I have been following Holly’s blog, Surviving The Madhouse, and enjoying it for some time now and am so happy to have her provide a guest post.
Holly is a single mother of two teenagers living in Ontario, Canada (she is described as a “weird Canadian”). With introspection and a quirky, kooky sense of humour, Holly shares stories of living with mental health illness and parenting children with mental health illnesses. An involved and loving mother, Holly is a dedicated advocate for child youth and family mental health.
Thanks again to Holly and remember to check out Surviving The Madhouse to read more of Holly’s work.
I call my blog ‘Surviving the Madhouse’ with the tag line ‘Raising kids with mental illness with love, affection and humor.’ I call it the Madhouse for several reasons. First, I have children (all the parents are nodding their heads, “we love’em, but they can drive us to the brink”). Second, I have children who fall into the category of special needs. Third, both my children are very bright and very witty (also see lippy, mouthy, and smart aleck-y), which can be maddening from a parental perspective (again, all the parents are nodding their heads). Fourth, between the three of us, we have a combined total of 10 mental health diagnoses (it’s always interesting here – see also zany, wacky, and unconventional).
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the “surviving” part of the Madhouse. I’ve been in survival mode for a long time, most of my life in fact. Unfortunately, the same is true of my kids. I am a survivor of childhood abuse, as are my children, and I spent 12 years in an abusive marriage. The children’s father was not a kind man, and he left many invisible scars on our souls and psyche. It has been six years, and we are still battling the ghosts of his temper tantrums, rage, and viciousness.
Living a life in survival mode is tiring. It drains one’s energy and leaves one feeling listless. It is often a challenge to find the joy and beauty of life when one is constantly on guard, leary and never fully trusting/living. I have been doing this my whole life, but I used to be much better at pretending I wasn’t living like this. In fact, I had accepted it as the only way to live. However, watching my children live life this way distresses me.
However, being distressed doesn’t help anybody. So, the goal is to go from “surviving” to “thriving”. I’ve read a ton of positive and enlightened proverbs – “be the change you want to see in the world”; “you are not your past”; “have an attitude of gratitude” – in hopes that something would just click, and I would begin to feel the blossoming of a more fulfilling life. Of course, we all know it’s not really that easy. It takes a lot of effort to be the change; to see the future; to be grateful for all things.
During the 18 months of intense therapy I participated in, I learned that our childhood experiences “stamp” themselves onto our psyche. Victims of childhood abuse often respond, even as adults, from the perspective of a wounded child and this becomes the instinctual response to life. This often leaves the adult unable to process emotional situations from a cognitive, logical or “adult” perspective (makes you wonder about that really immature guy in the mail room, doesn’t it?).
George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” I worked very hard, for a long time (and spent a ton of money) learning how to do just that – change my mind. Or, more accurately, change my thought patterns, but I still have a long way to go before I am thriving.
In the end, it all comes down to choice. I can choose to let that scared, little girl trapped in her nightmare control my actions now or I can choose to take a moment, breathe, and think calmly and rationally. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but I’m working on it because I want my children to know, without a doubt, that the world is full of wonder and joy. That life is for thriving not for surviving.