Please before you read this, check in with yourself, this blog mentions topics that may be a trigger to yourself, or those around you. If you don’t feel that you are in a OK space to read it at the moment, that’s alright, flag it and read it later. Tell someone you want to read it, so that you can do it together, so you’ve got someone to talk about it with afterwards. This may help some people, it isn’t intended to make anyone else feel any worse. Self care and self check ins are so vital when it comes to mental health. My DMs are always open and so are my emails. There are also other services available for support and advice, please utilise your local areas resources should you need further support.
When I first became a parent I had the image in my head of the parent in all those books. You know the ones, in the fields surrounds by wild flowers, in the perfect floaty dress, children smiling around me, and me looking ecstatically happy. Little did I know my reflection would be more like dark circles under my eyes, hair styles that consisted of alternating between a messy bun and a ponytail depending on the length of time I can hold my arms up that day, baggy tees to cover the untoned, unkempt midriff that has kindly carried my amazing butterflies into this world, not to mention the permanent glazed over look in my eyes which is thanks to the permanent state of exhaustion despite probably consuming enough caffeine to switch my entire blood volume over the years over to coffee! Now that’s the image they never put in the parenting books! I wonder why???
They also never put the images of the parents sitting there looking at their phones redialling their teens phone numbers over and over in the hope they will answer, in the hope someone will answer. Or the images of us mums (or dads) sitting there crying as the worry and guilt floods us and the emotions are just overwhelming, not knowing what it is that we’ve done wrong to upset our child in that moment, when the chances are it is something that can be resolved if only the emotions on both sides just hadn’t got involved in the first place.
Every parenting image that I had in the beginning was a positive one, was a happy one, was one which involved a good memory, something that would be exciting and fun. The reality is the complete opposite.
If you’ve read my previous blog ‘Never Give Up’ you’ll know I’ve been on a bit of a journey with one of my butterflies recently. If you haven’t read it, please do. It’ll give you a back story to this blog and highlight how amazing my young one really is. With every butterfly going through a difficult time, battling the difficult challenges of mental health, is a parent trying to be a parent. By my butterfly there is me, her mum. Reality struck the other day when I was with her in the hospital and someone asked me “how are you managing being a mum of a suicidal teen?” That one question alone made the reality of everything shine so bright in my head, not necessarily how am I managing, but that is my child, and not only is that my child but you are right. I am a mum to a suicidal teen and that’s actually really fucking hard.
Sitting back in the hospital next to a bed that is housing my amazing butterfly, wrapped up in a mixture of hoodies, blankets, headphones and drowning the world out with music, I find myself thinking an awful lot. What did I miss? Could I have stopped this? What did I do wrong? Could I have fought harder for her? Should I have fought harder? Should I have said no more often? Should I have said yes more often? Did I hide everything properly?
Why didn’t I hide everything well enough? What if no one had called? What if she hadn’t have text her friend? What triggered this? Where do we go from here? Will she hate me for not staying all the time? Will she hate me for being here? Am I being too much? Am I too selfish and missing the point altogether here?
Those are just some of the million and one questions that were running through my head in the first few hours, I had zero answers. None, now for those that know me and read my blogs will know that I always have answers. Not this time. I was empty. I wanted to hold my butterfly and pop her into a protective cocoon and not let anyone or anything near her. That wasn’t the solution either. What was the solution? What was the best next step in this situation? Was anyone going to tell me what to do? Why didn’t anyone tell me this in those parenting books? Why isn’t this taught to us?
How can I be a mum to someone who constantly ends every sentence with ‘if I live that long’? Well for starters, I can be. Everyone can be. Because when we became a parent, wether that’s a parent from birth, marriage, adoption, foster, you have that agreement in your heart and brain to stick by your child, no matter what. It can be hard, and it is really hard, especially to see the light go out in their eyes, but it’s our role to help them see that light is still burning. It’s just a bit of a smaller flame at the moment. That little flicker of light they need to see, is hope.
How was I managing to do this? I had to be sure I can hold on to hope first. Knowing my own families strengths, what their dreams are, what they want to be able to achieve, their best hopes. Not to be afraid of having those scary conversations. It’s true what they say, asking about someone’s mental health doesn’t create mental health difficulties.
