I had a very hard day yesterday. I finally had two hours to myself for the first time in months. Two hours that I knew would be uninterrupted. I let the weight of the past few months bear down upon me, and I let it crush me. It was time.
Have you ever cried, wept really, in such a way that you heard yourself making sounds that were unrecognizable? I scared the dog. She ran into another room and refused to come out. My body was wracked by heaving sobs. I carried on for over two hours. When I cry like that, it’s like a lament. I usually talk, too, and all sorts of thoughts and accusations are shouted into the atmosphere. Broken dreams, hopes deferred, and toxicity. It needed to happen.
There’s a name for this: grief work. When you have a child who is diagnosed with a life-changing illness or condition, the landscape of your life changes. Every part of it. Nothing is untouched. I’ve been here before. I have another daughter with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) so I knew that a moment would arrive when I would crack. Everything is strained. If the condition requires a lot of services–occupational therapies, speech therapies, mental health services, medical services, and pharmaceutical supports, then your finances could end up in ruins.
Dream 1: Financial security. When you have children, one of your primary hopes is that your children are healthy in both mind and body. Dream 2: Healthy children. Oftentimes, people have hopes that they might travel with their children, show them the world or all the places they have visited. How can you do that if you have an ill child or a child whose behavior is so unpredictable that even performing daily tasks are difficult? Dream 3: Personal Hopes and Expectations. What about your child getting a good education? Currently, Grace is only able to go to school for 3 hours a day. Certainly, it won’t always be that way, but a brain caught up in grief doesn’t always see what is rational. It panics. How will Grace catch up? Will my child ever be normal again? Will my child make friends? Will she keep the friends she has? When she’s self-harming and you’re on your way to the Behavioral Health Emergency Room, will she even make it to 18? Dream 4: My Child Will Have A Good Life.
Will I ever have a normal life again?
Dream 5: I Will Have A Good Life.
There is real loss when your child is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder…or an Autism Spectrum Disorder…or anything else. In order to become the parent you must be for your child and your other children, if you have them, you must acknowledge your feelings of loss, your fears, and deal with it. You must find a quiet spot, lance your own broken heart, and let the toxic feelings out, or it will poison you, your relationship with your child, and your relationship with your partner. Feelings are feelings. They do not reflect upon the quality of your character, but if they are stuffed and swallowed, then they can embitter it.
- Why me?
- I didn’t sign up for this.
- I don’t want a mentally ill child.
- I want my healthy child back.
- I hate my life.
- It’s not fair.
- I had dreams for my own life, too, you know.
- I feel so alone.
- No one understands what this is like!
- My friends get to take vacations, and their kids are taking classes. Their kids are healthy. We’re broke, and my kid is hospitalized! I hate this!
- God is punishing me.
It can get pretty toxic when you start letting it fly, but it must be let out. Underneath all the infected rhetoric lies the grief, and that’s what must be felt. Once we grieve properly, we can begin to see our lives, our children, our relationships, and ourselves more clearly. Many people think that grief is only for the loss of a loved one–when someone dies. Nope. We grieve for all sorts of things, and the loss of a healthy child in the form of a long-term disability diagnosis such as Bipolar Disorder requires grieving.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified five stages of grief:
- Denial and Isolation
Not everyone goes through every step, and not everyone grieves “in order”. It seems, however, that most people do experience grief in these terms.
I encourage everyone to grieve properly no matter the loss. Grief acknowledges the worth of what was lost and your own worth as well. It also liberates us from unmet expectations and hopes deferred so that we can go forth to forge new hopes and dreams in light of new circumstances which is crucial.
For more information on the Five Stages of Grief, here’s a good article.