As any parent of a psychologically struggling child knows, a simple recipe of hot baths and scented candles is not going to do much to lift your spirits when you’re deeply disheartened and worn to the nub. Mind you, these things (along with a potent cup of coffee!), didn’t hurt, but to get through some of the harder times with my own child, I’ve needed a set of practical strategies I could put to immediate use. I hope you find them as helpful as I have.
- Create a Support System Call List
- Make a list of your most non-judgmental, safe-feeling sources of support, whether family, friends, professionals, support groups, Facebook groups, or hotlines. This won’t be everyone in your life; even some well-meaning people just won’t get it. But, if your list is short; it will grow. I discovered many unexpected allies throughout my journey.
- Next to each name, write down the kind of support that person/group offers you. Lighthearted conversation? A moment of commiseration? Recommendations or referrals? Make and post your list of where you can go for what.
- Joanne: Encouragement, humor
- Mom: Comfort, compassion
- YMHP Parent Support Network: Understanding, guidance
- FB Group: professional recommendations
- Parenting Coach: Insights, parenting techniques
- Crisis Hotline: Immediate professional support & direction to services
- Use the list!
Having this list did three things for me:
- It was a constant, visible, comforting reminder that I was not alone.
- It helped me identify for myself the specific support I needed in a given moment.
- It encouraged me to reach out. Often, we feel embarrassed, afraid of appearing weak, worried about judgment, or just simply tired of talking about our problems. But, managing alone is hard as hell and not nearly as effective. The list was visible proof that support was available; all I had to do was ask.
- Create a Hope Map. When things look bleak, we all need hope. Not fantasy-style hope, but hope based on real possibility. This map takes some imagining, but it will be time well spent.
- Start Your Map: Grab a sheet of paper or posterboard, any size you want. (I like my map big and visible.) Then choose three colored markers and write the words Immediate, Near Future, and Long Term in different colors, leaving room beneath each heading.
- Begin with the Immediate. Ask yourself: What do I have in my life right now that feels good? This can be any activity you enjoy doing, person you enjoy being with, or place you like spending time. Beneath the heading Immediate, write out as many of these things as you can without editing.
- Visualize the Near Future. Next, ask yourself: What positive things can I foresee happening in the near future? For me, it was things like finding the right Rx for my son, taking a trip to visit our cousins, resuming our peaceful family walks when my son gets home. Try to visualize these experiences until you have a felt-sense of their realness. Write your responses to this question under the heading Near Future.
- Imagine the Long Term. Finish this sentence: I am so looking forward to the time when… Allow yourself to imagine the very best of what’s possible for you and your child. It’s okay if your list is ambitious; in fact, it should be! This is an exercise in hopefulness and the response you write under Long Term should energize you and remind you of what you are fighting for.
I feel bolstered whenever I ‘read’ my hope map. Every one of these existing and potential positives, is like an emotional nutrient. And as long as I have enough of this nutrition, I can get myself from point a to point b, however rocky the terrain in between. And this is also a great exercise to do with your child!
And here’s what I didn’t do…
- Guilt Myself. It was hard not to wonder how much of my son’s suffering was due to inadequate parenting. As loving as I am, the past year had not brought out the best in me. When my son started struggling, I started questioning myself. Did I miss critical cues? Did I not show enough compassion when he had meltdowns or was bouncing off the walls? Should I have gotten him on medication sooner? These may be reasonable questions worth asking, but only if done in a constructive way. So, when I felt the questions building, I focused on answering them thoughtfully, making any necessary adjustments and amends, and moving on. Guilt is not a motivator. It saps us of the energy we need to make positive changes, and it causes us to question our very ability to make said changes. We can take responsibility for our mistakes without heading down the rabbit hole of self-recrimination.
- Curb all my bad habits. Netflix binging, Facebook scrolling, over-caffeinating, and overeating were all on my ‘vice’ list, and… I chose to leave them there. Of course, I tried to keep my indulgences this side of destructive but, with everything going on, I decided this was the time to amp up the self-compassion, not the self-discipline, and I didn’t put more pressure on myself than I was already feeling.
- Worry about the future. We can inform ourselves, hold onto hope, and stay proactive. And that’s all we can do. Instead of letting myself get mired in “what ifs”, I consistently told myself: Plan wisely for the future then forget it.