Just a phase….

It’s a phrase that was tossed about in the seventies and eighties(maybe the nineties, too) regarding erratic childhood behaviour. Nowadays, we are more educated on such things as autistic spectrum disorders and ADHD, we understand that each child is different and that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of anymore. The DSM-V  has been revised to encompass a diversified range of childhood conditions, broadening the scope for diagnosis.

An ill-educated neighbour said to me once that everybody’s children have some form of mental illness and that it is a money-grabbing measure by greedy, lazy parents who cannot control their insubordinate children. She argued that back in the eighties and nineties, there was less focus on mental illness because it simply wasn’t as prevalent. In other words, there were less ‘mental’ kids out there in the last millennium than now.

She’s wrong, of course. Those perfectly normal children who were just going ‘through a phase’ grew up to be dysfunctional adults, be exploited and exploit others, commit crimes and suchlike. Many of them would have been branded ‘born troublemakers’, their parents decrying any form of abuse or neglect but instead thinking their children are deliberately being disobedient, ignorant or otherwise challenging.

But evolved as the mental health services may be, they are still horribly underfunded and in my own experience, it has taken over a decade to get diagnoses for two of my children, one whom suffers Tourettes syndrome and the other on the Autistic Spectrum. As for my own mental health conditions, I have diagnoses but am still waiting for further neurology treatment and the therapy they’ve been promising me for a year.

There is no shame in asking for help with your children (or help with yourself); it is imperative to seek help as a struggling parent for if you don’t, it is your child that sufferers in the long-term.

But it can be a bit of a minefield, a charter into unknown territory. Some parents are reluctant to ask for help because they fear the Social Services will intervene and classify them as unworthy parents, taking the children away to be fostered.

Take the example of my sister, a young woman who was actually diagnosed in childhood as a sufferer of Tourettes syndrome. Her outbursts overshadowed mine and as the decade shifted onto the nineties and more awareness surfaced around childhood mental health, she was studied and medicated on anti-psychotic drugs from as early as seven. She was labelled and catagorized.

When she achieved adulthood, she never went back for a formal adult diagnosis. Insofar as her health is concerned, anything that happened in her childhood is irrelevant and she refuses to acknowledge how serious the condition was back then. She is a single mother with two children, both exhibiting signs of abnormal development. She has taken the children to see a doctor but it has been dismissed as behaviour issues. They seem to have no awareness of her childhood condition and she never informs them.

If she progressed herself through the mental health network, gained a formal diagnosis in adulthood for her Tourettes syndrome (that she suppresses well but is clearly evident) then she might have more success in convincing the doctors that her sons may have been genetically affected by her own illness and warrant further investigation, as with myself and my own children. The process of diagnosis was sped up significantly as soon as I had received a formal adult diagnosis for my own mental health conditions.

She won’t.

She is petrified of being labelled as an ‘irresponsible mother’ and having the children forcibly taken from her. She believes that, if she exposes her own vulnerability then this will reflect badly on her capability as a mother.

She is an excellent mother and despite her condition, she manages to care for the children in the correct manner, putting them before herself as should always be the case.

Is she right to fear the Social Services in the manner she does? We all know that the services can be quick to judge based on the shakiest of evidence:

Mother loses children despite disproving claims of neglect
And who can blame the Social Care Services; they have been witch-hunted for decades through a catalogue of errors that saw many children left in the custody of violent, abusive carers who then went on to murder them.

Some of the failings by the Social Services in England and Wales

There are some people who simply cannot cope with the stress of parenthood and these people should be supported in the right way. In these instances, maybe tasking a child into care is the best approach but relatives should always be the first port of call so that the bond between parent and child can still be nurtured. A child raised in a family environment, by grandparents or aunts is far less likely to fall into deviance, in my opinion.

But for the majority of mentally ill parents, their children are paramount, their very reason for existing. The notion of harming them or seeing them suffer is unthinkable and in my case, I would gladly hand over my life in order to preserve theirs. Such is the sentiment of most parents with mental illness. Having children brings a new hope yet if they too are exhibiting signs of mental illness, some parents are reluctant to seek help and it is eventually forced upon them at a later juncture as the child’s behaviour gets worse.

