Writing about mental illness is hard. It makes you vulnerable. Writing about your child’s mental illness is harder still. It makes THEM vulnerable…
When I started this blog last year, I really had no idea what direction it would take. I just wanted to write. Stuck at home and unable to commit to regular work because of the unpredictability of Mercedes’ health, I needed an outlet for all the words running riot in my head. I could never have imagined just how all-consuming it would become.
Late at night after the kids have gone to bed and the husband is snoring in his lazy boy, I sit with my Macbook propped on the arm of the sofa and write. Some nights, the words come easily, other nights, not so much. And every time I hit that shiny little blue ‘Publish’ button on a new post, I worry. I worry that no-one will read it. I worry that no-one will like it. But most of all, I worry about the impact my words will have on the little girl I’m writing about when she’s old enough to understand them.
I didn’t set out to blog about childhood mental illness. When I wrote about her battle with anxiety for the very first time, it made ME so anxious I thought I would vomit. I thought people would judge me, or worse, judge HER. Because children don’t have mental illnesses – do they?
I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, I was overwhelmed by the comments and messages of love and support that came in the wake of that post, and that have given me the courage to keep documenting Mercedes’ journey.
I’ve learned a lot in the process. When I write about my own journey – about addiction, sobriety and living with OCD - I own it. It’s mine. I’m not answerable to anyone, and the thoughts and feelings are my own. But when I when tell Mercedes’ story, I’m very conscious that I’m only sharing it. I don’t own it. It belongs to her. I often wonder if writing about her is the right thing to do.
Some nights when I’m tired and overwhelmed, I think about giving it up. About not writing any more because cathartic as it is, it’s also incredibly draining. Every time I publish a post, I open myself up to scrutiny and critique. Every time I publish a post, I open HER up to scrutiny and critique. But fate always seems to know when my spirits are waning, when I need a little reminder of why I put it all out there.
Last week it was a mum in the school playground asking where to find online resources for her child who also suffers from anxiety (Mercedes is not alone). The week before, it was a Facebook message from an acquaintance who is at her wit’s end trying to get help for her daughter and needed a little moral support (Mercedes is not alone). Last month it was an anonymous comment left on a blog post telling me in reading about Mercedes’ worries, the commenter had recognised some little signs that their own child might need a little extra reassurance and support (Mercedes is not alone).
And at the heart of it, that’s exactly why I do this. That’s exactly why I write. I write because children DO struggle with mental illness, and not talking about it doesn’t make it any less so. While the stigma around mental illness in general is slowly (slowly) being broken down, the idea that our kids might be affected just as much as we are as adults, perhaps even more, remains very much unspoken.
Yes, I continue to worry about how much to share – with every post, every photo, her digital footprint grows. When she’s a teenager, how will she feel about that? My hope is that she won’t see it as a bad thing, that it will serve as a journal of her experiences through my eyes and that through these words, she’ll see just how far she’s come.
Only time will tell. Until then, I’ll just keep on writing, because it’s the only thing I know how to do…