I can’t believe how much I’ve changed. If you’ve been reading my art journal you might have noticed. I started blogging about my journey as a carer nearly two years ago now – and even that was a couple of years after my son became ill. I started writing and drawing so tentatively – confessing to the overwhelming emotions I was experiencing, the lack of confidence I had, the fears that I felt day in day out.
And now? Now I’m packing my bags for Paris. I’m being funded to present the carer viewpoint at a world congress in child and adolescent psychiatry. I still find it hard to believe. Could it really be ME?? Could that seriously be my own name on the ticket?
But it is. It really is. I’m the same person who was terrified about taking part in an assessment in front of a one way mirror. I’m the same person who was scared to ask questions. I’m the same person who shook uncontrollably as I climbed the stairs to see my son’s case manager. I’m the same person who was overwhelmed by guilt and couldn’t see how I was going to get through another day, let alone reclaim my own life.
But I HAVE reclaimed my life. It’s not the one I imagined – but I think it is something to be proud of. I finally feel that I know who I am and what really matters. I feel good in my own skin. (Inside I FEEL like the person in this picture, even though I’m significantly older, fatter, barely have any hair and am seriously shortsighted!). I know who my true friends are – those who came with me and supported me on this journey, and those I met in the process. Those friends are a priceless gift. I have learned to speak up. I have learned to stand my ground. I can talk about difficult issues. I can ask difficult questions. I can say “No”. And I have rediscovered the most wonderful joy of creating art. In so many ways, I feel incredibly fortunate.
Unfortunately, feeling stronger in myself doesn’t mean that my son is well. He still struggles. But I feel that I can at least offer him some stability. If I can feel good about myself, show that it is possible to find joy in life even when things are hard, and manage difficult situations with some confidence, then surely that must be a positive thing.
I feel like a poster girl for empowerment. Which is bizarre for someone who used to be terrified of public speaking. (Seriously – how is it that I am now going to speak at my THIRD conference?)
I AM lucky. I was reminded recently that not every carer manages to survive this experience. Sometimes it is just too hard. Especially if you don’t have the supports around that our family has been lucky enough to receive. I can understand that. It was those “too hard” experiences that I wanted to show by sharing my diary. Because I went through them too – and every so often I take a few steps backwards in this journey and go through them again. Which is pretty normal. Because caring for someone in a crisis can be incredibly traumatic. (If clinicians doubt this, they might like to consider when they’ve had a hard session with a client – which may go for an hour or so. Then imagine being the person at home handling the same behaviour for the rest of the week, night and day, day in day out, without a break.)
I AM lucky. I have had a lot of support, particularly from CAMHS clinicians and other carers. But equally, it wasn’t all luck. I worked damned hard to survive this. I made the time to attend appointments. I took every opportunity for support that was offered to me. I asked for help and was honest when I couldn’t manage. I learned ways to cope – and when those ideas stopped working I looked for other strategies. I talked. And talked. I flushed the trauma out of my system. I decided to get involved in more than my son’s care. I joined a CAMHS consumer and carer advisory group in the hope that I might make a difference. I joined Blue Voices – Beyondblue’s consumer and carer participation program. That gave me a voice – and lots of information. Through Beyondblue I have given feedback to new programs and guidelines, received training, participated in panels and research projects. And I decided to create my own resource for carers. I started to write my story. I taught myself how to create a website. That learning process helped me in so many ways, and gave me the confidence to move forwards. So it wasn’t just luck – it was a lot of work as well. But it has been worth it.
I feel so much stronger. So much more fulfilled. I’ve learned a lot from this experience. I’ve definitely grown (and not just sideways thank you!) . And the feedback I receive tells me that I am beginning to make a difference. Which gives me that warm, fuzzy feeling (such a precious thing).
I’d like to finish by sharing a quote by Vivian Greene that inspires me every day.Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.
I think I’ve learned to dance in puddles. I hope you do too.