Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My Three Sons

I know, if you are old enough to remember the show "My Three Sons" you probably have the theme song running through your head right now, perhaps with the image of Fred MacMurrey's foot tapping.  If you are not that old, like my sons, you really don't know what you missed.  They really do need to offer reruns of that show on TV land or somewhere.

My sons are grown men now.  They all have lives separate from each other, yet they are still connected by the love of family.  Each one is unique, with quirks of their own, but so similar in some respects that you know they are brothers cut from the same cloth, even if at times they don't like to acknowledge that.

I know I have mentioned addiction and mental illness in these posts before.  With dual conflicts wrecking havoc on someones health, life can take some pretty serious twists and turns. During the beautiful fall season, when the weather starts to get colder, the days shorter, and the supply of sunlight diminishing, life can be down right chaotic in my family.  My oldest son suffers from seasonal affective disorder, SAD, and if you have ever experienced it yourself, or know someone who does, you know that depression rears its ugly head more often during this time. SAD alone is bad enough but add to that alcohol or drugs, and you have the makings for quite a bumpy ride.

The past few days have been filled with rants, crying jags, lots of beer, no sleep, moving, and many, many phone calls, some in the middle of the night. Fall is here.

A mother never stops worrying about her children.  Never. I am no exception. It might get easier to accept the cards that have been dealt, but I still constantly worry about when the next shoe will drop. Each of my sons goes through their own kind of worry for the others. This "worry" has become part of the culture of my family. When Nik is feeling like this, I dread the phone ringing and the news that could come from the person on the other end. I can't concentrate as easily on work because I am worried that this will be the time he makes good on some of his threats, his feeling that he doesn't add value to any one's life - which he does - and we have told him that, and given examples of how, over and over. During the spring and summer, he believes us and feels better about his life.  He has more energy and lives life hard and fast. But come the end of September, the depression slowly slithers in and by November, it is here........most years until March.

I know there is medicine he can take, but Nik has never been what the mental health world terms "medicine compliant", meaning he doesn't take it consistently - if at all. He works outside as much as he can, to absorb all the sunlight possible, and that helps. But now and then, life just becomes too hard for him to manage on his own. So he has learned to reach out for help. After living with this disease for 30 years, that is a good thing.

When I worked in the mental health field, my job was to help other parents feel supported, letting them know about resources available to their family, helping them understand they were not alone.  It was my job to share my story with them so they knew I understood where they were coming from. That was easy to do most of the time, but usually by January or February, it became harder, because I was smack in the middle of my own pain as a Mom again by that time. There were times when I was a keynote or workshop speaker at conferences, and had to get up in front of several hundred people to talk, while my son had just been arrested, or overdosed the night before.

Depression is hard on the family.  It wears you down. It is hard to watch your loved one go through this pain, feeling alone, unloved, and unappreciated. You try your hardest to help them feel loved and connected but they are the ones who need to feel it, words cannot impact their feelings when they are in this depressed state.  But you can't give up on them.

I write about this today because I know so many others are out there suffering silently, not knowing where to go.  Even though I don't work in the field any more, I still receive calls, some of the parents are referred to me by my sons who know I will give them the time to process their anger and hurt. With funding cuts to mental health and addiction services, options for help are getting farther away. It's important for the caregivers and loved ones to support each other because the few dollars that are available will need to go to the "one with the problem" - even though depression affects everyone in that persons life.

BUT - it is essential to find appropriate support.  I can't tell you how much "well meaning" advice I received over the years from people who really didn't understand my situation, or who were bitter and angry and just wanted to pull others into their world of anger and hurt. In a situation like that, go with your gut.  It's hard to find good support but it IS out there. Reach out. Find someone who is willing to listen and if necessary, offer different options for you to choose from.

Like me, you are not alone. While I know those words are of little comfort when you are in the thick of things, having that knowledge sometimes helps you feel less isolated and alone in your grief.

And know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

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