Despite all of that, I’ll admit getting a phone call to say ‘your child has od’d your needed at the hospital now’ is one which I won’t ever forget. Knowing that it had only been a matter of hours prior that I had hugged her, told her I loved her, and seen her smile. That tsunami of emotions and confusion came crashing in only (if I’m honest) it hasn’t fully hit yet. In movies you can pause a scene, which is kind what it feels like all those emotions and thoughts did in that moment, just hovering at the peak of the wave, dripping every now and then. Allowing me time to rush around underneath so that there won’t be any damage when that wave falls. This was a week ago now, a whole week since that call, yeah.
The last 7 days have been taken one day at a time. Every single day I’ve been asked by my butterfly ‘I might get to go home today right?’ And I’ve had to have the conversation about how she’s safer where she is, we have a laugh and a joke about how she will have to start thinking about redecorating her room, but the message remains the same. You need to stay safe. As a parent that’s all we want for our children isn’t it? Even if those decisions are the hardest ones to make, and can feel like they are ripping our hearts in two.
Being a parent in this situation teaches you things books can never ever teach. The ability to listen from afar, you know what I mean right? Those mumbles which are then followed up with ‘why weren’t you listening?’ Believe me when I say you learn to listen to everything, not a word goes un-missed because nothing gets repeated, if you need it repeated you get ‘it’s fine’ or ‘it’s not important’ or the best one ‘told you no one listens.’
The ability to make alternative games out of anything! Literally, have you ever tried to play Jenga with the blocks the opposite way? Or half the blocks and play against each other? They also make an amazing domino run, and not mention build a fabulous castle.
You learn the ability to look for smiles. Those moments that would normally go unnoticed now become moments to be held onto. When you walk in and see a small smile, and choose to respond with ‘that’s nice to see’ rather than with nothing at all. Or when you see a smile appear and choose to ask who’s send that message that made you smile, the smiles that appear because you played a game together, watched a YouTube video that you wouldn’t normally do, or even just sat in silence because at the moment that’s what was needed and it didn’t go unnoticed. You learn that the smallest of smiles can be the sign of thank you, I appreciate you, I needed that.
You learn patience, so much patience. I never knew how patient I was able to be until now. That mum voice inside of me still tells me to just get on with everything, to just give that hug, just pour that drink, hand that sandwich or snack over. Instead I’ve learnt that it’s better to do things differently, ask if it’s ok to have a hug today? I’m pleased the answer is yes more often than not, and I can’t even explain the emotions when I heard the words ‘I want a hug’ the other day. It took a lot of will power to not squish my beautiful butterfly. To offer time and space, and understand that it’s not hate that pushes me to the edges. It’s just the moment in time, and time passes, so will this moment. Just because being there, sitting in silence doesn’t mean much to one person, it might mean everything to someone else, so not to criticise it, that doing stuff all the time is exhausting, and draining.
You learn that the person you thought you knew is still there. It’s so easy to think ‘who are you?’ Or ‘I don’t recognise this person anymore,’ but they are there. Showing the love, care and kindness you have will bring that person to the surface. Will show that you love every bit of your child, their colourful wings as well as the version of them that isn’t able to fly as high. Shows you will always be that consistent person by their side, on whatever level they are on. Wiping tears of sadness or wiping tears of joy, you’ll be there. Every now and then that laugh creeps out, their little quirks can be seen, the excitement for life try’s to spark up.
You learn when these sparks are there to grab them with both hands, to pounce on them quicker than your cat pounces on the mice in the fields. To hold them, and cherish them, water them, and help them flourish. Talk about them and fill these sparks with love, wonder, and excitement. With Hope. Before handing them back to continue their growth within your butterfly, for them to become embedded into bigger sparks. In the hope that the next time a brighter spark can be seen when you look in their eyes.
You learn to hold in how much it hurts, to walk away at the end of every day knowing you’re leaving your butterfly alone. Hoping they are strong enough, hoping they will be ok, hoping that despite all the positives in the day that something stuck. Just a piece of it. Knowing it’s hard, knowing they don’t want to see you upset, but you don’t want to see them upset either. Knowing that your own butterfly is just as stubborn as you are, which makes you proud, but scared at the same time. You question if you really did enough that day, knowing your butterfly will tell you you’re being dumb!
