As a mom who has children with Mental Health Disorders, it has taken me many years in therapy to say what I am about to say. I even have a pit in my stomach right now as I am typing this. Here it goes:
It is okay to grieve the loss of the child you thought you would have; the one without a Mental Health Disorder.
There, I said it. But notice how I said it. I said it is okay to grieve the loss of the child you THOUGHT you would have, not the loss of the child you WISH you had. In my mind, there is a huge difference. To me, grieving the loss of a child you thought you would have is healthy. Grieving the loss of a child you wish you had is not healthy.
I do not wish my kids were any different than exactly how they are. I know they are wonderfully and fearfully made in His image. I also know I was put on this earth to raise my (adopted) sons exactly how He created them, Mental Health Disorders and all. If they were any different, they wouldn’t be my Adam and Alex.
With that said, when my husband and I began our journey down the adoption path, I did have a vision of what I thought my children would be like. We thought they would be like everyone else’s kids in our circle of friends and family.
We thought they would grow up with normal kid challenges: succeeding in school, peer pressure, puberty, determining what they want to be when they grow up, etc.
Instead, not only will they face all of those challenges, but they will also face a lifetime of managing the symptoms and consequences their Bipolar and Autistic Disorders will bring.
It’s okay that I grieve the loss of experiences I thought my children would have. I know I must grieve this loss because, if I don’t, the sadness would simply be more weight than my shoulders can bare. I know I must grieve because, if I don’t, the pit of anger in my stomach will begin to eat me alive from the inside out. I know I must grieve because, if I don’t, my kids will grow up with a mom who has no light behind her eyes, no beat in her heart, no happiness in her soul. My boys deserve more than that and so do I.
I’m guessing this is the part of the article where I am supposed to provide tips on how to grieve the living. I mean, let’s face it, this is not your stereotypical type of grief. Everyone accepts you should grieve for the dead. Death is often viewed as ground zero for grief. Bookstores and libraries are full of books on how to grieve death, trauma, and loss. But how do you grieve someone who is alive and well and sitting across from you at the dinner table?
Well, I am not a doctor. I certainly don’t have all the answers. What I do know is first you have to acknowledge you’re grieving and allow yourself to go there. Really go there. Tear down the walls of protection you have built around yourself and allow your heart to walk through the pure, raw emotions of grief and the grieving process.
You have to be willing to fight like a unrelenting warrior against the guilt you feel when you go there. Really go there. Guilt will try and engulf you like quicksand and your initial reaction will be to stop. To turn around and not walk through those raw emotions that provoke guilt. You must fight to carry on and leave guilt behind you, never looking back. For me, this has been very difficult to do.
I had to define early on what exactly I was grieving. Am I really grieving the “normal” experiences I thought my kids would have and now I know they won’t OR am I really grieving the loss of my “normal” life as I knew it?
Honestly, I think it is both. My heart aches over the fact that my kids (ages 10 and 11) should be reveling in all that life has to offer at this age…friends, sports, clubs…not psychiatrist appointments, therapy appointments, and med adjustments. But, my heart also aches for the life I thought I would have at this age…lunches with friends, volunteer work, enjoying hobbies…not skipping social events to avoid tantrums, walking one son through paralyzing anxiety and the other son through psychotic episodes and hallucinations, and worrying day and night about what comes next and how much worse their Mental Health Disorders will get in the days, and years, to come.
As Supermoms, we teach our kids it is okay to be sad. We encourage them to express their emotions no matter what they are feeling and never keep their feelings all bunched up inside. Then why do we not follow our own advice? Why do we feel we have to be strong all the time? Why do we feel showing our emotions is a sign of weakness? Why do we feel like we have to keep our game faces on 24/7? Why do we feel we have to show the world a “normal” that may not be real behind closed doors?
Personally, I am throwing all the pretense out the window and allowing myself to go there…to grieve the living. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I yell at God. Sometimes I get down on my knees and pray to God. Sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes I’m grumpy. Sometimes I don’t want to get out of bed and face the day. Sometimes I don’t know what I am.
While there is a beginning, a starting point, to grieving the living (allowing yourself to go there), that does not necessarily mean there is a specific ending point. If you are a Mental Health Mom, you may find yourself grieving the child you thought you were going to have, the one without the Mental Health Disorder, during variuos stages of your life. Grieving the dead comes in waves; grieving the living is no different. It’s definitely a marathon and not a sprint.
Grieving the normal you thought you would have allows you to fully embrace the normal you actually have. You have to be willing to let go of how you thought your life would be in order to make room for the realities of how your life is today and how it will be tomorrow. Through years of fighting this concept, I now realize it is the only way for me to find a sense of peace and calmness in my life. I recognize there will be good days and bad but I am willing to do the work and go there. Really go there. Care to join me?