Parent2Parent – Episode 1
September 27, 2019
Sophie had just turned 13 when her dad and I noticed some changes in her behaviour, but we assumed it was all part of the natural progression through the dreaded teenage years.
She had become quite angry and defensive at home and after a completely out of character incident at school we learned she was being bullied by one of the girls in her friendship group, which left her feeling isolated and anxious as she tried to cope with everything on her own. We felt so guilty that she’d been suffering and keeping it all to herself.
As soon as we knew what was going on it seemed like the floodgates opened for Sophie – she could finally let it all pour out. She lashed out frequently at home over seemingly small things, stopped attending clubs and activities and refused to discuss what was happening. Her sleep was disrupted, meaning that each morning she felt unable to cope with her anxieties as she was so tired, so her school attendance dropped to almost nothing. We saw our GP who referred Sophie to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) and she was put on a long waiting list.
I’m afraid I became THAT mother. As Sophie’s mental health deteriorated, I made daily calls and sent emails to CAMHS until she was eventually seen and assessed. I then had to make more frustrating calls as appointments were cancelled and then petered out due to staff shortages. I had numerous meetings with teachers to find ways they could support a return to school for Sophie. An attendance officer frequently visited us and did all she could to help, including securing a fully funded tutor for Sophie so she could receive some education. And then I spent more time cancelling appointments when Sophie could not face seeing anybody.
After around 18 months of this not very merry- go -round she was prescribed anti-depressants and I was recommended an excellent private therapist who was happy to work with her. But there is no magic wand when it comes to mental health. Sophie hated the numb feeling the pills caused and she never fully committed to therapy despite a good relationship with her therapist.
I could write a book charting the ups and downs of the past 3 and a half years. We have had to witness our beloved girl suffer crippling anxiety and depression in that time, whilst for the most part feeling powerless to help.
Sophie is now almost 17. She has stopped taking medication and is only just seeing her therapist again after a long break. She has had periods of relative calm where she managed to sit a couple of exams and even held down a job for a few weeks. But she also suffers lengthy spells of depression which prevent her from having anything like a normal life and severe anxiety stops her doing anything out of her uncomfortable comfort zone.
She has low self-esteem as a result of the bullying and the years spent feeling like an outsider. She lacks the motivation to challenge her anxieties and at present is stuck in limbo, watching her peers move on to 6th form, college and employment. She has plans and dreams but they feel impossibly out of reach.
And how are we, the parents, doing?
The daily stress of caring for someone with anxiety and depression does take its toll.
The concern for your other child during such difficult years is never far from your mind. The hundreds of phone calls, appointments, meetings and begging for help wear you down. The frustrating suggestion from some family members that Sophie was just being a typical teenager (they now finally get it!) The impact on family finances when you close a business to look after an ill child creates even more worry. The many late nights spent trawling the internet looking for answers, combined with sleepless nights as you know your nocturnal daughter is wide awake, make you feel ancient and washed out.
And you live with the ever-present fear that the child you raised with such care, and who you love to distraction, may one day decide they can’t keep fighting.
I made a promise to myself right at the start of this tumultuous journey to make sure I put my oxygen mask on first. If I crumble then I dread to think of the impact on Sophie, her sister and my husband.
Shortly after life took this unexpected and frightening turn I contacted Parent2Parent for support, and through meeting up with other parents in similar situations, I have found ways to cope with the daily grind and made lifelong friends along the way.
Both myself and my husband have interests that help take our minds off our worries and give us a few hours respite each week.
We have educated ourselves as much as we can about the issues that affect Sophie’s mental health and that helps us understand why her behaviour is sometimes challenging.
We take the wins. Small steps are huge for Sophie and they give us a welcome lift.
I have discovered who my true friends are and cherish my time with them in person or in group chats that brighten the darkest day.
We try to forgive ourselves for the many, many times we have dealt with situations badly or have felt compassion fatigue.
We have learnt not to feel guilty about enjoying a night out or finding something funny when Sophie sometimes has periods where she barely leaves her bedroom.
We have accepted that life will never seem as straightforward as it did when our girls were small and all it took was a kiss on a grazed knee to make them feel better.
And we never, ever lose hope.