None of these things get taught to us, we have to just wing it and hope we do ok. We rely on the guidance of others to help us through, to tell us how it’s going.
No one tells us that as a parent we will spend most of our lives scared, but filled with so much love it actually hurts.
No one tells us that as a parent we will go through excruciating painful times that we have zero control over, and it leaves us feeling guilty, isolated, ashamed, overwhelmed, over protective, and cautious of the world we live in.
I write about this not for sympathy, not for pity, but because I know there are other mums, dads, nans, grandpas, aunts, uncles, carers, brothers, sisters, friends, all around the world who have been or are in the same boat. Thinking the same questions, and feeling the the same or similar feelings.
The expectation is to sit back and hear the words ‘this is your fault’ ‘you should have done better’ well guess what! This is not your fault. This is nobody’s fault, not yours as the adult caring for your teen, and most certainly not your teens fault either. This is the situation that we have found ourselves in and the way to work through this is one day at a time. An hour at a time if needed. You are not alone in this journey and there are others fighting alongside with you, encouraging their own butterflies to rest, gather their strength, and looking towards a more positive future.
The main focus will always be on our butterflies, to aid their recovery. As their parent it’s important to check in with yourself too. My own butterfly (as frustrating as it is at times) is all too aware of how other people are managing, and does this with me. Keeping ourselves physically and mentally strong enough to keep that flicker of Hope going is important for us all. If that means taking those few moments to yourself to get a coffee and let the tears flow, that may look like taking a day to just off load and recharge with a trusted friend, however it looks, our own strength bounces off of those around us. So again another thing no one tells us is to be sure to make time to check in with you, how are you managing. Acknowledge how hard it is, because it really really is, but you’re doing great. You know your young person better than anyone, you know how they will respond to your words. If you can, tell your butterfly if you’re having a tricky time, believe me when I say right now they know what a bad day feels like, they will get you.
Talk, to anyone that’s willing to listen! We have a long journey ahead and any long journey is less scary with a friend or two to chat to along the way. Making sure all plans are clear and support is in place for everyone. Sometimes questions come up in conversations that we don’t even think of when we are asked ‘do you have any questions?’ And just be honest. Don’t feel guilty for taking some time for a bit of self care. The doctors and nurses are used to seeing me doodling or colouring while my butterfly is resting. It’s all about balancing everything.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, having a young person who is suicidal is hard, but it shouldn’t be something to be ashamed about. The world is slowly attempting to break the stigma surrounding mental health so why is it still so isolating as a parent sitting next to that bed? Reach out, because you really are not alone. The more people that talk about this the more awareness there really is, more parents will have the confidence to ask questions, and more importantly not be afraid of the answers.
Being next to the bed holding your child’s hand is not your fault. Leaving them in a place of safety to receive treatment and care is not nice, but you are not abandoning your child.
The things your child will remember in this time (from my own butterfly) holding my hand by my hospital bed, coming to see me every day, calling every day, bringing my favourite blanket, taking me for a walk to by nice food and a tasty drink, you making funny jokes about the disgusting food, doing my laundry and making the clothes smell like home, you bringing my phone charger so I can use my phone, reminding my to shower so I can smell good and make the ward smell like a beauty parlour.
These are what make the moments count, these are what matter, these are the moments to focus on.
I hope that reading this has helped some of you feel less isolated, and less lonely. I know I can say that this is definitely one of the most unexpected experiences I ever thought I would have to go through personally, and still feel totally unprepared for what the next few days, weeks or even months will bring. Accepting that I am a mum of a suicidal teen has actually been one of the most grounding things ever. I’m not just a mum of a teen with mental health issues, saying it as it is has helped me manage it better and see the world a bit better, to understand that actually it isn’t as simple asking once a day ‘are you ok’ and walking away. It’s a lot more deeper than that, more complex, and I’m ready to fight this with my little big butterfly all the way so we can both fly high together when the time is right.
I hope that you are feeling ok after reading this, please reach out if anything has upset you, left you with questions, of just left you feeling a bit unsure. Talking about mental health and suicide is a sensitive subject and as at the beginning of you need to seek help then please utilise the support networks in your local areas. Take care. 🦋🌈🦋