Parenting a Mentally Ill Child--What If You're Crazy, Too?

August 12, 2011 Angela McClanahan

I went to see my own psychiatrist this week for my biannual "how's it going" visit. I said what I had to say. He pretended to listen and asked me questions I'd already answered. Then he said, "I don't think we need to change anything right now. I think you're just demoralized with everything you've got going on." Then he handed me the same prescription he's handed me for the past year.

I was relieved, in a way--even though I'm reasonably certain other things have come into play in my head, I've been concerned about changing up my medication, afraid he may introduce something new that would render me even more of a trainwreck than I've been lately. And at this stage of the game, I can't afford to be any less functional. selfhug

Taking Care of the Caregiver

Kendra Sebelius, author of the Debunking Addiction blog, recently posted two vlogs regarding taking care of oneself. This is a concept most parents chuckle at in general as so much of our time is spent taking care of our children and our spouses, there's very little time left for our own needs. When a child struggles with a mental illness, that "very little time" is reduced to less than nothing. Indeed, if you have time to devote to the needs of anyone other than the child with the psychiatric illness (your spouse or other children), it's nothing short of a minor miracle. (And all too often, the results of such inability are unpleasant for everyone involved--as demonstrated by my recent posts.)

I've been chastised by my psychiatrist before for not "taking care of" myself--failing to make time for routine medical appointments, forgetting to take my own medication because I'm too busy playing Bob's pharmacist, etc. I know it's imperative for me to be on my A-game in order to be of the most benefit to Bob (as well as the rest of my family), but lately, I just don't know if I have the energy to take care of me, too. I'm not sure I even care. selfhug2

"Demoralized"? That doesn't even begin to describe it.

School starts in just twelve days. At my appointment, I was left with "hopefully when school starts and things get back to a routine, things will get better." I'm not sure how much credence I place in that theory. I just hope I can maintain some semblance of normal in the interim.

If you are a caregiver to a child or adult with mental illness, you may find these two articles helpful:

APA Reference
McClanahan, A. (2011, August 12). Parenting a Mentally Ill Child--What If You're Crazy, Too?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 22 from

Author: Angela McClanahan

August, 13 2011 at 12:51 am

My son has adhd and anxiety. I have bipolar and anxiety. I don't know if I take care of myself first, probably not. I know my son comes first. Although I did take a stop in the right direction, my son gets therapy CBT and I decided I should do the same, so a step in the right direction. I;m not looking forward to school starting because my son has school phobia. It's not fun. He gives me a real hard time every morning. Hopefully all the therapy he has been getting this summer will help. He's been in therapy for over 3 years but this is his first time doing CBT.

August, 14 2011 at 12:49 pm

First of all, I can't believe you used the word 'crazy' and that it was actually published. Way to be recovery oriented, folks! I'll bet your glass is half empty, isn't it? I am the wife and mother of a family of four... every one of us has at least one diagnosis. I am by no means a perfect example, but I might suggest taking a personal organisation classic if you are so overwhelmed by life. Also having faith that your family can endure your earthly trials helps. We have found it helpful to help and serve others while attending to our own needs. We find that any negative focus on ourselves shifts to positive feelings as others benefit from our talents.
I hope you can find a way to a more peaceful and happy life.

August, 15 2011 at 6:25 am

@melanie--I apologize if my use of the term "crazy" offends you. That said--I think the situations I and my family are in are a little beyond what a "personal organization class" can offer. If you and your family have found comfort in religion and other means, more power to you all. My family and I will find a way to save ourselves that you may or may not agree with or condone. And in the meantime? "Crazy" is by far the most accurate word I can find to describe how I feel.

August, 15 2011 at 11:57 am

Angela, I do know how you feel. I am bipolar with ADHD. I have 3 kids, 1 of which suffers from depression and is unmedicated. Crazy is exactally how I describe myself and my life. I feel like a yo-yo most of the time. It doesn't really help when the husband works 3rd shift. I am learning the hard way that if I don't take care of myself no one really knows how. I ended up in the hosptial not long ago and I decided my kids needed me at home and in order to be there I had to take care of myself. I also have really bad anxiety and going bed is the worst part of my day. My brain keeps running a million miles a minute and then I have to worry about the husband making it to and from work and sometimes I just wanna pull my hair out. So now that I am on sleeping meds that helps but every night I lay down and I tell myself, I have to go to sleep. Everything else can wait and if no one likes it oh well! I have to go to sleep my sleep is more important than that load of towels or checking my voice mail. If it was that important they should have called me back anyway. The things I do may not make sense to a lot of people and that is ok. All I am doing is trying to survive this crazy life.

Ari Hahn
September, 13 2011 at 2:41 pm

Your first paragraph (as well as everything else you wrote) hits to the core of my passion. As a parent I have been sent to therapists to learn to cope with the overwhelming difficulties that we endure. As a therapist with decades of successful experience I know that it is normal to feel crazy when overwhelmed. I have asked myself, who says that dealing with a bi-polar child means that you are sick and need medicine? That sounds crazy to me. Parents need support and guidance - not chemicals. The doctor says your are demoralized. So drugs is the answer? No! You need moralization! So I am now no longer dedicating myself to mental illness, but to the mental health of the caregivers! I was sick of hearing that "you just have to take care of yourself." As if it were that easy. What we need is a personalized plan with achievable small steps and a way of tracking progress and feeling good about taking care of ourselves. That crazy feeling is caused by being stuck in too many negatives. I've learned how to "uncrazy." I help people do it. Find somebody to help cultivate all those strengths and skills you've developed by dealing with a mentally ill kid. Somebody who can help you celebrate whatever successes you have and positive moments, and plan and work towards a sense of stability. We all can do it.

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