I read an article today that stated 50% of caregivers deal with ‘caregiver’ depression. I think that has been me for the past couple of months. It is hard to admit it though. You never want to admit to yourself how much you are struggling with emotions when you are supposed to be the strong and healthy person in any given situation, but especially when you are dealing with someone diagnosed with mental illness. I watch my son, CJ, struggle in his daily life, I see his moods swing and I say “so I am a little sad and frustrated, it is nothing like what he deals with all the time, suck it up and move on.” Even as I say it, I know in my heart that I am not being fair to myself.
Lately, it has been hitting me even worse because I doubt just about everything my son does or says. CJ is in those horrible early teen years. I don’t know what is happening because he’s 14, what is bipolar and what is him manipulating a situation. Normally, I try to be positive when other people ask me how I handle all of this….which then causes them to say that I am amazing or some other ridiculous superlative that makes me feel like even more of a sham. The truth is; I am a really good actress. I have a smile on my face when I deal with the outside world, but in my own home, it is rarely seen. The less I smile, the more he acts out….the more he acts out, the less I smile….it’s a vicious circle.
I am actually surprised that the percentage of caregiver depression isn’t more than 50%. This isn’t depression that can be changed in your life by medication or by changing your daily activities. The thing that is making you sad is in front of you every hour of every day; the fact that your life is not within your control; the fact that the person you’re caring for has a life that is not within their control; the fact that this is not going to change. Even more sadness comes from the fact that, although we have worked with doctors and the schools to do everything we can to help CJ, I still feel like I am failing him in some way. I am failing him because I am so tired of fighting the system and so tired of fighting him.
When you are the parent of a special needs child, you are also facing the change of your expectations. I know I am 14 years in, but I still mourn the loss of the child I thought I would have. My son is smart, creative, funny, and sensitive. There are so many qualities I love about him, but sometimes I forget those when he is pounding holes into the basement wall or he is going into a rage because he thinks we hid all of the ‘good’ food in the house from him. On a dime, he will change and have a lucid moment to snuggle up to me and watch a TV show together. That’s the boy I want around all the time, but it doesn’t usually last long. There can be one little trigger and the happy calm is over…..and the sadness sweeps over me and I miss the boy that existed for that brief period of time.
I know that they say ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. There are days I don’t want to be stronger; there are days I don’t even want to get out of bed. I just want to pull the covers over my head and ignore everything around me….but I’m not 5 years old anymore. Pulling the covers over my head doesn’t make the bad stuff disappear; the bad stuff isn’t a figment of my imagination anymore; it is our world. CJ and I may not have volunteered for it, but it is what we were given; it is the life that we will live, it is the life that will make me stronger……as long as it doesn’t kill me first.