Asking for help is always seen as more favourable than having the help forced upon you. It shows an insight into the problem and a willingness to resolve it proactively.

The doctors never took me seriously where my children were concerned until I’d admitted I was an alcoholic and also suffering from inherent mental health problems (I found alcoholism masked the symptoms well). Of course, Social Services swooped down like the proverbial eagle and me, the frightened field-mouse quivered in its wake.

They were nicer than I expected and even thought the Police were called at one point to check the house for damage and signs of violence, they didn’t immediately assume that I was a violent crazie who would kill his kids.

That’s because I love my kids and there was no evidence of neglect bar maybe an unhealthy fridge full of snacks and treats. In my defence, I cooked home meals with fresh ingredients too, they didn’t live off crap.

They were concerned that I was a recovering alcoholic but glad that I was in a therapy group and pleased to hear that I was waiting for psychiatric treatment on the lengthy waiting list. I feel that speaking to them may have sped up the process significantly as my appointment came soon after their visit. The children were checked, too young to be quizzed but if they had, they would have said ‘Daddy isn’t here much’, which was true. I was either working or drinking, or sometimes both as I didn’t really care about my life and my career. They were always in the care of a responsible adult but that counts for little.

Satisfied by a preliminary assessment, Social Services put me on a safeguarding list and weekly visits were made by a trained psychiatric nurse who also doubled up as a child health visitor. ~She was a unique service and I found myself speaking openly and frankly to her as she was approachable and concerned, not the villainous harridan I expected from the tales of Social Services in the past.

The support groups became available through the Social Services and I had an opportunity not only to receive treatment for myself but also meet other struggling parents, some of whom had lost their children but were engaged in a course of therapy in order to get them back. I sympathized deeply with these people but most of them praised the Social Services, saying that the interim care orders had placed the children with relatives or ex-partners and that they had every chance of being able to see them soon. I tried to help and encourage these people and when they did eventually get access to their children, I shared in their emotional outpouring as they showed me the family photographs of beaming fathers with their awed children.

I think there are isolated cases where the Social Services have literally swooped in and took the children but there has to be at least some evidence of neglect or risk for this to be the case else the whole thing would collapse. I wonder if these people sought help or rather concerned third parties voiced their opinions and the authorities, in their frenzy to not commit another oversight panicked and segregated the families?

I’m grateful this wasn’t the case with me but I did have the support of a partner without mental illness and also my mother-in-law who is vital as part of a support network for me in times of crisis.

I think the message here is, if you are concerned about your children’s behaviour but are frightened to seek help through fears of your own mental illness being exposed then it’s time to make a decision. The first step is to admit that you are struggling to cope, that you need help. It will start with an assessment of the parent’s mental status, not to expose weakness but to find the root of the problem so that it might be understood and whilst it probably can’t be cured, it can be ‘lived with’, trained to become part of the larger identity.

Once a diagnosis has been given for a parent, it might shed some light on the thoughts and behaviours of the children. In my own case, I suffer from Tourretes syndrome and a host of personality disporders that make it difficult for me to be part of any society or group. Maybe I have Asperger’s or am on the Autistic Spectrum somewhere else, who knows? Without a childhood diagnosis it is now impossible to know for sure.

My Two eldest sons have both been diagnosed with a mental illness and my eldest is a virtual clone of me in my youth (in behaviours and mannerisms), vocal with his tics and erratic in his moods and behaviours. Knowing my own diagnosis has helped me to understand him even more and provide him with the support I so desperately needed in my own childhood. It also sped up the process of getting both him and my middle-son (I have five children) diagnosed and I was glad that I had sought help and been open about my own emotional state.

Sadly, the waiting list for the adult psychiatric services is lengthy and whilst doctors might frown on it, I prefer to self-diagnose in the preliminary stages using the vast tools of the Internet for guidance. I’d already decided my son was on the Autistic Spectrum before he was diagnosed thanks to the resources on the Internet and was proven right by the psychiatrists.

