing fun things with them, I know they feel the same way. We all could have let the experience of my long term hospitalisation destroy our relationships instead we have worked together to build better, stronger bonds with each other.
Being a parent is a blessing and I nearly lost that when I tried to end my life, I appreciate how much I hurt them when I self harmed or went missing. My children mean the world to me and being their mum is the greatest gift I have, reclaiming being their mum was a gift they gave me. For no matter how much I tried I couldn’t have reclaimed that role without their help, the fact they were able to be tolerant of my needs and understanding of my past was crucial.
Today we are no longer just friends, I am mum too, reclaiming that parental role has meant lots of changes for them and for me and yet today we are a secure family and we love each other very much.
Copyright DID Dispatches 2014