The Journey Continues
As always, writing this blog is quite daunting but since I believe in the healing-power of sharing, here it goes. Our little world has in many ways returned to normal. Uncannily, our journey has paralleled the path of COVID-19. As the county’s crisis got worse so did ours, as it plateaued so did ours, and then finally as things started to return to some form of normality (whatever that may be) so did we.
I picked my daughter up from her latest hospital admission the week before her eighteenth birthday. I knew it would not be the type of celebration one would expect for this kind of occasion, but I also knew my family would throw themselves into whatever it was going to be. We headed straight to my parents in the country where we had been living for the past few years. It was customary for my daughter and sister to celebrate their birthdays together; something my daughter cherished. Neither of them was in a particularly celebratory mood—my daughter for obvious reasons and my sister, well, she was in her third month of Chemotherapy. Not exactly a high point in one’s life, so when it was suggested that we celebrate with a pyjama party, everybody agreed that it was the perfect way forward. Afterall, what could be more comfortable than everyone in sleepwear?
Of course, not everyone had pyjamas and purchasing them became quite a challenge. Due to COVID-19, pyjamas where in high demand and our local store had none. Well, none that would have been suitable for an eighteenth party, that’s for sure! So we headed down the freeway to the nearest shopping village, sanitiser and masks in bag. Fortunately, we had enlisted my niece, who is a devoted and unstoppable shopper. Had it been only my daughter and me, we would have given up long before the mission was completed. Best and Less was our salvation. Not only did it have pyjamas, it had variety! Variety, and personalised insignia to suit each guest. It was the best eighteenth we could have possibly had under the circumstances, with the added bonus of being able to roll straight into bed at the end of the night.
We returned to Sydney and tried to find some sort of balance in our lives as we waited for my daughter’s next scheduled but unspecified hospital admission. The first few weeks were very hard, but little by little things started to improve: a walk with the dog; then trips with grandma and the dogs to Centennial Park. This went from a weekly to a daily routine and, eventually, we even started at the gym. With time, my daughter began to spend more time in the loungeroom than the bedroom, and, gloriously, some harmony returned to our lives while she waited to be summoned.
I could see just how detrimental the psychological effect of waiting was for my daughter. Hospital was her safety-net. Not being able to avail herself of it, if she needed it, was a terrifying thought. I guess, when you feel completely vulnerable, knowing that there is a place where you’ll be safe, even from yourself, provides some security; not having that place feels unbearable—almost paralysing. Eventually, after three weeks of waiting, we got a date. Although it was the worse-case scenario and still several weeks away, just having a date was game changing. The safety-net was in place. I could see how this small thing—a date, weeks away—made such a difference to my daughter. It was at a great cost that she had been holding herself together, fearing being forgotten, unsupported and without hope of a safe place.
Week by week I could see my daughter improving. I knew that the improvements I saw felt huge to me, but miniscule to her. For her, her interior dialogues were still daily battles but with each new day and each new accomplishment, no matter how small, I could see, she was becoming a little stronger. For a parent, every sign of improvement is like a new blossom in Springtime. When the day of admission arrived, we all breathed a little more easily: a break, for her, for me, for my son.
When my daughter is unwell, we all work very hard to keep on top of life, to keep it normal. This is not a complaint; this is just an admission. I think it’s OK to say it as it is. I feel grateful that as a family we’ve been strong enough to be honest: though hard, it was also gratifying to see how well my daughter coped when her brother told her just how hard it is to have her as a sister. It wasn’t news to her! She is completely aware of the toll her illness has on us all; and we all know that often it’s out of her control. I believe the control that she finds so difficult to exercise at the moment will come with age and hard work. This is her life journey; this is the road she must travel and get to know.
How can we expect teenagers to have the awareness that comes with age? How can we expect them to easily adopt mindfulness and meditation? These practices take a lot of effort, self-talk and perseverance. In many ways young people with mental health issues are so much more mature than other teens. They’ve had to deal with such existential questions as mortality, the value of life, the meaning of life, often, at too young an age. Yet, on the flip-side, once they start on the journey of self-understanding, they develop a level of emotional intelligence way beyond their years. I am watching this development at the moment: the questioning of how to change and challenge emotions; and the realisation that exercise really does release endorphins that do lift your spirit for a period.
We often forget to celebrate the ‘seemingly’ small milestones in life which can take so much hard work to achieve. I hope that everyone who is challenged at the moment by mental health or supporting someone who is can find something small to celebrate: a positive exchange, a smile or even a knowing look.
For help please contact Black Dog Institute, Headspace, Beyond Blue, Kids Help Line and Lifeline. These are just a few of the providers available.