More information on self-help can be found here

Asking for help for yourself will benefit your children. If you are in a more positive frame of mind, your children will pick up on it and the reward is seeing them happy. Children want to be engaged and they love it when parents get involved. Most of the time, we are too tired, frustrated or depressed to engage actively with our children and their diet is video games, the Internet and subliminal TV adverts that make them into consumerist zombies who think the only path to success is video-blogging on Youtube.

If it’s financial worries then the Citizens Advice Bureau is absolutely necessary. They can put legal blocks on interest and charges, delay evictions and sometimes help with referral to psychiatric services although the GP is always the first port of call.

Alcoholism and addiction should never be covered up but a lot of mentally ill people self-medicate with these drugs and ultimately find themselves slave to the need, forsaking family to get high and mute the bad-thoughts. If you think you have a problem, start by asking others around you about their perceptions of how much you drink or use then ask the two questions that apparently indicate substance addiction:

Has your life become unmanageable without (alcohol/marijuana/cocaine etc.)?

Are you powerless over how much you use?

I think there should be a third; do you seek oblivion through overuse?

Start with the GP, they can make the necessary referrals but in same cases, self-referral is required to be considered for support groups and these are absolutely necessary in early recovery. Abstinence should never be attempted alone, without support else the relapse will cement the idea that giving up is impossible.

Initially, I was referred to the APAS service in Nottingham but I called them beforehand and arranged a self-booked appointment with a counselor.

In an unusual move, due to the fact that I had more money through abstinence I paid for a counsellor on a bi-weekly basis at £10 per hourly session. I found this useful and the input from the counsellor gave me other avenues of self-help to explore. I used the counsellor for a while until my actual referral came through for an intensive abstinence group on a daily basis.
This therapy was vital, not only did it keep Social Services off my back by showing a willing commitment to recovery but it gave me the opportunity to meet others in varying stages of recovery, empowering me when I met late stage alcoholics in recovery who seemed full of energy and passion.

Part of recovery is the the Twelve Steps and as an agnostic of sorts, I invested little in the faith of a ‘higher power’. Consequently, I’m stuck on Step Three but it’s okay; Step One and Two were the fundamental ones.

Step One is “we admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable…” although alcohol can be substituted for any addiction, including sex and gambling discussed in another blog post.

Step One is usually a summary of one’s life, one’s failures and misdeeds at the hands of addiction, a recall of happier times maybe when addiction was not a factor. ~Mine was several pages long and they are read out in a closed group, a daunting task of exposure that made me feel too uncomfortable for words (and wanting a drink).

Only by haring other stories, seeing people break down as they reflected on their past did I have the courage to read the Step One memoir I had written.

This process of reflection is vital in recovery, hence it being Step One and although I think the Twelve Steps are about as fresh as the Qu’ran, these first two steps are a unique philosophy and the foundation for abstinence.

Writing down the guilt and shame was critical in finding an identity, something the mentally ill struggle with. It also highlighted deviant behaviour from infancy, things I recalled as a child that were outrageously naughty and pissed off my parents. By writing the Step One, it built up a chronological assessment of my state of mind, gave me an idea ablout why I started drinking in the first place. It was thanks to this reading that the therapist suggested seeing a psychiatrist to discuss emotional problems, whish got the ball rolling on an official diagnosis.

Addiciton masks mental illness extremely well, dampens some aspects and flares up other, unsavoury elements of one’s character as a substitute. I used it to mask the intrusive thoughts and compulsions associated with Tourettes but in the same act, I readily embraced my antisocial personality and became a pariah, compulsively stealing, gambling and causing trouble whilst drunk.

However…

Rather than let this digress into a memoir, let’s get back on track. Without supporting yourself you cannot support your children. Understanding yourself will help to alleviate a number of stresses associated with family life and help you to understand your kids a little more and I cannot stress the importance of asking for help rather than finding it forced upon you by concerned third-parties.

I found the Double Impact service in Nottingham to be quite helpful and another self-referable service that does not require an official diagnosis and a good place to meet others recovering from addiction and trauma along with the Nottingham Recovery College, which accepts self-referrals and offers a wide range of life skills and courses on managing anger, stress, etc.

Remember, admitting that you need help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of positivism, a display of commitment to shaping a better future for yourself and your loved ones.

 

 

 

 

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