I’m a member of a Facebook support group for the caregivers like me, whose child lives with my son’s specific mental health issue. It’s Australian, it appears no one I know is in it, it’s patchy and irregular, it’s not large and the Admin is doing it tough with her son and herself. Yet this group is relevant and is a virtual lifeline for those of us in it. You can just tell.
When someone asks for help, we reply quickly, we send “hugs” and “we got you”, we turn up and we’re present. We’re mostly Mums in this group and I’ve seen some at their absolute lowest, pleading to the group in desperation. There’s talk of “has anyone’s child been on these meds?” and generous responses back. There’s also talk of “I don’t know how much more I can take.” Those posts are worrying. We lean in deeply when we see these.
It’s a kind, compassionate group of caregivers who are all dealing with similar hideous and terrifying situations. We also celebrate any wins, no matter how small.
My son’s particular mental health challenge is chronic – it will ebb and flow, but it will not go away. It’s also his business, I have a select few friends I share with at a high level, but I do this with his knowledge. It’s his story not mine.
The reality is our friends and tight friendship circles may provide some but not all the support we need. We may pull on some friends for this and others for that. We may choose not to include others in the web of life as a caregiver but instead save that friendship for some other need – like debriefing reality TV programmes, whinging about school and messy houses or Friday night wines….
As caregivers, we need to call on different people and groups to hold us up. I almost came unstuck after one psychologist appointment when as we were walking out, my son’s therapist, gave me a gentle pat on the back and a quiet “you’re doing great Mum”. At times we live so close to the edge that an unexpected moment of kindness and compassion threatens to tip us over it.
Sometimes I find a shared pain and distress is what I need. And yes, I’m aware how awful that sounds.
When my son is “low”, it’s not super helpful for me to hear of other’s kids being “high”, I smile and congratulate and do all the right things as genuinely as I can. But geez it sucks when you know it’s so far away from your child’s world. But sitting with this knowledge doesn’t take away from your joy for others. It’s an unwelcome presence that requires yet another Herculean effort to be the strongest version of you with a little stab of grief acknowledging your reality.
So being virtually amongst a group of people who get it and who are living your reality feels different. We’re all at the coal face, we feel the same lows, we cheer any version of high that may be possible. We are a community none of us really want to be a member of. Recently I reached out privately to a member of my group whose child sounded identical to mine yet doing it a lot tougher. We had a lovely virtual chat, we connected, we shared. But the next time I reached out my message was seen but never replied to. I tried unsuccessfully not to take it personally but was hurt and wondering what I did wrong.
Because maybe I filled a need for a certain time for this other parent or maybe our stories being too aligned was just too much. Maybe she wanted to escape the reality rather than have it reinforced by me and my experience.
And maybe that’s simply the unspoken “rules” of support – you get to call the shots and take what you need in whatever form or however long you want it. And I’m ok with that because I do exactly the same. And I’m really grateful that I can.
Anonymous for The Village Northern Beaches